Tuesday, July 26, 2016


Alain Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy: Institutions, Markets, and Growth in the City-States. Expanded and updated English edition, translated by Steven Rendall; originally published in French 2007-2008. Princeton; Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2016. Pp. xxvi, 620. ISBN 9780691144702. $45.00.

Reviewed by Donni Wang, Shanghai University (donni.wang@gmail.com)

Version at BMCR home site


The French original of The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy was published in 2007-8 and received a lengthy and sympathetic review in BMCR 2009.08.17. On the occasion of this fresh translation, therefore, I take the opportunity to devote more space to critical engagement and less to summary. Bresson sets out to prove and explain the occurrence of sustained economic expansion in ancient Greece through the Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic periods. For those who have embraced the use of social science methods and neoclassical economic theory in the study of the ancient economy, Bresson's work will be very satisfying. In his text, economic concepts like incentives, uncertainty, and information asymmetry are featured prominently and supplemented by quantitative evidence whenever possible, some of which is derived from the latest archeological findings.

In Chapter I, Bresson provides an account of his methodology, situating it within the tradition of scholarship on the ancient economy. After this introduction, Part I of the book ("Structures and Production"), approaches the economy from several basic aspects: environmental factors (Chapter II and III), land use (IV), taxation (IV), agricultural production (V and VI), non-agricultural production, and the rate of innovation and growth (VII and VIII). Part II ("Market and Trade") covers the more advanced aspects of the economy: property laws and commercial centers (IX), money and credit (X), international trade and tax policy (XI), the emporium and commercial regulation (XII), international trade, economic performance, and the city-state ecology (XII-XV).

Bresson's main argument is that the ancient Greek economy, contrary to claims of it being primitive and stagnant, enjoyed significant growth as a result of steady development of institutions (xxii). According to the author, an institution is what introduces stability and predictability by establishing rules and regulations for social relationships. This facilitating role reduces the cost of transactions, which are coextensive with human interactions in social life (19-20). Bresson does not clarify how he uses this broad theoretical concept to identify institutions. To judge from the specifics in this book, institutions include the exploitation of land and resources, the change in technology, the collecting of taxes and duties, the minting and circulation of coins, the making of loans, the maintenance of the agora, the spread of an international trade network, and the implementation of laws that control prices and regulate commerce.

An important critique of this approach can be made regarding the unquestioning use of new institutionalism, which has introduced flaws into the conceptual model. The problems that arise are the omission of alternative structures, the conflation of different institutional goals, and a blindness to ethical and normative issues of import.

First, by focusing on formal institutions, Bresson overlooks a whole group of economic practices that stem from beliefs, norms, and traditions, all of which heavily shaped the Greek world until at least the Hellenistic period. New institutionalism must take full blame for this huge blind spot. Although Douglass North defines institutions as "all forms of constraint" (19-20), and Alain Bresson includes symbolic and kinship institutions (26), in actuality, he identifies only those that are well-established in the modern West, namely those that employ economic incentives and legal sanctions backed by the power of the market and state. This bias causes Bresson to miss a number of important elements in the economic life of ancient Greece that are not based on the market and do not involve the state. For example, Greek historians agree that most city-states were made of small independent farmers who subsisted on the land that they possessed, which contributed to the political stability and social cohesion of Greek communities.1 This unique outcome was not a product of market transactions and legal enforcement but, rather, arose from the custom of distributing land widely through individual allotments and the norm of forbidding the sale or purchase of ancestral land. Next, when we consider labor, most citizen craftsmen at Athens were independent workers, a dynamic that made a huge impact on the level of operational size, industrial distribution, and technological development. This environment, which was conducive to small, family-sized businesses, was a result of the cultural premium placed on individual autonomy and dignity. This value-laden preference discouraged Greeks from willingly working under someone else as an economic underling, a notion that has been derided as unprofitable by analysts influenced by modern economics.2 In Chapters XII–XIV, Bresson discusses trade, but not gift exchange, which was a strong paradigm in the Homeric world and Archaic Greece.3 In terms of wealth management, there were certainly private individuals who profited from offering commercial loans. But it was also customary for aristocrats to provide gifts and assistance to the community. Their desire for obtaining people's gratitude and favor (charis) and good reputation differs from the conventional calculations of financial gain.

As we can see, with regard to property, labor, exchange, and transfer, a unique set of ancient Greek discourses—ones that did not structure behavior according to the institutional assumptions of scarcity and utility maximization—played an important role. Although these cultural norms were not the only factors important at the time, excluding these from an analysis has consequences for the study of the ancient Greek economy. This neglect creates a bias, which treats any economic production that is not quantified, monetarized, and then anonymously exchanged in legally defined terms as if it simply did not exist. In fact, it can be argued that the more invaluable an economic activity is—such as bearing and raising children, fighting for the homeland, providing for loved ones, and supporting the community—the more ideal for it to take place among parties bound by trust, good will, and honor. Arrangements based on intimate mutual understanding and consensus obviate the need for formal safeguards and the concomitant bureaucratic documentation. As a result, some of the most effective and noble economic acts become "invisible" by taking on forms that do not translate easily into the conventional type of economic data that Bresson surveys.

The second problem with Bresson's analysis is that even manifest institutions can serve completely different ends, an ambivalence that Bresson does not underscore. Many fiscal and financial policies of the Greek city-states addressed the redistributive needs of the polity, rather than the materialistic ambitions of the individual. At Athens, for example, the state coordinated and sponsored festivals, public building projects, jury pay, games, food relief, etc., transferring resources from the rich to the underprivileged and the poor. These programs preserved the dignity and welfare of the small men who worked for a living and were the bulwark of Athenian democracy. Furthermore, the city's regulation of the agora, which standardized weights and measures and protected against fraud, benefited the small producers and consumers first and foremost. We can imagine that the landlords, big bankers, and economic elites would not have much to fear if the market was left to regulate itself—they would likely tilt the game in their own favor at the expense of widowers, peasants, and small craftsmen. In this light, the logic of "institutions" itself becomes contested: is it about assisting the common goals of the civic polity or the private interest of competitive individuals? While the case of the Greek polis suggests the former, the latter outlook, which is rooted in methodological individualism and rational choice theory, is the one that informs the modern economic concepts that Bresson uses in this study.

Thirdly this growth model leads Bresson to rationalize practices that are unacceptable by our standards. For example, Bresson first explains that the massive expulsion of small tenant farmers made possible the agricultural revolution in early modern England. Based on this phenomenon, he concludes that the failure to forcefully evict peasants owning small and middle-sized properties in antiquity "limited the transformations of agriculture, and hence an increase in production" (170). This remark treats violent expropriation as a beneficial development that increases scale and spurs innovation. In another passage, Bresson acknowledges that the most ambitious innovations are connected with great landlords, whose political position "gave them a power of coercion over a workforce that could be used for large projects" (167). Once again, the subjugation of human beings is seen as enabling growth and innovation. This underlying ideological stance becomes fully evident when Bresson muses that "one cannot consider solely the possible negative effects of the existence of kingdoms and other zones of domination" (422). On page 189, Bresson refers to the two factories owned by Demosthenes' father that employed slaves as examples of "bringing workers together" to specialize, like a modern industrial enterprise. In this example, slavery is presented as a means to modernize production. On page 280, Bresson discusses a speech in which Socrates advises Aristarchos on how to "put free women to work . . . just as if they were slaves."

Even for those who take pride in shunning any sort of normative "politicization," Bresson's picture is still deeply problematic. First, the presence of informal practices complicates the simple correlation between formal institutions and economic prosperity. We certainly can no longer be sure that the material basis for the flowering of Greek civilization in the Classical era was the formal, modernistic sectors, rather than the less visible cultural traditions. Secondly, the sequence of events casts doubt on the long-term prospect of this kind of growth, even if it is positive for the time being. After all, Bresson admits that it was the civic framework that made possible exceptional development (217). Nevertheless, as economic growth accelerated in the Hellenistic era, the egalitarian civic framework progressively dissolved and strictly hierarchical relationships were introduced in social and political life. The new power dynamic slowed the momentum of an incipient enlightened culture in Greece that was responsible for breakthrough scientific knowledge, the real engine of social progress (218). When we connect individual accumulation, wealth inequality, and social disintegration, we could see that growth could very well bite the hand that feeds it, namely a fair, egalitarian, and civic-minded society.

For these reasons, Bresson's story of economic expansion driven by new institutionalism can be misleading. Nonetheless, Bresson and his translator must get credit for laying out the argument and evidence lucidly, making it easier for interlocutors like me to engage with.4 In Vlassopoulos's recent review of Ober, the author intimates that if his critical comments could generate meaningful discussion about the big picture in Greek history, they will have served a useful purpose. I shall simply echo that sentiment and hope for the same.


1.   See Victor Davis Hanson, The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization. New York: Free Press, 1995.
2.   See Edward Cohen, "An Unprofitable Masculinity," in Money, Labour and Land: Approaches to the Economies of Ancient Greece, edited by Paul Cartledge, Edward E Cohen, and Lin Foxhall, (London: Routledge, 2002): 100-112.
3.   The prominence of the gift paradigm is addressed in Ian Morris, "Gift and Commodity in Archaic Greece," Man 21(1) (Mar., 1986): 1-17.
4.   It is easier to critique someone else than to create something new oneself. With that in mind, my forthcoming book features a new model that overcomes the shortcomings of new institutionalism, see The Olympian Economy: An Alternative to the Market System (Common Ground, 2016).

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Gwendolyn Compton-Engle, Costume in the Comedies of Aristophanes. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Pp. xiv, 198. ISBN 9781107083790. $99.00.

Reviewed by Natalia Tsoumpra, University of Glasgow (Natalia.tsoumpra@glasgow.ac.uk)

Version at BMCR home site


Recent trends in scholarship reflect the growing interest in aspects of performance both in Greek and Roman contexts. This book makes a most welcome contribution to this field by providing an engaging and insightful analysis of the workings of costume in Aristophanic comedy. The purpose of the book is not to give a systematic analysis of the materiality of comic costume and its use in each of the Αristophanic plays (though in many ways it does that, too); rather, it focuses on costume as a means of empowerment for both the comic (female and male) characters, who compete with one another through costume manipulation, and the comic poet, who often vies for status and asserts comedy's superiority over the rival genre of tragedy through costume. It should be noted that this is the first systematic study of the agonistic nature of costume in Aristophanic comedy. It brings to the fore important relationships between gender, genre and performance, issues that were only briefly addressed or treated circumstantially in previous scholarship.

In Chapter 1, the author offers a comprehensive introduction to her project, explicating her academic precursors and influences as well as her methodology and approach. Most importantly, this chapter introduces the four basic types of costume manipulation which are examined in the subsequent chapters (voluntary stripping, involuntary stripping, addition of clothing or accessories, and costume changes and exchanges). This classification is indeed helpful (although, as the author acknowledges, there is significant overlap and interplay among the four types). However, since the important key to understanding costume dynamics, according to the author, is that of control, I wonder whether the main distinction should have been between voluntary and involuntary changes of costume.

Chapter 2 examines "the comic body as costume" and is particularly laudable for its survey of the visual and material evidence (much of it published subsequent to Stone's study).1 The author rightly notes that we are never allowed to permeate the bottom layer of costume (since no part of the σωμάτιον or mask of an actor is ever removed on stage), but we are nevertheless constantly reminded of its artificiality (as also evidenced by comic art practices, which choose to highlight the fakeness of the body suit). This artificiality, it is argued, moderates the pornographic effect that certain actions might have produced on stage, while the artificiality of the male (nude) comic body in particular refutes the claim that concealment and artificiality are especially associated with women. Moreover, an important observation is made regarding women and (degrees of) artificiality: women in vase painting are not consistently presented with the same degree of artificiality and grotesqueness as male comic characters, but may be rendered more realistically. If this reflects actual stage practice it may mean that attractive women (by contrast to the unattractive ones) were rendered as non-artificial on stage, which of course would have had an impact on the way they were seen and perceived. A more extensive discussion of the debate about the conception of the comic body as anti-civic would be desirable, apart from the rather laconic comment that "there is more in play here than Athenian notions of conduct (un)-becoming a citizen" (p. 26).

Knights and Lysistrata are discussed as case studies in which the comic body performs a number of functions. In Knights, not surprisingly, the male comic body serves as a visual representation of the bodily metaphors which are integral in the play. The discussion of Lysistrata is engaging and informative: the emphasis on the nude male body as patently artificial in this play effectively refutes the claim for the gendering of artificiality as female. What is more, the author convincingly argues for the women's (temporary) control over (male) body costumes, although I am more inclined to see the men's erect phalli as a pathology and a sign of their failure to control their bodies, rather than as the "reclaiming of the comic stage by protuberantly male bodies" (p. 55). Similarly, I would argue that the dressing of the male chorus by the female one effectively signifies the humiliation of men and victory of women, and not the recovery of men's control over an exposed woman's body (p. 56). Lastly, since the author throughout the book draws comparisons with epic with reference to the control of costume/clothing/armour, it would perhaps have been pertinent to mention here examples of women in the world of epic who exert power through clothing and cloth manipulation.

Chapter 3 focuses on the second layer of comic costume, that is the characters' clothes, in Wasps, Assemblywomen and Wealth. It is argued that there is a strong correlation between boots, cloaks and participation in the assembly. Cloaks and shoes do indeed delineate the border between oikos and polis, yet I think the connection between shoes and political participation in the assembly is rather overemphasized. embades and Lakonikai are footwear for the outdoors that all men would have been expected to wear when going out of the house; this covers a much wider range of activities than just assembly or court attendance. When the chorus wonders about Philocleon's failure to appear for jury duty, the loss of his embades is only one of the possible reasons they contemplate among minor house injuries or medical problems due to old age (l. 273–8). Thus, the loss of their shoes is listed among a number of reasons that would prevent someone from going out of the house, not because the shoes are linked to jury duty (as Compton-Engle suggests) but because it would simply be unimaginable to go out of the house without shoes. Moreover, Philocleon's reluctance to wear the Lakonikai shoes later on, because they are the "hateful shoes of the enemy" (l. 1159–60), shows that these two types of footwear cannot be grouped together. Despite this minor quibble, the Wasps section argues well the political and social implications of Philocleon's attempted, but failed, transformation. Philocleon's claimed resemblance to Odysseus is intriguing and offers an alternative model for understanding the relationship between costume and character. The likeness of Philocleon to Odysseus lies, it is argued, mostly in his "utter resistance to any actual change of character", and his final costume is that "of a comic character stripped down to his bodily essence" (p. 73). Here it would perhaps have been useful to touch on issues of genre competition too, and to discuss the role of costume in Philocleon's transformation from what could be seen as a tragic character (an old, sick man) to a purely comic one (especially in the final dancing scene). Finally, the discussion about how costume change in Assemblywomen reflects the socioeconomic themes of the play is insightful and leads to an equally engaging analysis of reversals of socio-economic status and genre rivalry effected through costume change in Wealth.

Chapter 4 ("lightly revised," 165, n. 1, since its first publication in 2003, mostly through the inclusion of a section on the St. Agata vase) deals with disguise, the layers of costume added on top of the comic actor's σκευή, and gender and genre issues in Acharnians, Women at the Thesmophoria and Frogs. As far as gender is concerned, the main argument is that costume mastery correlates with masculinity, costume failure with feminization. This is true for all the male characters, but may be less accurate for the female ones. For instance, the women in Assemblywomen never appear masculinized, but their femininity is retained and repeatedly emphasized when in disguise (and so I do not agree that this play confirms the correlation between control of costume and heightened masculinity, p. 100). The term "costume failure" (used for the piggies and eunuchs in Acharnians, the Proboulos in Lysistrata and the Relative in Women at the Thesmophoria) is rather loosely applied: does it denote a failure to deceive or lack of control or both? At any rate, the Relative's disguise does deceive the women up until the advent of Cleisthenes.

The author also argues that characters who experience costume failure are not only feminized and ridiculed, but also connected with tragedy, while characters who exhibit costume dominance are linked to the comic poet. This is due to comedy's fondness for "correlating tragic parody with failed female disguise" (p. 102). This position is demonstrated well through the examples of Dikaiopolis in Acharnians (where the assimilation of Lamachus at the end of the play to a lame Euripidean hero could be emphasized more), of Agathon, the Relative, and Euripides in Women at the Thesmophoria, and of Dionysus in Frogs. However, the idea also presents some difficulties: Dionysus in Frogs, much like Euripides in Women at the Thesmophoria, has limited success with his disguise, and it does not become very clear why his buffoonery increases at the end of the play. Most importantly, why should we connect Dionysus unequivocally with the world of tragedy? One could argue that Dionysus emerges as the typical male Aristophanic hero, who finally opts for the manly, virile art of Aeschylus and experiences sexual rejuvenation at the end of the play.

Chapter 5 is devoted to choral costumes, which are normally distinguished from the actors' costumes, with the exception of Birds, in which "costume achieves its most spectacular effects by fusing the animal-chorus tradition with the costume- control dynamics that we have seen expressed by successful Aristophanic protagonists" (p. 110). This chapter is extremely well- written and, in my opinion, the best one of the book: it contains valuable information about visual evidence for animal choruses as well as a lucid survey of choral costume in Attic comedy. The section on Birds showcases very effectively that "the wings and beaks that fill the play function not merely as metaphors but as tangible objects on stage that reify the play's imagery, propel the plot's development, and signal the status of the characters" (p. 130). The chapter also brings together all the earlier examined stock elements of costume manipulation in order to explain and elucidate Peisetairus' gradual ascent to power; as such, it provides a most fitting conclusion.

The last chapter, in lieu of a conclusion, looks ahead to costume developments in Middle and New Comedy, and to potential future research on costume in the area of Roman comedy.

All in all, Compton-Engle has produced an important, thought-provoking work, badly missing from scholarship to date. Despite recent work in the field, comic costume remains still a mainly untrodden path, and this book will no doubt impel further discussion and scholarly debate. It is well-written and well-produced, and highly recommended to students and teachers, to specialists of comedy, and to those interested in gender and performance studies.


1.   Stone, L. M. Costume in Aristophanic Comedy. New York: Arno Press, 1981.

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Monday, July 25, 2016


Michele Solitario, Leonidas of Tarentum: Between Cynical Polemic and Poetic Refinement. Quaderni dei Seminari romani di cultura greca, 19. Roma: Edizioni Quasar, 2015. Pp. 110. ISBN 9788871406077. €31.00.

Reviewed by Taylor Coughlan, University of Cincinnati (coughlts@mail.uc.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

Michele Solitario's Leonidas of Tarentum: between Cynical polemic and poetic refinement, a revised and translated version of the author's tesi di laurea magistrale at La Sapienza – Università di Roma, examines, as his title suggests, the two most well-known aspects of the early Hellenistic epigrammatist's surviving oeuvre, namely his engagement with Cynic thought and use of elaborate diction in epigrams with humble subject matter. Once characterized as a strict adherent of Cynicism and dismissed for his baroque style, Leonidas has emerged in recent literature as an assured and self-conscious poet, who thoughtfully (and sometimes humorously) engaged with contemporary intellectual and cultural concerns and contributed meaningfully to the aesthetics of Hellenistic poetry. Despite these advances in criticism, Solitario believes that significant "preoccupations or simple evaluations" remain concerning Leonidas' Cynical outlook and poetic style, "which have hampered the possibility of capturing the cultural richness contained in his epigrams" (1). While Solitario is correct to stress the need for continued critical study of Leonidas' poetics, starting with a new edition of and commentary on the epigrams, his own contribution is limited by the questions he asks and the approaches he employs.

In addition to a summary introduction, the monograph consists of two chapters and two appendices, followed by a bibliography and three indices.

In Chapter One, "Leonidas on Poverty", Solitario examines the theme of poverty in the epigrams in relation to (a) Cynic writings on the topic and (b) the "poetical" function of the elaborate diction used to articulate this theme. In Leonidas' surviving corpus, the simple life, built on contentment with little and an attitude of self-sufficiency (αὐτάρκεια), is championed. Notable on this account are G-P 75, an epitaph for a certain Crethon whose poverty is positively evaluated in comparison to the excessive greed of the Persian king Gyges, and G-P 33, an appeal by a nameless speaker to another man to trade in a wandering life for retirement in a small wooden hut. Contentment with little has been associated traditionally with the influence of Cynic thought on the poet. Reconstructing a Cynic approach to poverty from anecdotes about Diogenes of Sinope from Diogenes Laertius and fragments of the early Hellenistic Cynic philosopher Bion of Borysthenes, Solitario observes that extreme poverty, not simply self-sufficiency, had a moral value. Pointing to several places in Leonidas' epigrams where poverty (πενία) is described in unwelcome terms or aspects of the Cynic tropos biou are treated with an ironic cast (here especially the two epitaphs for the Cynic Sochares, which Solitario hyperbolically categorizes as "derisive"), Solitario argues that Leonidas cannot be restating or adopting Cynic ideology; rather the sentiment found in these epigrams should be understood as broadly evocative of a general distaste, perhaps grounded in Spartan culture, for luxury. While the abject poverty of Cynic askēsis, as exemplified in the figure of Diogenes, is not paralleled in the surviving epigrams of Leonidas, this should not come as a surprise, since Leonidas is involved in the project of writing poetry not philosophy. Indeed, it has long been recognized that Leonidas is not versifying Cynic precepts, but rather adapting from Cynicism an ethical outlook that champions simplicity. In collecting and discussing the difference between the praise of a litos bios and self-sufficiency in Leonidas' epigrams and the moral valuation of complete self-depravation in Cynic askēsis, Solitario ably reinforces these findings of previous scholarship; however in the process he fashions a straw man, one who would still believe (as Geffcken once did and then later renounced) that Leonidas was a strict follower of Cynicism, which distorts the history of Leonidean studies on the poet's engagement with philosophical discourse.1

Solitario is on stronger footing when he addresses the uncritical dismissal of Leonidas' poetic style, famously his choice to juxtapose elaborate diction with poor or banausic subject matter. While the pronouncements of Wilamowitz and of Gow and Page (cited passim as only "Gow") undoubtedly impacted Leonidas' reception as a mere virtuoso versifier for several generations, in recent decades his stylistic choices have undergone favorable re-evaluation in terms of a Hellenistic penchant for the combination of low and high styles and a fascination with the poor and grotesque. Again, Solitario sidesteps, downplays, or ignores these scholarly developments, in the service of his argument that Leonidas' stylistic choices are integral to the expression of his thoughts on poverty. Solitario focuses his attention on the language Leonidas used to describe a life of self-sufficiency with some success. Among summaries of previous scholarly exegesis, a practice that belies this work's origins and which would have been better relegated to the footnotes, the author offers several valuable new readings of diction. In an epitaph for the elderly subsistence farmer Cleiton (G-P 87), for instance, Solitario nicely observes that the anaphora of the adjective ὀλίγος "stresses the limited dimension of the place where Cleiton spent his long life, emphasizing the contrast between the narrow spatial extension of his surroundings and the extended temporal dimension, which the peasant lived through on his little patch of earth" (25).

Chapter Two, "Leonidas on Work", examines the theme and language of work in a similar fashion to poverty in the preceding chapter. Leonidas wrote a number of epigrams, primarily dedicatory and sepulchral, for members of the lower echelons of Hellenistic society, such as weavers, carpenters, hunters, and fishermen. Previous scholars have associated the preoccupations of his surviving corpus with Cynicism, given its valuation of manual labor and banausic craft. Solitario questions the specific philosophical underpinnings of these epigrams. He begins the chapter with a survey of the epigrams on carpenters, weavers, hunters, and fishermen. This section focuses on the structure and language of the epigrams. Composed almost as a running commentary, Solitario summarizes the content of the epigram and lists the notable features of its diction. Although repetitive in places, he convincingly notes that, in those epigrams that contain lists of dedicated implements, the elaborate adjectives (whether drawn from Homeric antecedents or neologisms) paired with the tools of humble trades are not mere ornamentation, but rather often invite the reader to imagine the now silenced tools in action. In this way he echoes and expands upon the observations of Kathryn Gutzwiller (uncited in this context), who noted of εὐαγέα ("bright") modifying ῥυκάνον ("plane") that the adjective was welcome, contra Gow and Page, if the reader imagines the glint of the plane in movement from the perspective of the artisan.2 In the remaining sections, Solitario again challenges the traditional assumption that Leonidas' interest in the nobility of lower-class craftsmen derives from Cynic influences. Rightfully rejecting Gigante's politicization of craftsmen as figures of social revolt and democratization, 3 Solitario emphasizes that while Cynics, following in the footsteps of Socrates, favorably valued manual labor, they considered hard work only as a step towards attaining virtue. In the epigrams of Leonidas, however, he argues that work has no explicit moral value; rather it was a means of escaping poverty. In place of a strong Cynic influence (Leonidas does not even mirror the same types of craft praised by Diogenes!), Solitario unconvincingly suggests that the cultural context of Leonidas' native Tarentum was the major factor in his preoccupation with the lives of the lower-class.

This final point brings us to the least persuasive aspect of Solitario's approach to the select epigrams of Leonidas he treats: the use of a biographical reading. Throughout, Solitario naively identifies the voice and circumstances in the epigrams under discussion with the historical figure of Leonidas. From a decidedly programmatic self-epitaph (G-P 93), Solitario extrapolates that Leonidas was banished from Tarentum and eventually died in exile abroad after a life of penury and itinerancy. Nowhere does the author acknowledged that there can be a distinction between the historical identity of the poet and the poetic persona(e) he fashions within individual epigrams or across a sequence or collection; indeed, Solitario altogether disregards the impact of generic conventions on the content, structure, and language of the epigrams he discusses. In the case of this self-epitaph, for example, it has been correctly observed that Leonidas is constructing his poetic identity through, in part, comparison to the Greek wanderer par excellence Odysseus. Indeed, the absence of discussion of Odysseus, a Cynic figure, is glaring, especially given Leonidas' knowledge of and engagement with Homeric diction.4

The monograph concludes with two appendices, which are not referenced in the body of the main text. The first appendix, "The concept of τῦφος: a possible Cynic element in Leonidas' poetry", examines in detail the textually compromised G-P 67, on the brevity of life and the necessity of contentment with little. The epigram is often cited as the clearest expression of Cynic thought in Leonidas. τῦφος, often translated as "pride", was a state of mind to be avoided for Cynics, and it is clear how this concept could be related to Leonidas' epigram. Solitario rightly concludes that "Leonidas might have been familiar with the Cynic concept of tuphos", but in celebrating the ability of the Muses to preserve his memory in perpetuity, the poet remains prideful and thus "strips [τῦφος] of its most extreme features." Again, however, we find the Leonidas of a "Cynic cast" (Clayman 2007, 497) argued for in previous scholarship. The second, shorter appendix, "Cynic bios and Pythagorean bios", compares characterizations of Cynics and Pythagoreans in fourth and early third-century BCE literature, particularly Middle Comedy. Similarities reinforce the conclusion that philosophical content and qualities of Leonidas' verse are not strictly Cynic in origin.

In the final analysis, Solitario reconfirms much of what we have perceived to be Leonidas' engagement with contemporary philosophical thought and continues to advance our understanding of his poetic style, but ultimately the monograph is limited by its dedication to biographical readings and a failure to consider the content and style of the epigrams within their wider generic context.

Solitario should be commended for translating his tesi into English, and thus making it available to a wider readership. A few infelicities of usage are present (e.g. "The production of Leonidas", 1; "The Cynics revalued . . . manual work", 70), but none that detract from the overall clarity of expression and argumentation. Typos are relatively few as well.5 Formatting is another issue; quotations both within the main body of the text and the footnotes are inconsistently italicized and there is no standard pattern of translation when citing Greek besides the quotation of epigrams, with some small phrases receiving translation while long passages of prose remain untranslated (e.g. Teles 2.7-8 Fuentes González at p.19 n. 62).


1.   Besides Geffcken (Leonidas von Tarent. Jahrbücher für classische Philologie suppl. 23, Leipzig 1896), who argues that Leonidas' epigrams depict the poet's initiation into Cynicism (which the author later retracted in his RE article [XII.2, 2023]), the major treatments of the topic all recognize that Leonidas is not espousing strict, systematic Cynic thought; see e.g. M. Gigante, L'edera di Leonidea (Naples 1971), 45-55; K. J. Gutzwiller, Poetic Garlands: Hellenistic Epigrams in Context (Berkeley, 1998), 103-8; and D. L. Clayman, "Philosophers and Philosophy in Greek Epigram" in P. Bing and J. S. Bruss (eds.), Brill's Companion to Hellenistic Epigram (Leiden 2007), 509-12.
2.   Gutzwiller 1998 (n. 1), 92 n. 111.
3.   Gigante 1971 (n. 1), 55-66.
4.   On Odysseus as a Cynic hero, see R. Höistadt, Cynic hero and Cynic king (Uppsala, 1948), 97-8; S. Montiglio, Wandering in Ancient Greek Culture (Chicago, 2005), 187-203; and S. Montiglio, From Villain to Hero: Odysseus in Ancient Thought (Ann Arbor, 2011), 29-31 and 66-73. On the Homeric echoes in this particular epigram, see K. J. Gutzwiller, "Catullus and the Garland of Meleager" in I. Du Quesnay and T. Woodman (eds.), Catullus: Poems, Books, Readers (Cambridge, 2012), 105-7, and C. Campbell, "Poets and Poetics in Greek Literary Epigram" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Cincinnati, 2014).
5.   See, e.g., "Gigante 1976" for "Gigante 1971" (15 n. 48); "Apart of Weinreich 1938" for "Apart from Weinreich 1938" (15 n. 48); "e" for "and" in "ὀλιγαῦλαξ e ὀλιγόξυλος" (25; see again at 27 n. 93); "he considered it natural asking money" for "he considered it natural to ask for money" (34 n. 121); "the use of refined expression and rare epithets is . . ." (86).

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Paola Paolucci, Pentadius Ovidian Poet: Music, Myth and Love. Anthologiarum Latinarum Parerga, 5. Hildesheim: Weidmann, 2016. Pp. xiv, 132. ISBN 9783615004229. €49.80 (pb).

Reviewed by Thomas Gärtner, Institut für Altertumskunde, Universität Köln (Th-gaertner@gmx.de)

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Paola Paolucci widmet dem ausschließlich in der Anthologia Latina überlieferten spätantiken lateinischen Dichter Pentadius ein kleines Bändchen; sie beschränkt sich mit Recht auf die handschriftlich in der Anthologia Latina diesem Dichter zugeschriebenen Dichtungen und schließt die ihm nur hypothetisch zugewiesenen aus (xii).

Was die Identifizierung und damit zusammenhängende Datierung des Autors angeht, möchte Paolucci (resümierend: 77) um ein ganzes Jahrhundert hinuntergehen. Sie lehnt die herkömmliche Identifizierung mit dem Adressaten der epitomisierten Fassung von Laktanzens Divinae institutiones ab (die sich substantiell nur auf eine lexikalische Koinzidenz stützt, welche ihrerseits von der unsicheren konjekturalen Herstellung des Verbs iucundat in AL 227 SB = 235 R. 19 abhängig ist; vgl. Paolucci 2 ff., wo im Lactanz-Zitat auf S. 3 in der drittletzten Zeile nach quantum res sinit ein syntaktisch erfordertes Komma fehlt). Stattdessen sucht sie Pentadius im historischen Kontext der Auseinandersetzung mit dem Pelagianismus und identifiziert ihn mit dem Adressaten eines Briefs des Papstes Innozenz I. aus dem Jahr 417 (Paolucci 7 ff.). Unorthodoxe, pelagianische Züge findet Paolucci (9 ff.) in AL 226 SB = 234 R., 33 f.:

Lux cito summa datur, natusque extinguitur infans,
         Atque animae prima lux cito summa datur.

Paolucci 11 führt in völlig überzeugender Weise die Junkturen prima (wohl Nominativ mit der Lizenz einer Längung der Kürze in der Pentameterdihärese, wie auch Paolucci meint) bzw. summa lux auf das ovidische Vorbild, die Klage der Canace über ihren gleich nach der Geburt getöteten Sohn (epist. 11, 114), zurück. Aus diesem Vorbild ergeben sich für prima bzw. summa lux eindeutig die Bedeutungen „erster" bzw. „letzter Tag". Daneben will Paolucci aber noch – mit dem an sich richtigen Verweis auf die Möglichkeit der Bedeutungsverschiebung des wiederholten Hemiepes in epanaleptischen Distichen—der Junktur lux … summa die theologische Bedeutung des „höchsten (göttlichen) Lebenslichtes" beilegen, womit die Aussage, daß das—offenbar ungetaufte—Kind zum höchsten Lebenslicht gelangt, anti-augustinische bzw. pelagianische Züge erhielte. Eine Identifizierungshypothese auf eine solche—kontextuell nicht erforderte—Nebenbedeutung zu gründen scheint mindestens so gewagt wie der Rekurs auf eine konjektural gewonnene lexikalische Besonderheit in der herkömmlichen Identifizierung, zumal ja die theologische Anspielung im allgemeinen innerhalb der sonst von mythologischen Anspielungen getränkten Beispielreihe singulär und völlig unerwartet wäre.

Nach einem Überblick über die Geschichte epanaleptischer Distichen in der lateinischen Literatur (17 ff.) wendet sich die Verfasserin einer Reihe kritisch exegetischer Einzelprobleme zu, die sich naturgemäß zum großen Teil auf das weitgehend mythologische Gedicht AL 226 SB = 234 R. (de Fortuna) beziehen. Paoluccis Ausführungen haben die Tendenz, den Text durch den Nachweis von intertextuellen Allusionen (meistens auf Ovid) gegen die von Shackleton Bailey (im folgenden SB) in seiner Teubneriana der Anthologia Latina (Stuttgart 1982) vielfach geübte Konjekturalkritik zu verteidigen und der (auf vier Handschriften fußenden) Überlieferung wieder zu ihrem Recht zu verhelfen; daher gehen die Erläuterungen Paoluccis regelmäßig von dem konservativeren Text von SBs Vorgänger Alexander Riese aus.

Im folgenden wird hier zu den wichtigsten von Paoluccis Ergebnissen Stellung bezogen:

AL 227 SB = 235 R., 1 f. (Paolucci 23 ff.):

Sentio, fugit hiems; Zephyrisque animantibus orbem
          Iam tepet Eurus equis. sentio, fugit hiems.

Paolucci präferiert das überlieferte equis gegenüber dem von Pithoeus konjizierten aquis. Trotz der zahlreichen Belegstellen, an welchen der Eurus (wie alle anderen Winde) als mythologische Figur mit Pferden assoziiert wird, bleibt in der Argumentation die Tatsache unberücksichtigt, daß gemäß dem Kontext (insbesondere nach Zephyrisque animantibus orbem) die Rede von der belebenden bzw. mildernden Einwirkung der Winde auf die Frühlingswelt sein sollte.

AL 226 SB = 234 R., 5 f. (Paolucci 32 ff.):

Carmine visa suo Colchis fuit ulta maritum,
          Sed scelerata fuit carmine visa suo.

Die Verteidigung des überlieferten visa ist möglich, wenn man mit Paolucci bei ulta bzw. scelerata die Kopula esse suppliert, auch wenn das wiederholte visa nicht besonders pointiert wirkt; ob man hinter diesem blassen „Scheinen" (vgl. dicta im vorigen, auf Procne bezüglichen Distichon) Ov. met. VII 394 ff. (Paolucci 33) als Vorbild ansehen muß, wo der Isthmus mit vidit doch sehr viel eindrucksvoller als Beobachter Medeas eingeführt wird, mag man kontrovers diskutieren. Jedenfalls ist SBs zweifache Herstellung von laesa für visa schon deshalb unattraktiv, weil sie diesem Wort nach SBs eigener Erklärung (im Apparat) zwei verschiedene Bedeutungen beilegt (zuerst ab Iasone laesa, dann orba facta); SB ändert noch zusätzlich carmine nach Schrader in crimine, um den Bezug auf den Kindermord zu verdeutlichen—andererseits war bei der Einäscherung von Creons Palast durchaus auch Zauberkraft im Spiel, wie Paolucci hervorhebt.

AL 226 SB = 234 R., 9 f. (Paolucci 39 ff.):

Sanguine poma rubent tristi nece tincta repente;
          Candida quae fuerant, sanguine poma rubent.

Die Beibehaltung von tristi nece in Anbetracht des traurigen Untergangs von Pyramus und Thisbe ist möglich, wenn man Pentadius einen anspruchsvoll anspielenden Stil zutraut. Allerdings wird Paolucci über Gebühr polemisch, wenn sie Heinsius' Konjektur Thisbaeo (statt tristi nece), die L. Müllers Thisbae nece (bei SB im Text) den Weg bahnte, als „awful" bezeichnet (40). Paoluccis Einwand hiergegen, daß bei Ovid das Blut des Pyramus, nicht der Thisbe die Farbveränderung bewirke, ist möglicherweise zu pedantisch, um wirklich durchschlagend gegen die Konjekturen zu wirken.

AL 226 SB = 234 R., 17 f. (Paolucci 47 ff.):

Hostia saepe fuit diri Busiridis hospes,
          Busirisque aris hostia saepe fuit.

Paolucci glaubt das zweimal überlieferte saepe, welches SB zweimal nach Maehly in caesa abändert, als Ablativ von saepes, -is f. verteidigen zu können. Dieses Substantiv ist in der von Paolucci postulierten Bedeutung eines „abgegrenzten heiligen Bezirks" keineswegs idiomatisch; die Wiederholung wäre recht müßig und kollidiert außerdem unschön mit der überlieferten Lokalangabe aris. saepe in dem adverbialen Sinne „oft" wäre indes mit dem einmaligen Tod des Busiris im Pentameter nicht zu vereinbaren.

Hier scheint eine Verteidigung der Überlieferung kaum möglich. Mit einem leichteren Eingriff kommt man aus, wenn man Maehlys caesa zu (überliefertem saepe graphisch näherstehendem) caede modifiziert; dann wäre im Hexameter caede mit diri Busiridis zu verbinden, im Pentameter bliebe bei caede ein Herculis aus dem mythologischen Wissen des Lesers zu supplieren.

AL 226 SB = 234 R., 19 f. (Paolucci 50 ff.):

Theseus Hippolyto vitam per vota rogavit;
          Optavit mortem Theseus Hippolyto.

Der Pentameter bezieht sich eindeutig auf die Verfluchung des Hippolytus durch Theseus nach seiner vermeintlichen Schandtat an Phaedra; Paolucci rätselt begreiflicherweise über den mythologischen Bezug des Hexameters. Sie verfällt auf die Lösung, die Antithese bestehe bei diesem Exemplum ausnahmsweise in verbis, nicht in re, „by expressing alternatively the same vicissitude (the request for Hippolytus's death) through two sentences", wobei dann Hippolyto im Hexameter nicht (wie im Pentameter) Dativus incommodi, sondern Dativus possessivus zu vitam wäre.

Diese Lösung eröffnet sich keinem dem natürlichen Lesefluß folgenden Leser (zumal der Pentameter im naheliegenden Sinne, der vorausgehende Hexameter aber mit abstruser grammatischer Verdrehung verstanden werden müßte: nicht „das Leben für H. erbitten", sondern „das dem H. gehörende Leben sich ausbitten") und wird niemanden überzeugen.

Eine mögliche Lösung wäre vielleicht, per vota in post vota zu verändern (die umgekehrte abbreviaturbedingte Präpositionalverschreibung gleich zweimal in Vv. 31 f. desselben Gedichts) und den Hexameter auf Theseus' Reue nach der Erkenntnis von Hippolytus' Unschuld zu beziehen; dann würde vota gewissermaßen erläutert durch den Pentameter, wo dann allerdings in nicht ganz leichter Weise optavit im Sinne eines Hysteron Proteron als Plusquamperfekt wiedergegeben werden müßte.

AL 226 SB = 234 R., 21 f. (Paolucci 52 ff.):

Stipite fatifero iuste quae fratribus usa est,
          Mater saeva fuit stipite fatifero.

Paolucci verteidigt das überlieferte ausa est gegen Heinsius' einleuchtendes usa est, was zu einem reichlich forcierten und wenig idiomatischen Ausdruck führt (audere mit Dativus incommodi und Ablativus instrumentalis).

AL 226 SB = 234 R., 23 f. (Paolucci 54 ff.):

Sola relicta toris flevisti [in] litore, Gnosis;
          Laetatur caelo sola relicta toris.

Der auf den ersten Blick hart wirkende Übergang von der Apostrophe flevisti zur dritten Person Laetatur (Laetata es SB) läßt sich in der Tat verteidigen, wobei ich allerdings weniger mit Paolucci an eine mögliche Verallgemeinerung von Ariadne auf andere verlassene Frauen denken möchte, sondern vielmehr daran, daß die verlassene Ariadne im Hexameter eine einem Literaten wohlvertraute Person ist, an die er sich leicht wenden kann, die verstirnte Ariadne des Pentameters dagegen eine in der Gegenwart bekannte und objektiv stets erfahrbare astrologische Tatsache.

Wenn Änderung doch nottäte, läge das Partizip Futur Laetatura nahe, das allerdings eine Abänderung des folgenden caelo erforderlich machte (etwa Laetatura astro ? oder, ohne Verschleifung, Laetatura deo [sc. Baccho marito] ?).

AL 226 SB = 234 R., 26 (Paolucci 57 ff.):

Wie man zur Beibehaltung des einhellig überlieferten Helles als Nominativ steht, hängt von der allgemeinen Frage ab, inwiefern man spätantike bzw. mittellateinische Schreibgewohnheiten im Text der Anthologia Latina zu dulden bereit ist.

AL 226 SB = 234 R., 29 f. (Paolucci 59 ff.):

Pelias hasta fuit, vulnus grave quae dedit hosti
          Hoc quoque sanavit: Pelias hasta fuit.

Mit dieser von Paolucci gewählten konservativen Textkonstitution bleibt die Periode vor dem Doppelpunkt syntaktisch opak; hinter dem Doppelpunkt wird das wiederholte Hemiepes syntaktisch isoliert, wie es sonst in dem ganzen Gedicht nirgends vorkommt. Die Rechtfertigung von Hoc quoque durch den bloßen statistischen Bescheid, daß Ovid diesen Pentameterauftakt 29mal verwendet, ist methodisch unzureichend.

SBs (und Rieses) Gestaltung des Pentameterauftakts mit Hoc quae entstand wohl durch die Tendenz, sich gegenüber der früheren Vulgata Et quae wieder der Überlieferung anzunähern. Als Alternative denkbar wäre allenfalls Quod quae sanavit (Quod quae dabei zunächst in quoque verlesen und in einem zweiten Korruptionsschritt Hoc am Pentameterauftakt als metrischer Lückenstopfer eingeflickt).

AL 259 SB = 265 R., 1 – 4 (Paolucci 61 ff.):

Cui pater amnis erat, fontes puer ille colebat
          Laudabatque undas, cui pater amnis erat.
Se puer ipse videt, patrem dum quaerit in amne,
          Perspicuoque lacu se puer ipse videt.

Die mythologisch singuläre und wenig sinnvolle Version, daß Narcissus eigentlich „im Fluß seinen Vater (sc. den Flußgott) suchte" (V. 3), läßt sich in der Tat mit Paolucci verbannen, indem man mit zwei von drei Handschriften das abbrevierte in amnem herstellt und die Konstruktion quaerere in cum acc. annimmt. Dann wird mit patrem dum quaerit in amnem einfach cui pater amnis erat aus dem vorigen Vers aufgegriffen.

AL 260 SB = 266 R. (Paolucci 64 ff.):

Hic est ille, suis nimium qui credidit undis,
          Narcissus vero dignus amore puer.
Cernis ab irriguo repetentem gramine ripas,
          Ut per quas periit crescere possit aquas.

In V. 1 präferiert Paolucci das in drei von vier Handschriften überlieferte creditur gegenüber credidit; sie deutet creditur in sprachlich durchaus zulässiger Weise als se credit. Trotzdem entspricht nimium neben dem aktivencredere weitaus besser dem dichterischen Idiom. Genaugenommen kombiniert Pentadius mit suis nimium qui credidit undis ein eher inhaltliches Vorbild (Verg. ecl. 2, 17 an einen hoffärtigen Knaben: O formose puer, nimium ne crede colori) mit einem eher formalen (Ov. am. III 2, 47 an Seeleute: Plaudite Neptuno, nimium qui creditis undis); vgl. ferner ars I 245 Hic tu fallaci nimium ne crede lucernae und rem. 349 Non tamen huic nimium praecepto credere tutum est.

In V. 4 schlägt ausnahmsweise Paolucci ihrerseits eine Konjektur vor, nämlich aquis (als kausalen Ablativ zu crescere) für aquas (Angleichungsfehler nach ripas im darüberstehenden Hexameter). Der so konstituierte Text ist ohne Anstoß, allerdings wäre die Möglichkeit zu erwägen, denselben Sinn aus der Überlieferung zu gewinnen, entweder durch die Annahme der versparenden Konstruktion per quas periit, (per eas) aquas crescere oder einer gängigen Kasusassimilation des Referenzwortes an das Relativpronomen.

Der englische Ausdruck der Studie, der gemäß dem Vorwort „not … reviewed by anyone" ist, erschließt sich zumindest dem Rezensenten als Nicht-native-speaker leicht, ist allerdings nicht frei von Druckfehlern.

Fazit: Paoluccis Hypothese einer Herabdatierung des Pentadius überzeugt nicht, da sie eine nur mögliche Ausdrucksnuance einer Einzelstelle zu schwer belastet. Was ihre konservativen Überlegungen zur Textgestaltung anbelangt, gelingen in der Tat an einigen Stellen Verteidigungen der Überlieferung gegen SBs Konjekturen; ein generelles Plädoyer gegen Konjekturalkritik läßt sich aber in Anbetracht der verbleibenden Schwierigkeiten kaum ableiten.

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Sunday, July 24, 2016


Karl Galinsky (ed.), Memory in Ancient Rome and Early Christianity. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. xiv, 406. ISBN 9780198744764. $135.00.
Reviewed by Douglas Boin, Saint Louis University (boindr@slu.edu)
Version at BMCR home site
Editorial note: The editors of BMCR have learned that the author of this review had a significantly greater professional relationship with the editor of the volume in question than he disclosed to us when volunteering to review. Had we known of that relationship, we would not have made the assignment or published the review. We leave it to our readers to make of the review what they choose in the circumstances.

Sometime around 90 C.E., two decades after a punishing Roman invasion flattened the Jewish Temple, one of Jesus' followers took up a pen—and a fake name—to calm his community's nerves. Passing himself off as the apostle Peter, the writer told his audience they would have to make some hard choices as exiles and aliens in "Babylon," a widely-recognized Jewish metaphor for a hostile empire. Jesus' followers should "accept the authority of every human institution," Peter said, and embrace the family values of their time; wives should obey their husbands, children their parents, and slaves their masters. On politics, he was blunt: "Honor the emperor" (1 Peter 2.13–17). How did a group told to fit in become remembered for standing out?
The identity of the man or woman pretending to be Peter is no longer known. But none of that matters. Peter's words are still found in every Bible—from Orlando to Oregon to North Carolina—and the story of how this one group won its "religious liberty" is fixed in the memory of Christians and non-Christians alike. Over a span of two hundred years, from Domitian's tyranny to Diocletian's bigotry, martyrdom, persecution, and a widespread refusal to participate in Roman civic life led to the growth of Christianity. By the end of the fourth century C.E., Rome eventually had to change because Christians couldn't, didn't, and wouldn't assimilate.
This selective memory of early Christian history has become something of a shared memory for classicists. In 1988, Simon Keay told his readers that Christians in Roman Spain "spent their lives in preparation for life after death, effectively withdrawing from everyday life. Moreover, they refused to compromise their beliefs by . . . paying homage to the emperor." Two decades later, in her otherwise helpful Peoples of the Roman World, Mary Boatwright argued that deep social problems faced by Rome in the lead-up to the Constantinian revolution stemmed from the fact that "Christian identity could not be adjusted to that of the Romans." Mary Beard's latest bestselling book framed the issue in a similar way.1 For Christians today who use "history" to oppose gay rights, women's rights, Muslim rights and more, these memories of ancient Rome are the gifts that keep on giving.
Karl Galinsky is not a scholar to embrace such rigid or facile dichotomies. In a lifetime of scholarship on Augustus, classical reception, and now, on social memory, Galinsky has consistently and vocally advocated the need to tear down conceptual walls. Against those who painted the Augustan age as an epoch of creeping authoritarianism, he celebrated the wedding of tradition and dialogue, of top-down innovation matched by an everyday eagerness to leave the horrors of civil war behind. Just last year, in the introduction to a volume on the Mediterranean, edited with Kenneth Lapatin, Galinsky again nudged scholars away from the kind of fixed "orthodoxies and theoretical straitjackets" that can turn empires into caricatures of themselves.2 Readers of this new collection on memory, religion, and Rome—the last in a trilogy of memory books that have resulted from a multi-year grant from the Max Planck Society—will recognize the same cautious approach. Galinsky surveys the broad theoretical concepts in his substantial introduction, but the emphasis throughout the book is on particular examples and the nuance they bring to the larger historical picture (10).
This book succeeds in telling a powerful story. In the course of thirteen chapters, as the set changes from the Rome of Sulla's dictatorship to the period when power was consolidated in the hands of a single family and, later, to the seemingly polarizing world of Late Antiquity, readers are introduced to a repeating theme. At every stage of their history, many Romans were intensely working through their past. That observation might be taken as banal in books on Caesar, Cicero, and Octavian. But in a volume that engages with the story of early Christianity, it makes a provocative opening move. For what it suggests is that "Babylon" was much more than the evil empire many Christians have remembered it to be. Rome was always a work-in-progress, and the memory of where the empire had come from, where it was going, and what it might still be was an important part of the wider political conversation.
Galinsky's key contribution is to highlight how this process of contested remembering played out in the Roman world at large, incorporating, not starting from, the perspective of people who shaped the "New Testament." Some scholars will perhaps find it jarring that Jesus' followers don't make any appearance in this book until Part IV. But the genius of this approach is that it puts early Christians in their place—second historically, not first—and shows how memory as a historical phenomenon shaped generations of Romans (21), even those remembered today for having resisted Roman power.
So what types of things did the people of ancient Rome remember and forget, and why? The book begins in the wake of Augustus by exploring memory in Latin prose and poetry. Alain Gowing starts appropriately with Tiberius. Gowing's essay reveals a man with "deep anxieties about the past," a ruler "imprisoned by his memories" of rivals like Germanicus, and a writer—Tacitus—intent on using recent, not out-dated Republican examples, to show his readers a new way forward in Roman politics (58–59). Gowing's essay is followed by studies of the literary models behind Virgil's Dido in Aeneid 4 (B. Libby) and Valerius Maximus' treatment of religion under Tiberius (J. Rüpke). Each chapter illustrates how Latin writers of the first century BCE/CE made innovative contributions to imperial culture by engaging with but also departing from literary and historical expectations.
This portrait of an empire, unafraid to change its traditions to keep up with changing times, carries over into the next two chapters on memory and the emperors. One chapter patiently sets forth Augustus's innovations to the triumphal procession in the lower Campus Martius (E. Orlin). The other (C. Hedrick), on memories of the "false Nero," passionately argues that the Roman state "made no coordinated effort to cultivate a common 'Roman culture' and 'identity' among the inhabitants of the Empire" (157). That's certainly a contrarian way to think about Roman society at the end of the Julio- Claudian era. It's also one that raises important questions about the nature of empire-building.
Two chapters (K. Hölkeskamp and E. Stein-Hölkeskamp) rewind the story to the Republican era, with essays on Cicero's and Sulla's Rome. The former takes as its point of departure a reference in Cicero to a statue that Marc Antony's brother, Lucius, had erected in front of the Temple of Castor in the Roman Forum (Phil. 6.13). The latter looks at the power of Sulla's gilded statue near the Comitium by exploring its association with monuments nearby. In both essays, the methodology is contextual (172) and associative (217), exploring important features of the Forum which Cicero omitted or which had once existed near Sulla's statue. The last chapter of this section (D. Ng) adds an important wrinkle to this conversation. Returning to the imperial age, Ng uses evidence from Asia Minor to argue that memory of public statues often lay "with the private circle of the honored rather than with the community at large" (243), suggesting that broad studies of memory in ancient cityscapes—while important for recovering lost perspectives—can risk over-interpreting the evidence.
The four chapters of the penultimate section are written by leading experts each of whom applies the theories and approaches of memory studies to a different aspect of early Christian history. J. Kloppenborg revisits an essay previously published in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus by exploring how the aphorism "measure-for- measure" (in Q 6:36–38, Matt 7:1–2, Luke 6:37–38, Mark 4:24, and 1 Clem 13:2), "despite its lexical stability" (304), was performed in different ways in different contexts. Kloppenborg's essay is perhaps the most powerful illustration in the collection of the axiom that memory is not just a simple process of "recording" (291), "reduplication," or "reproduction" (288). His argument—that "it is impossible to trace the various performances [of Jesus' teachings] back to a common 'original' version" (318)—also dovetails with others in this section.
J. Magness suggests that the canonical gospel of John was written with one eye on the historical Jesus and the other on the cityscape of Jerusalem after 70 C.E. M. Moreland looks at stories of Peter circulating in the early church with one eye on the historical apostle and the other on the Mediterranean landscape after Hadrian's crushing defeat of the Bar Kokhba revolt. And N. Denzey Lewis returns to the late fourth-century CE catacombs on the Via Latina to ask whether classical scenes therein were performances of "nostalgia" (265) or demonstrations of honest "political and religious resistance" (265) in a world increasingly, legislatively Christian. These chapters may not address every aspect of memory in early Christianity, but they show that, when memories are placed in context, they can shed light on important socio-historical questions. That alone makes this admittedly limited section a refreshing rejoinder to the "cultural turn" in early Christian studies, where scholarly observations about the rhetorical nature of this or that text or the construction of this or that boundary have become commonplace and formulaic.
And so we arrive at the last chapter, the most compelling of the collection. In it, three neuroscientists, A-K. Stock, H. Gajsar, and O. Güntürkün, set forth in crystal-clear prose how memory works: from the anatomy of the brain to the "cell assemblies" and "neuronal networks" (374–5) by which memory traces become encoded in it. Scholars of religion in Rome have long been interested in cells and networks, albeit of a different kind. This chapter takes the conversation in a whole new direction. "Cells that fire together, wire together," the scientists explain (373), by which they mean that "the emotions accompanying an event influence its processing" (384). The implications are worth considering. For as the researchers make clear, "repeated exposure to false stories increased the percentage of people who considered them to be previous parts of [their] lives" (388).
Some will scratch their heads at the relevance of this material. But anyone who values dialogue—between science and the humanities, classics and religious studies, or among people of faith learning more about their own religious traditions—will recognize its implication: memories that have been acquired through learned behavior can, with some difficulty, be unlearned, too.

1.   The quotation from S. Keay appears in Roman Spain (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988) at p. 169–70; the quotation from M. Boatwright, in Peoples of the Roman World (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012) at p. 197. For a discussion of Mary Beard's treatment of Christianity in SPQR (New York: Liveright, 2015), see D. Boin, "Classicists' Christian Problem," in The Chronicle of Higher Education (January 10, 2016).
2.   Cultural Memories in the Roman Empire, edited by K. Galinsky and K. Lapatin (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2015), at p. 3.

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Eugenio Amato, Francesco Citti, Bart Huelsenbeck (ed.), Law and Ethics in Greek and Roman Declamation. Law & literature, 10. Berlin; München; Boston: De Gruyter, 2015. Pp. vi, 355. ISBN 9783110401783. €119.95.

Reviewed by Lauren Caldwell, Wesleyan University (lcaldwell@wesleyan.edu)

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How can investigating the use of rhetoric in Greek and Roman declamation help us illuminate the relationship between law and ethics in antiquity? This volume draws on the surviving collections of declamatory speeches from the first century CE through the sixth century CE to answer that question.

The thirteen essays build on previous studies that have established the importance of declamation to literate education in the Greco-Roman world. Studies by Kaster and Gunderson, for example, have shown how the content and performance of declamatory exercises in the classroom instilled in adolescent students a sense of what it meant to be Roman, masculine, and, at least ideally, ethical.1

Once scholarly attention has been deservedly drawn to a long-neglected topic, as it has been to declamation, the question is where the line of inquiry leads next. In Law and Ethics, the editors have aimed to consider the genre of declamation not in its wider social context, but to consider the world of "Sophistopolis"2 on its own terms as literature, with a focus on its formal features and conventions. As they note in the introduction, the essays in the volume are "devoted to the interaction between rhetoric, law, and ethics, from a perspective that aims to restore autonomy to declamation" (p. 2). While the essays concentrate on generic features, they nevertheless do not treat declamations exclusively as texts without contexts. I have selected several essays to review here in order to provide the prospective reader with a sense of what the volume offers.

Emanuele Berti's "Law in Declamation: The status legales in Senecan controversiae" explores how status theory—the tool used by students of rhetoric to clarify and isolate the legal issues in a declamatory scenario —can illuminate the connection between Roman law and declamation. Berti places emphasis in this essay on the ways in which rhetorical training aimed to provide students with a general method of legal reasoning that they could first try on declamatory laws and then apply later in their careers in the law courts. Focusing on Controversiae 1.5 and 7.8, Berti takes the reader through the reasoned analysis of the legal problems furnished by the Roman declaimers Latro and Fuscus in Seneca's account, to demonstrate that the method of argumentation is juridically valid as well as rhetorically skillful. Berti's contribution is valuable for underscoring that the fictional nature of declamatory laws did not always undermine the declaimers' analytical approach.

Bart Huelsenbeck, "Shared Speech in the Collection of the Elder Seneca (Contr. 10.4): Towards a Study of Common Literary Passages as Community Interaction," uses 10.4 as a case study in the internally communicative nature of declamatory language. Huelsenbeck argues that the repetition of the same or slightly varied passages by several different speakers in Controversia 10.4 reveals a conversational dynamic in declamation—one in which "what is said by one participant is largely driven by what has been said, recently, by other participants" (p. 38). Huelsenbeck's approach offers a productive way of considering the importance of speech in declamation as a form of community interaction with participants listening to and responding to each other in a way that approves a communal ideal such as clementia and rejects a political structure such as tyranny that is considered at odds with that ideal. Here Huelsenbeck aims to take the study of declamation's formal features beyond those of genre and aesthetics, and contends that "declamatory performance can be seen, instead, as part of a nexus of interpenetrating mutually supporting community practices" (p. 57). On this view, declamation offers us a deeper understanding of the issues that the Roman speakers cared about—from tyranny to child abuse—if we consider how its pattern of linguistic repetition in the setting of performance was used to express that concern.

Graziana Brescia, "Ambiguous Silence: stuprum and pudicitia in Latin Declamation," offers another case study in situational ethics and declamation. Brescia argues that women in declamation are often prompted to speak to assert their sexual modesty, in a manner that runs counter to the behavioral norms and expectations found in other genres of Latin literature. So while in Latin epic feminine modesty might be demonstrated by a woman's silence—and we might think of Lavinia in the Aeneid as an example—the situation in Latin declamation is different. In declamatory cases involving charges of stuprum or sexual misconduct in which a woman is thought to be complicit, such as Seneca's Controversia 2.7, silence on her part is inadvisable and not even particularly virtuous, as it must be explained or justified and thus calls her innocence into question. The same holds true in Ps.-Quintilian's Minor Declamation 270, as Brescia shows, where a sister speaks up to help repair the reputation of her silent twin; better off is the virgo in Ps.-Quintilian's Minor Declamation 301, who shouted for help, calling for her father when assaulted, thereby showing her resistance. Ultimately, such confirmation of her chastity benefits her father—another running theme of declamation.

Lucia Pasetti, "Cases of Poisoning in Greek and Roman Declamation," collects Greek and Latin examples of scenarios of poisoning in declamation. Pasetti begins by investigating what is meant by "poisoning" or "poison" in Greek and Latin, opting for a definition that encompasses harmful substances, love potions, and normally harmless substances that prove fatal. In the second part of the essay, Pasetti takes a narratological approach to these cases, reading each as a short story or microtext on the theme of poisoning, since the stories of poisoning tend to have recurring folktale elements. The stepmother, the adulterous woman, and the doctor are characters who tend to poison others. Stock characters and stock situations are of course a familiar feature of both Latin and Greek declamation, and both traditions also share similar imagery with, for example, the drinking of poison being a way for the accused to show innocence. Pasetti also notes differences between the Latin and Greek treatments of the theme by showing, for instance, that Latin stories of poisoning are more "realistic" in their presentation (p. 108). Pasetti's appendix offers a list of poisoning cases in declamation.

Bé Breij, "The Law in the Major Declamations Ascribed to Quintilian," investigates the function of declamatory laws within the collection of nineteen speeches, asking to what extent the laws serve to structure a given declamation and influence its argument. Declamatory law has itself been the subject of much scholarly interest, as Breij outlines, and her essay is useful for its brief introduction to the topic. Breij makes the worthwhile point that, in declamation, law is used to evoke a conflict or controversy, rather than to resolve it. Thus, a declamatory law is announced at the outset of a declamation, e.g. "A girl who has been raped may choose either marriage to her assailant without a dowry or his death." .The law is followed by a fact pattern, to which the student declaimer must apply the law and argue his position. Breij distinguishes two categories of problem that are created by the laws in the declamations: the first is the problem of mitigating circumstances, which means the declaimer must show whether the law should or should not be applied to a given set of facts; the second is the problem of scope, wherein the declaimer must decide how narrowly or broadly a rule should be construed. For the second category, Breij profitably considers Major Declamations 8, 10, 18, and 19, concerning the declamatory law that provided recourse for the mistreatment of married women. Breij concludes that the flexibility of this law, and the opportunity for widening its scope, provided the declaimer with the ability to practice his skills in legal thinking. Breij's essay is of course also interesting in light of the structure of declamations, which do not end with a verdict. Thus, while the law may influence the development of the argument in a particular declamation, it does not provide the 'closure' of a resolution to the conflict that is presumably the legal process's primary aim.

Gianluigi Tomassi, "Tyrants and Tyrannicides: Between Literary Creation and Contemporary Reality in Greek Declamation," discusses the literary and declamatory motif of the tyrant and tyrannicide as it runs through Greek declamations. Of particular interest to Tomassi is the evolution of these figures in works from the early and later Roman Empire, including, for example, the way in which tyrants and tyrannicides are characterized in the work of Lucian in the second century, in the speeches of Libanius in the fourth century, and by Choricius of Gaza in the late fifth century. Tomassi demonstrates how these authors adapt the literary figures of the tyrant in distinct ways appropriate to the political context in which they are writing. So Lucian in The Tyrannicide, for example, innovates by making the tyrannicide a dramatic and colorful figure who stands for the public interest in removing the autocrat from power—although, as Tomassi notes, Lucian is also careful to humanize the tyrant, possibly importing features from the world of theater. Fourth-century authors follow Lucian's lead, but innovate by separating the figure of the emperor from that of the tyrant. The emperor (basileus) is cast in a positive light, while the usurper who threatens his legitimate power is featured as the tyrant (tyrannus).

From listing and classifying particular declamatory themes to considering declamation from sociolinguistic and narratological perspectives, the essays in Law and Ethics in Roman Declamation furnish useful data and offer promising avenues for future research. It should be noted that the volume does not aim to provide much by way of introduction to declamation; for the first-time reader of Roman declamation, most of the essays will not be easy to approach, although Breij's essay stands out for its accessibility. Overall, the reader comes away with the sense that the volume has accomplished its purpose of moving the study of declamation beyond investigations of its connection to the social world of Roman imperial education. Law and Ethics considers the fascinating features, including an engagement with situational ethics, that distinguish declamation from other genres of Greek and Roman literature.


1.   Kaster, Robert A., "Controlling Reason: Declamation in Rhetorical Education at Rome" in Education in Greek and Roman Antiquity, ed. Yun Lee Too, Leiden; Boston, Mass.: Brill, 2001, 317-337; Gunderson, Erik, Declamation, Paternity, and Roman Identity. Authority and the Rhetorical Self, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003.
2.   Russell, Donald A. Greek Declamation, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1983.

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Thursday, July 21, 2016


Anne-Claire Michel, La cour sous l'empereur Claude: les enjeux d'un lieu de pouvoir. Histoire - Série Aulica - Univers de la cour. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2015. Pp. 378. ISBN 9782753542020. €22.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Fábio Duarte Joly, Federal University of Ouro Preto (joly@uol.com.br)

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This book, which has developed from a doctoral dissertation presented to the University of Paris VII in 2013, follows two historiographical trends in the field of Roman history. On the one hand, it is a contribution to the debate on the structure and functioning of the court (aula Caesaris) in the Roman Empire, a theme of renewed interest since the studies of Andrew Wallace-Hadrill and Aloys Winterling in the 1990s, among others.1 On the other hand, the book also aligns itself to a scholarship that is shedding new light on the principate of Claudius (AD 41-54),2 considered by Anne-Claire Michel, "un moment important, mais non révolutionnaire, pour le renforcement des structures politiques, sociales et administratives de l'Empire romain" (p. 22).

The originality of the work lies in the fact that it offers to the reader a thorough examination of the imperial court in the age of Claudius. Such a study, restricted to a specific reign, reveals itself an important complement to those approaches that analyze the evolution of the imperial court over a broad range of time, a choice that obviously prevents any detailing of the social composition of the court members and their relationship between each other and to the emperor.

The first part of the book, "La cour sur le Palatin: extensions, réalités, unité?" (comprising chapters 1 and 2), is devoted to the spatial dimension of the court of Claudius. It seeks to reconstitute Claudius' imperial residence on the Palatine, as well as other properties owned and frequented by the emperor, such as horti and villas. The objective is to determine the innovations introduced by Claudius after his predecessors. Drawing on archaeological data, Anne-Claire Michel maps the structures on the Palatine that would have remained with few changes, from Augustus to Caligula, on the occasion of Claudius' rise to power in 41 (like the temple of Apollo and its annexes), and those that were modified by the successors of Augustus (such as the extension of the imperial residence toward the Forum by Caligula). However, despite the difficulties involved in accurately establishing the topography of the court, due to the nature of the available archaeological and literary evidence, the author stresses that, at the beginning of the principate of Claudius, it is reasonable to speak of a "palace" to designate the imperial complex on the Palatine, although the term Palatium with the meaning of palace is attested only under the Flavians. Furthermore, the author stresses that Claudius tried to present his reign as a continuation of that of Augustus. He redefined the extension of the pomerium in 49, a reference to Augustus as a new Romulus, and he also placed the naval crown received from the Senate on account of his military conquests in Britain next to the Augustan civic crown. The main intervention of Claudius was the monumentalization of the architectural ensemble of the Palatine, especially in the sector of the domus Tiberiana. In sum, the emperor modified the topography of the Palatine to be an expression of his personal power.

Besides the buildings on the Palatine, Anne-Claire Michel also deals with the horti, villas, and the itinerant court that accompanied Claudius in his expedition to Britain. Claudius inherited from his predecessors the Horti Sallustiani, Horti Maecenatis and Horti Agrippinae. The author notes that Claudius adopted a systematic and aggressive practice of appropriation of aristocratic domains by means of confiscations, as in the case of the Horti Lucullani, Horti Lolliani and Horti Tauriani. This conduct of Claudius is explained not as a mere project for asserting his power by eliminating the influence of rival aristocrats. It was also marked by an urban logic since the emperor tried to control the limits of the city of Rome and above all to ensure its supply of water. The author also maps the villas owned by Claudius in the suburbium, Latium, and Campania. These villas functioned as symbolic spaces of power, creating a center of attraction of the elite by the emperor, as demonstrated by the presence of senatorial properties near the imperial villas of Claudius. The imperial retinue in the expedition to Britain fulfilled a similar function; it was a "spectacle of imperial power" (p. 108), composed of members of the imperial family, prominent senators, administrative staff, and imperial freedmen.

The second part of the book, "La cour comme milieu social: prosopographie de la cour claudienne" (chapters 3-5), is the most innovative one. It is an attempt to make a prosopography of the members of Claudius' court. For such an approach, Anne-Claire Michel establishes three criteria: status, degree of intimacy with the emperor, and factors that explained the presence in the court. Concerning status, there are three groups: the imperial family and its slaves and freedmen; certain members of the senatorial and equestrian orders, and those individuals whose presence in the court depended on their functions and competences (for example, the emperor's guard, intellectuals, and foreign kings). As to the degree of intimacy with the emperor, there are two groups: those members who regularly maintained a close relationship with the emperor, and those with not so regular ties. Finally, there were those who owed their place in the court to their function and dignitas, and those who depended on the emperor's personal goodwill. The location of individuals in these groups allows the author to develop her idea that the court is, at the same time, both an environment created by the emperor and one imposed on him, and so it is possible to discuss to what extent Claudius has succeed in shaping the court according to his political objectives and priorities.

Through a detailed analysis of the epigraphic and literary data, the author cites those individuals who probably composed Claudius' court. Anne-Claire Michel finds an overrepresentation of senators from central Italy and the preeminence of members of the high Roman nobilitas. For the author, the study of the composition of the court shows that Claudius respected Roman social and political hierarchies, but that he also managed to shape that composition according to his wishes. Executions and exile of aristocrats were instruments used by the emperor to eliminate rivals and to face the constraints imposed on him by the court itself. This fact reveals a political skill on the part of Claudius that contradicts the image of that emperor as manipulated by his wives and freedmen, as we usually read in the pages of Tacitus and Suetonius.

The last part of the book, "La cour, lieu de pouvoir et de symbole du pouvoir" (chapters 6 and 7), deals with the political role of the court under Claudius. The author tries to reassess the image left by the ancient writers of a Claudius manipulated by the court and without any political agenda of his own. Anne-Claire Michel provides a portrait of Claudius as an emperor who sought to take into account the interests of Rome (as pointed out, for example, in her analysis of the measures taken by Claudius in favor of the Jews of Alexandria and Judea) and who followed a policy of cooperation between Senate and court. The court thus enabled a certain stability to the emperor since it integrated the senatorial elite, allowing it to maintain its prestige. Therefore, the court needed to present itself to society to show the respect to the social hierarchy. Salutationes, banquets organized by the emperor, games and spectacles, and public funerals, were important demonstrations of such respect, indicating that the princeps could not avoid the Roman social hierarchy, because it also reinforced his personal power.

Anne-Claire Michel concludes this presentation of the political role of the court under Claudius by questioning the common representation of Claudius' court as an "aula Saturnalicia", an expression inspired by the image Seneca transmitted of Claudius as princeps Saturnalicius (Apoc. 8. 2). Such representation is understood as based upon a stereotypical and not historical description of women of the imperial family (Messalina and Agrippina) and of some imperial freedmen (like Callistus, Pallas and Narcissus). Moreover, the criticisms of Claudius' court resulted from a negative view of the court in general as a place of corruption by ancient authors. This vision, consequently, prevented the analysis of the court in a positive way, that is, as an effective instrument of government that benefitted both the emperor and its members.

The main hypothesis keeping the three parts of the book together is that, under Claudius, it is already possible to speak of an aristocratization of the court, even if the court had not yet reached the degree of institutionalization achieved in the second century AD. Anne-Claire Michel thus tries to nuance the conclusions of Aloys Winterling, as she states that the presence of the upper fringe of Roman society in court is the very condition of its effectiveness. In fact, her prosopographical approach to the court of Claudius points in this direction. However, it might be appropriate to qualify somewhat the emphasis that the author gives to the connection between the existence of the court and the stability of imperial power. It should be noted that the court is also the main place of instability between aristocrats and the princeps, since it could eliminate and make emperors.3

Anne-Claire Michel's book will certainly be a source of inspiration for more detailed studies on the aula Caesaris. Its methodology for a prosopography of the imperial court should be applied for the study of the Julio-Claudian period as a whole so that we could have a better understanding of court dynamics as well as of the continuities and ruptures in the short run.


1.   A. Wallace-Hadrill, "The imperial court", in A. K. Bowman, E. Champlin, A. Lintott (eds.), The Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 10: The Augustan Empire, 43 B.C. - A.D. 69 (Cambridge, 1996), pp. 283-308; A. Winterling, Aula Caesaris: Studien zur Institutionalisierung des römischen Kaiserhofes in der Zeit von Augustus bis Commodus (31 v.Chr.-192 n.Chr.) (München, 1999).
2.   See, for example, J. Osgood, Claudius Caesar. Image and Power in the Early Roman Empire (Cambridge, 2011), reviewed in BMCR 2011.07.34.
3.   As remarked, for instance, by A. Winterling, "A Court without 'State'. The aula Caesaris", in A. Winterling, Politics and Society in Imperial Rome (Malden, 2009), p. 89-90.

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Sean McConnell, Philosophical Life in Cicero's Letters. Cambridge classical studies. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Pp. viii, 260. ISBN 9781107040816. $95.00.

Reviewed by Lex Paulson, Université de Paris IV, Paris-Sorbonne (lex@aya.yale.edu)

Version at BMCR home site


Cicero's trove of over 800 letters has long served as an essential window into late-republican politics as lived experience. In the last three decades, seminal works from Rawson, Lévy, Graver, Sedley, Griffin, Powell, and many others have proven the centrality of philosophy to Cicero's corpus, and the pertinence of the late treatises to his public career. In "Philosophical Life in Cicero's Letters", Sean McConnell takes the restoration of Cicero philosophus another step forward, offering the first book-length treatment of the epistolae as vectors of ideas in themselves.1

For McConnell, the philosophical references in these letters go well beyond winking philhellenism or rehearsals for the treatises. Rather, the epistolae deserve recognition as free-standing and worthy attempts to apply philosophy to real and urgent problems. As Cicero's problems were so often political, McConnell focuses his work on Cicero's engagement with political philosophy and practical ethics, rather than attempting a broader analysis of the letters en entier. The five case studies he chooses thus serve to illuminate, rather than synthesize, the evolutions in the statesman's use of philosophy through a long and turbulent career.

The first chapter, "Exploring the relationship between philosophy and politics," takes up a question of fervid debate among Cicero scholars—was philosophy a departure from, or an instrument of, his politics?—and answers, solomonically, "yes." In the earliest letters to Atticus, we see philosophy "associated firmly with otium and a divorce from politics proper" (34). Nevertheless, McConnell locates a sharp turn in Cicero's attitude in the period after his exile in 58 BCE. This new position emerges from a close reading of Ad. Fam. 1.9, a letter from December 54 in which the ex-consul defends his recent turnabout to Caesar and the triumvirate. In this apologia, Cicero uses Plato's letters to make the case that his support for Caesar is not only pragmatic, but "a principled philosophical engagement, sanctioned by the auctoritas of Plato, for the good of all Romans" (44). Accordingly, philosophy not only enters the political arena but also, in Cicero's view, settles the matter at hand.

Wisely, McConnell does not adjudge whether Cicero's Platonic apologia is convincing, but looks to the fact of the apologia itself. First, he notes, Cicero must have presumed that his optimate audience was not only quite familiar with Plato (alluding to him three times without citation), but also receptive to the notion that a Greek thinker could inform Roman politics. Further, McConnell dissents from Shackleton Bailey's suggestion that Cicero meant to justify his volte-face as "respectable per se"; rather, Cicero uses Plato's authority to argue that the right political action is not deduced a priori but inescapably linked to circumstance. As McConnell points out, Cicero uses Plato's framework—speak out only where useful, and do no harm to the fatherland—to arrive at the opposite conclusion: whereas Plato could drop out of politics, Cicero is obliged to hang in.

McConnell's analysis suggests a fascinating parallel that he might have pursued further, namely the extent to which Cicero's stance toward Plato—independent but respectful of his authority—mirrors the political stance he must develop toward Caesar, as preoccupying a figure to Cicero politically as Plato was intellectually. (Given his choice of case studies, the book's subtitle could well have been, "What to do about Caesar?"). Regardless, the analysis of Ad Fam. 1.9 amply reveals Cicero's evolution in regard to the political uses of philosophy, even and especially when "politics proper" have failed.

The enlistment of Plato as political adviser is explored further in Chapter 2, "Cicero and Plato's Seventh Epistle." Rubicon crossed and die now cast, Cicero turns again to this famous letter to ease his political vexation. Plato's debacle in Syracuse provides ammunition for an apologia to Atticus justifying his strained neutrality in the struggle between Caesar and Pompey. Quite brilliantly, McConnell examines the metaphors that intertwine Cicero's story with Plato's—for example, the image of an imprisoned bird yearning for escape. Equally convincing is McConnell's use of the literature on late-republican letters to posit that Ad. Att. 9.10 was not a private missive to Atticus at all, but was rather "Cicero's attempt to define and wrest back control of his public image" among the political class (72). The image the ex-consul wants is that of "philosophic advisor," natural heir to Plato,2 whose mission of concordia sets him apart from the self-serving partisans of the war.

Like Plato in Syracuse, Cicero projects the image of having endeavored to speak frankly and heal the republic, but failing because of the wickedness of those in power. Yet McConnell's conclusion that for Cicero, "philosophy…is a genuinely effective tool to apply to Roman practical politics, at least given a certain well- defined set of conditions," fails to satisfy. Philosophy has failed because Caesar, like Dionysius, is wicked. Fine, but if philosophy is of no help when one most needs it, we want to ask, is it "genuinely effective"? Neither Cicero nor McConnell (nor I) have a clear answer.

The third chapter, "Cicero and Dicaearchus," revives an intriguing debate within the Peripatetic school. In a letter to Atticus from 59, Cicero ironically compares the positions of "your friend Dicaearchus" and "my friend Theophrastus" on the supremacy of the active life. The debate was apparently both fertile and famous, yet this letter provides nearly the only extant evidence of it. Nonetheless, by examining other references to the Peripatos in Cicero's writings and later texts, McConnell succeeds in retracing the battle lines between the bios praktikos and theoretikos in Aristotle's school. 3

From an "interposed leaf" in the Codex Vaticanus, McConnell locates Dicaearchus' position in his account of a golden age, when men "did not do philosophy with speech," but rather "the good man alone was a philosopher," and did "practise politics finely" (128-29). For this Peripatetic faction, therefore, "the enactment of virtue or the practice of good deeds is what doing philosophy ultimately consists in" (137). We see immediately how this reframing of philosophy—away from contemplation and toward virtuous civic action—would have magnetized Cicero. Far from his earlier identification of philosophy with otium, McConnell argues, this activist philosophy could serve Cicero "as a means to return to a sort of Roman golden age" (158).

After such expert sleuthing, McConnell retreats somewhat from his own argument. Though Dicaearchus' "golden" philosophy of civic action is a natural fit for the mos maiorum, McConnell somewhat confusingly concludes that this praktikos bios "does not necessarily involve philosophy at all" (159). Nevertheless, he carries his point that the letters not only "fill major gaps in our knowledge of Hellenistic philosophy and its reception," but that on the vita activa, "Cicero's vision of philosophy and its role in Roman political culture…is appropriated in all fundamental respects from Dicaearchus" (117).

The fourth chapter, "A Stoic lecture: Epistulae ad familiares 9.22," examines what McConnell calls "perhaps the most technical philosophical letter" in the extant corpus, whose political import he believes has been overlooked. In this letter to Paetus of 46, Cicero gently upbraids the young man for his use of an obscenity, and proceeds to offer a stoica schola (a "Stoic lecture") on the use of free and frank speech. Whereas Shackleton Bailey declared the entire letter a "jeu d'esprit," McConnell contends that Cicero is making a deadly serious point about verecundia and libertas loquendi at a moment when Caesar is consolidating power.

In the schola, Cicero frames a debate between Academics, who hold that verecundia tempers the wise man's choice of words, and Stoics, who say that a wise man will always "call a spade a spade." (A quibble, speaking freely and frankly: no English-speaker since Humphrey Bogart has "called a spade a spade." For εὐθυρρημονήσει, why not "tell it like it is"?) Here again McConnell's intertextuality is inspired: citations from Catullus and Suetonius allow him to peg Paetus' gros mot as a likely reference to Caesar himself.

The highly technical form of the schola, the transposition of libertas loquendi onto the Greek parrhèsia, and the letter's otherwise jocular tone, thus enable the ex-consul to both deliver and model his key message: say what you want about Caesar, but watch how you say it. Accordingly, "Cicero cleverly puts into practice the Academic position while presenting a technical Stoic argument, thereby making a point about how nuanced Academic practice can achieve the same effects as blunt Stoic practice without upsetting sensitive social boundaries" (169). This deft conclusion highlights McConnell's philosophical aplomb as well as Cicero's.

The fifth and final chapter, "Dealing with Caesar: the συμβουλευτικόν," examines Cicero's abortive letter of advice to the now-dictator of Rome. Cicero's challenge is immense: reconcile with Caesar, preserve his own dignitas, and advance the interests of the republic all at once. In political difficulty he again turns to philosophy, conceiving the idea of a symbouleutikon or open letter of advice from philosopher to ruler. His major references here are the (likely spurious) symbouleutikoi of Aristotle to Alexander which lay out the glories of virtuous kingship. Cicero's letters to Atticus of 45 show him drafting, agonizing over, and ultimately abandoning the project, as "it is better that [Caesar] desire what I don't write than disapprove what I do write" (201, Ad. Att. 12.28.3).

The problem lay in defining political glory, or rather in adapting Aristotle to Caesar's troubling career. What Cicero wants is to contrast the ficta gloria of self-serving spectacle with the vera gloria of benevolent rule. Here McConnell demonstrates how Cicero's concept of gloria had evolved through his career from "simple popular acclaim" to "performing the duties demanded by justice" (202). This path is correct, but its destination is not quite right. For Cicero, says McConnell, "everyone without fail is moved to love the glorious man if he really is virtuous" (203). Yet at the twilight of his public career, vera gloria clearly does not always earn the endorsement of mass opinion. (See e.g. Tusc. Disp. 5.9.54, "it is…the populace that is rejected by the [wise] consul, not he by the populace;" De Off. 1.19.65, "he who depends on the caprice of the ignorant rabble cannot be numbered among the great."). Cicero wants Caesar to seek approval not from the vulgus but from cultivated boni like himself—a message endorsed by Aristotle but made moot by Caesar's popularis success. As hard as he tried, Cicero could find no philosophical match for Caesar's realpolitik.

McConnell's book is on the whole an outstanding addition to Cicero studies, eminently readable and full of interest to historians and philosophers alike. The author has done a great service in pushing far beyond the conclusions, now well-established, that Cicero could "do" philosophy or fit it to a Roman audience. What the letters reveal—even more than the treatises, perhaps—was that Cicero was not merely putting favored doctrines into practice, but experimenting constantly with how ideas and political realities could reshape one another. A truly gifted intertextualist, McConnell shines brightest in his attention to the manifold ways in which Cicero engages his intellectual forebears.

The weaknesses of this excellent work are minor ones. One often wishes to see McConnell push his conclusions further—at times he retreats from the possibilities opened by superb and original arguments. He also tends to signpost a bit heavily (e.g., "my argument contains a number of interwoven strands and is rather long and complicated" (63-64)). Overall, though, in the fast-moving stream of Cicero studies, McConnell has expertly navigated both the Quellenforschung marking its past and the philosophical seriousness that marks its present and, one hopes, its future.


1.   For a recent monograph on Cicero's letters in their socio-historical context, see Peter White's Cicero in Letters: Epistolary Relations of the Late Republic (Oxford 2010).
2.   McConnell could have emphasized a key point of historical context here, namely that with Sulla's pillaging of the Academy in 86 BCE and the death of Philo in 84, Cicero could portray himself in the letters not only as Plato's disciple, but his sole legitimate successor.
3.   For the uncertain state of the Peripatos in Cicero's time, see Jonathan Barnes, "Roman Aristotle," in Philosophia Togata II (ed. Barnes & Griffin, Oxford 1997).

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