Monday, July 27, 2015


Hans Krämer, Gesammelte Aufsätze zu Platon. Herausgegeben von Dagmar Mirbach. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde, Bd 321. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2014. Pp. xiii, 592. ISBN 9783110267181. €149.95.

Reviewed by Hans-Christian Günther, University of Freiburg (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

Hans Krämer died on 24 April of this year. With him the scholarly community lost a grand old man of ancient philosophy, one of the finest scholar in the field of this and the last centuries. I shall not convert this review into an obituary, but in view of this coincidence, a review of the "Kleine Schriften" of a scholar of Krämer's standing cannot but be a tribute, however small, to work that has accompanied me since the beginning of my studies and that I have admired more and more, the deeper my acquaintance with it has become. Hans Krämer was a unique blend of almost superhuman learning, enormously broad knowledge of both primary texts and scholarship, philological acumen and genuine philosophical thought. His lifelong devotion as a scholar centred on Plato and Platonism and he succeeded in presenting his interpretation of Plato's thought in such an eminently rigorous and philosophically deep and coherent way that he might easily be taken for a convinced Platonist and metaphysician. It deserves more than the footnote in the introduction to say that nothing could be further from the truth. Hans Krämer was an original philosopher in his own right: his original works on ethics (Integrative Ethik, Frankfurt 1995) and hermeneutics (Kritik der Hermeneutik, Munich 2007) rank him among the few truly important thinkers of the present. Paradoxically, however, his unique ability to philosophically penetrate Plato's thought obscured the fact that his research on Plato was aimed at historical and philological correctness, not at promoting Platonic philosophy, let alone an outdated metaphysical system as a philosophy for our times. That would be nothing but utterly wasted effort: it suffices, I think to refer the reader here most emphatically to what Krämer says on p. XII n. 1 of this book, as it clearly shows that one only need reflect for a moment on one's methodological principles to see what the quarrel between the supporters and enemies of the esoteric Plato is about. The statement contains in nuce all that is needed to refute the critics of the esoteric Plato, as well as its false prophets.

When Konrad Gaiser and Hans Krämer initiated the so-called "Tübingen School" of Platonic studies, they remained for a long time almost untouchable, not only in the Anglophone but even in the German-speaking world. There can be no better indicator of the sterility of German academic life after WWII than that Hans Krämer's general book on Plato was first published exclusively in Italian (1982); it was later translated into English (1990); but, as Krämer states in his preface (XIII), it will only now be published at long last in German, in the same series as these papers. So the scholarly world should be grateful to the editors of the "Beiträge zur Altertumskunde" for this splendid collection, which is particularly important because it contains several unpublished but nevertheless polished lectures, and must eagerly await the Plato book in its original language. Moreover, everyone who knew Hans Krämer will feel great satisfaction that at least his papers on Plato were published in his lifetime.

A survey of the table of contents alone shows the relevance and breadth of Krämer's work on Plato's philosophy (see url above). It is impossible even to go briefly through this extremely rich material; so I choose for discussion chapters with the broadest application, although the more specialized ones show best Krämer's acumen in penetrating a text with an inimitable eye for the philosophically relevant.

The volume begins with three contributions that treat problems of basic importance for Plato's philosophy and the relevance of the approach of the Tübingen school. I regard the first contribution, "Die platonische Akademie und das Problem einer systematischen Interpretation der Philosophie Platons," as one of the highlights of the volume. In just 30 pages, Krämer combines with exemplary clarity and brevity various tasks. (1) He traces the merits and deficits of older and contemporary approaches to Plato's philosophy and writings; he places them into the context of their historic presuppositions and a priori principles, and then justifies his own approach to Plato's esoteric philosophy. This alone is enough to show that other approaches lack a sound grasp of the historical background of Plato's philosophy and simply ignore the whole ancient Platonic tradition in favour of modern prejudice. (2) He then sets the bipartite character of Plato's philosophic output (oral vs. written) in the context of teaching in the Academy and demonstrates beyond doubt how Plato's systematic oral philosophy relates to his writings and their dialogic nature, and by the way solves convincingly controversial problems such as the date and nature of Plato's lecture "About the Good." (3) He describes with extraordinary precision, in comparison, the systematic philosophy that can be reconstructed from the testimony about Plato's oral teaching, and he does so with constant reference to the dialogues and to what we know about the philosophy of Plato's direct pupils. (4) (This I regard as a particularly important part:) he explains (Sections IV and V) Plato's concept of philosophy as a science: the basic role of the knowledge of principles and how different levels of knowledge as understood by Plato relate to each other, in particular what the highest level, "sophia", implies; what the approximation of human knowledge means for Plato; and what the function of the many aporetic dialogues is. Here he already implicitly refutes the arguments of the most serious adversary of the oral Plato, Wolfgang Wieland (cf. also Krämer's separate article). I would recommend everyone approaching Plato's philosophy to consult this brief, crystal-clear article as being the best introduction to Platonic philosophy.

I skip the long but extremely dense second and fourth contributions, despite their wide-ranging importance, and focus rather on the even more important one, "ΕΠΕΚΕΙΝΑ ΤΗΣ ΟΥΣΙΑΣ." Plato's description of the highest principle of all that is, all being, the Good, as "beyond being" in the sense of "higher than being in dignity and power," after the sun parable and in analogy with the sun itself as the cause of all being, is one of Plato's most influential and most important claims. One may even see it in a way as the central, most eminently important statement of his written philosophy. That Plato obviously assumes that there is a cause of being (though not being in the sense of the being, i.e. that which is) sets his philosophy and its subsequent tradition apart from the Aristotelian one. This aspect of his thought has a history that reaches from Neoplatonism via its difficult reception in the Middle Ages to German idealism (Schelling) and Heidegger (see also below). But what precisely does Plato's statement mean? How is it to be understood in the context of previous and contemporary philosophical thought? Krämer starts with a very brief examination of prior attempts to interpret Plato's statement, which he convincingly dismisses as unsatisfactory or not explaining the systematic place of the statement in the context of the history of ancient thought. He convincingly argues that this statement – made in the Politeia about the agathon – can only be properly understood in the context of the reception of Eleatic thought, namely Zeno's refutation of the existence of plurality. In the context of his theory of ideas, Plato rehabilitates plurality as being in a qualified sense. Krämer shows how Plato thus shifts Zeno's contraposition of hen / on vs. polla / ouk onta to a contraposition hen vs. polla / onta. Krämer thus places Plato's statement firmly in its historic context. He underpins this further by referring to Speusippus' dualistic theory as derived from this and, above all, places it firmly in its historical context in the history of thought.

The second section of the collection contains mainly contributions important for understanding of the place of Aristotle's thought as seen from its roots in the Platonic Academy and especially Plato's oral teaching. Here again, as with the paper discussed above, Krämer firmly places the basic problems that Aristotle addresses in his philosophy in the frame of the questions discussed in the Academy by Plato`s immediate successor on the basis of his oral philosophy, i.e. the theory of principles. Krämer here outlines the foundations on which the fundamental contributions of Enrico Berti are built. Berti showed that Aristotle's Metaphysics is his theory of principles, of which ontology is just a part. Especially in "Das Verhältnis vom Platon und Aristoteles in neuer Sicht," Krämer shows how Aristotle developed out of Plato's oral teachings his new concepts of the syllogism; the ontological priority of the individual substance in the treatise Categories; the "pròs-hén-relation"; and his view on eidos as the key principle of being. Of course, Aristotle offers just one possible solution – I may add, a very convincing and coherent solution, but not the only possible one! – to genuine Platonic problems. Thus, Krämer again places an important and lasting contribution to European thought in its proper historic context and shows where Aristotle relies on Academic thought and where his original contribution lies.

In the third section Krämer sketches in a short, dense contribution ("Das neue Platonbild") the consequences of recuperating Plato's unwritten teachings and their application to the study of the dialogues for the history of European thought. I want to highlight Krämer's description of Plato's thought as "offene Systematik." This highly poignant description of Plato's thought – apart from excluding from his philosophy every element of totalitarianism, of which Plato has often been accused by a misguided approach to his thought – opens up Platonic theory to being disaggregated into a coherent sum of various concepts that, even in isolation, can be identified as fruitful elements of various philosophies that might well start from quite different foundations. I limit myself to the remark that Krämer rightly points out that even the emphasis of Heidegger, Adorno, and French phenomenology on variety, non-identity, and becoming reflects an element of genuine Platonic teaching, with its two dialectic principles. In fact, to Krämer's remarks on Heidegger, I would fairly and squarely add that Heidegger's reception of Plato's is wholly inadequate in view of the new "Platonbild." Had Heidegger known it, his whole approach to Plato would have been different. It remains a major task of research to combine in a fruitful way Heidegger's "Seinsdenken" with the genuine, not the distorted Plato he was confronted with.

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Alan H. Sommerstein, Menander: Samia (The Woman from Samos). Cambridge Greek and Latin classics. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Pp. xii, 367. ISBN 9780521514286. $99.00.

Reviewed by Alexandra Daly, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (

Version at BMCR home site


Classroom experience with Menander is usually limited to Dyskolos, on which several English commentaries of varying levels are available (Handley 1965; Gomme and Sandbach 1973; Konstan 1983). The disappointment widely expressed since the publication of the Bodmer papyrus tends to put both instructors and students off this seminal author. Although my intermediate Greek students and I learned this past fall that Dyskolos is rich and humorous, the fragments and testimonia of the rest of the corpus suggest that it is rather staid; had more survived of, say, The Possessed Girl (Theophoroumene), the modern view of Menander would be quite different, perhaps on a par with the ancient view. Dyskolos is not everyone's cup of tea, and more commentaries on the other comedies that survive at appreciable length are needed.

Hence Alan Sommerstein's new Green and Yellow on Samia is especially welcome. The highly entertaining and mostly complete Samia might replace Dyskolos as the representative Menandrian comedy; in any case, it is long overdue for instruction and an English commentary besides those of Gomme and Sandbach (1973) and Bain (1984). The former is inaccessible to most undergraduates, and the latter, with its facing translation and brief notes, limits their engagement with the Greek. Both predate the ongoing surge of scholarship on New Comedy that includes several recent commentaries: Pice and Castellano's (2001) on Samia; Beroutsos' (2005) on Aspis 1–298; Ingrosso's (2010) on Aspis; Ireland's (2010) on Aspis and Epitrepontes; Furley's on Epitrepontes (2009) and Perikeiromene (2015). Joining their ranks, this commentary by one of the foremost scholars of Attic drama should ease Samia into graduate and advanced undergraduate curricula and encourage the study of Greek New Comedy in general. Given another opportunity to teach Menander, Sommerstein's Samia would be my first choice.

The introduction (1–57) consists of thirteen sections: (1) Menander's Life and Career; (2) New Comedy; (3) The Plot of Samia; (4) The Characters and Their Relationships; (5) Love, Marriage—and Rape; (6) Tragic Themes and Reminiscences; (7) Rich and Poor; (8) The Date of Samia; (9) Language and Metre; (10) Performance; (11) Samia in Art; (12) The Recovery of Menander; and (13) Text and Title. There follow the text and apparatus (61–93); commentary (95–324); bibliography (325–338); and indexes (339–367). In all Sommerstein's is the longest commentary to date on any individual Menandrian comedy. He balances comprehensiveness with concision and clarity throughout. The book is very well produced, with no significant errors.

Because New Comedy is so seldom taught at the undergraduate level, an introduction to the genre is essential, and Sommerstein's (4–10) is exemplary. Rejecting long-standing assumptions about the literary merit (or lack thereof) of Menander and his genre, he emphasizes their virtues: elegance, characterization (see, e.g., the discussion of Demeas and Nikeratos, 22–26), and the shuffling of plots and characters to new effects. First-timers will occasionally need background on the other plays he cites, but for the most part he clearly identifies the stock material and Menander's use of it; his interpretation of Moschion's self- obstruction as an ingenious twist on the dominant plot pattern (6–7) is particularly well-taken. Sommerstein's reliance on Roman comedy for information about its Greek ancestor is traditional and fruitful to a point, but it is worth keeping in mind that where extended comparison is possible (e.g., between Bacchides and Dis Exapaton), the differences tend to be at least as significant as the similarities.

Both in the introduction and throughout the commentary, Sommerstein puts his knowledge of the rest of Attic drama, with which students are likely to be more familiar, to excellent use. He stresses the formal and linguistic continuity across the three phases of comedy and explains the differences as valid artistic choices and socio-historical developments. From the connections and distinctions he draws between Aristophanes and Menander, students should gain a new appreciation for both. Sommerstein also notes numerous possible intertexts with tragedy; his references to the "girl's tragedy" (e.g., ad 553–554 on Melanippe the Wise, 590 on Danae) demonstrate Menander's particular debt to Euripides, who favored plots in which girls are punished by their fathers for their premarital rape and impregnation by gods, and the importance of this mythic pattern for Greek conceptions of female sexuality. Based on his own reconstruction of Euripides' Hippolytos Kalyptomenos, Sommerstein proposes four striking reminiscences of it in Samia (39–40). If he is correct that Eur. fr. 1067 belongs to the same context as Eur. fr. 440 and is invoked at Samia 343–347, Demeas' lines are a wonderful example of Menandrian repurposing and irony: with the words of a slave failing to persuade Theseus of Hippolytos' innocence, Demeas tries "to persuade himself [of Moschion's innocence] and succeeds—in reaching a wrong conclusion."

Sommerstein is forthright and sensitive on issues of gender and sexuality. Given their own experiences as well as the current debates about sexual consent on college campuses, students are likely to struggle most with the presentation of Plangon's rape and pregnancy; Sommerstein is careful to explain the cultural and generic assumptions behind it. Overall he is highly attentive to the female experience—the strange marriage of respectability and vulnerability in Chrysis' position; the friendship between this foreign pallake and the citizen women next door; the rape victim's trauma; the wife's protection of her daughter and opposition to her husband—much of which must be inferred from male speech and action.

Drama must be understood primarily as a script, and Menander, however he reads on the page, truly comes alive in performance. With its range of emotion (from tender affection to blistering rage) and humor (slapstick, misunderstandings, paratragedy), Samia has the potential to be an engrossing production, and Sommerstein gives performance its due. In the introduction (48–50) he lays out the architecture and conventions of Menander's theatre; throughout the commentary he makes learned suggestions for and speculations on staging, including entrances and exits, backstage movements, positions, gestures, and the use of masks. His treatment especially of gesture, which receives no fewer than thirty-one references in the index, should set an example for commentaries on dramatic texts.

The section on art (50–52) is a rare treat in a Green and Yellow commentary. Sommerstein recognizes that the mosaics depicting scenes from Menandrian comedy are vital evidence: they attest to the dramatist's enduring celebrity and probably derive from an iconographic tradition that began soon after his death and therefore reflects the original circumstances of performance. In addition to the long-known Mytilene mosaic, Sommerstein treats two possible representations of the same scene (the expulsion of Chrysis, Samia 369–383); he rejects the sarcophagus lid in the Louvre and accepts the recently discovered Brindisi mosaic with reservations. I would have liked to see a fuller discussion of Menander's reception in other media both ancient and modern, though instructors and students can turn to Nervegna (2013) for an extensive discussion of the former. Sommerstein gives a good idea of his ancient reputation (53) but hardly treats his posthumous reperformance, adaptation by the Roman dramatists, and indirect influence on later drama. Students will better appreciate this long-lost and still neglected author if they know that he courses through everything from Shakespeare to sitcoms.

An overview of papyrological terminology and methods would have been helpful, as Sommerstein engages so closely and often with the papyri. Most U.S. undergraduates will be unfamiliar with terms like haplography (245) and mystified by Sommerstein's analysis of spaces and traces without an account of how and why it matters. With a supplementary lecture and handout, however, the text can be used to introduce students to the process whereby tatters of papyrus become the tidy codices to which they are accustomed. Sommerstein's judgment on the text is generally reasoned and astute. His treatment of line 573 is paradigmatic: he suggests an origin for the two transmitted readings, then gives two reasons—one orthographic, the other logical—for preferring μηθαμῶς to μαίνομαι. Where certainty is impossible, he tends to be agnostic; for instance, the "slight and ambiguous" traces in line 38 could represent either αὗται or αὕτῃ, both of which "would be intelligible in terms of the situation and the social conventions." He argues convincingly for a few readings of his own: ὥστ' (4); τήρ[ει δέ με (447); the assignation of πάνυ μὲν οὖν (724) to Moschion. πρὸ τῶν γάμων (692) is a plausible, albeit tentative, suggestion.

In sum, this commentary will be extremely valuable to scholars and students alike: it will enable instruction of Samia, enliven that of Menander, and contribute to the flowering study of New Comedy.1


1.   Works cited:

Bain, D. M. 1983. Menander: Samia. Warminster.
Furley, W. D. 2009. Menander: Epitrepontes. London.
Furley, W. D. 2015. Menander: Perikeiromene. London.
Gomme, A. W. and F. H. Sandbach. 1973. Menander: A Commentary. Oxford.
Handley, E. W. 1965. The Dyskolos of Menander. London.
Ingrosso, P. 2010. Menandro: Lo scudo. Lecce.
Ireland, S. 2010. Menander: The Shield (Aspis) and The Arbitration (Epitrepontes). Oxford.
Konstan, D. 1983. Menander's Dyskolos. Bryn Mawr.
Nervegna, S. 2013. Menander in Antiquity: The Contexts of Reception. Cambridge.
Pice, N. and R. Castellano. 2001. Menandro: La Samia. Bari.
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Riccardo Olivito, Il foro nell'atrio: immagini di architetture, scene di vita e di mercato nel fregio dai Praedia di Iulia Felix (Pompei, II, 4, 3). Bibliotheca Archaeologica, 31. Bari: Edipuglia, 2013. Pp. 292. ISBN 9788872287019. €70.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Nicolas Monteix, Université de Rouen (

Version at BMCR home site


L'un des charmes parfois discutables d'un site comme Pompéi tient au fait que la masse de documents disponibles est telle qu'une relecture est toujours possible alors même que l'on croirait la matière épuisée dans de trop nombreuses répétitions d'articles en ouvrage. Encore faut-il pour cela réussir à approfondir des points souvent délaissés lors de leur rapide utilisation comme exemples. La fresque de l'atrium des praedia de Julia Felix (II 4, 3) appartient à cette catégorie de documents, point de passage obligé de toute illustration de la « vie quotidienne » sur le forum dans le monde romain. Alors que de nombreuses contributions ont essentiellement considéré sans argumentation que la fresque – ou mieux ses fragments – représentaient un forum en général, celui de Pompéi en particulier, Olivito, dans cette publication de sa tesi di perfezionamento soutenue en 2012 à la Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, s'attache à préciser cette hypothèse tout en spécifiant le contexte, à la fois de représentation et d'exposition.

Le premier chapitre (13-35) est consacré à l'établissement des conditions qui ont amené au démantèlement et à la dissection de cette frise courant, comme le démontre l'auteur au fil de l'ouvrage, sur les quatre murs de l'atrium 24 des praedia de Julia Felix. Les archives constituées au moment du dégagement, entre 1755 et 1757, sont exploitées à frais neufs, en se fondant principalement sur leur récolement proposé en 1860 par G. Fiorelli et sur les travaux récents consacrés à ce vaste bâtiment ou à la seule fresque.1 Cette étude permet de suivre la fouille tout en soulignant la disparition d'une partie des éléments figurés : entre les descriptions du XVIIIe s. et l'état actuel, un peu plus de 3,50 m de décor a disparu.

Les différents fragments, qui sont actuellement majoritairement conservés au Museo archeologico nazionale di Napoli (MANN), deux étant restés en place, sont l'objet du second chapitre (37-83). À fort juste titre, Olivito distingue des fragments qui ont été regroupés lors de leur restauration, avec des assemblages sur panneaux parfois assez hasardeux.2 Chacun de ces fragments est l'objet d'une description minutieuse qui, après avoir mentionné les principales interprétations publiées depuis la découverte, s'achève par des propositions d'interprétation, souvent prudentes mais rarement tranchées. Le texte est accompagné au moins d'une photo du fragment dans son état actuel assortie d'une reproduction tirée des Pitture d'Ercolano, le tout éventuellement complété en fonction des besoins par une vue de détail.

Après la description détaillée de la fresque, le chapitre suivant (85-168) s'attache à donner une vision mise à jour des différents bâtiments constituant le forum de Pompéi. Il permet de dresser un bilan, deux cents ans environ après son dégagement, des interprétations proposées pour cerner l'évolution de la place. La tâche est difficile, tant la sédimentation des connaissances a été importante. Cependant, de ce point de vue, ce chapitre constitue une réussite puisqu'il rassemble en un peu moins de cent pages l'ensemble des hypothèses sur une partie des bâtiments, en développant également tout particulièrement l'évolution du peuplement de la place par les statues honorifiques et sa fermeture progressive par des arcs.3 Les côtés méridional et occidental du forum ne sont qu'à peine mentionnés,4 probablement en raison de l'uniformité du portique qui les précède, construit au début du Ier siècle avant notre ère ou de la période impériale. Bien que l'on puisse comprendre la difficulté d'effectuer une véritable synthèse — encore attendue — sur cet ensemble complexe, on regrettera la cote parfois mal taillée entre les différents choix opérés pour développer la description de tel ou tel édifice. Par ailleurs, passée sa joie d'avoir un bilan historiographique assez poussé, le lecteur reste souvent sur sa faim d'interprétation avancée par l'auteur lui-même. Enfin, il est étonnant que seuls le séisme de 62 et l'éruption de 79 – suivie d'une très probable récupération immédiate des matériaux de construction en raison d'une intervention impériale – soient mentionnés comme repères chronologiques. Outre les problèmes liés à la datation du séisme (62 ou 63), le paradigme du tremblement de terre unique avant l'éruption a été progressivement fortement critiqué depuis maintenant plus de 20 ans,5 ce qui n'est jamais discuté ou évoqué.

Le quatrième chapitre (157-168) synthétise les deux précédents en discutant les rapprochements et les dissemblances entre le forum représenté sur la fresque et la place publique de Pompéi. La solution adoptée, après un rapide jeu des sept différences entre les principaux fragments et l'architecture du forum, est habile. Au-delà du bon sens, les similitudes sont trop nombreuses pour supposer que le modèle de la place représentée soit autre que le forum de Pompéi. Cependant, il s'agirait d'une idéalisation partielle, réinterprétation éventuellement assez libre réalisée par les peintres.

Le cinquième chapitre (169-209) constitue le cœur de la thèse. Toutes les sources – textuelles, juridiques et épigraphiques – du IIe siècle avant notre ère au Ve sont exploitées pour valider la construction syllogistique suivante : la fresque représente le forum de Pompéi, les nundinae se déroulent préférentiellement sur le forum, donc la fresque représente ce marché hebdomadaire. Déjà proposée par E. Magaldi,6 cette interprétation n'est pas à rejeter. Il faudrait toutefois la tempérer en soulignant l'existence d'autre sites pouvant accueillir du commerce ambulant : autour de l'amphithéâtre, comme l'indiquent notamment les inscriptions CIL IV, 1096-1097 (mentionnées, p. 183) ou la fresque de la seditio de 59 (MANN inv. no 112222 ; fig. 130 p. 221) ; dans la palestre, comme en attestent certains graffites (e.g., CIL IV, 8566 b). Si ce type de commerce peut se dérouler en plusieurs point de la ville, comment démontrer que les scènes de la fresque des praedia renvoie vers les nundinae ? La réponse proposée repose sur la mise en parallèle d'indices très précis provenant de la fresque avec des extraits de textes ou d'inscriptions. Le lecteur peut en ressortir avec un sentiment de convergence parfois forcée. Qu'il s'agisse des activités commerciales (170-192), et en particulier des enchères, de l'école (192-199), des activités administratives (199-206) — maigrement représentées par un scribe — ou de la religion (206-209), la justification d'une représentation des seules nundinae est parfois difficile. Par exemple, une relecture d'un passage des Satires Ménippées est mise en œuvre pour éviter que la scène d'école (fragment 12, MANN inv. no 9066) n'apparaisse comme incongrue dans cette interprétation univoque. Est-il nécessaire d'évoquer l'épitaphe d'Aulus Clodius Flaccus (CIL X, 1074d, 189-190) pour justifier la présence d'animaux sur le forum dans la fresque, alors que, par-delà la pompa pour les ludi Apollinares, des animaux étaient présents dans un cadre religieux pour être sacrifiés, sans « dérogation » ni rapport direct avec les nundinae ? Le paradoxe principal dans ce raisonnement tient à l'élasticité dans la représentation architecturale du forum d'un côté face à la trop grande précision des facteurs légitimant l'interprétation d'une représentation des seules nundinae.

Ce paradoxe est d'autant plus frappant qu'il sert de fondement au déroulement du sixième chapitre (211-228). Le but de celui-ci est d'abord de réfuter la confrontation de la fresque aux autres peintures « populaires » (autrefois « plébéiennes ») : après avoir utilisé des critères stylistiques en ce sens, l'auteur souligne son caractère extraordinaire lié au sujet représenté. Le chapitre s'achève par une mise en contexte de la fresque dans le reste de la décoration des praedia de Julia Felix, ce qui permet à l'auteur de supposer qu'elle constitue une commande particulière, pensée à dessein pour s'insérer dans l'atrium 24.

Ces remarques permettent d'introduire en douceur le dernier chapitre (229-245), consacré à la contextualisation de la fresque dans l'ensemble de l'édifice et donc à l'interprétation de celui-ci. Il s'agit certainement du chapitre le plus discutable de l'ensemble, ne serait-ce que parce qu'il est essentiellement fondé sur une lecture très douteuse de l'inscription CIL IV, 1136. Ce texte, lu sur la façade septentrionale de l'îlot, signale que l'ensemble était en location et qu'il appartenait à une certaine Iulia Sp. f. Felix. Une grande part de l'exposition fait de cette Julia la fille d'un improbable affranchi impérial nommé Spurius Iulius Felix (sic) (229, 242-245), alors qu'elle devait plus certainement être une enfant illégitime. Passée la revue des exégèses antérieures sur l'inscription,7 l'auteur se livre à une construction périlleuse, dans laquelle les praedia deviennent pour partie siège d'un improuvable collège professionnel, tandis que la fresque et le douteux Spurius Iulius Felix sont rapprochés du sarcastique graffite lu sur la façade occidentale de l'îlot, vers le sud (CIL IV, 10150). Ce rapprochement l'autorise à appeler Trimalcion en renfort et à suggérer une interprétation de la fresque comme un rappel de l'ascension sociale de cet affranchi.

Le livre s'achève sans autre conclusion, mais avec cependant deux appendices. Le premier met en images les hypothèses de reconstruction de l'agencement des scènes proposées par S.C. Nappo et C.C. Parslow,1 tout en exposant des lignes permettant une autre reconstruction non imagée (249-263). Le second appendice reprend d'une part une table synoptique des différentes interprétations proposées sur chaque fragment et d'autre part une table d'équivalence avec les descriptions proposées par P.G. Guzzo. Bien que très utile, cette seconde table est étonnamment classée selon la numérotation de Guzzo et non celle de l'auteur, ce qui ne facilite pas sa consultation.

D'un point de vue éditorial, on regrettera que les nombreux renvois internes au texte ne soient pas plus précis, vers des pages, d'autant que les divisions du chapitre 3, central dans le propos, sont absentes de la table des matières.

D'un point de vue général, malgré ses quelques bémols, ce livre rendra des services, notamment à ceux qui voudraient approcher de façon panoptique les travaux existant sur le forum ou sur cette remarquable fresque.


1.   G. Fiorelli, Pompeianarum antiquitatum historia quam ex cod. mss. et a schedis diurnisque [...] quae in publicis aut privatis bibliothecis servantur nunc primum collegit indicibusqve instruxit Ios. Fiorelli, Neapoli, 1860. Parmi les travaux les plus récents sur cette frise, on notera S.C. Nappo, « Fregio dipinto dal praedium di Giulia Felice con rappresentazione del foro di Pompei », Rivista di Studi Pompeiani, 3, 1989, p. 79‑96 ; C.C. Parslow, « The "forum frieze" of Pompeii in its archaeological context », dans M.T. Boatwright, H.B. Evans (éd.), The shapes of city life in Rome and Pompeii. Essays in honor of Lawrence Richardson, jr on the occasion of his retirement, New Rochelle, 1998, p. 112‑138. L'ouvrage en recension se place en complément et en contrepoint de P.G. Guzzo, « Sul fregio figurato dai Praedia di Giulia Felice di Pompei (II, 4, 3) », dans M. Sapelli Ragni (éd.), Studi di archeologia in memoria di Liliana Mercando, Torino, 2005, p. 102‑113.
2.   Les fragments sont inventoriés au MANN entre le no 9057 et le no 9070 ; les nos 9058 et 9060 étant écartés. Les panneaux no9057, 9059, 9061 et 9062 ont été divisés en deux fragments, respectivement identifiés par les lettres a et b.
3.   Ce dernier point s'appuie en particulier sur K. Müller, Die Ehrenbögen in Pompeji, Studien zur antiken Stadt, 10, Wiesbaden, 2011.
4.   Le côté méridional n'est évoqué qu'à travers le supposé portique « de Popidius », ce qui donne lieu à une glose (88-96) autour de la mise en place de la colonie et de la transformation du forum. Le côté occidental du forum n'est pas évoqué.
5.   Sur ces questions, voir T. Fröhlich, L. Jacobelli (éd.), Archäologie und Seismologie. La regione vesuviana dal 62 al 79 D.C. Problemi archeologici e sismologici, München, 1995 ; E. Savino, « Nerone, Pompei e il terremoto del 63 d.C. », dans A. Storchi Marino, G.D. Merola (éd.), Interventi imperiali in campo economico e sociale: da Augusto al Tardoantico, Pragmateiai, 18, Bari, 2009, p. 225‑244.
6.   E. Magaldi, « Il commercio ambulante a Pompei », Atti dell'Accademia Pontaniana, 60, 1930, p. 61‑87.
7.   Sur l'analyse de cette inscription, on préfèrera se référer à F. Pirson, Mietwohnungen in Pompeji und Herkulaneum: Untersuchungen zur Architektur, zum Wohnen und zur Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte der Vesuvstädte, Studien zur antiken Stadt, 5, München, 1999, p. 18‑19, 47‑52, non cité.

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Pierre Destrée, Ricardo Salles, Marco Zingano (ed.), What is Up to Us?: Studies on Agency and Responsibility in Ancient Philosophy. Studies in ancient moral and political philosophy, 1. Sankt Augustin: Academia Verlag, 2014. Pp. v, 372. ISBN 9783896656346. €39.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Peter Lautner, Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Piliscsaba-Budapest (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

The volume brings together twenty-two papers (not twenty, as stated in the very first sentence of the introduction) discussing various views on moral responsibility from Democritus to Simplicius.

Monte Ransome Johnson argues that on Democritus' views about psychic processes, the plasticity of human nature allows us to improve or spoil ourselves by choosing what thoughts we are engulfed with and then act on. One has to yield to the necessities. To say this, however, we need a weak, less deterministic concept of necessity that seems to equate it with natural regularities. We yield to a necessity when we decide to have children (68 B278 DK), but our decision should be understood as a cause which is not determined by other causes such as nature, luck or the gods. Destrée's paper on the Myth of Er is a translation of a contribution to a volume reviewed in BMCR 2015.02.30. Dorothea Frede claims that although Aristotle lacks the notion of 'will', he regards human action as the result of βούλησις directed at an end together with προαίρεσις as the means to that end (EN III, 1111b26-30).1 Individuals must acquire the character-disposition to choose the proper means to achieve the aim that fits their own conception of life. Given his psychological determinism (once character-development reaches a point of no return) freedom in terms of moral indifference is not an option for Aristotle: choosing the means involves finding the most efficient way that is also the most appropriate from an ethical point of view. A virtuous person always chooses what is best from an ethical point of view, even if – theoretically – there are other options open to her as well. Susanne Bobzien examines NE 1113b7-8 (ἐν οἷς γὰρ ἐφ᾽ἡμῖν τὸ πράττειν, καὶ τὸ μὴ πράττειν, καὶ ἐν οἷς τὸ μή, καὶ τὸ ναί), with the intention of showing that the passage does not support an indeterminist interpretation of Aristotle. On her reading, the passage expresses a biconditional: doing something is up to us if and only if not doing it is up to us as well. The sentence is not about practical assent or denial, and thus we are not compelled to understand it as expressing causally undetermined choice either. Aristotle does claim that acting and refraining from acting is up to us, but that does not imply that we are causally undetermined in respect of whether we act. Susan Sauvé Meyer also discusses the notion of ἐφ᾽ ἡμῖν, especially its two-sidedness, which means that what is up to us to do is also up to us not to do. Concentrating on EN III.5, EE II.8 and particularly EE II.6, she points out that contingency is not accorded any special status here since it is common to both human action and animal reproduction. Rather, the notion of ἐφ᾽ ἡμῖν is intended to express the claim that the agent is in control of the action, which itself neither involves nor rules out determinism. Javier Echeñique analyses the various meanings of ἐφ᾽ ἡμῖν and states that Aristotle's position can be characterized both as compatibilist and incompatibilist, although from different points of view. In treating appraisability and legal accountability as separate issues, he argues that the distinction imposes different conditions. Determinism is not a challenge from the perspective of ethical praise or blame, whereas accountability depends on more stringent conditions, ones which require us to be causes of our dispositions and hence of our conception of the good.

Discussion of the Hellenistic period starts with Katja Maria Vogt's analysis of early Stoic notion of ἐφ᾽ ἡμῖν. If an agent gives the same assent as he did in earlier world-cycles, in what sense can we say that the action is up to him? He will do as he did in earlier world-cycles (and much the same as when faced with similar choices earlier within this particular cycle). The problem is that he would like to be able to act according to his occurrent reasoning. Vogt stresses that the norms of assent must fit into this picture; the agent must meet these norms in order to become a genuine cause of his actions. Laura Liliana Gómez addresses Chrysippus' compatibilism as a reaction to problems left unresolved in earlier Stoicism. Moral responsibility comprises three activities: contemplating different courses of action, examining them in terms of ethical views, and determining which of them to follow. She thinks that they are considered compatible with his deterministic theory, for he created a notion of alternative possibilities which sits well with determinism. Jean-Baptiste Gourinat focuses on the inherent ambiguities in the notion of "what is up to us" and argues that the expression in nostra potestate in Cicero does not match ἐφ᾽ ἡμῖν, for which there is no direct evidence in Chrysippus anyway.2 Instead, the sources mention the terms παρ᾽ ἡμᾶς and ἐξ ἡμῶν, neither of them signifying strong commitment towards indeterminacy of actions. Chrysippus may have claimed that actions can be attributed not to the causal chain of fate, but to some other necessity that is no less co-fated than the order of the cosmos. Emmanuele Vimercati examines the link between self-knowledge and moral responsibility in Panaetius. Self-knowledge is based on oikeiôsis and serves as the condition for recognizing what belongs to us. On the basis of what Cicero says about the four personae in De officiis, Vimercati comes to the conclusion that in abandoning full-scale recurrence Panaetius left more room in the succession of events for chance and the wishes of individuals.

Ricardo Salles argues that Epictetus' theory of moral responsibility is essentially causal, as are his views on what is up to us (ἐφ᾽ ἡμῖν). In order to be morally responsible for certain things we must be their cause. If (1) our beliefs cause our actions, and (2) we are responsible for our actions only if we are in control of their cause, and (3) we are in control of our beliefs, then we are responsible for our actions. With this view, Epictetus comes very close to Chrysippus. Marcelo D. Boeri shows that despite his lack of interest in theoretical matters Marcus Aurelius elaborated a detailed account of what the agent should care for in general. The link between the present and what is indifferent turns out to be crucial for finding out what is up to us. What is not in the present becomes indifferent and thus not up to the agent. Planning must be done with the awareness of the fact that future events are uncertain. Marco Zingano, concentrating on De fato 26-9, analyzes the views of Alexander of Aphrodisias on character and action. He shows that Alexander insisted that, even if our character cannot be changed, we are responsible for our actions because it was up to us to do or not to do the actions that led to the formation of our own character. Moreover, there is an important distinction between the ability to act otherwise and the ability to act differently, the former entailing the possibility of acting in the opposite way to that in which one actually does. It gives room for alternative possibilities, at least to a certain degree.

Pierre-Marie Morel emphasizes the self-evident nature of things that are ἐφ᾽ ἡμῖν in Epicurus, which explains the lack of extant texts with a demonstration of the thesis. The Epicureans provided arguments against fatalism and descriptions of the physical processes corresponding to mental activities, but human responsibility remained a sheer fact to them. Stefano Maso discusses Cicero's presentation of the Epicurean thesis according to which the voluntary motion of the soul overlaps with the motion coming from atomic declination (De fato 24). But this gives rise to a further problem: since voluntary action happens because of us, it is not uncaused, and it is therefore unclear how one can associate it with the atomic swerve. If it was not Epicurus himself, then it was Cicero who first identified the problem of freedom and responsibility with that of free choice, the two-sided possibility to act.

Later Platonic material is very well represented in the collection. Lloyd P. Gerson examines the link between responsibility and ἐφ᾽ ἡμῖν in Plotinus with a view to Galen Strawson's 'basic argument,' which amounts to a denial of moral responsibility. He argues that Plotinus has something to say on the issue in light of that argument. First of all, Plotinus needs to show that the phrase 'mental state' is ambiguous: it can either refer to endowment or to achievement and, while our choices are not necessarily determined by the former, they themselves determine the latter. In part, at least, Plotinus follows an Aristotelian argument in distinguishing 'first' and 'second' nature and in locating the source of responsibility in the latter. Daniela Patrizia Taormina discusses Porphyry's notion of choice, self-determination and the ἐφ᾽ ἡμῖν. The fragments containing his interpretation of Plato's myth of Er indicate that he held that choice and self-determination determine one another. His reasoning was that choice is an exercise of self-determination, whereas self-determination is the capacity to choose without constraint. It is indeed up to us to choose what life-form we will inhabit; in embodied souls, however, what is ἐφ᾽ ἡμῖν is not identical with self-determination, because each act that is up to us is a human act of self-determination, but not vice versa. Mauro Bonazzi points out that the Middle Platonists' doctrine of fate and human autonomy was made partly in response to the Stoic doctrine. Their notion of 'hypothetical fate' served to keep human action and divine providence apart. According to this notion, fate is a subordinate instrument of providence. It operates in the realm of nature (Apuleius, De Plat. I.12) but, unlike the infinity of the particular events in the physical world, fate is finite, as it is the expression of divine law. For this reason, it cannot control all events one by one, and this fact gives a basis for human autonomy and responsibility for actions.

Christoph Horn argues that Augustine's concept of will was innovative in relation to the traditional philosophy of action and will. His early views, especially in De libero arbitrio, are based on two ideas of the will, the appetitive and the decisional. The difference is between voluntas as an inclination and liberum arbitrium as a faculty to decide, the latter being the first and only cause of some states in the external, physical world. We are aware of its powers and contents and this is the way in which we are informed about what is "up to us." Carlos Steel discusses two facets of freedom, human and divine, in Proclus. In De providentia, Proclus stresses that ἐφ᾽ ἡμῖν was never understood as an absolute power of self-determination, but used to designate the faculty of choosing what is good and avoiding what is bad. In this way, it differs from βούλησις which concerns the good only. The distinction is far from being obvious, but he must have been aware of the difference between βούλησις, as a desire with judgment and choice that may go in opposite directions, and natural βούλησις, which is our innate appetite for the good. Given the deterministic nature of the world, self-determination only has control of what is within us, what is the domain of our choices. It is a deeply Epictetan theme, and Christian Wildberg explores its survival in Simplicius. In interpreting Epictetus, Simplicus introduces a peculiar notion of the will that looks strikingly similar to the notion that we encounter in Christian tradition and that is still with us. On Simplicius' reading, προαίρεσις is a general capacity to concern ourselves with choices and to reflect on which general course of action is to take. The capacity seems to be backed by the god-given capacity of self-determined βούλησις (will) to choose for the good (in Epict. 67.18-22). The root of Simplicius' notion of an autonomous and free human will may be found, not necessarily in contemporary Christian thinking, but in common metaphysical commitments to superior realms of reality that give rise to a moral challenge of self-improvement. Michael Frede surveys various uses of ἐφ᾽ ἡμῖν. As the first to make systematic use of the term and its cognates, Aristotle distinguished between three kinds of actions: those which are up to us to do, those done voluntarily, and those done by choice. By contrast the early Stoics concentrated on voluntary action with assent as a condition sine qua non. Occasionally assent may also lead to character formation. Epictetus modified the notion by emphasizing that the only thing that is up to us is what we do with our thoughts and impressions. In response to the Stoic doctrine, Alexander of Aphrodisias argued for a libertarian position according to which under the same circumstances the person even with the same mental state in which he now gives assent also could refuse to give assent. Frede closes with the general remark that, with the exception of Alexander of Aphrodisias, ancient conceptions of human freedom assume that freedom is for the good.

The volume is furnished with an index locorum. It is a fine collection of papers. A good start for a new series.


1.   One might raise doubts about such a sharp functional distinction between these activities: see D. Wiggins, 'Deliberation and practical reason,' in his Needs, Values, Truth, 3rd edn. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), 215-37.
2.   The paper presents the much same thesis as his 'In nostra potestate', in S. Maso (ed.), Cicerone, De Fato. Seminario internazionale, Venezia 10-12 luglio 2006 (Venice: Libreria Editrice Cafoscarina-A. Hakkert, 2012), 143-50.

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Tom Stevenson, Julius Caesar and the Transformation of the Roman Republic. London; New York: Routledge, 2015. Pp. x, 212. ISBN 9781138808218. $44.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Jason P. Wickham (

Version at BMCR home site


On an already well-trodden topic,1 Julius Caesar and the Transformation of the Roman Republic is an excellent beginner's biography of Caesar. By balancing the important socio-political developments of the first century BCE with a biography of Caesar, Stevenson guides the reader through a pivotal period in Roman history. With a strong focus on Caesar's political career, Stevenson's monograph is a welcome contribution to the core reading of any course concerning Caesar or the end of the Roman Republic. More informed readers will critically engage with the main thesis of the book, which argues that Caesar never actively sought kingship in order to supplant the conservative oligarchy.

The book is easy to navigate, with excellent use of sub-headings, concluding sections after each chapter with recommendation lists for further reading, and a clear linear progression that makes for easy browsing. The bibliography is more than adequate for undergraduates and general readers, who are also assisted by a list of ancient writers with recommended translations. Students will certainly appreciate the familiar textbook style, and the aforementioned further reading sections at the end of each chapter may prove useful as a literature review for those preparing lectures or courses on Caesar.

The first two chapters introduce Caesar as an historical figure and explain the social, economic and political landscape of Rome at the dawn of the first century BCE. Stevenson points out that ancient writers tended to view Caesar from one of two extremes: either as an extraordinary man who eliminated a corrupt faction in the senate opposed to popular measures or as a selfish man obsessed with sole power (p. 9). Many historians of the nineteenth and early twentieth century portrayed Caesar in a positive and heroic manner. Mommsen for example portrayed Caesar as a visionary who saw a need for a monarchy to overthrow a corrupt oligarchy; it is well known that this portrayal owed much to Mommsen's personal disdain for the Prussian Junkers, whom he equated with the Roman optimates.2 Stevenson finds fault with such approaches, which tend to judge Caesar's character in terms of the political situation of a scholar's own era. Instead, Stevenson chooses to analyse Caesar's life within the context of his time, focussing on the contemporary concepts used to describe him and to explain his political rise (e.g. through concepts of dignitas and clementia (pp.13-14).

Chapters three to five encapsulate the life of Caesar up to his first consulship in 59 BCE. In discussing the early life of Caesar, Stevenson gives a general overview of the typical experience of a young Roman noble in the late Republic: his education, military service and early steps within the cursus honorum. Stevenson points out that Caesar's conduct in politics in his early years suggests that he was not in a strong position to believe that he could later challenge for higher ranks in politics (p. 42). His becoming flamen Dialis would have effectively secured his position for life, though as a flamen he would have been unable to embark on a military career, and therefore unable to hold magistracies. Inevitably, Sulla prevented Caesar from becoming flamen Dialis, and he took up military service in Asia in 81 BCE. Caesar's career during the next decade is described by Stevenson as "…regular, though decidedly energetic" (p. 60). What is remarkable about Caesar's attempt to run for the flaminate, and later his successful election as pontifex maximus, is that there is little evidence to indicate Caesar was, by modern standards, religious. Here Stevenson does well to acquaint the reader with the pervasive nature of religion in Roman society, and to counsel against drawing anachronistic distinctions between religion and politics, hence questioning Caesar's devoutness.

Chapters six to eight cover Caesar's years in Gaul (58-50 BCE). Stevenson emphasises the personal ambition of Caesar during these years to surpass the dignitas of Pompey as the first man in Rome through military gloria. As a general Caesar was decisive and bold; as a leader he was charismatic and energetic. Stevenson regards him as an orthodox strategist and argues that much of his success must be attributed to the professionalism and fighting qualities of the legionaries under his command.

By 56 BCE the relationship between Pompey and Crassus had broken down, but through personal meetings with the other triumvirs Caesar managed to convince them to renew their alliance. Stevenson points out that, in his negotiations with Pompey and Crassus for equal shares in power, Caesar demonstrated that at least at that point he did not have designs for political supremacy (p. 92). At this point any biography of Caesar intended for a general audience must venture away from the man himself, in order to explain the rapidly changing political scene in Rome which would inevitably spoil the cooperation between Caesar and Pompey. Here Stevenson balances well the activities of Caesar abroad with the turmoil in Rome, and readers are informed of the looming conflict and the opposing perspectives of Caesar, Pompey, and the optimates.

Stevenson details the military strategy of Caesar during the Civil War in greater detail than in the Gallic wars,perhaps because it is during the Civil War that Caesar best demonstrated both his brilliance and his recklessness. Plutarch recalled that Pompey's caution was later criticised by Caesar himself, and many of Pompey's colleagues grew tired of his strategy of attrition and forced him to commit to battle, a battle they ultimately lost.3 However, Stevenson defends Pompey's strategy, noting "yet so far Pompey had not put a foot wrong with inexperienced forces" (p. 128). Stevenson cautions readers against viewing Pompey as indecisive and over-rated and Caesar as decisive and invincible. The situation on the ground was far more precarious than such an assessment suggests, and fortuna had a lot to do with the eventual outcome. As was the case in Gaul, Caesar's veteran legions proved a deciding factor in his success at Pharsalus and again at Alexandria and at Thapsus.

Stevenson argues that Caesar's policy of clementia contrasts with any interpretation that he sought to remove the corrupt nobility (pp. 157-60), and suggests that it was perhaps a decision of expedience given his earlier portrayal as a defender of the libertas of the Roman people against an obstinate oligarchy.4 Though clementia was, in part, intended by Caesar to distance himself from the dictatorship of Sulla, it undermined his intended position as a democratic ruler. According to Stevenson, his extension of clemency to fellow senators was viewed by many nobles as exercising tyrannical power. Unlike Sulla, Caesar did not retire from his autocratic position. Dictator perpetuo, and with it a permanent autocracy "meant the suppression of noble competition and popular determination. This was the end of libertas, and it was this fact, rather than any specific political or religious affront, which fuelled the conspiracy [to assassinate Caesar]" (p.160).

In the final chapter Stevenson asserts his case that Caesar did not seek kingship. He argues that Caesar operated within the confines of the political system of his day, seeking at first to climb the cursus honorum by conventional means and then to surpass all his contemporaries in dignitas. His goal was by no means different from that of other aspiring Roman nobles; however, such were the stakes in surpassing Pompeius Magnus that he became a de facto autocrat. Any notion that Caesar gained his position in order to reform politics is dispelled by his ad hoc and limited reforms. Stevenson ends by posing a philosophical question regarding the role of individuals in shaping history. Here, in agreement with Badian, he opposes Meier's view that Caesar must be held accountable for precipitating the events that led to the destruction of the Republic.5

The intended audience for the book has clearly limited Stevenson's case in refuting Caesar's desire for monarchy. It is easy to argue against any grand scheme for monarchical rule during Caesar's early career. Yet, in the last years of his life, when Caesar gained unparalleled honours and did little to deny them, it is far more difficult to argue against his desire for such powers. It is true that he shrugged off the title of Rex and symbolically refused the diadem,6 but he was denying the title and guise of a monarch only: as Stevenson states, he held monarchic power in all but name (p. 170). An argument in favour of Caesar's desire for monarchical powers is strongest in the few years leading up to his death, but it is precisely here that Stevenson no longer examines Caesar's possible motives, apart from his attempts to avert being overtly portrayed as a king.7 Surprisingly little evidence is examined outside literary sources. Stevenson notes that Caesar began funding the building of the Forum Iulium through proceeds from his Gallic campaign, but very little is said of the impact that such a large scale project would have on Caesar's image in Rome, nor what political statements may have been implied in its construction. Those who are aware of Caesar's building programme and iconography as dictator may feel their scepticism insufficiently addressed in Stevenson's analysis of Caesar's ambition.

Julius Caesar and the Transformation of the Roman Republic is excellently pitched for undergraduates and general readers; it is clearly presented, well mapped, and maintains a clear and consistent thesis – a further lesson for students to emulate. Stevenson gives a brief but useful introduction to the Roman world of the first century and a balanced overview of Caesar's life within the socio-political landscape of his day. More knowledgeable readers may feel that Stevenson's main argument is weakened by this contextual approach, but should not be deterred from it, as it still offers a well-constructed analysis of Caesar's political machinations and motivations. Ultimately this book will be a staple of future reading lists concerning Caesar and the end of the Roman Republic.


1.   In the previous decade at least fourteen books concerning Caesar were published in English alone: R. A. Billows, Julius Caesar: The Colossus of Rome. (London 2009); M. Griffin, ed., A Companion to Julius Caesar (Oxford 2009); W.J. Tatum, Always I Am Caesar (Malden 2008); P. Freeman, Julius Caesar (New York 2008); L. Canfora, Julius Caesar: The People's Dictator, trns. M. Hill and K. Windle (Edinburgh 2007); A. Kamm ed., Julius Caesar: A Life (London 2006) A. Goldsworthy, Caesar: Life of a Colossus (New Haven 2006); J. Osgood, Caesar's Legacy: Civil War and the Emergence of the Roman Empire (Cambridge 2006); A. Riggsby, Caesar in Gaul and Rome: war in words (Austin 2006); G. Woolf, Et tu, Brute? The Murder of Caesar and Political Assassination (London 2006); M. Wyke, ed., Julius Caesar in Western Culture (London 2006); M. Parenti, The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People's History of Ancient Rome (New York 2003); P. Southern, Julius Caesar (Stroud 2001); R. Jimenez, Caesar Against Rome (New York 2000). There are equally numerous treatments of Caesar outside of English. More recent publications on Caesar include: L. Canfora, Jules César: le dictateur démocrate (Paris 2012); M. Wyke, Caesar in the USA (Berkley 2012); M. Koortbojian, The Divinization of Caesar and Augustus: Precedents, Consequences, Implications (Cambridge 2013).
2.   Th. Mommsen, Römisches Staatsrecht Vol. III (Leipzig 1888). J. Froude, Caesar: A Sketch (London 1879) also offered a highly favourable depiction of Caesar.
3.   The comment of Caesar, Plutarch, Pompey 65.5. Pompey's senatorial colleagues chomp at the bit for battle, Plutarch, Pompey 67.1-4.
4.   Caesar, Commentaries on the Civil War Book 1.
5.   C. Meier, Caesar (Berlin 1982) = C. Meier, Caesar: A Biography, trns. D. McLintock (New York 1996). E. Badian Review of Meier 1982 in Gnomon 62 (1990) 22-39.
6.   Suetonius, Life of Julius 79.2 Caesarem se, non regem esse. Caesar rejected the diadem from Antony according to Plutarch, Caesar 61.3-4.
7.   The comments of R. Syme, The Roman Revolution (Oxford 1939) pp. 52-4 on the brevity of Caesar's dictatorship and his possible motives are still worth noting here. ​

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Sunday, July 26, 2015


Pramit Chaudhuri, The War with God: Theomachy in Roman Imperial Poetry. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. Pp. xvi, 386. ISBN 9780199993383. $74.00.

Reviewed by Helen Lovatt, University of Nottingham (

Version at BMCR home site


Recent receptions of epic gods have inclined towards theomachy: Clash of the Titans (2010), for instance, becomes a battle against the Olympians; similarly, Dan Simmons' Ilium restages the Iliad with Greeks and Trojans against the gods; to say nothing of Percy Jackson and God of War.

Pramit Chaudhuri's excellent book really puts theomachy on the map. It is very much worth reading even if you are not particularly interested in Roman imperial poetry. He has plenty to say about Greek poetry, religion and Roman history, too. It is also delightful to see a book in which Statius forms both starting point and climax. This book approaches ancient literature as a context for Statius' Capaneus, and reveals thought-provoking implications about all of it. Lurking underneath is another book about the reception of the theme of theomachy, only revealed in glimpses through epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter.1 I do hope that it will be written. A complaint often made about reviews is that the reviewer criticises the book for not being the one she would have written on the subject: I have the reverse problem, that for the most part I would have been very happy to have written this book, and agree with much of it. It is probably fair to say, ironically enough, given its subject matter, that this is not an inconoclastic book. I address some small differences of approach and interpretation in my discussion of individual chapters below.

There is some confusion about what constitutes theomachy. Chaudhuri takes a fairly broad approach: scorners of the gods, disbelievers and those who oppose the gods in other ways can all be represented as fighting the gods, not just those who literally fight the gods, like Achilles and Diomedes in the Iliad. For the most part, he does not tackle the related use of the word to describe gods fighting amongst themselves.

Since the book features Roman imperial poetry, Lucretius and Virgil, as with Greek epic and tragedy, form part of the background. This is perhaps a tendentious siting of the Aeneid which surely is imperial poetry in intent and reception, if not in chronology. But the link to imperial power is not just a way of narrowing down the topic: Chaudhuri shows that theomachy is fundamentally concerned with the politics of power and with imperial theology. The fact that emperors become gods, and that gods can be represented as emperors, is crucial to the wider political reading of theomachy.

The short introduction begins from Capaneus, explains the aims and sets out the terminology of theomachy. Chapter 1 tackles theomachy in Greek epic and tragedy, beginning with the Iliad. Chaudhuri compares the divinely sanctioned clashes of Diomedes with Ares and Aphrodite with the conflicts between Patroclus and Apollo, Achilles and Scamander. The attempts of Patroclus and Achilles to go beyond mortal limits is also an attempt to resist fate and the plan of the poem. The particular example of Achilles shows how theomachy is the moment when a mortal comes closest to the divine in ambition and destructiveness, whilst also underlining the unbridgeable gulf between the divine and the mortal. Further sections explore the link between challenging the gods and challenging one's (literary) father, and between theomachy, heroism and walls as monuments.

The second half of chapter 1 takes on Greek tragedy. There will be movement between the two genres of epic and tragedy throughout the book, and Chaudhuri effectively traces the clashes and continuities between the two genres. This section focuses on Aeschylus' Septem, Sophocles' Ajax and Euripides' Bacchae. This gives valuable context to the Greek word theomachein and the extended range of its uses to signify futile struggle. Theomachy becomes both political and intellectual under the auspices of Greek tragedy, and this tendency is inherited by Roman poetry.

Lucretius is clearly very important for theomachy, offering a moral, philosophical and theological discourse which challenges traditional narratives of impiety. Chaudhuri uses this philosophical material sensitively in the rest of the volume. His argument about Virgil is less satisfying: the idea that allusions to an Epicurean mode of thinking in Virgil must be 'parody' or entirely invalidated by non-Epicurean elements elsewhere in the poem seems reductive. It is quite possible, in fact almost a feature of the poem, that it provokes contradictory responses and seems incompatible with itself. Further gods can be read in many different ways simultaneously, so that they can be psychological allegories, natural phenomena, stories in the minds of men, epic characters and concrete religious entities. The idea that Mezentius is a theomach who never quite gets a chance to fight his battle is more suggestive, perhaps of Aeneas as a substitute divine force. More time and discussion was needed to fully bring out the complexity of the Aeneid. It would be interesting, for instance, to think about Juturna and even Juno, as a sort of theomach.

Chapter 3 on Ovid is much more persuasive: it is clear that Ovid is self-consciously engaging with ideas about religion, belief, philosophy and power, and the exploration of Lycaon, Semele, Pentheus, the Pierides, Arachne, Niobe, Achelous and Hercules, and apotheosis covers many important episodes and issues. There is fertile cross-over from the thriving scholarship on cognition and religion, and ideas of empiricism, perception and testing prove a useful new slant on Ovid's complexity. The sections on Pentheus and Arachne have both already proved very useful to me in my teaching. The fact that theomachy is often presented as a morality tale nevertheless allows a critique of the moral authority presented by the gods. Apotheosis destabilises the stark division between mortal and immortal, and the case of Hercules and Achelous provides a very useful frame for thinking about later apotheoses of Caesar and Augustus, not to mention the implied apotheosis of the poet himself.

These sections lead effectively into what feels like rather a diversion to Seneca's Hercules Furens, a chapter that could stand on its own very effectively. The chapter begins with a discussion of Juno's speech in the prologue, continues by addressing the issue of apotheosis and tyranny, and the connection between madness and sublimity, and finishes with the final act in which Hercules contemplates suicide after killing his family. The chapter concludes with a move to Senecan philosophy by looking at representations of sapientia and the wise man in Seneca's letters as background to the HF.

What of Lucan who refuses to narrate the gods? Chapter 5 shows how, despite the impossibility of a conventionally theomachic scene, various characters take on both the trappings of a god and the attitudes of a theomach, in a process of simultaneous disenchantment and remystification. Caesar, for instance, deliberately violates the grove at Massilia, and yet is like a god himself at the battle of Pharsalia. In some ways this paradox is less surprising than it might be, since Achilles and Hercules both establish the fact that the desire to fight the gods can go hand in hand with aspirations towards deification. This chapter captures well the intensification that is at the heart of the poetics of imperial poetry. Perhaps more could have been done with Lucan's refusal to narrate the gods: is that in itself a theomachic act? Lucan as narrator antagonises the gods, creates gods, refuses the power of the gods: it would be nice to see the ultimate theomachy of Lucan taking place on the level of poetry itself.

Chapter 6 is rather different from the other chapters in providing a more general overview of theomachy in relation to Flavian epic. (It is a shame that Valerius Flaccus doesn't really receive sustained attention, though the resulting argument might not have been so neat.) The chapter looks at two episodes that build on important Homeric episodes: the fight with the river and the verbal contest between prophet and despiser of the gods. Scipio's battle with Trebia and Hippomedon's battle with Ismenos both intensify Achilles' battle with Scamander, making their heroes even more courageous and successful, but at the same time make bigger the abyss between mortals and immortals. The agones draw on the disputes between Hector and Polydamas, and Idas and Idmon in Apollonius, to characterise Flaminius in Silius and Capaneus in Statius.

Chaudhuri does not commit himself to a chronological order for the Flavian poets, but enacts a flexible model of mutual interaction, which allows for comparison without declared intent. This has some slightly odd effects, such as the choice to put Silius first, so that Hannibal reads as a version of Capaneus before the event. But Capaneus has always been at the heart of this book; it might have made more sense to put the whole Statius chapter first of all and then present the rest of the research as a response to the episode rather than a build-up.

Chapter 7 engages with Hannibal in Silius' Punica. The sections tackle sublimity and the crossing of the alps, treading new ground and going beyond Hercules, showing connections with Lucan's Caesar, in a way that suggests Caesar can be seen as Dido's avenger; Hannibal's failed theomachy at the walls of Rome when Juno persuades him to withdraw, demonstrating the complexity and subtlety of Silius' engagement with the Greek and Roman traditions; finally Hannibal's refusal to let go of his own fame at the battle of Zama.

Finally in chapter 8 it is the turn of Capaneus to climb the walls of Thebes, in deliberate antagonistic defiance of the gods in battle, so that Jupiter actually strikes him down with a thunderbolt. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that even though this takes place during a battle, it is not in fact a literal fight, but still a metaphorical one, a challenge, in contrast to the literal battles of Diomedes and Achilles. The difference from Mezentius, of course, is that Capaneus is not killed by an intermediary, but rather by Jupiter directly.

Chaudhuri's contribution is to take Capaneus' theology seriously: we can read him as an atheist who is proved wrong, but his views fit in well with the discourse of Roman philosophy as we can see in the agon with Amphiaraus in book 3. It is hard to take his theological contribution seriously because from the proem we have been reminded what will happen. The outcome is always the point of the episode – but this is almost entirely a function of genre. One effect of this episode is to underline the fictional nature of epic. This perhaps fits with the contrast in tones between Statius' representation of the action on the mortal plane (where Capaneus is so sublime as to almost leave the page, let alone the ground) and on the immortal plane where the gods seem obsequious, laughable and Ovidian. Finally Chaudhuri explores the fact that the gods do seem to leave the poem, having little involvement in the final book.

The final chapter explores effectively and concisely the political significance of theomachy in Roman imperial poetry. This chapter makes an excellent introduction to politics and Latin poetry. The chapter begins by looking at the use of Capaneus by Ovid in his exile poetry, along with Thrasea Paetus in Tacitus. Caligula provides a case study of an emperor who antagonised the gods, showcasing the transgressiveness of tyranny, and finishes by looking at the Silvae, Domitian and dynastic continuity. The epilogue hints at what a reception study might look like, with reference to Milton, Marlowe, Tasso and Philip Pullman.

In sum, I have very much enjoyed reading and engaging with this book, and wish I had read it before writing some of my own recent work. In general Chaudhuri is fairly light touch with referencing, but well-targeted in his reading. The primary material takes priority, and this is how it should be. The book takes the theology of Roman poetry seriously, as well as successfully putting it in the context of Roman history and culture.


1.   Epigraphs from: (Introduction) Milton, Shelley, Philip Pullman; (Chapter 1) Genesis, Aesop, Aristophanes; (Chapter 2) Queen, Shakespeare, CIL; (Chapter 3) John, Epicurus, Luigi Pulci; (Chapter 4) Flaubert, Seneca, Plato; (Chapter 5) Margaret Cavendish, Aeschylus, A.S.Byatt; (Chapter 6) Statius; (Chapter 7) Fosco Maraini, Mary Shelley, Tacitus, Vergil; (Chapter 8) Dante; Giovanni Papini; Primo Levi; (Chapter 9) Constitution of Thailand, Antonin Artaud, Ovid, Martial; (Epilogue) Philodemus, Lucian, Christopher Marlowe, Boiardo, Bathsua Makin.

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A. A. Long, Greek Models of Mind and Self. Revealing antiquity, 22. Cambridge, MA, London: Harvard University Press, 2015. Pp. xiv, 231. ISBN 9780674729032. $25.95.

Reviewed by Ellen Muehlberger, University of Michigan (

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The result of a long and unusual gestation, this diminutive book is a treasure. In its preface, A. A. Long reveals the story of how the book came to be: having been under contract to Harvard University Press for "decades" to write on the topic of Greek thought about the mind and self, Long often began the work, but was stymied by the prospect of producing a traditional monograph that exhausted the subject. He finally created a manuscript fitting the bill for his contract when he had the opportunity to give a series of public lectures at Renmin University in Beijing a few years ago.

Readers should be very glad for the delay. Bearing the nimble authority won from an extended and productive career, Long unfurls in these revised lectures a carefully stitched series of observations and discussions about the history of theorizing the human being in ancient Greek literature. Greek Models of Mind and Self may not be the comprehensive treatment Long once set out to create, but with this book in hand, it is hard for me to consider that a loss. Because, here, instead, is something different: a masterful tour through classical Greek psychology, conducted with insight and clarity.

The tour begins in an unusual place, because Long is willing to see theories of mind and self expressed in multiple kinds of literature. Most investigations of ancient concepts of the self spend their attention on philosophical works, the assumption being that only explicit discussion of the person, the psyche, or the nous can capture a society's ideas about human beings. The first chapter, "Psychosomatic Identity," follow insights from Michael Clarke's 1999 work, Flesh and Spirit in the Songs of Homer: A Study of Words and Myths (Oxford) and discusses the theories of persons to be found in the Iliad and the Odyssey. Though these texts are not philosophical treatises, Long explains, they nevertheless have fully-formed concepts of human beings, human emotions, and the limits of human identities. In the poems, characters speak of their bodies as their selves. Motivations for action are located in the gut, the chest, the lungs, the head. The psyche, when it does appear, is a specter or a ghost that has exited a dying body, a mere trace to indicate the former person that once lived as a vibrant, undivided material entity. So these earliest models of mind and self are laid out and considered, given attention that they do not often receive.

In Chapter Two, "Intimations of Immortality," Long outlines a second conceptualization of the psyche, also rooted in narrative sources. Hesiod's Works and Days is considered alongside Pindar, Empedocles, and Heraclitus, all of whom in their different ways situate the psyche as one moving part in a system of progression and restoration, between divinity and humanity. Long breaks down the narrative logic of Hesiod's stories to a set of propositions and results: if, as Hesiod assumes, human beings were once aligned with the gods, there is reason to think that their current state is the result of some lack; there is then also reason to think that the lack can be recovered and humanity can be divine once more (78-79). Aside from the possibility that this could happen during a human lifetime, what is left but the assumption that some bearer of a human identity—the psyche— would persist after bodily death and experience in immortality the results of its actions? The purpose here is to give some early context for Plato's eventual adoption of the psyche as the location of the stable identity of a person. By mining these narrative sources for immanent conceptualizations of the self, Long gently points out that Plato's forwarding of the psyche was not quite the innovation that traditional histories of philosophy have tended to make it.

The third chapter, "Bodies, Souls, and the Perils of Persuasion," then places Plato's view in a particular political context. As Long explains, the insistence on the division between body and psyche and the resulting priority granted to the psyche was not simply a stage in an almost scientific progression toward a more accurate concept of the human being. Instead, these notions were points of resistance to the increasing role of rhetoric in political life. The psyche, when considered the seat of reason, could be imagined as being utterly independent of the influence of impressions made by the senses of the body. That meant that the ears that heard a persuasive orator, for example, could depend on the well-trained psyche to temper their impulses.

Thus, the discussion of the Gorgias and then the Phaedo in this chapter takes one of the most salient tenets of classical philosophy, body/soul dualism, and transforms it into a local, contingent development that emerged only as a response to a specific configuration of social and political power. Chapter Four, "The Politicized Soul and the Rule of Reason," does the same to Plato's later division of the soul in the Republic. For there, Long carefully treats the tripartite model of the soul and the assumption that reason should and can rule it (and ultimately society) in their particular and contingent contexts. Indeed, these two chapters together deliver on the promise of the introduction, namely, to avoid presenting various ancient theories of the self as circling closer and closer to an inevitable truth. Instead, Long observes, all ancient (and modern) theories of the self are equally unmoored from testable knowledge, and so all should be equally available to us to contemplate. That means, for Long, that some need to be made familiar—like Homer—while others long familiar—like Plato—need to be made strange.

If there is a complaint to be made about the book, it is that Long's discussion of the divinity of the self in Chapter Five, "Rationality, Divinity, Happiness, Autonomy," does not originate from quite the same fresh-eyed perspective as the rest of the chapters. As Long speaks of the proposition that the soul might be in contact with the divine, he often engages a convenient and longstanding euphemism: collapsing references to a divine spirit or a daimon into the psyche itself, rather than considering the simpler (but perhaps to our minds stranger) option, namely that ancient authors do imagine a divine counterpart to the self and often refer to it as a pair with or a companion to what is best in the human being. (Readers looking for an in-depth consideration of this issue should be on the watch for another book from Harvard University Press, Charles M. Stang's volume Our Divine Double, due out next year).

This might be a predictable complaint coming from a reviewer who has written extensively about angels in antiquity. Naturally, when an ancient author talks about those who "consistently cultivate their daimon," I see evidence for a relationship between two beings, rather than a circumlocution for something like "tending to oneself." That is the case, I expect, because as a historian of early Christianity, I often study texts that give evidence of persons being porous, directed, swayed, and even penetrated by many non-human actors. But, to put my complaint on broader ground, it is simply that I wish Long had attempted in this chapter what he does so beautifully in other chapters, namely, to take the smooth, well-worn pebbles of the concepts of the mind and self that we pass to one another as we narrate ancient psychology and to turn them in the hand, to show us that they are in fact crazed, strange, and far more irregular than we have long been taught to expect. In meditating once more on the material from Greek antiquity, Long leads us to consider questions much larger than simply "what was the soul?" and "where does reason lie?" His work subtly but firmly poses the issue to the reader: why limit inquiry on a topic like the self only to certain kinds of texts? That is the gift of this book, which I enthusiastically recommend for university libraries, upper-level seminars, and the interested general reader alike.

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Adam M. Kemezis, Greek Narratives of the Roman Empire under the Severans: Cassius Dio, Philostratus and Herodian. Greek culture in the Roman world. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Pp. xii, 340. ISBN 9781107062726. $110.00.

Reviewed by Alexander V. Makhlaiuk, Lobachevsky State University of Nizhni Novgorod (

Version at BMCR home site


Adam M. Kemezis' book, which originates in his PhD dissertation1 but goes much further in depth of analysis and conceptual coherence, continues the Cambridge series "Greek Culture in the Roman World," which has provided readers with a number of stimulating investigations of cultural identities, collective memory, and literary and ideological evolutions under the Empire. Proposing a narratological approach, so fashionable now,2 to the works of three Severan writers, Kemezis goes beyond formal literary analysis. He also pursues a more ambitious goal: to illuminate the historical reality that was reflected in four works of profoundly different genres and styles (that have, nonetheless, much in common, above all their belonging to the Severan age and Greek literary tradition) and in the narrative personalities of the authors, each with his own relationship to the social and cultural milieu. Kemezis aims to demonstrate that these Severan authors were aware of historical developments, having been led to re-imagine not only the recent but the entire past, and their works can be seen as responses on the part of Greek culture to its changing imperial setting. This book is not solely about texts and narrative techniques, but also about political realities outside literature, in particular about the Severan era and its urban cultural elites' world-views as affected by the dynastic change from Antonines to Severans.

The book consists of seven chapters (including an introduction and conclusion), three appendices concerning dates, scope and authorship of the works under examination (these are intended, in the author's words, "less to add new material to existing controversies than to lay out various positions and state [his] own preferred view" [281]), a valuable and almost exhaustive bibliography, and index.

Kemezis raises crucial questions about how these texts, by means of their rhetoric and through ideological assumptions, construct the Roman empire, its cultural landscape and the relationships of past to present. An extensive introductive chapter sets out the purpose and subject-matter of the book, outlines its methodological tools and approaches (first of all, that of modern narrative theories connected with Richard Koselleck and Hayden White), including such concepts as a narrative world—a construct "influenced but not determined by external reality as perceived by readers" (11) and cultural geography. The second chapter ("From Antonines to Severans"), sketching the general Severan background, focuses on the watershed between two dynasties and on the historical circumstances that determined the new emperors to have a different relationship to the past. It was those emperors' efforts to find an ideological basis for promoting dynastic legitimacy that served as a starting point for a general reassessment of narratives about the past created by literate elites. One of the principle points here is the emphasis on the obvious contrast between the second- and third-century, i.e. Antonine and Severan, authors' views of the past: if the former tended to exclude the present and post-Augustan past from their narratives,3 the latter were much more interested in contemporary or recent history and, at the same time, re-imagined the entire Roman history. Kemezis discusses in detail how the specific features of each narrative and authorial persona emerge from the general Severan context.

In chapter three ("Cassius Dio: the last annalist") Kemezis analyzes the whole corpus of the "Roman History" in its particular cultural context, as a commentary on the Severan period. To understand Dio's narrative world and overall rhetorical objective, Kemezis distinguishes and thoroughly describes four "narrative modes" discernable in his work: that of the Republic, the dynasteiai (this is a critical construct of Kemezis' own, based on the sharp differences between Dio's mid-Republican and late-Republican narratives), the Principate and the contemporary period (or "eyewitness" mode), each with its own functions, literary technique and rules for picking out and representing certain sorts of events and human motivation. Kemezis is right to stress that in all these modes Dio's story remains one of himself and of the senatorial order as the locus of true historical continuity and Romanness. Among interesting innovative ideas developed within this chapter one should note the author's use of the Agrippa–Maecenas debate in Book 52 and of the excursus of Book 53 as interpretive keys to the Dio's annalistic history as a whole, also how Dio assessed Roman rulers not as men in absolute terms, but as performers in the role of emperor, a habit that tends to obscure differences of personalities between various holders of the throne, and the idea that Dio's views of continuity and transformation within Roman political life are very different from the scripts Severan emperors wrote for themselves. In his portrait of the monarchical world established by Augustus the historian locates continuity and change not in a set of "Good Emperor" attributes, but within institutions, above all magisterial offices, putting forth his own story of how older senatorial traditions were appropriated and adapted by new generations of provincial elites.

In two chapters on Philostratus' "Life of Apollonius" and "Lives of Sophists," Kemezis proposes an insightful reading of these texts as a diptych, a rare and innovative sort of historical narrative – a history without political events that was a product of particular moment in the later years of the Severan period. In his methodological remarks, he notes that Philostratus has a double affinity with history, both as narrator of the events of the relatively recent past and as participant in the larger discourse of his time about how the present relates to the more distant past. Unlike Cassius Dio and Herodian, Philostratus does not locate Roman rulers at the center of his narrative worlds, but bases his stories around various forms of Greek cultural excellence that could, however, be incorporated into the larger discourse of imperial power. Treating the first composition as basically a work of fiction situated in Roman historical time, Kemezis argues that Philostratus' main rhetorical aim is to transform the marginally Greek figure of Apollonius into a fully accredited Hellene and a truly exceptional representative of Greek culture, and to present him as a key causal factor in Roman dynastic history at a specific moment "when the shared experience of tyranny has put traditional cultural dichotomies in the background" (190). Kemezis is most successful in his analysis of "Apollonian geography," that is Philostratus' portrait of three different geographical zones through which his hero passes: the far periphery, the Hellenic center, and the imperial center.

If Apollonius represents a projection of a timeless and unindividuated Greek world into Roman narrative history, the Sophists fill the recent past with individual figures belonging to successive generations of teachers and students. Neither work explicitly defines its temporality in dynastic terms. As Kemezis points out, the world of the Philostratean sophists has emperors, but not dynasties; it is also marked by a distinctive sense of cultural geography with its key locations in classical Greece from which sophistic activities move to the imperial center. By drawing a direct narrative link between present-day sophists and the beginning of their movement in the fourth century BC, Philostratus transcends his era's conventional divisions of ancient and modern. The narrative scheme used by Philostratus also allows him to erase the distinction between sophists and their objects of mimesis, wherein their mimetic abilities spread beyond the stage into less ephemeral areas of civic life. In Kemezis' view, the Philostratean texts can be read as quite different depictions of how Greek cultural activity might have a transformative effect in an imperial context and provide one of the elements of continuity in the changing empire. The most Severan aspect of Philostratus, as Kemezis sees it, is the way he offers multiple versions of his culture and its past. In general, Philostratus offers a very singular version of how Greekness interacts with geography, narrative history and elite identity.

Kemezis' discussion of Herodian in chapter six gives us another fresh view on the correlation between narrative style and cultural implications of the Severan age. Herodian does not create a new literary paradigm, but uses the static and orderly forms of historical writing typical of the Antonine age, with the result that his heavily fictionalized historiography is constantly at odds with the chaotic events after the death of Marcus Aurelius. Herodian is a story-teller who, unlike Dio and Philostratus, has no grand schemes for re-imagining chronology and geography. Nevertheless, his narrative style is the result of his literary tactics rather than the consequence of mediocre literary gifts. Herodian seeks to give his audience pleasure by describing the dysfunction of contemporary life in polished literary forms characteristic of the Antonine age. In his treatment of Herodian's narrative Kemezis underlines the key role of geographical contrast between center and periphery (especially p. 245 ff.). But this approach yields conclusions that seem to be somewhat exaggerated. He claims that the success or failure of principle characters and even the general fate of the empire are determined by geographical and cultural differences between imperial center and periphery. So, for example, Alexander Severus' failure is said to be mainly the result of his movement from his natural environment in Rome to the uncongenial atmosphere of the frontier (248–9); and even in the cases of Pertinax and Julian, who never left Rome, there is still a geographical aspect to their careers (251). The breakdown of Roman unity finds expression also in social and rhetorical interactions, because when different groups of people within the empire start to speak different languages, rhetoric loses its power to describe and influence reality, and there arises fatal miscommunication as a common characteristic of the post-Marcus world. It is difficult to get rid of the impression that Kemezis here is importing his own interpretive constructs and scheme into the ancient historian's text, rather than revealing the genuine intentions of its author. He sometimes ascribes to Herodian certain desires that are likely his own suggestions (e.g., p. 264: "Herodian has no desire to make either the narrative or the external world seem coherent"). Particular cases and features are generalized and given universal meaning. Similar ascriptions one can find in other passages of the book. For example, it is said that for Commodus "Marcus was not so much a link to the past Antonine tradition as a necessary precondition of the new order…" (48); "Philostratus wants his readers to contemplate the idea of a narrative history of Greek culture independent of political circumstances…" (203). Some of this is perhaps the result of the narratological approach or of Kemezis' manner of writing, but in some cases the author seems to be pressing his case too hard.

These shortcomings, however, do not undermine the general conclusion that whereas Herodian tried to remain an Antonine author while describing the dysfunctional Severan world, Dio and Philostratus deliberately violated second- century literary canons and created new kinds of grand narratives to express their life experience; all of the works under examination, however, "posit an unified elite identity as inherently desirable" (278) This very readable volume, which is well-produced (with a very few insignificant typos) is based on the successful use of novel approaches and original questions. It will surely be essential reading for students and specialists in Classics and Roman imperial history.4


1.   Adam M. Kemezis, The Roman Past in the Age of the Severans. PhD Dissertation (University of Michigan 2006).
2.   See, e.g.: Douglas Cairns, Ruth Scodel (edd.), Defining Greek Narrative, Edinburgh Leventis studies, 7 (Edinburgh 2014); Anna Marmodoro, Jonathan Hill (ed.), The Author's Voice in Classical and Late Antiquity (Oxford; New York 2013); Miltsios Nikos, The Shaping of Narrative in Polybius (Berlin 2013).
3.   Here Kemezis relies on his excellent article "Lucian, Fronto and the Absense of Contemporary Historiography under the Antonines," AJP 131 (2010), 285–325.
4.   The work is supported by Russian Foundation for Humanities, project 13-01-00088.

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