Friday, October 20, 2017


Lauren Donovan Ginsberg, Staging Memory, Staging Strife: Empire and Civil War in the 'Octavia'. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. Pp. xii, 229. ISBN 9780190275952. $74.00.

Reviewed by Tom Geue, University of St Andrews (

Version at BMCR home site


Slowly but surely, Anglophone scholarship has come round to Rome's only child of a praetexta tragedy. This anonymous orphan will still – always – struggle in an author-centric world. But the nurturing environment of monumentality1 required for a promising adulthood of deep reading is now very much secured. That said, Octavia was still desperate for more TLC from that special something: the sensitive, dedicated monograph.2 Ginsberg has made the play's life that much easier.

Staging Memory, Staging Strife is a risky book, but the pickings are richer for it. Civil war is Ginsberg's master theme, worth more than its weight in subtitle ('empire' perhaps plays more of a bit part). This story of Nero's divorce of Octavia, plus popular backlash, is not just chock-full of violence and conflict in the present, but also retrofitted with triggers of past strife. Many would stop there; some haven't. Buckley 20123 (which Ginsberg relegates to footnote zone as appearing 'too late') anticipated some of the claims here. The risky part is that Ginsberg goes further. She reads the play as a kind of intertextual tour-de-force, an artefact not just fossilizing a general Roman neurosis but specifically, deeply engaged with the 'civil war' texts knocked up under (or near, or even by) the Julio-Claudians: Virgil Aeneid and Lucan Bellum Civile are the predictable stars, but Augustus Res Gestae, Propertius, Horace, Seneca De Clementia all get strong look-ins.

Ginsberg's modus operandi is hard-core, full bore intertextualism. On the ground, this means pinning a host of verbal echoes, and fanning out each time to track the bigger interpretative ripples of the repetition. But this isn't just the 90's Scuola Normale and friends doing their thing with a fine-toothed comb (though it is that, more on which below). Ginsberg's twist is to bring the booming 'cultural memory' moment (of which she is a leading light) to bear on a text frankly made for it. The upshot is a glorious marriage of old-school intertextuality (microcosmic, focussed, 'literary') with the new(ish) approach of memory studies (macrocosmic, broad, 'sociohistorical'). The fine offspring shows off just how important literature can be in the big game of fashioning, sealing, qualifying, overwriting, or jiggling political memory.

Ginsberg spends the introduction laying out and bolstering her aforementioned choice methods: intertextuality and cultural memory. So much a part of the Latin establishment nowadays is intertextual reading, I was a little shocked (and then strangely refreshed) to see an active (historicist) case made for it. Ginsberg conscientiously collects evidence for Roman reading habits approximating our own insane attention to minute intertextual effects. To be fair, the case might not be so superfluous in this context, where the spectre of performance-critic scepticism might ruin the party before it begins. 'Seeing on the page is one thing, hearing it in the audience another' – so might go the criticism (which Ginsberg confronts along with the vexed question of the play's performance at the end of the introduction). Ginsberg makes the good point that the Octavia hasn't wanted for intertextual attention, but that the attention has been monopolised by the shadow of Seneca (which Ginsberg will nobly escape). Turning to her second frame, Ginsberg then gives a short crash course on cultural memory in the humanities. She drops her own work in the line of 'literary memory studies', a sub-field probing both how literature shapes the memory of the past, and how literature itself gets folded into an object of memory (p. 11). For Ginsberg, all texts (especially the cultural heavy-lifters like Virgil and Lucan forming the scenography of the study) are complex repositories of cultural memory – and so whenever a text is 'remembered' in the heat of an intertextual moment, we are also stoking the coals of how that text remembers (as well as what it remembers). Crucially, this means that intertextuality in the Octavia lays bare the mnemonic pathways of its 'source' texts, and often grates them against each other.

The book eats, breathes, and sleeps civil war. This governing theme works well to lock the chapters into a satisfying story, which roughly unfurls in synchrony with the march of the action itself. Chapter 1 trains on discord 'within the imperial house', keeping close watch on Octavia's opening scene and the chorus' follow-up on Agrippina's death. Ginsberg takes her cue from the play's most glaring (and uncontroversial) allusion: Octavia channelling Lucan's Pompey (magni resto nominis umbra, Oct. 71; stat magni nominis umbra, Luc. 1.135). Ginsberg goes well beyond the tag to colour both Octavia and Agrippina in the tones of Pompey, which makes for a domestic struggle of Pharsalan proportions; she then turns from Lucan's loser to Virgil's losers (past and future), to make the case for Turnus, Aeneas, and Dido as variously lurking behind the same imperial women.

Ginsberg next follows the plot to see what the men have to say and remember. Chapter 2 brilliantly reads Seneca's advice to Nero as not just a rehashing of the De Clementia, but an attempt to mirror a bleachy-clean Augustus to the current prince with partisan texts like the Res Gestae. Seneca loudly glosses over the violence of early Octavian in silence, but betrays intertextual memories of triumviral strife despite himself; and Nero, careful listener/reader that he is, easily steps into the glitch. Chapter 3 nicely shows us how he does it: in Ginsberg's expert hands, Nero's response to Seneca negatively corrects Seneca's rosy picture of princeps the first. Nero makes use of a very different intertextual palette of Lucan, Propertius, and Virgil, to paint the foundations of pax et princeps red; Seneca's saintly Augustus, and merry reading of history, is chucked in the bin, and replaced by a compelling monster of a precedent for rule.

Chapter 4 moves outside the vexed intrafamilial Julio-Claudian relationships (brothers, sisters, wives, husbands, and forebear forms of all) to Nero's relationship with the Roman people. The play takes care to stage the civil contagion spreading to popular riots; Ginsberg shows how these uprisings take on tones of programmatic civil war passages in the Aeneid, the Bellum Civile, and Horace's Odes and Epodes, to bring Neronian Rome into the ambit of late Republican tumult, and vice versa. Chapter 5 – a real treat – makes civil war pay real dividends for a key interpretative crux of the play: the number of choruses (one, two…three?) and the attribution of which lines to which. Ginsberg stages a top reading of a 'bifurcated' chorus as a structural reflex of the play's civil fissuring. She mines each choral ode for yet more layers of civil war intertext (e.g. Sallust Catiline, Livy, more Lucan, Lucretius), and wages some quiet iconoclasm on the standard romanticised view of the chorus in the scholarship – no glorious Republican shadow for Ginsberg, but rather a fractious, fickle lot, marred by the blood on its own hands. A fine epilogue finally stakes out a position on the Octavia's date; Ginsberg locks and loads a host of good evidence to run the play particularly well in the context of early Flavian Rome, when the civil strife of 69 was very much still pumping through the Vespasianic nervous system.

There is no doubt this book adds a lot. The cultural memory string to Ginsberg's bow is there, and important, and a major part of the contribution; nevertheless, in its more pedestrian intertextualist idiom, the monograph sometimes threatens to become a swampish verbal echo chamber. Ginsberg is an imaginative reader of intertextual contact points, and she usually (but not always) dances well between the concrete 'echo' and the abstract, fancier claims regarding textual memory. Her approach is to quote a snippet of Octavia, followed by a snippet of intertext (or vice versa), and underline (then unpack) the overlapping language. But the underlines, so confidently implying equivalence, often don't quite live up to the job. (I convey underlined words/phrases with vertical lines). For example, stressing |clementia| (Oct. 835) despite its absence from the Ovidian comparandum (p. 44); |infelix amor| (613) looks close to Aen. 1.749 (|infelix| Dido, longumque bibebat |amorem|) only with a bit of squinting/formatting magic (p. 56); |Inuidia infelix…metuet| (Georg. 3.37-8) vs. |Inuidia tristis…cessit| (Oct. 485-6) is pushing it for resemblance (p. 78), as are ille |regit| dictis |animos| (Aen. 1.153) vs. quis |regere| de|mentes| ualet (Oct. 866; p. 138-9) and |memores pristinae uirtutis| (Sall. Cat. 68.11-12) vs. nostri sumus im|memores|…uera |priorum uirtus| (Oct. 288-91; p. 145)). Alternatively, the 'echo' falls fairly flat, all too faint on deaf ears, because it involves a pretty anodyne collocation of a couple of unremarkable words, indeed sometimes just one: e.g. cedere fatis (p. 29); premere dolorem (p. 47); merui (p. 52); quid moror (p. 55); terra marique (p. 71-2 – even with Ginsberg's awareness of the potential objection; cf. p. 118); petit Nilum (p. 104); attonitam (p. 127-8); quis furor (p. 129). Or again, the echo is flattened into a simplistic badge of alliance (e.g. just because Agrippina says |nominis magni| uiros (641), it doesn't quite make her into a Pompeian shadow of a great name herself (p. 36)). Conservative scholars may well want Ginsberg to have come cleaner on her criteria for what constitutes a meaningful verbal echo, and will probably say that, according to more responsible filters, a good lot of Ginsberg's examples are out.

The book's biggest shortcoming is the translations, which are at best stiltedly literal (at worst, they read like 'translationese' knocked together on the spot). These examples give a flavour: 'To save citizens who threaten the princeps and fatherland, citizens swollen with pride in their famous lineage, what insanity when with a single word I am allowed to order the deaths of those I suspect.' for seruare ciues principi et patriae graues, / claro tumentes genere quae dementia est, / cum liceat una uoce suspectos sibi / mori iubere? (Oct. 495-8; p. 90-1); 'and to yours, Danae, to whom once he flowed down in yellow gold as you wondered at him' for et tibi, quondam cui miranti / fuluo, Danae, fluxit in auro (771-2; p. 154-5); funerea Roma (Oct. 824; p. 43) becomes 'funereal Rome'; nec totiens propriis circum oppugnata triumphis / lassa foret crinis soluere Roma suos! goes 'nor would Rome, besieged on all sides with her own triumphs, be so often exhausted from loosening her own hair.' (Prop. 2.15.45-6; p. 93) – as if Rome were just beat from letting her hair down.4

Those are fairly superficial smudges on an otherwise high calibre debut of great intellectual worth. Ginsberg has shown us in dazzling style how Octavia makes an important intervention into the cultural memory of the principate by staging a war of recollection, and thrashing it out in an intertextual argot every bit as sophisticated as the Julio-Claudian phantoms it conjures. Octavia, and Ginsberg, deserve all the reading they will get.


1.   Two extensive commentaries: R. Ferri (2003), Octavia: A Play Attributed to Seneca, Cambridge; A. J. Boyle (2008), Octavia: Attributed to Seneca, Oxford.
2.   On top of the groundbreaking P. Kragelund (1982), Prophecy, Populism and Propaganda in the Octavia, Copenhagen; and now Kragelund (2016), Roman Historical Drama: The Octavia in Antiquity and Beyond, Oxford.
3.   E. Buckley (2012), 'Nero Insitiuus: Constructing Neronian Identity in the Pseudo-Senecan Octavia' in A. Gibson (ed.), The Julio-Claudian Succession: Reality and Perception of the Augustan Model, Leiden, 133-54.
4.   The issues aren't only stylistic. Here are a selection of omissions and errors, with a fuller list reserved for the blog: paret (Oct. 228, p. 37), manu (Luc. 1.667, p. 126), diu (Oct. 798, p. 132), the crucial partu (279, p. 143), all untranslated; quod nomen (490, p. 76) taken as 'your name' rather than the title parens patriae (reprised at p. 117); Antoni (Luc. 10.70-1, p. 106-7) taken as genitive instead of vocative (and uaesani taken with Antoni, rather than amoris); feris uulneribus (Oct. 525-6, p. 107) translated 'by so many wounds'; cessare confused with cedere at 674 (p. 150). Typos are fewer: I spotted 'our memory Augustus' > our memory of (p. 65); decent > descent (p. 107, n. 42); throws > throes (p. 111); if ground > if I ground (p. 111); indepted > indebted (p. 144, n. 8); epiglogue > epilogue (right hand header, p. 183-93); the the > the (p. 192, n. 62).

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Carsten Wilke, Farewell to Shulamit: Spatial and Social Diversity in the Song of Songs. Jewish thought, philosophy and religion, 2. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, 2017. Pp. viii, 170. ISBN 9783110500547. $91.99.

Reviewed by Susan Sorek, Oxford Continuing Education (

Version at BMCR home site

The Song of Songs has long been the focus of various conflicting debates amongst Old Testament scholars. Is it theological allegory, a story, or a compilation of erotic folksongs? There is only one constant throughout the Song, the central female character Shulamit, who appears to embody an ideal 'norm' of womanhood. Wilke examines the text in terms of spatial diversity and finds that the Song displays a discontinuous cycle of personal encounters within urban, rural and pastoral scenes. Then he attempts to contextualise the Song by comparing it with the conventions of Hellenistic love poetry and with the ritual symbolism of Dionysian cult, within the historical framework of the multiethnic borderland east of the Jordan.

In Chapter One Wilke examines pre-modern readings of the Song, when it was believed that landscapes were used as metaphors and that the masculine and feminine speech could be attributed to a single couple. During the 18th century, the significance of space as scenery made an appearance and finally in the 20th century the idea of space as a tapestry was propounded. 21st-century scholars have seen space as an agonistic metaphor, and there is a tendency to treat the Song in the context of biblical Wisdom literature and a return to the assumption of a unified narrative. It would appear, therefore, that the pattern of monotheistic tradition where one "feminised humanity craves for one man's God"1 informs all contemporary interpretations of the text. Apart from Brenner, the only scholar to have challenged this assumption in modern times is Exum, who acknowledges that the lovers in the Song are connected to their social status but pursues this no further.2 In keeping with Brenner's hypothesis, Wilke suggests that space should also be viewed as a life world and he reviews in the subsequent chapters the text's structure from a different perspective, one that begins with the poems' imagined correlations between space, class and gender.

In chapter 2 Wilke examines the real and imagined spaces, i.e. the mimetic/descriptive and metaphorical, while allowing that some spaces may be both. He divides the Song into twenty idylls, a form first used by Theocritus, based on the references to mimetic spatial settings, and finds that the formal means by which these structural units are distinguished from and linked to one another have close parallels in the Theocratean forms that emerged in Greek poetry of Alexandria during the first half of the 3rd century BCE. The historical dating of the Song was first estimated by Heinrich Graetz to be the 2nd half of the 3rd century BCE.3 Wilke divides the Song into four cycles, the Court (idylls 1, 4, 10, 13, 15), the City (idylls 6, 8, 14, 17, 19), Vineyard (idylls 2, 7, 11, 16, 20) and Wilderness (idylls 3, 5, 9, 12, 18). Each of the four environments hosts a specific type of erotic interaction: scenes of longing in the city, searching in the wilderness, seduction in the vineyard, and power play at the King's court. The physical landscapes and social world are used as metaphors. In this fashion Wilke deconstructs the monolithic dialogue into that of ten lovers and compares the way the Song organises these ten lovers into four cycles, with four landscapes and four erotic constellations.

Chapter 3 examines the poetics of social diversity by looking at Greek literary and visual models as depicted on 5th-4th-century vase painting. Hellenistic poets, especially the Alexandrian circle, sought inspiration in the dramatic characterisation of social types that had become popular through comic drama. The literary modes of Athenian New Comedy (Menander) and Hellenistic mime (Herodas) explore social differences,4 while the Song depicts such an interaction of social classes and professions, from which Wilke concludes that

the reach of spatial movement and representation serves as an additional distinctive feature that is shared in the Song's figures. The accessibility and significance of spaces are determined not only by gender but also by class…. In short, spatial relations are not blurred. On the contrary in addition to their distinctive consumption patterns, the four sociospatial locations, namely city, vineyard, court and wilderness correspond to a domestic, local, provincial and transregional radius that it assigned to a movement of their respective inhabitants, especially from a female perspective. (p. 53)

Chapter 4 deals with Ptolemy IV Philopater and his religious policy. The prominent figure in the Song mentioned by all the heroines is King Solomon. Graetz hypothesised that the image of Solomon as a womaniser was meant to depict the court in Alexandria under Ptolemy IV Philopater (245-204 BCE).5 In this chapter Wilke details the role of women, banquets, horseraces, Bacchanals, Dionysian politics and tattoos, concluding with a section on negotiating religion. For example, both the dove and the deer frequently appear in the Song but only in metaphorical and mythical contexts. When the city girl urges the 'daughters of Jerusalem' to awake the power of love, she makes them take a solemn oath by the deer, that is to say, the guardian animal of the virgin goddess Artemis. The borrowing of imagery and ritual from diverse pagan cults is extensive throughout the Song, which echoes the common symbolism of Ptolemaic rule. As T. Rajak says "Greek culture was deeply intertwined with Jewish life from the early Hellenistic period to an extent where contemporaries were themselves not fully aware of the scale".6 Likewise, the poet uses the motif of royal promiscuity in order to associate the Hellenistic ruler with the biblical King Solomon, the founding figure of the Judaean temple state.

This prompts the question of the penultimate chapter, was the Song written in Amman? The Judaean heartland was relatively unaffected by Hellenism; however the cities of the Decapolis were administered according to the Greek model of the polis inhabited by more or less Greek natives. The Hellenistic influence under the Tobaids and the discovery of the Zenon papyri7 indicate that the centre of Tobaid activity was in Transjordan. It would appear there was an exploitation of Judaean clereuchs within Ptolemaic Syria, especially in the garrisons of the Tobaids in Transjordan. The poet's perspective evokes the Ptolemaic organisation of the military and urban spaces in the Song. Josephus locates the Tobaid fortress in the region of Hesbon,8 which stands in striking parallel to the Song's reference to 'the pools of Hesbon at the gate of Bat-Rabbim'. Amman also served an important economic function: stretched out along the 'King's Road' were many wine producing villages and farmsteads. The mention of the King's exploitation of the countryside in the last of the Song's idylls can be viewed in the light of the political and economic history of the Ammanite region. Judaeans were often subject to religious pressure and were often enslaved, but sometimes they were empowered, and they were objects as well as agents of the Hellenisation of the Ammanites.

In conclusion, the author, by using Foucault's categories of discontinuance and difference, reveals how the Song's idylls have dissected ancient society into a twentyfold human panorama. With the exception of the 'warriors of Israel' and the 'daughters of Jerusalem' who represent the Judaean population, none of the characters are defined by their origins. The non-ethnic juxtaposition of country, urban, rural and pastoral space reflects the multi ethnic Transjordan region. The King is called Solomon, but he is modelled on a pagan ruler. The Jewish characters appear as spectators who occasionally interact on certain levels with other social classes. The overall setting appears to consist of ten Gentile soloists (six women and four men) before a male and female Jewish chorus, and a Jewish audience. As a syncretic text, the Song in its entirety has been successful in the history of Jewish acculturation. The Song has always stood in a Jewish religious context with changing justifications: its topoi of multifarious love were condensed into metaphors of a unified mystic intrigue and finally a moralistic example. Although either reading strategy has enriched both Jewish and Christian culture, Wilkes argues that they have eclipsed the original meaning of the text found in its poetic exploration of human diversity and erotic universality. The conclusion shows that in the Song the spirit and literary pattern of Dionysian celebrations, with some elements filtered out, has been imported into a Jewish context.

Wilke makes a sound and well-structured argument and certainly opens up the Song for further debate. He has appraised the often overlooked anomalies in time and space as well as gender. He has carried forward the work of Exum and Brenner, who encouraged searching for a presence of diversity within the text. Wilke achieves this admirably, and this work will surely form the basis for a renewed appraisal of the Song in a Hellenistic setting.


1.   Brenner, A The Song of Songs. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press 1989. 37.
2.   Exum, C. The Song of Songs: A Commentary. Westminster: John Knox Press 2005.
3.   Graetz, H. Schir ha-schirim, oder, Das Salomonische Hohelied. Wien: Wilhelm Braumῠller 1871. Later proponents of this date are Tcherikova, V. Hellenistic Civilisation and the Jews (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America 1959) and Hengel, M Judaism and Hellenism I: Studies in their encounter in Palestine during the Early Hellenistic period (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock 1974). [4]] A scroll discovered in 2001 containing 112 epigrams by Posidippus provides a coherent collection of poetry from the Ptolemaic age and adds weight to the argument. See Posidipo de Pella Epigrammi (P.Mil.Vogl VIII 309) ed. Bastianini, G et al. Milan: Edizioni Universitarii 2001.
5.   Graetz 90-1.
6.   Rajak, T. The Jewish Dialogue with Greece and Rome: Studies in Social and Cultural Interaction. Leiden: Brill 2001.
7.   Xavier Durand (ed) Des Grecs en Palestine au III siecle avant Jesus-Christe dossier syrien des archives de Zenon de Caunos 261-252. Paris: Gabalda 1997.
8.   Josephus Jewish Antiquities XII 4-11.

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Stéphane Martin (ed.), Monnaies et monétarisation dans les campagnes de la Gaule du Nord et de l'Est, de l'Âge du fer à l'Antiquité tardive. Scripta antiqua, 91. Bordeaux: Ausonius Éditions, 2016. Pp. 201. ISBN 9782356131737. €25.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Benjamin D. R. Hellings, Yale University Art Gallery (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

The book under review is a compilation of essays that evaluates coin finds and the monetisation of the Gallic countryside from the second century BC to the fifth century AD. Assembled and edited by Martin, the contributions in this volume represent a selection of papers presented as part of the RurLand (Rural Landscape in North-eastern Roman Gaul) program in 2015. The region addressed in the volume encompasses northern and eastern Gaul and the Germanic provinces, from the Seine/Saône axis to the Rhine.

In the introductory chapter, Martin outlines the primary objective of the publication, to address the assumption that the countryside population was cut off from the monetary economy due to the relative scarcity of coins on rural sites. The second goal is to test the notion that the economic development of the countryside, as measured through increased use of coinage, was the direct result of Rome's conquest. The chapter includes a useful map that illustrates the region covered by each chapter with one-sentence summaries for each.

In the second chapter, Martin offers an interesting historiographical overview of the interpretation and study of coin finds in the countryside. The number of coins found in rural contexts is an important consideration. However, Martin emphasises the need for a more holistic interpretation beyond absolute numbers and suggests three approaches, which he labels concepts, places, and objects. With the first proposed method (concepts), he argues that it is necessary to abandon the dichotomy of a natural economy and a monetary economy, and advocates for a better definition of the concept of monetisation and the way archaeological evidence can refine our understanding of coin use in a rural setting. This is followed by the second method (places), which demonstrates the various contexts market activity could have taken place by drawing evidence from various regions of the Empire. Martin's third method (objects) encourages the study of archaeological artefacts, which may indicate or implicate the use of coins, regardless of whether they have been found with coins. Martin's approach is employed throughout the remaining essays and offers an opportunity to reconceptualise our understanding of the monetisation of the Gallic countryside.

In the third chapter, Martin, Malrain, and Lorho examine coin finds from rural sites in the second Iron Age (La Tène) in France to confront the belief that the countryside population was cut off from the monetary economy. The database of finds, compiled by INRAP (Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives), consists of 645 sites of which c. 12.5% have produced coins. The strength of this chapter lies with the robust dataset used, providing a useful overview of regional differences across northern France. Coin finds are mapped by type and small regional differences are further explicated in subsequent pages allowing the authors to conclude that there does not appear to be any difference in the types of coins used in urban and rural contexts (within their respective regions). The chapter concludes that future studies should concentrate on geographical and regional differences to better investigate the specifics of coin use in rural contexts. A minor issue with this chapter is that throughout the text, references are made to French administrative regions but the map does not contain these names.

The fourth chapter offers an account of the monetisation of civitas Remorum (Aisne, Ardenne, Marne) between the end of the third century BC and AD 68. The paper begins with a summary of rural habitation in civitas Remorum and the difficulty of identifying villae. The second section provides detailed coverage of coin circulation patterns, by metal (gold, silver, bronze) and by site type. The evidence presented is of great interest and summarizes a wealth of research. Doyen observes that small change at countryside sites remained proportionally stable between the pre-Roman and post- Roman periods (until AD 68), although the presence of gold decreased and remained limited until the beginning of the fifth century. Through the quantification of numismatic evidence, Doyen concludes that this development is the result of a decreased population size due to overexploitation of land during the first two centuries BC.

In his contribution, van Heesch considers the monetization of northwest Gaul from the first to third century AD (the civitates of the Nervians and the Menapians). Van Heesch investigates the evidence in reverse chronological order because he claims the data are more convincing and clearer for the second and third centuries than for the first century. He explicitly demonstrates the increased presence of coinage over time and concludes that a large portion of the rural population in this remote part of the Empire had access to coins at some point. He also demonstrates that despite the limited availability of coinage during the first century, small change was still available in villages. This is particularly the case with Augustan coins, which must have been 'lost' or deposited during the first century and have been found at small villages, demonstrating that rural settlements were linked to the monetary economy of the Empire. Van Heesch also considers contemporary Augustan Gallo-Belgic and Iron Age bronze coins while several possibilities are elucidated how these coins might have been used. A tentative case is made that they could belong to a relatively well-developed monetary society, supporting the book's two main objectives.

In the sixth chapter, Schucany considers money and market in the Helvetian civitates by comparing coin find profiles from rural settlements to those of cities, vici, and military camps. To do so, she compares coin numbers to the volume of settlement layers that were excavated (coins/m3), complementing the volume's holistic approach to look beyond absolute numbers. This approach allows her to demonstrate that relative to site size and its excavated area, some rural sites produce a high number of coins (figure 3), to the point of being comparable to urban sites. The rest of the chapter analyses the coin finds and demonstrates the different chronological profiles at different site types. Urban and military sites produce a very high number of first century coins, which is not the case at rural sites. Schucany, consulting archaeological evidence, concludes that coins only penetrated the countryside during the second century due to labour and agricultural specialisation. Although she states, "small estates rarely provide sufficient amount of coins for evaluation" (p. 112) it would be interesting to see whether a similar development also occurred at countryside farmsteads.

Trommenschlager and Brkojewitsch provide an overview of villae from the northeast of France in four sections: a detailed overview of the villae, coin circulation, the denominations, and contexts of the coins themselves (782 in total). The last two sections are of the greatest interest and importance. Here the breakdown of denominations by villa, by period, is presented. Coin find contexts are also considered facilitating comparisons between the chapters by Doyen and Schucany, which is useful to compare micro-regions from the north-western provinces. Unlike the Helvetian villae considered by Schucany, those under consideration here do not demonstrate a high degree of monetisation during the second century. Instead, the majority of coins are radiates, third century imitations, and coins from the fourth century. Trommenschlager and Brkojewitsch assessing the precise contexts of the coins conclude that the coins do not indicate productive activity but rather belong to phases of abandonment.

Nüsslein's chapter covers the production of third century imitations in the northeastern France (vallée de la Sarre). Many key matters regarding imitations are woven throughout although the focus lies with the people responsible for producing imitations within the studied area. The sites from Vallée de la Sarre that are presented as possible places for production of imitations cover a range of types, from large agglomerations to farms, and produce a concentration of imitational mints in a confined region. Similar clusters have also been identified around Trier, south east of Paris, and in Britain. Nüsslein goes on to explain that these groupings are usually in the countryside and not nearby large urban centers, which typically represent principal points of central administration. He concludes that imitations were therefore produced locally as a response to the lack of coinage provided by the official mints, thereby challenging the idea of a poorly monetized rural economy.

In the ninth chapter, Burgevin and Filipiak present coin finds from rural site types from the Champagne-Ardenne and Bourgogne areas, with a particular emphasis on late antiquity. The presentation of the archaeological sites is kept to a minimum, allowing for the rest of the essay to present the chronological periodization and circulation duration of the coins themselves, noting that coins from the fourth century outnumber those of the first two centuries. The importance of better studying coin finds from fourth and fifth century and the way that this will help establish our understanding of economic activity during this period is also stressed. Although the paper provides a useful summary of evidence from sites otherwise difficult to come by its presentation is not ideal. The periodization of the coins themselves is not sensible, differing drastically in duration inhibiting comparison between periods. Additionally, the decision to end a period in AD 259 instead of 260 is presumably the consequence of using an old dating scheme, which should have been avoided.

Martin concludes the book with an overview of several themes from the various contributions. He ends the chapter looking forward to the ways the chapters in the volume can contribute to future enquiry. One way forward is the comparison between coin circulation in rural and urban settings (the latter was little discussed in this book). The volume provides useful chapters for anyone working on the ancient Roman economy and coin finds, while encouraging new approaches. The real strength of the volume lies with the wealth of numismatic data employed, which in some cases is inaccessible or difficult to retrieve. If one minor fault is to be found, it is that figures and maps are not uniform throughout the volume, although this detracts little from the volume's contribution to archaeology and numismatics.

Table of Contents

Stéphane Martin, Introduction
Stéphane Martin, Monnaies et marchés dans les campagnes gauloises: concepts, lieux, objets
Stéphane Martin, François Malrain, Thierry Lorho, La circulation monétaire dans les campagnes gauloises de l'Âge du Fer. Éléments de synthèse à partir des découvertes répertoriées dans la base de données des établissements ruraux du second Âge du Fer
Jean-Marc Doyen, Structures agricoles, occupation du sol et monétisation des campagnes de la civitas Remorum (Aisne, Ardennes, Marne) de la fin du IIIe s. a.C. à 68 p.C.
Johan van Heesch, The Multiple Faces of the Countryside: Monetization in the North-West of Gaul during the High Empire (1st -3rd c. AD)
Caty Schucany, Money and Market in the Countryside of the Helvetian civitas
Ludovic Trommenschlager, Gaël Brkojewitsch, La circulation monétaire des villae médiomatriques: analyses méthodologiques, numismatiques et archéologiques
Antonin Nüsslein, Des ateliers monétaires dans les campagnes médiomatriques pendant l'Antiquité tardive: qui sont les fabricants de monnaies d'imitation dans la vallée de la Sarre?
Alexandre Burgevin, Benoît Filipiak, Remarques sur la circulation monétaire dans les campagnes à la fin de l'Antiquité en Gaule de l'Est
Stéphane Martin, Conclusions
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Michael Rathmann, Diodor und seine Bibliotheke: Weltgeschichte aus der Provinz. KLIO. Beihefte. Neue Folge, 27. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2016. Pp. ix, 431. ISBN 9783110478358. $140.00.

Reviewed by Bruno Bleckmann, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

Diodor verfasste in späthellenistischer Zeit eine Weltgeschichte, deren zentrale Bedeutung für die moderne Forschung vor allem darin liegt, dass sie einen notdürftigen Ersatz für die fast vollständig verloren gegangene Geschichtsschreibung des vierten Jahrhunderts und des Hellenismus bietet. Mit seiner Monographie strebt Rathmann nunmehr an, den Autor selbst in den Blick zu nehmen, der bisher mehr „be – als erforscht wurde" (Rathmann, 1). Nach einer knappen Einleitung und einem Forschungsüberblick werden die Hinweise behandelt, die sich im Text Diodors zur eigenen Vita finden (Kapitel 2: „Die Vita des Autors"), mit dem Ergebnis, dass der wohl kurz vor 90 v. Chr. geborene Diodor sich zwar auch in Rom aufgehalten hat, dass aber (in Abgrenzung zu K. Sacks, Diodor and the First Century, Princeton 1990) das prägende Ereignis seiner Biographie nicht der Aufenthalt in der Hauptstadt, sondern derjenige in Ägypten war. In Kapitel 3 („Der Titel Bibliotheke – Bedeutung und Intention") untersucht Rathmann die mit dem Werkstitel „Bibliotheke" verfolgten Konzepte und Intentionen sowie die Zielgruppe des Unternehmens. Das fünfte Kapitel („Die Intention des Werkes") behandelt die Ziele, die der späthellenistische Geschichtsschreiber jenseits der reinen Lieferung von Informationen verfolgt und die Rathmann durch eine Einzelanalyse der programmatischen Äußerungen zum Sinn der Geschichte und der Geschichtsschreibung untersucht. Aus der Perspektive eines Provinzialen, der die Einigung der Oikumene in seiner eigenen Zeit keineswegs nur unter negativem Vorzeichen erlebte, ging es Diodor nicht um „kritische Auseinandersetzung mit historischen Ereignissen und Prozessen, sondern um Moralisierung und Belehrung" (310).

Einen gewichtigen Platz nimmt in der Monographie die Frage nach Diodor und seinen Quellen ein, die im vierten Kapitel („Der Autor und seine Quellen", S. 156-270) behandelt wird. Insgesamt schreitet Rathmann auf dem von G. Wirth gewiesenen Weg des Radikalskeptizismus gegen die Quellenforschung weiter1 und möchte vom konventionellen Bild Diodors als Epitomator abrücken. Im Einbandtext wird sogar angekündigt, dass die Studie „einen durchaus ernsthaften Historiographen" zeige, „der seiner ‚Universalgeschichte' aufgrund seiner Herkunft, Begabung und Ausbildung einen ganz eigenen Blickwinkel verleiht." Mit fortschreitender Lektüre der Ausführungen Rathmanns wird aber erkennbar, dass die communis opinio und Rathmanns Einschätzungen letztlich nicht in dem angekündigten Maße auseinanderfallen. Eine reine Einquellentheorie vertritt für Diodor beispielsweise niemand mehr, sondern man kann darauf verweisen, dass in den ersten Büchern bisweilen ein schneller Quellenwechsel erfolgt, während Diodor in späteren Büchern bekannte Geschichtswerke zusammenfasst und dabei über weitere Strecken auf bereits gegebene Syntheseleistungen zurückgreift. Das entsprach letztlich auch der mit dem Titel „Bibliotheke" versprochenen Leistung. Der Erwerb dieser Bibliothek ersparte den Honoratioren aus den Städten Siziliens die Lektüre und den Erwerb zahlreicher und ungleich größerer Geschichtswerke. Zu diesem Ergebnis gelangt Rathmann letztlich durchaus auch. Zwar wendet er sich zunächst gegen die Thesen Volquardsens,2 erklärt dann aber eine Benutzung des Ephoros über weite Strecken damit, dass Diodor auf Zwischenquellen zurückgreift, die ihm einen Teil der Kompilationsleistungen abnehmen.3

Quellenuntersuchungen in der Art Volquardsens sind für Rathmann trotz der Uneindeutigkeit seiner eigenen Bilanz gleichwohl die dunkle Folie, vor der sich ein moderner Umgang mit der Historiographie Diodors hell abhebt. Über zeitgenössische Forscher wie H.-U. Wiemer oder J. Malitz fällt das Verdikt, dem 19. Jahrhundert bzw. der Altertümelei verhaftet zu sein.4 Dabei hängt die oft enttäuschende Bilanz quellenkritischer Untersuchungen in der Regel weniger mit der Unzulänglichkeit der Methode zusammen als damit, dass diese Methode immer nur in dem Grade sichere Ergebnisse liefern kann, in dem man über entsprechendes Material verfügt. Gerade angesichts der von Rathmann erhobenen Forderung, Diodors Werk als Gesamtheit zur Kenntnis zu nehmen, kann man nur bedauern, dass Abschnitte im Geschichtswerk Diodors, für die Vergleichsmaterial vorliegt und über die daher durchaus Aussagen möglich sind, nicht eingehend untersucht werden.5 So fällt zwar der Name Agatharchides in der Untersuchung Rathmanns immer wieder (als Zwischenquelle, die Stücke aus Hieronymus von Kardia vermittelt haben könnte), der sprechende Befund, dass etwa Diodor 3,12-48 wörtliche, durch den gemeinsamen Rückgriff auf die Schrift über das Rote Meer zu erklärende Übereinstimmungen mit Photios bibl. cod. 250 aufweist und Diodor jedenfalls hier nicht als besonders ehrgeiziger Stilist in Erscheinung tritt, wird aber kaum diskutiert.6

Seinen Versuch, Diodor als einen Autor zu lesen, der seine eigenen Perspektiven und nicht diejenige seiner Quellen verfolgt,7 entwickelt Rathmann im Detail für die frühhellenistische Geschichte. Rathmann versucht hier die Selbständigkeit Diodors vor allem dadurch zu beweisen, dass er der These, in Hieronymus von Kardia die Hauptquelle der Bücher 18-20 zu sehen, skeptisch begegnet. Über die Etikettierung größerer Passagen dieser Bücher als Stücke des Hieronymus mag man in der Tat streiten. Eine Mehrheit der Forscher tritt zwar dafür ein, darunter mit bemerkenswerten Argumenten Jane Hornblower und kein geringerer als Felix Jacoby.8 Dem kann man aber die Ausführungen von P. Goukowsky, zweifelsohne einem eminenten Kenner der Materie, entgegenhalten. Goukowsky bleibt nicht nur gegenüber der Etikettierung mit dem Namen Hieronymus zurückhaltend, sondern betont auch die Tatsache, dass Diodor seine Epitome durchaus eigenwillig gestaltet haben dürfte.9 Gleichwohl geht er in gleicher Weise wie Jacoby in seiner Gesamtcharakterisierung dann doch davon aus, dass es für die Erzählung Diodors in den Büchern 18-20 einen hochwertigen und durchaus erkennbaren Hauptstrang, eine „source principale" gibt.10 Eines von deren Charakteristika scheint die Fokussierung auf Eumenes gewesen zu sein.11

Rathmann würdigt dagegen diese wie andere Elemente, die auf die Benutzung eines einheitlichen Berichts über lange Strecken hinweisen – dazu gehört die erkennbare Benutzung von Originaldokumenten als markante Besonderheit12 – allenfalls im Vorbeigehen. Er geht vielmehr davon aus, dass Diodor für die Geschichte der Diadochenkriege einen selbständigen, immer wieder neu kombinierten Bericht vorlegt, wie sich an der Widersprüchlichkeit der Erzählung zeige. So glaubt Rathmann (257), dass in der Darstellung der Rolle des Hieronymus als Vermittler zwischen Eumenes und Antigonos die Zeugnisse Diodor 18,42,1 und 18,50,413 nicht zusammengeführt werden können: „Während im ersten Eumenes den Hieronymos zu Antigonos schickt, ist der Aktionsverlauf im zweiten entgegengesetzt; dort ist Antigonos die handelnde Figur." Im ersten Zeugnis ist freilich überhaupt nicht von Antigonos, sondern von Antipatros die Rede.14 Widersprüche oder auch ungünstige Aspekte kann man eigentlich in dieser Darstellung der Missionen des Hieronymus nicht erkennen. Generell geht die Tendenz des Berichts dahin, Hieronymus von Kardia als einen Mann zu zeigen, der mit allen Protagonisten der Diadochenkriege ein gutes Verhältnis haben konnte und vor allem aufgrund seiner direkten Kontakte zu den Hauptakteuren einen Überblick aus erster Hand bieten konnte. Hieronymus befindet sich im Bericht der Vorlage Diodors vermutlich auf dem Rückweg zu Eumenes (mit dem er zunächst nach Nora geflohen war) von der Gesandtschaft zu Antipatros, als er unterwegs von Antigonos gerufen wird. Sein späterer Gönner beschenkt ihn reich, damit er bei Eumenes vermittelt. Das ist deshalb nicht ehrenrührig, weil Hieronymus nach dem Scheitern der Mission der Sache des Eumenes treu ergeben bleibt und erst nach dem Ende des Eumenes definitiv in die Dienste des Antigonos tritt.15 Im Übrigen zeigten die späteren Entwicklungen, insbesondere die Tatsache, dass Eumenes Nora verlassen durfte, dass Antigonos in seiner Politik gegenüber Eumenes wechselte und vorübergehend auch an einen Ausgleich mit ihm dachte.

Eine Zergliederung der Erzählung Diodors nach Stücken divergierender Tendenz ist zweifelsohne der methodisch richtigere Weg als die Suche nach Hinweisen, die eine Etikettierung dieses oder jenes Stückes mit einem Namen erlauben. Insofern muss zunächst textimmanent vorgegangen werden. In einem zweiten Schritt hat aber dann auch eine gründliche Sichtung der Parallelquellen zu erfolgen. Auf diesen Arbeitsschritt verzichtet Rathmann anscheinend ganz. So werden nicht einmal die engen Parallelen zwischen Arrians Diadochengeschichte und dem 18. Buch für Episoden wie die Satrapienverteilung von 323 oder die Neuregelungen in Triparadeisos ins Auge genommen.16 Dabei zeigen die exakten Entsprechungen in der Aufreihung der Satrapien ohne jeden Zweifel an, dass Diodor sich durchaus bemühte, den Tenor seiner Quellen so wieder zu geben, wie er ihn in diesen vorfand.

Als Bilanz ist festzuhalten, dass Rathmann zweifelsohne eine ideenreiche Arbeit zur Biographie und zum Werk Diodors vorgelegt hat, und dass sein Beitrag dazu verhilft, das oft übersehene Profil Diodors als Schriftsteller- und Historikerpersönlichkeit besser zu beachten. Dabei gelingen ihm Beobachtungen, die auf jeden Fall weiterführend sind, etwa dazu, dass nicht das vorhandene Material, sondern das jeweilige Leserinteresse ein Motiv für ausführlichere Epitomierungen sein kann (261 f.). Kampfansagen an die vermeintlich veraltete Quellenforschung sind aber so lange wirkungslos, wie eine eingehende Auseinandersetzung mit deren Inhalten und Ergebnissen unterbleibt.


1.   G. Wirth, Diodor und das Ende des Hellenismus. Mutmaßungen zu einem fast unbekannten Historiker, Wien 1993.
2.   Rathmann, 7. Vgl. C. A. Volquardsen, Untersuchungen über die Quellen der griechischen und sicilischen Geschichten bei Diodor, Buch XI bis XVI, Kiel 1868.
3.   Rathmann, 269: „Seine Technik, sich die mühevolle Auseinandersetzung mit den Einzelvorlagen zu ersparen und Zwischenquellen zu nutzen, markiert einen gangbaren und im Grunde legitimen Ausweg aus dem Dilemma – allerdings mit der fragwürdigen Konsequenz, dass Diodor seine Quellen verschleiert und die von anderen erbrachte Arbeit damit als eigene Leistung präsentiert." Neben Ephoros hatte möglicherweise für die hellenistische Geschichte Agatharchides diese Funktion der Zwischenquelle.
4.   S. 262, Anm. 402: „Die Aussage Wiemers (…), dass Hieronymus die alternativlose Hauptquelle Diodors gewesen sei, ist als Position des 19. Jahrhunderts zurückzuweisen." S. auch Rathmann, 255.
5.   Etwa die Anabasis Xenophons als (durch Ephoros vermittelte) Quelle für die Erzählung Diodors zum Zug der Zehntausend, vgl. A. v. Mess, Untersuchungen über Ephoros, Rheinisches Museum 41, 1906, 360-407 und P. Stylianou, One Anabasis or Two? In: R. Lane Fox, The Long March. Xenophon and the Ten Thousand, Yale 2004, 68-95. Ähnliches gilt für die Hellenika Oxyrhynchia, die letztlich Quellengrundlage für Ausführungen Diodors im 13. und 14. Buch sind, vgl. B. Bleckmann, Athens Weg in die Niederlage. Die letzten Jahre des Peloponnesischen Kriegs, Stuttgart – Leipzig 1998, 37-40.
6.   Vgl. D. Wölk, Agatharchides von Knidos. Über das Rote Meer. Übersetzung und Kommentar, Bamberg 1966, I f.
7.   S. 262: „Ziel der Quellenkritik bei Diodor muss in zukünftigen Studien demnach sein, Tendenzen einzelner Passagen vor dem Hintergrund des Gesamtwerkes herauszuarbeiten." Zu Agatharchides als Quelle von Diod. 3,12-13 s. Rathmann, 237 mit Anm. 312. S. 268 nennt Rathmann als Ausnahme von der Regel der angeblichen Unbestimmbarkeit der Quellen Diodors nur den auf Agatharchides zurückgehenden Exkurs über die Nilschwemme.
8.   F. Jacoby, Hieronymos (10), RE VIII (1913), Sp. 1540-1560, hier 1549. S. auch 1552: „Der Bericht Diodors trägt einen vollkommenen einheitlichen Charakter, soweit es sich um die Folge der hauptsächlichsten Ereignisse handelt." S. auch die von Rathmann nicht diskutierten Ausführungen von A. B. Bosworth, The Legacy of Alexander. Politics, Warfare, and Propaganda under the Successors, Oxford 2002, 98-168 zum hohen Wert der detaillierten Ausführungen Diodors über den Kampf zwischen Antigonos und Eumenes im Iran, die sich nur durch die Beobachtungen eines hochgestellten Zeitgenossen erklären lassen.
9.   P. Goukowsky, Diodore de Sicile. Bibliothèque historique. Livre XVIII, Paris 2002, IX-XXIV.
10.   Goukowsky, XXIV. Die Möglichkeit der Existenz von Einlagen aus Nebenquellen hat schon Jacoby diskutiert, wie etwa für den sehr Ptolemaios-freundlichen Bericht über das Ende des Perdikkas, möglicherweise auch die Erzählung zum Los Phokions (Diod. 18,66 f.).
11.   Hier hätten die Parallelen zwischen der positiven Würdigung des Eumenes bei Diodor, in der Eumenes-Biographie Plutarchs oder dem Göteborger Arrian-Palimpsest (vgl. B. Dreyer, Zum ersten Diadochenkrieg. Der Göteborger Arrian-Palimpsest (ms. Graec 1), ZPE 125, 1999, 39-60), durchaus eine vertiefte Behandlung verdient.
12.   K. Rosen, Political Documents in Hieronymus of Cardia (323-302 B. C.), Acta Classica 10, 1967, 41-94. Keine wirkliche Diskussion des Befunds bei Rathmann, 255.
13.   Vgl. FGrHist 154 T 3 und 4.
14.   S. die Übersetzung beider Zeugnisse bei Rathmann, 257. Beide Diodorpassagen sind mit Goukowsky, L, Anm. 4 folgendermaßen zu verbinden: „On a vu supra, chap. XLII,1, que Hiéronymos avait été envoyé par Eumène auprès d'Antipatros. La mort de ce dernier avait mis un terme à sa mission, et il était probablement sur le chemin du retour." S. bereits F. Jacoby, 1540 f.
15.   E. Will, Histoire politique du monde hellénistique I, Nancy 1979, 53.
16.   Nur allusiv Rathmann, 150, Anm. 131.

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Thursday, October 19, 2017


Marco Onorato, Il castone e la gemma: sulla tecnica poetica di Sidonio Apollinare. Studi latini, n.s., 89. Napoli: Paolo Loffredo iniziative editoriali, 2016. Pp. 534. ISBN 9788899306434. €36.80 (pb).

Reviewed by Joop van Waarden, University of Amsterdam (

Version at BMCR home site

Publisher's Preview

With this book, Sidonius Apollinaris, the mannerist poet, has found his congenial reader. In a dazzlingly detailed study of his poetry, Marco Onorato succeeds in creating an enthralling blueprint of its architecture, seen as a multilayer structure of atomizing details, accommodating rare words like gems. More than just matching the complexity of its subject, Onorato's analytic virtuosity plausibly recreates the conditions under which Sidonius' poetry could be meaningful and could indeed be a first-rate artistic achievement.

Sidonius' poetry as we have it consists of forty-one items, varying from impromptu couplets to elaborate, six-hundred-line panegyrics. Three imperial panegyrics and a number of occasional pieces date to the 450s and 460s and were published together around 469. This group contains twenty-four items. The remaining poems are scattered across the letter collection, which extends as far as 482/83. Onorato's analysis is basically concerned with generous fragments of Carmina 2, 5, and 7 (all panegyrics); 9 (the programmatic opening poem of the section of occasional verse); 11 and 15 (both epithalamiums); and 22 (the laudatory description of a friend's mansion).

The book consists of two main sections. The first is concerned with what Onorato calls Sidonius' 'diaeretic technique' in handling commonplaces and ecphrases; the second treats 'lexical alchemies,' with a discussion of Sidonius' adroitness at forging hapax legomena at strategic positions in poems. These sections are followed by an extensive bibliography and an index of quotations. The bibliography reveals that Onorato has a minute knowledge of the secondary literature that he applies to great effect in a wealth of footnotes broaching many ancillary subjects. As to the question of indexes, however, in such a microscopic book, which often operates on word (and even phoneme) level, the lack of a word index makes it much less useful for subsequent consultation than one might have hoped.

In his two-sided take on Sidonius' poetics, Onorato declares himself indebted to Michael Roberts' The Jeweled Style (1989) for structure and to Isabella Gualandri's Furtiva lectio (1979) for verbal detail. His claim is that Sidonius takes the late antique aesthetics of fragmentation to a climax in a uniquely controlled way, resulting in highly organized rhetorical and lexical compositions, intimately connected with the structure of the verse. Driven by an extreme form of intertextuality, Sidonius' 'expressive exuberance' is 'proudly post-classical.' Onorato duly acknowledges the many predecessors who have investigated Sidonius' poetic technique over the past decades, but he is convinced that it is necessary to go deeper in order to gain a full understanding of its complex nature.

The proofs of this claim are convincing, especially in the first part on diaeretic technique. As the argument develops and one passage after another is analyzed, one senses an internal logic of method which is not only insightful to the modern reader but also can be plausibly supposed to reflect the author's intention. Onorato's system is to dissect a passage into its various levels, for instance Anthemius' education in Carm. 2.134-92: the first level consists of the elements A (his infancy ) and B (his boyhood and adolescence); B is then subdivided into B1 (hunting), B2 (philosophical studies), and B3 (literary studies); B2 (to take just one strand further down) is divided into B2α (introduction), B2β (Seven Sages), and B2γ (various schools), ending, five levels down, with the pairs B2γ8' (Plato) / B2γ8'' (Aristotle) and B2γ9' (Presocratics) / B2γ9'' (Socrates). The point of Onorato's analysis is that he is able, every time, to show that this amplificatio is precisely structured and serves expressive ends bound up with variatio and exact timing within the meter. Comparisons with similar passages in, e.g., Claudian demonstrate how this strict diaeretic technique is Sidonius' hallmark. Successive chapters probe topoi like the hero's education and the gallery of philosophers, as well as ecphrases of gods and men or landscapes and objects, composed with constant reference to a variety of earlier poets. A running comment on Carmen 9, the famous list of subjects the poet will not treat (amounting to an inventory of literary history) which never reaches the turning point of '… but I …', makes sense of its claim to novelty (rejected by other scholars), defining the poem as 'a manifest of uncompromising formalism,' a clear-cut demonstration of neoteric poetry to the limit, entirely to the taste of a literary elite in its pursuit of Romanitas against the gloomy foil of barbarian undoing.

The second part of the book concentrates on hapax legomena from Sidonius' own pen and devises a matrix according to their formal linguistic characteristics and their single or multiple intertextual roots. Again, Onorato is extremely detailed and schematic. We are given a credible sense of Sidonius' method in creating new words while keeping close to the traditional repertory, and simultaneously get an inkling of how his literary memory could have worked across a labyrinth of source material. Thus, circumclamatus (Carm. 2.506-507 ora / … circumclamata procellis, 'a shore around which tempests roar') needs for its explanation Martial's conclamata querellis (Epigr. 9.45.4), Vergil's circum clamore fremebant (Aen. 6.175), and a number of examples of the preference of compounds beginning with circum- for this particular verse position. The argument is strengthened by the meticulous patterning of rare and/or long words apparent in so many verse lines, especially at strategic incisions in the text. Onorato's cumulative evidence is impressive.

This book is an important contribution to the ever-growing awareness of what exactly Sidonius is doing as an artist. It is novel in clarifying the phenomenon of coherent fragmentation in his poetry as well as the complementary nature of the 'jewels' of the hapax legomena and their diaeretic 'setting.' Not the least of its merits is that its unflinching strictness invites the reader to look for nuance and ask further questions. Here are some:

1) There is more to Sidonius' poetry than dazzlingly detailed lists and brilliant neologisms. How does Onorato's method apply to the narrative bits in the panegyrics (for instance, the fighting in Carm. 7.239-94) or the ongoing contemplative strain that pervades Carm. 16 to bishop Faustus despite its outward fragmentation? It would also be interesting to have his opinion of the farewell poem, Carm. 41 (in Ep. 9.16.3), where fragmentation would not seem to be the primary drive. As to individual words, by focusing so strongly on hapax legomena in the second part of his diptych, Onorato unintentionally presents a skewed picture, masking the importance which all individual words may carry in Sidonius' literary universe.

2) This is a book about poetic technique that provides cues for understanding Sidonius' facilitas scribendi. Understandably, it largely leaves interpretation aside. However, while the suggested complexity of Sidonius' poetic memory (the text as written) is already breathtaking, it is doubled as soon as the weight of interpretation comes to bear on it (the text as read): meaningful or mechanical intertextuality? coded communication or playfulness? straightforwardness or allegory? Maximized from all scholarly angles, the demand on one single artist would become questionable. To help frame further research, one central meta-question should be whether, and how far, advanced modern electronic search techniques plausibly replicate the poetic memory of ancient poets. Two prior questions could be profitably asked, according to one's taste: either the big one, in line with the latest developments in cognitive classics, how human cognition and psychology steer the processing of large bodies of information in writing, including the limits and preferred directions of cognition. Or the mundane and practical one: how much time do we allot, and how much time and effort could Sidonius allow himself for reading, researching, memorizing, retrieving, and dictating so complex an oeuvre? Anyhow, we need a cleansing of method.

3) In a section on the cultural background of the late antique love for fragmentation, Onorato usefully comes up with explanations tied to grammatical and rhetorical education. But how is the phenomenon itself to be explained? Here, a wealth of material is left out. It is, for instance, worth looking at what David Rijser has called the 'poetics of inclusion': triggered by the need to create cultural memory in order to understand the present where ancient texts are no longer self-evident, the mere inclusion of as many elements as possible from the tradition is a vital cultural act. The mere presence of allusions, whether understood or not, the very sound of grand names in ancient lore serve as a ritual, existential guarantee.1

4) This book takes for granted the wholesale anti-barbarian stance of aristocrats like Sidonius. For a more nuanced picture, it is worth giving a second thought both to the notion of 'barbarian', which in recent scholarship on otherness, is less self-evident and monolithic than it used to be, and to the breaches within the elite and, indeed, to Sidonius' own ambivalence.2

Summing up, Onorato's study is an impressive achievement that solves a number of technical questions and makes it possible for others to paint ever richer pictures of Sidonius the poet and Sidonius the man.


1.   D. Rijser, 'The Poetics of Inclusion in Servius and Sidonius' in J.A. van Waarden & G. Kelly (eds), New Approaches to Sidonius Apollinaris, Leuven: Peeters, 2013, 77-92.
2.   For barbarians, see the edited volume (also in Onorato's bibliography) R.W. Mathisen and D. Shanzer, Romans, Barbarians, and the Transformation of the Roman World, Farnham: Ashgate, 2011, and a number of subsequent studies, among them, specifically for Gaul and Sidonius, two forthcoming doctoral theses by Veronika Egetenmeyr (Kiel) and Sara Fascione (Naples). For ambivalence, particularly towards the ascetic trend of the times, see J.A. van Waarden, Writing to Survive: A Commentary on Sidonius Apollinaris, Letters Book 7, Volume 2: The Ascetic Letters 12-18, Leuven: Peeters, 2016, 17-22.

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Ilias Taxidis, Les Épigrammes de Maxime Planude. Introduction, édition critique, traduction française et annotation. Byzantinisches Archiv, 32. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2017. Pp. xvi, 192. ISBN 9783110526257. $114.99.

Reviewed by Foteini Spingou, Oxford University (

Version at BMCR home site


Manuel/Maximos Planoudes (ca. 1255–ca. 1305) is most famous for his collection of ca. 3,400 epigrams, however his poetic oeuvre has rarely been in the scholarly spotlight. Ilias Taxidis makes available the thirty-six epigrams penned by Planoudes within a period of about twenty years for the first time in a single corpus. This is the only modern edition of any of the epigrams that takes into consideration all the manuscripts. Moreover, the book makes accessible this little- researched material to a wider audience thanks to the French translation that accompanies the Greek text. The commentary further reveals the deep familiarity of the author with Planoudes' language and life and explicates obscure passages.1

In the first part of the book, Taxidis places the epigrams in their general context, considers their general features, and presents the manuscripts used for the edition. The Introduction places Planoudes' epigrams in the general discourse of this literary form. Taxidis notes that Planoudes' epigrams are well influenced by the tradition of the genre that they represent and he explores the projected selves of Planoudes in his epigrams (pp. 3–6). Previous editions are presented (pp. 6–7), and a table with the number of verses for each poem and their possible date of composition (if datable) is offered. Before discussing the thirty-three manuscripts with Planoudes' epigrams and the relationship among manuscripts transmitting the same poems (pp. 36–63), Taxidis analyses the language, the style, and the metrics of the texts (pp. 11– 35). At pp. 25–29, he finds the source of Planoudes' inspiration in Homer and Nonnus of Panopolis, and highlights borrowings from Manuel Philes and the Planoudian Anthology. At the end of the first part of the book, the reader finds a list with the editorial principles followed by Taxidis (pp. 64–66).

In the second part, Taxidis divides his corpus into "profane epigrams" (book and tomb epigrams, nos. 1–12), and "religious epigrams" (epigrams on works of art and short prayers, nos. 13–36).2 Each epigram is accompanied by a French translation and detailed commentary that considers literary and historical aspects of the poems.

Finally, the most useful and detailed indices help the reader to navigate through the book (pp. 173–92).

Taxidis' arrangement of the poems allows the reader to discover Planoudes as an epigrammatist and delve into this aspect of the great Byzantine scholar's work. However, the reader should be warned that this arrangement is somehow arbitrary and it is not representative of the original context of transmission. None of the surviving manuscripts groups together all the epigrams published in this book. Manuscript Vatican City, Palatinus Graecus 141 (a manuscript with mainly Planudes' works, copied ca. fifteen years after his death) includes twenty-two epigrams arranged in five different clusters. Five more epigrams are to be found in the same manuscript but as part of letters and not as self-standing texts (nos. 2, 31, and 36). Aspects of the original context and the transmission history for some of the poems can be partly recovered by reading carefully the commentary supplemented in the book.

Furthermore, the reader who wishes to explore Planoudes' poetic oeuvre in detail may look also at his little-known liturgical poetry. His (admittedly limited) hymnographical work remains unpublished and authors of modern handbooks confine their interest to this aspect of Planoudes work into a single sentence.3 That liturgical texts can be found in the same manuscript containing Planudes' epigrams (Pal. Gr. 141) and since hymns follow immediately after epigrams the distinction between the two kinds of poetry was not water-tight. Also, hymns and epigrams are dedicated to the same saint. This is the case of the epigram on an icon of St Diomedes (no. 28) that can be found in f. 136 of Pal. Gr. 141, while stichera and a liturgical canon dedicated to same saint by the same author are copied at the beginning of that very manuscript.4 At least one of Planoudes' liturgical canons has a metrical acrostic.5

The nearly simultaneous appearance of this first critical edition of Planoudes' epigrams by Taxidis and Ivan Drpić's book Epigram, Art, and Devotion in Later Byzantium (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016) did not allow Taxidis to include Drpić's useful remarks in his commentary or Drpić to use Taxidis' book for his analysis. The reader may wish to supplement Taxidis' commentary on epigrams no. 31 with Drpić's discussion on pp. 18–25 and 66 (with English translation of the poems), and Taxidis' remarks on epigram no. 16 with Drpić's arguments on pp. 100–102 (again with English translation).

All in all, Taxidis' book is a precious contribution to the booming field of Byzantine poetry and highlights a little-known source for the cultural history of later Byzantium.


1.   The first book of the author was an important contribution to Planoudes' corpus of letters. See I. Taxidis, Μάξιμος Πλανούδης. Συμβολή στη μελέτη του corpus των επιστολών του, Βυζαντινά Κείμενα και Μελέτες, 58. Θεσσαλονίκη: Κέντρο Βυζαντινών Μελετών 2012.
2.   This category corresponds to ἱερόν ἐπίγραμμα, see N. B. Tomadakis, Ἡ βυζαντινὴ ὑμνογραφία καὶ ποίησις ἤτοι εἰσαγωγὴ εἰς τὴν βυζαντινὴν φιλολογίαν, τόμος δεύτερος (Athens: Adelfoi Myrtidi, 1965), p. 30; and A. D. Kominis, Τὸ βυζαντινὸν ἱερὸν ἐπίγραμμα καὶ οἱ ἐπιγραμματοποιοί, (Athens: Typografeion Adelfon Myrtidi, 1966).
3.   Hans-Georg Beck, in Kirche und theologische Literatur im Byzantinischen Reich, Byzantinisches Handbuch zweiter Teil (Munich: C. H. Beck'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1959), p. 687, dedicates a single sentence to Planoudes' liturgical canons. For references to Planoudes canons see J. Szöverffy, A Guide to Byzantine Hymnography, vol. 2 (Brookline, Mass. : Classical Folia Editions 1977), p. 70.
4.   Palat. Gr. 141, ff. 2v–4.
5.   Ἀθλοφόρον Δημήτριον ᾄσμασι Μάξιμος ὐμνῶ, reported in S. Eustratiades, "Ἁγιολογικά: Ὁ ἅγιος Δημήτριος ἐν τῇ ὑμνογραφίᾳ," Ἐπετηρὶς ἑταιρείας βυζαντινῶν σπουδῶν 11 (1935), p. 132, from also Palat. Gr. 141, f. 136v. Cf. E. Papailiopoulou-Fotopoulou, Ταμεῖον ἀνεκδότων βυζαντινῶν ᾀσματικῶν κανόνων (Αthens: Syllogos pros diadosin ofelimon vivlion, 1996), no. 148, inc. Ἀγαθῶν τῇ πηγῇ / παρεστηκὼς καὶ χάριν. See also, idiomela for St. Mocius, acr. Μαξίμου, inc. Mώκιος ὁ μάρτυς / εἰς μέσον καταστὰς, Pal. Gr. 141, f. 137v, reported in S. Eustratiades, "Tαμεῖον ἐκκλησιαστικῆς ποιήσεως," Ekklesiastikos Faros, 49.3 (1950) 211. Also Stichera Staurotheotokia, in f. 140v, acr. Μαξίμου μοναχοῦ τοῦ Πλανούδου, reported in E. Stevenson, Codices manuscripti Palatini Graeci Bibliothecae Vaticanae (Rome, 1885), p. 72. Regrettably, the reproduction of the manuscript in disposal was in poor condition and thus I am unable to provide further information.

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Antoine Lévy​, Pauli Annala, Olli Hallamaa, Tuomo Lankila (ed.), The Architecture of the Cosmos: St. Maximus the Confessor. New perspectives. Schriften der Luther-Agricola-Gesellschaft, 69. Helsinki: Luther-Agricola-Society, 2015. Pp. 355. ISBN 9789519047782. €36.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Ken Parry, Macquarie University (

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[The reviewer apologies for the delay in delivering this review.]

In 1961 Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988) published his Kosmische Liturgie: Das Weltbild Maximus des Bekenners (English translation by Brian Daley 2003), a revised edition of a work originally published in 1941. This was followed in 1965 by Lars Thunberg (1928-2007) with his no less seminal work Microcosm and Mediator: The Theological Anthropology of Maximus the Confessor. Both books were milestones in Maximian studies and did much to bring Maximus the Confessor to the attention of scholars and the wider public. Since then translations and works devoted to Maximus have increased exponentially. 2015 saw the publication of The Oxford Handbook to Maximus the Confessor edited by Pauline Allen and Bronwen Neil, offering a synthetic approach to the author's work.1 I think we can safely say that Maximus' time has finally arrived, but that not every question relating to him has been answered.

There are 14 papers in this volume, many by leading scholars of Maximus, published in the wake of a conference held at Helsinki in 2013. As it is impossible to do justice to all the papers in this short review, I will list the different chapter headings under which the authors are grouped, and then select 5 to discuss in detail. I apologise to those contributors whose papers I have not chosen; it is no reflection on the quality of their work but a reflection of my own interests and the word limit.

Chapter One: Contextualization; papers by Peter van Deun and Christian Boudignon.
Chapter Two: Philosophical Approaches; papers by Christophe Erismann, Torstein Theodor Tollefsen, Valery V. Petroff, Gregory Benevich, and Pascal Mueller-Jourdan.
Chapter Three: Theological Approaches; papers by Antoine Lévy, Nikolaos Loudovikos, Vladimir Cvetković, István Perczel, and Pauli Annala.
Chapter Four: Modern Approaches; Alexei V. Nesteruk.

I have selected from Chapter Two: Philosophical Approaches, papers by Christophe Erismann, Torstein Theodore Tollefsen, and Grigory Benevich.

Christophe Erismann's paper, entitled 'Maximus the Confessor on logical dimensions of the structure of reality', offers the reader some notable insights into Maximus' application of logic, and in doing so applies with some legitimacy the unfamiliar term 'Christian logic'. He examines the three modes of being of universals exemplified by Porphyry in his Isagoge, and commented on by Ammonius of Alexandria. He then proceeds to show how this exemplification of universals is to be recognised in Maximus' writings. The Christian adaptation of the Aristotelian theory of categories, mediated via Porphyry and Ammonius, provided necessary definitions for theological reflection on a range of issues, including ontology. An important but perennial question was: do universal entities have existence apart from their individual realisation? The answer that was formulated by Maximus was that universals do not exist independently of their instantiation in individuals. Individuals of the same species share the same essence but differ in their hypostases or accidental properties. Maximus agrees with Aristotle in positing that universals are ontologically dependent on particulars, and confirms this by stating that the particular has in itself the entire universal. This reflects Aristotle's position in the Categories where he says substance does not admit of more or less. However, the term that came to represent this position in Neochalcedonian theology was that of enhypostaton, the indwelling of the universal in the individual. The concept of enhypostaton represents a mode of being not found in the Categories.

Torstein Theodore Tollefsen's paper is called 'The Concept of the Universal in the Philosophy of St Maximus'. This deals with the 'Christian philosophy' of Maximus and continues the theme of the status of universals introduced by Erismann above. Tollefsen characterises Maximus' understanding of universals by coining the term holomerism, a combination of the Greek for 'whole' and 'part'. He notes that Christian authors appropriated much Neoplatonic vocabulary and in doing so developed a distinctively Christian understanding of being. An investigation into the richness of Ambiguum 10 leads him to the topic of providence, the main theme of Benevich's paper below. In his discussion of Maximus's ontology, Tollefsen brings out the cohesive interconnectivity of wholes and parts, universals and particulars, as indicative of the divine arrangement of the cosmos. This shows the indivisible relationship between universals and particulars, so that if particulars cease to exist, universals will perish. The Logos is the binding agent that holds these relationships together while retaining the distinctiveness of each part. Thus, Maximus ascribes to particulars a high degree of ontological meaning that reflects the goodness and providential order divinely gifted to creation. Tollefsen rightly sees this as an original development based on both Platonic and Aristotelian elements, a development with links to late antique philosophical culture. What Maximus does is to rework this culture and invest it with a soteriological dimension that is ultimately Christocentric.

Grigory Benevich titles his contribution 'Maximus Confessor's teaching on God's Providence'.2 He begins with an outline of his comparative study of providence from Plato to Maximus published in Russian in 2013. He follows this with an exposition of Maximus' teaching on the topic and shows how he moved from Origen, Evagrius of Pontus, and Nemesius of Emesa through Pseudo-Dionysius to his own position. Evagrius' discussion on providence and judgement is taken up by Maximus in the process of offering a Christian alternative to that of the Platonists. Divine judgement is not to be understood only as moral judgement, or as reward or punishment, but as an act of ontological distinctiveness pertaining to individuals and species preserving the uniqueness of each. He further suggests that Maximus does not develop a theodicy as such, but if this is the case, then it may require rethinking what defines a theodicy in the first place. The Confessor's account of evil as a parhypostasis is in the mode of Proclus via Pseudo-Dionysius. In his assessment of Nemesius' On the Nature of Man, Benevich does not raise the question of the work's reception as Maximus appears to be the first to cite it. It was transmitted in the manuscript tradition under the name of Gregory of Nyssa and it has been suggested that it has connections with sixth-century Origenism.3

From Chapter Three: Theological Approaches, I have selected papers by Vladimir Cvetković and István Perczel.

The first of these by Cvetković, on 'The Mystery of Christ as Revived Logos Theology', examines the question whether in Maximus the incarnation is foreordained from the beginning as part of the divine plan for creation. If this is so, then it would have happened irrespective of the fall. Particularly relevant to the discussion is Ad Thalassium 60, in which Maximus discusses the idea that the incarnation was foreknown by the Trinity as part of the divine economy of salvation. The preordained incarnation is not simply a Maximian theologumenon, but a doctrine known to earlier fathers, for example, Theodoret of Cyrrhus. Naturally such a doctrine poses several 'what ifs', e.g.: what if Adam had not been disobedient, how then would the preordained incarnation have played out? Cvetković argues that Maximus returned to the earlier Logos theology and adapted it to his own ends, with the emphasis this time on hypostases and their differentiations. But although this may look like a revival in some respects, Neochalcedonian thought had largely formulated its reappraisal of the Mysterium Christi by Maximus' time. What the Confessor did was to reinvigorate the centrality of the incarnation as the divine guarantee of human godlikeness. Cvetković concludes his paper with an exposition of the theme of the preordained incarnation as found in the Mystagogy, Maximus' commentary on the liturgy.

István Perczel's paper entitled 'St Maximus on the Lord's Prayer: An Inquiry into his relationship to the Origenist tradition', is the longest contribution to the volume. He begins by stating his aim and anticipating his conclusion that the line between heresy and orthodoxy is far from clear when it comes to investigating sixth-century Origenism. Given the historical condemnation of so-called 'Origenism', the question of defining it raises problems. The sixth-century Origenist monks of Palestine, whom Perczel calls Christian Platonists, were accused of being 'Isochrists', that is, claiming to be equal with Christ. Perczel looks at the Greek and Syriac lives of the Confessor, the one giving him a Constantinopolitan origin and the other a Palestinian one. He comes out in favour of the latter because it supports his argument in relation to his discussion of Palestinian Origenism. He also makes a case for including John Moschus and Sophronius of Jerusalem in his reassessment of Palestinian Origenism. Perczel reminds his readers that he has discussed the question of Origenism on other occasions, most notably in relation to Pseudo-Dionysius.4 His re-evaluation of the term to mean a school of Christian philosophy on a par with the Neoplatonist schools of philosophy is one that deserves attention.

Perczel proceeds to give an interpretation of Maximus' text On the Lord's Prayer in light of the sources alleging his Origenism. This leads him to discern a radical doctrine of theosis that does not envisage a quantitative difference between divinity and humanity. In doing so he applies the Aristotelian category of substance that does not admit of more or less, a category noted by Erismann in his paper. He takes this substantial transformation to have a connection with the claim of the Isochrists, and to be consistent with a christology that proposes a symmetrical relationship between incarnation and deification. What Christ is by nature, humanity becomes by adoption, only such an adoption does not eradicate the difference in nature between them. However, there is a term missing from Perczel's discussion of Maximus' theory of deification and that is perichoresis, which signifies a complete reciprocity of the natures in Christ as well as in the faithful.

Perczel's paper is a necessary corrective to the acceptance of the condemnation of Origenism by Justinian, the church councils, and subsequent traditions. It has become apparent that the doctrine of apokatastasis, for example, need not be viewed as 'Origenist' as such; it was adhered to in one form or another by several 'mainstream' patristic authors. 5 Undoubtedly our categories of heresy and orthodoxy need to be questioned when our knowledge of events changes or improves. One may not be convinced by every aspect of Perczel's argument, but it is certainly one we should engage with. The issue of Origenism in relation to Maximian thought must surely, as our author puts it, 'be one of the most fascinating intellectual enterprises in the history of Christianity'.

The overall impression left by this volume of papers is that the more we examine the writings of Maximus the more we need to explore the formidable depth of thought behind his cosmic vision. The Architecture of the Cosmos is highly commended to those seeking the latest scholarly insights into Maximus and his contribution to Christian intellectual history. It is a notable achievement and the organisers of the original conference must be congratulated on conceiving the event in the first place. ​


1.   Readers should also consult the extensive entry on Maximus by Peter van Deun and others in C. G. Conticello, La Théologie Byzantine et sa Tradition I/1(VIe -VIIe s.). Turnhout, 2015, 375-514.
2.   See my, 'Fate, Free Choice, and Divine Providence, From the Neoplatonists to John of Damascus', in A. Kaldellis and N. Siniossoglou (eds), The Cambridge Intellectual History of Byzantium. Cambridge (forthcoming 2017).
3.   P. F. Beatrice, 'Origen in Nemesius' Treatise On the Nature Man,' in G. Heidle and R. Somos (eds), Origeniana Nona: Origen and the religious practice of his time; papers of the 9th International Origen Congress, Pécs, Hungary, 29 August - 2 September 2005. Louvain, 2009, 505-532.
4.   See his, 'Pseudo-Dionysius and Palestinian Origenism', in J. Patrich (ed.), The Sabaite Heritage in the Orthodox Church from the Fifth Century to the Present. Leuven, 2001, 261-282.
5.   I. E. Ramelli, The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis: A Critical Assessment from the New Testament to Eriugena. Leiden, 2013. ​

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Michael J. Jeffreys, Marc D. Lauxtermann (ed.), The Letters of Psellos: Cultural Networks and Historical Realities. Oxford studies in Byzantium. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. Pp. x, 468. ISBN 9780198787228. $140.00.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Fisher, George Washington University (

Version at BMCR home site


The epistolary legacy of Michael Psellos presents scholars with both a magnificent opportunity and a profound challenge. The volume of his correspondence is huge—516 individual letters preserved in 44 manuscripts and published in various venues since the late nineteenth century; the recipients of those letters represent a wide spectrum of eleventh-century figures— emperors, patriarchs, imperial officials, ecclesiastical dignitaries, simple monks, students, and colleagues of Psellos. His comments on the realia of life in Byzantium and on the great and near great personalities of his day spice his correspondence. Fortunately, an authoritative critical edition of all the letters is at last in the final stages of preparation for the Teubner series, due to the diligence and consummate scholarship of Stratis Papaioannou; he generously allowed the contributors to this volume pre- publication access to his text of individual letters and provided advice on translating particularly difficult passages. Such passages abound in the letters of Psellos. In the words of Marc Lauxtermann (p. 11), "the Greek is difficult, and sometimes incomprehensible." Nevertheless, the scholarly contemporaries and successors of Psellos in Byzantium considered him a model epistolographer and exemplary master of rhetorical devices, of subtle literary allusions, and of the complex and artificial "Attic" linguistic register favored for serious literary composition.

The volume consists of two independent but related parts. Part I (pp. 13-140) contains five thematic essays based upon the letters: Psellos' educational networks (Floris Bernard), his monastic contacts and concerns (Michael Jeffreys), the Patriarch Keroularios' nephew Constantine (Michael Jeffreys), Psellos and his long-time associate John Mauropous (Marc Lauxtermann), and Psellos' use of irony in letters to the problematic protosynkellos Leon Paraspondylos (Diether Roderic Reinsch). Part II (pp. 143-445) contains Michael Jeffreys' careful summaries of every letter in the Psellan canon, including four letters from Psellos' correspondents that regularly accompany his letters in manuscript collections. The summaries are generally presented in the order in which they appear in Kurtz-Drexl (KD), Gautier (G), Maltese (M), and Sathas (S).1 Jeffreys deviates from this pattern in the case of 30 small groups of letters on a unified theme (e.g., "Support for a Young krites of Armeniakon. Probably Psellos' Son-in-Law," i.e., five letters collected and reordered from KD and S (pp. 194-96)). An appendix on dating the letters, a bibliography, and an index primarily to the summaries follows. As Lauxtermann explains in the introduction (p. 11), the summaries are a guide for scholars to use in efficiently locating letters that may respond to their individual interests. These summaries are not translations, but rather a tool enabling scholars to focus upon letters within this huge corpus that might justify investing the time and effort required to explore passages of value to their own work.

The four contributors to this volume are skilled practitioners in the delicate art of reading, interpreting, and translating Psellos' work. Each has provided two or three letters in elegant and readable translations that support the argument of their chapter. The nine translations are reason enough to commend this collection, for they successfully represent in English the extraordinary charm and literary value of Psellos' compositions. What has discouraged modern scholars from exploiting Psellos' letters in their research? Marc Lauxtermann articulates three problems (p. 6): (1) the complexities of intimate references to a remote historical period, (2) the generic conventions and deliberately obscure nature of a letter as expected by the writer and the recipient, and (3) Psellos' deliberate and habitual use of irony and misrepresentation. Lauxtermann illustrates his point by presenting four responsible interpretations of the leopard and the snake mentioned in Kurtz-Drexl 190 (pp. 5-6). Is the leopard Psellos' personal pet (Papaioannou), an allusion to persecution Psellos experienced for abandoning the monastery (M. Jeffreys), a game of rhetorical gender codes (Papaioannou), or an instance of Psellos' "erotic mischief" (Lauxtermann)? As Lauxtermann concludes (p. 6), "Each reader creates his own Psellos." The five thematic essays identify and investigate the interpretive problems occurring in the letters under discussion.

Floris Bernard ("Educational Networks in the Letters of Michael Psellos") examines Psellos' letters to his teachers, fellow students, and pupils as well the broader topics of Psellos' own activities as a teacher and the mechanisms he uses to build networks supporting the careers of individuals and promoting his own reputation for learning and influence. The language of kinship is key to Psellos' purposes and must be carefully interpreted and parsed, a task which Bernard accomplishes succinctly and clearly. At the close of the chapter, three letters gracefully translated illustrate Psellos' learned tone and personal approach to a fellow student (KD 11), to a pupil embroiled in a tax dispute with a monastery protected by Psellos (KD 53), and to the prospective patron of a former student (KD 91).

Michael Jeffreys ("Michael Psellos and the Monastery") reviews Psellos' personal connections to monasteries and monastic life, focusing upon his family, his friends, his own tonsure, his brief withdrawal from Constantinople to live as a monk on Mt. Olympos, and his subsequent career as a monk in the capital. Jeffreys uses this framework to discuss Psellos' correspondence with individuals, citing letters that illuminate Psellos' experiences and relationships at crucial periods of his life. Psellos himself owned several monasteries as charistikarios, providing advice, financial support and representation of the monastery's interests before imperial officials; in return he sometimes received some profit from the monastery's holdings. Jeffreys concludes by enumerating and briefly describing Psellos' interactions with specific monasteries, some famous (for example on p. 55, Ta Narsou in Constantinople) and some obscure (for example on p. 57, a nun's tiny, starving foundation). Translation of a few letters mentioned in the chapter would have been a welcome conclusion to it; the three letters regarding the monastery of Acheiropoietes near the Golden Gate (KD 77, 124, and 250) would have illustrated Psellos' role as charistikarios, for instance.

In a second essay ("Constantine, Nephew of the Patriarch Keroularios, and His Good Friend Michael Psellos"), Michael Jeffreys uses sigillography, prosopography, documentary evidence, and the precedence of offices and dignities to determine the biography of a significant but little known member of the Byzantine ruling class with whom Psellos maintained a long-term correspondence. Jeffreys outlines the chronology of his subject's life (pp. 62-3) and sketches the family tree of the Patriarch Keroularios (p. 65), surveying the family's involvement in the turbulent politics of the time as reflected in Psellos' letters and selected essays. "For me," observes Jeffreys, "the major purpose of arguments over details of promotion which dominate this paper is to set parameters for discussing the changing dynamics of Byzantine political society and their impact on government" (p. 74). Two elegantly translated letters to Constantine, nephew of Keroularios, close the chapter (KD 214 and G 21, both written shortly before Constantine's death).

Marc Lauxtermann ("The Intertwined Lives of Michael Psellos and John Mauropous") describes and contrasts the authorial personae of his two subjects, who sought very different levels of engagement in public affairs. Mauropous was a reluctant and evasive bureaucrat, but Psellos advertised his important position in the government at every opportunity. Lauxtermann first analyzes the poems, homilies, and letters of Mauropous, collections which the author selected and organized himself to emphasize stages in the traumatic episode of his career as metropolitan of Euchaita. The letters, Lauxtermann notes, represent only a brief period within his long and productive life. Within this collection are four letters evidently addressed to Psellos, including letter 33 which suggests that Mauropous wrote an unspecified encomion to be presented by Psellos as his own composition (p. 100).2 Were parts of Psellos' immense literary production actually written by others on commission from Psellos? After registering this stunning possibility, Lauxtermann examines Psellos' letters to Mauropous. Although the letters of Psellos are notoriously difficult to date and do not survive in a collection curated by Psellos himself, Lauxtermann identifies 18 letters surely or probably addressed to Mauropous and presents them in a logical sequence, arranged according to whether they were written before, during, or after the period of Mauropous' episcopate. After examining Psellos' tone and strategies in these letters, Lauxtermann provides background for assessing the exchange of two letters between Mauropous and Psellos which are translated as an appendix to the chapter. Relevant topics include the role of Xiphilinos as Nomophylax and Psellos as "Consul of the Philosophers" in the various educational structures that scholars have reconstructed from contemporary sources and from Psellos' own compositions and letters (pp. 113-123). Three readable and lively translations close the chapter: KD 34, in which Psellos chides Mauropous for his reluctance to go to Euchaita, and the two letters exchanged by the friends and discussed at length in the chapter (Mauropous letter 23 and Psellos M 12). Particularly in the case of this rich chapter, the reader longs for a full index to Part 1 of the volume; the index (pp. 459-468) covers the summaries in Part 2 with only occasional references to Part 1.

Diether Roderich Reinsch concludes Part 1 of the volume with his essay "Venomous Praise: Some Remarks on Michael Psellos' Letters to Leon Paraspondylos." Paraspondylos enjoyed prominence at court in the 1050's as attested by Attaleiates, Skylitzes, and by Psellos himself in the Chronographia, in nine letters to Paraspondylos, and especially in his logos that characterizes the excellence of the protosynkellos Leon Paraspondylos.3 The difficulty of establishing a chronology for Psellos' letters and other writings complicates any attempt to trace the dynamics of the relationship between Psellos and Paraspondylos. Reinsch's goal in his essay, however, is not historical but rather literary—to isolate and explore Psellos' deployment of "the hidden venom of irony," which, as Reinsch observes, artistically enables a letter writer "to conceal from the addressee the aggression which is connected with the statement, or at least to make it intangible" (p. 131). Reinsch illustrates Psellos' mastery of this elusive rhetorical device by skillfully juxtaposing passages from letters of Psellos with characterizations of Paraspondylos in Psellos' Chronographia and in his logos on the "excellence" of Paraspondylos. Two letters of Psellos to Paraspondylos (S 7 and S9) are the source of the passages that Reinsch contrasts with Psellos' other compositions to isolate and inspect his use of irony; these letters are elegantly translated at the conclusion of the essay.

In summary, this volume is an exceptionally rich resource for students of Psellos at any level of acquaintance with his life and work. It abundantly rewards careful study and further reflection.


1.   Kurtz, E., and S. Drexl (eds), Michaelis Pselli Scripta minora magnam partem adhuc inedita II: Epistulae (Orbis Romanus 12) (Milan, 1941). Gautier, P., 'Quelques lettres de Psellos inédites ou déjà éditées', REB 44 (1986) 111-97. Maltese, E.V., 'Epistole inedite di Michele Psello', SIFC, terza serie 5 (1987) 82-98, 214-23; 6 (1988) 110-34. Sathas, K.N., Μεσαιωνική βιβλιοθήκη η συλλογή ανεκδότων μνημείων της Ελληνικής ιστορίας. Μιχαήλ Ψελλού ιστορικοί λόγοι, επιστολαί και άλλα ανέκδοτα, vol. V (Venice-Paris 1876).
2.   Published by A. Karpozilos, The Letters of Ioannes Mauropous Metropolitan of Euchaita (Thessaloniki, 1990) 227-28.
3.   Λόγος χαρακτηρίζων τὴν τοῦ πρωτοσυγκέλλου ἀρητήν, Dennis, G.T., (ed) Michael Psellus Orationes panegyricae (Stuttgart-Leipzig 1994) 134-39.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017


Elaine Fantham (trans.), Francesco Petrarca: Selected letters, volume 1. I Tatti Renaissance Library, 76. Cambridge, MA; London: Harvard University Press, 2017. Pp. xlvi, 747. ISBN 9780674058347. $29.95. Elaine Fantham (trans.), Francesco Petrarca: Selected letters, volume 2. I Tatti Renaissance Library, 77. Cambridge, MA; London: Harvard University Press, 2017. Pp. viii, 807. ISBN 9780674971622. $29.95.

Reviewed by Linda Grant, Royal Holloway, University of London (

Version at BMCR home site

This new selection of Petrarch's letters by Elaine Fantham is to be welcomed. In keeping with the other volumes in the I Tatti Renaissance Library series, it presents us with the Latin originals with facing English translation. Both are numbered by section for convenient citation, and the English feels fresh and natural throughout, offering a fluent translation rather than a strict word-for-word crib. For example, here is Fantham's rendition of part of Petrarch's discussion of poetic imitation:

Standum denique Senece consilio, quod ante Senecam Flacci erat, ut scribamus scilicet sicut apes mellificant, non servatis floribus sed in favos versis, ut ex multis et variis unum fiat, idque aliud et melius

'In fact we should stick with Seneca's advice, which was that of Horace before him, to write as bees make honey, not preserving the flowers but converting them into honeycombs, so that from many assorted elements a single thing is created, different and superior.' (III.19.13)

Rather than organising the letters chronologically, Fantham has decided to arrange them into groups by topic. Across the two volumes we therefore have epistles on the self-conscious writing of letters (Part I), on Petrarch's life and engagement with his world (Part II), on his scholarly projects and manuscript hunting (Part III), and his 'moral' letters (Part IV) which are frequently in dialogue with Seneca. Part V includes letters that discuss matters of education, especially of rulers and princes; and Parts VI and VII show Petrarch in correspondence with the secular and religious worlds of fourteenth century Italy as he writes to, for example, King Robert of Naples, Doge Andrea Dandolo of Venice, and Pope Urban V. Part VIII includes a selection of Petrarch's 'Letters to the Ancients' where he writes to classical, mostly Roman, writers: Cicero, Seneca, Varro, Quintilian, Livy, Asinius Pollio, Homer. The well-known letters to Horace and Vergil have been excluded since they are written in verse. Part IX ends the collection with Petrarch looking back on his life and then to the future in his 'Letter to Posterity'.

What comes over most strongly from this judicious selection and arrangement is the breadth and depth of Petrarch's reading and interests: his excitement at the thought of discovering 'lost' classical manuscripts; his frustration at his lack of Greek when presented with a manuscript of Homer; his delight in his examination for the laurel crown; his advice to Pandolfo Malatesta on when to take a wife and which kind to choose. He is perhaps at his most charming when he scolds Cicero for his inconsistency (Sed quis te furor in Antonium impegit? 'But what madness drove you against Antony?', VIII.2.5) and his failure to live up to his own ideals (Nimirum quid enim iuvat alios docere, quid ornatissimis verbis semper de virtutibus loqui prodest, si te interim ipse non audias? 'What is the point of teaching others, what the advantage of speaking in most elegant words about the virtues, if you don't listen to yourself?', VIII.2.6).

A theme that runs through these letters and that Petrarch returns to repeatedly is that of masculine friendship, whether that is interactions with state and political leaders or the genuine intimacy of his closest circle of friends. This is just one example of how these letters, taken as a collection, might be seen as an imitation of, and response to, classical letters such as those of Cicero and Seneca, almost as if Petrarch wants to bridge, via these letters, some of the chronological and cultural space between the classical period and his own.

One of the most striking conclusions from these letters is the extent to which the classical past and its writers and thinkers are, for Petrarch, not lost or dead but still living. Even while urging friends to continue the search for lost classical manuscripts, Petrarch situates himself in an intensely personal relationship with classical writers. This is brought out most sharply, of course, in his letters written to Cicero et al., letters which take on a tone of intimacy, familiarity and ease—these are characters who people Petrarch's world.

Given the vast number of Petrarch's correspondents and the political complications of the world he inhabits, Fantham has done an exemplary job of providing the requisite apparatus to make sense of these letters. The volumes contain an introduction, extensive notes to the translations that include dating, concordances, a full bibliography and index. Volume 2 additionally contains three useful appendices: a chronology of Petrarch's life, a bibliography of his works, and biographical notes on his correspondents. All the notes are kept neatly to the back of each volume so that we can approach the letters unencumbered. The volumes themselves are handsomely produced, and I didn't notice any typographical errors.

In summary, anyone interested in Early Modern receptions of classical literature in its broadest sense or Renaissance letters as a literary genre would do well not to miss this collection—Petrarch is often named the 'Father of the Renaissance' and these letters make clear that he additionally sees himself as a son of classical Rome.

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