Monday, June 18, 2018


Effie F. Athanassopoulos, Landscape Archaeology and the Medieval Countryside. Nemea Valley Archaeological Project, 2. Princeton: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2016. Pp. xvii, 172. ISBN 9780876619230. $150.00.

Reviewed by Nikos Tsivikis, Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz (

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Ancient Nemea, in the region of Corinthia in the Peloponnese, has been for decades one of the focal points for archaeological research of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens (ASCSA), notably with the long-standing excavation of the classical sanctuary of Zeus and the stadium. Beyond the excavation of the site of Nemea, since the mid-1980s a wider intensive regional survey project for the area was envisioned, the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project (NVAP.) This was a project aiming to understand the ancient landscape in surrounding Nemea, encompassing a large number of settlements. This book by Effie Athanassopoulos presents the medieval component of the NVAP survey.

The book's Foreword, written by the directors of NVAP, James C. Wright, Jack L. Davis, and John F. Cherry, sets out the aims of the project that also largely define Athanassopoulos' monograph: 1) to establish the distribution of artifacts within the survey area; 2) to evaluate the extent to which this distribution adequately reflects the totality of past patterns of settlement, and 3) to provide some explanation for long-term changes in the human behavior that such patterns represent. Oriented toward these aims, Landscape Archaeology and the Medieval Countryside aspires to function both as an entry point to the state of the art of landscape archaeology of the later centuries of Byzantium and a detailed account of the evolution of the actual medieval landscape of the Nemea region. For reasons explained throughout the book and connected with the historical evolution of the region, the author decides to limit the discussion to material and settlements dated between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries, covering partially the middle Byzantine period (seventh to twelth centuries) and the late Byzantine or late medieval period (thirteenth to fifteenth centuries). Athanassopoulos's book is the only book-length study presenting the material of an intensive survey targeted only to its late medieval component, as is noted in the Foreword.1

The book is organized in five very diverse chapters: the three first chapters introduce Byzantine history and its archaeology, and survey scientific methodology; the fourth discusses the Nemean archaeological and historical material; and the last presents the data from the selected sites of the survey in a form of a gazetteer.

The first chapter presents a concise overview of the political history of Byzantium. Large parts of it, however, cover the period from the fourth to the tenth centuries, which lies outside the scope of the rest of the book. The second chapter functions as a second introduction, this time to archaeological and historical approaches to the study of the Byzantine countryside. It begins with a general note on the theory of archaeological survey and how survey is used when dealing with Byzantine material. At the same time, issues regarding the modalities of Byzantine agriculture are explored, including hot topics such as the use of traditional or alternative field exploitation by the Byzantines. This introductory discussion also extends into the various theories on local agricultural organization and economy, followed by a detailed presentation of Byzantine agriculture itself and its main cultivations: cereals, fruits, olive trees, and viticulture. By the end of the chapter, there is an attempt to focus on agricultural production in the Peloponnese itself during this period and to discuss the special role of sericulture. The most important contribution of this chapter is its treatment of the problem of how to use archaeology to comment on major historical events, and the many levels of inconsistency between these levels of analysis. At this point, we are first informed by the author that a tool that could possibly advance the discussion and integrate the different types of sources, archaeological and historical, are the approaches developed initially by the French Annales school.

In the third chapter, we arrive at the focus of the project, namely that of the survey and its methodology. The author focusses on the slow development of Byzantine archaeology, comparing it to the archaeology of medieval western Europe. Classical archaeology casts its shadow over the work of Byzantine archaeologists, although the situation is better now than some decades ago. The fourth chapter begins the discussion of the valley of Nemea in the Middle Ages. The author explores the possibilities of applying some of the theoretical models of Byzantine settlement patterns to the area under research. Mainly settlement size is considered. Settlement sizes are then categorized according to the relevant information of the middle Byzantine Marcian Treatise on Taxation, one of the very few original Byzantine texts on the collection of taxes and the countryside.2 All of the medieval sites located by the survey would fall into the two smallest categories of settlements in the Treatise, the proasteia and agridia. Only a couple of sites from the NVAP could possibly correspond to the size of proasteia, something like small villages, while the majority of the sites conform more to the agridion, isolated farms or clusters of houses. These isolated farmsteads established near fertile lands are utilized by the author as indicators that more land was opened up to cultivation in twelfth-thirteenth centuries.

One site, Polyphengi, stands out as the main settlement. The importance of the site is attested by its presence in medieval texts about the area of Nemea and also by its frequent appearance in the accounts of early modern visitors and travelers. At this point, texts are brought in to complement archaeological evidence.

Based on Polyphengi and the other settlement sites discovered by the survey, the author argues convincingly that medieval settlement trends in Nemea reflected political, social, and economic processes. The intense level of agricultural activity during the twelth-thirteenth centuries corresponds to the abundant evidence for dispersed habitation, economic growth, and expansion of trade. By contrast, drastic change can be seen in the late thirteenth century when nucleation of settlement became the norm. This is considered as evidence of the extreme fragmentation, insecurity, and conflict caused by the Latin conquest of the Peloponnese. The author applies Braudelian and Annales approaches to describe the cycles of expansion and contraction as belonging to the medium level, while the history of a single site, Polyphengi, presented through narrative and the study of architectural remains, is closer to a histoire événementielle.

The survey evidence connected with medieval sites is presented in detail in the fifth chapter. It largely consists of a gazetteer of NVAP sites as well as the publication and discussion of the archaeological evidence, mostly pottery. It is important to note that the sites presented in the gazetteer are the ones that produced significant numbers of ceramic dated to the period under discussion, and not the totality of walked plots. The gazetteer also incorporates data from the older survey of the area of the ancient city of Phlious undertaken in 1986 and published by Susan Alcock, focusing on those tracts that produced significant amount of medieval pottery. It is complimented by a brief explanation of the methodology and technical aspects of pottery collection and presentation of the material. The sites of possible medieval settlement are described in some detail and indicated on satellite maps that are up to date. Every site is complemented by a catalogue of pottery and other artefacts collected with excellent photographic documentation. The gazetteer is well-defined and the accompanying catalogues offer clear evidence for the dating of the sites. Site numbering can be occasionally confusing since it follows an internal system that is neither geographic nor serial.

The site of Polyphengi (sites 901, 902 and 910), discussed in detail through textual evidence in the previous chapter, here again draws special attention as it was a central settlement with especially purpose-built fortifications. Another interesting and large site in the gazetteer, that of Evangelistria (site 102), is a reminder of some of the interesting complications of intensive field survey, especially in hilly settings. On top of the low rocky hill of Evangelistria, the survey records the walls of a ruined fifth- or sixth-century basilica church that are still standing to the considerable height of 0,50 m. The pottery retrieved is limited to only a handful of sherds, none of them really diagnostic. In this case, one could argue that the choice to limit the presented material and the adjoining discussion to the later centuries of the Middle Ages also limits the option of interpreting sequences in settlement during the whole Byzantine period.

Athanassopoulos's book is an extremely valuable, one of a kind contribution. It is a pioneer in documenting solely the medieval material of a much wider and cross-temporal survey. In this way it is able to aptly address the historical questions of the Medieval Nemea and Peloponnese through the scarce evidence offered by a field survey. At the same time the study at hand shows the difficulties that many of us face in dealing with exclusively medieval material surveys in the regions of the Byzantine world. So, despite some debatable choices, such as the rather long introduction and the exclusion of earlier Byzantine history from the analysis of the material, the book offers a refinement upon the methodology of its field and focuses its use on a specific historical question. As it is only by pioneering work that Byzantine archaeology can strengthen its footing in the field of medieval archaeology, rather than remain an offshoot of the classical archaeologies of the Mediterranean.


1.   See the recent discussion about the importance of such studies in: Athanasios Vionis, "The Archaeology of Landscape and Material Culture in Late Byzantine – Frankish Greece," Pharos 20 (2014), 313-346.
2.   More recent assessment of the Marcian Treatise, following a later date in Mark Bartusis, Land and Privilege in Byzantium: the Institution of Pronoia (Cambridge 2012), 84-85; for the earlier dating, Leonora Neville, "The Marcian Treatise on Taxation and the Nature of Bureaucracy in Byzantium," Byzantinische Forschungen 26 (2000), 47-62.

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R. W. Sharples, Perspectives on Greek Philosophy: S.V. Keeling Memorial Lectures in Ancient Philosophy 1992-2002. London; New York: Routledge, 2017. Pp. 176. ISBN 9781138707856. $115.00.

Reviewed by Peter Adamson, LMU München (

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Part of the "Routledge Revivals" series, this book is a reprint of a volume that first appeared in 2003, under the editorship of the late Bob Sharples. The pieces included were Keeling lectures, given in London between 1992 and 2002 by a stellar line-up of specialists in ancient philosophy. In alphabetical order, these are Sarah Broadie, Jacques Brunschwig, David Charles, John Cooper, David Furley, Terry Irwin, and Martha Nussbaum, Günther Patzig, and Bernard Williams. Given the stature of the contributors it is unsurprising that much excellent material is to be found in the volume. The papers deal more or less exclusively with Plato and Aristotle, but make up for this somewhat narrow scope by varying widely in approach.

At the most "philological" end is Brunschwig's "Do We Need New Editions of Ancient Philosophy?" The answer, unsurprisingly, turns out to be "yes," as established through a series of concrete examples having to do with the Topics. While instructive, these will be of little interest to the general reader, who will profit more from the opening pages, which explain the rationale for continuing to edit texts that have already been edited by expert classicists in the past. Particularly well taken is Brunschwig's point that the indirect tradition can help establish the text, and has often not been taken into account in earlier editions. He makes the point with reference to the late ancient commentators, to which one could add that medieval translations into languages like Arabic or Armenian can be an important resource, representing as they do an otherwise lost recension of the Greek text.

The remaining papers are devoted to philosophical themes, with the main areas of inquiry being ethics and physics. Of the pieces on ethics, Patzig's seems rather incidental, being more breezy in tone than the others and no doubt intended more as popular lecture than serious scholarship. He basically limits himself to making the point (which I suppose must already have been rather familiar in 1992, when this lecture was given) that "quality of life" in Plato and Aristotle means something more like objective flourishing than a subjective feeling of well-being. The other contributions often seek to bring the ancient texts into contact with later discussions. Thus Williams considers whether Christine Korsgaard's notion of "intrinsic goodness" resonates with Plato's aims in the Republic, concluding that the Form of the Good alone has this feature, yet has little explanatory force in the development of Plato's ethics. Irwin's paper is as much (or even more) about Cudworth as Plato, and suggests that Cudworth was reviving the Euthyphro dilemma to cast doubt on positivism and theological voluntarism in ethics. While this is instructive, the connection to the Euthyphro seems to rest on the rather shaky assumption that Plato was centrally concerned with counterfactual situations where the gods' preferences change (23). But in fact Plato has Socrates pose a problem that could not have arisen in the theological tradition to which Cudworth was responding: in a polytheistic culture, the gods might disagree with one another. Once this is ruled out by stipulating that the pious is what all the gods love (Euthyphro 9d), the remaining problem is still nothing to do with counterfactuals but is rather about the direction of explanation: from piety to the gods' preferences, or vice-versa?

Moving on to practical philosophy in Aristotle, we have Cooper's piece on emotions in Aristotle. Famously the topic is most extensively taken up in the Rhetoric, which is rather problematic since, as Cooper notes, this text is not intended to provide anything on the order of a moral psychology. He takes it as a preparatory work for a "positive philosophical theory of the nature of emotions" that Aristotle may never have written (86). I would hesitate to go even that far, since the treatment of emotions here is strictly subordinated to the speaker's need to manipulate his audience effectively.

Regarding physics, Furley's piece is an investigation of final causation in Aristotle and emphasizes the fact that, in a biological context, the formal and final causes are identical. This is hardly news, but the point is put to good use here, since it allows Furley to explain how, for Aristotle, final causes can be genuinely explanations of physical processes and thus underwrite "ontological connections" rather than mere heuristic accounts (78).1 Final causation is also central to the offering from Broadie, who breathes some life into the apparently sophistical "lazy argument" used by Aristotle in the famous passage on the "sea battle" in On Interpretation 9, and then aimed at the Stoics by their adversaries. According to the argument, if determinism is true then there is no reason to deliberate about our actions, since the determined events will come about no matter what. Broadie allows that Chrysippus offered a good first response to the argument (128), namely that the actions we take to bring about a desirable outcome are co-fated along with that outcome, so that it does make a (causally explanatory) difference what we do. However, Broadie argues, determinism gives us reason to be fatalists nonetheless, if we add the "Aristotelian" assumption that past events are teleologically arranged: they happen "because they lead up to an end that comes about later." If this is so, then the human inability to change what has happened in the past means that the human cannot do anything to change the future either.

As I hope to have conveyed so far, the contributions retain their interest despite the lapse of about two decades since most of them were written. Nonetheless, it would be interesting to consider what the volume shows about changing fashions in ancient philosophy. Really only two papers seem to some extent "dated," though no less interesting for that. David Charles shows that the concerns of British scholars of ancient philosophy at that time were still unapologetically shaped by Wittgenstein, which I tend to think is not so much the case now.2 Charles explores the question of whether Aristotle could respond to the Wittgensteinian thought that linguistic meaning is shaped entirely by use (as argued – if "argued" is the right word – in the famous "slab" passage at Philosophical Investigations §2). Aristotle could, Charles thinks, make a persuasive case that the expert craftsman's language-use is indeed formed by practice, yet also responsive to the way the world really is. The craftsman "can vindicate certain of our rules and practices by reference to the nature of the wood, and can recommend setting up others" (119). Much as Irwin's paper is more about Cudworth than Plato, this is more about Wittgenstein than Aristotle, but it is always welcome to see that the ancients provide resources for responding to philosophical concerns of our own time.

Such is also the ambition of the final essay by Nussbaum. Written in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and explicitly framed as a response to that event, her piece takes its inspiration from ancient ethics and Greek tragedy. Nussbaum identifies limits to the notion of human "dignity," pointing out that a commitment to universal dignity may give us reason to treat everyone equally, but also threatens to undermine our interest in what happens to them. After all, if dignity belongs irreducibly to every human, then no suffering or other calamity can remove it. As others have worried, Stoic ethics seems prone to this problem since, as Nussbaum puts it, it may lead us to "respect all human beings and view all as our partners in a common project whose terms don't seem to matter very much" (155), because only inner virtue counts and virtue is invulnerable to harm from external forces. A better approach, then, would be to educate people so as to cultivate their compassion. Writing in 2002, Nussbaum looked forward hopefully to the prospect that the experience of terror attacks might provoke "a culture of critical compassion" in American society. That this did not in fact happen (to put it mildly) doesn't show she was wrong.


1.   I was slightly surprised that Furley does not cite the classic study of Michael Frede, "The Original Notion of Cause," in J. Barnes, M. F. Burnyeat, M. Schofield (eds.), Doubt and Dogmatism: Studies in Hellenistic Epistemology (Oxford University Press, 1980), 217-49, which seems obviously relevant to his concerns (for instance at Furley p. 74). But annotation throughout the whole volume is on the sparse side, presumably because the articles began their lives as lectures.
2.   His paper is actually from 2001, so a rather late entry in this genre, which includes such classic papers as M. Burnyeat, "Wittgenstein and Augustine De Magistro," Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 61 (1987), 1-24.

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Marc-Antoine Gavray, Platon, héritier de Protagoras: dialogue sur les fondements de la démocratie. Tradition de la pensée classique. Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 2017. Pp. 390. ISBN 9782711626953. €35.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Anders Dahl Sørensen, University of Copenhagen; Gl. Hellerup Gymnasium (

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In his new book, as the title suggests, Marc-Antoine Gavray proposes that Plato should be understood as the intellectual 'heir' of Protagoras. By this claim, Gavray does not mean that Plato simply took over Protagorean 'material' in any straightforward sense. Rather, what Protagoras represented for Plato was someone whose problems and ideas were important and challenging enough that they needed to be explored, reconstructed, and often refuted, if Plato's own philosophy was to be established on a theoretically robust foundation. Moreover, Gavray argues, this philosophical Auseinandersetzung cannot be reduced to the well-known theme of 'Plato vs. the Sophists'. For what lurks behind Protagoras' famous doctrine that 'man is the measure of all things', as that doctrine is reconstructed and explored by Plato, is nothing less than democracy itself, understood not just as a particular form of government but also as a distinctive model for thinking about such themes as knowledge, dialogue, language, and education. It is in his critical engagement with Protagoras' 'democratic' attitude to philosophy and to the world that Plato found the theoretical background against which to pursue his own very different philosophical and political project.

Part One explores how Plato's own conception of a science of measurement emerges from a sustained philosophical engagement with Protagoras' man-measure doctrine. Taking the notion of 'measure' (metron and cognates) as his guide, Gavray offers a thorough and detailed reconstruction of central passages from Protagoras, Theaetetus, Politicus, Philebus, and Laws. On Gavray's reading, Plato found in Protagoras' doctrine a lot to criticise, but also something to use and further develop. On the one hand, Plato accepts and adopts Protagoras' conception of the measure as establishing a 'qualitative determination', as opposed to the purely quantitative hedonistic science of measurement envisioned in the Protagoras. What the Protagorean measure measures is not merely that the wind is warmer (or colder) than something else, but that it is cold (or warm). On the other hand, however, Plato rejects Protagoras' attempt to found the measure in the individual human being, arguing instead that in order to truly escape the spectre of indeterminacy, the measure must be anchored in something external to the individual. Only by means of a genuinely transcendent criterion, whether it be in the form of an ethical model of behaviour or an epistemological reference, can we escape the realm of 'the more and less'.

This latter distinction between Protagoras' and Plato's respective conceptions of measurement reflects a fundamental contrast between two competing visions of the world. Protagoras' world is a world of dispute, characterised by instability and uncertainty and always open for polemic and renegotiation. But Plato insists that this vision of the world falls short, even on its own 'democratic' terms. Far from liberating human thought and clearing the ground for consensus and agreement, Protagoras' rejection of any external reference means that individual measurement, while incontestably true, becomes entirely subject to the value judgments of others and that true intersubjectivity becomes impossible. Plato's world, by contrast, is a world that promises an end to conflict by means of a shared and incontestable truth.

Part Two of the book explores the main contradiction that confronted Protagoras, according to Plato. How is Protagoras' claim to be a teacher well worth paying for compatible with his man-measure doctrine, which insists that everyone already has an incontestable claim to the truth? By means of a detailed discussion of Protagoras' theories of education and expertise as presented in the Protagoras and the Theaetetus, Gavray argues that this contradictory aspect of the sophist's position, far from being a problem for him, in fact reflects an important feature both of his theory of expertise and his political vision. On Gavray's reading, Protagoras defends a quasi-pragmatist conception of wisdom and expertise, on which the wise person is distinguished, not by having privileged access to some transcendent truth, but rather by being able to alter the conditions (hexeis) of others, so that they come to have opinions or perceptions judged by themselves to be 'better' than the ones they had before. What is 'better' cannot be determined a priori but must be established by trial and error, which means that it is always only provisionally established in an essentially open-ended process of continual improvement. Contradiction, rather than being a problem, is an inherent, central part of this process, since it is precisely by means of confronting and engaging with contradicting arguments and viewpoints that such continual improvement can come about. This Protagorean conception of expertise contrasts sharply with that of Plato, who defines the aim of expertise, the beneficial, not as what appears better to a subject in a certain condition, but as what is verified by future events, i.e. by means of an objective criterion. Contradiction, on Plato's conception, is simply a matter of a contrast between true and false opinions, rather than something that directly and actively contributes to the exercise of expertise.

As Gavray points out, these two rival conceptions of expertise have clear political overtones. On Protagoras' egalitarian understanding, each person remains a measure; expertise is defined by reference to the usefulness of the subjective appearances, and no one can reject those appearances as false. Plato's conception, by contrast, has distinctly 'aristocratic' implications: the expert alone, in virtue of his exclusive grasp of the truth about things and about the future, is truly a measure and is set radically apart from people at large.

Part Three offers a reading of selected passages from Protagoras and Theaetetus, which Gavray reconstructs as series of attempts, on Plato's part, at providing Protagoras' distinctive conception of knowledge and education with the theoretical underpinnings it requires. Given the impossibility of ever anchoring any belief, word, or system of values in an objective reality, moral and philosophical training cannot hope for any form of definitive certainty. The sophist's role must thus be conceptualised instead as a continuous activity of correction ('redressement') of what appears wrong, inept, or inadequate in each case. As Gavray shows, this Protagorean approach to education, as an endeavour that is always provisional and inherently open-ended, rests on a distinctive understanding of the four basic components of educational practice: dialogue, language, memory, and virtue.

Gavray makes a persuasive case for his overall claim that many of the central questions and concerns of Plato's philosophy can helpfully be approached and understood as the result of his critical but constructive engagement with the Protagorean man-measure doctrine and what he took to be its implications and preconditions. But the value of the book stems just as much from its elaborate reconstruction of Protagoras' 'democratic' philosophy itself, as it is presented in the Platonic dialogues. This reconstruction not only shows that Protagoras is provided by Plato with a coherent and sophisticated theory (as opposed to being the opportunistic and slippery charlatan he is sometimes portrayed as in the literature). It also enriches the scholarly literature by providing a number of refreshing interpretations of particular passages and themes that are not usually treated as central for understanding what is at stake, philosophically speaking, in the clash between these two thinkers. A good example of this is Gavray's discussion of the passages on mnēmē in Theaetetus (165d and 166b-c), which he interprets as raising important philosophical questions concerning the epistemic status of memory and the persistence of personal identity at different times, which, in turn, go to core of Protagoras' theory of wisdom as capacity for 'improvement'. Another example is Gavray's exploration of the role that each thinker ascribes to the study of poetry in his respective theory of moral education. For Plato in the Republic, poetry plays an important role in education by holding up moral paradigms for the young to emulate. Protagoras, by contrast, focuses on the 'correctness' of the language of poetry, rather than its moral content. This is not because he is merely interested in style and form, but rather because such focus serves the second-order pedagogical purpose of developing in the citizens the ability to take a critical stance towards traditional educational poetry, as well as towards language itself, and devise means of improving it in light of the requirements of the particular political context.

Since the book's main claim concerns the affinity between Protagoras' thought and a particular historical form of government and way of life, some readers might miss an engagement with the rich scholarship on ancient Greek democracy. Gavray's reflections on the political 'overtones' of the opposition between the theories of Protagoras and Plato are extremely interesting and suggest a promising background against which to approach the interpretation of the dialogues. But Gavray does not attempt to bring his discussion of the democratic implications of Protagoras' philosophy into conversation with modern historical studies of democratic ideology in classical Athens. The result is that it remains not entirely clear whether the democracy Protagoras is said to represent is his own idiosyncratic (and possibly anachronistic?) conception of democracy or in line with the understanding of the Athenian democrats themselves.

But this detracts only little from a book that is, after all, about ancient philosophy, not ancient history. Gavray's book represents a valuable contribution to scholarship on Plato's complex relation to Protagoras – and to democracy. It is, to my knowledge, the most thorough account of Plato's discussion of Protagoras, and also among the best, which means that it should be standard reading for any future students of this interesting and important topic.

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Christine Schmitz, Jan Telg genannt Kortmann, Angela Jöne​ (ed.), Anfänge und Enden: narrative Potentiale des antiken und nachantiken Epos. Bibliothek der klassischen Altertumswissenschaften, 154​. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag WINTER​, 2017. Pp. 402. ISBN 9783825367626. €56.00.

Reviewed by Wolfgang Polleichtner, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen​ (

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

Der vorgelegte Sammelband behandelt in seiner Einleitung und sechzehn Fallstudien unterschiedliche Ebenen im Epos von Anfangen und Aufhören – von der kleinsten Passage bis zur Makroebene der gesamten Gattung. Die Vielfalt der Themen spannt dabei einen großen Bogen auf, der zeigt, wieviel Forschung zum Thema des Bandes noch vor uns liegt, die auf bisherigen Arbeiten zu „closure", Aristoteles' Meinung zu einem idealen epischen Erzählen, aber auch zur vergleichsweise selten behandelten Frage, womit man zum Beispiel eigentlich ein Epos anfangen soll, aufbauen kann. Dazu zeigt dieser Sammelband einige Wege auf, die beschritten werden könnten und müssten. Vor allem hierin liegt der Wert dieses Buches.

In ihrer Einleitung stellt Schmitz die Absicht der vorliegenden Sammlung, die aus einer Tagung in Münster im Jahr 2013 entstand, heraus. Sie möchte den Fokus auf „narrative Verfahren des Anfangens und Beendens" im „griechisch-(neu)lateinischen Epos" (28) legen. Diesem sehr offen formulierten Anspruch werden alle Beiträge gerecht. Schmitz' überzeugenden Ausführungen zur Paradoxie von Anfangen und Aufhören im Kontinuum epischen Erzählens und epischer Erzählungen könnten um eine Diskussion über das besondere Ende der Argonautika des Apollonios Rhodios1 und die Epiloge der Metamorphosen Ovids2 ergänzt werden, die zunächst für das Enden, aber gerade dadurch für das Anfangen mit einem Epos von meines Erachtens unterschätzter Relevanz sind (vgl. auch 83, 144ff. und 185).

Latacz führt uns die zeitlichen Bedingtheiten des uns überlieferten Anfangs der epischen Gattung mit dem Aufkommen der Schriftlichkeit und ihrer Bedeutung für das Ende der oral poetry vor Augen und stellt materialreich fundiert fest, dass eine Poetik des Epos und seiner etwa 4.000jährigen Geschichte bisher noch nicht geschrieben wurde. Er plädiert für ein an Fallbeispielen orientiertes Vorgehen wie im Fall des vorliegenden Bandes auf dem Weg hin zu einer solchen Poetik.

Büttner geht auf Aristoteles' Poetik, bes. Kap. 23-26, und die Rolle von Anfang, Mitte und Ende in diesem Werk ein. Nachvollziehbar beschreibt Büttner den Anfang einer Handlung nach Aristoteles als die Setzung eines Zieles durch einen Charakter in freier, sich nicht von selbst ergebender Entscheidung. Das Ende einer Handlung sei durch das Erreichen dieses Ziels gegeben, wobei die Mitte der Handlung durch das Arbeiten für dieses Ziel erzeugt werde. Daraus ergibt sich allerdings die Frage nach der Autonomie des Menschen bei Homer und Aristoteles.3

Ambühl interpretiert den Umgang mit Anfang und Ende im hellenistischen Kleinepos und bei Apollonios Rhodios in seiner Vielfalt als experimentelles Bemühen der hellenistischen Dichter, Epos, Hymnus, Lyrik und Dramatik miteinander zu kombinieren und selbstbewusst innovativ neue Wege auszuloten. Die von Ambühl ganz richtig betonte Selbstverortung von Apollonios im „Euripideischen" Kontext wird auch im Schluss der Argonautika aufgenommen.4 Reizvoll wäre es, Ambühls im griechischen hellenistischen Epos beobachteten Ansatz des Umgangs mit Geburtsgeschichten dem Umgang mit dem Tod zum Beispiel bei Vergil oder in Ovids Auseinandersetzung mit seiner eigenen Apotheose (s.o.) gegenüberzustellen.

Reitz zeigt am Einsatz des Katalogs im Epos, dass gerade hier der Konflikt des Epos zwischen dem Streben nach Vollständigkeit der Darstellung und dem Zwang zur Auswahl paradigmatisch ausgetragen wird. Ergänzend zur Liste von poetischen Möglichkeiten des Katalogeinsatzes stellt sich die Frage, wie sich die Stelle A. R. 1,18-22 hier einordnen ließe. Handelt es sich hier um Wettbewerb, Überbietung, Abbreviatur, Variatio, alles zusammen oder doch wesentlich um eine neue Kategorie, die man Präteritio nennen könnte? Göttlich inspiriertes Dichten und Dichtung, die durch das Wissen um das gesteuert wird, was Vorgänger geschaffen haben, scheinen sich zumindest auf den ersten Blick etwas zu widersprechen. 5

Jöne vergleicht philologisch dicht die beiden Beinahe-Abschiede in Aen. 2,634-80 und 9,176-223. Beide Szenen evozieren die Frage danach, wie die Geschichte wohl weitergegangen wäre, wenn die Abschiede wirklich geschehen und nicht verhindert worden wären. Auch dadurch, dass diese abgebrochenen Abschiede in ihren Gemeinsamkeiten und Unterschieden den Auftakt für neue Abschiedserzählungen bilden, beweist sich einmal mehr die Existenz dessen, was Schmitz in ihrer Einleitung als Kontinuum epischer Erzählung beschreibt.

Überzeugend führt uns Grewing Ovid in seinen Metamorphosen als Meister der Verflechtung von Anfängen und Enden von Erzählungen vor Augen, der unter anderem bei Catull viel gelernt habe. Die mise en abyme des letzten Buchs hätte auch stärker auf Anfänge und Enden hin betont werden können.6 Was bedeutet die Seelenwanderungslehre des Pythagoras für Anfänge und Enden? Die Frage nach dem Ende und dem bewussten Setzen eines Endes ist über die poetologische Frage hinaus gerade in augusteischer Zeit auch eine politische oder zumindest werk- und literaturpolitische.7

Walde gibt uns einen Überblick über den derzeitigen Stand der Diskussion zum Ende der Pharsalia Lucans. Dieser Beitrag macht einmal mehr deutlich, wie schwierig es ist, ein Buchende auch als ein solches zu erkennen, wenn man nicht genau weiß, ob der Autor nicht doch noch etwas hätte hinzufügen wollen.

In einer eng am Text geführten Diskussion stellt Baier an einigen Schlüsselszenen von Valerius' Argonautica heraus, wie die Darstellung von Gesprächen bei diesem Autor sich von ähnlichen Bezugsszenen dieser Textabschnitte bei Apollonios oder Vergil prononciert unterscheiden und so zu ähnlichen Phänomenen führen, die wir bei Tacitus beobachten können. Der Niedergang der Beredsamkeit im Prinzipat schlägt sich, wie Baier zeigt, auch im Epos nieder. Umgekehrt gibt es nach Lucan zumindest wieder die Möglichkeit für die Existenz „guter" Helden im Epos.8

Der Beitrag von Klodt konzentriert sich auf die Anfänge von hortativen Reden in Statius' Thebais. Sie weist nach, dass sich Überlegungen, wie sie die antike Rhetorik für Einleitungen von Reden anstellte, auch bei Statius im Epos finden und von ihm durchaus virtuos und abwechslungsreich eingesetzt werden.

Telg genannt Kortmann untersucht die gliedernde und die Aussageabsicht des Autors unterstützende Funktion, die Tag und Nacht als Beginn und Ende besonders im siebten und zwölften Buch der Punica des Silius besitzen. Die Ausführungen bleiben aber im Wesentlichen werkimmanent. Für intertextuelle Untersuchungen böten die besprochenen Texte viele Anknüpfungspunkte.9

Marks argumentiert einleuchtend für eine Interpretation des Binnenproömiums am Anfang von Buch 11 von Silius' Punica als Mitte der Bücher 4-10 und 11-17 und als Mitte des eigentlichen Krieges zwischen Rom und Karthago. Diese Deutung basiert auf einem Vergleich zwischen diesem Binnenproömium und den entsprechenden Proömien von Apollonios Rhodios' drittem und dem siebten Buch aus Vergils Aeneis. Auch seine Forderung, mehrere mögliche makrostrukturelle Gliederungen von Silius' Werk, die sich überlappen, gleichzeitig zuzulassen, ist ja zum Beispiel in der Vergilphilologie schon lange akzeptiert, zumal Vergils Binnenproömium nicht direkt am Anfang von Buch VII steht.10

Die besonders betonte Abgeschlossenheit von spätantiken mythologischen Epen interpretiert Kaufmann als Zeichen der Stärke und Lebendigkeit der epischen Gattung, nicht als Degenerationssymptom. In der Tat wäre eine Antwort auf die von Kaufmann selbst aufgeworfene Frage nach einer Verortung dieser Beobachtung in der spätantiken Ästhetik und Poetik eine wichtige Fortführung der von ihr gemachten Feststellungen – auch auf dem Weg hin zum neulateinischen Epos.

Gärtner zeigt, wie die Posthomerica sich selbst dadurch zu einem Zwischentext in der Nahtstelle von Ilias und den Heimfahrten der Kriegsteilnehmer stilisieren, so dass in ihnen ein den Gattungsgewohnheiten widersprechender und an die Ilias unmittelbar anschließender Anfang sowie ein dezidiert auf die Fortsetzungen verweisendes Ende zu lesen sind. Ähnlich verfahren andere Autoren von Supplementen, zum Beispiel Maffeo Vegio.11 Auch hier wird deutlich, dass dieser Sammelband ein Ausgangspunkt für viele weitere Forschungsarbeiten sein kann.

Haye untersucht in einer weitestgehend werkimmanent gehaltenen Studie die praefationes und den Epilog der Herculeia des Giovanni Mario Filelfo. Angesichts des verlorenen Anfangs dieses Gedichts erweisen sich diese übrigen erhaltenen metapoetischen Aussagen des Textes als gute Quelle dessen, was der Autor mit seinem Epos wollte und was er unter Umständen in die Eröffnung seines Werkes geschrieben haben könnte: Ercole d'Este gleichzeitig feiern und für die Zukunft anspornen, wobei unter anderem auch an die Unterstützung des Dichters durch den Fürsten durchaus gedacht war, die sich allerdings im konkreten Fall nicht einstellen sollte.

Schindler untersucht drei Supplemente zur Aeneis Vergils. Diese Werke von Maffeo Vegio, Jan van Foreest und Claude Simonet de Villeneuve offenbaren eine von eigenen zeitgenössischen Ansichten der Suppliierenden getragene Interpretation der Schlussszene von Vergils Werk und ihrer Bedeutung. Schindlers Artikel macht aber auch deutlich, wie zeitbedingt die Ansichten über den Wert von Supplementen an sich – auch in der Wissenschaft – sein können.12

Piccone orientiert sich bei der Analyse des Aufbaus der leider ohne ihren Anfang überlieferten Felsinais von Marco Girolamo Vida an der Aeneis Vergils und greift dabei auch auf den Aufbau von Vidas später verfassten Christias zurück. In einem weiteren Schritt könnte man Vidas gesamte Begeisterung für Vergil berücksichtigen und sein Lehrgedicht über die Seidenraupe sowie andere Aspekte der Vergilrezeption bei Vida auf mögliche Hinweise abklopfen, um eventuelle Entwicklungslinien, wenn es sie gab, zu erkennen, auf denen Vida sich bei der Abfassung der Felsinais bewegt haben könnte.

Ein Index locorum beschließt das Buch.


Vorwort 7
Christine Schmitz: Einleitung: Anfänge und Enden. Narrative Potentiale des antiken und nachantiken Epos 9-35
Joachim Latacz: Vom unbekannten Anfang bis zum bekannten Ende. Das Vers-Epos im Überblick 37-60
Stefan Büttner: Was meint die Formel »Anfang - Mitte - Ende« in der Poetik des Aristoteles? 61-78
Annemarie Ambühl: Narrative Potentiale von Anfangen und Enden im hellenistischen (Klein-)Epos 79-103
Christiane Reitz: Das Unendliche beginnen und sein Ende finden - Strukturen des Aufzählens in epischer Dichtung 105-118
Angela Jöne: Beinahe-Abschiede in der Aeneis 119-140
Farouk F. Grewing: Der Anfang vom Ende oder das Ende als Anfang? Überlegungen zu closure in Ovids Metamorphosen 141-168
Christine Walde: Tu ne quaesieris scire nefas quem finem... di dederunt... : Reflexionen zur Debatte um das Ende von Lucans Bellum Civile 169-198
Thomas Baier: Anfang ohne Ende. Abgebrochene Kommunikation bei Valerius Flaccus 199-219
Claudia Klodt: Die Exordialtechnik der Redner in Statius' Thebais 221-252
Jan Telg genannt Kortmann: Tag und Nacht als Anfangs- und Endpunkte in Silius Italicus' Punica 253-276
Raymond Marks: A Medial Proem and the Macrostructures of the Punica 277-291
Helen Kaufmann: Das Ende des mythologischen Epos in der Spätantike 293-312
Ursula Gärtner: Ohne Anfang und Ende? Die Posthomerica des Quintus Smyrnaeus 313-338
Thomas Haye: Die Herculeia des Giovanni Mario Filelfo (1426- 1480) 339-355
Claudia Schindler: Anfang als Ende, Ende als Anfang. Der Schluss der Aeneis und die friihneuzeitlichen Aeneis-Supplemente 357-376
Carla Piccone: Quidprimum ... canam quaeve ultima narrem? Riflessioni sulla struttura della Felsinais di Marco Girolamo Vida 377-393
Index locorum 395-402


1.   Vgl. R. Hunter: Apollonius of Rhodes: Argonautica. Book IV. (Cambridge 2015), 318ff.
2.   Vgl. M. v. Albrecht: Ovids Metamorphosen. Texte, Themen, Illustrationen. (Heidelberg 2014), 193f.
3.   Vgl. schon A. Schmitt: Aristoteles. Poetik. (Berlin 2008), 678.
4.   Vgl. z. B. P. Green: The Argonautica by Apollonios Rhodios. (Berkeley 1997), 360.
5.   Vgl. R. V. Albis: Poet and Audience in the Argonautica of Apollonius. (Lanham 1996), 37.
6.   Vgl. hierzu N. Holzberg: Ovids Metamorphosen. (München 2007), 110ff.
7.   Vgl. hierzu A. Barchiesi: The Poet and the Prince. Ovid and Augustan Discourse. (Berkeley 1997), 270. Wenn Ovid für sich mit seinem Werk („perpetuum carmen", Met. 1,4) den Anfang eines ewigen Lebens gelegt hat („vivam", Met. 15,879), stellt sich die Frage nach einem Ende eigentlich nicht. Vgl. zur Bedeutung von „vivam" z. B. G. K. Galinsky: Ovid's Metamorphoses. An Introduction tot he Basic Aspects. (Oxford 1975), 44.
8.   Vgl. auch T. Stover: Epic and Empire in Vespasian Rome. A New Reading of Valerius Flaccus' Argontautica. (Oxford 2012), 216ff.
9.   Vgl. auch die Rolle von Tag und Nacht im neulateinischen Epos, z.B. in Anchietas de gestis Mendi de Saa. Vgl. F. Arias-Schreiber Barba: Das erste Epos aus Amerika und die Aeneis Vergils. Der Aufbau von Anchietas De Gestis Mendi de Saa und die klassische Epik. (Hamburg 2011), 64.
10.   Vgl. z.B. W. Suerbaum: Vergils Aeneis. (Stuttgart 1999), 143-147.
11.   Vgl. auch im Beitrag von Schindler S. 361.
12.   Vgl. auch das programmatische Zitat Goethes aus seiner Farbenlehre, das P. G. Schmidt seinem Buch zu neuzeitlichen Supplementen antiker lateinischer Prosawerke voranstellt (Supplemente lateinischer Prosa in der Neuzeit, Göttingen 1964, 9): „Jedes gute Buch, und besonders die der Alten, versteht und genießt niemand, als wer sie supplieren kann."

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Paula Fredriksen, Paul: The Pagans' Apostle. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017. Pp. xii, 319. ISBN 9780300225884. $35.00.

Reviewed by Olivia Stewart Lester, University of Oxford (

Version at BMCR home site


Paul: The Pagans' Apostle radically recontextualizes Paul within the diversity of Judaism in the ancient Mediterranean and within a compelling history of anti-Judaism in ancient and modern readings of his letters. Against such readings, Fredriksen transforms essential questions in Pauline studies—on gentile inclusion, the Law, christology, and the imminent end of time—with an historically robust portrayal of Paul as a first-century Jewish thinker. This book offers a new paradigm for Pauline scholarship and requires an ethical reckoning for the devastating legacies of anti-Jewish readings of Paul.

The strengths of this book are evident at the exegetical level, but it is Fredriksen's recreation of the world surrounding Paul that cements the lasting contribution of this book. This world is actually twofold: first is the ancient Mediterranean context in which Paul writes, where the modern categories of "ethnicity," "family," and "religion" come together in overlapping and intricate ways. Fredriksen's study of Paul simultaneously offers a sophisticated discussion of "religion" in antiquity as well as the diversity of ancient Judaism among other cultic practices. Describing Paul's scriptural and social landscape, Fredriksen locates Paul's writings alongside the dynamic development of Jewish scripture—its instability, multiplicity, fluidity, revision—reminding readers of the inadequacy of our modern terms "book," "canon," and "the Bible" for describing ancient texts. She also disentangles the complex negotiations between diaspora Jews and their pagan neighbors, whose daily lives and civic spaces were filled with different gods. Fredriksen places Paul's writings on the gentiles within a series of Jewish debates about how to carry out exclusive worship and when to live distinctly within multi-ethnic, multi-religious ancient Mediterranean cities.

The second is the world of interpretation surrounding Paul—from early second-century readers through the scholarship of the New Perspective on Paul. Fredriksen maps the logic of anti-Judaism as it infiltrates interpretations of Paul over centuries. Fredriksen begins by locating Paul within Judaism, reading his polemical passages as intra-Jewish debate. She then highlights the quick turn among early Christian readers such as Justin Martyr to using Paul's letters for anti-Jewish purposes: ". . . these intra-Jewish critiques became anti-Jewish critiques, spurred in part by real rivalry not for potential pagan converts so much as for recognized 'ownership' of Jewish scriptures and title to the name 'Israel.'" (71) Anti-Jewish readings of Paul have had a long lifespan, and they have resuted in disastrous acts of violence. In Fredriksen's account, anti-Jewish interpretation continues in contemporary scholarly discussions. Fredriksen illuminates theological and scholarly readings that have applied Paul's polemics against other Christ-followers to Jews (and Judaism), particularly following the emergence of Paul as a figurehead for universalist Christianity against particularist Judaism (a classic tenet of the current New Perspective). Fredriksen also levies a serious critique against New Testament scholarship on Paul and the Law, across the ideological spectrum. Scholars from both the "Two-Covenant Perspective" and "New Perspective" have shared the view that Paul became "Law-free" in his life and teaching after becoming a follower of Jesus, meaning that he abandoned Jewish traditions. Fredriksen argues along with other recent scholarly readings emphasizing Paul's Jewishness that Paul remained a Jew and directed his writing to gentiles, whom he required to take on Jewish practices, including exclusive worship of the Jewish God and living according to many of the standards of the Law. She rightly asserts that Paul's letters never speak of Jews abandoning Jewish traditions, and makes a strong case that he also brought gentiles into at least some level of obedience to the Law, with the obvious exception of circumcision. In the process, Fredriksen detects that underlying many readings of Paul on the Law is "a long-standing gentile Christian theological position, namely, that "observing the Law"—that is, living according to Jewish ancestral practices—is intrinsically incompatible with Christian 'belief.'"(86) Fredriksen argues that New Testament scholarship is still dominated by a "view of a de-Judaized Paul," one that he himself would never have recognized. (169)

By contrast, Fredriksen reads Paul within the context of ancient Judaism. Rather than interpreting gentile inclusion in Paul as a turn from particularist Judaism to universalist Christianity, Fredriksen sees Paul in line with a stream of Jewish thought (which she labels "apocalyptic") that expected the eschatological turn of the gentiles to the Jewish God (see Isa 2:2–4, Mic 4:1, Tobit 14:5–6, Isa 66:21, etc.). She argues that while Paul resists "Judaizing" in Gal 2:12–14, his whole mission to the gentiles is about including them in a Jewish movement, encouraging them to take on Jewish beliefs and customs, especially exclusive worship of the Jewish God. "[Paul's] gospel to his gentiles involved their assuming two fundamental and exclusively Jewish practices, namely, fidelity to the god of Israel alone and avoidance of a pagan cult: both ancients and moderns commonly designate such behavior as 'Judaizing.'" (86) Fredriksen makes a compelling argument that despite his rhetoric, the real problem for Paul was not Judaizing, but the wrong kind of Judaizing: gentile circumcision, rather than reliance on the message of Jesus and the work of the spirit for inclusion in God's kingdom. Fredriksen's Paul required exclusive worship of the God whom he understood to be both Jewish and universal from his gentiles. And in Fredriksen's account, gentiles remained gentiles for Paul, even after becoming followers of Jesus and exclusive worshippers of the one God. Pagan receptivity to the gospel message simultaneously strengthened and reframed Paul's belief that the end of time and coming of God's kingdom were near. Although Paul's sense of the end shifted from "now" to "soon," he never lost his own Jewish identity or his commitment to God's special relationship with Israel.
One of Fredriksen's innovations in this book is her historical reconstruction of the early Jesus movement. The book argues that the apocalyptic message of the historical Jesus did not include gentiles, and thus early followers of Jesus were initially surprised at gentiles' acceptance of their message. The gentiles who heard the message hospitably in Fredriksen's reconstruction were participants in diaspora Jewish synagogues who worshipped God but also continued to worship other gods; in other words, "god-fearers" rather than proselytes. Fredriksen asserts that apostles had to develop policies for gentile inclusion in the early Jesus movement, and Paul's writings to gentiles ("ex-pagan pagans") in his communities participate in these larger efforts of gentile inclusion, entering into a conversation that pre-dated him.

Fredriksen's book contributes to a growing body of scholarship reclaiming Paul's Jewishness. With John Gager and Lloyd Gaston, Fredriksen asserts that Paul's audiences are exclusively gentile—even the addressee of Rom 2, drawing on the work of Runar Thornsteinsson.1 Building on the work of Matthew Thiessen, Fredriksen places Paul among other Jewish debates about whether adult male gentiles could enter Jewish communities through circumcision, locating him among those who thought such circumcision is ineffective, whether because of its late timing (after the eighth day) or the impossibility of gentiles becoming Jews.2 Fredriksen's innovations in this larger body of scholarship include her emphasis on the blurred boundaries between religion and ethnicity, her assertion of God's Jewish divine ethnicity for Paul, her more concrete proposal for who exactly these gentile followers of Jesus were, and most significantly, her exposure of anti-Jewish assumptions in interpretations of Paul.

Scholars may argue over some of the details of Fredriksen's readings, but for this reviewer, none of the questions raised undermine the force of her overall argument. The first question one might ask has to do with the broad use of "apocalyptic" in this book, a term which is sometimes indistinguishable from prophecy with a strong eschatological expectation. Fredriksen is clear about the fluidity and diversity of "apocalyptic" within her framework, writing that "Apocalyptic traditions are not "doctrine," an authoritative, internally consistent, and coordinated body of teachings. Rather, they represent various and multivocal speculations, keyed to biblical themes."(29) Readers with a stricter definition of apocalpytic, particularly those who take it as a genre marker, will need to allow for this flexibility when reading Fredriksen's description of Paul as "a charismatic, apocalyptic visionary."(137) Second, not all modern readers of Paul will accept that his audiences are entirely gentile. Fredriksen's argument does not depend on this point, but she does build portions of her case about Paul and the Law on this assumption.

The contents of the book fall into two major sections; the first contextualizes Paul (chapters 1 and 2). Chapter one examines scriptural narratives, highlighting three significant themes that emerge from the dynamic and developing collection of biblical texts for Paul: God is Jewish, exclusive worship is fundamental to God's relationship with Israel, and other nations will participate in the eschatological redemption of Israel. Fredriksen suggests that Paul came to this last interpretive conclusion as a way of making sense of gentile reception of his teaching. Chapter two turns from the scriptural landscape to the social landscape for Pauline apocalyptic eschatology. Fredriksen marks Jewish participation in civic life in ways that complicate their distinctness and pagan negotiations with the Temple and Jewish synagogues. Proselytes and "god-fearers" emerge as two key categories for Paul's comments on gentiles.

The second section of the book gives close readings of Paul (chapters 3–5). Chapter three argues for a link between debates about gentile circumcision and Paul's language of persecution (see Gal 1:13–14; 5:11; 6:12). Fredriksen imagines the social ramifications of Paul's "ex-pagan pagans" becoming exclusive worshippers of Israel's God without circumcision to explain Paul's descriptions of persecution (see 2 Cor 11:24–27; 12:10). She argues that their socially anomalous position would have put them at risk of both intra-Jewish disciplinary violence (39 lashes) and sporadic violence from pagan political authorities. Chapter four attempts to systematize Paul's widespread positive and negative statements on the Law. Fredriksen argues that Paul required three things from the gentile members of his communities: (1) exclusive worship of the God of Israel, (2) no switching of ethnicity, and (3) living as holy pagans, drawing standards precisely from the Jewish Law. Fredriksen reads his negative statements on the Law as speaking about gentiles and the Law, not the Law as it relates to himself or other Jewish followers of Jesus. Chapter five focuses on Paul's christology, eschatology, and his mission to the gentiles. For Fredriksen, eschatological messianism was essential to Paul's gospel, and motivated his mission to the gentiles. Pagan followers of Jesus became a way for Paul of explaining the delay between Jesus's resurrection and the resurrection of all the dead; they were "eschatological gentiles." Fredriksen concludes with a reading of Rom 9–11, arguing that in Paul's schema, gentiles did not become Jews; they were included as worshippers of God while remaining gentiles. But they were part of the ultimate redemption of Israel. Fredriksen's Paul never lost his hope that other Jews would soon receive the message of Jesus, and then the Kingdom would come.

With its careful historical analysis and trenchant critique of the impact anti-Judaism has on readings of Paul, Paul: The Pagans' Apostle is a tour de force. This book issues an urgent call for readers to grapple with the sinister underpinnings of anti-Jewish interpretations of Paul, one which must be taken seriously.

1.   Fredriksen, 86, and 157–59 respectively, drawing from John G. Gager, Reinventing Paul (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); Lloyd Gaston, Paul and the Torah (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1987); and Runar M. Thorsteinsson, Paul's Interlocutor in Romans 2: Function and Identity in the Context of Ancient Epistolography (Coniectanea Biblica New Testament Series 40; Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell, 2003).
2.   Fredriksen, 65–69. See Matthew Thiessen, Contesting Conversion: Genealogy, Circumcision, and Identity in Ancient Judaism and Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

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Tanya Pollard, Greek Tragic Women on Shakespearean Stages. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. Pp. vii, 331. ISBN 9780198793113. $70.00.

Reviewed by Timothy Saunders, Volda University College (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

Tanya Pollard's welcome new book presents a powerful case for reading Shakespeare's plays as responses to ancient Greek drama. It contends in particular that Euripides' suffering yet heroic female protagonists embodied for Shakespeare the capacity of Greek drama to convey intense emotions to the audience and thus served as figures to be conjured with as he developed his own forms of tragedy, comedy and tragicomedy. The "Shakespearean stage" the book constructs consists of six interlocking propositions:

(1) that Shakespeare had more cognizance of Greek drama than has traditionally been acknowledged;
(2) that the affective power of Greek tragedy was encapsulated for him above all in the female protagonists of Euripides' plays, especially their bereaved mothers such as Hecuba and sacrificial virgin daughters such as Iphigenia;
(3) that Shakespeare and other early modern writers attributed the remarkable ability of these female protagonists to transmit powerful emotions to the audience to the distinctive nature of their bodies and their role in genealogical transmission;
(4) that these female protagonists uphold models of ethics and heroism that stand in contrast to those of their male counterparts and thereby offer alternative perspectives from which to question society's hegemonic values;
(5) that these female protagonists also thus make available an alternative model for understanding the processes of literary transmission operative in the early modern reception of classical drama, from its more familiar perception as a struggle between fathers and sons to one in which such male practices of usurpation are replaced by female ones of propagation and supplementation; and
(6) that, in sum, Shakespeare saw in Greek drama the origins of his own theatrical practices, in Euripides' figure of Alcestis a compelling symbol for his endeavours to reanimate the dead, and in Euripides' plays more generally a stimulus to experiment in the hybrid genre of tragicomedy.

As the preceding overview should have indicated, Greek Tragic Women on the Shakespearean Stage presents the reader with a tantalising prospectus: one in which some of the most affecting figures and scenarios from Euripidean drama and (what Pollard treats as in some respects its continuation in) Greek romance are to be enticed out of the wings and allowed to enrich our current understanding of Shakespeare's dramaturgy and the early modern reception of Greek drama more broadly. Whether readers will conclude that the book delivers on this prospectus will depend in large part on whether they are persuaded by the evidence Pollard provides in support of her view that Shakespeare was able to engage with Greek drama independently of its mediation through Roman and other intervening authors. Much of this evidence is assembled in seven appendices at the end, but it is also summarised and interpreted in the introduction and Chapter 1, and referred to regularly throughout. In its raw form it consists of lists of those Greek plays which would have been available in Shakespeare's England through performances, scholarly editions or translations into Latin or English. Similar information is also provided for Seneca's plays to make it easier to track how much of the apparent knowledge of Greek drama demonstrated by Shakespeare and other early modern dramatists could have been conveyed through what is commonly assumed to have been this major conduit and how much could not. One of the most significant results this set of comparanda throws up for the argument of this book is that "in the popular realms of vernacular translations and performances, Greek tragedies seem…to slightly outnumber those of Seneca" (6).

Pollard's contention that Shakespeare could have known about Euripides' plays and the romance tradition they inspired without recourse to their later adaptations is based on much more, however, than these lists of necessarily incomplete and sometimes ambiguous data. She demonstrates, for instance, how Greek played an increasingly prominent role in the curricula of Cambridge, Oxford and some of England's leading schools. She admits there is not enough evidence to confirm whether this applied to Shakespeare's schooling in Stratford, but believes it probably did (70). Even if it did not, it would have applied to many of his fellow playwrights, meaning he could have acquired some knowledge of Greek drama from them. The path to ancient Athens really begins to firm up when Shakespeare (most likely) collaborated on his early tragedy Titus Andronicus with George Peele, a known translator and aficionado of Euripides. Pollard argues that Titus includes some specific references to Euripides' Hecuba that are not present in its Roman reception and contends that Shakespeare in his later plays continues to address several of the questions about the affective dimension of tragedy initially raised by these allusions. Some readers may contest that George Peele alone could have been responsible for Titus's particular engagement with Hecuba and that the scale of this engagement is in any case not sufficient to motivate the reach and range of Shakespeare's subsequent probings into the causes and consequences of tragic emotions, yet even they would have to admit Pollard is right to observe that in plays such as The Comedy of Errors, Much Ado about Nothing, The Winter's Tale and Pericles Shakespeare introduces explicitly Greek names and settings to a far greater degree than their immediate sources require and agree with her that "[t]hese Hellenizing details call for explanation" (172).

Citing Frances Meres's identification of Shakespeare in 1598 with "these Tragicke Poets [who] flourished in Greece, Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles," Ben Jonson's still more familiar invocation of that same triumvirate in his poem in memory of his rival in 1623 and other examples besides, Pollard shows how the association between Shakespeare and Euripides she proposes was available in some form in Shakespeare's time as well. More crucial still to her argument is her attempt to anchor this association in more substantial dramaturgical bedrock by situating Shakespeare's purported responses to Euripides within a sequence of literary works that begins before his emergence as a playwright with Thomas Kyd's influential The Spanish Tragedy (c. 1587) and ends with Ben Jonson's satirical reflection on his technique in Bartholomew Fair (1614). The first of these, Pollard argues, established a pattern of equating the spirit of Greek tragedy with its female protagonists to which Shakespeare would react shortly afterwards in his first tragedy Titus and in just about every tragedy he wrote subsequently. The second, meanwhile, is read as an early modern equivalent of Frogs, in which Jonson self-consciously adopts the role of Aristophanes in order to satirise his (by extension equally recognisable) Euripidean counterpart.

For all her concern to put tangible flesh on the bones of a genealogical relationship between Shakespeare and Greek drama, Pollard regularly refers to the figures she believes Shakespeare revives as "ghosts." This is because Euripides' characters never actively strut Shakespearean boards like the Romans of Julius Caesar (even Hecuba is absent from Troilus and Cressida), nor are they commonly evoked by name (though here Hecuba is a notable exception). Instead, they play a more nebulous yet pervasive role as conduits of the 'spirit' of the forms of theatrical drama Shakespeare and his contemporaries inherited from antiquity. This, indeed, is where Euripides' female characters come particularly to the fore, since figures such as his Hecuba were widely recognised in the early modern period as archetypal embodiments of tragic suffering and pity. Here too Pollard is careful to establish the historical association between Greek tragedy and femininity in the broader culture before tracing its development in Shakespeare. She documents, for instance, how Greek became a frequent element in the education of elite women as well as men and highlights one of its most striking consequences: Jane Lumley's Iphigeneia of 1557, the first extant play in English by a woman and the first English translation of a Greek play by anyone. Pollard notes too that virtually every one of the most popular Greek plays of the period boasted a female character in the title role: Euripides' Hecuba, Iphigenia in Aulis, Medea, Alcestis, Phoenician Women, and Sophocles' Antigone and Electra.

Against this backdrop, Pollard invites a number of Euripides' female ghosts (especially Hecuba's) to emerge from the tiring house. Starting with Titus and encompassing a number of other plays, we are shown how, despite the unwavering presence of men in the title role, these works follow Euripidean drama in relying on the affective power of suffering women to spur these men into action. Nor are Euripides' female roles only reprised by women. The discussion of Hamlet — a play which, as Pollard acknowledges, appears to mock and dismiss grieving women — is particularly crucial in demonstrating how Shakespeare's male protagonists can also channel or otherwise engage the affective power of Euripidean female protagonists. Noting that Hamlet shares with Euripides' Hecuba a number of common plot elements — a pre-existing crime, a ghost, delay, deceit, and violence — Pollard goes beyond the standard observation that Hamlet's desire to hear a speech about the sufferings of Hecuba and his subsequent reflection on it ("What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba / That he should weep for her?" 2.2.553–4) allows him to ponder conventional forms of tragic suffering and the means by which the emotions this suffering engages can affect one's character and actions. For Pollard, it additionally enables Hamlet to express his own inability to take on his enforced role as a latter-day Hecuba and transform his suffering into a triumphant act of revenge. His failure to make anything of his situation and be more than a "John-a-dreams unpregnant of my cause" (2.2.562) is (according to Pollard) in part due to his gender: "Hamlet, in contrast with Hecuba, is incapable of fertility: male rather than female, child rather than parent, belated literary imitator rather than origin" (120).

Those who have sought for an analogue for Hamlet in ancient Greek drama have tended to settle on the figure of Euripides' Orestes in the play of that name. Pollard by no means rejects this correlation, but rather enriches it through broadening Hamlet's gene pool beyond Euripides' (arguably already feminised) male protagonist to include that playwright's Hecuba as well. This is consistent with her practice throughout, in which rather than usurping the thrones of various of Shakespeare's dramatis personae and reserving them for her own preferred female candidate, Pollard's readings tend to supplement conventional interpretations of each play. This may make those readings come across as less immediately revelatory than one might have expected, but it does at least make them seem more secure. Pollard's methodology is enriching, too, in its willingness to explore how Shakespeare's responses to Greek tragedy carried over into the experiments he conducted in comedy and tragicomedy more generally. The discussion of the early and avowedly Plautine comedy The Comedy of Errors carries out especially important work here. Supplementing the play's explicit re- Hellenisation of Plautus' text by transferring the action to Ephesus, Pollard shows how the female characters speak and suffer like Euripidean heroines and in so doing instil a greater emotive depth and complexity into Shakespeare's adaptation.

The Comedy of Errors is also the first of Shakespeare's many plays that include an Alcestis figure (the protagonists' mother Emilia, whom her family had long presumed dead). Pollard sees Euripides' Alcestis as an important figure for Shakespeare, through whom he could reflect on his continuing challenge to reanimate the figures and theatrical traditions of the past and endow them with the emotive power of the female protagonists of Euripidean drama.

Euripides' Alcestis would serve as an appropriate emblem for Pollard's book too. Soberly presented (perhaps too soberly at times: the wooden phrases "I suggest that" and "I argue that" recur with a somewhat deadening monotony), adept at anticipating and answering likely objections, and based on a solid knowledge of Greek (as well as early modern) drama and scholarship, Greek Tragic Women on Shakespearean Stages brings back to life ghosts even a non-believer will find strangely haunting.

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Friday, June 15, 2018


Brett M. Rogers, Benjamin Eldon Stevens (ed.), Classical Traditions in Modern Fantasy. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. Pp. viii, 367. ISBN 9780190610067. $35.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Debbie Felton, University of Massachusetts Amherst (

Version at BMCR home site

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

Following closely upon their influential collection Classical Traditions in Science Fiction (OUP 2015),1 Brett M. Rogers and Benjamin Eldon Stevens have compiled another excellent volume that again demonstrates the importance of classical authors to later literature—in this case, to fantasy. The editors define "fantasy" as a genre that confronts or contradicts the "real," inasmuch as its stories emphasize settings and events that could not possibly occur in the world as we currently perceive it, or that occur in an "otherworld" entirely (7-8). As the same could perhaps be said of science fiction, the editors further distinguish fantasy from science fiction by specifying that the latter is based on what is theoretically, if not actually, possible. The editors argue that the contributing essays "suggest that fantasy's alterity—its requirement of belief in metaphysically different worlds—is powered in part by the genre's engagement with Greco-Roman antiquity" (vii). This volume therefore aims to investigate the question of whether "modern fantasy is what it is because of its relationship to the classical tradition and its role as a site for classical receptions" (9). Although the editors open by describing "modern fantasy" (henceforth MF) as a category "that emerged in the eighteenth century" (1), they also concede the difficulty in stating any definitive literary or chronological starting point for MF, given the lack of scholarly consensus in defining "fantasy" (11).

The first section, "Classical Apparitions in (Pre-)Modern Fantasy," posits that fantasy as a literary and artistic genre is "older than it may seem" (15)—an odd statement given the admitted lack of consensus about the genre's chronology. Jesse Weiner's essay, "Classical Epic and the Poetics of Modern Fantasy," argues that fantasy, as a "consummately mythological genre," picks up on themes found in even the earliest Greek literature, such as Homer (25). Weiner first considers "high" fantasy (a distinction left undefined) as a type of modern "epic in prose" that conforms to Aristotle's aesthetic guidelines for heroic epic poetry, while the second part of his chapter examines "the divergent receptions of classical epic and MF" (26). Using George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire as his paradigm, Weiner highlights shared conventions between fantasy and classical epics, such as the protagonists' heroic quests and the role of fate, while reminding us that though epic is held in high regard, fantasy still struggles to achieve respectability in academic circles. Cecilie Flugt's "Theorizing Fantasy: Enchantment, Parody, and the Classical Tradition" discusses what she terms the "parodic impulse" (57) — the influence of ancient literary parody in the works of E.T.A. Hoffman and other authors of the Romantic era (57). In this section we also find the only chapter in the volume to deal primarily with visual rather than literary reception: Genevieve Gessert's "The Mirror Crack'd: Fractured Classicisms in the Pre-Raphaelites and Victorian Illustration," traces the classical fantasy aesthetic in the work of such artists as William Holman Hunt and Andrew Lang. Her enchanting subject matter contrasts starkly with that of the last chapter in this section, Robinson Krämer's "Classical Antiquity and the Timeless Horrors of H.P. Lovecraft," which considers the broad influence of Greek and Roman antiquity on Lovecraft's pagan world-view, his use of language, and the "timeless" setting of his stories, many of which view antiquity as unsettling and uncanny (117).

The three essays in Part II, "False Medievalism and Other Ancient Fantasies," delve into classical aspects in specific works of two of the "single most influential authors in MF"—J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis (16). "False medievalism" here refers to Lewis's phrase for MF's "frequent dependence on an ahistorical, nineteenth-century Romantic image of chivalry" (17). In "Ancient Underworlds in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit," Benjamin Eldon Stevens analyzes the katabasis motif primarily in Bilbo's encounter with the "emphatically chthonic" Gollum (130) and more generally in hobbit-holes and dwarf-caverns. Stevens also demonstrates how Tolkien's use of the motif relates to his interest in the lost past and the ephemerality of memory. Jeffrey Winkle's chapter on "C.S. Lewis's The Voyage of the 'Dawn Treader' and Apuleius's Metamorphoses" stresses the novels' striking parallels in "major narrative plot points and Platonic philosophy" (145), paying particular attention to the spiritual transformations of Apuleius' Lucius and Lewis's Eustace Scrubb. Rounding out this section is Marcus Folch's chapter on Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis's final novel, which retells Apuleius's Cupid and Psyche story from the perspective of one of Psyche's sisters, "Orual," and sets the story "at the crossroads of Greco-Roman antiquity and medievalizing fantasy" (163). Although he notes the novel's classical structures and motifs, Folch emphasizes Orual's changing attitudes toward the divine and argues that Lewis accompanied this theological shift with a shift from Apuleius's classical physical and temporal setting into "Biblical chronotopes" (185), that is, biblical configuration of time and space as represented by Lewis's use of thought and language. This is a fascinating observation about a classically-influenced novel largely ignored by classicists, though Folch obscures his supporting points with an unnecessarily heavy use of jargon, e.g., "The Priest's 'holiness'—his theriomorphic visage and sacral fetor—personifies the brutality of Glome's primal spatiotemporality; and he espouses sacred epistemology that … resists reason and defies systematicity" (171).

Part III, "Children and (Other) Ancient Monsters, never clearly explains its allusion to children as monsters, but rather explores the ways in which children's literature subverts authority by drawing on classical literature. Sarah Annes Brown's "The Classical Pantheon in Children's Fantasy Literature," noting the tendency of much MF to draw on northern European folktales rather than classical myths, examines "reasons and methods for marginalizing Greek gods" in the genre over the last hundred years (191). While an engaging read both in its style and in its observations about the potentially "unsettling combination of contradictory traits" exhibited by the Greek gods in works from P.L. Travers, Kelly McCullough, Rick Riordan, and others, this chapter casts its net too widely by failing to narrow down the parameters of "children's fantasy" in any meaningful way. Brown makes no reference to age groups or psychological development, and while discussing Marie Phillips's humorously raunchy Gods Behaving Badly, admits that it "is not a children's book" (205). Brown also adduces Neil Gaiman's arguably even more inappropriate Good Omens and American Gods. In short, Brown's interest appears to be more clearly settled on the role of the Greek pantheon in MF generally rather than in children's fantasy literature. In contrast, Brett M. Rogers' chapter on receptions of Aeschylus in the Harry Potter series focuses on the later novels' intended YA audience and argues that allusions to the dramas of Aeschylus, far from being mere "playful flourishes of erudition" (211, citing Mills 2009), instead offer crucial insight into how the Harry Potter books—especially Deathly Hallows— deal with the necessity of "becoming educated in moral virtue and civic action against tyranny" (222). In "Filthy Harpies and Fictive Knowledge in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy," Antonia Syson deftly analyzes Pullman's use of the female monsters from Greek and Roman myth who "embody cosmological pollution," considering "material knowledge as a form of defilement" (234-5) in relation to the opposition between "fictions that expand knowledge" and "fictions that distort or neutralize experience" (241). Syson illuminates many connections among the Oresteian Furies, Virgilian Harpies, and Pullman's Underworld-guarding harpies, culminating in the harpies' appeasement as exemplified by their newly-granted right to focus on "truth-filled memories" (247). Part III concludes with Elizabeth A. Manwell's engaging look at the transition from girlhood to womanhood in "Girls in Bears' Clothing in Greek Myth and Disney/Pixar's Brave," which sets forth the film's possible connections with the myths of Callisto, Iphigenia, and Atalanta as well as with the worship of Artemis Brauronia. What sets this chapter apart from others in the volume is its perspective: rather than emphasize classical antecedents as a means to appreciate modern adaptations, Manwell suggests that the modern tale offers instruction on "how to think about the ancient myths," with Brave providing a potential "matrix of Greek bear lore" (265-6) and a new perspective on the ancient Greek coming-of-age literary motifs.

The final three chapters of Part IV, "(Post)Modern Fantasies of Antiquity," show the potential both for finding classical receptions in unexpected places and for questioning traditional understandings of MF. For example, Sasha-Mae Eccleston explains why classicist Anne Carson's imaginary interviews with Mimnermos in "The Brainsex Paintings" from Plainwater constitute "obvious engagements with fantasy," while Eccleston's close readings of Carson's adaptive translations present nuanced arguments as to why elements of fantasy are so crucial to human conceptions of reality. Also providing a fresh perspective is Jennifer Rea's "Aeneas' American New World in Jo Graham's Black Ships," which explores the political possibilities of Graham's retelling of the Aeneid. Rea argues effectively that Graham's re-envisioning of Virgil's epic employs "fantasy's discursive nature to consider narratives about [U.S.] national security" (292), particularly given Graham's adaptation of the poem's conclusion, where a weary post-war Aeneas remains uncertain of the Trojans' future—in contrast to Virgil's emphasis on Rome's future glory. Circling back to George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series that formed the basis for Chapter 1, Ayelet Haimson Lushkov's closing chapter examines "Genre, Mimesis, and Virgilian Intertext" in Westeros, "whether or not Martin took Virgil as an explicit literary guide" (311). Lushkov investigates the intertextuality between A Song of Ice and Fire's Renly-Loras episode and Virgil's Nisus-Euryalus episode. In her conclusion, Lushkov provides the most overt statement in the volume about the importance of such a comparative exercise for pedagogical purposes, noting that unexpectedly finding "the presence of a well-known Virgilian theme in this hugely popular text affords us an opportunity to assess the presence of the classics in contemporary culture" by means more subtle than such obvious receptions as Wolfgang Petersen's 2004 film Troy (324).

Although the jargon- and footnote-heavy writing throughout much of the collection will appeal mainly to an academic audience — as it is most likely intended to do — Lushkov closes out the collection by explicitly pointing the way toward classical outreach, something none of the other essays in this volume do. Yet the existence of such volumes as Classical Traditions in Modern Fantasy and Classical Traditions in Science Fiction encourages academics to bring their observations about the currency and value of ancient literature into the classroom, connecting "what we do in our scholarship and in the classroom" with the critical skills students should be gaining by study of the ever-endangered but always relevant humanities (324). As eloquently put by Rogers and Stevens, consideration of modern fantasy's receptions of classical literature allows an insight into "our ongoing relationship to what is real, what is possible, what is human"(22).

Authors and titles

Introduction: Fantasies of Antiquity (Brett M. Rogers and Benjamin Eldon Stevens)
PART I: Classical Apparitions in (Pre-)Modern Fantasy
1. Classical Epic and the Poetics of Modern Fantasy (Jesse Weiner)
2. Theorizing Fantasy: Enchantment, Parody, and the Classical Tradition (Cecilie Flugt)
3. The Mirror Crack'd: Fractured Classicisms in the Pre-Raphaelites and Victorian Illustration (Genevieve S. Gessert)
4. Classical Antiquity and the Timeless Horrors of H. P. Lovecraft (Robinson Peter Krämer)

PART II: False Medievalisms and Other Ancient Fantasies
5. Ancient Underworlds in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit (Benjamin Eldon Stevens)
6. C. S. Lewis's The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" and Apuleius' Metamorphoses (Jeffrey T. Winkle)
7. A Time for Fantasy: Retelling Apuleius in C. S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces (Marcus Folch)

PART III: Children and (Other) Ancient Monsters
8. The Classical Pantheon in Children's Fantasy Literature (Sarah Annes Brown)
9. Orestes and the Half-Blood Prince: Ghosts of Aeschylus in the Harry Potter Series (Brett M. Rogers)
10. Filthy Harpies and Fictive Knowledge in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy (Antonia Syson)
11. Girls in Bears' Clothing in Greek Myth and Disney/Pixar's Brave (Elizabeth A. Manwell)

PART IV: (Post)Modern Fantasies of Antiquity
12. Fantasies of Mimnermos in Anne Carson's "The Brainsex Paintings" (Plainwater) (Sasha-Mae Eccleston)
13. Aeneas' American New World in Jo Graham's Black Ships (Jennifer A. Rea)
14. Genre, Mimesis, and Virgilian Intertext in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire (Ayelet Haimson Lushkov)


1.   BMCR 2016.01.34; cf. review by D. Felton in The Classical Journal online 2017.06.10.

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Stefano Briguglio, Fraternas acies: saggio di commento a Stazio, Tebaide, 1, 1-389. Millennium, 9. Alessandria: Edizioni dell'Orso, 2017. Pp. 454. ISBN 9788862748032. €40,00 (pb).

Reviewed by P.J. Davis, University of Adelaide (

Version at BMCR home site

The twenty-first century has already given us commentaries on several sections and books of Thebaid (Gervais on Book 2 [2017], Parkes on Book 4 [2012], Steiniger [2005] and Micozzi [2007] on 4.1-344, Augoustakis [2016] on Book 8, Pollmann [2004] on Book 12). Given that the only previous commentaries on Book 1, those of Heuvel (1932) and Caviglia (1973), appeared well before the poem's now standard text (Hill [1983, 1996]) and the more recent and more radical editions of Shackleton Bailey (2003) and Hall (2007-8), a commentary on Thebaid's first book is clearly needed, particularly because an epic's first book is programmatic, laying down the rules for reading the books to come. Briguglio's work, a revision of his PhD thesis, offers just over half of Book 1.

But if the segment which Briguglio examines is short, his discussion has the great merit of making us want more. Briguglio gives us a lengthy Introduction (72 pages) which avoids some of the topics traditional in this genre. There is, for example, no account of Statius' life or of previous treatments of the Theban myth. And there is virtually no description of the textual tradition, a subject discussed in massive detail elsewhere (e.g. in Hall's three-volume edition [2007-8] and in the three volumes of Anderson's The Manuscripts of Statius [revised edition 2009]). On the other hand, Briguglio gives us a detailed examination of the ways in which Statius introduces the poem's key themes and images, sets up the literary models from which he will work, and explains how episodes in the first half of Book 1 foreshadow events later in the poem. In other words, this Introduction focuses on Statius' rules for reading Thebaid.

Briguglio begins with structure, noting correspondences between the journeys of Polynices in Book 1 and Argia in Book 12 and connections between Adrastus' narrative at the end of Book 1 and the role of Theseus at the poem's end. Then follows a relatively brief discussion of Statius' use of Virgil and Ovid as models and a far more detailed account of his exploitation of Lucan and Seneca. As Briguglio notes (pp. 10-11), Thebaid is obsessive in its recollection of the Theban past and so it is not surprising that Seneca's tragedies (especially Oedipus and Phoenissae) are fundamental to the epic's poetic program. Briguglio's examination of the poem's first action, Oedipus' prayer to Tisiphone, explores its use of key terms such as pulso and ordior in order to analyse Oedipus' quasi-authorial role (p. 23). Briguglio then extends this analysis with discussions of Laura Micozzi's concept of 'diffused memory', in this case Statius' use of sustained allusion to Lucan's Erictho episode, and, stepping outside the boundaries of Book 1, of Ruth Parkes's treatment of the raising of the dead in Book 4. Then follow discussions of the ways in which the concept of civil war is embedded in Statius' description of landscape and storm in Book 1, and of Statius' use of elegiac motifs to underline the poet's transformation of the traditional opposition between love and power. When Briguglio does give us the expected discussion of language and style, we get not a catalogue of stylistic quirks, but a careful analysis of the links between Statius' choice of rhetorical figures and the poem's thematic preoccupations.

Briguglio's list of differences from the texts of Hill and Hall suggests that his is commendably conservative, being much closer to Hill's than Hall's. A list of differences from Shackleton Bailey's Loeb edition would have been helpful here. Although Briguglio gives us a translation, he places it after the Latin text. I know that some scholars prefer this layout. But it does make it more difficult to compare the Latin with Briguglio's translation. Unlike most editors, Briguglio does not break up the text into paragraphs, but prints it as a continuous whole.

Given the length of text (389 lines), the Commentary is long (274 pages). The primary focus of the Commentary, as you might expect from the Introduction, is literary. The frequency of conjecture in Hall's edition, however, makes avoidance of textual matters impossible. Thus, for example, Briguglio quickly dismisses Hall's conjecture indigena for ingenti at line 40 as inappropriate and rightly condemns his alto for alio at line 45 as 'banal'. In literary matters Briguglio is particularly sensitive to the poem's verbal and metrical texture. He also pays attention to wider issues, the poem's politics, for example, its focus on the craving for power, its use of literary models (especially Lucan and Seneca, but also Greek tragedy, Virgil, Horace and Ovid) and its awareness of its place in the literary tradition. The Commentary is long, but Statius' writing is dense and there is much to unpack. Future readers of Thebaid will need to consult Briguglio's work.

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Thursday, June 14, 2018


Verity Platt, Michael Squire (ed.), The Frame in Classical Art: A Cultural History. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017. Pp. xxxviii, 697; 221 b/w figs. ISBN 9781107162365. $135.00. ISBN 9781316677155. ebook.

Reviewed by Paolo Liverani, University of Florence (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

The book collects 13 essays (plus four introductions by the editors) on the issue of the frame in the Greek and Roman world from the Archaic period to Late Antiquity. The subject is considered in the wider sense of the word and, from the theoretical point of view, the entire volume is organized between two poles: the definition of frame by Kant—as something added, ornamental, inessential (parergon)—and the deconstruction of this position by Derrida. The two editors define their methodology as Neoformalism (xxxiv, 5-6, cf. 601), viz., 'an attempt to combine some of the long-standing classificatory strength of classical archaeology…with some of the more theoretical questions of contemporary art history', paying 'close attention to the formal qualities of the frame' and reflecting 'upon the figurative affordances to which framing gives rise'. The definition could, perhaps, have been made clearer to avoid misunderstandings, because the term—probably wrongly—seems to echo various cultural approaches of the second half of the last century, mostly from the United States.1

The volume is organized into five parts. The first, 'Framing the Frame', consists of a long, dense and extremely stimulating contribution by the editors, synthetizing and developing the work of the entire group of authors. Four more parts follow, analysing (and framing) different fields: Pictorial Space, Bodies, the Sacred, and, finally, Texts. The first paper, 'Framing the visual in Greek and Roman antiquity: an introduction', reflects on the core of the volume. Platt and Squire set forth the most interesting results and methodological innovations of the book in a clear and convincing way. The first question is 'what do frames do?' 'Frame' is not only bidimensional but, generally speaking, everything that 'closes' a figural unity such as architectural mouldings, statue bases or even the frameworks of wooden armature inside chryselephantine statues. On the other hand, the concept can be used also in a figurative sense, enlarging its meaning in many directions. The answer is articulated into seven subheadings. The first is 'The Frames of taxonomy', consisting of the traditional archaeological approach considering chronology and typology as a frame for looking at art. The second is 'Delineating the visual field', that is, the function of separating 'field from ground, establishing the confines in which an image is understood to operate'. A third subheading is 'Categorising space', which considers the function of differentiating between complementary sorts of signification, representational registers, narrative or symbolic fields, delimiting semantic zones for seeing and reading, for visual and verbal significance. The fourth is 'Ideologies of Signification': here the frame materialises cultural modes of structuring visual experience, in other words 'different framing practices function as reification of different scopic regimes'. The critique is against Kant, who defines the picture-frame as excluding 'all that surrounds it from the work of art, and thus also the viewer as well, and thereby helps to place it at that distance from which it alone is aesthetically enjoyable' (p. 42, cf. 57-58). The fifth subheading is 'Ill-detachable detachments': the Derridean definition means that frames do not just articulate boundaries, they negotiate them, operating as porous membranes rather than impassable frontiers, offering a liminal zone between the image and its world, a space for experimentation, transgression and excess. The frame permits the images to function as such rather than as the 'thing itself'. The sixth, 'The Self-aware Frame' highlights the self-effacing qualities of the frame and its deictic function. The painted frames of the pinakes in the frescoes of the Villa della Farnesina in Rome effect a 'pictorial split' (Stoichita) between painting and ground, introducing a meta-pictorial comment on the frame's function as an 'ontological cut' between the painted wall and the 'paintings' within it. It is the frame of the frame or Superframe (Stoichita). The images have a power deriving 'from the illusion that the viewer can either enter the frame…or else that the image itself can burst out of its confines and engage directly with its beholders' (71). Some observations are here necessary: the authors seem to attribute the Theory of Enunciation to Derrida and Marin (or Stoichita), but this approach has deeper roots in linguistics (Benveniste and Jakobson) and in Greimasian semiotics. This theory allows us to reformulate and develop the last point, that of the Superframe: it is the so-called referentialisation2, in other words putting a painting in a painting—a fictionality at the second degree—is equivalent to declaring the fictionality of the paintings in the second level in order to reinforce the impression of the reality of the first one. Sometimes this power is further reinforced and doubled by the inscription addressing directly the beholder in the second person, or, vice versa, suggesting that the beholder address the image.3 The last, 'Framing context' analyses the performative work that frames act out. Formal frames are nested within larger organisational modes. For example, 'the Villa della Farnesina cubiculum simulates acts of reframing that are functional to appropriative patterns of imperial translation, replication and adaptation'. According to Platt and Squire one of the functions of the frames is meta- communicative, but we could reformulate this claim in a more radical way, because the function of the frame is essentially metalinguistic: it is a typical enunciational device.

We arrive now at the final and perhaps most intriguing question: Where does the frame stop? (p. 84, cf. Trimble, p. 320 n. 5) The answer remains open and the authors quote Lebensztejn4: 'The power of the frame is to a large extent linked to our inability to answer this question, as well as to its invisibility and the continuous transition from the physical to the metaphoric or symbolic.' This point deserves our comment: to be sure the issue of the unlimited reframing is not very far from the similar question of the 'unlimited semiosis' in the Peircian system. To avoid the risk of an unlimited regression we could recall that Umberto Eco proposed an answer reinterpreting Peirce's pragmaticism: 'after having received a series of signs and having variously interpreted them, our way of acting within the world is either transitorily or permanently changed. This new attitude, this pragmatic issue, is the final interpretant', or a habit, even if 'this stopping is not final in a chronological sense, since our daily life is interwoven with those habit mutations'.5 A last section of the paper, 'Escaping Criticism', has some connections with the last question: if the framing is unlimited, then how it is possible to frame the book, or limit it through the choice of survey paths and subjects? In the attempt to prevent criticism for these choices, the editors make no apology for the selectiveness in the case studies; on the other hand, they invite others to 'leap into (their) frame…and push against its necessary boundaries' (p. 97), with all the positive consequences (and the risks) that this approach entails. In response to this invitation, at least a couple of topics come to our mind: topography and time. We could consider the precinct of a sanctuary or the pomerium of the Roman city as important frames. The same deed—burying a deceased, bringing weapons—has a completely different meaning outside or inside the limits of the city. Furthermore, there are not only spatial frames, but also temporal ones: the calendar is an endless frame encapsulating like a nest of Chinese boxes the social time.

In a quick and incomplete way we will touch on the remaining sections of the volume. Part II is devoted to 'Framing pictorial space' and tackles the question of the images staying within boundaries, overlapping or overlapped by them (Clemente Marconi, cf. also IV.8. Milette Gaifman). Guy Hedreen addresses a crucial point: the issue of the en face figure, arguably amounting to an all-out assault on the frame. An interesting question is that of the face of Medusa: the gorgoneion threatens to frame the viewer. The question is: why articulate a monstrous power only in order to defeat it? We could suggest an explanation: the image on the vase mimetically reflects reality like Perseus' mirroring shield. In other words, the painted image allows us to observe the reality in an indirect, protected, and less dangerous way. Finally, Michael Squire devotes his paper to Campanian wall painting: the image of rooster pecking at grapes complete with a painted curtain illusionistically draped over the scene collapses the different representational levels, blurring the margin between the image and the beholder and offering another example of the above-mentioned referentialisation, or reality effect.

Part III, 'Framing Bodies', deals with sculpture: is an inscription carved on an archaic Greek statue an abstract ornament or a meaningful text (Nikolaus Dietrich)? How does frame affect social identity in Roman portrait statues? It depends on the focus of our interest: whether we consider the face, the hair, the body, the base, the surrounding architecture and space, or the broader social and cultural situation (Jennifer Trimble). Are the tomb and the sarcophagus a frame, a boundary to cross when the living and dead try to communicate (Verity Platt)?

Part IV, 'Framing the Sacred', analyses the implications of the frame in a sacred domain. Particularly interesting is the paper by Robin Osborne, illustrating the force of an absence: the Attalid group of the Small Gauls on the Acropolis of Athens deprives the beholder of the distancing effect of the frame, engaging him in a direct involvement, in semiotic terms another form of embrayage (engagement).6 The archaizing style is a frame too, a signal of numinous potency, visually differentiating the levels of the human and divine presence, expressed through the use of non- or pre-naturalistic images (Jas' Elsner): the style as metalinguistic marker.

Part V, 'Framing texts', examines the dissolutions of the boundary between frame and framed, text and image in Optatianus' technopaignia (games of poetic and pictorial skill) and carmina cancellata (gridded poems) (Michael Squire); the function of the illustrations in technical texts (Courtney Roby); and the evolution of shape and meaning of the epigraphical frame between the Classical age and Late Antiquity (Sean V. Leatherbury). The last paper by Rebecca Zorach frames 'antiquity' from the point of view of an art historian specialised in early modern art. Summing up, the volume is of extraordinary interest, tackling a subject transversal to several fields, examining from a different point of view and with new eyes old problems or thematising apparently trivial issues in order to demonstrate just how fundamental they are. We could propose that a further step for widening the frame of this approach could be a more systematic and conscious use of semiotic tools and particularly of the Theory of Enunciation, which until now seems to have not yet penetrated into the English-speaking academy, where all the contributors—with one exception—are from. Among the issues to explore from this perspective, we could consider the pragmatics of the frame, because as an enunciational device it embodies the vantage point of the viewer, so that a frame in the mosaic pavement, for instance, is completely different from a frame on the wall. Walking on the mosaic, the beholder enters the frame, is 'captured' (or protected): we could recall the mosaics with labyrinths, city-walls, or even Solomon's knot on the threshold for capturing the evil eye. On the contrary, on the wall the frame is often intended as a window (as explicitly theorized by Leon Battista Alberti) and (at least theoretically) the viewer could cross the window and enter the painting or the landscape (like Hermann Hesse in the final scene of his fictional autobiography).

Table of Contents

Part I. Framing the Frame:
1. Framing the visual in Greek and Roman antiquity: an introduction, Verity Platt and Michael Squire
Part II. Framing Pictorial Space: Introduction, Verity Platt
2. The frames of Greek painted pottery, Clemente Marconi
3. Unframing the representation: the frontal face in Athenian vase painting, Guy Hedreen
4. Framing the Roman still life: Campanian wall painting and the frames of make-believe, Michael Squire
Part III. Framing Bodies: Introduction, Michael Squire
5. Framing Archaic Greek sculpture: figure, ornament and script, Nikolaus Dietrich
6. Framing and social identity in Roman portrait statues, Jennifer Trimble
7. Framing the dead on Roman sarcophagi, Verity Platt
Part IV. Framing the Sacred: Introduction, Verity Platt
8. Framing divine bodies in Greek art, Milette Gaifman
9. How the Gauls broke the frame: the political and theological impact of taking battle scenes off Greek temples, Robin Osborne
10. Visual ontologies: style, archaism and framing in the construction of the sacred in the western tradition, Jas' Elsner
Part V. Framing texts: Introduction, Michael Squire
11. Framing technologies in Hero and Ptolemy, Courtney Roby
12. Writing, reading, and seeing between the lines: framing late-antique inscriptions as texts and images, Sean V. Leatherbury
13. Envoi: framing 'antiquity', Rebecca Zorach.


1.   Leaving aside other suggestions, the name evokes the Neoformalist film analysis inspired by the Russian formalists and reacting against Althusserian structuralism and Lacan's psychoanalytic semiotics, but probably this suggestion goes too far and nothing among the theoretical positions of the various essays recalls this approach in a specific way.
2.   A. J. Greimas and J. Courtés, Semiotics and Language: An Analytical Dictionary, Bloomington (IN) 1983, 88-9, Disengagement (Débrayage) n. 4.
3.   P. Liverani, "Chi parla a chi? Epigrafia monumentale e immagine pubblica in epoca tardoantica", in S. Birk, T.M. Kristensen and B. Poulsen (edd.), Using Images in Late Antiquity, Oxford; Philadelphia 2014, 3-32.
4.   J.C. Lebensztejn, "Starting out from the frame (vignettes)", in P. Brunette and D. Wills (eds.), Deconstruction and the Visual Arts, Cambridge 1994, 118.
5.   U. Eco, "Peirce's Notion of Interpretant", MLN 91.6 (1976), 1465; Id., The Role of the Reader. Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts, Bloomington 1984, 193-4. Cf. also Id., The Limits of Interpretation, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1994, 39.
6.   Greimas and Courtés, above note 2, 100-2 Engagement (Embrayage). ​

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