Thursday, October 8, 2015


Pierre Briant, Darius in the Shadow of Alexander (translated by Jane Marie Todd; first published in French 2003). Cambridge, MA; London: Harvard University Press, 2015. Pp. xvii, 579. ISBN 9780674493094. $39.95.

Reviewed by Jennifer Finn, Marquette University (

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To scholars of ancient studies, Pierre Briant will be undoubtedly be a recognizable name. His Histoire de l'empire perse: De Cyrus à Alexandre (translated into English in 2002) broke ground in historical studies as an exemplum for an egalitarian incorporation of Classical and Near Eastern source material, and its methods were at the forefront of a profusion of novel interpretations of cultural interaction in the ancient Mediterranean.1 Promised in this initial study was an evaluation of the source material related to Darius III, the much-beleaguered opponent of Alexander the Great. Briant delivered, with the publication of Darius dans l'ombre d'Alexandre in 2003. This edition, now translated into English, is unmodified, excluding the addition of a new preface. Briant maintains that the last sentence of the introduction to the first edition should be unchanged: the objective remains "to explain why Darius, along with so many others, is condemned to haunt the realm of historical oblivion" (x).

Chapter 1, aptly named "A Shadow amongst his Own," begins a tour de force through the Egyptian, Persian, and Babylonian material that aids in piecing together a portrait of Darius III. Briant provides a fair assessment of the scanty extant documentation. In Chapter 2, "Darius Past and Present," we are presented with literary and dramatic representations of Darius, beginning with the Renaissance Humanist version, wherein Darius was a king abound in "pathetic Romanticism." Briant continues on to 18th and 19th century iterations of Darius, primarily sympathetic and often citing Darius' valor in battle with the Cadusians during the reign of Artaxerxes III. Juxtaposed with this view was the "other model" (based mostly, of course, on the "Official" tradition), which contemporaneously identified Darius as an incompetent coward, rather tragically "crushed between two powerful personalities [Artaxerxes III and Alexander] with indisputable imperial achievements" (89). In the formulation of many scholars, Darius was simply the culmination of an empire steeped in its own decadence, and doomed to fall by it. Part I of the work is a beautifully written entrée to the main portion of the book (throughout which Briant permits that the sources, through extensive quotations, seamlessly tell the story for themselves).

Briant also displays fantastic command over principles of ancient rhetoric and historiography, as is especially evident in Part II. Here Briant establishes historical exempla as a literary category and provides a very readable introduction to the Greco-Latin source material, before entering in Chapters 4 ("Arrian's Darius") and 5 ("A Different Darius or the Same One?") into specific examples of the heroic literary portrayal of Alexander (and by extension, the rather demeaning representation of Darius), through Homeric and Xenophontic mimesis. As opposed to Arrian's stance, the Vulgate authors provide a more colorful depiction of Darius, at times heroic and sympathetic. These authors utilize paradigmatic topoi such as that of the heroic dual combat, also, Briant argues (perhaps not as convincingly), of the Homeric variety. But is Alexander himself not the subject of varying interpretations? One begins to wonder if it is really impossible, as Briant's dichotomies seem to imply, to meet somewhere in the middle, between historiography and moralistic fantasy. He answers this query in Chapter 6 ("Darius between Greece and Rome"), explaining the emergence of a negative current, based on a "Persianized" Alexander (focused again on the theme of decadence), as a function of Roman attitudes towards the Parthians in the 2nd century CE, at which point Alexander "becomes" Darius (as explicated in Livy Book IX). Though important to his main argument, this chapter failed to flow as well as the previous ones. Amidst excursuses on the theory of imperial succession and attestations of Roman knowledge of the Achaemenids, this reviewer lost Darius III (and even Alexander) for a moment.

The study of apophthegmata is expanded beginning in Part III, in Chapter 7, "Upper King and Lower King," wherein we get specific examples of exempla used to formulate Darius' character, this time focusing in great part on Herodotean, and again, Xenophontic mimesis (in which Cyrus and Artaxerxes II often stand in as analogues for Alexander and Darius): main topoi include the debate with courtiers; the motif of the flatterer; the monomachia; the king in flight from battle. The clarification of these exempla continues in Chapter 8 ("Iron Helmet, Silver Vessels"), where the focus is on the trope of Persian decadence as opposed to Macedonian (or Greek) frugality and abstemiousness. This dichotomy is set in the context of food and drink (allowing for what were at times rather odd digressions on water). However, Briant's strict oppositions at times fumble, as in pages 304-305, where suddenly the Persian Artaxerxes II appears as a counter- example to typical Persian decadence, in a guise that could easily be mapped onto Alexander himself. This apparent inconsistency is not sufficiently explained.2

Chapter 9 ("The Great King's Private and Public Lives") focuses on the women and eunuchs in the Persian entourage and Alexander's personal contact with and chivalrous treatment of them. He sets up Alexander's relationship with the eunuch Bagoas as a pivotal moment in which the Orientalization of Alexander is marked by our literary sources, an example of the depravity of the Asian monarchy (344-354). It is curious, therefore, that there is not even a mention of Alexander's Macedonian hetairos Hephaistion in this capacity. Even if the nature of their relationship was a matter of controversy in both ancient and modern scholarship, the special proximity of these men preexisted the "Orientalization" of Alexander. It is notable that Bagoas' disposition is described by Curtius 10.1.25 as obsequio corpore; in Justin 12.12.11 Hephaistion is given as obsequiis regi percarus. In the Greco-Latin tradition, both Hephaistion and Bagoas are understood as the eromenos in a pederastic relationship with Alexander. Such evidence may indicate that Alexander's relationship with Bagoas can resist the vacuum in which Briant places it. Regardless of this oversight, Part III is a clinic in literary analysis, and really makes up the meat of the study.

Part IV, Chapters 10 ("Dārā and Iskandar") and 11 ("Death and Transfiguration"), is an important study of the reception of Alexander and Darius in later Persian and Arabo-Persian tradition, a much-needed move away from Orientalist viewpoints towards a full picture of Darius III. In Chapter 10, Briant reconciles the Iranian traditions about Alexander and Darius, showing that, though there appear to be inconsistencies in the representation of the two kings, Darius' character always has the same flaws: defeat was due to his inattention and harshness towards his intimate circle, which sowed the seeds of treason and betrayal, leading his men to defect to Alexander (Iskandar) (385). Chapter 11 deals with the images in the various traditions associated with the death of Darius and the (symbolic) transfer of his kingdom to Alexander. Briant demonstrates how the later traditions utilize and manipulate Darius' image as a legitimation device, especially for the Sassanid Ardašir; through the former's vilification, the latter is legitimized. Chapter 12, "Darius in Battle: Variations on the Theme 'Images and Realities,'" offers a method for extracting plausible historical information from the sources about the functioning of the Achaemenid Empire, reconciling us somewhere between "truth" and the literary artistry of our sources. He uses comparative history and a fair reading of all available sources involved to show the ways in which this can be done, in this case suggesting that there may have been a logical rationale behind Darius' flight from battle: as the keeper of the empire, it was his responsibility to stay alive. These chapters betray a real interest for Briant in utilizing later reception of Darius III to glean some historical factoids, and contains the most novel contribution in the book.

For this reviewer, the most important portion of this edition is the reaction to criticisms of the first edition of the book, comprehensively presented in the preface. A historian's concerns are especially highlighted in the review of M. Brosius, 3 who worries that such a deductive approach as Briant has taken in this work "reduce[s] history to a literary construct" (430). Briant in fact demonstrates his awareness of this problem in the body of the book: "In reality, a purely factual quest is not the first priority of the present-day historian, who is more interested in the significance to be granted to the genesis and diffusion of a literary and monarchical motif" (259). He rebuts Brosius' argument by claiming that the classical sources can indeed be used productively, provided that we understand how to extract their "Achaemenid informative kernel," in which case they can be used to aid in a reconstitution of Darius' character.

The deconstruction of our sources employed throughout the book is countered in Chapter 12 in such a way as to provide hope for some collection of useful historical information. This latter analysis serves to reiterate Briant's aims, not to leave "the historian completely incapacitated," but to show that "There is no contradiction between literary analysis and historical inquiry: the first is a preliminary to the second, or rather, the two are inseparable" (xv).

There is a masterful treatment of all of the sources: numismatic, archaeological, art historical, and literary; Greco-Latin, Egyptian, Persian, and Babylonian. It is a winding journey, at times reading like a novel (for example, in the description of early travelers to the East in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries on pages 15-22). Though for the most part Briant's reading of the Greco-Latin source material is fair across the board, throughout the work this reviewer noted what might be categorized as "respectful disdain" for the Vulgate authors, depicting them as literary opportunists (as for Curtius: "The author does not hesitate to reconstitute public speeches and private conversations, even in their slightest details" (279); "In his characteristically heavy-handed and bombastic style, Curtius does not fail to improve on the Alexander panegyric" [323]).

The thematic notes at the end of the book make for a distraction-free read for the non-specialist; for the specialist they are an incredibly erudite resource for further research (though one does wonder why no notes are included for the 11th chapter). The translation style is eloquent and readable, and the book contains only a few typographical errors.4 The pictures are scattered throughout the book (they should have been compiled as a collective at the end) and of rather poor quality. Besides these minor qualms, Briant's work, as always, is a significant contribution to Achaemenid studies, a display of historiographical learnedness whose methods can benefit historians across ancient studies. ​


1.   E.g. M. Miller, Athens and Persians in the Fifth Century BC: A Study in Cultural Receptivity (Cambridge, 1997), on the archaeological side; for literary studies, exemplary is J. Haubold Greece and Mesopotamia: Dialogues in Literature (Cambridge, 2013). See also the recent collection of articles in Kulturkontakte in antike Welten: vom Denkmodell zum Fallbeispiel: Proceedings des internationalen Kolloquiums aus Anlass des 60. Geburtstages von Christoph Ulf, Innsbruck, 26. Bis 30. January 2009, eds. R. Rollinger and K. Schnegg (Leuven 2014).
2.   This chapter at times becomes repetitive (e.g. citing and repeating the same passage from Strabo at least three times), but these infelicities are overwhelmed by the convincing nature of the arguments as a whole.
3.   In Gnomon 78, 2006: 426-430.
4.   Mediation for meditation, p. 18; follow for follows, p. 165; be for he, p. 209; Callihroe for Callirhoe, p. 328; princes for princess, p. 328; moment for moments, p. 414.

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Peter Funke, Matthias Haake (ed.), Greek Federal States and Their Sanctuaries. Identity and Integration. Proceedings of an International Conference of the Cluster of Excellence "Religion and Politics" Held in Münster, 17.06. – 19.06.2010. Stuttgart: Frank Steiner Verlag, 2013. Pp. 244. ISBN 9783515103077. €54.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Vinciane Pirenne-Delforge, Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique – FNRS (Belgium) – University of Liège (

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Table of Contents

Depuis La Cité antique de Fustel de Coulanges, au moins, nous savons qu'il est impossible d'étudier la cité sans prendre en considération les données religieuses liées à tous les aspects de son développement et de son existence. C'est ce qu'a bien montré, plus d'un siècle après La Cité antique, la thèse de François de Polignac : ce brillant ouvrage mettait en quelque sorte à jour le point de vue de Fustel, du côté grec, en montrant le rôle crucial des sanctuaires et des cultes qui s'y pratiquaient dans le cadre de l'émergence de la polis. Dans le même temps, Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood créait le terme de polis religion pour désigner de façon commode cette imbrication entre politique et religion reconnue de longue date.1 Les nombreux débats que continuent d'alimenter tant le livre de Fr. de Polignac que les articles de Chr. Sourvinou-Inwood attestent la très grande actualité de ces questionnements et les enjeux épistémologiques qu'ils engagent pour notre compréhension des dynamiques à l'œuvre dans le monde des poleis, des ethnê et des koina grecs.

Une même préoccupation traverse l'ouvrage collectif publié par Peter Funke et Matthias Haake, en posant un troisième terme qui rompt la dichotomie, commode mais réductrice, des niveaux « local » et « panhellénique » de l'activité politique et religieuse des Grecs. Ce troisième terme est le niveau régional, voire transrégional, de cette activité, qui peut – ou non – s'inscrire dans le cadre plus officiel d'une fédération, un koinon. Comme l'indique Peter Funke dès l'introduction, « the polarity 'local/panhellenic' does not suffice to grasp the wide range of influence generated by trans-regional sanctuaries » (p. 9). Selon les moments ou les occasions, un même sanctuaire peut accueillir des rituels purement locaux, qu'ils soient civiques ou moins officiels, des démarches régionales, panhelléniques, ou même internationales, comme le dépôt d'offrandes à Delphes par Crésus de Lydie. Selon les aléas de l'histoire des communautés qui le fréquentent, un même sanctuaire peut aussi changer de statut ou faire l'objet de revendications contradictoires.

C'est une telle complexité que les différents auteurs des essais ici rassemblés tentent de circonscrire et d'analyser, en se concentrant sur des « fédérations » plus ou moins bien connues selon les cas. Le sous-titre du volume « Identity and Integration » identifie les deux questions mises à l'agenda de la rencontre qui est à l'origine de la publication : 1/ quel(s) rôle(s) ont joué les sanctuaires dans l'intégration politique des états fédéraux grecs ? 2/ de quelle(s) manière(s) ont-ils assuré l'identité des fédérations en question ? À plus long terme, l'objectif de l'enquête est de mieux comprendre la relation qui se joue entre religion et politique sur le plan trans-régional, mais aussi d'éclairer les interactions de ces données à l'intérieur des cités elles-mêmes.

Les diverses fédérations étudiées n'ont pas le même statut et le degré de détail auquel on peut prétendre pour les connaître est loin d'être uniforme. Ainsi, les cas de Thermos pour l'Étolie (P. Funke) et d'Aigion pour l'Achaïe (A. Rizakis) sont des cas presque « prototypiques » de sanctuaires fédéraux qui ont pu contribuer à l'intégration et l'identité des communautés qui s'y rassemblaient, même si de lourdes incertitudes continuent de peser sur la chronologie de certains processus. Au cas achéen se relie celui des cités d'Italie du Sud qui se revendiquaient d'une ascendance « achéenne », même si l'identité d'un sanctuaire fédéral reste débattue, entre le sanctuaire non identifié de Zeus Homarios et le célèbre téménos d'Héra Lakinia (M.P. Fronda). L'exemple d'Olympie (J. Roy), à partir du VIe siècle et la mainmise d'Élis, est tout aussi paradigmatique en termes d'identité et d'intégration, entre la cité qui l'administre et les Grecs qui s'y rassemblent périodiquement. À l'autre extrémité du spectre se trouvent des regroupements que l'on qualifie de « fédérations » par commodité, mais dont les attestations ne sont guère explicites et dont l'ancrage dans des sanctuaires précis est peu ou mal documenté. Le cas des fédérations insulaires étudié par K. Buraselis est contrasté : les Nésiotes et les Lesbiens ont une consistance rituelle (avec l'Apollon délien pour les premiers et le sanctuaire de « Messa » pour les seconds) à laquelle les Crétois ne peuvent guère prétendre. Les cas de la Triphylie et l'Arcadie, scrutés par Th. H. Nielsen, sont tout aussi labiles et peu exploitables pour une analyse fine des processus en jeu. Quant à la Macédoine, la persistance d'une royauté y pose en d'autres termes la question de « l'intégration ». C'est davantage aux questions d'identité liées à l'un ou l'autre sanctuaire « fédérateur » que s'intéresse M. Hatzopoulos, soulignant le rôle respectif des sanctuaires d'Héraclès Patroios d'Aigeai et de Zeus Olympios de Dion à cet égard. Encore faut-il remarquer qu'un sanctuaire « fédérateur », au sens large, n'implique pas forcément les mêmes types d'interactions entre religion et politique qu'un sanctuaire d'État fédéral. L'exemple de l'Acarnanie est significatif à cet égard (Kl. Freitag) : la région a pu se forger progressivement, aux périodes archaïque et classique, une identité autour de la figure d'Achéloos, mais il faut attendre le IIIe siècle pour voir se constituer un sanctuaire « fédéral » avec l'Apollon Aktios et pour parler d'intégration.

Entre le pôle des cas prototypiques et celui des cas « limites » se déploie toute une série de cas qui offrent des éléments de réponse aux questions liminaires. Le traitement des cas béotien et phoicidien (respectivement par A. Ganter et J. McInerney) est particulièrement intéressant en raison de la richesse des dossiers documentaires, qui permettent de combiner les traditions mythiques, les attestations cultuelles et les données archéologiques, tout en faisant droit à des évolutions historiques. Ces deux contributions sont dès lors les plus susceptibles de nourrir la réflexion générale sur l'interaction religion/politique. Le cas locrien (G. Daverio Rocchi) est surtout centré sur la place respective d'Athéna Ilias et d'Ajax dans la construction de l'identité des deux parties de la région, mais la tradition du tribut des vierges locriennes, prise ici au pied de la lettre, ne va pas de soi en termes identitaires puisque cette identité se fonde sur un sacrilège ! Quant à la Thessalie, R. Bouchon et Br. Helly y décèlent une « bipolarisation » à la fois géographique, cultuelle, institutionnelle du koinon à partir de la période hellénistique. C'est alors qu'à l'Athéna Itônia ancestrale viennent s'ajouter le sanctuaire et les concours pour Zeus Olympios, mettant en exergue la prédominance de Larisa sur l'Itônion.

En conclusion, il s'agit d'un ouvrage très riche de perspectives, qui contribue assurément à nourrir les débats sur les interactions entre religion et politique en élargissant les données de la problématique à l'échelle régionale et transrégionale. Le lecteur intéressé par les représentations religieuses y trouvera assurément du matériel pour poser d'autres questions encore, notamment celle du profil de ces divinités auxquelles ces diverses communautés ont décidé de s'identifier au-delà de leurs particularismes locaux.


1.   Numa Fustel de Coulanges, La Cité antique. Étude sur le culte, le droit, les institutions de la Grèce et de Rome (1864); Fr. de Polignac, La Naissance de la cité grecque. Cultes, espace et société, VIIIe-VIIe siècles, Paris, 1995² [1984] ; Chr. Sourvinou-Inwood, "What is Polis Religion?," in O. Murray, S. Price (eds.), The Greek City from Homer to Alexander, Oxford, p. 295-322; "Further Aspects of PolisReligion", Annali dell'Istituto Universitario Orientale di Napoli, Sezione di Archeologia e Storia Antica 10 (1988), p. 259-274 [both reprinted in R. Buxton (ed.), Oxford Readings in Greek Religion, Oxford, 2000, p. 13-37, 38-55].

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Wednesday, October 7, 2015


Michael Turner, Alexander Cambitoglou, Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum, The Nicholson Museum, The University of Sydney. Red Figure and Over-Painted Pottery of South Italy, Australia fascicule 2. Sydney: The Nicholson Museum, University of Sydney, and The Australian Archaeological Institute of Athens, 2014. Pp. 111; 12 p. figures; 134 color plates. ISBN 9781742103297. A$199.95.

Reviewed by Tyler Jo Smith, University of Virginia (

Version at BMCR home site

The second Australian CVA is dedicated to the Nicholson Museum's collection of South Italian vases identified as products of the regions of Lucania, Campania, Paestum, and Sicily. Over-painted Gnathia pottery, Teano ware, and a single St. Valentin kantharos have also been included in the volume. Like the first fascicule devoted to Apulian vases in the same university museum and published in 2008 by the same pair of scholars, the current one presents each object in color photographs, with multiple views and some details, and also provides profile drawings for both whole vessels and fragments. In fact, the two fascicules are best viewed as a set, and together their coverage and quality make a handy introduction to the vase-painting of South Italy 1 The book is dedicated to the memories of both A.D. Trendall and T.B.L. Webster, who contributed a great deal to the combined topic of vases and dramas, and much else besides, as well as to Noël Oakeshott, a "pioneer of the study of South Italian pottery" (9), who studied and purchased several of the Nicholson vases. A valuable and somewhat rare addition to this CVA is an introductory chapter: "A.D. Trendall and the Nicholson Museum." Written by Turner, the museum's Senior Curator since 2005, it recounts not only many details about Dale Trendall's involvement with the collection in the form of curation, acquisitions, attributions, and publications, but also biographical and anecdotal information about his life and career, and a photograph of Trendall (holding a red-figure krater), Cambitoglou, and David M. Robinson at the University of Mississippi in 1954. The extract from a letter of recommendation written by Trendall's mentor, Sir John Beazley, is particularly relevant, as both scholars are today remembered as the greatest connoisseurs of the 20th century in their respective fields of South Italian and Attic vase-painting. Trendall's imprint is evident throughout the volume. Many of the vases were previously studied by him and assigned to new artistic hands. Indeed, his "final legacy to the Nicholson" was the naming of four painters based on the collection: The Nicholson Painter (Campanian), the Painter of Sydney 46.54 (Campanian), the Sydney Bottle Group (Sicilian), and the Sydney Painter (Lucanian, Paestan).

The shapes covered by the fascicule are wide-ranging and reflect a combination of what is typical in the various fabrics and the desire to build a study collection for purposes of teaching and research in a university setting. Not surprisingly, bell-kraters far outnumber other forms and the examples represented, all red-figure, are Lucanian, Campanian, Paestan, and Sicilian. Such coverage enables quick comparison of fabrics and forms and the profile drawings are especially welcome for this purpose. Other shapes occurring in multiple examples include the oinochoe, skyphos, hydria, and bottle (bombylios), and two each of the lekanis lid (both Sicilian), and Pagenstecher lekythos (both Sicilian). Additonal shapes are found in single examples, including two askoi of entirely different types and decoration, one a Gnathian with strap handle and ring base and the other an elegant Teano bird. Also worth mentioning is the Lucanian nestoris featuring Herakles and Nike; the Gnathian epichysis, a shape likely derived from metal; and the Campanian lidded kemai decorated around the shoulder with a series of outlined human heads, and whose modern name Beazley created on the basis of an inscription "on one such pot from Nola" (59). The date range for the South Italian and Sicilian wares is late 3rd – mid 2nd century BC. The earliest examples are Lucanian (i.e., Pisticci Painter, c. 430-410), while at the later end are the Gnathian skyphoid krater, the three Teano vases (all c. 300-275), and the lidded kemai (c. 320-270).

Where applicable, the entries provide an impressive amount of space to the imagery and decoration of individual pieces. There is a convenient index of "religious and mythological figures" (109), which however gives only a cursory idea of the complex iconography of the vases. What becomes immediately apparent is the large percentage of Dionysian and related subjects, as well as a noticeable array of divine, tragic, and mortal female figures (e.g. ,Aphrodite, Electra, "Aura"). Like the fabrics themselves, some details of South Italian iconography elude us, and a standard descriptive vocabulary is not always applied. Such is the case on the Paestan red-figure bell-krater attributed to the Sydney Painter, where a semi-draped, beardless "young seated man" offers a phiale to a draped woman who stands holding a mirror. The rounded objects dotted along the top of the phiale and on the nearby altar are called here "eggs", while in reference to another scene on another vase the phrase "egg-like objects" is used (35). If any of these are depictions of actual eggs, there might be important cultic or chthonic meaning embedded in the scenes.2 To be sure, some appear more egg-like in their rendering than others (e.g., Campanian oinochoe, pl. 56). At the same time, the implement in the same scene described as a "thyrsus" with its "small myrtle-like leaves" resembles more the attribute of Apollo (who does sometimes hold a phiale in Attic vase-painting) than the staff of Dionysos and his followers found on a variety of other examples within this assemblage (cf. pls. 11, 91 95).

Another Paestan krater, formerly in Sir William Hamilton's second collection, was acquired for the Nicholson Museum at a London auction in 1948 for the sum of 13 pounds sterling (72). It too presents an iconographic puzzle that has stumped several generations of esteemed vase enthusiasts from Tischbein to Trendall. A female figure rests against a thyrsus while five round objects are stacked up in a vertical row above her outstretched hand. Turner and Cambitoglou described them as "coloured balls...thrown into the air," while previous identifications include: "small stones...for performing a magical operation" (Tischbein); "moon-stones" (Hamilton); a "skewer of fruit" (Tillyard); votive offerings associated with Dionysos (Schneider-Hermann). Although one can never be sure, it is indeed possible that the best clue is the most obvious one. The seated woman in the same scene who is identically bedecked and bejeweled, and who also clutches a thyrsus, also holds a similar, if larger, round object directly below and on axis with the row of "balls above". This larger version of arguably the same object, perhaps simply intended by the painter to appear closer to the viewer, resembles a fruit, such as a pomegranate. The way it is held between the finger tips looks like the gesture of offering fruits and flowers made by females in mainland Greek sculpture and vases. That being said, the authors see "three white balls" in the hand of Dionysos on a different vase, a Paestan bell-krater attributed by Trendall to Python. The rather human-looking satyr on the Hamilton vase, who steps away from the woman and glances back at them, confirms the ambiguous cultic-mythical setting, and makes a nice comparison with the so-called "horned satyr" (perhaps a man dressed as Pan? cf. pl. 106) on the Lucanian krater by the Dolon Painter (29-30).

Spectacle and theatricality are the mainstays of South Italian vase painting, both literally and figuratively, and both are in evidence here. Singled out for mention is a costumed aulete performing on the fragment of a Lucanian red-figure skyphos, and a satyr holding a barbiton lyre on another Lucanian fragment. Comic parody is the explanation for the unique scene on a Lucanian krater, showing two masked figures in female costume. According to J.R. Green, who attributes the vessel to the "Early" Creusa Painter, the scene portrays Phaedra, who appears to faint, having just heard the news of the death of Hippolytos. A vivid portrayal of the death of Niobe on a Campanian hydria, which may or may not be related to theater, receives a much deserved lengthy discussion complete with both literary references and artistic comparanda. The grieving mother stands in a naiskos, while her own father, Tantalus, kneels and gestures toward her already petrifying body; from above, Apollo and Leto look on to complete the multi-generational melodrama. Not surprisingly, several Paestan vases reveal signs of the stage, among them masks, boots, music, and props/sets. Also performative in their way are examples of nude male athletes strutting with strigils, satyrs overseeing drinking games, and mortal or mythical komoi.

Recent scholarship on South Italian vases has highlighted the importance of archaeological context and the problem of lost information caused by illegal excavations and the antiquities trade.3 Cambitoglou and Turner are no doubt cognizant of the problem and, as a result, have granted extra attention to the history of individual objects where known. Following the suggestion of one reviewer of fascicule 1 (BMCR 2010.09.38), this time the authors have inserted within the entries early drawings of a few vases and provided additional commentary (e.g., Paestan bell krater, 78-80, pls. 106-109). This beautifully produced and thoughtfully written CVA reaffirms that it is no longer acceptable to speak of vase painting of Magna Graecia as "the poor cousin to Attic" (8). Leaving aside subjective judgements about style, artistry, and taste, these vases—or "pots", as our authors would prefer to say—are extremely valuable in what they can teach us about the history of collecting in Italy and beyond.


1.   Alexander Cambitoglou, Michael Turner, Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. The Nicholson Museum, The University of Sydney. The Red Figure Pottery of Apulia. The Nicholson Museum 1, Australia fascicule 1 (Sydney: Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens; The Nicholson Museum, The University of Sydney 2008).
2.   As has been suggested for Etruscan art; see Lisa Pieraccini, "Food and Drink in the Etruscan World," in J. Turfa (ed.), The World of the Etruscans (New York: Routledge 2013), 816-17.
3.   See recently T.H. Carpenter, K.M. Lynch, E.G.D. Robinson (eds.), The Italic People of Ancient Apulia: New Evidence from Pottery for Workshops, Markets, and Customs (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press 2014).

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Anthony Kaldellis, The Byzantine Republic. People and Power in New Rome. Cambridge, Mass; London: Harvard University Press, 2015. Pp. xvi, 290. ISBN 9780674365407. $35.00.

Reviewed by Mark Whittow, Corpus Christi College, Oxford (

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As readers of Anthony Kaldellis's previous books will have learnt to expect, his latest is highly readable, grounded in a deep knowledge of the sources, and (at least on the face of it) radically revisionist. You thought Byzantium was a Greek, Christian, orthodox and absolutist empire? Wrong. Kaldellis will show you that it was these things only secondarily, if at all. At heart Byzantium was the Roman republic, with all the implications of consent and political involvement that terminology carries.

Chapter 1 'Introducing the Roman Republic' defines terms: 'ideology' and 'politeia'. For Kaldellis the important to thing to grasp about both is the element of community and consent. Ideology should be understood as the package of basic notions by which Byzantines made sense of the political society of which they were part; a political society which they termed a politeia. To translate politeia as 'state' is misleading. State understood as a separate sphere from society at large is not at all what the term implies. Using Leo VI's novels, the writings of Syrianos Magister, the Geoponika, and Corippus' speech in praise of Justin II as illustrative sources, Kaldellis leaves no doubt that what the term implied was the community of all Byzantines, a community with a personality whose benefit amounted to the common good. 'Commonweal' or 'commonwealth' in their medieval and early modern sense would translate politeia well, but since those whom we, for reasons of habit and convenience, call Byzantines were neither more nor less than Romans, and the Greek politeia uncontroversially translates the Latin res publica, the natural English translation can only be 'republic'.

To historians familiar with the post eighteenth-century usage of republic to mean 'not a monarchy', or with the similarly recent notion that the Roman Republic came to end with Augustus, this may seem strange; but the Romans themselves would have found it quite normal. Cassius Dio, for example, describing the age of Augustus was in no doubt that the republic continued, simply now better ordered under a monarchy than under the consuls (29).

Chapter 2, 'The Emperor in the Republic', takes the discussion of politeia further, and explores its relationship with basileia. They were not the same thing. As Kaldellis puts it, emperors were "nominally in charge of the public space of the politeia but only as its custodians, not its owners" (43). Palaces, for example were public buildings, not the emperor's private property. Public revenues were just that, and from 500 to 1204 (roughly the period Kaldellis chooses to treat here) emperors who forgot that fact opened themselves to harsh criticism. Hellenistic kings were different. They did not rule republics;.they owned their kingdoms as personal possessions, and could pass them on without question to their chosen heirs. Roman emperors on the other hand ruled only by sufferance of the Roman people. The republic was not theirs to bestow. Repeatedly the sources over the centuries make the point that the emperor was effectively a magistrate, working for the common good.

If this is the case, how should we treat those cases where the emperor is said to be above the law? As Kaldellis explains, however, in chapter 3 ('Extralegal Authority in a Lawful Polity'), this is not a problem. Everyone agreed that the Roman empire was an ennomos politeia, a republic of laws, and popular emperors were seen as abiding by the laws. Indeed to be secure on his throne an emperor had to be seen in this way. On the other hand, the role of the emperor in the republic was to be the supreme legislative authority, a function that in some senses placed him above the law, but perhaps more to the point required that he could make exceptions, and apply the laws with discretion and flexibility, in other words what was known as oikonomia. In order for his actions to carry legitimacy, the emperor needed to abide by the laws, but at the same time he needed to be above them in order to serve the ultimate end for which the law was only a means, namely the common good of the republic. Being above the law did not make the emperor an absolute monarch. As that touchstone of Byzantine normality and eleventh-century Lord Chesterfield, Kekaumenos, explained, if the emperor legislates well, we should obey him, but if he were to say "drink poison", then we should not (79). The test is the common good, of which the republic as a whole will be the judge.

The implication that the Roman people were sovereign may seem farfetched, but as Kaldellis explains in chapters 4 ('The Sovereignty of the People in Theory') and 5 ('The Sovereignty of The People in Practice'), the narrative sources are actually full of evidence to this effect. The key, as Kaldellis perceptively points out, lies in treating the sovereignty of the Roman people in terms made familiar by Rousseau, namely that the people are sovereign but in day-to-day practice they have delegated power, in this case to a monarch, who nonetheless remains the servant of the people.

With rare exceptions, modern historians have missed this point, and for many the reaction to Kaldellis' argument may be a raised eyebrow, but that flies in the face of the facts. Revolt after revolt, all our accounts of these events make it clear that the attitude of the people was decisive, and recognised as legitimately so. Indeed seen over the eight centuries that Kaldellis is covering, what is most remarkable about the Nika riots of the sixth century is that they are the only recorded instance of an emperor who managed to defy popular judgement, send in the troops, and keep his throne. Otherwise the brutal message of Byzantine politics was that emperors who had lost popular support were doomed; or, to put it the other way round, imperial power was at the mercy of public opinion. Byzantine political culture was one of ordered ceremony barely keeping riot at bay, of a narrow line between dutiful acclamation and mocking abuse, a world where power could leach away in hours. Kaldellis cites familiar episodes and well-known sources, and it is a fair point that in our concentration on Byzantine politics as a court-centred business, entirely decided by the actions of an office-holding elite, the power of the people has been too much overlooked. As long ago as the 1st century AD, the emperor Tiberius is said to have compared governing the Roman people to holding a wolf by the ears, and one suspects that Byzantine emperors needed little reminding of what a tense job that was, and what happened to those who couldn't manage to hang on.

The final chapter, chapter 6 ('The Secular Republic and the Theocratic Imperial Idea'), turns to the familiar model of Byzantium as a theocratic state, ruled by a God-given emperor. Kaldellis is not denying this was an aspect of Byzantine ideology; rather he is concerned to keep it in perspective. In his view court ceremony and rhetoric harked on the theme not because it was so central and so accepted by everyone, but rather because the position of individual emperors was so insecure. Constant reminders that the emperor had been chosen by God were a defensive move to reinforce his fragile grip on power. It was a discourse that papered over the sordid facts of fickle popularity and contested competence. That is not to say that the Byzantines did not believe quite sincerely that the imperial system was in some sense divinely validated, but it was something they were able to believe at the same time as they turned out to topple an inadequate emperor with never a qualm about that individual's divinely-protected status. But what else would we expect? Modern politicians and electorates find no difficulty in holding a portfolio of incompatible beliefs; why should the Byzantines have been any different?

Kaldellis puts his arguments clearly and forcefully, and explicitly labels it a revisionist book. Some Byzantinists will find the arguments come as a surprise, but perhaps not that many. For some time now historians, particularly of the late medieval and early modern period, have been rethinking the role of the people in politics and finding that absolutism is often not what it seems. The notion of the monarchical republic, the idea of the God-given emperor or sultan being at the mercy of public opinion, may be novelties applied to Byzantium, but they are familiar elsewhere. Indeed perhaps the most lasting impact of this important book will be to make Byzantium less peculiar and easier to place in a wider comparative context.

Byzantines as Romans, the importance of the Roman ideological inheritance, the sovereign role of the people, the essentially secular nature of Byzantine politics, and the fragility of imperial power—will everyone agree? I had two concerns. First, in the case being made against Byzantium as a theocratic absolute monarchy, I sometimes felt religious ideology was not being given the weight it deserved. Kaldellis draws a number of effective parallels with contemporary events and political leaders, but it seemed telling that he cites the Arab Spring and not ISIL or the Taliban. It is perhaps telling as well that his illustrative evidence comes more from the fifth, sixth and eleventh centuries than from the more Talibanesque Age of Iconoclasm. Need the ideology of the Byzantine republic have always been as secular as it is presented here? Does the recognition that Byzantium was not an imperial theocracy mean that religion had no practical influence on Byzantine politics? Second, I have already mentioned that historians of other empires have for some time been showing that imperial power was not anything like so absolute, or popular participation anything like so irrelevant as we had imagined. The Ottoman empire has come to look much more republican, using Kaldellis' term, than it once did;1 and the Ming empire looks less absolutist.2 Since neither owed anything to Rome or a Roman inheritance, does that call the Roman roots of the Byzantine republic into question? Rather than being explained by a particular ideological inheritance, fixed as it were in the Byzantine DNA, might the characteristics Kaldellis has brought to our attention not be a more general phenomenon of large pre-modern polities?

Answers to both my questions are likely to be forthcoming. Kaldellis acknowledges that he has focused less upon imperial image than other aspects of Byzantine political ideology, and that the role of the Roman inheritance in Byzantium is only half covered here. Further discussion is promised. I need only say that Kaldellis is a wonderful historian, full of interesting ideas, whose works add hugely to the entertainment value of Byzantine studies. What is emerging from his successive publications is an increasingly complex and nuanced picture of the Byzantine empire, and I look forward with keen anticipation to the next instalment.


1.   B. Tezcan, The Second Ottoman Empire: Political and Social Transformation in the Early Modern World (Cambridge, 2010), 1-13; E. Boyar, K. Fleet, A Social History of Ottoman Istanbul (Cambridge, 2010), 28-71.
2.   R. Huang, 1587, A Year of No Significance: the Ming Dynasty in Decline (New Haven, CT, 1981), 74-6, 85-6, 100; T. Brook, The Chinese State in Ming Society (London, 2005), 5-14, 182-90.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2015


Maria Dzielska, Kamilla Twardowska (ed.), Divine Men and Women in the History and Society of Late Hellenism. Byzantina et Slavica Cracoviensia, 7. Kraków: Jagiellonian University Press, 2013. Pp. 168. ISBN 9788323336792. $42.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Todd C. Krulak, Samford University (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

This book is derived from papers delivered at a 2010 conference at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków at which an international contingent of scholars convened to consider late antique examples of men and women who, as a result of their personal standards of religiosity and the relationships they were perceived to have had with the divine, were adjudged by others to be holy or even theios. Theoretical assessments of the category, theios aner, are eschewed for the most part in favor of treatments of specific subjects, though the volume would have benefited from at least one definitional essay or an extended discussion in the introduction. Because some degree of latitude appears to have been granted to the authors—topics include a thirteenth-century Sufi mystic and the status quaestionis of a network of rooms found in the excavations of Kom el-Dikka—it is even more important to mark the boundaries of titular terms such as "Divine men and women" and "late Hellenism."

Polymnia Athanassiadi's essay, which follows a foreword and an introduction by Maria Dzielska and Maciej Salamon, respectively, does address one role of the "dynamic and elusive" divine man or woman, the introduction of social reform through teaching, which Athanassiadi deems one of the "stable characteristics" of this type. An examination of the letters of Iamblichus to his pupils on topics like virtue, education of the young, politics, and fate demonstrates the philosopher's engagement in civic life, both its political and social aspects, and his desire to encourage those who would be in positions of authority towards principled governance. Athanassiadi next compares the protreptic epistles of Iamblichus and the "pastoral letters" of the Emperor Julian who took to heart Iamblichus' holistic philosophy and finds a "family likeness." Julian's missives outlined the virtues, desired in the priests who were crucial to his political and religious reforms, and emphasized the "cosmic and eschatological solicitude of the gods for the world" (27). This message is repeated in Sallustius' On the gods and the cosmos, a catechetical epitome of Iamblichan philosophy, in which beneficent Providence offers comfort in a harsh world. All three authors, Athanassiadi concludes, worked to preserve "a culture that [was] at once humane and heavenly- minded" (27)

In the second essay, Pierre Chuvin examines three familial funerary inscriptions from northwest Phrygia, dating to 249 C.E., 313 C.E., and sometime after 313, all bearing the name Epitynchanos. Chuvin provides the Greek text and English translation for each inscription, which speak of the Epitynchanoi's functions as priests, legislators, astrologers, and oracles. Allusion also is made to the immortal natures of both the deceased and his surviving brothers. A brief comparison is made between the inscription on the 313 text and Christian funerary texts, but Chuvin concludes that there is little in these similarities. Instead, the funerary texts demonstrate the similarity of terminology and practice amongst Christians and non-Christians in this period of supposed "religious neutrality" (46).

The third and fourth essays focus on a pupil and his teacher. In the former, Dimitar Y. Dimitrov scrutinizes the role philosophy and culture played in Synesius of Cyrene's theory of divine ascent. Through an analysis of a sampling of Synesius' hymns and letters, some of the latter addressed to his eminent teacher, Hypatia, Dimitrov contends that the initial stages of ascent began with the paideutic regimen of the philosopher and culminated with intellectual, de-ritualized mysteries.

The fourth essay finds Maria Dzielska reflecting anew on Hypatia's death, a topic covered also in her book on the Alexandrian philosopher.1 She analyzes an array of ancient sources and incorporates scholarship published subsequent to her monograph to conjure a comprehensive portrait of Hypatia and her last days. The philosopher is cast as a tragic, but noble, figure who, distraught by the city's increasing political and religious tensions, sought to use her virtuous reputation to influence and orient a larger audience towards the Good. In this, she follows the example of Socrates, descending, in a sense, back into the cave where she met a fate similar to her Athenian predecessor.

Agnieszka Kijewska is responsible for the next entry which addresses Boethius' De consolatione, a work produced while the author was imprisoned for treason. The essay examines some of the literary traditions underlying the work which include consolatio, protreptic, and philosophy. This last finds expression in the consideration of topics such as divine foreknowledge and the existence of evil, but also in O qui perpetua, a poem found in Book III, Metrum 9, which possesses parallels to the Timaeus. Ultimately, however, Kijewska contends that De consolatione is not about the potency of philosophy, but rather its inability to affect ultimate salvation. This was the domain of Christianity and, thus, "one shouldn't be surprised that Boethius refuses to follow the path of Neoplatonic transcendence in order to become 'divine man' [sic] for he was a Christian philosopher and martyr" (89).

In the volume's sixth essay, Krzysztof Kościelniak introduces the reader to the Sufi mystic, Farīd al-dīn Attār (d. ~1221). Following a summary of Attār's life and a discussion of the debates over which works attributed to him are to be viewed as genuine, the focus of the essay shifts to The Conference of Birds (Manṭiq-aṭ-Ṭayr), "an allegory of the spiritual way of Sufism with its demands, its dangers, and its infinite rewards" (98). Kościelniak finds connections between the Sufism of Attār and Neoplatonism, but on the evidence given—both seek union with God, a common goal of numerous late antique and medieval movements, and the claim, disputable as it relates to Neoplatonism, that in each "God and the universe are the 'One'"—these appear to be tenuous.

Adam Łukaszewicz next takes the reader to the heart of late antique Alexandria, to Kom el-Dikka, where excavations over the past fifty years have revealed portions of the street grid, colonnades, a bath complex, a theater, and the remains of houses. The essay concentrates on the theater and a nearby portico along which were discovered a series of twenty-one uniform rooms, dating to the late fifth/early sixth centuries, which are deemed to be classrooms belonging to an educational institution. Łukaszewicz notes that it is common now to view the theater, likely erected in the early fourth century, as being repurposed by school authorities for use as an auditorium maximum. Maria Dzielska's suggestion that this might have been the location of the violence carried out against Hypatia is considered briefly, but because the classrooms most likely date to a period subsequent to 415, Łukaszewicz concludes that Dzielska's contention is improbable.

Andrzej Iwo Szoka's essay mines Damascius' Philosophical History for information on Salustios, a philosopher associated there with Cynicism. By the late fifth century, the school had declined to such a degree that references to active Cynics are almost non-existent, so this characterization is intriguing. It is not in Salustios' philosophy that Cynic elements are found, but rather in his conduct. Damascius notes his subject's frankness in speech, his itinerant and free-spirited lifestyle, his austerity in diet and material comforts, and his fortitude in the face of trials. Szoka theorizes that these attributes were not Cynic in their derivation, but rather Salustios encountered and embraced these practices as a result of contact he had with Brahmans who displayed similar ascetic tendencies. The similarities between Cynic and Brahmanic practices led Damascius to associate Salustios not with the former's philosophical tenets, but rather with some of the more noticeable aspects of the Cynic lifestyle.

Holy women in the Platonic tradition are the focus of Ilinca Tanaseanu-Döbler's contribution. Following a brief but thoughtful consideration of the categories of "holy man/woman" and "holiness," Tanaseanu-Döbler turns to Eunapios of Sardes' portrait of the philosopher, Sosipatra, in his Vitae sophistarum, whose exceptional and unique nature is singular amongst the other depictions of women in Eunapios' account. Although she possesses both the philosophical and ritual knowledge of her male peers, Sosipatra's education does not follow the usual paideutic path and therefore her story does not and cannot serve to offer guidance to other aspiring female philosophers. Tanaseanu-Döbler next surveys sketches of Platonist holy women in the writings of Plutarch, Porphyry, Iamblichos, Julian, Synesios, Proklos, and Damaskios discerns two general patterns: women whose relationship with the divine resulted from perfect ritual practice and women whose deification came through the practice of philosophy. Unlike contemporaneous examples in the Christian tradition in which the devotional and lifestyle patterns of women are held up as exemplary (as, for instance, Macrina or Thecla), the religiosity of Platonist women, including that of remarkable individuals like Sosipatra, frequently is aligned with the more traditional feminine roles of wife and mother.

The volume's penultimate essay is Kamilla Twardowska's examination of an ekphrasis attributed to the Empress Athenais Aelia Eudocia, wife of Emperor Theodosius II, found in the Roman baths at Hammat Gader, a town 8 km east of the Sea of Galilee. Following a introduction that details the physical layout of the bath structure, Twardowska turns to the inscription, which was engraved into a slab located near the entrance to a frigidarium referred to as the Hall of Fountains. It is a playful poem that the author contends offered praise to God for the sixteen water outlets that flowed into the bath complex and brought health to the ailing. In the course of her discussion, Twardowska brings clarity to a variety of issues including the names found on the slab (which are appended to individual water outlets), the dating of the poem's composition (probably sometime between 455-460 C.E.), and the likelihood that, subsequent to a series of earthquakes in the early 450s, the empress was responsible for the restoration of the bath complex.

Finally, Edward Watts demonstrates that Damascius' Life of Isidore (alternately titled Philosophical History) is valuable to the understanding of both its subject and, more generally, late antique collective biography. Damascius is famously frank in his descriptions of his teacher, Isidore of Alexandria, and of the fifth-century Athenian and Alexandrian philosophical scene, and it is this willingness to expose his subjects' flaws that provides insight into which of these are fatal to living the philosophical life and which may be overcome through the virtuous life. An example of the former is found in the person of Ammonius, whose capitulation to Christian authorities is derided. Isidore's naivety and propensity to anger, on the other hand, did not mean that Isidore was unworthy of emulation.

The quality of the essays in the volume is uneven, but those by Athanassiadi, Tanaseanu-Döbler, and Watts stand out and are worthy of attention. A firmer editorial hand might have been beneficial as several of the articles betray their origin in a language other than English, which occasionally detracts from their respective arguments. More problematic is that some of the topics have only the remotest of connections to the purported subject of the collection, that is, divine men and women in late Hellenism, which might prove disappointing to readers with a particular interest in this category of religious specialist.

Table of Contents

Polymnia Athanassiadi, "The Divine Man of Late Hellenism: A Sociable and Popular Figure"
Pierre Chuvin, "Praying, Wonder-Making, and Advertising: The Epitynchanoi's Funerary Inscriptions"
Dimitar Y. Dimitrov, "Philosophy and Culture as Means to Divine Ascent in Late Antiquity: The Case of Synesius"
Maria Dzielska, "Once More on Hypatia's Death
Agnieszka Kijewska, "Boethius – Divine Man or Christian Philosopher?"
Krzysztof Kościelniak, "Farīd-al-dīn Attār Nīšāpūrī (died c. 1221)"
Adam Łukaszewicz, "Lecture Halls at Kom el-Dikka in Alexandria"
Andrzej Iwo Szoka, "Salustios – Divine Man of Cynicism in Late Antiquity"
Ilinca Tanaseanu-Döbler, "Sosipatra – Role Models for 'Divine' Women in Late Antiquity"
Kamilla Twardowska, "Athenais Eudocia – Divine or Christian Woman?"
Edward Watts, "Damascius' Isidore: Collective Biography and a Perfectly Imperfect Philosophical Exemplar"


1.   A topic she treats in detail in M. Dzielska, Hypatia of Alexandria (Cambridge, MA, 1996), 83-100.

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Ruth Guilding, Owning the Past: Why the English Collected Antique Sculpture, 1640-1840. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2014. Pp. vi, 410. ISBN 9780300208191. $85.00.

Reviewed by Hans Christian Hönes, The Warburg Institute (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

The very subtitle of Ruth Guilding's book promises answer to an important and basic question: Why did the English collect antique sculpture? The answer is given straightforwardly: The quest for prestige and the aim to increase one's social status (6) were the driving forces behind the acquisition of these "princely toys," (7) from the Renaissance to today. From Robert Walpole to William Weddell to Richard Worsley (to name just a few of the many protagonists discussed in this book), these collectors "were in the process of compensating for a change of status, or assimilating after one" (68). Statues, for them, were "badges of…upward mobility" (154). As for modern day collectors such as J. Paul Getty and the like (6, 329), collecting historical artefacts thus served as a means to compensate for the lack of one's own elaborate family and/or national history. Collecting is thus interpreted as a means for "annexing history" (22).

Admittedly, this is not the most surprising hypothesis. Modestly, the author does not try to overstate her originality, but concedes that her book provides more of a synthesis (6). Splendidly illustrated, its target audience is not only scholars, since it can also feature as a coffee-table book. Yet, it has much more to offer than one might expect from a mere "synthesis."

Although they follow a roughly chronological sequence, the chapters are predominantly thematically structured and discuss topics such as the "myth of ancestry," sexual "Libertinism," the role of contemporary sculpture, and the transformation from private to public collections. Admirably well organized, the book achieves a brilliant weaving of "distant" and "close" readings. Each chapter elaborates an overarching topic by means of several closely related case studies, ultimately introducing all the major collectors of the time. Often choosing examples that stand in as representatives for different social profiles (for example, William Weddell, Henry Temple, and Lyde Browne in Chapter 4 on the economics of "Buying and selling taste"), these case studies masterly map the respective topics.

From about the third chapter, the narrative centres on the hey-day of British Neoclassicism, between c. 1770 and 1840. Consequently, many protagonists such as Richard Worsley or Richard Payne Knight reappear in more than one chapter. Charles Townley, in particular, plays an important role in nearly all of them. Guilding makes brilliant use of this layout discussing the same collections and items from different perspectives, and progressively adding new nuances to the subjects. Johan Zoffany's famous painting, Charles Townley in his Library, is, for example, discussed in three different chapters (187, 221, 310). Alternately, it is presented as evidence for Townley's rise to a public man, as a representation of an intellectual coterie, and, most importantly, as a comment on the theories of primitive symbolism put forward by the antiquary Pierre d'Hancarville, portrayed at the centre of the scene—a connection often postulated but never sufficiently proven.

The book deals less with the history of museology than the social history of collecting. Consequently, it presents compelling insights into the dynamics of the circles of neo-classicist collectors. Brilliantly, the author analyses the constant competition among the collectors, who are always attempting to "lead the field." This setup was decisively enhanced by a close-knit club culture to which many important collectors belonged—the "Society of Dilettanti" being the best-known and most notorious example. These dynamics are omnipresent: whether it is Richard Worsley attempting to excel Johann Joachim Winckelmann's interpretations (212); Charles Townley trumping William Hamilton by hiring his amanuensis Pierre d'Hancarville and commissioning him to write a new art history, bluntly contradicting the one he wrote for his former patron (183); or Henry Blundell, in turn, outplaying Townley by undertaking a desexualising restoration of the statue of a hermaphrodite, as a material contradiction to d'Hancarville's sexualising theories on the origin of art (195).1

Convincingly, Guilding works out how readily these collectors adopted a very speculative hypothesis, sometimes bluntly lacking scholarly rigour, in order to carve a more spectacular theory of history, suitable for supporting their respective aims and their private mythologies. (220) Again and again, the author works out the playful self-awareness (sometimes even turning to a "self-parody") and the necessarily subjective perspectives of these collectors, aiming to create their own interpretation of the past.

Such a perspective on the social status of collecting naturally marginalizes other aspects of this practice. Although the author, as mentioned, interprets collecting as a means for "annexing the past," not much is said about the philosophy of history informing the aesthetic arrangements of such past within the realm of the collections.2 "The past" often appears to be simply a given, and the attempt to inscribe oneself into a line of tradition the only logical option. Hints and references to the construction of time and the narratives put forward by the arrangements of the exhibits are often rather hermetic. One reads that "Worsley grouped his collection in symbolic and associative arrangements," but does not learn much about the shape and nature of the latter. In other cases, such as Thomas Hope's, a connection to the writings of Pierre d'Hancarville is only vaguely postulated (226, 308).

In general, the contemporary view of the relation between past and present is described as linear and binary. When a collector such as Viscount Palmerston bought and arranged items in pairs, Guilding reasons he did so in order to gain "the pleasure of drawing a comparison between the prowess of the ancients and that of the moderns" (165). Such a neat and unproblematic connection is also suggested in Chapter 8 on contemporary sculpture and its place in collections of antiques. This is even more surprising as Guilding repeatedly mentions practices that sparked musings about more dynamic and intricate interactions of past and present, such as the popular torchlight visits (235, 272, 280), often described as a quasi-magical, but only momentary time travel. This is just one of numerous examples of pivotal discourses (the debates on the aesthetic and historical meaning of rough vs. smooth surfaces of sculptures would be another one) whose scope and significance are only indicated.

The focus on the big, impressive and expensive marble statues literally dwarfs the discussion of equally, if not more, important genres like coins and vases, which were major sources for the construction of the mythographic systems of authors like Richard Payne Knight or Thomas Hope. The book's focus on Graeco-Roman antiques also marginalises the importance of non- and North-European artefacts, although they were the focal point of many attempts to write a universal world-history of symbolism, tracing the art of all countries back to one single origin. A side glance at antiquarians dealing predominantly with material found in the British isles might have also proven profitable for another reason. Generally, these collectors, often associated with the Society of Antiquaries—not the Society of Dilettanti—came from a lower socioeconomic background than the Grand Tourists who were able to afford Graeco-Roman sculpture.3 For the purpose of a book interested in the collectors' aspirational quest for a higher social status, it might have been valuable to take into account which other options for developing a social profile were available, and which identity politics were associated with them.

Lastly, one might wonder whether the book's focus on collectors does not tend to overlook other protagonists in the antiquity business, such as, for example, antique dealers, but also antiquaries that were not closely associated with actual collections. A closer look at literary texts, in particular, might have helped to enhance not only our understanding of the collectors' self-images, but also of the actual interactions that took place in the gallery spaces. Joseph Spence's highly influential dialogue Polymetis, for example, is but briefly mentioned (156).

These criticisms are, however, to be understood as a suggestion for future inquiries rather than as an actual critique of Guilding's admirable synthesis. Most of the issues I have addressed are mentioned in one way or another during the course of the book; yet, a more opinionated, pointed argumentation might have been useful at times. Nonetheless, the book covers an impressive range of material and contains a wealth of new observations, no matter how conventional the narrative might appear at first sight.

The scope of archival research undertaken is especially impressive. Even chapters such as the one on sexual Libertinism, where Guilding builds largely on the findings of Viccy Coltman and Jason Kelly, still present highly interesting quotes from unpublished correspondences that make very worthwhile read. The range of illustrations is equally compelling and even entertaining: numerous photographs showing modern day aristocrats among their pricey possessions from the past are surely among the most original and surprising features of this book. Sadly, they are not matched by an equally comprehensive overview of the research literature; non-English books—for example, the seminal writings by Pascal Griener4—go largely unmentioned. But, again, these are only minor criticisms that should not hinder the appreciation of an admirably written, beautifully produced, and extremely informative book.

Table of Contents

Annexing history: Lord Arundel, Lord Pembroke and their ancient marbles
Atavism in a Palladian frame: myths of ancestry and new Romans
Temples of liberty and other polemics
Buying (and selling) taste
Competing for reputation
A partial enlightenment
The connoisseurship of libertinism: a diversion
Recreating the antique as neoclassical ideal
Memorials, souvenirs and speaking stones
The romantic museum: antique sculpture in the public realm


1.   For a similar interpretation of the narratives of these authors as "counter-histories," aiming to outdo one another, see my book Kunst am Ursprung. Das Nachleben der Bilder und die Souveränität des Antiquars (Bielefeld: transcript, 2014).
2.   On these questions, see: Wolfgang Ernst, Historismus im Verzug. Museale Antike(n)rezeption im britischen Neoklassizismus (und jenseits) (Hagen: MRM, 1992).
3.   See Rosemary Sweet, Antiquaries: The Discovery of the Past in Eighteenth-Century Britain (London: Hambledon, 2004).
4.   E.g. Le Antichità etrusche greche e romane 1766-1776 di Pierre Hugues d'Hancarville (Rome: Edizioni dell'Elefante, 1992), and La République de l'oeil. L'Expérience de l'art au siècle des Lumières (Paris: Odile Jacob, 2010).

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David Carmona, La escena típica de la 'epipólesis': De la épica a la historiografía. Quaderni dei Seminari romani di cultura greca 17. Roma: Edizioni Quasar, 2014. Pp. 288. ISBN 9788871405636. €31,00.

Reviewed by John Jacobs, Montclair Kimberley Academy (

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Table of Contents

This study takes its cue from two works on the battle exhortation, one a century-old dissertation and the other a recent collected volume to which Carmona himself contributed.1 In a series of articles that have appeared both before and after the title under review, the author has devoted an enormous amount of time and effort to identifying and analyzing examples of a specific genus of battle exhortation known as the epipolesis (a marshalling, mustering, or gathering of the troops—perhaps "review" is the most accurate and succinct approximation).2 The book, based on his 2009 Universidad de Extremadura dissertation, stands at the intersection between rhetoric and historiography, as well as that between epic and historiography (and, therefore, that between rhetoric and epic). Carmona succeeds admirably in tracing the origins and evolution of this "type scene" from Homer through later prose and poetry in both Greek and Latin, and so his work will no doubt prompt others to (re)examine the role of rhetoric in epic and historiography.

In chapter 1, "Introducción: contenido y objetivos" (pp. 1-28), Carmona lays the terminological and conceptual groundwork, and then elaborates the details of his methodology. He classifies the epipolesis as a type of "arenga" (passim) and discusses Agamemnon's address to the troops in Iliad 4.223-432 as the first (and originary) example of the trope (though the actual term epipolesis itself does not appear in extant Greek until Strabo and Plutarch, cf. ἐπεπωλεῖτο, Iliad 4.231, 250).

Carmona articulates two overall goals for the project: first, to illustrate the pervasive and enduring influence of epic on historiography; second, to show how historiographers use the epipolesis both to enliven the narrative and to enhance the heroic character of the general who delivers the speech. It is Thucydides (not Herodotus) who plays the pivotal role in adopting and adapting this thematic motif from Homer, and thereby in transforming it into an historiographical topos. Carmona declines to engage in the ongoing debate about the historicity of such episodes (p. 10 n. 63), choosing instead to concentrate on identifying and analyzing the rhetorical features that serve to define the epipolesis as a valid type scene across the boundaries of genre (from epic to historiography) and language (from Greek to Latin).

First and foremost, the author offers some preliminary observations on the formulaic nature of the language common both to Homer and to subsequent instantiations of the epipolesis. Thereafter, he proposes a tentative typology that divides examples of the type scene into either an "epipólesis simple" (one general, one speech for one interlocutor or group thereof) or an "epipólesis con descomposición," which includes examples "con descomposición del auditorio" (one general, multiple speeches for multiple interlocutors, presented as one utterance) and those "con descomposición del auditorio y del contenido" (one general, multiple speeches for multiple interlocutors, presented as multiple utterances). Carmona next distinguishes among speeches "en forma de mención o referencia," "en estilo indirecto," and "en estilo directo" and evaluates the argumentative content of those speeches reported in either oratio obliqua or oratio recta according to the five τελικὰ κεφάλαια or capitula finalia (τὸ δίκαιον, τὸ συμφέρον, τὸ δυνατόν-ῥᾴδιον, τὸ ἔνδοξον, and τὸ ἐκβησόμενον). Last but not least, the author emphasizes the importance of enargeia "a la descripción de la batalla y caracterización de la figura del general" (p. 26) both in epic and, perhaps even more so, in historiography.

Chapter 2, "La escena típica de la epipólesis en la Ilíada y su adaptación a la historiografía por parte de Tucídides" (pp. 29-98), considers the form and function of the various epipoleseis first in the Iliad and then in Thucydides. Carmona uses the typology outlined above in order to construct a catalog for the Iliad that includes examples of all three genera ("simple," as well as both "con descomposición"). The epipolesis in 4.223-432 qualifies as an "epipólesis con descomposición del auditorio y del contenido" and, naturally enough, furnishes a typological template for the other examples in the epic (pp. 37-40). Along the way, however, the author creates two additional subcategories ("interrumpida" and "con catálogo")—which can be interpreted as an indication of either the strength or the fragility of the hermeneutical framework. Following the catalog, Carmona turns to an examination of the role(s) that these epipoleseis play in the narrative: especially interesting and rewarding is the treatment of Iliad 5.494-496 = 6.103-105 = 11.211-213, three verses thrice repeated to describe Hector rousing his men for battle. In his discussion of "la figura del general-soldado," Carmona likewise makes the nice observation that Agamemnon (not Achilles) and Hector deliver the epipoleseis in the epic and, therefore, that Agamemnon (not Achilles) and Hector are the "primi inter pares de aqueos y troyanos, respectivamente" (p. 53; see p. 53 n. 257 for an explanation of the apparent exceptions). The first half of the chapter then concludes with a brief look at the paraenesis, another mode of exhortation, followed by a detailed analysis of the rhetorical impact of the poem's epipoleseis according to the five τελικὰ κεφάλαια.

Carmona continues with the transition from epic to historiography, from Homer not to Herodotus but to Thucydides, who, despite being "a priori más racional y alejado de la poesía" (the traditional verdict, to be sure, but unjust to both historiographers), was "el encargado de adaptar, transformar y trasladar este tipo de exhortación a la historiografía" (p. 69). A close reading of the battles of Salamis and Syracuse by way of example reveals that Herodotus does not construct a narrative which is amenable to the epipolesis, whereas Thucydides does. That said, the findings are meager even in Thucydides, since Carmona locates only three examples of the type scene in the entire work: "la epipólesis de Hipócrates (4.94.2)," "la epipólesis con descomposición del auditorio de Nicias (6.67.3)," and "la epipólesis tras la batalla de Nicias (7.77)." The author considers (but ultimately rejects, contra Longo) "la arenga de Nicias a los trierarcos (7.69.2) y otros casos similares" as further instances of the type scene, and goes on to identify the six major elements of the narrative structure of the three secure examples (p. 92). The second half of the chapter then concludes with a similar analysis of the rhetorical impact of the argumentative structure and content of the Thucydidean epipoleseis.

In chapter 3, "La escena típica de la epipólesis en la historiografía grecolatina: tipología y contenido argumentativo" (pp. 99-182), Carmona expands the nature and scope of the project to embrace subsequent epic and historiography in Greek and Latin. First, he classifies these further examples of the type scene "según se muestre el proceso de emisión y de recepción del mensaje" (i.e., the three genera outlined in chapter 1); then, he reclassifies these same examples "según el momento en que se produzca la epipólesis: antes, durante o después de la batalla, así como en otros contextos diferentes que no son propiamente los de la lucha"; finally, he again reclassifies the same examples "según la superficie y el medio a través del cual se lleva a cabo la epipólesis: en tierra (a caballo o a pie) y en el mar a bordo de un pequeño navío" (p. 99). In the initial stage of this treatment, Thucydides serves as the model for the continuation of the variant "con descomposición del auditorio," while Homer serves as that for the continuation of the variant "con descomposición del auditorio y del contenido." In the subsequent stage, the author notes that, apart from the episode in 4.223-432, all of the examples in the Iliad take place during the battle, but that, apart from Appian (who follows Homer in this regard), most of the historiographical examples take place before the battle. In the final stage, scenes with an epipolesis "a caballo" are more common, but those "a pie" are more heroic, while Appian, again the outlier, displays a unique affinity for epipoleseis at sea. Carmona turns once more to a rhetorical analysis before his closing summary, which "refuerza el carácter de la epipólesis como escena típica a lo largo de la tradición" (p. 182).

Chapter 4, "La epipólesis y la enárgeia: claridad, viveza y heroísmo en las descripciones de batalla. La caracterización del general-soldado" (pp. 183-232, so given, correctly, in the text instead of unitalicized "epipólesis" and "enárgeia" in the table of contents), focuses even more intently on rhetoric and, in particular, on the role of ekphrasis and enargeia in the evolution of the epipolesis as a type scene—but without getting mired in any (likely fruitless) attempt at engaging with the ongoing debate about the fraught relationship between the two concepts.3 Rather, Carmona observes that Imperial authors in both Greek and Latin display an increasing awareness of and interest in the epipolesis, and he connects that trend with the increasing influence of rhetoric on epic and historiography during the Imperial era. The author surveys the progymnasmata of Theon, Hermogenes, and Aphthonius, as well as Libanius, for their respective views on the classification of battle descriptions, and then uses that framework to embark on his own analysis of representative epipoleseis "en las descripciones de batalla con grandes dosis de enárgeia" (p. 196), as well as of the role of the epipolesis in "el ensalzamiento de la figura del general como héroe homérico" (p. 211). The chapter's closing sentence brings it all together by defining the epipolesis as a link between epic and historiography: "En su función caracterizadora del general, la escena típica de la epipólesis está estrechamente relacionada con la figura del general-soldado, que proviene de la épica homérica, y descubre el seguimiento de un modelo literario a lo largo de la tradición" (p. 231, citing Alexander, Caesar, et al. as examples).

The "Conclusiones" (pp. 233-236) helpfully summarize the results of the investigation and offer some suggestions for future research. The "Bibliografía" (pp. 237-256) includes a few outdated editions and omits a few recent monographs. 4 The "Apéndice: Corpus de epipoléseis" (pp. 257-282, so given, correctly, in the text instead of "epipólesis" in the table of contents) and the "Indices nominum et rerum" (pp. 283-288, so given, again correctly, in the text instead of "Index" in the table of contents, since they appear as separate lists) both contain a few niggling errors in formatting and layout. The text is somewhat marred by a number of errors in typography, the Spanish, the Greek, and the Latin. In the end, of course, none of these infelicities detracts from the overall value of the project or the overall quality of the final product: Carmona has made a meaningful and lasting contribution to the study of rhetoric in two imposing genres, a book that will be required reading for scholars of epic, historiography, and speech act theory.


1.   J. Albertus, Die παρακλητικοί in der griechischen und römischen Literatur (Strasbourg, 1908); J. C. Iglesias Zoido (ed.), Retórica e historiografía: El discurso militar en la historiografía desde la Antigüedad hasta el Renacimiento (Madrid, 2008); for the latter, and for further recent bibliography and webography, see BMCR 2009.09.38.
2.   For the full list, visit Carmona's webpage, where all of the author's articles are also available for download.
3.   See now H. F. Plett, Enargeia, in Classical Antiquity and the Early Modern Age: The Aesthetics of Evidence (Leiden and Boston, 2012), although the book likely appeared too late for Carmona to have been able to integrate it into his discussion or engage with its argument.
4.   The most significant editions are those of Silius Italicus and Valerius Maximus. The most significant omissions are probably D. Beck, Homeric Conversation (Washington, DC, 2005) (see BMCR 2006.08.14) and eadem, Speech Presentation in Homeric Epic (Austin, 2012) (see BMCR 2013.10.57).

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Monday, October 5, 2015


Hubert Zehnacker, Alain Silberman, Pline l'ancien: Histoire naturelle, livre IV. Collection des universités de France. Série latine, 409. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2015. Pp. lvi, 401. ISBN 9782251014692. €65.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Tyler T. Travillian, Pacific Lutheran University (

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Zehnacker and Silberman's new edition of Pliny the Elder, Book IV fills a long-standing gap in the Collection Budé's texts of the Historia Naturalis, which now lacks only the second (and any subsequent) parts of book V and the first and third parts of book VI. NH IV covers much of the geography of Europe including Greece, Thrace, the islands of the Aegean, the Black Sea, Scythia, Germany, Gaul, and Spain (Italy is covered in book III). As a result of the massive amount of terrain, literal and figurative, covered by book IV, it presents special challenges to the editor, which I will mention below. The main aims of the volume are straightforward: a text that improves on Mayhoff's Teubner, a faithful French translation, and a detailed commentary on Pliny's geographical information.

The volume contains (1) an Introduction, subdivided into (a) "Material and composition of book IV,"1 (b) "The problem of the sources," (c) "Bibliography," and (d) "Establishing the text". Following the Introduction are (2) the Sigla, (3) a Table of Contents of Book IV, (4) the Text and Translation, (5) the Commentary, (6) an Index locorum, urbium, populorum, and (7) an Index nominum.

Introduction (pp. VII-LIV)

The first section of the introduction, "Material and composition of book IV" (pp. VII-XII) includes an overview of the arrangement of the book in outline form (pp. VII-IX) and then discusses the problems inherent in how Pliny groups geographical and political regions in Europe. According to Zehnacker and Silberman, Pliny must navigate geographical, historical, and cultural demands, which results in descriptions more muddied than those in Pomponius Mela's De chorographia.

The second section, "The problem of the sources" (pp. XII-XXX), begins with some comments on Pliny's seemingly haphazard method of citation: he cites generously within book IV but omits authors (such as Mela) mentioned among his sources in book I, includes authors not mentioned in book I, and fails to cite others who (Quellenforschung assures us) were among his sources. Then, largely following Sallmann's categories of the elements of a Geography,2 they include a list and chart comparing Pliny's book IV to Mela's De chorographia, highlighting the differences of content in the two authors. The editors then move on to an extended discussion of Pliny's source material, noting especially the points of contact with and deviation from Mela. Here they follow a different approach, discussing in turn Pliny's sources for references of mythology, etymology, history and antiquities, his use of formulae provinciarum, his sources for measures and distances, the coasts of the northern ocean, and his periegesis. The most extensive category is the editors' treatment of Pliny's distances and measures, in which they are concerned to show from which sources Pliny derives his numbers, but do not discuss any principles for translating those numbers into modern terms.

The bibliography (pp. XXX-XLIV) makes up the third section. For ease of reference it has been divided as follows: (A) Texts, a comphrensive list of the ancient geographical works and their modern editions; (B) Studies (i) on Pliny, (ii) on general geographical topics, (iii) on Greece and Macedonia, (iv) on Thrace, (v) on Scythia, (vi) on Germany, Gaul, and Iberia; (C) Atlases and Maps. This system makes convenient sense of a large and disparate bibliography. The bibliography includes only two works published after 2003, and those treat geography, not Pliny. Some references to more recent work under "Studies on Pliny" would have been appropriate, particularly Gibson and Morello's 2011 volume Pliny the Elder: Themes and Contexts and Aude Doody's extensive publications.

The fourth section, "Establishing the Text" (pp. XLIV-LII) is divided into five subsections. (A) "The editions," lists preceding editions of the text. The editors note that these editions are of unequal value, but they do not indicate how they determined the value of each edition or what status they assign to each. From (B) "The Manuscripts," we learn that the editors used the same seven manuscripts as Mayhoff3 as the basis of the text along with occasional references to three other manuscripts4 and the excerpts of a further three.5 Discussion of the mansucripts concludes with a notice that refers the reader to Zehnacker's edition of book III for the specific method used to establish the text from these manuscripts: "The method that we have followed to establish the text of book III (op. cit., 2nd ed., 2004, p. XXV-XXVI) has been strictly followed here. Consequently we will not revisit it" (p. XLVI). Readers without a copy of Zehnacker's book III close to hand may find this unsatisfactory. There follows a list of 46 differences between this text and that of Mayhoff, most of which are significant. (C) "Apparatus" describes the editors' choices: the apparatus does not reproduce variations in spelling where insignificant, but it always includes bars around the Roman numerals to indicate thousands and hundreds of thousands, whether the manuscripts cited included those bars or not. This practice, despite the clarity it promotes, close readers may find disappointing. (D) "Chapters and paragraphs" notes that Pliny's text has accrued two sets of chapter numbers in addition to a set of paragraph numbers. For ease of reference, this text reproduces all three notations. The paragraphing follows Jan's Teubner, from which Mayhoff's edition only rarely deviated.6 Due to the nature of the text, section (E) "Translation" is one of the more interesting portions of the introduction. Lists of names – places, cities, and peoples – comprise the vast majority of book IV, so the translator's task is primarily, as Zehnacker and Silberman note, one of transfering these names into a new language. The obvious options are either to retain the ancient place names in all instances or to render the local, modern names where available, retaining the ancient names for the rest. Zehnacker and Silberman criticize Rackham's Loeb for following the latter policy, particularly because by doing so, "He thus occasionally inserts in Pliny's lists names that are Turkish, Arabic, or Slavic and compensates in this fashion, though only in part, for the absence of a commentary" (p. L). Instead, this edition has chosen a third route: to "Frenchify the ancient proper nouns to the extent possible, avoiding thereby any theoretical system ("esprit de système") and allowing ourselves to be guided by usage, when it exists, and by euphony" (p. LI). There follow some remarks on the theoretical system they in fact employed when rendering these ancient names into French. Their method seems at first surprising, if not outright bizarre, but the underlying logic seems to be that since Pliny is entirely in Latin with Latinized place names, the most accurate translation would also render all names into the same language, making no attempt to interpret what any of the names signify and so avoiding interpretive errors in the translation. That interpretation is, instead, the role of the commentary, which does in fact give the modern place names for each site, and that interpretation (with its accompanying possibility of error) is also part of the critique Zehnacker and Silberman levy at Rackham.

In place of maps, which one might expect in a geographical work, Zehnacker and Silberman refer the reader to the Barrington Atlas.

The Sigla (pp. LIII-LIV) makes up the fifth section, while the sixth and final section of the introduction is Pliny's own "Table of Contents" (pp. LV-LVI) for book IV, reproduced from book I.

Latin Text & French Translation (pp. 1-91, double numbered)

Because the text consists almost entirely of lists of proper names, rendering the sense of it poses no great difficulty, as the editors themselves note (p. L). The French is fluid and very readable, often more so than the Latin it translates. It is worth noting that Zehnacker and Silberman's policy of Frenchifying the proper names has led them to render the "Maedi," a Thracian people that appear in §3, as "Mèdes," unnecessarily conflating them in a way that the Latin of this text does not with the Persian "Medi" (also "Mèdes" in French). They break with their policy again at §24 where they render "Enneacrunos" as "Ennéacrunos (les Neuf Fontaines)" but make no explanation in the commentary for this double translation. (Enneacrunos is presumably a metonomasis for Callirhoe, an effect the editors are attempting to duplicate contrary to their usual policy.)

Commentary (pp. 93-375)

The commentary is printed in a smaller font and with a tighter heading than the text and translation. There can be no question that it is aimed at those interested in the sublime details of Greco-Roman geography: it consists primarily of lengthy explanations of the regions and their peoples, taking pains to detail how other ancient geographers treated the same peoples and places. There is a nice balance of explication with bibliographical references and citation of texts ancient and modern, discussion of varying interpretations of the place names and their precise locations in terms of modern geographical references, and judicious quotation.

Where possible the commentary gives the modern place names for obscure regions or cities, but it leaves the more common ancient names unexplained: e.g. the Euxine Sea, the Hellespont, etc. Another curious facet: the translation renders all of Pliny's distances literally, so that D passuum becomes "half a mile," a policy that fits well with the practice of merely Frenchifying names, but the commentary does not usually convert these distances to modern measures. (One exception: the general conversion given in a note to §78 on pp. 272-3, in which 60 miles = 88.8 km.) The editors do not give a rationale for this omission, but it may be due to the frequent impossibility of knowing which sources (and so, often, which value of the stade) Pliny is using for any given measurement. The editors do discuss a specific instance of this problem in the note to §9 on p. 121 in which Isidorus, Artemidorus, and Polybius each give different measures for the circuit of the Peloponnese. A statement to this effect would have improved the introduction, under either the "translation" or "distances and measures" headings.

The focus of the commentary is distinctly geographical, not literary. To give an idea of the sort of note not included in the commentary, cf. the note on "Fons Castalius at p. 118: "[…] sung of by the Latin poets as one of the resting places favored by Apollo and the Muses: Pind. Pyth. 1.75; Soph., Ant. 1130; Verg. Georg. III.293, etc." This is a feature of the commentary, not a defect: to expect a single commentary, whose topic is the geography of the majority of Europe, to cover historical, literary, and mythological references attached to any region, city, or people would be an impossible task, akin to expecting the commentary to reproduce nine-tenths of the classical world.

The volume concludes with two indices: an Index locorum, urbium, populorum (pp. 377-398) and an Index nominum (pp. 399-400). It is unclear why the editors divided the indices in this way, particularly given the length of the first index and the brevity of the latter, but they are thorough and useful.

The volume has been very well-edited and errors are minimal. In the Index nominum, there is one miscategorization: "Medi (39)" refers to the ethnic category of the Medes and should be listed in the Index locorum, urbium, populorum.

Typographical errors are likewise few. The most jarring was the double period on page 37 in the French translation: "XI. (19)..52" – a minor issue.


1.   I have translated all quotations from Zehnacker and Silberman into English for the ease of the reader.
2.   Sallmann, Die Geographie des älteren Plinius (1971) 193-201. The modified categories Zehnacker and Silberman use are (1) "History and Antiquity," (2) "Foundation Stories," (3) "Mythology," (4) "Etymology," (5) "Renaming," (6) "Ethnography," and (7) "Paradoxography".
3.   Leid. Voss. F 4; Vat. Lat. 3861; Leid. Lips. N.7; Flor. Riccard. 488; Paris. Lat. 6795; Vindobon. olim 234, nunc 9; Paris. Lat. 6797.
4.   Lond. Arundel. 98; Toletanus 47-14 (nunc Matritensis); a Dalecampio excerptus et in editionis margine litteris M vel Man. notatus.
5.   excerpta codicis Voss. Lat. 4.69; excerpta codicis Paris. Lat. 4860; excerpta a R. Crickladensi composita.
6.   Specifically, §§35 and 66. Zehnacker and Silberman altered the paragraphing slightly at §§37 and 70.

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Thomas Van Nortwick, Late Sophocles: The Hero's Evolution in Electra, Philoctetes, and Oedipus at Colonus. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015. Pp. xii, 148. ISBN 9780472119561. $65.00.

Reviewed by N J. Sewell-Rutter (

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In Late Sophocles, Thomas Van Nortwick makes an incremental addition to our understanding of the Sophoclean hero through a scene-by-scene reading of Electra, Philoctetes and Oedipus at Colonus, works of Sophocles' last phase.1 The book does not innovate greatly, but it makes two valuable contributions: it persuasively identifies a diachronic development in Sophocles' conception of tragic heroism; and it reminds us by its example that sensitive and well-judged reading of the tragic texts is itself an interpretative tool of enduring worth that has not been supplanted, but complemented, by the recent study of reception and performance.

Late Sophocles will be of greatest value to students of tragedy and non-specialists with wider literary and dramatic interests, but it will also repay the attention of scholars. It is presented accessibly, using Greek sparingly and in transliteration. The notes, which are concise, are set as endnotes, always friendlier to the general reader. The list of references is sufficient but does not aspire to comprehensiveness, and there is a helpful general index.

Between short introductory and concluding chapters, Van Nortwick reads the three plays in chronological order, allowing his argument to emerge from the texts. He mentions early (p. ix) the pivotal twentieth century scholarship on the hero in Sophocles. It is a distinctive feature of Sophoclean dramaturgy to centre the plays on characters 'defined for us by the exercise of their outsized will' (p. 4). Modifying Bernard Knox's 'recurrent pattern',2 which is most naturally taken synchronically, Van Nortwick finds in the last three plays 'a new paradigm for the hero's agency and relationship to higher forces' (p. 4). The late hero is undiminished in magnificence of temperament, but more marginal in situation and divested of conventional agency. The political impotence of Electra, Philoctetes and Oedipus is focused by their ruined, diminished physicality (pp. 117–9), the product of years of suffering, not hours or days as in the previous tragedies.

Late Sophoclean tragedies challenge and provoke largely because of a distinctive 'distancing of the protagonist from the central heroic action of the drama' (p. 4). Electra kills no one herself; Philoctetes actively resists the fulfilment of divine will; Oedipus 'remains apart' (p. 4) from the plans and requirements of other characters. All three plays embody an obliquity to the demands of the underlying myth (p. 38, p. 118): this is used to question tragedy's function for Athens as the polis faces a crisis at the end of the fifth century that conventional tragedy struggles to accommodate (pp. 5–6, 115–6), and as Sophocles lives through his ninth decade (pp. 120–3). The tragedian's late work is not, of course, simply more of the same, but 'might best be understood as combining retrospection with innovation' (p. 121), continuing the Sophoclean pattern of the intransigent individual, but shifting focus away from 'impressing his or her will on other people' (p. 123) and onto a wider, maturer interpretation of self-realisation.

In 'Electra: Glory Bathed in Tears', Electra, the dramatic focus, is rightly read as '[f]orbiddingly austere' and 'isolated by her suffering' (p. 40), a disempowered protagonist facing imprisonment in a sunless dungeon not for acts but for attitude and emotions (p. 17). The chapter stresses the polarity of logos and ergon in a play full of deceit and lies, and is particularly sensitive on the subtle emotional dynamics between Orestes and Electra. Her powerful emotions deflate Orestes' 'glib, can-do self-confidence' in the recognition scene (p. 30), so that his tongue fails him (ll. 1174–5). The lynchpin of her Sophoclean heroism on this account is the terrible obduracy of Electra's grief, occupying an 'impressionistic world' of suffering (p. 10), oblique to the action in that she does nothing concrete to avenge her father.

Though Deianeira is mentioned (p. 13), this chapter nowhere draws the necessary contrast with Antigone, another heroine facing a dark prison. But Antigone's death sentence punishes direct civil disobedience, not the subtler crime of persistent, insidious lamentation. Whose is the more pathetic plight?

The closing pages of this chapter (pp. 36–41) rightly note the open-endedness of the play, the hovering questions of justice and consequences that have perplexed interpreters.3 But Van Nortwick's aporetic conclusions on dike in Electra seem to miss the strong implication of his own otherwise persuasive account of the play. 'Instead of watching Orestes pursuing retribution, we are invited to consider the impact of events on Electra, to look at the myth from her perspective, at an oblique angle' (p. 14). This is well put. But if Electra and her years of pain are our dramatic focus, how do we arrive at the conclusion that, 'From the perspective of the revenge plot, Electra's pain is irrelevant to the achieving of justice, except insofar as it fuels her performance as grieving sister, which can be used by the plotters to deceive the royal couple' (p. 41)? Van Nortwick is quite right that Electra's disempowerment sets her at a distance from Orestes' machinations for vengeance, and that her role in the murders is to lament. But part of the answer to the dike-question in Electra must be that we are left with a sense, not of everything settled for everyone, but at least that Electra, our dramatic focus, has had her satisfaction, which is dike of a kind. The 'intense hatred' of the 'bitter and vengeful' Electra (p. 36) is gratified at last. To ignore this implication is to leave the chapter's reading incomplete: of course Electra is not at all a saint redeemed by uncomplaining endurance, but she has her reward.

'Philoctetes: The Creature in the Cave' evolves Van Nortwick's account of the late heroic paradigm: early in the play, Philoctetes is assumed to be an uncivilized creature evoking Homer's Polyphemus, 'physically repellant' and nurturing 'a powerful anger' in isolation (p. 44). But, though he appears to be a 'repellant curiosity' (p. 52), his heroic obstinacy is proved not pre- or uncivilized but that of a 'guardian of traditional heroic values' (p. 79). He sways Neoptolemus, who has not endured a decade of gangrenous, degrading solitude, by judicious appeals to the younger man's phusis and values (ll. 904–5, p. 66; ll. 971–2, p. 70) – in other words by civilized peitho in addition to the powerfully affecting spectacle of collapsing in the agony of his sickness and then rising in 'rebirth' (pp. 65–8).

To Van Nortwick's great credit, he is not too absorbed in his paradigm to deal appropriately with the play's other significant dramatic focus, Neoptolemus himself, whose 'soul' is one of the prizes fought over in the play (pp. 52, 60). Odysseus' plans are frustrated more by the younger man's honour and pride in ancestry than any failure of intelligence. The metatheatricality of the 'merchant' scene, a semi-improvised deceit between two quick-witted characters (p. 54–6), is read as a late Sophoclean reflection on tragedy's potential for harm.

This chapter's concluding pages (pp. 77–80) are another example of the monograph's tendency to underplay the implications of its own reading. The interpretative disquiet occasioned by Herakles' appearance ex machina (pp. 77–8 with nn. 56–8) is appropriately discussed.4 But what are the implications of this ending specifically for the Cyclopean pre-civilized Philoctetes of the start of the play? He is situated, like Electra, at a distance from the basic demand of the myth, that his bow be used to take Troy. Divine intervention wins where human deceit, force and persuasion fail. Van Nortwick's conclusion (p.79) is unimpeachable as far as it goes: the hero preserves his integrity of character but undergoes an enforced change of location. But the chapter seems to stop just short of stating the stronger conclusion to which it is entitled: Herakles orders to Troy what initially looked, smelt and sounded like a savage beast, not a marooned hero.

'Oedipus at Colonus: Spiritual Geography' gives a persuasive and nuanced account of both Sophocles' and Oedipus' 'great consummation' (p. 82, l. 103). This is not a play primarily occupied with the justice of the Labdacids' internecine machinations (pp. 91, 94–5): in old age, Oedipus transcends his 'terrible history' (p. 89). He spent the earlier tragedy Oedipus Tyrannus attempting to impose his awe-inspiring will, with ruinous consequences. Now he becomes a harmonious part of a larger divine plan. Van Nortwick presents this as the last evolution of the late Sophoclean heroic paradigm and a 'startling…new vision' (p. 113). He accepts in part Knox's model (which he discusses p. 134 n. 17) of Oedipus' journey towards cult heroism: but this is 'an incomplete picture' that underplays Oedipus' humanly intelligible development into a character who sees that there is more to the realization of self than overbearing will and terrible heroic anger. This is not, however, beatification through patience. Oedipus' corpse will drink hot blood in future time of war (ll. 621–2); and the greatest coup de theatre of the play comes when he first turns his face from his son in silence, then curses him (ll. 1383–92, cf. 421–30).

Van Nortwick at last discusses in this chapter the distinctive protractedness of the late Sophoclean hero's sufferings, which in all three cases have occupied years (pp. 96–7). His characteristic modesty of exposition defers this crucial point too long. Electra, Philoctetes and Oedipus have all endured a long 'gestation' which lends them the characteristic 'inwardness' of those who have been consistently thwarted (pp. 97, 117). This as much as their nobility (OC 7–8) lends these late Sophoclean characters their strength in weakness, their heroism undiminished by lack of conventional power.

In conclusion, Late Sophocles leads the reader through the last phase of the dramatist's art with sound and reliable judgement, illuminating three great tragedies sensitively. Van Nortwick does not always press his own interpretative advantage, but his contribution to our understanding of the Sophoclean hero provokes thought.


1.   The date of Electra is uncertain, as Van Nortwick acknowledges at the outset (p. 1 with n. 1). But in the absence of a definite year of production, this book's reading of the play will strengthen the majority case for a date in or near Sophocles' last decade: Van Nortwick shows that Electra sits neatly in conception and manner with Philoctetes, produced in 409 B.C., and OC, produced posthumously in 401 B.C.
2.   B.M.W. Knox, The Heroic Temper: Studies in Sophoclean Tragedy (Berkeley, 1964), p. 9.
3.   P. 130 n. 61 gives adequate pointers to the scholarly debate.
4.   The dramatic device occasions critical censure as early as Aristotle, Poetics 1454b.

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