Monday, March 27, 2017


Thomas A. Schmitz (ed.), Sophokles. Elektra. Griechische Dramen. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2016. Pp. ix, 271. ISBN 9783110188240. $70.00.

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

Version at BMCR home site

Sophocles' Electra has long been in need of a good commentary. This new edition provides a fine introduction, text, translation, and commentary which students of the play will find most useful.

After a one-page 'Vorwort der Herausgeber' explaining the aims of the series (to make Greek tragedy accessible to people with little or no Greek), there follows a two-page 'Vorwort' by the author, which sets the edition in the context of scholarship on the play; rightly he begins this brief survey with the 1849 edition by Schneidewin, the first truly modern Sophoclean commentator and a touchstone for all subsequent work on that poet. The thirty-eight page 'Einführung' is divided into eight sections: 'Elektra und der Atridenmythos', 'Griechische Mythen', 'Der Elektramythos vor der Tragödie', 'Der Mythos bei Aischylos und Sophokles', 'Zweimal Elektra: Sophokles und Euripides', 'Die Elektra des Sophokles', 'Elektra in der modernen Rezeption', 'Zur Überlieferung des Textes'. The text then follows, with an accompanying translation, and commentary: at nearly two hundred pages, this is the heart of the volume. Bringing up the rear are a list of distinctive textual choices found in this edition, metrical analyses, and a 'Literaturverzeichnis' containing well over four hundred items.

Schmitz's introduction is helpful throughout. The first section, 'Elektra und der Atridenmythos', gives a brief account of the basic details of the myth, accompanied by a family tree; the second, 'Griechische Mythen', some reflections on the nature of Greek myth and its place within ancient literature and society. These discussions underline Schmitz's desire to make his book accessible to people unfamiliar with Greek tragedy. The next section, 'Der Elektramythos vor der Tragödie', looks briefly (in under two pages) at Homer's treatment of the story, as well as those of the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women, Xanthus, Stesichorus, and Pindar. Just a bit more here would have been welcome: appreciating the originality of the presentation of the myth in tragedy does require attention to the archaic period. In particular, the absence of any treatment of the myth in the visual arts (beyond a couple of bibliographical references) is a shortcoming; we have so little material from this period that no-one can afford to concentrate on one type of evidence to the exclusion of others.

With section four, 'Der Mythos bei Aischylos und Sophokles', we reach tragedy itself. Schmitz raises the important question of how many of Sophocles' audience would have seen Aeschylus' Oresteia trilogy, either at its first performance or in reperformance; on the latter subject Anna Lamari's article 'Aeschylus and the Beginning of Tragic Reperformances' (TC 7 (2015) 189–206) was presumably too late for him to consult. He goes on to identify similarities between Aeschylus' Libation Bearers and Sophocles' Electra, enough to show that the former was an important influence on the latter and would have been present in the minds of the spectators as they watched Sophocles' play; but then he ponders the differences, which would have been all the more apparent given the links between the dramas already pointed out. Section five, 'Zweimal Elektra: Sophokles und Euripides' wisely compares the Sophoclean and Euripidean plays without attempting to settle the question of their relative dating, a question probably insoluble on present evidence. Then (in 'Die Elektra des Sophokles') comes a detailed consideration of Sophocles' drama on its own: a table setting out which characters are present for which scenes is followed by a plot summary and an account of how the roles were divided among the three actors. This section concludes with a discussion of major lines of interpretation from scholars over the years, and the metatheatrical elements that the play contains. 'Elektra in der modernen Rezeption' (section seven) examines the reception of the play from 1570 to 2006 (the extensive ancient reception of the play, however, goes unmentioned); finally, 'Zur Überlieferung des Textes' gives a brief account of how the play made it from Sophocles' time to ours.

The text, apparatus, translation, and commentary follow. On each double-page spread, the translation is found on the top left, with the Greek underneath, and the apparatus (if there is one) at the bottom of the page; the right-hand page is devoted to the commentary. In a review of a previous volume in this series (see BMCR 2013.05.16) I commented on the drawbacks of this layout; but this has been improved in the present volume, in that the Greek text is in a slightly larger font, and the apparatus is generally dispensed with. Schmitz is a thoughtful editor of the text. His approach is on the whole intelligently conservative; he is not afraid to argue in favour of the paradosis even when other modern editors have generally printed a conjecture, yet he is willing to emend when he thinks that intervention is required. Such decisions are duly explained in the apparatus under the text, but he rightly makes no attempt to construct a full apparatus giving the manuscript evidence for each textual variant; that kind of detail is not what Schmitz's intended readership requires. The facing commentary deals intelligently with matters of literary interpretation and staging, making good reference to the secondary literature but never merely directing readers to it in place of giving an analysis in the commentary itself.

The metrical analyses that close the volume are introduced by an account of the relevant metres, a feature which those new to metre will appreciate. The thorough but not overburdened 'Literaturverzeichnis' should be a first port of call for anyone interested in the bibliography to this drama. I did wonder, however, about the absence a list of abbreviations: how many readers who need the kind of guidance that Schmitz rightly offers in this book will be able to track down what 'MW', 'PMG', and 'GEF' mean, for example? Moreover, referring readers to a scholarly Loeb edition, such as Most's Hesiod or Campbell's Greek lyric, would be a better idea than directing them towards editions of fragmentary texts that lack a translation. But this was the only place where better consideration of the target audience was in order; in general the book is extremely well targeted.

Schmitz's book can thus be warmly recommended. For any undergraduate class that can read German, his edition is well ahead of the competition; and graduate students wishing to improve their understanding of tragedy and German simultaneously could do a lot worse than to work their way through this useful product of unpretentious labour.

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Peter Gainsford, Early Greek Hexameter Poetry. Greece & Rome. New surveys in the classics. 43. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (published for the Classical Association), 2015. Pp. x, 150. ISBN 9781316608883. $29.99 (pb).

Reviewed by Xavier Gheerbrant, Université Lille 3 – UMR STL​ (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

This book aims at making early Greek hexameter poetry accessible to both novice and expert readers. Greek texts are provided with English translations. The translations and numbering of the fragments are those of the Loeb editions when available (West for the Hymns and the fragments of Epic, Most for Hesiod) — when not, the author provides his own translations (oracles, Orphic poems, inscriptions, etc.). The bibliography counts more than 300 entries (studies and editions), and the notes give useful suggestions for further reading. Two accurate and helpful indexes (ancient texts and general) and a list of the major editions for each author are also provided. The book tries not to overlap with Rutherford's book on Homer in the same series.1

The introduction presents the issues related to authorship in archaic poetry. A discussion of ancient and modern biographical approaches concludes that 'Homer' and 'Hesiod' were personas that could be adopted by later poets.

Chapter 1 presents the poems: the Works and Days, the Theogony, the Catalogue of Women, the Shield, the Homeric Hymns, the Epic Cycle, the Chresmologoi, and epigraphic evidence. An introduction presents the criteria put forward to date the poems, highlighting their limits: intertextual evidence, stylometry, references to material culture or datable events. There follows an overview of each poem's content, structure (with a helpful two-page overview for the Catalogue of Women), sources or earlier tradition (e.g. Eastern literature for the Theogony, wisdom poetry for the Works and Days); a more developed discussion of dating, a few elements of general interpretation from recent scholarship, and hints at the style and poetics of the poems (e.g. personification and accumulation in the Shield). Lastly, the longstanding hermeneutical problems are outlined, including issues of authenticity.

The section on the Works and Days, for example, addresses how the poem relates to the 'real' economy and society, and presents it as a manual on 'how to experience farming' rather than on 'how to do farming', highlighting the interdependency of ethics and work. The section on the Chresmologoi deals with their content, transmission and reception (especially in the 5th century BCE) and their poetic features (metonymy, animal imagery, etc.), with two examples (Herodotus 8.20 and IG II2, 4968.15–21). The section on epigraphy presents a chronological catalogue of the inscriptions with references from Hansen and Wachter, with a few words on the differences in alphabet and contexts, and some examples.

Chapter 2 ('Genre') studies the compositional elements of early Greek hexameter poetry, stressing the porosity of the boundaries between heroic epic, wisdom poetry, etc. The chapter distinguishes between large-scale (heroic narrative, wisdom poetry, cosmogony), medium-scale (hymn or hymnic prelude, type scenes, genealogy, catalogue) and small-scale themes or structural features (proem and invocation to the Muse(s), two types of knowledge (truth vs. report), simile, other features such as route descriptions, ekphrasis, sphragis, parataxis, ring and spiral composition, parallelisms. In each case, a brief definition is followed by examples.

The category of 'genre' is not fully relevant to all this material and a student may not understand why typical parts of a poem, elements of poetical technique and views on the reliability of poetic discourse are treated at the same level of analysis. A distinction of nature would have been more helpful to structure a beginner's views: elements of poetic technique (formulae, themes, type scenes), modes of organisation of the material (ring composition, spiral composition, parallelisms), typical parts of a poem (proem, narratives, catalogues), and transversal motifs.

Chapter 3 deals with the epic tradition before and after Homer. The first section ('Unrecorded traditions') presents the diachronic evolution of performance models (from recomposition to recitation) and stresses that a reference to a myth is not necessarily a reference to a given poem (with parallels from iconography). Then, a presentation of the formula in its relationship with meter underscores the system's flexibility, by hinting at its diachronic evolution. Finally, the diffusion and phase models (coexistence of Ionic and Aeolic vs. succession from Aeolic to Ionic) are explained, with a special emphasis on Aeolism (its role in formulae, the possible substitutions of Ionic to Aeolic when the meter permits) and a discussion of the role of the vocalisation of r. The role of the a-stem genitives in the phase model is accounted for, as a 'taster' for further reading. Discussions on the origin of the hexameter are also outlined.

Chapter 4 deals with music and performance. Its first three sections (musical instruments, rhythm, pitch and melody) present the issues in interpreting ancient evidence. The section on performance is very clear and the different contexts are analysed (rhapsodic contests, agonistic performance, court and symposium). A student would consider the first three- quarters of this chapter to be the most challenging part of the book: the issues are admittedly not easy, and the chapter's structure makes no clear distinction between the presentation of the problems, the synchronic and diachronic data from ancient sources, and modern interpretations. It takes several readings to reach a clear overview.

Chapter 5 deals with approaching fragmentary evidence and is "an introduction to fragments targeted at the lay reader or apprentice classicist" (v). Four types of 'fragments' are distinguished: testimonies, quotations, papyrus and 'vestigial fragments' (when a fragment cannot be tied to a given poem). The chapter presents the structure of an edition (examples from the Little Iliad and Catalogue of Women) and provides hints to make sense of the structure of fragmentary works (on the basis of the Catalogue of Women). Practical issues in discussing the attribution of vestigial fragments are studied through examples from the Epic Cycle.

The is methodological overview here is succinct and normative, even for an introduction. The author states that "if [a papyrus] overlaps with a quotation in a surviving ancient author, gaps can be filled with certainty" (89). But this ignores the fact that some authors introduced variations within traditional formulae, others within repeated lines in their own corpus (e.g. Empedocles), and that sometimes the transmission of a given passage shows uariae lectiones antiquae. There are also some lexical inconsistencies: 'fragment' is used as a generic term for any testimony or quotation or vestigial fragment (88) but two pages later it becomes synonymous with 'quotation' (as opposed to testimonies, 90). A clear definition of 'context' (i.e. the passage from the source that introduces the quotation) is not provided. The critical distance necessary in approaching the complex relationship between testimony or contexts and fragments could have been more vividly stressed.

Chapter 6 deals with the relationships between poems, within different epic traditions and in later editorial practices. Neoanalysis and its methods and limits are presented in detail; the account of opposite views underscores, from a literary point of view, the complementarity between poems. The second part gathers evidence on ancient editorial manipulation: between the Theogony and Catalogue of Women, Catalogue of Women and Shield, Catalogue of Womenand Cypria, Works and Days and Ornithomancy, the Hymn to Apollo (on its own), the Thebaid and Epigony, and in the Epic Cycle. This last part provides a clear comparison between Proclus's summary and the discussion on how and to what extent the poems overlapped on each other.

The overall standard of the book is very high, the language clear, the discussion balanced, and the ratio between theory and examples from various passages of early Greek hexameter poetry is apt. Especially useful are the sections about the criteria usually put forward in order to take a stance in matters of authorship or dating, and their limits, as well as those on linguistics and on the relationships between poems. The account of why epic poets retained some Aeolic formulae is very clear (67).

The intended novice reader is (in my view) a student who is already familiar with Homer and with notions of historical linguistics and metrics, and who wishes to further their knowledge of early Greek hexameter poetry. The book would also succeed in stimulating a less advanced student's interest in reading the poems and would give them a good overview of the issues. All this is a worthy accomplishment. A specialist of a related field may find the general section on the poems' structure and dating beneficial when approaching the corpus, as well as a few detailed analyses, the bibliographical section on the editions, and the references to recent bibliography.

Some sections require more scholarly background than others; in Chapter 3, for example, 'Indo-European', 'Mycenaean', and symbols such as * or < are not defined, although a student would get the gist. The section on metrics and formulae may however seem esoteric: how to distinguish a long syllable from a short one is not explained, numbering hemipedes (– or uu = 1) makes the discussion needlessly obscure (e.g., "some common divisions (sc. into cola) are 2 + 6 + 4, 3 + 2½ + 6½", p. 64), and this section provides too few examples (the first example illustrates another layer in the explanation, i.e. that formulae can be slotted into these cola).

The book is very helpful in mapping recent views on major issues in early Greek hexameter poetry but of less use for grasping the history of the problems: the traditional discussion between Unitarians and Analysts is not mentioned although it sheds light on Neoanalysis and on its discussions. In Chapter 3, it would have been useful to remind students of Parry's definition of formula ("an expression regularly used, under the same metrical conditions, to express an essential idea"), of his principle of economy, and of how his works contributed to a change of paradigm in approaching Homer and early Greek hexameter poetry by treating repetitions not as a sign of interpolation but as a token of compositional technique.

The book is also more concerned with introducing readers to questions of authorship, dating, composition, etc., than with hermeneutical issues. The longstanding issues of the WD are addressed in general terms, with few bibliographical references (7–8). Pandora is treated at greater length, but the author takes skewed positions that he successfully avoids elsewhere: "for the narrator, all women are lazy consumers […]. <He> is deeply and viciously misogynistic" (7–8). Scholarly discussion has stressed that Pandora also has a positive role in making humankind immortal by lineage, which is their only compensation for the loss of (actual) immortality, and that she only embodies one aspect of archaic femininity. 2 A useful addition to the section on catalogues would have been an explanation of how the list is a projection and an interpretation of reality; that would help a student to make sense of this (seemingly) bare list of names. There also are a few thematic blind spots: for example, the Theban cycle is distinguished from the Epic Cycle in Chapter 1 and is not presented in detail before the last chapter.

The bibliography is centred on English-speaking scholarship (21 entries in German, 7 in Italian, 5 in French). J. Herington's Poetry into Drama (University of California Press, 1985), which gathers mentions of aedic/rhapsodic contests in ancient sources with English translations, is not mentioned. The list of editions is not always up to date: the editio maior of the new fragments of Empedocles on the Strasbourg papyrus by A. Martin and O. Primavesi (De Gruyter, 1999) is not mentioned, and the author refers to Inwood's 1992 edition of Empedocles instead of the 2001 revised edition.

These few limitations in terms of clarity, hermeneutical focus, and bibliography do not detract from the quality of the whole. The book is an excellent introduction to issues of dating, authorship, and linguistics of early Greek hexameter poetry, and it is laudable that a book accessible to students does not fall into the usual biographical simplifications about the narrators of the Theogony (in the proem) and the Works, while regularly putting emphasis on the literary or aesthetic consistency of a given poem. ​


1.   R. B. Rutherford, Homer, Cambridge, 2013 (Greece and Rome. New Surveys in the Classics. 41).
2.   V. Sébillotte Cuchet, "Régimes de genre et antiquité grecque classique", Annales (HSS) 67.3 (2012), 573–603. ​

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Carl A. Huffman (ed.), A History of Pythagoreanism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Pp. 530. ISBN 9781107014398. $118.00.

Reviewed by Justin M. Rogers, Freed-Hardeman University (

Version at BMCR home site

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

Few figures in the history of philosophy have enjoyed the acclaim of a Pythagoras. The name is synonymous with innovations in mathematics and music, and even with the invention of "philosophy" among the Greeks. But virtually every claim made about Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans in pre-Modern philosophy is historically dubious. Portraits, therefore, are almost as diverse as the scholars who have painted them.

The present volume does not intend to clear away the diversity, but rather to document it. Carl Huffman, the editor of this collection of essays, assembles an international team of scholars from some twelve countries who take various approaches to the source material. Some are minimalists (e.g. Lloyd), and others are more optimistic, at least in certain areas (e.g. Zhmud). The result is an engaging collection that offers not only valuable discussions of relevant source material, but also illustrates crucial methodological differences among modern scholars themselves.

Recent decades have witnessed a renewed interest in early Pythagoreanism, a trend reflected in the volume under review. Nine of the chapters critically examine information relating to Pythagoras and the early Pythagoreans. Especially welcome are separate chapters on Philolaus and Archytas, who have emerged in recent decades as important figures in the history of philosophy. Seven additional chapters treat the evidence from Plato through the early Roman era, including that vibrant age during which a number of Pythagorean forgeries appear. Three chapters then discuss the summary presentations of Pythagoreanism in Late Antique authors, and two final chapters document Medieval and early Renaissance receptions, respectively.

The general editor of the volume is responsible for an introduction, which summarizes each essay and highlights current trends in the study of Pythagoreanism. Huffman notes the methodological diversity, and helpfully compares and contrasts the various approaches taken to common source material.

Chapter One treats the figure of Pythagoras himself. Geoffrey Lloyd contrasts the influential presentations of Guthrie (in his History of Philosophy) and Burkert (in his Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism), and is skeptical about whether anything of substance can be known of the historical Pythagoras.

Chapter Two discusses Philolaus, the earliest Pythagorean to whom we can confidently ascribe genuine fragments. Daniel Graham asserts that Philolaus should be viewed more as an "inventor" of Pythagoreanism than a "transmitter" of it (48). In particular, Philolaus introduces the concept of "limiters" (περαίνοντα), and makes "unlimiteds" (ἄπειρα) and "limiters" twin principles in all that exists, with a third, "harmony," binding them together. This system informs astronomy as well, for an unlimited (fire) is limited by its placement at the center of the universe. This Philolaus calls the "hearth" (ἑστία), which the earth orbits once each day. Philolaus also asserts the existence of a counter-earth, although its exact function was unclear already in Antiquity.

Chapter Three is devoted to Archytas. Malcom Schofield regards Archytas, a contemporary of Plato, as the first Pythagorean to innovate in the field of mathematics. This may explain, in part, why more pseudo-Pythagorean works are ascribed to him than to any other early Pythagorean. Although Schofield allows some detectable influence in Plato's Republic and Timaeus, he rejects outright the notion that Timaeus is Archytas. He also dismisses any Archytean influence on Aristotle. In general, Schofield remains skeptical about the authenticity of most of the fragments attributed to Archytas.

Chapter Four is a summary treatment of various minor Pythagorean figures in the sixth to the fourth centuries BCE. Leonid Zhmud begins by addressing the difficulty of classifying early figures as Pythagoreans since there was no school as such and there appear to have been no unifying doctrines or lifestyles. Nevertheless, he labels Alcmaeon and Theodorus as Pythagoreans, and regards them as significant witnesses for early Pythagorean science and mathematics.

Chapter Five discusses Pythagorean involvement in politics and polis religion. Catherine Rowett understands a distinctive way of life to lie beneath a "creeping enthusiasm" for Pythagorean principles (119). Rowett is more positive than others about the reliability of late source material, and principally uses this material to discuss the positions of Pythagoras himself.

In Chapter Six, M. Laura Gemelli Marciano exalts the religious dimension of Pythagoreanism. The strict ethics and oral maxims of the master are not superstitious drivel, but are principles for life in service to the divine. She thus takes the oral traditions of the master (the acusmata) seriously, and regards them as positive evidence for ancient Pythagorean faith and practice.

Chapter Seven treats the relationship between Pythagoreanism and Orphism. Gábor Betegh suggests that the impossibility of clearly defining Pythagoreanism and Orphism in the early centuries prevents us from sketching a precise relationship between them. Doctrines that clearly linked the two in late antique authors, such as vegetarianism and metempsychosis, are inconsistently attested for both branches of thought in early sources. In fact, even the historicity of Orpheus is in doubt among the earliest witnesses.

Chapter Eight deals with mathematics, the area most associated with Pythagoreans in later philosophy. Reviel Netz hypothesizes two "networks" in the history of Greek mathematics, one associated with Archytas, and the other with Archimedes. It is largely due to the reputation of the former that Pythagoreanism became associated with mathematics in general, and the 'Pythagorean theorem' in particular. The older model of Archytas is ultimately superseded by the Archimedean model, except with the Platonists of late antiquity.

Chapter Nine treats Pythagorean harmonics. Andrew Barker carefully separates later developments (post-Plato) from the early Pythagoreans. He asserts that Pythagoras himself contributed nothing, and that recognition of the ratios of the concords predates any Pythagorean. Hippasus, one of the earliest, is probably the first to subject musical ratios to analysis, and Philolaus the first to apply these insights to metaphysics.

In Chapter Ten, John Palmer asserts Pythagorean influence on Plato was substantial, thus confirming, mutatis mutandis, a view traditional since Antiquity. The Gorgias reflects Pythagorean teaching on the good, and the Phaedo a Platonic development of the Pythagorean doctrine of psychic immortality. The Republic includes a polemic against Pythagorean number theory; the Philebus utilizes Philolaus' "limiters and unlimiteds;" and the Timaeus borrows the linkage between order and harmony as the sources of beauty and the good.

In Chapter Eleven, Oliver Primavesi discusses Aristotle's comments on the "so-called Pythagoreans." He extends the discussion, however, to include the late antique Metaphysics commentary of Alexander of Aphrodisias, which, he asserts includes fragments from Aristotle's lost monograph on the Pythagoreans. On the basis of this evidence, Primavesi concludes that Aristotle produces his own synthetic reconstruction of Pythagoreanism rather than a historical report.

Chapter Twelve discusses the Academic adoption of Pythagoreanism. John Dillon assigns to Speusippus and Xenocrates the desire to stress Pythagorean influence on Plato, especially with the doctrine of the One and Indefinite Dyad. A resurgence of this trend occurred in the first century BCE with Eudorus of Alexandria, a development most clearly observed in Philo of Alexandria.

Chapter Thirteen treats Pythagoreanism in the Peripatetic tradition. Carl Huffman concludes that, although there is abundant evidence for Pythagorean activity in the field of mathematics, none of these Pythagoreans appear to be decisive figures. Concerning the Pythagorean way of life, the Peripatetic sources are divided between praise and criticism.

In Chapter Fourteen, Stefan Schorn surveys the historiographic presentation of Pythagoras from Herodotus to Diodorus Siculus. Herodotus asserts a strong Egyptian influence. Timaeus of Tauromenium, like Aristotle, attests that the Pythagoreans were divided into two groups, and maintained strict secrecy. Neanthes of Cyzicus associates Pythagoras with Syria, which perhaps underlies the tradition that Pythagoras borrowed from the Jews. Diodorus praises the Pythagoreans, especially their ethical rigor.

Chapter Fifteen is a survey of the pseudo-Pythagorean corpus. Although Bruno Centrone acknowledges some of these texts were in circulation in the third century BCE, most belong to first-century BCE Alexandria, most notably ps.-Timaeus, ps.-Ocellus, and ps.-Archytas, which seem to assume a common system of thought in the areas of first principles, logic, theology, cosmology, ethics, and politics.

Chapter Sixteen discusses Pythagoreans in Rome and Asia Minor in the early Imperial Age. Jaap-Jan Flinterman rejects the use of Nigidius Figulus and the Porta Maggiore basilica as positive evidence that Pythagoreanism was widespread in Rome; however, he does find evidence in Cicero and Ovid that Pythagoreanism may have had some popularity as a native Italian philosophy.

Chapter Seventeen treats the account of Pythagoreanism in Diogenes Laertius. André Laks recognizes the potential source-critical utility of the account (especially for reconstructing Alexander Polyhistor), but also emphasizes the importance of reading Diogenes in his own terms. In fact, his Life of Pythagoras is far more coherent than the material around it, and may reflect a contemporary community, or may indicate the quality of his research or his sources.

In Chapter Eighteen, Constantinos Macris discusses Porphyry's Life of Pythagoras, which he takes to be a chapter of the much larger History of Philosophy. Porphyry regards all of the ps.-Pythagorica known to us as genuine, and thus sees Pythagoras as the ideal ascetic Platonist seeking to release his soul from the body.

Chapter Nineteen treats Iamblichus' On the Pythagorean Life. Dominic O'Meara emphasizes that this work is the first chapter in a monograph on Pythagoreanism in general. The soul of Pythagoras, Iamblichus says, did not merely descend, but was sent to humanity to share divine wisdom with us. Whereas, for Porphyry, Plato developed Pythagoras' teaching, Iamblichus asserts that Platonism is merely reissued Pythagoreanism.

Chapter Twenty handles the reception of Pythagoreanism from late antiquity to the Middle Ages. Andrew Hicks shows that Pythagoras was received as the founder of philosophy, and in the Middle Ages was credited with inventing the quadrivium, forming the basis for music theory, and developing natural philosophy.

In Chapter Twenty-One, Michael Allen discusses Pythagoreanism in the early Renaissance. Pythagoras was not the greatest of philosophers (this honor went to Plato), but he was an essential link in the chain of ancient wisdom stretching from Moses and Zoroaster to Plato. In addition to music theory, the doctrine of reincarnation, arithmology, and various Pythagorean precepts were popular fodder in the early Renaissance.

Each chapter is well-edited, and few typographical errors can be found. There is some variation from one chapter to another over the transliteration of Greek terms, but this probably reflects authorial choice rather than editorial inconsistency.

The book is remarkably comprehensive in its scope, and each chapter serves as a summary of primary texts and secondary scholarship on each respective subject. As a result, the volume is an excellent resource for specialists and novices alike. Anyone interested in the history of philosophy, of mathematics, of music and harmonics, or of the Pythagorean tradition as a whole should utilize this volume.

Table of Contents

Introduction / Carl A. Huffman
1. Pythagoras / Geoffrey Lloyd
2. Philolaus / Daniel W. Graham
3. Archytas / Malcolm Schofield
4. Sixth-, fifth-, and fourth-century Pythagoreans / Leonid Zhmud
5. The Pythagorean Society and Politics / Catherine Rowett
6. The Pythagorean Way of Life and Pythagorean Ethics / M. Laura Gemelli Marcianio
7. Pythagoreans, Orphism, and Greek Religion / Gábor Betegh
8. The Problem of Pythagorean Mathematics / Reviel Netz
9. Pythagorean Harmonics / Andrew Barker
10. The Pythagoreans and Plato / John Palmer
11. Aristotle on the "So-Called Pythagoreans:" From Lore to Principles / Oliver Primavesi
12. Pythagoreanism in the Academic Tradition: The Early Academy to Numenius / John Dillon
13. The Peripatetics on the Pythagoreans / Carl A. Huffman
14. Pythagoras in the Historical Tradition: from Herodotus to Diodorus Siculus / Stefan Schorn
15. The Pseudo-Pythagorean Writings / Bruno Centrone
16. Pythagoreans in Rome and Asia Minor around the turn of the Common Era / Jaap-Jan Flinterman
17. Diogenes Laertius' Life of Pythagoras / André Laks
18. Porphyry's Life of Pythagoras / Constantinos Macris
19. Iamblichus' On the Pythagorean Life in Context / Dominic J. O'Meara
20. Pythagoras and Pythagoreanism in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages / Andrew Hicks
21. Pythagoras in the Early Renaissance / Michael J. B. Allen
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Arnaud Zucker (ed.), L'encyclopédie du ciel: mythologie, astronomie, astrologie. Bouquins. Paris: Éditions Robert Laffont, 2016. Pp. 1,202. ISBN 9782221097908. €30.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Philip Thibodeau, Brooklyn College (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Are the stars meaningful in any way to the lives of human beings? The answer will of course depend on who you ask. A scientific humanist might draw your attention to the fact that the elements which make up our bodies were created in the hearts of dying stars – that "we are made of starstuff," as Carl Sagan famously put it.1 He or she might also add that appreciation of the vast scale of the cosmos can reveal how fragile and precious life on earth is: to quote again from Sagan, commenting on a photo of the "pale blue dot" of earth taken from Voyager 1, "Look again at that dot; on it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives..."2 An astrologer, by contrast, while likely to agree with these sentiments, would answer that the heavens bear on our lives in a much more direct way, since the positions of the sun, moon, and planets in the signs of the zodiac shape our personalities at birth, and nudge our fates in various directions according to their daily configurations in the sky. Scientists deny the existence of any such causal link between the astral and human realms, yet their denial does not put astrologers out of business because the latter enterprise taps into a deep longing to see the contingencies of our lives grounded in some higher reality.3 Ideas about the significance of the stars thus come in two broad forms, one universalizing and secular, the other akin to religion and divination and more individual-specific. Both forms have roots in the ancient world, roots which are deeply intertwined and hard to disentangle.

The volume under review traces these two systems of knowledge back to their Greco-Roman origins, and, quite uniquely, does so without giving either one pride of place. A collaborative work by eleven distinguished scholars working under the direction of Arnaud Zucker, it resists tidy classification. While labeled an "encyclopedia," it is not organized alphabetically in the manner of a traditional encyclopedia, but instead divides its discussions of celestial matters into three broad themes—les images, les lois, and les messages—which are in turn analytically subdivided into further categories. It offers readers hundreds of translated excerpts from primary sources, together with a few complete texts, and in that regard it resembles an anthology; yet most of its pages are devoted to medium-length articles on various topics. For the most part it assumes no specialized knowledge on the reader's part either of classics, astronomy, or astrology (a biographical appendix tells us who individuals like Hesiod and the emperor Julian were), yet in places it delves rather deeply into the details concerning, e.g., the methods used to reconstruct the star- catalogue which lay behind the Farnese Atlas' constellation-globe. The book itself is quite small, barely larger than a chunky volume from the Loeb library, yet at 1,216 pages, clearly not meant to be read at one sitting. Despite its heterogeneous character, it merits consideration based on the consistently high quality of its writing and its ecumenical approach to ancient celestial science in all its different forms.

The first part of the volume is devoted primarily to lore concerning the constellations and planets. A catalogue gives a short, illustrated account of the origins and Greco-Roman iconography of each constellation, accompanied by a full translation of the relevant passages from our two surviving collections of star myths, the Catasterismoi of Eratosthenes and Hyginus' Astronomica; having complete, reliable translations of these two texts under one cover is a nice feature. Also included here is a chapter on the development of modern constellation nomenclature which outlines the respective contributions of Bayer, Plancius, Hevelius, de Lacaille, and other astral cartographers, one of the best short introductions to the subject I have come across. An essay on the iconography of the sun, moon, and planets comes next, followed by a chapter on ouranogonie which offers translations of the creation stories in Hesiod Theog. 104–38, Ovid Met. 1.1–75, and Lucretius 5.417–80, in that order, with additional references in the commentary to the creation accounts in Plato's Timaeus and Empedocles. This essay has little connection to the material that comes before it—perhaps it was intended to smooth the transition to the next section of the book?—but highlights the many family resemblances that obtain between these three texts.

The book's middle third, on celestial "Laws," contains materials that for modern readers are likely seem more scientific in nature, e.g. the cosmological systems of Plato, Eudoxus, Aristotle, and Ptolemy, theories of meteors and comets, and Greek and Roman calendar conventions. After treating these topics it offers a complete translation of Hipparchus' Commentary on the Phaenomena of Eudoxus and Aratus—as far as I know, the only translation into a modern language of this text besides the one provided by Manitius in his 1897 Teubner. 4 Considerable space is then devoted to a discussion of astronomical objects and instruments of various kinds: there are historical accounts of the sundial and the astrolabe, and articles on an assortment of material remains including the zodiac at Dendera, the Tower of the Winds at Athens, the Farnese Atlas, and fragmentary inscribed parapegmata or star calendars; an essay on the Antikythera device gives a very clear exposition of the workings of this fascinating yet complicated instrument. The scholarship here is generally up-to-date; the article on parapegmata takes into account Lehoux's recent edition, and it is good to see Duke's rebuttal of Schaefer's much-publicized claims about the "lost catalogue of Hipparchus" supposedly hidden in the Farnese Atlas' globe, 5 On the other hand, there is no mention of any of the important studies of the Antikythera device which have been published since 2004, and Elly Dekker's marvelous investigation of ancient and medieval star- globes seems to have escaped attention as well. 6 A short essay on Greek star catalogues follows, one which serves as an introduction to a long appendix at the end of the book where the star catalogues of Eratosthenes, Hipparchus, and Ptolemy are reconstructed in parallel columns. The articles in this section are accessibly written and judicious when dealing with controversial topics, the translations literal and reliable. This portion of the volume covers much of the same ground as James Evans' The History and Practice of Ancient Astronomy,7 insofar as it deals with instrumentation and astronomical models; unlike Evans' book, however, it devotes almost no attention to methods of astronomical calculation—a feature which, depending on one's taste for mathematics, will either constitute a recommendation or a shortcoming.

The last third of this book is the most original in conception. More than a summary of ancient astrology along the lines of, say, Tamsyn Barton's Ancient Astrology 8, it is in fact a broad survey of efforts to interpret celestial phenomena, whether through divination, myth, philosophy, or astrology properly speaking. The first few texts that are discussed make up an eclectic mix indeed: we find here the brontoscopic calendar ascribed to Nigidius Figulus (fully translated), the Christian constellations devised by Gregory of Tours, an excerpt from Porphyry on the descent of the soul through the heavens, and Macrobius on the music of the spheres, to name just a few. A general discussion of divinatory practices follows, and serves to introduce a presentation of ancient astrology which focuses on methods and terminology, and leans rather heavily on excerpts from Manilius and Firmicus Maternus. As a piece of intellectual history, this section is somewhat confusing, switching as it does between sources that differ greatly from each other in date and intellectual outlook. Yet the specific discussions are lucid and insightful, and the confusion helpfully reminds us that in antiquity multiple forms of celestial hermeneutics were always present and competing with each other in the way they interpreted the signs given by the stars.

While nominally an encyclopedia, then, this book is in fact a rather idiosyncratic compendium which has something to offer classicists, art historians, astronomers, and astrologers alike. An autodidact who needed to brush up on some aspect of ancient astronomy or astrology will find its essays useful, particularly as they involve iconography and history; the translations of obscure texts and the sections on constellations, star maps, and star catalogues will prove useful to specialists. But this book is primarily a work to be read casually and for pleasure: open any page, and you will find some lesser-known text or concept rescued from obscurity, or more familiar items juxtaposed in ways that make them seem new and strange. The "ancient quarrel" between philosophy and poetry has no place here, and the modern quarrel that divides astronomers from astrologers is also banished from its pages.

Table of Contents

I. Les Images. Histoire et mythologie: voire et raconter
1. Les étoiles fixes
2. Les étoiles mobiles: les luminaires et les planètes
3. Ouranogonie
II. Les Lois. L'Astronomie: observer et calculer
1. Les enquêtes astronomiques
2. Le Commentaire aux Phénomènes d'Eudoxe et d'Aratos d'Hipparque
3. Instruments et objets
III. Les Messages> Signes et influences: interpréter et prédire
1. Action et messages du ciel
2. Le ciel et la philosophie
3. Structure et signification du ciel
4. La science astrologique


1.   Note the echo of Lucretius' caelesti sumus omnes semine oriundi (2.991); Sagan, who was widely read in the history of science, may well have come across the line.
2.   Again, note the echo of Cicero's description of the earth in the Somnium Scipionis: iam ipsa terra ita mihi parva visa est, ut me imperii nostri, quo quasi punctum eius attingimus, paeniteret (Resp. 6.16).
3.   Today, for instance, as I finish work on this review which I have been regrettably late in completing, my horoscope seems to speak to my procrastination: "You may feel like keeping a low profile these days, and it's no wonder—the stars heat things up to a high temperature. Don't be too surprised if something you did in the past catches up with you. There's nowhere to run once it finds you, so you may as well face it" ( How can I be sure that my resolution to finish this is not somehow connected with the presence in my birth-sign of Mercury and Pluto?
4.   K. Manitius, In Arati et Eudoxi Phaenomena commentariorum libri tres, Leipzig 1894.
5.   See D. Duke, "Analysis of the Farnese Globe", Journal for the History of Astronomy 37 (2006), 87–100, replying to B. E. Schaefer, "The Epoch of the Constellations on the Farnese Atlas and their Origin in Hipparchus' Lost Catalogue", Journal for the History of Astronomy 36 (2005) 167–96; and D. Lehoux, Astronomy, Weather and Calendars in the Ancient World: Parapegmata and Related Texts in Classical and Near-Eastern Societies, Cambridge 2007.
6.   E. Dekker, Illustrating the Phaenomena. Celestial cartography in Antiquity and the Middle Ages, Oxford 2012. While many recent Antikythera studies are admittedly rather technical, the important article by C. C. Carman and J. Evans, "On the Epoch of the Antikythera Mechanism and its Eclipse Predictor", Archive for History of Exact Sciences, 68 (2014), 693-774, which tentatively dates the device to ca. 200 BCE, should have been noted in a work of this kind.
7.   J. Evans, The History and Practice of Ancient Astronomy, Oxford 1998.
8.   T. Barton, Ancient Astrology, Routledge 1994.

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Elizabeth R. Gebhard, Timothy E. Gregory (ed.), Bridge of the Untiring Sea: The Corinthian Isthmus from Prehistory to Late Antiquity. Hesperia Supplement, 48. Princeton, NJ: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2015. Pp. xxi, 386. ISBN 9780876615485. $75.00 (pb).

Reviewed by David Michael Smith, University of Liverpool (

Version at BMCR home site

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

Taking its title from a line in Pindar's sixth Nemean ode, Bridge of the Untiring Sea presents the edited proceedings of a 2007 conference held at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in celebration of more than fifty years of Isthmian research, and thus offers something of a companion piece to the 2013 Corinthian volume edited by Konstantinos Kissas and Wolf-Dietrich Niemeier and the dedicated Isthmia Series.1 In their introduction to the volume, Elizabeth Gebhard and Timothy Gregory set the Isthmus within its historical-political context, from the role of the sanctuary in the emergence of a united Greek front against the Persian threat in 481 B.C. to its accommodation of Nero's announcement of devolution in Achaea in A.D. 66. There is, of course, no real need to convince the reader of the significance of the Isthmus, and these few short pages are sufficient to reinforce its importance and that of the volume.

The Panhellenic sanctuary of Poseidon is often central in historical accounts of the region, and the same is true of many of the contributions offered here. The structure is chronological, as expected for a work aiming to set forth the longue durée of Isthmian history (p. 1), although only two of seventeen chapters address its prehistoric component. Balomenou and Tassinos present the results of the 37th EPCA excavations at Mycenaean Kyras Vrysi and argue for the site as one possible source for Late Helladic material previously recovered within the temenos (p. 24). Tartaron, alternatively, discusses Kalamianos and the broader results of the Saronic Harbours Archaeological Research Project [SHARP], characterising the harbour town as a contested periphery between the long-lived Saronic centre at Kolonna and an emergent Mycenae (p. 37). The site and the argument have appeared elsewhere since the ASCSA conference,2 and so there is a degree of familiarity here. The volume advances into the historical with a study of the architecture and construction of the Archaic Temple of Poseidon by the late Frederick Hemans. The structure exemplifies a shift from the pre-monumental vernacular, which Hemans explores with reference to its major innovations, including the use of single-skin isodomic ashlar masonry employing a transitional edge anathyrosis and a desire for economy that saw minimal block cutting on site. The 'geison' blocks are located above the cella walls as supports for structural timbers, while discussion of the Protocorinthian tile roof is enhanced immeasurably by an appendix detailing an illuminating piece of experimental archaeology elucidating its manufacture.

Anderson-Stojanović's analysis of late Classical-Hellenistic architecture on the Rachi feels rather out of sequence between Heman's contribution and Martha Risser's discussion of sixth- to fifth-century B.C. pottery from the Archaic Reservoir. Using common-sense criteria to distinguish individual structures within a difficult architectural assemblage, Anderson-Stojanović resolves a settlement of small heterogenous buildings, the architecture of which would have dictated frequent and repeated communal interaction, at once serving as a call to reject notions of the uniform Greek house and raising intriguing questions about the identity of their inhabitants as Corinthian citizens, metics, slaves or extended kin-groups (p. 81). Risser's analysis reveals patterns within the Reservoir assemblage that hint at the complex and shifting dynamics of public feasting within the sanctuary. A close association with Corinth is clear, and several sets of fine pottery were apparently produced en masse within the same workshops. Unfortunately, lack of data renders the process of their arrival at Isthmia obscure. A short appendix (p. 95-96) details ceramic evidence for destruction of the Archaic Temple between ca. 460 and 450 B.C.

This refined chronology underpins Houghtalin's discussion of the Temple Deposit, considered by the author as an accumulation formed through the repeated dedication of both official and counterfeit coinage, and perhaps only part of an original whole. Comparison with the Roman Temple of Sullis-Minerva at Bath feels slightly anachronistic when Greek comparanda are available, and one wonders how far iconography or symbolism (rather than simple circulation patterns) truly influenced the choice of coins deposited (p. 105), although the point is well made. The significance of the down-dating of the Temple destruction becomes apparent in Houghtalin's revised chronology for the minting of the Corinthian Ravel II.2 group and the T-back/large skew Aiginetan stater and, more significantly, the first mints at Ambrakia and Argos. There are few surprises within Thomsen's study of the coroplastic assemblage from the sanctuary; predominant groups are associated with Poseidon, those with less obvious links feature only marginally. The decision to avoid the implications of its makeup for ritual practice at the site (p. 109) can be understood in a preliminary report. More problematic is the absence of a table of total type counts that would have served to offset occasional lapses in clarity.3

Arafat offers a comprehensive discussion of an exceptionally fine Late Protocorinthian alabastron from the Reservoir. Analysis of decorative and compositional parallels within the recognised corpus of the Chigi Painter seems to build toward a revelatory crescendo before a shift in tone, and a note on the difficulties of attribution in Corinthian vase painting, make it clear that no association is forthcoming; the question mark of Arafat's title perhaps forewarns as much. Late Classical iron weaponry from Broneer's West Foundation forms the focus of Jackson's contribution, providing an opportunity to explore both the problematic character and chronological development of the building and the Macedonian influence that preceded the arrival of the Macedonian garrison. Jackson's catalogue draws out technical and morphological details that strengthen his identification of contemporary Macedonian parallels, and he succeeds in setting the West Foundation within the regional political-historical narrative, albeit with some speculation (and an arguable over-emphasis on the pro-Macedonian Deinarchos and Demaratos), even if the true nature of the structure and the identity of its recipient remain unclear. Based on careful reading of the so-called Museum Marble Pile, Sturgeon reconstructs two statues from the Sanctuary of Palaimon. The first is identified as Publius Licinius Priscus Iuventianus, high priest for life and donor of the Antonine Palaimonion (V), and cautiously paired with a base naming Iuventianus excavated at Corinth (p. 168). A second is tentatively identified as Marcus Aurelius, perhaps originally accompanied by two officers within an imperial group commemorating Aurelius' initiation into the cult of Palaimon (p. 182-3). Sturgeon locates the latter along the south or north precinct walls and the former, perhaps, east of the temple, in a discussion which populates the space and offers a context for the dedication of statuary therein. Wiseman provides commentary on, and partial reconstruction of, a list of victors and officers at the Isthmian, Sebastean, and Caesarean festivals of A.D. 57, preserved on a herm perhaps originally set on the plateau of the Gymnasium at Corinth. Alongside the first occurrence of the title of xystarches at Corinth (p. 221), its greatest significance, Wiseman argues, is in its implication for the study of the agonistic festival cycle, demanding an adaptive approach capable of capturing the vagaries of local and imperial timetables and the myriad factors which might influence them. Yegül examines the second-century A.D. 'hall type' bath complex at Isthmia within a more general analysis of the phenomenon of sanctuary baths in Greece. Although successful in contextualising the latter, and peopling such facilities more broadly, his attempt to establish parallels between the Nereid Hall and the palatial megara of the Late Bronze Age (p. 268) seems entirely inappropriate.

Ellis and Poehler report on survey and modelling undertaken within the East Isthmia Archaeological Project and, particularly, on the identification of some seventeen structural subphases from within the complex architectural morass of the East Field. The wider Roman settlement pattern of the eastern Corinthian hinterland is addressed by Pettegrew's data-rich contribution. It, like Tartaron's, is a product of EKAS and has similarly appeared elsewhere,4 although here Pettegrew recasts the region as an "urban periphery" (p. 309) from the later first century A.D.: a complex, connected space manifesting a diversity of occupation forms preferentially oriented on major routeways and linked to the historical trajectories of urban Corinth (p. 295). Detailed architectural study of the late Roman Fortress, and particularly Towers 7 and 14,5 leads Frey to identify its construction in the hands of individual crews who worked semi-autonomously to general instruction, employing spolia within separate building traditions in a process that, he suggests, may have contributed to the emergence of the later Roman and Medieval architectural canon (p. 326). Caraher argues for the identification of the Justinianic Viktorinos inscription from the Fortress as a conscious attempt to marry imperial authority, military policy and Christian liturgy (p. 339), and thus promote imperial and religious unity, during a period of theological tension at Isthmia. Wohl closes the volume with an analysis of variant Type XXXII lamps, a timely nod to the appearance of Isthmia X (due 2017), arguing in favour of Peloponnesian, and particularly Corinthian-Argive, production, in contrast to the Sicilian provenance propounded by Broneer (p. 351).

Minor editorial oversights, particularly in the standardisation of dating conventions, detract nothing from a thoroughly accomplished volume that serves equally as an accessible introduction to, and an important marker for, work on the historic Isthmus and, by extension, current research trends in Greece.

Table of Contents

Introduction, Elizabeth R. Gebhard and Timothy E. Gregory (1-12)
An early Mycenaean habitation site at Kyras Vrysi, Eleni Balomenou and Vasili Tassinos (13-24)
The settlement at Kalamianos: Bronze Age small worlds and the Saronic coast of the southeastern Corinthia, Thomas F. Tartaron (25-38)
The Archaic Temple of Poseidon: problems of design and invention, Frederick P. Hemans (39-63)
The domestic architecture of the Rachi settlement at Isthmia, Virginia R. Anderson-Stojanović (65-81)
City, sanctuary and feast: dining vessels from the Archaic Reservoir in the Sanctuary of Poseidon, Martha K. Risser (83-96)
The Temple Deposit at Isthmia and the dating of Archaic and early Classical Greek coins, Liane Houghtalin (97-108)
Riding for Poseidon: terracotta figurines from the Sanctuary of Poseidon, Arne Thomsen (109-118)
The Chigi Painter at Isthmia? Karim W. Arafat (119-132)
Arms from the age of Philip and Alexander at Broneer's West Foundation near Isthmia, Alastar H. Jackson (133-157)
New sculptures from the Isthmian Palaimonion, Mary C. Sturgeon (159-192)
Agonistic festivals, victors and officials in the time of Nero: an inscribed herm from the Gymnasium area of Corinth, James Wiseman (193-246)
Roman baths at Isthmia and sanctuary baths in Greece, Fikret K. Yegül (247-269)
The Roman buildings east of the Temple of Poseidon on the Isthmus, Steven J.R. Ellis and Eric E. Poehler (271-287)
Corinthian suburbia: patterns of Roman settlement on the Isthmus, David K. Pettegrew (289-310)
Work teams on the Isthmian fortress and the development of a later Roman architectural aesthetic, Jon M. Frey (311-326)
Epigraphy, liturgy, and imperial policy on the Justinianic Isthmus, William R. Caraher (327-340)
Circular lamps in the Late Antique Peloponnese, Birgitta L. Wohl (341-351)
References (353-380)
Index (381-386)


1.   K. Kissas and W.-D. Niemeier (ed.), The Corinthia and the northeast Peloponnese (Munich, 2013).
2.   T. Tartaron et al. (2011) 'The Saronic Harbors Archaeological Research Project (SHARP). Investigations at Mycenaean Kalamianos, 2007-2009', Hesperia, 80, 559-634; D. Pullen (2013) 'The life and death of a Mycenaean port town: Kalamianos on the Saronic Gulf', Journal of Maritime Archaeology, 8, 245-262; T. Tartaron (2013) Maritime networks in the Mycenaean world (Cambridge, 2013); D. Pullen 'How to build a Mycenaean town: the architecture of Kalamianos' in A.-L. Schallin and I. Tournavitou (eds.) Mycenaeans up to date (Stockholm, 2015).
3.   "…the ratio even higher when figurines found outside the sanctuary are excluded" (p. 110); "…this holds true only if we count the items…found outside the sanctuary" (p. 112).
4.   D. Pettegrew (2007) 'The busy countryside of Late Roman Corinth: interpreting ceramic data produced by regional archaeological surveys', Hesperia, 76, 743-784; D. Pettegrew (2010) 'Regional survey and the boom-and-bust-countryside: re-reading the archaeological evidence for episodic abandonment in the Late Roman Corinthia', International Journal of Historical Archaeology, 14, 215-229.
5.   Also, J.M. Frey, Spolia in fortifications and the common builder in Late Antiquity (Leiden, 2016).

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Francesca Biondi, Teagene di Reggio rapsodo e interprete di Omero. Syncrisis, 2. Pisa; Roma: Fabrizio Serra editore, 2015. Pp. 144. ISBN 9788862277167. €48.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Marco Antonio Santamaría Álvarez​, University of Salamanca (

Version at BMCR home site

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Every creator of a literary genre or a trail-blazing form of reasoning inevitably develops an aura of fascination, and such is the case of Theagenes of Rhegium, credited with two long-lasting innovations: being the first to write on Homer's life and works, and being the founder of the allegorical interpretation (allegoresis) of poetic texts, in addition to being the first prose writer from Western Greece. It is therefore very frustrating not to possess any direct quotations from his book and to have to content ourselves with a mere five testimonia, all but one of them very short in length. Francesca Biondi has done her best to draw maximum information from these meager texts in her book, the first entirely dedicated to the personality and work of Theagenes.

After a brief survey of different scholarly approaches to this author (11-13), she presents the text with critical apparatus and a translation of the five testimonia (18-27), on which she offers in-depth commentary in the remainder of the book (31-114).

-T1 is a testimony of Tatian (Ad Graec. 31), important for specifying the period during which Theagenes lived: he was a contemporary of the king Cambyses (529-522). He is the first author cited as investigating Homer's poetry, lineage and ἀκμή. Biondi adheres to the widespread view that Theagenes's interest in these themes can be explained by his being a rhapsodos. Indeed, it is very likely that the rhapsodoi not only knew the Homeric poems by heart, but that, before or after their performance, they provided biographical information on the poet, as well as explanations of rare and obscure terms and comments on the pedagogical value of certain passages. In this way, they satisfied the audience's desire to learn more about the poet and better understand his work. Theagenes' innovation was to put his knowledge of Homer's life (that is, an outline of his biography) in writing, as well as various explanations of his poetry, in terms of lexicon, grammar and morally problematic passages. In my view, the theory of Theagenes as rhapsodos is convincing, as it succeeds in explaining the various themes found in his work. Lastly, Biondi offers a portrait of two figures close to Theagenes, who are also cited by Tatian in T1: Stesimbrotus of Thasos and Antimachus of Colophon, who dealt with Homer's homeland and clarified unclear Homeric terms (31-42).

-T2 is a scholium to Dionysius Thrax (p. 164, 23-29 Hilgard), which credits Theagenes with the origin of the kind of grammatiké concerned with hellenismós. The other type of grammar, called grammatistiké in the scholium (codd.: grammatikè; grammati<sti>kè is an emendation by Clarke, as in Schol. Lond. Dionys. Thrac. p. 448, 12-16 Hilgard = T2a Biondi) refers to the teaching of the elements of grammar. According to Biondi, the term hellenismós alludes to the correct use of the Greek language, derived from the work of poets and prose writers. Theagenes' studies of Homer must have awakened his interest in grammar. This grammar, in the sense of the critical examination of texts, was probably focused on the explanation of glosses and morphologically anomalous terms. In my opinion, the meaning of hellenismós in the scholium is very obscure and there are scarcely enough elements for it to be understood. Theagenes' interest in Homer's glosses is very likely, but there is no clear listing of these glosses with grammatical correction, nor is it clear why their examination should be labelled as hellenismós (43-47). -T3 is a scholium to Il. 1.381, which describes a textual variant attributed to Theagenes, who read ῥά νύ in place of μάλα. The author upholds the view that this is a moralizing variant aimed at eliminating an impious criticism of Apollo on the part of Achilles for loving Chryses to excess. The verse may provide evidence that Theagenes' motivation to deal with textual issues was to resolve the meaning of morally problematic passages. Biondi concludes this section with some intriguing observations on clues to the presence of copies of the Homeric poems in Magna Graecia and specifically in Rhegium. She argues that this can be explained by the desire of the colonies' inhabitants to reinforce their identity through a glorious past and by the difficulty of obtaining professional rhapsodoi (49-56).

-T4 comes from Porphyry' Quaestiones Homericae (ad Il. p. 240 MacPhail, ap. Schol. Hom. Il. 20.67). As the longest and most relevant testimony on Theagenes, its commentary occupies nearly the half of the book (57-105). T4 focuses on the Iliadic verses that describe the theomachy (Il. 20.67-74) and interprets them as referring to the predominance of some elements or dispositions over others: water (represented by Poseidon) over fire (Apollo), fire (Hephaestus) over water (Scamandrus), air (Hera) over the moon (Artemis), wisdom (Athena) over madness (Ares) and desire (Aphrodite). Biondi points to some aspects of these gods in the poems that favored their identification with the elements: the connections of Poseidon and Scamandrus with water, of Hephaestus with fire and of the last three gods with their different qualities are evident. Regarding Apollo, his epithet Phoebus is usually connected with light, and from Aesch. Pr. 22 onwards, his name can designate the sun (58-60).

In line with previous authors, the author points out the proximity between the key concepts in Porphyry' passage and Ionian thought, especially Anaximander's theories, in which basic qualities such as hot, cold, dry and humid are opposed (A 16 DK), and in which the sea is explained as the result of the drying of the primeval waters by the sun (A 27 DK), similarly to the drying effect of fire on water in the scholium, with reference to Hephaestus' action on the Scamander. She convincingly argues that Anaximander's cosmogony must form the basis of the opposed pairings and the structure of Porphyry's passage (61-63).

The opposition between Hera (= the air) and Artemis (= the moon) can be based on two etymologies, the first inspired by Homer (Il. 21.6-7: ἠέρα δ' Ἥρα / πίτνα) and the other, ἀέρα τέμνειν, "to cut the air", present in the writings of the Stoics. Nonetheless, another of Biondi's suggestions appears more likely: that Artemis' interpretation as the moon derives from her brother Apollo's identification with the sun (63-66).

With regard to three gods' correspondence with mental dispositions (Athena = wisdom, Ares = madness, and Aphrodite = desire), the author provides various Homeric passages in which similar qualities of these gods are manifest. She correctly emphasizes the fact that this does not constitute a moral allegory (as some authors have stated); rather it is psychological in nature, since it refers to attitudes and makes no value judgement on the actions in question. The interpretation of Hermes as λόγος is due to his function as messenger of the gods in the Odyssey and to his astute character. Although the passage contains no equivalence between Leto and an element, Schrader inserted some words in which she was interpreted as oblivion (λήθη), a reading accepted by Biondi and which appears very likely, since it is present in Ps.-Plutarch Vit. Hom. 102.3 and Heraclit. Alleg. Hom. 55 (66-72).

One appealing contribution is Biondi's observation that Helios' presence in Porphyry's passage seems to involve an allegoresis of Od. 8.266-366, the narration of the adulterous love affair of Ares and Aphrodite voiced by Demodocus. She bases this observation on Ps.-Plut. Vit. Hom. 101-102, which interprets the theomachy using terms very similar to T4 and also includes the allegoresis of said passage from the Odyssey. The similarities of content and terminology indicate that T4 and the Ps.-Plutarch text share a common source. Since Helios is mentioned in both texts, but does not appear in the theomachy and does appear in Demodocus' song, in their source there must also have been an allegoresis of the latter passage, which is equally problematic and requires an interpretation eliminating impious elements (74-78).

The author then offers a very illuminating account of the beginnings of allegoresis in Greece. She sets apart three main spaces proposed by scholars: philosophical, political and mystic, which share the common factor of distinguishing two levels of meaning: one obvious to the majority and the other hidden and reserved for the few, be they philosophers, aristocrats or initiates. According to Biondi, the tendency towards allegory derives from internal factors, since the epic tradition itself uses myths to communicate a symbolic and paradigmatic message. Even Homer contains elements of philology, since he occasionally introduces explanations of rare terms or proper nouns and even etymologies. She also observes allegories in certain passages, such as Il. 16.676-683, 19.91-94, 9.502- 512, but one might object that these are more personifications of concepts such as fear, obfuscation and pleas, rather than terms or passages with a deeper meaning (78-85).

In the section entitled "The scandal of the theomachies", she considers various topics: allegoresis as defense of a text subject to criticism (Theagenes appears to respond to Xenophanes' attacks on Homer for his impiety); the parallel between Theagenes and Stesichorus, who composed three versions of the myth of Helen, no doubt in order to appeal to an audience critical of the traditional version of the epic; the possible connection between Theagenes and the allegorical explanations in the Orphic and Pythagorean milieus in Magna Graecia (one of the weakest parts of the book due to the lack of testimonies from the 6th and 5th centuries) (85-98).

In the final section, Biondi examines the possibility that Pythagorean philosophy may have inspired Theagenes' allegoresis. She astutely argues that there is no sufficient basis to support this view. In line with previous publications, she does concede the resemblance between T4 and fr. 4 DK of Alcmaeon of Croton, which alludes to various opposed pairings (98-105).

T5, derived from the Suda and two scholia on Aristophanes, distinguishes between several authors called Theagenes, one of whom wrote about Homer. This is a likely indication of the title that Theagenes' book must have had, Περὶ Ὁμήρου. Due to a lack of clear evidence, Biondi does not accept either A. Debiasi's proposal that this work (thought to contain ancient Euboean traditions) is the source for Alcidamas' Μουσαῖον, or that scholar's attribution of an edition of the Iliad to Theagenes (107-108).

In a brief section (108-110), Biondi considers as possible the proposal that the grammarian Seleucus of Tirus (1st century AD) was the source of various scholia containing mentions of Theagenes. In my view, the data is too scant to allow us to make sure statements in this regard.

The book's conclusions are presented in two pages (113-114): Theagenes was, in all likelihood, a professional rhapsodos concerned with defending Homer against the criticisms leveled at him by contemporary philosophers such as Xenophanes. His main innovation was the writing of a prose work on Homer (T5), dealing with his life (T1), language (T2) and text (T3), as well as eliminating unseemly elements from certain episodes, such as the theomachy and the love affair between Ares and Aphrodite, through an original use of allegorical interpretation.

The author's ample bibliography shows a natural preference for publications in Italian and, to a lesser degree, in English (115-123). It lacks several valuable articles on Theagenes in French, German and Spanish, which can now be found in Pedro Pablo Fuentes González' excellent entry "Théagénès de Rhégium", in R. Goulet (ed.), Dictionnaire des Philosophes Antiques, VI, Paris, 2016, 801-811, an ideal complement to Biondi's book. The work concludes with three indexes: quoted passages, names and topics (125-140). The editorial production of the book is exquisite in all material and typographical aspects. I have not found any misprints.

To summarize, this is an intelligent, solid and well documented book, with a rigorous and subtle treatment of the details of its topic. Not only does it offer a very coherent and plausible portrait of Theagenes, it also provides a fascinating study of the circulation of the Homeric poems in Magna Graecia, the diversity of attitudes towards them and the conditions and motivations which gave birth to their allegorical interpretation.

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Friday, March 24, 2017


W. V. Harris, Roman Power: A Thousand Years of Empire. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016. Pp. xxi, 357. ISBN 9781107152717. $49.99.

Reviewed by Charles Goldberg, Bethel University (

Version at BMCR home site

Editor's note: William Harris's Roman Power attracted a great deal of interest when it was published, and so BMCR decided to commission two reviews, in the hope that providing contrasting perspectives would enable richer conversation in the field at large. The other review is written by Harriet Flower, BMCR 2017.03.40.


Comprehensive modern accounts of the longue durée of Roman imperialism are few and far between (though note Greg Woolf's Rome: An Empire's Story, BMCR 2014.02.44). Roman Power provides a synthetic account of the growth and decline of Roman power from its early years as a middling Italian city-state in 400 BCE to the 7th-century CE Islamic invasions of the Byzantine East. Harris is concerned not only with the allocation of military or political force on external enemies, but with myriad forms of power—economic, legal, social, and the power of gender and ideas. The work is comparative in two respects, first by comparing the centuries of Roman expansion with those of its fall, and second by considering how the "soft" forms of power at work in the interior of the empire mentioned above affected and were affected by the external, "hard" application of imperial-military power.

After an introduction, Harris surveys the structural factors that encouraged territorial expansion and consolidation in the earlier republic (chapter 2). Borrowing the work of sociologist Michael Mann, Harris focuses on the use of "new organizational techniques that greatly enhanced the capacity to control peoples and territories" (29).1 By these, Harris means the mélange of strategies familiar to most students of Roman imperial history (29-33): unbalanced treaties that favored Rome; the transformation of enemy territory into ager publicus; the collaboration of local elites; and the extension of various forms of citizenship in exchange for military service. In addition to these, Harris continues the line of argumentation he first set forth in 1979's War and Imperialism in Republican Rome, namely, that a singularly militaristic culture provided powerful incentives to elites and non-elites alike to view nearly continuous warfare as desirable.

Chapter three, "The Romans against each other, from republic to monarchy," examines the aristocracy's socio-political power, and how late republican challenges to it forced the reformulation of political legitimacy under Augustus. Harris takes a strong position against those who see a significant democratic element in the republican constitution, feeling that this scholarship has taken insufficient account of how elite authority permeated throughout society, despite the legal authority of the assemblies. Through war, elites acquired tremendous economic power via land and slaves (86). Many from the lower classes, who might have represented a threat to aristocratic political power at the assemblies, were instead settled in colonies far from Rome or situated within the patron-client relationship, which nullified their potential political influence. For Harris, the chief factor in the tumult of the late republic was not so much warring aristocratic factions nor a newly politicized military, but widespread popular discontent and aristocratic apathy. While others have stated similar objections to the "democratic Rome" argument, Harris' rebuttal is a well-stated reminder of the material basis of both aristocratic hegemony in Rome and late republican lower class unrest.

Chapters four and five consider external and internal power from 16 to 337 CE, charting a shift in attitudes whereby both elites and non-elites (Italians, at any rate) ceased to view military service in positive terms, becoming more or less content with the extent of Roman territory (112-125). Factors cited in explanation include the emperor's desire to maximize his own personal honores, as well as the fact that individual rulers often had little experience in war. Specious claims of impressive military accomplishments, such as Claudius' boast to have subjugated Britain "without any losses" (ILS 216), "indicated both that the emperor could tell foolish lies and that the Roman people was losing its historical appetite for warfare…" (128). When facing external foes, the decision to fight was often rooted in financial calculus. And yet, despite significant internal unrest (68-9, 193-6, 235-84, and 205-24 CE were particularly volatile years), the empire abided. Harris attributes this long-lasting stability to impressive financial and manpower reserves, and to Rome's ability to persuade provincial elites to contribute to governance. Harris pushes back against the widespread scholarly disuse of the term "Romanization," finding it the most accurate descriptor of the process under consideration.

Chapters six and seven form a similar complement for the period from 337 to 641 CE and consider the causes for disintegration of the western and eastern empires. Harris isolates the period between 370 and 430 in the West as crucial decades of decline. The use of the word "decline" is purposeful, and Harris positions his analysis against those who have viewed late antiquity in terms of continuity or even prosperity. Decline in this context has an important financial dimension: Germanic invasions, even when repulsed, destabilized revenue collection, which meant fewer and less motivated soldiers. The eastern empire, though more prosperous and stable for a time, eventually succumbed to similar ailments. Justinian's reunification of east and west was untenable and created an empire too large for successors to defend or tax adequately. The final wave, the "tsunami" (242) of Islamic invaders, proved irresistible. These external fissures corresponded to internal instability, chiefly caused by the rise of Christianity. The growing political and economic might of the Church weakened imperial control (clergy were exempt from taxes). Tensions between Christians and traditional polytheists sparked social unrest, as did doctrinal disagreements among Christians. All of this eroded societal bonds at the same time that outside threats fractured political ones.

Harris ultimately concludes that the later absence of the factors encouraging the growth of Roman power in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE—notably, the tremendous material benefits of warfare as well as elites and non-elites more or less united by ideals of patriotic citizenship and military service—brought about Roman decline. The strength of this book lies in the ambition of its approach. Syntheses of the entire span of the growth and decline of imperial rule are beyond the reach of scholars lacking Harris' breadth of knowledge and intellectual inquisitiveness, and he is attentive to the appropriate primary and secondary sources throughout his study. Regarding the two comparative foci mentioned above, the book succeeds best when considering the interrelationship between the external and internal outlays of power at Rome, an approach that unites military-political and socio-cultural scholarly conversations that often take place independently of one another. The second comparison, that between the earlier and later years of imperial power, receives less treatment than it might have, and is mostly kept to the conclusion. Comparative empire is a popular approach throughout the Academy at the moment, and Harris is astute to note that the comparison that considers one Roman period against another has many merits. For that reason, one wished for greater exploration of this theme.

Additionally, the strength of the book—its ambition and scope—at times creates its own problems. The need to cover so much ground in so few pages results in occasionally dismissive comments on competing interpretations. I note in particular the remarks on the "realist" approach to Roman imperialism advanced by Eckstein (42-3), which Harris all-too-briefly labels a "silly historical falsehood." Especially because he writes for an educated general audience, not only for specialists of Rome, such truncated remarks give an unfair appraisal of what has become a widely accepted understanding of Rome's Mediterranean context. Furthermore, other interesting avenues are not pursued. To the rather familiar picture Harris paints of the end of the republic, he adds the novel suggestion that elite philhellenism contributed to unrest; namely, that sophisticated rhetorical educations encouraged speakers to rile up hostile crowds, and also that the widespread popularity of Epicureanism encouraged political indifference (109). This deserves further exploration, which I hope Harris undertakes in the future. Finally, I am sympathetic to the minefield Harris traverses regarding periodization, given the enormous swath of time he considers, but in the introduction we are told that the year 16 CE acts as a kind of lynchpin because of Tiberius' decision to halt expansion, but Harris seems later to emphasize Hadrian's reign instead (125).

All told, Harris has produced a comprehensive and learned account of the long arc of Roman rule that will interest Roman historians with disparate chronological and thematic interests. The book is attractively printed with numerous maps and images. Typographical errors are minimal.


1.   Quoting Mann, M., The Sources of Social Power, Vol. 1: A History of Power from the Beginning to A.D. 1760, Cambridge, 1986.

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William V. Harris, Roman Power: A Thousand Years of Empire. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016. Pp. xxi, 356. ISBN 9781107152717. $49.95.

Reviewed by Harriet I. Flower, Princeton University (

Version at BMCR home site

Editor's note: William Harris's Roman Power attracted a great deal of interest when it was published, and so BMCR decided to commission two reviews, in the hope that providing contrasting perspectives would enable richer conversation in the field at large. The other review is written by Charles Goldberg, BMCR 2017.03.41.

Publisher's Preview

William Harris has written a bold and brisk overview of Roman history and imperialism, which spans from 400 BC to the Arab conquest in the seventh century AD (around AD 641). Painting with broad brushstrokes, Harris engages the reader in a lively dialogue about what was really at issue in power politics across a thousand year span. What was Roman power? How did it grow? How did it fail? How did internal political power relations shape and react to overseas expansion over time? Aimed at a general audience of students and anybody interested in ancient history, this book offers a synthesis of issues and scholarly approaches, while highlighting Harris' own considerable contributions to the field. No modern work (in English) has attempted such a wide range or sharp analysis within so broad a framework. This book will be profitable for many kinds of readers and deserves to be read through for its general comparisons, rather than simply being mined for Harris' treatment of individual issues.

Roman Power is divided into 8 chapters, of which six form the body of the text, framed by a shorter introduction and conclusion. Harris has deftly identified three broad time periods to articulate his discussion, namely: 400 BC to AD 16 (early in the reign of Tiberius, at the end of Germanicus' war in Germany); AD 16 to 337 (the death of Constantine); and 337 to 641 (in the aftermath of the Battle of Yarmuk in 636). Each time-period is discussed in two chapters, the first one dealing with external struggles and ambitions, then the other examining society internally but with an eye on imperial themes. Harris builds especially well on the world-history project of Polybius. This organizational format works effectively and allows Harris to make comparisons across wide stretches of time and space, which are further sharpened and nuanced in his final retrospective reflections. The text includes a number of fine illustrations, although some are small and a bit hard to read if one is not already familiar with the image. Seven maps help to situate events and shifts in the geopolitical balance of influence. The summaries at the end of sections and chapters work well to keep the range of issues in view.

The choice of AD 16 is more unconventional than the other two chronological markers, which are familiar watershed points, and does have the effect of putting significant emphasis on the emperor Tiberius as the key figure in the developing narrative of Rome's imperial project. In order to achieve this effect, Harris discounts the notion (p. 130), already voiced by ancient sources, that Augustus envisioned a finite empire in his last years and had even left instructions that Rome's overseas holdings should not be expanded beyond the borders as they existed at the time of his death in AD 14. However one views this particular historical question, Harris shows that he has thought carefully about periodization as a tool of analysis in itself, rather than just a set of random hooks on which to hang his discussion.

Harris is very ambitious in painting a unified picture across time, a picture that, nevertheless, remains vivid and fresh in its detail. His discussion is based on a genuine and profound familiarity with the ancient sources, although the scale of this text does not allow for much detailed analysis of the ancient evidence and the challenges of interpreting what different sources really tell us. He is sharply critical of political scientists and other theorists whose research is divorced from our ancient evidence (p. 13). Harris employs a robust and expansive concept of empire. Using the term "power" instead of the more commonly cited "hegemony" or "empire" allows him to look at Roman politics and policies more broadly, while bypassing at least some of the debates about terminology that have tended to become increasingly circular and detached from the stark uncertainties of ancient Mediterranean warfare and economic exploitation. The paired analysis of internal and external opportunities and constraints also helps to refocus the discussion. Readers will mostly enjoy Harris' characteristically combative stance towards a range of contemporary scholars, some of whom he has been disagreeing with for almost four decades. Meanwhile, the footnotes do tend to focus quite precisely on Harris' own contributions, going back to 1971. His assertion that "the whole system of external power rested on terror" (p. 146) naturally tends to pass over diplomacy and alliance building by other means.

Roman Power is seeking to forge a new path between studying the realia of ancient societies (e.g. available resources and manpower, the limits of communication, economic effects of empire, the cost of continual warfare etc.) and analyzing the more abstract ideas, symbols, and attitudes that created or expressed a specifically Roman world view, not least to themselves. In this version, confidence and ambition are key factors at all levels of society. Harris works consistently to transcend a triumphalist narrative of continual Roman victory to capture at least some of the principal experiences of hardship and expressions of resilience that characterized Rome's rapid expansion, both as a capital city and a vast, multicultural empire. At the same time, he does not take either the Romans or their friends and rivals for granted. He asks complex questions about parallel patterns of persistence and rupture across hundreds of years. Nor does he allow his focus on the big picture and the most telling questions about what shaped and constituted power to obscure the degree of violence and suffering on a more basic, human level. His repeated stress on the vital effect of local officials in individual interactions on the whole imperial system is illuminating.

Inevitably, some issues are treated in a summary fashion within such a broad discussion. A clear focus on the Romans themselves as actors and agents of change results in a less full consideration of external pressures, such as population migrations caused by severe weather (e.g. the Cimbri and Teutoni of the late second century BC) or other factors located distinctly outside the Roman sphere of influence (e.g. the migration of the Helvetii that was probably a reaction to threats from German tribes to the north). Similarly, continual, sometimes extreme native resistance to Rome is cheerfully summarized throughout rather than being studied in its own right. The role of foreign soldiers across the ages is another theme suggestive of other possible focalizations of what was Roman about some of these moments of conquest.

Harris' narrative has little to say of the role of women, especially in republican political culture during the key time of expansion. Arguably, it was precisely the rapidly expanding imperial project after the Second Punic War that allowed Roman women, at least amongst the more affluent sectors of society, to wield much greater legal, economic, and social influence than women in many other societies, notably those with which the Romans were in the habit of comparing themselves. The stunning scale of chattel slavery, one of the most important byproducts of Roman wars, is noted rather than being explored in detail (p. 151 "slavery is the water in which everything else floats"). But such narrative and editorial choices are inevitable in a book of this scale on a truly vast topic; nothing discussed here seems inconsequential.

The issue of religion is perhaps the exception that deserves to be mentioned. Harris takes seriously the effects, both psychological and practical, of new religious movements, notably Christianity and Islam. In his view, Christianity served to distract and to undermine traditional Roman imperial ambitions, educational standards, qualities of resilience and self-reliance, and combative lifestyles, especially amongst the elites, possibly contributing to the weakening of Roman power. By contrast, the rise of Islam was clearly accompanied by aggressive expansion, starting in the 630s and 640s in the decades immediately after the death of the prophet and with the formation of the Umayyad Caliphate, which at its height would (at least briefly) rival the Roman empire. Yet the discussion, in the second and third parts of the book, of these later historical phenomena is not matched with a similarly detailed evaluation of Roman traditional religion as an influential factor in the rise of Roman imperialism in the BC period, the key timeframe for the creation of Rome's position in the Mediterranean. Harris certainly acknowledges that Romans thought the gods were on their side and helped them to win in battle. Yet this is not explored in more detail, despite his consistent interest in morale and in the ability of Romans to deal with defeats and other setbacks of various kinds during this period of expansion.

In sum, William Harris' new discussion of Roman power provides a complex and colorful tapestry of multi-faceted change across a millennium, a period that arguably saw a succession of Roman empires, with very different objectives. He highlights the long and slow decline across several phases. Ultimately, Harris walks a fine line in comparing completely different times and places and peoples that had relatively little in common, either in their aims or their achievements. Few have attempted such a broad comparative project, perhaps for good reason. But Harris demonstrates how exhilarating and informative a broad view can be. The later Roman empires would have seemed completely alien worlds to a Scipio, Cicero, or Augustus. Bringing out these differences in lively prose in a succinct, fast-paced, and readable format is a signal achievement. This reader found many stimulating, new questions to think about.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017


Norbert Kunisch, Die Attische Importkeramik. Milet: Ergebnisse der Ausgrabungen und Untersuchungen seit dem Jahr 1899, Bd. 5: Funde aus Milet, Teil 3. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2016. Pp. x, 220; 130 p. of plates. ISBN 9783110454895. $182.00.

Reviewed by Rebecca Diana Klug, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen (

Version at BMCR home site

Publisher's Preview

Norbert Kunisch hat in dem vorliegenden Band Die Attische Importkeramik eine wichtige Materialarbeit mit mehr als 1600 Fragmenten attischer Keramik aus verschiedenen Bereichen Milets vorgelegt. Es handelt sich bei den Fragmenten ausschließlich um Funde aus den Grabungen nach dem 2. Weltkrieg –1955 wurden die Ausgrabungen wiederaufgenommen. Die Mehrzahl der Funde stammt jedoch aus den Grabungen der Jahre 1992 bis 2009.

Der Band ist in drei Bereiche unterschiedlichen Umfanges gegliedert. Im ersten Teil (1-76) beschäftigt Kunisch sich mit der Befundsituation, der Grabungsdokumentation und insbesondere mit den verschiedenen Gefäßformen. Zusätzlich werden chronologische Fragen und Probleme angesprochen. Ergänzt wird dieser Abschnitt durch einen Beitrag von Norbert Erhardt zu den Graffiti (V. Namenskundlicher Kommentar zu den Graffiti, 37-40). Der zweite Teil wird durch den Katalog gebildet und ist der umfangreichste Abschnitt des Bandes (77-214). Der dritte Teil umfasst die 15 Beilagen—vorwiegend Profilzeichnungen—und 130 Tafeln, auf denen nahezu alle im Katalog aufgenommenen Stücke abgebildet sind.

Einleitend erklärt Kunisch seine Einschränkung auf die figürlich bemalte attische Keramik (1). Allein aufgrund der Materialmenge wird die unbemalte, schwarzgefirnisste Keramik ausgelassen, bzw. nur die Fragmente mit Graffiti wurden aufgenommen. Die Publikation dieser Fragmente soll folgen. Die Beschränkung auf die figürlich bemalten Fragmente scheint zumindest problematisch, da es sich bei den nicht bemalten Fragmenten sowohl um einfache Schwarzfirniskeramik handeln kann, aber auch um Fragmente figürlich bemalter Gefäße. Insbesondere bei den Skyphosrändern kann das kaum unterschieden werden. Es muss generell in der Interpretation berücksichtigt werden, dass eine größere Gruppe attischer Importkeramik noch nicht in die Analyse eingeflossen ist. Da es sich jedoch bei den vorgelegten Fragmenten schon um mehr als 1600 Stücke handelt, ist die Einschränkung auf die figürlich bemalte Keramik durchaus nachvollziehbar.

Weiterhin begründet er den Aufbau seines Katalogs: Als oberstes Ordnungskriterium wählt er die Vasenform und erst danach die chronologische Reihenfolge der Fragmente. Dieser Aufbau erleichtert die Nutzung des Katalogs und ermöglicht einen schnellen Überblick über die Mengenverhältnisse.

Anschließend beschäftigt Kunisch sich mit der Grabungsdokumentation und der Befundsituation. Beide sind für die Analyse der attischen Importkeramik problematisch. Er bemängelt, dass nicht nur ein einheitliches Inventarsystem fehle (3-10), sondern überdies auch die von 1955 bis 1982 gefundenen Fragmente nur ungenau den Grabungsarealen zugeordnet werden können. Zusätzlich wird die Auswertung durch die Befundsituation erschwert. Schon Volkmar von Graeve verweist in seinem Vorwort zu diesem Band darauf, dass „es eine in situ liegende Zerstörungsschicht in Milet nicht gibt" (VII). Er verweist damit auf die antike Umschichtung des Zerstörungsschutts. Stratigraphisch können die Fragmente daher nicht datiert werden.

Das erste Kapitel widmet Kunisch den in Milet vorkommenden Gefäßformen attischer Keramik. Er untergliedert dieses Kapitel in Attisch-schwarzfigurige Keramik (11-18), Attisch-rotfigurige Keramik (18) und Attisch-schwarzgefirnisste Keramik (19). Für die attisch-schwarzfigurige Keramik gibt er für jede vorhandene Form die Gesamtzahl der in Milet gefundenen Exemplare an und zählt die wichtigeren Fragmente auf. Alle angesprochenen Stücke werden mit Verweisen auf den Katalog versehen, nicht aber mit solchen auf die entsprechenden Tafeln. Gerade bei den herausgehobenen Stücken wäre dies ein schöner Zusatz. Deutlich zusammengefasster sind dagegen die Auflistungen der Attisch-rotfigurigen Keramik und der Attisch-schwarzgefirnissten Keramik.

Im zweiten Kapitel wird zusammengefasst, welche Rückschlüsse die attische Importkeramik auf den Heiligtumsbetrieb im Aphrodite-Heiligtum auf dem Zeytintepe erlaubt (21-22). Neben einer Eingrenzung der Nutzungsphase und der Blütezeit verweist Kunisch auf die Tatsache, dass in dem Heiligtum vorwiegend Trinkgefäße, nicht aber anderes Symposionsgeschirr gefunden worden ist. Er sieht damit in den Gefäßen einzelne Stiftungen, was auch die Graffiti zu unterstützen scheinen und nicht Reste von im Heiligtum abgehaltenen Banketten.

Das dritte Kapitel umfasst dagegen Fragen zur Fundmengenstatistik (23-27). Kunisch betrachtet eine solche aufgrund der spezifischen Befundsituation und der zum Teil nur geringen Fundmengen als problematisch. Einzig für die Funde aus dem Aphrodite-Heiligtum sieht er eine solche als möglich und nützlich an (23).

Anschließend folgt im vierten Kapitel eine Auflistung der Inschriften (29-35), wobei zwischen Inschriften und Graffiti unterschieden wird. Ergänzt wird dieses Kapitel durch den schon erwähnten Beitrag von Norbert Erhardt zu den darauf vorkommenden Namen (37-40), der als fünftes Kapitel aufgenommen worden ist. Darauf folgen als Kapitel sechs und sieben kurze Einschübe zu antiken Reparaturen (41) und zum Scherben (43). Kunisch verzichtet auf die Angabe von Farbwerten, auch im Katalog, da es innerhalb der attischen Keramik Farbschwankungen geben würde. Für nachfolgende Forscher, die den Band auch als Referenz für eigene Keramikarbeiten nutzen möchten, wäre die Angabe des Farbspektrums jedoch ein großer Mehrwert. Auch auf eine generelle Beschreibung des Scherben wird verzichtet.

Die Kapitel acht, neun und zehn sind einzelnen Gefäßen oder Gruppen von Gefäßen gewidmet. Im achten Kapitel wird der Fokus auf den Amasis-Maler gelegt (45-48). Insgesamt drei Schalen können diesem zugeordnet werden. Das Kapitel neun beschäftigt sich mit der Entstehung und der Bemalung der Kelchpyxiden (49-55). Laut Kunisch sind in Milet ungewöhnlich viele attische Kelchpyxiden gefunden worden, fast alle im Bereich des Aphrodite-Heiligtums (51). Im zehnten Kapitel steht dann der Altamura-Maler im Mittelpunkt (57-58).

Das Kapitel elf (59-62) beschäftigt sich generell mit den attischen Vasen in Milet und versucht diese in den historischen Kontext einzuordnen. Kunisch kann den durch den Ionischen Aufstand hervorgerufenen Bruch und die Zerstörung der Stadt anhand der Importe nachvollziehen. Die attischen Importe enden um die Wende vom 6. zum 5. Jh. v. Chr. Um die Mitte des 5. Jhs. v. Chr. nehmen die Importe dann wieder zu.

Abschließend thematisiert Kunisch im zwölften Kapitel verschiedene Datierungsfragen (63-70). Zum einen beschäftigt er sich mit einem als „Große Scherbenschüttung" bezeichneten Komplex unter der Westterrasse des Zeytintepe (63-65). Dabei handelt es sich um einen Teil der Wiederauffüllung eines Steinbruchs, der für den Aphrodite-Tempel angelegt worden war. Diese „große Scherbenstreuung" kann als geschlossener Befund betrachtet werden, der nicht mehr antik oder nachantik gestört worden ist. Die Funde können alle in die 2. Hälfte des 6. Jhs. v. Chr. datiert werden. Die jüngsten Funde gehören in das Jahrzehnt 520–510 v. Chr. (65). Kunisch schließt dieses Kapitel mit Bemerkungen zur ‚absoluten Chronologie' (65-70). Dabei handelt es sich um eine Frage, die sowohl von Graeve in seinem Vorwort als auch Kunisch in seiner Einleitung angesprochen hatten. Von verschiedenen Seiten stand die Frage im Raum, ob die attischen Vasen aus Milet etwas zur Chronologie der attischen Vasen beitragen könnten. Kunisch stellt fest, dass die attischen Vasen in Milet die ältere Chronologie von Langlotz stützen und nichts gegen einen Beginn der attisch rotfigurigen Malerei um 530 v. Chr. sprechen würde (70). Kunischs Argumentation macht sich die Fundzusammensetzung und das Verhältnis von schwarzfiguriger und rotfiguriger Malerei in den Ausgrabungen am Aphrodite-Heiligtum zunutze. Zwar überwiegt die schwarzfigurige Malerei sehr deutlich, doch auf das letzte Viertel des 6. Jhs. v. Chr. eingeschränkt, ist das Verhältnis zwischen schwarzfigurigen und rotfigurigen Importen 4:1. Damit passt, laut Kunisch, das Verhältnis sehr gut zu der Menge einer etablierten Vasengruppe im Verhältnis zu einer innovativen Neuerung. Ein Verhältnis von 1:1 wäre kaum zu erwarten. Kunisch nutzt damit Kenzlers eigene Argumentation,1 der den Beginn der rotfigurigen Vasenmalerei später ansetzen möchte, um Kenzlers Theorie zu widerlegen.

In Kapitel dreizehn werden „Tabellen zur Fundverteilung" abgebildet (71-74). Die Tabellen bieten einen guten Überblick über die Fundkomplexe und Gefäßformen attischer Importkeramik in Milet. Die chronologische Aufschlüsselung in Tabelle 5 zeigt noch einmal deutlich den Einbruch, der bereits im letzten Viertel des 6. Jhs. v. Chr. einsetzt. Es wäre benutzerfreundlicher gewesen, wenn die Tabellen den entsprechenden und ohnehin sehr kurzen Kapiteln zugeordnet wären.

Der anschließende Katalog bildet den umfangreichsten Bereich der Publikation (77-214). Ziel des Katalogs ist es laut Kunisch nicht nur die herausragenden Stücke zu beschreiben, sondern die attische Importkeramik vollständig zu erfassen, mit einem Fokus auf die figürlich bemalte Keramik. Der Katalog ist übersichtlich gegliedert und enthält alle wesentlichen Informationen. Für Vergleiche mit anderen Fundkomplexen wären Farbangaben hilfreich gewesen.

Abschließend folgt ein großer Abbildungsteil mit Beilagen und Tafeln. Nahezu von allen aufgenommenen Fragmenten ist die Vorderseite in Schwarz-Weiß abgebildet. Profilzeichnungen sind dagegen nur wenige vorhanden, dennoch bieten diese einen guten Überblick über die vorhandenen Typen.

Zusammengefasst lässt sich sagen, dass es endlich eine umfangreiche Vorlage der attischen Importkeramik aus Milet gibt. Der Katalog enthält nahezu alle entsprechende Funde aus dem Stadtgebiet, während in den Auswertungskapiteln die besser dokumentierten und auch zahlreicher vorhandenen Fragmente aus den Grabungskampagnen von 1992 bis 2009 naturgemäß überwiegen. Das Auslassen der attischen schwarzgefirnissten Keramik und der Farbwerte ist zwar schade, dennoch in ihrer Begründung nachvollziehbar und schmälert in keiner Weise den Wert der vorliegenden Publikation. Es bleibt zu hoffen, dass auch die unbemalte attische Keramik mit gleicher Sorgfalt bearbeitet und publiziert werden wird, da auch diese für viele Fragen von entscheidender Bedeutung ist.


1.   U. Kenzler, „Hoplitenehre. Ein Beitrag zur absoluten Chronologie attischer Vasen der spätarchaischen Zeit", Hephaistos 25, 2007, 179–207.

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