Monday, July 28, 2014


Wilfred E. Major, The Court of Comedy: Aristophanes, Rhetoric, and Democracy in Fifth-Century Athens. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2013. Pp. viii, 232. ISBN 9780814212240. $57.95.

Reviewed by Rob Tordoff, York University (

Version at BMCR home site

Wilfred E. Major's The Court of Comedy: Aristophanes, Rhetoric, and Democracy in Fifth-Century Athens is an ambitious but somewhat idiosyncratic study of the representation of rhetoric in comic drama under the Athenian democracy from the mid to late fifth century. Despite the title's emphasis on Aristophanes, Major is equally concerned with the fragments of Old Comedy, and his chronological and geographical range is larger than the library catalogue browser might expect: in the earlier chapters Major looks at Epicharmus and the reception of Sicilian comedy in Athens among Aristophanes' older contemporaries; in the Epilogue he casts an eye over Aristophanes' late plays and comedy of the early fourth century. Major's knowledge of scholarship is wide and very current, and his book offers a model of how to enrich the study of Aristophanes with the fascinating but difficult fragmentary remains of Old Comedy. There are a number of extended passages of high quality argument and the appendix is truffled with some delicious observations on the language of comedy. For a book that is very generous in quoting Greek mistakes are relatively few, but it is difficult to avoid concluding that more could have been done at the copyediting and proofreading stage to iron out a few rather obvious wrinkles.1

The project of The Court of Comedy is helpfully set out in the Introduction (pp. 18-19). Two of the book's aims are fairly conventional. They amount to a reading of Aristophanes' political commitments. Major seeks to show that Aristophanes saw 'proto-rhetorical' speech (for the terminology, see below) as a spanner in the works of the democratic process, and that the attitudes Aristophanes expresses in his plays toward 'proto-rhetorical' language in the council, assembly, and the courts belong to a fundamentally democratic mode of self-criticism. It is likely that many readers will welcome these arguments, which tessellate well with influential views of the quintessentially democratic nature of theatre production in fifth-century Athens.

The other major aim is polemical. By interrogating passages involving rhetorical speech and references to such speech in Aristophanes and the fragments of Old Comedy, Major seeks to show that the evidence of fifth-century comedy supports the revisionist history of rhetoric advanced by Schiappa, Cole, and others: that is, that the discipline of 'rhetoric' as we hear about it from Plato, Aristotle, Isocrates and the later handbook tradition, with its canonical vocabulary and theoretical precepts, was an invention of fourth-century Athens, not of fifth-century Sicily.2 Thus Major argues that while there is plenty of evidence in Old Comedy for intellectual interest in language and persuasion, there is no evidence for the technical vocabulary of rhetoric known from the later handbooks. To illustrate with the cardinal example, the word rhetorikê is not found in the remains of Old Comedy (the concept only seems to appear with Plato's early dialogues: perhaps, therefore, from around the 380s BCE).

The Court of Comedy opens with an Introduction offering a synopsis of the book's contents preceded by an overview of the recent developments in classical scholarship on the evolution of rhetoric, Aristophanes' politics, and the socio-political functions of drama, especially comic drama, in the classical Athenian polis. This is one of the most lucid and impressive sections of the book and it lays a solid foundation for the following chapters, which are organized chronologically.

Chapter 1, 'Sicilian Pioneers of Comedy and Rhetoric and their Transmission to Athens' deals with Sicilian Comedy and its reception in Athens. Chapter 2, 'Old Comedy and Proto-Rhetoric in Athens' looks at rhetorical language in Aristophanes' older contemporaries. Chapter 3, 'The young Comic Playwrights Attack, 425-421 B.C.E.', is by some way the longest in the book and focuses on Aristophanes' early plays. In the discussion Major argues that Aristophanes habitually dramatizes democratic processes failing to function in their customary civic locations because of pernicious eloquence but working successfully when they "translocate" to somewhere else; that Aristophanes' vocabulary is innocent of the canonical technical language of rhetorical theory known from later sources; and that the rhetorical speeches in these plays do not conform to the canonical structures and their formulaic organization known from rhetorical handbooks. These points are reiterated in subsequent chapters.

The fourth chapter, 'The Years of Confidence, 421-414 B.C.E.', mostly concerns Eupolis and Aristophanes' Birds. Chapter 5, 'Crawling from the Wreckage, 411 B.C.E.' reads Lysistrata and Thesmophoriazusae as plays confronting the spectre of oligarchy, which seeks to obstruct the deliberative processes and the collective judgement of the demos. Major argues that the only change to the democratic constitution that Aristophanes' plays (implicitly) underwrite is expansion of the number of people participating in deliberation: 'Aristophanes consistently dramatizes a faith in the core processes of the Athenian democracy, even as he sharply attacks its institutions when they fail to function properly' (p. 131).

Chapter 6, 'Tongues, Frogs, and the Last Stand', offers the most sustained and detailed analysis in the book, exploring why Aristophanes' attitude to Euripides in Frogs seems less favourable than his earlier treatments of the tragedian. Tracing the ups and downs of the Athenian reception of Euripides from 415, Major argues that 'the harsh view of Euripides [in Frogs] results from a perception that Euripides turned traitor against the democracy subsequent to the season of 409' (p. 171): the unflattering portrayal of mob decision-making in Orestes and the writing of Archelaus for the king of Macedon had lowered Euripides' stock with the Athenian demos by the time Aristophanes wrote Frogs. The chapter certainly provokes the reader to think afresh about Frogs 949-54 and the character Euripides' claim there that his tragedy had a special and commendable democratic quality.

In the Epilogue, Major suggests that Assembly Women's far-reaching reforms to democratic institutions 'bespeak a cynicism or lack of faith in current institutions not found in the fifth-century plays' (p. 180). He characterizes Aristophanes' vision as 'if anything, more radically inclusive, egalitarian, and democratic' (p. 181), both in this play and in Wealth, where he favours readings that find sympathy for the poor and make the case for the utopian importance of comic desire. It is a pity that Major does not extend his reading of democratic rhetoric in comedy to the late plays. If they do indeed round out the portrayal of Aristophanes as a committed democrat, detailed treatment of them would have made the political analysis comprehensive. If there is no evidence in them for rhetorical terminology or speech-structuring, surely this would be significant, given that they were produced not long before we find the earliest occurrences of the term rhetorike. As it is, this aspect of The Court of Comedy feels somewhat incomplete.

There is then an Appendix in which Major catalogues the terminology of 'proto-rhetoric' as it appears in fifth-century comedy, as well as providing a prosopography of rhetoricians found in comedy and a catalogue of fifth-century comic engagement with the Athenian institutions of the assembly, council, and law-courts, where rhetorical language was at issue. This last section is very useful: its impressive catalogue of the terms Old Comedy uses to talk about 'proto- rhetoric' helps to sweeten the occasionally bitter draft of an extensive and sometimes repetitious negative argument in the body of the book.

To the present reviewer there seem to be some problems of coherence and methodology. In places I felt that the project of incorporating very different arguments about Aristophanes' political commitments and the history of rhetorical theory into the overarching chronological scheme was carried through at too great a cost to the cohesion of individual chapters (though Major does explain what he is trying to do: pp. 36-7). For example, discussion of Pericles in comedy is split between the second and fourth chapters, and in chapter three Peace is treated only with some very thin description by comparison with Aristophanes' earlier plays. Much of the difficulty lies in the sheer scale and ambition of Major's project: 184 pages is not a great deal of space to sift all the evidence of Old Comedy for the early history of rhetorical theory and to reconstruct Aristophanes' political ideals with a close reading of the plays and fragments belonging to the years 427 to 405. That The Court of Comedy manages this at all is quite an achievement.

Methodologically, I was troubled by the unexplored assumption that if there had been a technical jargon of rhetoric in the fifth century, we should expect to find it in Old Comedy. In certain cases, it has been shown that comic evidence for the use of technical jargon in classical Athens is seriously incomplete. There was certainly a developed medical terminology in the fifth century (Thuc. 2.49.3) and Crates (fr. 46) already knows the stereotype of a doctor with a Doric bedside manner. Nevertheless, as Andreas Willi has shown, extant Aristophanes makes no comic capital whatsoever out of technical medical language strictly defined.3 The numbers of Athenians who fell ill, or were injured, or talked to doctors on behalf of others during the Peloponnesian War must have been enormously higher than those who received sophistic training. Competence in medical language must have been far more widespread than competence in the terminology of rhetorical instruction, yet technical medical language seems to have been too obscure for the Old Comic stage. Is it reasonable to assume that if rhetorical language existed, it would have made it on to the comic stage? And if it did exist, should we expect to see the terminology exactly reproduced? Technical language in ancient Greek was not usually based on foreign words and so potentially funny on its own in the way that much technical language is in English. Terms like diegesis, pisteis, or epilogos will have been basically comprehensible to untrained Athenians even if they could not use them correctly in their technical senses. When Aristophanes makes fun of the kinds of speakers who probably used technical language, he does it with repetition and morphological marking, as in the case of the pseudo-nosological philo- compounds in Wasps 71-88. Therefore, rather than expecting Old Comedy to reflect the precise terminology of a not-yet-widely-recognized technical language, ought we not to anticipate an invented pseudo-technical speak (marked as non-standard by features like bizarre portmanteau compounding, diminutive forms, or –ikos suffixes)? This is perhaps what we find at Eq. 1378 in perantikos, but because the precise lexeme peras is not present Major may dismiss the passage as evidence of rhetorical terminology, remarking (correctly) that the –ikos suffix is 'typical of comedy's method for dealing with unorthodox language' (81). In summary, Major is as diligent and persistent as anyone could be in combing the evidence of comedy for rhetorical language, but is the project well conceived? Major's results are certainly philologically suggestive, but I am not convinced that they are as suggestive as he hopes. It is also not clear to me why we should expect Old Comedy to reproduce rhetorically structured speeches if rhetorical theory had been around; it seems far more likely it would burlesque rhetorical conventions.

Putting such reservations aside, Major's survey of Aristophanes and his fragmentary contemporaries is impressive for its intellectual range and critics who focus narrowly on Aristophanes should be inspired by his book to incorporate the rich evidence of the comic fragments into their studies.


1.   Inevitably errors in printing ancient Greek will slip through, but in a book about rhetorical theory it is particularly unfortunate that the Greek term for 'narrative' (διήγησις) is printed διήγεσις not just once but passim, in total five times (pp. 59 twice, p. 106 three times). The proofing of English is very good, but where mistakes have crept in, they are very regrettable. On p. 47 E. Bakola, author of Cratinus and the Art of Comedy, is referred to as 'he'. Presumably this is a 'typo' or a hypercorrection at the copyediting stage; whatever the case, it is unfortunate that it made it into the published text.
2.   E. Schiappa (1991) Protagoras and Logos: a Study in Greek Philosophy and Rhetoric (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press). T. Cole (1991) The Origins of Rhetoric in Ancient Greece (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press).
3.   A. Willi (2003) The Languages of Aristophanes: Aspects of Linguistic Variation in Classical Attic Greek (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 79-87.

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Gideon Nisbet, Greek Epigram in Reception: J. A. Symonds, Oscar Wilde, and the Invention of Desire, 1805-1929. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. Pp. 389. ISBN 9780199662494. $125.00.

Reviewed by Simon Goldhill, King's College, Cambridge (

Version at BMCR home site


As classicists, we all should be well aware that the intellectual tastes and styles of engagement in antiquity are often quite different from our contemporary horizons of expectation—and, as classicists, we are accustomed to using such differences as a royal route as much to defamiliarize the present as to explore the past. It's part of why we are classicists. There is, however, a temptation to think that the more recent past can be approached in an unmediated manner—a tendency enshrined and exaggerated by our continuing, pious use of the commentaries and scholarly work of the nineteenth century, as if they were not works from another country (as Benedict Anderson would have it). So any shock to such comfortable false familiarity should be embraced. One such shock for me—although I work both on the Victorian period and on the ancient epigrams collected in what is known as the Greek Anthology—was when I came across the casual anecdote that Matthew Arnold liked to relax in the evenings from his toils as school inspector and grand arbiter of English taste, by reading and translating for himself epigrams from the anthology. Could it really be that the man whose polarization of Hellenism and Hebraism defined a cultural self-positioning for the Victorian elite, and who sadly intoned from Dover Beach that 'Sophocles heard it long ago', sat up late lovingly translating Antipater and Meleager? Most surprising of all, the anecdote was offered as if it were not surprising at all, but exactly what one might expect of someone so committed to the best that has ever been said and written. Gideon Nisbet's excellent, lengthy study Greek Epigram in Reception has thoroughly removed any lingering surprise I may be nurturing about the image of the Victorian grandee toying insouciantly with his Garland.

Nisbet's book has a clear and strong central argument, which takes as its hero and icon John Addington Symonds. Symonds has become something of a superstar of recent cultural criticism primarily because of his unique and uniquely fascinating autobiographical writings, which Phyllis Grosskurth edited in 1983, after writing his biography in the 1960s. Symonds, friend of the sexologist Havelock Ellis, the philosopher Henry Sidgwick, and of Edmund Gosse—who wrote one of the most moving autobiographical accounts of growing up in a fiercely evangelical Plymouth Brethren family—was part of a highly self-conscious group of male Victorian intellectuals who knew that they desired other men, and reflected on it carefully, seriously, and in intense conversations apart from the public eye. Symonds' autobiographical writings record his slow and painful journey towards physical expression of his desire, and his equally painful exposure to the scorn of evangelical Christian critics in particular, when his studies of classics revealed too clearly the lure of hankering after young male beauty. Symonds' relationship to Sidgwick has been superbly analyzed by Bart Schultz; and his minutely analyzed sexual awakening, preceded by his privately circulated study, A Problem in Greek Ethics, has been repeatedly used by historians, including most recently Daniel Orrells and Alistair Blanshard, as an insight into the world of Victorian homosexuality (as it would gradually come to be known). But Nisbet focuses specifically on Symonds' ground-breaking work on the Greek Anthology and its representations of male desire. Symonds' essays in Studies of the Greek Poets changed the public and scholarly understanding of this vast collection of epigrams. Translating epigrams, as Nisbet shows, was indeed a pastime of the military man, the diplomat, the lord on his estate. Many of these highly selective translations, in slim volumes, struggled with the veils of Hellenized passions; others bluntly did not, concealing the gender of the poems' addressees as well as resolutely dismissing in particular Strato's obsessive variations on erotic games with boys. I particularly liked the stories of the imperialist, conservative Evelyn Baring, Earl of Cromer, ruling Egypt for the Empire, opposing the suffragettes, and still translating Meleager on the side. It is here where Arnold's lucubrations find their place. What's more, where many have discussed Symonds' celebrated description of the glistening, idealized Greek youth, this book shows most clearly how the expression of desire interlinks with the description of genre and the articulation of literary history as a developmental scheme. It is not by chance that Edward Carpenter turns both to Symonds and to Darwin to claim that his model of idealized male-male desire was an evolutionary climax of civilization, rather than the sin against nature it had so often been declared to be. With a rare richness, Nisbet has collected many of these slim volumes, and tells a compelling history with Symonds at its centre.

The precursors to Symonds are duly dealt with, and later writers from Paton's laborious Loeb to the hugely influential selectivity of Mackail are explored, all in relation to Symonds. The initial critical impact, reaction against and then rediscovery of Symonds, is thereby well articulated. To study in this way the role of one genre as a genre is a particularly telling contribution to the current debate on reception—for three reasons. First, it shows vividly how the comprehension of a genre is a deeply ideological construct, tied up with notions of the progress from Greece to modernity—the developmental model which George Grote made essential to Greek history; and with specific and contested notions of literary value; and with broad cultural concerns of the period. All too often, genre has been treated as if it were defined in antiquity and passed on without loss to modernity. This book demonstrates how such attempts to define genre as an ancient idea are inevitably full of modern conceptual polemics, disavowed, disingenuously. Second, it gives a striking portrait of a type of reception quite different from the great man reading the great text of the past: instead, here we have different authors and poems being valued from within a collection, according to various agendas. It is very much a set of individual responses in dialogue with each other as much as with antiquity: a networked, distributed practice of reading. Third, it requires Nisbet to move between public and private circulations of texts, censorship, internal and external, and the long durée of the reception of Symonds' own reception of antiquity. This again leads to a more flexible and nuanced model of the cultural activity of engaging with the classical past than is commonly on offer.

This is, then, a valuable contribution to a multiform debate. I do have, however, four constructive worries. The first is perhaps the least significant: the subtitle of the book is J.A. Symonds, Oscar Wilde and the Invention of Desire, 1805-1929. Wilde does not get much of a look in—quite rightly, as although he read Symonds and was master of the 'epigrammatic' bon mot, he had almost nothing to do with the development of the reception of the Greek Anthology, and, what's more, he stands out from the other characters in the volume because of his flamboyant public defense of the ideals of Hellenic passion, as well as his flamboyant public display of his private life. It would seem that the name of Wilde is in the title to attract readers rather than because of his importance to the volume itself. Indeed, the 'invention of desire', with its echo of Tom Stoppard's celebrated play on precisely such matters, is also a rather grand description of what is narrated by Nisbet. The picture of desire itself is not much altered from the very fine and thoroughly well-known portrait completed by Linda Dowling, Jonathan Dollimore and many others duly cited and sometimes rather oversimplified by Nisbet. True, the epigram has not featured much in such discussions, but any expectation that we will learn a great deal more about the invention of desire is not fulfilled. Rather, we see how what we already knew about male-male desire finds a particular niche expression through translation and discussion of the Greek epigram tradition; and even Nisbet does not claim that it was a dominant or insistent route to self-expression, as opposed to a cute example for a rather limited audience. Oxford University Press is not usually known for its spinning of sexy titles to seduce the wandering eye of its public, but here an opportunity to emphasize the book's actual strengths is missed.

Second, and more importantly, the specific contribution of the epigram as an epigram is not fully drawn out. As I have just mentioned, we now know a great deal about the veils of desire that swirled around male expression in this era. What was it about the epigram that proved so attractive then—and neither before nor afterwards, at least to the same degree or with the same purchase? Is there something about the flash of insight, the unexpected turn of phrase, the vignette, the restraint of the shortest form, that spoke to the Victorian sense of self-expression? There is perhaps a start to be found in the repeated use of the imagery of gems ('This gem of a poem'), and the long connection between eighteenth-century aesthetics and the gemstone, which Nisbet alludes to in an appendix—but the argument remains systematically underdeveloped. I think it would take a good deal of work to tease out why so many men over these generations found epigram good for self-expression, but it would be work well-undertaken. Here, the work on genre lacks a telling conclusion.

Third, and perhaps more damagingly, there is a real confusion in Nisbet's thinking about the place of the biographical. Biography may be a ludicrous genre, as Adam Philips, in the voice of Freud, puts it, but Nisbet veers between several conflicting poles. From one side, he offers biographical vignettes which he takes as explanatory—who Evelyn Baring is and what his public roles and private beliefs were, are taken as instrumental in understanding his translations. From another angle, he sniffily dismisses—with whatever irony—'the literary-critical fashion crime of reading-in from the known biography'. Yet his comprehension of such complex sexual characters as Charles Kingsley or A.C. Benson is far too one-dimensional (it would have been deepened by looking at the voluminous bibliography on both), and this makes his use of them as figures unfortunately thin. He cannot decide if he wants to write a psycho-sexual literary history, a history of a genre, or an incunabula-led story of the publishing of the Anthology. These trajectories all interrelate and overlap, for sure, in any respectable cultural history of such a topic—but, to really sing, this project needs a more sophisticated critical framework about the place of the biographical. The invention of desire is necessarily both a social and a personal story and needs a strong account of how the biographical narratives are to be marshaled.

Fourth, after Mackail, the story rather falls apart. The end of the book is somewhat episodic; it lacks a strong motif; and it falls too easily into Edwardian value judgments of the competing 'charms' of various epigrammatic projects. There are a string of such (small) moments where the book lets drop its own standards (calling Wilde's Socratic fervor 'half-cocked' is a bad joke at best) and the ending, especially its very inconsequential and unreflective remarks on the digital, is unfortunately the larger-scale culmination of such infelicities.

Yet, as a picture of how a group of Victorian men changed the perception of a genre of antiquity and in so doing constructed a way to talk through their own sexual identities and attitudes to the past in such self-formation, Nisbet's book makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the discipline of classics and its Victorian flourishing.

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Carol C. Mattusch (ed.), Rediscovering the Ancient World on the Bay of Naples, 1710-1890. Studies in the history of art, 79. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 2013. Pp. 292. ISBN 9780300189216. $70.00.

Reviewed by Marden Fitzpatrick Nichols, Georgetown University (

Version at BMCR home site

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

"Each antiquary, each culture, creates a unique antiquity." So states Alain Schnapp, in a learned and wide-ranging essay on eighteenth-century Naples within this impressive collection (14). If twenty-first-century Western culture may be said to have created a unique Pompeii, it is Pompeii as a palimpsest city—perhaps even, to quote Judith Harris, a reflection, "or Pompeii in a looking glass."1 The reception of the uncovered cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum is hardly a new topic. 2 Yet, the past decade has witnessed an upsurge of innovative scholarship on the excavation history of the Bay of Naples and the variety of responses its ancient sites have elicited over time. This trend has yielded exhibitions, such as " The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection" (2012-2013), edited volumes, for instance, Pompeii and the Public Imagination (2011), monographs like Mary Beard's Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town (2009), and, most recently, a memoir, Ingrid Rowland's From Pompeii: The Afterlife of a Roman Town (2014).3 The fourteen beautifully illustrated essays in the present collection, written by seasoned archaeological and art historical experts, offer fresh evidence and nuanced perspectives.

The volume results from a January 2009 conference organized by the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA) in conjunction with the National Gallery of Art exhibition "Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture around the Bay of Naples". Exhibition curator Carol C. Mattusch addressed the eighteenth-century rediscovery of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and other settlements destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE (the sum of which is sometimes referred to, metonymically, as "Pompeii") in one section of her exhibition, and in its catalogue.4 The volume under review, however, explores the topic in greater depth, shedding light on a pivotal era (1710-1890) distinguished by a series of major excavations, the development of the Grand Tour, and the transformation, in response, of fine and decorative arts across Europe and beyond.

Mattusch begins by outlining the series of events that constitute the "rediscovery" in her title (a better word, Mattusch reminds us, than "discovery," since the existence of these buried cities was never truly forgotten). Citing current archaeological challenges and opportunities, Mattusch lays bare the lasting repercussions of eighteenth-century events. Alain Schnapp's "The Antiquarian Culture of Eighteenth-Century Naples as a Laboratory of New Ideas" provides an intellectual overview of the period and thus serves as a second introduction to the volume. During an age known for its antiquarian fervor, Schnapp emphasizes, there was significant debate surrounding the proper way to approach and appreciate the past, with the figure of the antiquary, at times considered the antithesis of the enlightened philosopher, serving as a lightning rod for debate (17).

Jens Daehner's and Christopher Parslow's essays narrow the focus to individual artifacts and remind us that, for objects uncovered during this heady time, fortune could be remarkably serendipitous. Daehner reveals the quasi-coincidental manner in which Augustus III, king of Poland, a ruler with little taste for classical sculpture, came to possess the so-called Herculaneum Women. He suggests that we foreground the role of colonialism—rather than archaeological or antiquarian fervor per se when considering the forces that brought these marble representations of ancient elites to "transalpine Europe" (39). Parslow's chapter on the Sacrarium of Isis in the Praedia of Julia Felix in Pompeii peels back layers of misinterpretation in order to reconstruct the archaeological and historical contexts of this once-spectacular "closet-sized" shrine (49). Through Parslow's analysis, the range of approaches over time to the associated wall paintings and artifacts becomes an object of study in its own right. One early investigator, so we learn, considered contemporary Neapolitan gestures crucial evidence in his interpretation of the gesticulations of a bronze Priapus and the hand signals of satyrs adorning a tripod.

Carlo Knight and John E. Moore, examining eighteenth-century correspondence, offer a closer look at pivotal figures. Analysis of the correspondence of Charles III and the prince of San Nicandro (who acted as grand chamberlain) leads Knight to question San Nicandro's bad reputation and to suggest that disagreements with the influential Italian statesman Bernardo Tanucci are largely to blame. Moore, then, provides us with a closer look at Tanucci's correspondence, which offers valuable insight into the relationships (and tribulations) involved in publishing the finds from Herculaneum. Early on, knowledge of the finds was restricted because of limits on publication; this well-known fact underpins a great deal of scholarship on the diffusion and impact of ancient imagery from the Bay of Naples. Knight's and Moore's careful analysis of these letters, however, brings much needed specificity to the study of the conduits of knowledge and spread of information during the eighteenth century.

The sequence of three essays that follow, by Steffi Roettgen, Sophie Descamps-Lequime, and Nancy H. Ramage, addresses eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century European visual culture. The brevity of Roettgen's argument for how the Antichità influenced German painters leaves the reader wanting to know more about the dynamics of appropriation and questioning the identifications of models (e.g. the figure of Arcadia in "Hercules with the Child Telephos" as the model for Jupiter's pose and drapery in Meng's"Jupiter Kissing Ganymede" (127)). Descamps-Lequime considers how the objects collected at Malmaison figured into the web of classical allusions in French visual arts of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. She arrives at the thought-provoking conclusion that ancient objects known only through engravings were far more influential than those displayed close at hand. Ramage locates images of flying maenads and cupids from the Antichità in eighteenth-century decorative arts, ranging from Wedgwood sconces to Sèvres plaques, then discusses the dual appeal of the "Seller of Cupids" from the Antichità, an image both classically evocative and sexually titillating. I wondered if the interpretive games Hérica Valladares uncovered in her analysis of eighteenth-century responses to the similarly ambiguous "Four Women from Stabiae" might also have contributed to the popularity of Ramage's floating figures.5

Bruce Redford's essay on Grand Tour portraits captures the spirit of "seria ludo", inviting the reader to accompany him on a jovial expedition to "crack the code of these encrypted pictures" (179) through a rigorous examination of gestures. Poetic responses to Herculaneum are Eric M. Moormann's theme. Most fascinating of these is Maizony de Lauréal's epic poem, which purported to be a translation of a lost papyrus (post-79 CE), relating the inhabitants' responses to the disaster. In the conclusion of the essay, Moormann offers an intriguing hypothesis: the popularity of Herculaneum as a literary subject may have been a direct result of frustrated desires aroused by the failure of the library of the Villa dei Papiri to produce substantial works by major Latin authors.

The last three essays take a panoramic view of the sites to explore issues of space and experience. Mary Beard considers the impact of Pompeii's fame on nineteenth-century British and American visitors, who arrived with preconceived notions and inflated expectations.6 Pompeii functioned as a "city of the dead," and therefore as a memento mori, but also as an "open air museum," where history came alive through reenactments (211). The relationship between this enlivened Pompeii and the concurrent Skansen movement (the development of open-air museums, emanating from Northern Europe), might be a fruitful line of enquiry for future scholarship. These nascent living history environments may have stimulated the appetite for reenactment that Beard describes—or factored into the debates that followed.

John Pinto examines differing approaches to architectural drawing in late eighteenth-century Pompeii. Pinto's three protagonists are Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Francesco Piranesi, and Louis-Jean Desprez. Placed side-by-side, dissimilar renderings of the same building not only offer evidence of competing and conflicting understandings of the roles of accuracy, objectivity, license, and fantasy, but also provide another window onto intellectual disputes at the core of the Enlightenment.

Though today lesser known, in the eighteenth century Herculaneum enjoyed the more robust reputation, thanks to a variety of factors, including its perceived refinement and the publication of the Antichità volumes. Surveying comparisons made by visitors to the two sites, Eugene J. Dwyer reasons that Pompeii's relative "openness to the skies" ultimately gave it the competitive edge it still enjoys today (250). I assume that Andrew Wallace-Hadrill's Herculaneum: Past and Future (2011), with its chapter, "The Tale of Two Cities," appeared too late for Dwyer's consideration.7 Wallace-Hadrill's work, which succinctly outlines the repercussions of the divergence in preservation between the two sites for contemporary historians and archaeologists, dovetails nicely with Dwyer's essay.

The collection is well edited and handsomely produced. Replication across the volume of illustrations discussed by multiple authors and inclusion of endnotes after each chapter will facilitate the distribution of individual essays as course readings. However, the majority of the essays are better suited to advanced researchers or graduate students than to undergraduates. For teaching the latter, the exhibition catalogue is a fantastic resource.8

Table of Contents

Elizabeth Cropper, Preface, p. vii
Carol C. Mattusch, Introduction, p. 1
Alain Schnapp, The Antiquarian Culture of Eighteenth-Century Naples as a Laboratory of New Ideas, p. 11
Jens Daehner, The Herculaneum Women in Eighteenth-Century Europe, p. 35
Christopher Parslow, The Sacrarium of Isis in the Praedia of Julia Felix in Pompeii in Its Archaeological and Historical Contexts, p. 47
Carlo Knight, Politics and Royal Patronage in the Neapolitan Regency: The Correspondence of Charles III and the Prince of San Nicandro, 1759-1767, p. 75
John E. Moore, "To the Catholic King" and Others: Bernardo Tanucci's Correspondence and the Herculaneum Project, p. 89
Steffi Roettgen, German Painters in Naples and Their Contribution to the Revival of Antiquity 1760-1799, p. 123
Sophie Descamps-Lequime, The Ferdinand IV Donation to the First Consul and His Wife: Antiquities from the Bay of Naples at Malmaison, p. 141
Nancy H. Ramage, Flying Maenads and Cupids: Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Eighteenth-Century Decorative Arts, p. 161
Bruce Redford, Grecian Taste and Neapolitan Spirit: Grand Tour Portraits of the Society of the Dilettanti, p. 177
Eric M. Moormann, Literary Evocations of Herculaneum in the Nineteenth Century, p. 189
Mary Beard, Taste and the Antique: Visiting Pompeii in the Nineteenth Century, p. 205
John Pinto, "Speaking Ruins": Piranesi and Desprez at Pompeii, p. 229
Eugene J. Dwyer, Pompeii versus Herculaneum, p. 245
Contributors, p. 265
Index, p. 267


1.   Judith Harris, Pompeii Awakened. A Story of Rediscovery (New York: I. B. Tauris, 2007), 5.
2.   See, inter alia, Ian Jenkins and Kim Sloan, Vases and Volcanoes: Sir William Hamilton and His Collection (London: British Museum Press, 1996); Christopher Parslow, Rediscovering Antiquity: Karl Weber and the Excavation of Herculaneum, Pompeii, and Stabiae (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
3.   Victoria C. Gardner Coates, Kenneth Lapatin, and Jon L. Seydl, eds., The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2012) [exhibition catalogue]; Shelley Hales and Joanna Paul, eds., Pompeii in the Public Imagination from Its Rediscovery to Today (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011); Mary Beard, Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town (London: Profile Books, 2008); Ingrid Rowland, From Pompeii: The Afterlife of a Roman Town (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2014).
4.   Carol C. Mattusch, ed., Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture around the Bay of Naples. (Washington: National Gallery of Art, 2008). Reviewed in BMCR 2009.05.18
5.   Hérica Valladares, "Four Women From Stabiae: Eighteenth-Century Antiquarian Practice and the History of Ancient Roman Painting," in Antiquity Recovered: The Legacy of Pompeii and Herculaneum, eds. Victoria C. Gardner Coates and Jon L. Seydl (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2007), 73-93.
6.   Disclaimer: Reviewer was this contributor's PhD student.
7.   Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, "The Tale of Two Cities," in Herculaneum: Past and Future (London: Frances Lincoln, 2011), 287-305.
8.   See note 4 above.

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Friday, July 25, 2014


Francesco Fronterotta, Eraclito: Frammenti. Milano: BUR Classici greci e latini, 2013. Pp. cliv, 405. ISBN 9788817028943. €19.50 (pb).

Reviewed by Enrique Hülsz Piccone, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (

Version at BMCR home site

Francesco Fronterotta gives us a very good edition of the fragments of Heraclitus, with a thorough individualized commentary on each text, and a new Italian translation. The volume does considerably more than provide readers with "un'edizione italiana utilizzabile", offering a broad view of the present state of our knowledge of the testimonia on the life and thought of Heraclitus, and especially of the few remaining quotations of his written work. The main body of the book (just a bit shy of four hundred pages) consists of the bilingual edition of the scarce fragments (Italian and Greek), and an extensive commentary on text and translation, systematically oriented to situating Heraclitus in his historical and philosophical context.

The volume opens with a long and substantial Introduction comprising five sections: 1. Fragment, testimonium or quotation: the "text" of the writings of the Presocratics. 2. The image of Heraclitus. 3. Life and work. 4. Doctrine. 5. Heraclitus, the obscure. Fronterotta deals competently with the necessary generalities and insightfully discusses some of the main themes and problems posed by the texts themselves, as well as several perspectives in the philosophical tradition, ancient and modern. The section on Heraclitus' doctrine gives a full sketch under the following headings: the λόγος; the unity of opposites and becoming; fire, cosmology and the conception of nature; the soul and its functions; and ethics, politics and religion. Besides the introduction, preliminaries include a note on the text, where the editorial method is briefly presented and justified, assuming as basic the editions of Diels-Kranz and Marcovich (tables of concordance are provided in the appendix, together with a list of sources), and a thematically organized bibliography (not exhaustive, but paying special attention to works from 1950 to 2011).

Although the compilation is presented as Heraclitus' Λόγος περὶ φύσεως, ("Ragionamento sulla natura") it does not set out to be a critical edition or a reconstruction of the original book, but a conjectural re-ordering of the remains, according to the author's best assessment of the available materials (an intermediate solution between an arbitrary ordering, such as Diels-Kranz, and a full reconstruction of the original, such as Mouraviev). As a rule, the commentary does an excellent job at presenting the context of each fragment, without neglecting general and even minute textual matters. It also systematically describes the main lines of interpretation and the objective problems, often discussing recent work and offering the author's own interpretation. The 116 fragments are arranged in six different clusters ("ambiti argomentativi"), many individual fragments overlapping occasionally two or more themes, and forming a single coherent and continuous whole: the λόγος (12 fragments), the contents of λόγος: conflict and unity of opposites (21), fire (11), epistemology (29), psychology (9), and ethics, politics and religion (34).

It would be impossible to do full justice to Fronterotta's work and especially to his detailed commentary in this limited space, but it is safe to say that the main objectives of the book have doubtless been accomplished. It is certainly well written and (for committed readers) its contents are clear enough and relatively easy to follow through labyrinths of words rich in textual and philosophical problems. Organization and presentation of the materials convey a balanced overview of Heraclitus' philosophy.

Fronterotta's version of Heraclitus as a philosopher starts with the conception of the λόγος, translated as "ragionamento" in most cases (DKB1, B2, B45, B50, B108; all references to the fragments are here made according to Diels-Kranz numbering), but also as "discorso" (B87), "fama" (B39) and "rapporto" (B31). In the first approach (section 1), three key fragments (B1, B2 and B50) take the foreground, and λόγος is interpreted as "an objective and universal reasoning, in the sense that it expresses a regulatory principle of an ontological nature and general value" (p. 25), equivalent to the ξυνὸν πάντων, and analogous but not identical to the single divine law (B114). Some of the complexity of the original Greek meaning is bound to be lost in any single translation, but although the author makes up for these limitations by treating Heraclitus' λόγος as closely linked to the true nature (φύσις) of its objective contents, the translation of λόγος as "reasoning" risks obscuring the real possibility that Heraclitus may be indeed expressing with this word the idea of the objective rationale of things themselves, as a necessary condition for knowledge and stable reasoning. This is all the more likely since λόγος is presented in B1 as "subsistent as such", and as that according to which all things happen, but especially because men are explicitly reproached for not understanding before having heard it. Although Fronterotta is surely right in stressing that λόγος is not to be thought of anachronistically as a causal agent, Heraclitus' actual language, τοῦ δὲ λόγου τοῦδ' ἐόντος αἰεὶ ἀξύνετοι γίνονται ἄνθρωποι (B1), suggests from the beginning an "ontological" application, without excluding strong epistemic and "linguistic" senses and resonances. Fronterotta translates this beginning thus: "Gli uomini rimangono sempre nell'incomprensione del ragionamento che sussiste come tale". I find this type of syntactic approach appealing, in so far as it takes τοῦδε as predicative with ἐόντος: "of the reasoning (λόγος) which is this" ("del ragionamento che è questo": p. 15, note 9). However, I cannot help but wonder if it is even desirable to try to dissipate the ambivalence of the adverb αἰεί, which—as the well-known Aristotelian complaint has made plain to see—works equally well with what precedes and what follows.

Gradual unfolding of the λόγος is effected through development of the idea of unity of knowledge, leading to the doctrinal core in section 2, unity of opposites and rationality as conflict, symbolized by πόλεμος (and ἁρμονίη, both charged with a strong universality and exemplified in several particular contexts (ontological, physical-cosmological, physiological, anthropological and epistemological). Fragments included in this section deal with unity and identity of opposites (especially with the dynamics of ἓν πάντα), and the proportional relations structuring life, sleep and death. Section 2 closes with a concentration on the theme of becoming and flux, including an insightful treatment of the river fragment (B12).

Section 3 is the shortest, devoted to fire, which is interpreted along traditional physical and cosmological lines, featuring the famous identification of fire with κόσμος (B30). The solar fragments are also included, as well as three fragments from Hippolytus, regarding which Fronterotta concludes with a judicious dismissal of eschatological readings.

Section 4 offers a systematization of epistemological ideas, which take off from the theme of the epistemic nature and value of the senses. B35 is rightly stripped of the reference to 'philosophers' and read as a sort of 'positive πολυμαθία'. This section contains Heraclitus' criticism of mere belief, systematically deployed against the figures of traditional poets and sages, such as Hesiod and Homer, Archilochus, Thales, Pythagoras, Xenophanes, and Hecataeus. The grouping ends with texts dealing with ignorance as the defining mark of human perspective in sharp contrast to divine knowledge of the totally unified oppositions, the hidden true nature of things.

Section 5 deals with the nature and the functions of the soul, which is viewed within a physical framework. B45 (on the soul's limits and its deep λόγος, where I fail to see why the reading ἐξεύροι ὁ would be "grammatically less adequate") and B36 (on the cycle of death and birth of soul, earth and water)—both endowed with long and thorough commentaries —put ψυχή in a cosmological scenario. B117 and B118 (on the wet soul of the drunkard, and its opposite, the dry, wise and luminous soul) are interpreted as providing a physiological instantiation of cosmic patterns. Other relevant fragments (B20, B48, B27, and B63) are refreshingly read as a critical revision of human eschatological expectations.

Section 6, the longest, presents fragments dealing with ethics, politics and religion, in a broad sense. The positive ethical paradigm is, in principle, open to all and grounded in self-knowledge. It consists of a morality of measure and good sense, of knowing one's own limits and of moderation, which is taken (perhaps too naïvely) to be best exemplified by the higher aristocratic values. This paradigm should be followed also by the many, whose morality is frontally rejected and depicted sarcastically as animal behavior. Interpretive treatment of Heraclitus' ethics and politics seems to me too dependent on scholarly consensus and consequently deprived of a richer philosophical interest (particularly when confronted with Plato, with whom several striking similarities have been for the most part overlooked by modern scholars). A handful of fragments that criticize religious practices and beliefs give a sketch of these as notoriously irrational, while B52, B119 and B18, the texts selected for the conclusion, are interpreted as a final exhortation to a better kind of life.

The book is exceptionally well presented, the paperback binding is strong and the volume is comfortable to handle). The summary is too brief, lacking the subdivisions that structure the introduction, as well as the series of fragments within each section of the edition itself.

To sum up: In an area where new editions and in-depth critical discussion are seldom produced, Fronterotta's Eraclito offers the indispensable texts and the main problems of translation and interpretation of a fundamental Presocratic philosopher. I deem this splendid book a valuable tool and an important contribution to Heraclitean scholarship, from which interested readers and specialists will benefit for years to come.

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Christian Orth, Alkaios–Apollophanes: Einleitung, Übersetzung, Kommentar. Fragmenta Comica, Bd 9.1. Heidelberg: Verlag Antike, 2013. Pp. 450. ISBN 9783938032633. €85.90.

Reviewed by Elena Chepel, University of Reading (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

Although in the last several decades the study of the fragments of Greek comedy has made significant progress,1 we still lack comprehensive studies of fragmentary plays. The volume under review is part of a bigger project Kommentierung der Fragmenten der griechischen Komödie (KomFrag) directed by Prof. Bernhard Zimmermann at the University of Freiburg under the auspices of the Heidelberg Akademie der Wissenschaften. The project aims to fill this gap and provide a basic philological resource for further investigation of the lost comedies of the Greek theatre. The commentaries are published in the series Fragmenta Comica supervised by an international group of scholars (Glenn Most, Heinz-Günther Nesselrath, Douglas Olson, Antonios Rengakos, Alan Sommerstein, and Bernhard Zimmermann). Since the start of the project in 2011, a number of volumes have been prepared. Three of them (vols. 4, 15, and the volume 9.1 under review) came out in 2013 and three more, including the second part of Orth's commentary, vol. 9.2, are expected to appear in 2014. According to the plan of publications, volumes 9–15 are dedicated to the 5th/4th century authors and volume 9 addresses specifically authors with fewer fragments preserved.2

Orth offers a commentary on three comic playwrights, Alkaios, Ameipsias and Apollophanes, who appear to be among the least studied authors of Old Comedy.3 They date from a critical twenty-year period around 400 BC which marks the transition from Old Comedy to Middle Comedy.4 Study of their work, therefore, may help us understand the evolution of Middle comedy and its nature.5 In the preface, Orth asserts the importance of the three authors for the development of the comic genre and characterizes them as exemplifying three successive stages of this development (p. 9), Ameipsias (who is attested to be Aristophanes' rival) being the first, followed by Alkaios, and finally Apollophanes. 6

One of the strongest points of Orth's commentary is its well thought out structure. The authors are presented in alphabetical order, each equipped with a short but dense introduction discussing the name and identity of the poet, the chronology of his career, transmission and reception of the plays, themes and motifs summarised from titles and fragments, language (word-coinages, puns, wordplay, style, imitation of other genres, dialect variations, short forms) and metrics, kōmōidoumenoi, and interactions with other poets (parallels, common titles, polemics, critique, parody, imitation). Each introduction also includes a bibliography.

Similarly, in the main body of the commentary a clear structure can be observed. Each testimonium and fragment entry consists of the text, German translation, critical apparatus, bibliography, commentary on the citation-source, and interpretation. In addition to this, fragment entries have sections on the metrical scheme, the state of the text, and the extended context from the citation-source with its German translation. There is an introduction to each comedy, which discusses the meaning of the title, the plot, the dramatis personae, and the date, where possible. The commentary on Alkaios' dubious fragments contains a useful discussion of fragments that may belong either to the comic poet Alkaios or to his namesake, the lyric poet, which could be of some interest for students of Greek lyric.

The text and enumeration of fragments are taken from the Volume II of PCG with some exceptions: the numeration of the testimonia is occasionally different (pp. 24, 175–6) and for Apollophanes a new testimonium is included which is absent from PCG (test. 4). Orth states that the punctuation of the texts of fragments is changed when necessary (p. 403). I have found only one such alteration, in Ameipsias' fr. 4 (p. 200), which has a comma and daggers absent in other editions. The critical apparatus is based on PCG, but is in general shorter and simplified. Some references are excluded from the apparatus, especially when they are discussed in the interpretive section. Although this may be obvious for advanced scholars of comedy, a clarification of the apparatus would perhaps be desirable for students with less experience in the subject.7

In his commentary, Orth provides useful discussions of all the issues that are relevant to the understanding and reconstruction of the lost plays. Some specific examples: (1) In the interpretation of Apollophanes fr. 6, Orth explores possible meanings of the expression ξενικοὶ θεοί with references to the ancient evidence (pp. 386–91). It is especially interesting that the cited ancient sources show (although Orth does not seem to make this his final conclusion) that the term rather referred to minor popular gods who were worshipped in Athens by specific groups and communities, and not to 'foreign, exotic gods' or 'newly-introduced gods'. (2) In the commentary on Ameipsias' Revellers (Κωμασταί), the rival comedy of Aristophanes' Birds in 414, Orth considers komos to be a central idea for the development and nature of Greek comedy. His exploration of the two main points, the comedy's relation to the mutilation of the herms in 415 BC and possible identification with Phrynichus' Revellers, are generally more comprehensive than in Totaro's commentary. (3) I see a minor quibble in the author's silence on Aristophanes' Banqueters, fr. 231, both in the introduction to Ameipsias' Kottabos players (pp. 183–7), and in the interpretation of Ameipsias fr. 2 (Athen. 15, 667e-8a). It would be desirable to consider the Banqueters at least in passing, especially because Orth addresses the problem of the two different types of kottabos game (p. 195).

A valuable contribution of the present commentary is its special focus on the transmission of the fragments.8 The extended context of the citation (in comparison with PCG entries), supplied with German translation, is printed right after the text of each fragment. This, along with the spacious layout of the text on the page, helps one to grasp the context in which the fragment appears in the transmitting text.9 Sections on transmission and reception describe the wider context within which the fragment is cited and occasionally offer an explanation of reasons for the fragment being cited by a specific author (for example, Alkaios is often quoted in the Antiatticist lexicon, which suggests that his plays contained rare words and forms, p.13). A discussion of the context of a citation, going beyond the immediate context and addressing the basic features of the transmitting work, is often indispensable for contextualizing the tiny fragments. Whenever possible, Orth attempts to trace the paths by which a fragment was transmitted from the 5th/4th century to late antique and Byzantine times.

The volume has a useful bibliography and four indexes (sources of citations, Greek words and expressions in the fragments, passages of ancient texts discussed in the interpretation sections, and subjects and proper names including titles of dramatic plays). Together with the main text of the commentary, these features make it an indispensable tool for any student of Greek comedy. Despite Dover's pessimistic statement in his foreword to The Rivals of Aristophanes that 'so far as citations are concerned, it is hard to imagine that there can ever be any significant improvement on the scholarship and judgement of Kassel and Austin in Poetae Comici Graeci', Orth's commentary proves that there is still ample opportunity for interpretative work, which will hopefully lead to progress in the scholarship on the subject.


1.   The principal edition of the fragments, Kassel and Austin's Poetae Comici Graeci was published in 1983–2001; the Loeb Classical Library editions with English translations: I. Storey (ed.), Fragments of Old Comedy, 2011, and J. Henderson (ed.), Aristophanes: Fragments, 2008; S. Douglas Olson's edition of selected fragments Broken Laughter, Oxford, 2007; studies of major comic authors: I. Storey,Eupolis. Poet of Old Comedy, Oxford, 2003, and E. Bakola, Cratinus and the Art of Comedy, Oxford, 2010. For most playwrights only isolated articles exist. The key volume of collected papers on comic fragments is still D. Harvey, J. Wilkins, The Rivals of Aristophanes. Studies in Athenian Old Comedy, London, 2000. The two most recent volumes are C. W. Marshall, G. Kovacs (eds.), No Laughing Matter. Studies in Athenian Comedy, London, 2012, and A. Melero, M. Labiano, M. Pellegrino (eds.), Textos fragmentarios del teatro griego antiguo: problemas, estudios y nuevas perspectivas, Lecce, 2012.
2.   Other volumes will represent authors of the 5th century (vols. 1–8), 4th century (vols. 16–21), 4th/3rd centuries (vols. 22–26), 3rd and 3rd/2nd centuries (vol. 27), 2nd century BC to 1st century AD (vol. 28), uncertain date (vol. 29), and adespota (vol. 30).
3.   The commentaries on Alkaios and Apollophanes are the first of their kind. There is a previous commentary on Ameipsias: P. Totaro, 'Amipsia', in A. M. Belardinelli et al. (ed.), Tessere. Frammenti della commedia greca: studi e commenti, Bari 1998, 133–94.
4.   The development of the genre remains one of the central problems in the scholarship of Greek comedy. See G. Dobrov (ed.), Beyond Aristophanes: Tradition and Diversity in Greek Comedy, Atlanta 1995, and especially Nesselrath's article 'Myth, Parody, and Comic Poets', which discusses the use of myth in comic plots over time and among other things the role of the kottabos game in relation to mythological plots (p. 22 n. 56); D. F. Sutton, 'Aristophanes and the transition to Middle Comedy', LCM 15 (1990), 81–95; F. Perusino, 'L'ultimo Aristofane e il passagio dalla commedia antica alla commedia di mezzo', in Dalla commedia antica alla commedia di mezzo, Urbino 1986; E. Handley, 'Comedy', in The Cambridge History of Classical Literature, 399–414 on Aristophanes' late plays Assembly Women and Wealth. These publications are missing from the bibliography of the volume under review.
5.   On these difficulties see J. Rusten in BMCR 02.02.12: 'While we all understand the difference between Old and New Comedy, "Middle Comedy" makes us uncomfortable, and we usually race past it as quickly as possible, or dismiss the controversy over its very existence as a pointless quibble'.
6.   Throughout the commentary, there are valuable comments on the place and role of their comedies in this development. See e.g. pp. 14–15 with n. 15, and pp. 33, 44, 50, 67, 79, 162, 270, 362. However, the reader never gets an explanation of what the three stages are in particular.
7.   The principles of changes to the PCG text and apparatus are formulated in Orth's previous publication, Strattis. Die Fragmente. Ein Kommentar , Berlin 2009, p. 12. One would expect a similar note in the present volume.
8.   The importance and practical impact of taking the sources of fragments into account is acknowledged and discussed in W. G. Arnott. 'On editing fragments from literary and lexicographic sources', in The Rivals of Aristophanes (note 1 above).
9.   How badly the context may be needed in the editions of comic fragments is illustrated by Papachrysostomou in BMCR 2012.02.26, with Alkaios fr. 6 and Ameipsias fr. 39 taken as examples.

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Thomas Kjeller Johansen, The Powers of Aristotle's Soul. Oxford Aristotle studies. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. ix, 302. ISBN 9780199658435. $85.00.

Reviewed by Peter D. Larsen, Trinity College Dublin (

Version at BMCR home site


This recent contribution to the Oxford Aristotle Series is a thoroughgoing, systematic analysis of Aristotle's De Anima, his treatise on the soul. Johansen's book is a welcome addition to the literature on this important Aristotelian text. Ronald Polansky's expansive and excellent commentary of 2007 notwithstanding, there have been few recent single-author studies that tackle the De Anima as a whole and in all of its aspects. Johansen does this in fourteen chapters that broadly follow the thematic and investigative program of Aristotle's original work. The book begins with an examination of Aristotle's definition of the soul. It then proceeds through a discussion of the three types of soul – nutritive, perceptive and rational – and the defining capacities distinctive of each. After a brief, but interesting, discussion of locomotion, it provides some concluding thoughts on how the definition of soul developed in the De Anima relates to subsequent works like the De Sensu in which Aristotle discusses the role of psychical capacities in the activities of living beings. This, however, somewhat oversimplifies the scope of Johansen's project, for there are a number of important additional topics that he considers along the way, such as how Aristotle's psychology fits into his broader philosophy of nature, and how the capacities of the soul can be understood to fit the classic Aristotelian model of causation.

The book aims to frame Aristotle's investigation into the nature of soul in terms of his status as a faculty psychologist.1 Johansen clearly articulates this framework early in the book's Introduction: "He [Aristotle] rightly stands not just as the father of psychology, but also as the progenitor of faculty psychology" (1). This seems to be a reasonable approach to Aristotle's discussion of the soul, but I wonder if Johansen does not overstate both the significance of the claim that Aristotle was the first faculty psychologist, and the influence and import of faculty psychology today.2 Within this context, Johansen sets out to show both that the capacities that Aristotle ascribes to the soul are definitionally and operationally independent of one another and that, together, they form an integrated whole which can account for and explain the disparate activities of living beings both human and non-human. A parallel aim of the study is to place Aristotle's account of the soul within the context of his wider natural philosophy. Thus Johansen, rightly I think, considers the De Anima to be continuous with other Aristotelian works – especially the Physics and Metaphysics.

The first chapters of the book (1-4) explore Aristotle's definition of the soul as the "first fulfilment3 (entelecheia) of a natural instrumental body" (11-12). Johansen begins by examining what, for Aristotle, is the relation between a natural instrumental body and its soul. He argues that it is best to understand this relationship in terms of teleology. A natural body is designed to fulfil a particular function or functions, but on its own it possesses only the potential to achieve those ends. The soul, then, is the formal and final cause of the body – it is that which properly constitutes the essence of the body, and which allows it to carry out its peculiar functions. Thus, the body, understood as the matter of a living being, is properly speaking nothing independent of the matter-form compound that comprises the living being.

Johansen then considers the methodology that Aristotle employs in searching for the definition of soul. As he does with many topics, Aristotle begins with a nominal definition of the soul, one that is common to the views of his predecessors (the endoxa), as that which causes life. Johansen argues that Aristotle then moves from this conception, using the method of demonstrative syllogism recommended in the Posterior Analytics, to a more robust definition that has the resources to explain the nominal starting point. Thus, on Johansen's view, Aristotle's investigation treats the essential elements of the soul as middle terms in demonstrations that aim to elucidate the behaviours characteristic of living beings.

Once he has examined Aristotle's general account of the soul and the procedure by which he arrives at it, Johansen begins to look at the capacities of the soul and, in particular, how they fit into this general definition. In Chapter 3 he considers how a soul that is comprised of distinct capacities can be unitary. Johansen argues that the capacities of soul are like the letters of the alphabet; just as the letters are distinct from one another but can combine to form different words, so too can the distinct psychical capacities combine to constitute different kinds of souls. These soul-types are each defined by reference to the capacities that comprise them. But what is a capacity of the soul? Johansen places Aristotle's treatment of capacities within his theory of nature by linking it up with the Physics.4 Psychical capacities, Johansen argues, are, for Aristotle, inner principles for change that explain the activities characteristic of living things. However, this understanding gives rise to an apparent tension. For Aristotle argues in Metaphysics Theta that change requires a distinction between agent and patient; but if the capacities of soul are internal principles of change and rest then it appears that, in the case of living beings, the agent and patient of change are the same – namely, the living thing. Johansen argues that we can resolve this apparent tension if we remember that, for Aristotle, a living thing is a form-matter compound, and that the agent in the sort of change that is characteristic of the activities of living beings is the soul (the formal element) while the patient is the body (the material element).

In the central chapters of the book (5-12), Johansen looks at the individual psychical capacities – the differentia of the specific soul-types. In what might be considered a bridge chapter, Johansen examines Aristotle's claim in De Anima II.4 that in order to understand the capacities of the soul we must first understand the objects specific to each. Critics have typically interpreted the objects of the psychical capacities as efficient causes of the activities with which they are associated, following the model of perception, but Johansen argues that we ought rather to think of these objects as formal causes. For the analysis of these objects as efficient causes does not fit well with the activities of the nutritive capacity.

In the chapters that Johansen dedicates to the individual capacities of the soul (6, 9, 10, 11 and 12) he addresses some of the controversies that have arisen in the vast critical literature about these capacities. Unfortunately I do not have the space to discuss these in great detail, but I will highlight them here. In his discussion of nutrition, Johansen argues that, for Aristotle, the nutritive capacity is primary in the explanation of soul not because it is primary definitionally nor because all of the other capacities can be reduced to it, or are subsidiary to it, but rather because nutrition, and reproduction in particular, is a paradigmatic example of a living being fulfilling its end. Johansen further argues that each of the capacities of the soul is an efficient, formal and final cause of the body – the soul's material.

Next Johansen considers perception. He begins by giving an analysis of Aristotle's general account of perception, focusing largely on the different categories of perceptual objects – special, common and incidental – and the function of the medium in perception. He then turns to Aristotle's controversial claim that we perceive that we perceive. In De Anima III.2 Aristotle tells us that it is by the individual senses – sight, hearing etc. – themselves that we perceive that we see, hear and so on; but in De Somno 2 Aristotle appears explicitly to deny this. Johansen attempts to resolve this tension by arguing that it is with the common sense that the soul is able to carry out this second-order perception. This reading, he argues, squares with the De Somno passage because it is not the individual senses themselves that do the second-order perceiving, it is the common sense. It is also consistent with the De Anima because, as he argues, the common sense is not a distinct capacity, but is comprised of all the individual senses. Thus, if one's common sense perceives that one sees, then sight, to the extent that it is partially constitutive of the common sense, is involved in that awareness.

In his chapter on Phantasia (imagination), Johansen argues that it is not a distinct capacity, but is entirely dependent upon perception, which stands as its formal, final and efficient cause. Johansen then turns his attention to Aristotle's discussion of intellect. The question here is whether intellect can fit the model of soul as an inner principle of change, especially given that Aristotle himself casts doubt on this early in the De Anima. Johansen argues that it can. For despite there being no specific bodily organ associated with the intellect, there may be necessary bodily affections that accompany thinking. Intellect, Johansen argues, is dependent upon phantasia and because phantasia is dependent upon perception the intellect is, in some sense, dependent upon the bodily affections that go along with perceiving. However, the agent intellect, because it is immaterial and completely separate from body, appears to fall outside the study of nature and is rather part of first philosophy. Johansen claims that we need not think of Aristotle's discussion of agent intellect as contrary to his position that the De Anima is a work of natural philosophy; for nature, as he says, is not causally autonomous: it depends crucially on the unmoved mover – a cause of nature that is not in nature (245) and thus will enter into an explanation of nature and natural phenomena.

One of the distinctive strengths of this study is that Johansen makes frequent reference to the views of Plato in explicating Aristotle's positions. It is undeniable, not least because Aristotle tells us so in Book I, that in the De Anima he is in conversation with his predecessors and, in particular, with Plato, adopting those elements of their views that seem to him to be compelling and rejecting those he finds objectionable. Johansen, throughout the book, considers how Plato's views on a number of issues inform the direction that Aristotle's discussion takes. So, for example, when Aristotle claims that in order to understand the capacities of the soul we must first consider the objects of those capacities, he is echoing Plato's thoughts on the individuation of powers articulated at Republic 5, 477a-478a. Furthermore, when, in his discussion of the perceptual capacity, Aristotle divides the objects of sense into three categories – special, common and incidental – he is responding to Plato's argument at Theaetetus 184b-187a that perception cannot apprehend common objects. Making the reader aware of these passages in Plato adds a crucial dialectical dimension to Aristotle's project in the De Anima that is easily overlooked.

In closing, I note that this book has, on average, one typographical error in each chapter -which in my estimation is poor for a publisher of this quality.


1.   Faculty psychology aims to explain the various activities of the soul or mind in terms of a few basic capacities.
2.   Apart from Jerry Fodor's 1983 book The Modularity of Mind, Johansen marshals little evidence in support of the claim that faculty psychology is a dominant and/or influential view in psychology or philosophy. Because this appears to be such a central claim of the book, it would perhaps be worth mentioning the significance of modularity in contemporary evolutionary psychology.
3.   Johansen argues persuasively that we should translate entelecheia as "fulfilment" rather than "actuality" because the latter rendering runs the risk of being confused with energeia and the former captures the teleological sense of entelecheia (16).
4.   In Physics II.1 Aristotle gives an account of nature as an "inner principle of change and rest" (85).

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Barbara M. Levick, Faustina I and II: Imperial Women of the Golden Age. Women in antiquity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. Pp. xi, 248. ISBN 9780195379419. $65.00.

Reviewed by Emily Hemelrijk, University of Amsterdam (

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After her biographies of Tiberius, Claudius, Vespasian, Julia Domna and, most recently, Augustus,1 Barbara Levick has written the combined biography of two imperial women of the Antonine age: the Faustinae. The choice is a happy one: Faustina I and II (also called Faustina Maior and Minor) were married to the last two emperors selected for the succession by adoption, Antoninus Pius (138-161) and Marcus Aurelius (161-180). The period of their rule is generally seen as a particularly fortunate one – therefore the subtitle: Imperial Women of the Golden Age – despite the increasing military problems which kept Marcus Aurelius at the frontiers for much of his reign. In contrast to the childless empresses before them (Trajan's wife Plotina and Hadrian's Sabina), the fecundity of the Faustinae was prolific. Faustina I bore four children, two boys and two girls, of whom only Faustina II and her sister Aurelia Fadilla survived childhood (but Aurelia Fadilla died shortly after her marriage). In 145 Faustina's sole surviving daughter Faustina II was married to Marcus Aurelius, who was her first cousin (the son of her mother's brother Annius Verus). During the thirty years of their marriage, Faustina II bore about fourteen children including twins, of whom only one son, the notorious Commodus, and five daughters survived to adulthood.2 Though the public profile of the Faustinae was not as high as that of their most famous successor, Julia Domna, their public position surpassed their dynastic importance as is testified by a promising array of sources: literary texts, inscriptions, coins and medallions, portrait statues, reliefs, and temples.

In her introduction (pp. 3-12) Levick briefly sketches the main facts of their lives placing them against the background of their predecessors and the Antonine age. Addressing the question whether a biography of the Faustinae is feasible in the light of the casual and often tendentious remarks in the literary sources that – as is common in the study of ancient women – did not focus on them, and the official nature of the numerous statues, inscriptions and coins, she expresses the aim of assessing the relative power and recognition of the Faustinae in comparison to the empresses who preceded and succeeded them.

Another brief introductory chapter (Chapter 1: Sources; pp. 13-18) discusses the unsatisfactory state of the sources, which allow no certainty even about the dates of birth, marriage and death of the protagonists; the rough dates of their lives (Faustina I: c. 97-140 and Faustina II: c. 130-175) are based on modern calculations. Distinguishing the literary sources from the legal and documentary ones, Levick briefly introduces the main literary sources (Fronto, Dio and the Historia Augusta), none of which dealt with the Faustinae for their own sake, and the rich evidence of coins, inscriptions and, to a lesser extent, papyri. This brief discussion of the sources should perhaps better be included in the Introduction.

Chapter 2 on 'The Empresses and Women's Power' (pp. 19-39) provides the background to the discussion of the Faustinae by addressing the question of what 'power' imperial women – and upper-class Roman women more generally – might wield and what were the assets of an empress. Drawing her examples from a wide range of imperial and non-imperial women,3 Levick states that women's power is found mainly in their control of their own money and property and in their possible influence through their male relatives (as powerbrokers or intermediaries). This could lead to a recognized though unofficial position of authority, especially if an empress survived her husband, which neither of the Faustinae did. Starting from the cynical observation that 'an emperor with existing heirs needed no wife' (p. 22), Levick discusses the main assets of an empress: birth, wealth, personal qualities (character, education, intellect and beauty) and connections. In addition to the prolific childbearing of Faustina II, it is clear that the Faustinae – who are not the main characters of this chapter – ranked high in most of these qualifications. Yet, despite the titles of honour, such as Augusta, and other public honours and privileges of Roman empresses, Levick shows no optimism about their, or any Roman woman's, power, drawing attention to the unofficial position of the wives of emperors and their dependency on their male relatives.

In the brief third chapter ('The Succession to Hadrian', pp. 41-56) Levick summarizes the imperial succession from the death of Trajan through the various schemes for Hadrian's succession, to Pius' career, his eventual adoption and reign and, finally, his revised plans for his own succession by betrothing Marcus Aurelius to his daughter Faustina. Though imperial women were involved in various ways, they do not take centre stage in this chapter. The Faustinae come to the fore in chapter 4 (pp. 57-89) on 'The Faustinae as Empresses, 138-175'. This chapter sketches the main events of their lives from Pius' adoption to the death of Faustina II in Cappadocia in 175. Levick sums up the various honours for Faustina I, her coins, title of Augusta, portraits and deification, contrasting the marital harmony emphasized by the famous apotheosis relief of Antoninus Pius and Faustina I with hostile rumours in the literary sources. Dying twenty years before her husband, Faustina I had little opportunity for a high public profile, but her daughter, Faustina II, was more fortunate (if we may call it that). As the daughter and wife of emperors and the mother of the prospective successor, she had a position that was unprecedented. So were her honours: possibly in connection with her prolific fertility, she received the title Augusta before her husband was Augustus, the number and variety of her surviving portraits place her among the best known Roman empresses and late in life, in 174, she received the novel title mater castrorum, mother of the camps, which may have been inspired by her presence with Marcus Aurelius in the army headquarters. Perhaps because of her high public profile, Faustina II was open to criticism: the Historia Augusta accused her of adultery, poisoning and involvement in the revolt of Avidius Cassius. Rejecting the first two as unfounded vilifications, Levick takes a closer look at her possible involvement in the revolt, but the evidence is inconclusive; Faustina's intervention was not essential and perhaps less likely.

The last three chapters deal with specific themes concerning the Faustinae. Chapter 5 on 'Public and Private in the Dynasty' (pp. 91-118) summarizes their public representation, especially on coins and portrait statues, and their public appearances followed by a discussion of private life: their marriages and children. Starting from the notion of the empire as theatre, Levick asserts that the empresses of the Antonine age were a vital part of this theatricality: they were presented to the public as models exemplifying the ideals of the dynasty. Marital harmony (Concordia) was one of these ideals; in Rome and Ostia newlyweds were to make an offering before the portrait statues of the imperial couple, which is also depicted on coins. Obviously, Concordia stabilized the dynasty and together with the Fecundity of the Faustinae advertised on coins, it was to ensure its permanence. The 'Faustinian girls', an alimentary scheme for the support of girls instituted by Antoninus Pius after the death of his wife and extended by Marcus Aurelius after the death of Faustina II, fit these ideals.

Chapter 6, 'The deified Faustinas. Association, Assimilation, and Consecration' (pp. 119-137), deals with the various forms of religious worship the Faustinae received, ranging from their association with goddesses such as Ceres to the official consecration decreed by the senate after their deaths. Discussing the divine status of imperial women during their lifetime, Levick focuses on the Greek east, where indeed many examples can be found. She thereby overlooks their equally divine status in Italy, outside Rome, and in the Latin speaking western provinces, where numerous priestesses are attested serving the cult of the living Augustae, including the Faustinae.4 The final chapter, 'Faustina's Children and the End of the Antonines' (pp. 139-154), concludes the narrative of the Antonines by summarizing the advancement and notorious reign of Commodus, his death, posthumous damnation and his eventual rehabilitation by his self-adopted 'brother' Septimius Severus. The Faustinae reappear only as exempla exploited by the women of the Severi and in the stories of Faustina's daughters and their families, several of whom were involved in court intrigues and eventually fell victim to Commodus.

Taking a broad scope, Levick synthesizes a wide range of sources and studies not only on the Faustinae but also on the Antonine emperors, their ancestors and families and their predecessors with their wives and families. Her vast knowledge of prosopography allows her to knit them all together. Yet, despite the useful 'Family Trees', the 'Who's Who' listing the most important persons and the 'Chronology' appended at the end of the book, the sheer number of persons mentioned, most of them in passing, is dazzling and their relevance to the central theme is not always made clear. Levick's Syme-like brevity, which touches upon controversies and discussions rather than going into the details and often merely hints at possible interpretations and perspectives, makes one wish to probe deeper into the many issues raised. But if that is the effect of this erudite study, its aim has surely been reached.


1.   Tiberius the Politician, London: Thames and Hudson,1976 (2nd edition: Routledge, 2000); Claudius, London: Batsford, 1990 (see BMCR 01.02.12); Vespasian, London: Routledge, 1999 (see BMCR 2001.01.20); Julia Domna, Syrian Empress, London: Routledge 2007; Augustus: Image and Substance, London: Longman, 2010 (see BMCR 2011.05.30).
2.   For the contested number and order of birth of the children of Marcus Aurelius and Faustina II, see the useful appendix on pp. 115-118.
3.   A small remark on one of the numerous women referred to in this chapter: Pompeia Marullina was not 'honoured with a statue at Nemausus' (p. 21) but set up a statue for someone else (CIL 12, 3169: in honour of Decimus Terentius Scaurianus).
4.   For priests of the imperial cult in the Latin West (but not in Rome) worshipping both living and deified emperors and empresses, see the series by Fishwick, D. (1987-2005) The imperial Cult in the Latin West. Studies in the Ruler Cult of the Western Provinces of the Roman Empire, vols I-III, Leiden/Boston and Gradel, I. (2002) Emperor Worship in Roman Religion, Oxford. For priestesses officiating in the cult of living and deified women of the imperial family, see Hemelrijk, E.A. (2007) 'Local empresses: priestesses of the imperial cult in the cities of the Latin West', Phoenix 61.3-4: 318-349, (2006) 'Priestesses of the imperial cult in the Latin West: benefactions and public honour', Antiquité Classique 75: 85-117 and (2005) 'Priestesses of the imperial cult in the Latin West: titles and function', Antiquité Classique 74: 137-170. Cassia Cornelia Prisca, mentioned in n. 41 on p. 204 of Levick's study, was certainly not 'the only priestess identified as serving a living empress'. ​

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Lloyd P. Gerson, From Plato to Platonism. Ithaca, NY; London: Cornell University Press, 2013. Pp. xi, 345. ISBN 9780801452413. $59.95.

Reviewed by Jens Halfwassen, Philosophisches Seminar der Universität Heidelberg (

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War Platon Platoniker? Die antiken Interpreten, angefangen mit Aristoteles, haben diese Frage einhellig bejaht. Ebenso entschieden verneint die Mehrzahl der zeitgenössischen Platoninterpreten die Frage. Vor allem in der englischsprachigen Forschung besteht ein breiter Konsens, daß Platons Philosophie kein „Platonismus" war, während es in Kontinentaleuropa von Leon Robin und Julius Stenzel über Hans Joachim Krämer, Konrad Gaiser und Thomas Alexander Szlezák bis zu Giovanni Reale und dem Rezensenten eine wachsende Minderheit gibt, die die Frage durchaus bejaht und dementsprechend eine Lehrkontinuität zwischen Platon, seinen Schülern in der Akademie und den Platonikern der späteren Antike wie Plotin und Proklos annimmt. Lloyd P. Gerson, der mit Arbeiten über den Neuplatonismus und Aristoteles bekannt geworden ist – vor allem durch sein 2005 erschienenes Buch Aristotle and Other Platonists – stellt die Frage nach dem Platonismus Platons aufs Neue und entscheidet sie gegen den Mainstream: Platon war selbst Platoniker.

So provokativ diese These für die Mehrheit der angelsächsischen Leser zweifellos ist, sowenig neu und überraschend ist sie für den deutschsprachigen Leser. Vor allem Hans Joachim Krämer hat in seinen beiden grundlegenden Werken Arete bei Platon und Aristoteles (1959) und Der Ursprung der Geistmetaphysik (1964) detailliert und mit stupender Gelehrsamkeit gezeigt, daß Platons Philosophie in ihrem systematischen Kern eine Metaphysik des transzendenten Einen und des als Geist und Denken seiner selbst verfaßten Ideenkosmos ist und daß ferner zwischen der Alten Akademie und dem Neuplatonismus, speziell Plotin, eine Lehrkontinuität belegt werden kann, die das „Neu" im „Neuplatonismus" mehr als fragwürdig erscheinen läßt. Schon vor Krämer hatte Philip Merlan in seinem Werk From Platonism to Neoplatonism (1953) bewiesen, daß sich so gut wie alle systembildenden Motive des „Neuplatonismus" bereits in der Alten Akademie nachweisen lassen, also mindestens bei den unmittelbaren Schülern Platons wie Speusipp, Xenokrates, Hermodor oder Aristoteles. Gleichwohl bedeutet Lloyd Gersons neues Buch nicht nur in der anglophonen Provinz, sondern auch für die kontinentale Forschung einen bedeutenden Fortschritt, weil seine Argumentation für den Platonismus Platons ausgesprochen originell, umsichtig und von dogmatischen Vorannahmen unbelastet ist. Wenn Gersons Argumentation überzeugt – und den Rezensenten hat sie überzeugt –, dann könnte dieses Buch einen Durchbruch bedeuten, es könnte das Schisma zwischen der überwiegend anti-metaphysischen angelsächsischen und der metaphysikaffinen kontinentalen und zumal deutschen Platonforschung heilen.

Gersons entscheidender Zug ist eine Neubestimmung dessen, was „Platonismus" eigentlich bedeutet und beabsichtigt. Dem ist der erste und wohl gewichtigste Teil seines Buches gewidmet („Plato and his Readers": S. 3-129). Ausgangspunkt ist die auf den ersten Blick wenig aufregende und ganz gewiß zutreffende Beobachtung, daß ein durchgehender und dominanter Zug aller Dialoge Platons ihr Anti-Naturalismus ist. Bei genauerem Zusehen läßt sich dieser Anti-Naturalismus in fünf Richtungen spezifizieren: die Platonischen Dialoge vertreten – gegen Positionen, die sämtlich von den Vorsokratikern und den Sophisten entwickelt wurden – einen Anti-Nominalismus, Anti-Mechanismus, Anti-Materialismus, Anti-Relativismus und Anti-Skeptizismus. Diesen fünffach spezifizierten Anti-Naturalismus nennt Gerson „Ur-Platonismus" (UP). „Platonismus" ist für Gerson nun der Versuch, auf dieser Grundlage eine philosophische Position zu entwickeln, welche die fünf Antis des UP in einem kohärenten Gedankengebäude systematisch verbindet und begründet – kurz: „Platonismus" ist das positive Gegenstück des anti-naturalistischen UP in Gestalt einer ausgeführten philosophischen Theorie, wir können auch sagen: in Gestalt einer Metaphysik (S. 9-19). Gerson folgert daraus, auch Platons eigene philosophische Position sei in genau diesem Sinne „Platonismus" (S. 19-33). Daraus folgt aber weiter, daß nur eine solche Lesart der Platonischen Dialoge „platonisch" und legitim ist, die das Ziel einer positiven metaphysischen Antwort auf den Naturalismus im Auge behält. Zumal vor dem Hintergrund der von Antimetaphysikern dominierten angelsächsischen Platonforschung ist damit Entscheidendes gewonnen. Auf dieser Grundlage kann Gerson nämlich die vor allem von Gregory Vlastos (und seinen zahlreichen Nachfolgern) vertretene Deutung Platons als eines Sokratikers, der nur Fragen gestellt und die Antworten anderer kritisiert, aber keine eigene positive Theorie vertreten hätte, zurückweisen (S. 34-72). Auch der Streit zwischen einer unitarischen Platondeutung, die in und hinter den verschiedenen Dialogen eine einheitliche und im Wesentlichen konstant bleibende philosophische Position sucht, und den Anhängern einer entwicklungsgeschichtlichen Deutung, für die Platon seine Position – im Extremfall in jedem Dialog – immer wieder neu und vor allem immer wieder anders entwickelt, wird entschärft und im Prinzip im Sinne des Unitarismus entschieden. Denn der UP kennzeichne alle frühen, mittleren und späten Dialoge Platons gleichermaßen und darum dienten sie alle dem Ziel, eine positive Antwort auf den UP zu finden. Dies schließe nicht aus, daß sich Platons Antwort im Detail entwickelt habe, aber die Zielrichtung sei immer dieselbe und ändere sich nicht (S. 75-83). Eine Deutung Platons als Dichter und Künstler, der gar keine philosophische Position vertreten wolle (wie sie vor allem auf Friedrich Schlegel zurückgeht), werde durch den UP definitiv ausgeschlossen (S. 83-91). Entscheidend ist, daß Gerson Platons Selbstzeugnis im Phaidros und im 7. Brief ernstnimmt, demzufolge die Dialoge Platons Philosophie weder vollständig noch in systematischer Entfaltung und Begründung enthalten (S. 91 ff.). Um Platons positive und ausgeführte metaphysische Antwort auf den Naturalismus der Vorsokratiker und Sophisten zu rekonstruieren, reichen seine Dialoge nicht aus. Wir müssen dafür auf die reiche antike Überlieferung einer „ungeschriebenen Lehre" Platons zurückgreifen, die inhaltlich über die Dialoge hinausgeht, und zwar vor allem was die Fundamente der Philosophie Platons betrifft. Für Gerson sind dabei die ausführlichen Zeugnisse des Aristoteles zentral. Aristoteles selber deutet Gerson als einen Platoniker, also als einen Philosophen, der eine anti-naturalistische Metaphysik als Antwort auf den UP entwickelt habe. Allerdings unterscheidet sich Aristoteles' eigene Antwort auf den UP deutlich von derjenigen seines Lehrers. Gerade deswegen aber sind Aristoteles' Referate über Platon unbeschadet ihres polemischen Charakters zuverlässig und grundlegend für ein „platonisches", also historisch und sachlich angemessenes Verständnis Platons. Harold Cherniss' Generalangriff auf die Zuverlässigkeit des Hauptzeugen Aristoteles weist Gerson zurück – wie vor ihm schon Sir David Ross, Paul Wilpert, Cornelia de Vogel und vor allem Krämer. Die Zuverlässigkeit bewährt sich auch darin, daß wir genau unterscheiden können zwischen den Referaten der Prinzipien- und Ideal-Zahlenlehre Platons und Aristoteles' Kritik an diesen Lehren, die durch Aristoteles' eigene Version des „Platonismus" motiviert wird, die sich von jener Platons am deutlichsten durch die Immanenz der Ideen in den Dingen und der Prinzipien in ihren Prinzipiaten unterscheidet (S. 97-129).

Aufbauend auf diesem neu gewonnen Verständnis von „Platonismus" unternimmt Gerson eine Neubestimmung des Verhältnisses des historischen antiken Platonismus zu Platon selbst. Dies geschieht in zwei Schritten, die die Teile II und III seines Buches bilden. Teil II deutet die Geschichte des Platonismus zwischen Platon und Plotin als eine creatio continua des Platonismus (S. 133-223). Grundlegend war dafür die Alte Akademie und deren wichtigster Denker nach Platon selbst war Speusipp – und zwar vor allem durch seine henologische Prinzipientheorie, die mit der absoluten Transzendenz des Einen auf den Neuplatonismus vorausweist, aber auch durch seine holistische Konzeption von Erkenntnis, wonach die Erkenntnis einer bestimmten Wesenheit ein implizites Wissen des systematischen Beziehungsganzen aller Wesenheiten (Ideen) voraussetzt (S. 134-53). In weiteren Kapiteln behandelt Gerson die akademische Skepsis (S. 163 ff.), den Mittelplatonismus (S. 179 ff.) und – als wichtigsten mittelplatonischen Vorgänger Plotins – Numenios (S. 208 ff.). Gerson orientiert sich hier weitgehend an den maßgebenden Forschungen von Hans Joachim Krämer und John Dillon. Am originellsten ist wohl seine überzeugende Neubewertung der akademischen Skepsis, die er von seinem Ansatz aus als einen echten, wenn auch negativen Platonismus verstehen kann. Denn die Kritik der akademischen Skeptiker zielt gegen den stoischen Naturalismus und steht damit offenkundig auf dem Boden des UP. Ob sie nun eine positive metaphysische Antwort auf den Naturalismus ex negativo vorbereiten soll (was einige Quellen nahezulegen scheinen und was Hegel glaubte) oder nicht, jedenfalls ist der UP das gemeinsame Fundament der akademischen Skepsis wie des metaphysischen Platonismus. Wenn das richtig ist, dann übergreift die Kontinuität des antiken Platonismus auch die metaphysikfeindliche Epoche des Hellenismus. Den von Heinrich Dörrie gegen Krämers Kontinuitätsthese behaupteten „Bruch" zwischen der Alten Akademie und dem im 1. Jh. v. Chr. vermeintlich neu konstituierten Platonismus der Kaiserzeit gibt es nicht.

Der III. Teil des Buches ist Plotin gewidmet, dem „Exegeten der Platonischen Offenbarung" (S. 227-304). Gerson geht aus von Plotins Selbstauslegung als Interpret Platons und nimmt diese Selbstauslegung radikal ernst: er deutet Plotins Philosophie mit aller Konsequenz als systematische Rekonstruktion der Metaphysik Platons auf der Grundlage der Dialoge und der Zeugnisse über Platons „ungeschriebene Lehre". Plotins Metaphysik des überseienden Einen und seiner „Hypostasen" Geist, Seele und Materie realisiert den „Platonismus als System" (S. 227-54). In zwei weiteren Kapiteln behandelt Gerson zentrale theoretische und praktische Aspekte von Plotins Platonrekonstruktion: den Begriff der Materie (S. 257 ff.), das Verhältnis von Sein und Werden (S. 263 ff.), die Kategorien der intelligiblen Welt (S. 270 ff.) und Plotins konsequent monistische Deutung des Verhältnisses der Unbestimmten Zweiheit zum absoluten Einen (S. 276 ff.) sowie das Verständnis des menschlichen Selbst als denkende Geistseele (S. 284 ff.), die Gleichwerdung mit dem Göttlichen als Ziel des Lebens (S. 293 ff.) und Plotins vehemente Verteidigung der Freiheit und moralischen Verantwortlichkeit des Menschen gegen den naturalistischen Determinismus der Stoiker (S. 299 ff.). Gerson bestätigt dabei in der großen Linie das Ergebnis, zu dem schon Krämer in seinem Ursprung der Geistmetaphysik (1964) kam, ebenso der Rezensent in Der Aufstieg zum Einen (1992): Plotins Philosophie ist viel weniger originell und enthält viel mehr genuinen Platon als allgemein angenommen (S. 305 ff.). Das spricht nicht gegen, sondern für Plotins herausragenden Rang als Denker: er ist der eigentliche Wiederhersteller der Platonischen Metaphysik, als den ihn schon Proklos gepriesen hat. Erst durch das Medium der Metaphysik Plotins erkennen wir, was „Platonismus" in seiner philosophisch anspruchsvollsten und systematisch kohärentesten Form ist. Und genau darum erfassen wir auch erst durch Plotin den wahren denkerischen Rang Platons, die ganze philosophische Kraft seiner Ansätze und Einsichten.

Zu den wichtigsten Erträgen von Gersons reichem Buch gehört die Einsicht in die enorme innere Variationsbreite dessen, was legitimerweise „Platonismus" heißen kann. Das läßt sich auch auf Gerson selbst anwenden. So sehr man seine energische Neubestimmung des Platonismus aus dem anti-naturalistischen Grundansatz Platons und seine vorbehaltlose Öffnung für die kontinentale Platondeutung begrüßen darf, so möchte man doch seinen Interpretationen in manchen Details widersprechen. Daß etwa Platons Anti-Nominalismus ausgerechnet gegen die Eleaten gerichtet sein soll (S. 12), leuchtet mir überhaupt nicht ein – im Gegenteil: Parmenides legt mit der Einheit von Denken und Sein (B3 DK) das Fundament des Anti-Nominalismus. Mein Dissens gilt speziell manchen Aspekten von Gersons Plotindeutung. Sie ist die Verstandesansicht einer Vernunftphilosophie. Plotins paradoxienverliebter Denkstil, seine gegen die Gegenstandsfixiertheit des rationalen Denkens konsequent andenkende und auf Entgegenständlichung abzielende Dialektik, seine explizite Kritik am Aristotelischen Widerspruchsprinzip (die Cusanus und Hegel aufnehmen und radikalisieren), seine konsequent negative Theologie des absolut transzendenten Absoluten, die konstitutive Bedeutung, die Platons Parmenides – und speziell die erste Hypothese (137 C – 142 A) - für Plotins Begriff des Einen hat – all das kommt zu kurz oder bleibt unterbelichtet. Statt dessen wundert man sich, wenn Existenz und Essenz im Einen zusammenfallen sollen (Plotin spricht dem Einen beides ab) oder wenn das Eine als Urgrund der Ideen alle Ideen schon in sich enthalten soll (Plotin lehrt dagegen, daß die Unbestimmte Zweiheit als Vorform des Geistes die Ideen im Transzendenzbezug zum undenkbaren Einen selber erst hervorbringt und dadurch Geist wird). Ein ganzer Abschnitt behandelt das Gute als Eros (S. 280-2) – Gerson nimmt da ein kühnes Gedankenexperiment Plotins in VI 8, 15 als dogmatisch gültige affirmative Aussage, obwohl Plotin affirmative Aussagen über das Eine sonst (besonders auch in VI 8) kategorisch ablehnt.

Doch der Dissens betrifft nur Details. Ich kenne keine andere englischsprachige Monographie, die Plotins Selbstauslegung als Interpret Platons so konsequent zur Grundlage der Plotindeutung nimmt und die so energisch für die Legitimität von Plotins Rekonstruktion der Metaphysik Platons eintritt. Mit Gersons Buch scheint die „Tübinger Schule" endlich auch in der anglophonen Welt angekommen zu sein. Gerson rezipiert sie von einem eigenen und originellen Ansatz aus, der eine wichtige neue Perspektive eröffnet. Man wünscht diesem wichtigen Buch viele aufmerksame Leser. Es würde eine Übersetzung ins Deutsche verdienen.

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