Wednesday, June 19, 2019


Shane Butler, Sarah Nooter (ed.), Sound and the Ancient Senses. The senses in antiquity. London; New York: Routledge, 2018. Pp. x, 290. ISBN 9781138481664. $32.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Kim Haines-Eitzen, Cornell University (

Version at BMCR home site

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

The sixth and final volume in The Senses in Antiquity series, this book is organized in three sections: ancient soundscapes; theories of sound; and philology and sound. The editors begin by introducing the spectrum of the lexicon of ancient sound from the pleasurable to the cacophonous. With just one exception, the essays in the volume are literary, philosophical, and/or philological in their approach.

The first section seeks to amplify ancient soundscapes in a variety of contexts. Timothy Power's essay on the sounds of religion considers literary comments about the sounds of festivals and processions; his detailed analysis of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo and sounds associated with Poseidon allows him to posit the "rattle of driverless chariots" as a "signature soundmark" of Poseidon's grove at Onchestus (p. 22). D'Angour treats ancient Greek music—rhythm, melody, voice and instrument—noting especially the effect of music on ancient listeners. Valerie Hope plumbs mostly Latin sources to recover the sounds of Roman mourning rituals—sounds such as silence, speech, lament, groaning, shouting, and music—arguing that "Roman mourning was noisy" (p. 74). The one exception to the literary focus of the volume appears in this section: the essay by Erika Holter, Susanne Muth, and Sebastian Schwesinger emerges from their interdisciplinary collaborative project, "Analog Storage Media – Auralizations of Archaeological Spaces." Their case study is the Digital Forum Romanum, which uses 3D modelling of the Roman Forum to recover the "auditory experience of participants in public assemblies in the Forum in the Late Republican period" (p. 47). Accompanying the detailed discussion of their acoustic reconstruction is a sample auralization of a selection of Cicero's third oration against Catiline, read in Latin as "heard from the perspective of an audience member standing in the Comitium at a distance of 20 m" (p. 53, n. 29). It is available for download through Routledge's website for the book; I highly recommend that readers take the time to listen to this evocative recording.

The next four essays are organized around the topic of ancient theories of sound. In this section, Stephen Kidd considers whether Aristotle conceived of sound apart from its experience, arguing in the end that "Sound, as Aristotle defines it, includes the act of hearing as an irreducible component" (p. 90). Andrew Barker treats Greek acoustic theories, including simple sounds and complex sounds. In an intriguing essay about the role of sound in ancient Greek healing practices, Colin Webster examines "the acoustic signatures of ancient therapies" (p. 109), finding that "all ancient healing groups subjected sick people to specific sonic regimens" (p. 129). Pamela Zinn investigates the relationship between sonus and vox in Lucretius, for whom, she argues, "sound is the perception arising from the process of hearing" (p. 149).

The third and longest section of the volume—on philology and sound—includes six essays. Joshua Katz explores the relationship between "gods and vowels"; he ranges widely through Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Sanskrit to attend to "the literal sound structure of the divine universe" (p. 153). Silvia Montiglio treats the interpretations of the Homeric Sirens in Apollonius of Rhodes and Jean Dorat, noting how ancient readers wrestled with the tension "between the beauty of sound and profundity of meaning" (p. 179). Sean Gurd's insightful essay finds "auditory philology" by entwining the experimental composer Alvin Lucier's 1960 I Am Sitting in a Room with Sappho's poetry; the essay here is in part derived from his book Dissonance: Auditory Aesthetics in Ancient Greek (New York: Fordham University Press, 2016). Sarah Nooter studies compellingly "the emanation of sounds from the ancient Greek stage," especially "those that came from the actors and chorus, most often when language broke down into nonsense" (p. 198), in the plays of Aristophanes, Sophocles, and Aeschylus; she aims to recover "the elements of the sonic experience of being in an ancient audience" (p. 211). Pauline LeVen "considers the sounds of language as experience and in experience" (p. 212) by focusing on three literary episodes of listening taken from Plato, Longus, and Ovid. The final chapter for this section and the volume, is the essay by Shane Butler, who offers a rich and dynamic reading of especially sonorous passages from Vergil's Aeneid and who invites us "to read as Vergil did: not just soundly, but resoundingly" (p. 255).

The volume will be important to scholars and students of the ancient senses, especially those that have been following this series and those with special interests in the acoustical past. Although one might wish for more attention to the material and archaeological evidence for ancient soundscapes, the cumulative effect of the volume is quite dazzling as it amplifies the sonorous registers of our textual remains and recovers the acoustical residues of ancient experiences of sound.

Authors and Titles

Introduction: Sounding Hearing, Shane Butler and Sarah Nooter
1. The Sound of the Sacred, Timothy Power
2. Hearing Ancient Sounds through Modern Ears, Armand D'Angour
3. Sounding Out Public Space in Late Republican Rome, Erika Holter, Susanne Muth, and Sebastian Schwesinger
4. Vocal Expression in Roman Mourning, Valerie Hope
5. Sound: An Aristotelian Perspective, Stephen Kidd
6. Greek Acoustic Theory: Simple and Complex Sounds, Andrew Barker
7. The Soundscape of Ancient Greek Healing, Colin Webster
8. Lucretius on Sound, Pamela Zinn
9. Gods and Vowels, Joshua T. Katz
10. The Song of the Sirens between Sound and Sense, Silvia Montiglio
11. Auditory Philology, Sean Gurd
12. Sounds of the Stage, Sarah Nooter
13. The Erogenous Ear, Pauline Leven
14. Principles of Sound Reading, Shane Butler
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Andrej Petrovic, Ivana Petrovic, Edmund Thomas (ed.), The Materiality of Text: Placement, Perception, and Presence of Inscribed Texts in Classical Antiquity. Brill Studies in Greek and Roman Epigraphy 11. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2018. Pp. xviii, 416. ISBN 9789004375505. €118,00.

Reviewed by Hanna Golab, University of Miami (

Version at BMCR home site

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

The Materiality of Text is a collection of essays exploring an important new angle that can be productively applied to ancient inscribed objects. As emphasized by several contributors, most academic interaction with epigraphic sources still takes place via disembodied text on paper or in digital editions, often without photographs. This does not come close to the manner in which those texts were originally meant to be experienced. Hence, this generously illustrated book is a welcome publication that should reinvigorate the way in which we read and conceptualize epigraphic texts.

The book is divided into two major parts, "Concepts" and "Contexts", although the disparity in their length should be noted — the former is comprised of two chapters only, the latter of twelve. The second section is divided further into "Epigraphic Spaces", "Literary Spaces", and "Architectural Spaces", with the last being the most substantial in length. Otherwise, balanced attention is given to the subject's other aspects: prose texts and verse inscriptions, Greek and Roman texts, and the longue durée from the Archaic to Late Antique period all receive equal treatment. The volume opens with Andrej Petrovic's introduction, which gives us a strong sense of the theory that guided the editors in their work. The methodological ruminations are brought together from across the humanities, not just Classics. Cultural practices and events such as Soviet censorship of those who were deemed counter-revolutionary, and a 1985 exhibition "Les Immatériaux" at the Centre Pompidou blend effortlessly with philosophical approaches to (im)materiality as represented by Aristotle, Cicero, Heidegger, and Hegel, among others. This broad perspective is reflected in the selection of essays that discuss not only the material presence of the text, but also its absence (Mylonopoulos on the Greek reluctance to inscribe altars and architraves in the Archaic and Classical periods) and transience (Opdenhoff on dipinti in Pompeii).

The chapters are in a constant dialogue with one another, addressing similar themes from different angles, which makes the volume a coherent whole. For example, P. J. Rhodes' "Erasures in Greek Public Documents" and Ida Östenberg's "Damnatio Memoriae Inscribed: The Materiality of Cultural Repression" both treat disposal, effacing, and redactions of official texts. Rhodes collects an impressive set of inscriptions that were either purposefully destroyed, such as FD 3.1.400, which honored Aristotle and Callisthenes, but was later discarded in a well, or amended, as in the case of IG II2 43, from which a pro-Persian statement was erased when Athens turned against the King's Peace in 367 BCE. Östenberg's essay addresses the paradox of such visible erasures in the case of personal names. She shows that sometimes the traces of effacing were purposefully left in order to create the memory of their disgrace (thus not exactly in line with the modern label of damnatio memoriae) and that those erasures were treated differently based on their material form.

Particularly valuable is the scrutiny in the book of epigraphic landscapes and the movement of people in the inscribed urban space. Here, the contribution that stands out is Abigail Graham's chapter, "Re-Appraising the Value of Same-Text Relationships", in which she rejects the common practice of looking for an "original" text and calling all other versions "copies". Graham analyzes how the same text can be manipulated and presented in different ways depending on its surrounding space. Those subtle variations reveal that monumental inscriptions were each meticulously planned to satisfy the aesthetic needs of the relevant building and, at the same time, to reflect ideological hierarchies of the text as perceived by ancient audiences. In a similar vein, Katharina Bolle in her chapter, "Inscriptions between Text and Texture", analyzes how placement in the urban landscape, visibility, letter design, and the relation to other objects in the vicinity influenced the self-representation of inscriptions' dedicants and their viewers' perception.

In the context of crowded epigraphic landscapes it is especially important to discuss the ways in which inscribed texts could vie for attention and create their own authority. Joseph Day, in "The 'Spatial Dynamics' of Archaic and Classical Greek Epigram", explores the highly competitive sanctuary of Delphi. In several case studies of intertextual conversations, Day distinguishes between "cooperative" and "competitive" interactions. The former are illustrated by the Daochus' monument, where nine statues of Daochus' family members were accompanied by epigrams that referred to one another's accomplishments and reinforced the prestige of their kin. The competitive relationship is apparent in the monument of the Nauarchs: dedicated by Sparta, it was intended to challenge the military display of Athens, but was in turn contested by an Arcadian foundation boasting of its own victory over Lacedaemon. Day's treatment of those epigraphic interplays opens new analytical perspectives for texts that are not as blatantly intertextual.

Donald Lavigne's essay, "The Authority of Archaic Greek Epigram", explores comparable questions of self-representation in early epigraphic poetry, but perhaps with less convincing results. Lavigne states that performance, performer, and audience are crucial for our understanding of epigrammatic authority (p. 171) and continues with interesting remarks on epigrams as site-specific performance. Unfortunately, there are not enough details of how Lavigne would actually imagine a performative interaction with epigrams. He limits himself to a notional audience (p. 171) and notional performance (p. 179) by "a person who happens to be inspired by the presence of a monument" (p. 182). While I do agree that funeral epigrams could indeed have been performative, I would like to see more evidence to support this claim. Other chapters add to the diversity of methodological approaches. Philology is represented by Kirk's essay on what epigraphe is exactly, Zadorojnyi's exploration of related terminology, Tueller's work on the creation of women's speech in Greek epigrams, and Heyworth's inquiry into the materiality of writing in Latin elegy. Garulli's and Leatherbury's contributions both delve into the relationships between different media. The former addresses lectional signs shared by papyri and stone inscriptions, albeit in a rather traditional form of a catalogue. The latter investigates the material form of tabula ansata, which became a decorative element on Late Antique mosaics.

I have one note on an editorial inconsistency: the reference style is author-date in the footnotes, but on some pages we find a doubling with in-text references, which creates unnecessary clutter (see, e.g., p. 106). That minor imperfection, however, does not take away from the value of the volume. Since this publication includes essays from the field of epigraphy, philology, and history of art and architecture, it should be of great interest to scholars across ancient disciplines. It represents a wide variety of perspectives, each of them pushing the field of epigraphy forward.

Authors and Titles

1. Andrej Petrovic, "The Materiality of Text: An Introduction" (pp. 1-25)
2. Athena Kirk, "What is an ἐπιγραφή in Classical Greece?" (pp. 29-47)
3. Alexei Zadorojnyi, "The Aesthetics and Politics of Inscriptions in Imperial Greek Literature" (pp. 48-68)
4. Joseph W. Day, "The 'Spatial Dynamics' of Archaic and Classical Greek Epigram: Conversations among Locations, Monuments, Texts, and Viewer-Readers" (pp. 73-104)
5. Valentina Garulli, "Lectional Signs in Greek Verse Inscriptions" (pp. 105-144)
6. P. J. Rhodes, "Erasures in Greek Public Documents" (pp. 145-166)
7. Donald E. Lavigne, "The Authority of Archaic Greek Epigram" (pp. 169-186)
8. Michael A. Tueller, "Writing, Women's Silent Speech" (pp. 187-204)
9. S. J. Heyworth, "Hard Verses and Soft Books: The Materials of Elegy" (pp. 205-228)
10. Ioannis Mylonopoulos, "The Power of the Absent Text: Dedicatory Inscriptions on Greek Sacred Architecture and Altars" (pp. 231-274)
11. Abigail Graham, "Re-Appraising the Value of Same-Text Relationships; a Study of 'Duplicate' Inscriptions in the Monumental Landscape at Aphrodisias" (pp. 275-302)
12. Fanny Opdenhoff, "Layers of Urban Life: A Contextual Analysis of Inscriptions in the Public Space of Pompeii" (pp. 303-323)
13. Ida Östenberg, "Damnatio Memoriae Inscribed: The Materiality of Cultural Repression" (pp. 324-347)
14. Katharina Bolle, "Inscriptions between Text and Texture: Inscribed Monuments in Public Spaces — A Case Study at Late Antique Ostia" (pp. 348-379)
15. Sean V. Leatherbury, "Framing Late Antique Texts as Monuments: The Tabula Ansata between Sculpture and Mosaic" (pp. 380-404)
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Tuesday, June 18, 2019


Hervé Inglebert (ed.), La présence impériale dans la Rome tardo-antique. Antiquité tardive, 25. Turnhout: Brepols, 2017. Pp. 499. ISBN 9782503578316. €88,00 (pb).

Reviewed by Sergio Audano, Centro di Studi sulla Fortuna dell'Antico "Emanuele Narducci", Sestri Levante (

Version at BMCR home site


Il volume 25 della prestigiosa rivista Antiquité tardive dedica una corposa sezione (pp. 11-262) al tema monografico della presenza imperiale nella Roma tardo-antica. Secondo le caratteristiche metodologiche che contraddistinguono questa rivista l'approccio è sostanzialmente pluridisciplinare: contributi storici si alternano ad articoli più strettamente archeologici, con aperture significative alla cultura materiale.

La prospettiva consente un fecondo dialogo tra i lavori presenti nel volume e contribuiscono a fornire un quadro unitario, pur nella diversità delle tematiche prese in esame, in merito al ruolo di Roma e al suo rapporto con gli imperatori e la loro corte dopo la suddivisione dell'Impero.

Ne emerge un quadro ricco e movimentato, che fa giustizia della tradizionale vulgata della sostanziale decadenza della centralità di Roma a favore delle nuove capitali, come ben documentato da Meaghan McEvoy e Muriel Moser nell'introduzione alla raccolta (pp. 15-21). In maniera persuasiva si argomenta, infatti, come il legame tra sovrani e città sia rimasto stretto anche quando l'imperatore non era più fisicamente presente per un periodo costante (prassi del resto già a partire almeno dal III sec. con la frequente partecipazioni degli imperatori ai vari fronti di guerra). Continuano, ad esempio, i culti legati alla città, gli imperatori mantengono i tradizionali appellativi, come Pontifex Maximus (e anche Pontifex inclytus); vengono conservate le tradizionali distribuzioni di pane e si continua a garantire, anche in assenza del sovrano, l'allestimento di giochi pubblici; sono spesso presenti in città figure di rappresentanza, anche femminili (e sul punto specifico il volume offre un'interessante e innovativa documentazione), variamente legate alla famiglia imperiale. Per usare, dunque, un gioco di parole, il "sovrano assente" non implica affatto l' "assenza del sovrano", e pertanto determinare un vuoto non solo istituzionale, ma anche giuridico e soprattutto politico-militare. Il legame tra imperatore e città si realizzava concretamente non solo nelle visite periodiche che i sovrani in ogni caso compivano a Roma, ma anche mediante una fitta serie di interventi pubblici (soprattutto edilizi), testimoniati anche dalla documentazione epigrafica oltre che dalle evidenze archeologiche, o con l'erezione di statue o monumenti che in ogni caso veicolavano i tradizionali messaggi dell'ideologia imperiale e ne garantivano la continuità anche in absentia della persona fisica del monarca. L'arco cronologico preso in esame è molto lungo e tiene conto di diversi contesti storici, in particolare dalla Tetrarchia all'impero di Foca e di Costante II (e alla celebre visita di quest'ultimo a Roma nel 663, che ebbe come conseguenza la spoliazione del Pantheon e di altri monumenti della città, vero e proprio "sacco" dell'Urbe perpetrato dall'imperatore bizantino), senza però tralasciare confronti significativi con epoche precedenti, a partire dagli Antonini.

I numerosi contributi (che hanno come fondamento quelli presentati nel marzo 2015 a Frankfurt am Main al convegno Imperial presence in late antique Rome, poi arricchiti da altri lavori) sono articolati in quattro sezioni. La prima, A balancing act: absent emperors (pp. 23-58), comprende i seguenti articoli: C. Davenport, "Rome and the rhythms of imperial life from the Antonines to Constantine" (pp. 28-39) e M. Moser, "Ein Kaiser geht auf Distanz: die Rompolitik Constans' I" (pp. 41-58). La seconda parte, Reasons to stay: Roman emperors in Rome (pp. 59-126), si articola in quattro contributi: S. Corcoran, "Maxentius: a Roman emperor in Rome" (pp. 59-74); J. Hillner, "A woman's place: imperial women in late antique Rome" (pp. 75-94); M. McEvoy, "Shadow emperors and the choice of Rome (455-476 AD)" (pp. 95-112); J. J. Arnold, "Theoderic and Rome: conquered but unconquered" (pp. 113-126). La terza sezione Material presence (pp. 127-212) è composta da: U. Wulf-Rheidt, "Die schwierige Frage der Nutzung des Römischen Kaiserpalastes auf dem Palatin in Rom in der Spätantike" (pp. 127-148); M. Löx, "Zwischen physischer Absenz und medial-materieller Präsenz: die Kaiser der valentinianischtheodosianischen Zeit und ihr Verhältnis zur Stadt Rom" (pp. 149-171); G. Kalas, "The divisive politics of Phocas (602-610) and the last imperial monument of Rome" (pp. 173-190) e R. Coates-Stephens, "The Byzantine Sack of Rome" (pp. 191-212). La quarta parte Proxy presence and daily life in Rome (pp. 213-262) contiene i seguenti lavori: S. Orlandi, "Urban prefects and the epigraphic evidence of late-antique Rome" (pp. 213-222); L. Loschiavo, "L'asino che salì al tribunale e ragliò ostinatamente. Il governo di Roma all'epoca di Valentiniano I fra lotte politiche, tradizione giuridica e innovazioni legislative" (pp. 223-234); P. F. Mittag, "Prima urbes inter... aurea Roma? Roma und die Münzprägung der Jahre 364 bis 476 n. Chr." (pp. 235-241); M. R. Salzman, "Emperors and elites in Rome after the Vandal Sack of 455" (pp. 243-262).

Non è ovviamente possibile entrare nel dettaglio di ogni singolo contributo: emerge, tuttavia, con evidenza la portata originale di molti lavori e la capacità rimarchevole del dialogo costante tra i vari contributi che, nei loro specifici punti di vista, offrono conferma della tesi di fondo e dimostrano la permanenza concreta e vitale della stretta correlazione tra la città di Roma e la figura del sovrano, anche nel lungo periodo in cui la città cessò dalle sue funzioni di sede unica e centrale dell'impero.

Oltre alla sezione monografica questo volume di Antiquité tardive è, come da tradizione, completato da lavori su altre tematiche, raccolti nella sezione Varia (pp. 263-430): A. K. Vionis, G. Papantoniou, "Sacred landscapes as economic central places in late antique Naxos and Cyprus" (pp. 263-286); M. V. Escribano Paño, "Legenda sunt gesta ad sanandas animas: leyes, juicios y actas para la correctio de los Donatistas en Agustín de Hipona" (pp. 287-301); G. Tomás Faci, "The transmission of Visigothic documents in the Pyrenean monastery of San Victorián de Asán (6th-12th centuries): monastic memory and episcopal disputes" (pp. 303-314); M. Fauquier, "La chronologie radegondienne: un enseignement sur la conception de la vocation à la fin de l'Antiquité en Gaule" (pp. 315-340); D. L. Dusenbury, "Ait enim Lucretius. An affirmation of the Epicurean concept of time in Isidore of Seville's Etymologiae" (pp. 341-351); E. Neri, "The mosaics of Durres amphitheatre: an assessment using technical observations" (pp. 353-374); A. Uscatescu, "A Late Antique Umayyad space of knowledge: exploring the functionality of the Bath Hall at Khirbat al-Mafjar" (pp. 375-430).

Le sezioni Chronique (pp. 431-450) e Bulletin critique (pp. 452-499) chiudono questo interessante e documentato volume che trova uno dei suoi punti di forza nella capacità di dialogo tra discipline diverse, elemento che consente di approfondire in prospettiva completa e sinergica le questioni affrontate.

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Monday, June 17, 2019


Ivana Jevtić, Suzan Yalman (ed.), 'Spolia' Reincarnated: Afterlives of Objects, Materials and Spaces in Anatolia from Antiquity to the Ottoman Era. Istanbul: Koç University Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations (ANAMED), 2018. Pp. 373. ISBN 9786052116142. $54.00.

Reviewed by Benjamin Anderson, Cornell University (

Version at BMCR home site

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

Abroad in the 1820s, the French archaeologist Léon de Laborde encountered two very similar gates in the Anatolian cities of Iznik and Konya. Both stood in the city walls, both faced Constantinople, both were built in the thirteenth century, and both displayed figural reliefs made in the days of Roman rule. De Laborde's two reactions were very different. In Iznik, he saw the decline of Greek culture from its ancient acme, "the brutal, shameless, and clumsy employment of the most respectable remains of a brilliant civilization." Of Konya, by contrast, he wrote that "the Seljuks treated the monuments of the arts with a respect and compositional taste that can only be compared to the elegant dispositions adopted at the height of the Italian Renaissance, under the stimulus of a Raphael and a Leo X."1

The artist Raphael and his papal patron Leo X are familiar to many readers of BMCR; "'Seljuk'," an eminent classicist once said, "is an answer to a crossword puzzle."2 Raphael's letter to Leo X includes an early use of spoglie for the Antonine reliefs on the Arch of Constantine.3 This is not what de Laborde had in mind when he proposed his comparison. He saw in Konya's walls "les parois des salles d'un musée," the walls of a museum hall: a metaphor for modernity, not medieval decline.

The two gates are discussed in a dense and rewarding trio of essays— by Livia Bevilacqua, Scott Redford, and Suzan Yalman, respectively— in the book under review. Each author must come to terms with disjunctive chronologies. Spolia, as Paul Magdalino remarks at the end of the volume, form a concept imported from "the Roman heartland" (341). Such too is the origin of his "three clearly defined though overlapping phases" in "the history of the culture of spolia." First comes "the expansion and hegemony of ancient Rome... The second phase begins with the Arch of Constantine," and includes "the later Roman Empire and its successor states, both Christian and Muslim." Finally, there is a "third phase" that "began in the Renaissance and is still with us" (342-43). Magdalino places Islam at the end of the second, middle, period: thus again, "East Rome and its Islamic heirs" (345). De Laborde's chronology is different: thirteenth-century Konya anticipates sixteenth-century Rome.

Bevilacqua explores with great sensitivity the similarities between the Anatolian gates of the Seljuks and Laskarids and Frederick II's contemporary gate at Capua. Similarly, Suna Çağaptay tracks the double-headed eagle from Trabzon through Konya up to Constantinople and as far west as Moutiers-Saint-Jean. But these are rare synchronic connections drawn across confessional lines. Elsewhere in the volume, Islam mostly follows and replaces Christianity, whether the cut-off be 1071, 1453, or 1923. That last date figures prominently in the essay of Tuğba Tanyeri-Erdemir, who discusses the many stone churches that Ottoman Christians built after Tanzimat (1839), and which were re-purposed less than a century later in the wake of the population exchanges.

In an introduction equally engaging and rigorous, Ivana Jevtić paraphrases "Dale Kinney's definition of spolia as artifacts 'incorporated into a setting culturally or chronologically different from that of (their) creation'" (11). Differences in time we presume to measure, but it is much harder to agree on distances between cultures. The finest essays collected here do not start from an answer, but work through the stones and stuffs and towards one. In this, I suspect, they emulate their mostly anonymous protagonists, those masons and accountants who shuffled from ruin to quarry to building site, scratching their heads in front of ponderous blocks, asking "does it work?" and "is it worth it?"

The twelfth-century Great Mosque of Diyarbakır, whose structure and reception are presented with care and reserve by Elif Keser-Kayaalp, remains as good a place to begin as it was in 1910 for Strzygowski (and would have been for Riegl had he known it when writing Stilfragen). All of the pieces are literally there— the complete columnar screens, convincingly Corinthian, entablature and all, vertically superimposed two at a time on two facing facades. They are both classical and not so much, reused and then again maybe not. It seems pointless to ask if the Inalids of Amida were late Constantines or early Leos, fruitful to follow Keser-Kayaalp as she seeks alternative models, impossible not to agree when she concludes that "the reference to the past in this building is confusing" (146).

It should be similarly difficult to parse the beautiful bronze doors at the southwestern vestibule of Hagia Sophia, discussed in an invaluable essay by Claudia Barsanti and Alessandra Giuglia that covers great swaths of the great church. The doors were Roman, but reinstalled and reworked in the sixth and ninth centuries. Barsanti and Giuglia speculate neither on intent nor on reception, even as they demonstrate that the scale of reuse in Hagia Sophia is greater than has been assumed for early Byzantine buildings (Philipp Niewöhner's essay provides further support). Nicholas Melvani, in an attentive treatment of early and middle Byzantine sculpture reused in later Byzantine centuries, assumes that those stones were appreciated as objects of antiquarian interest, that they signified continuity.

By contrast, those essays that entertain a "triumphalist" interpretation of reused materials deal with Muslim rulers: most forthrightly, Mariya Kiprovska's account of the Mihaloğlu family, gazi in the Balkans and devotees of Anatolian shrines. Whether addressing monuments of the fourteenth or of the sixteenth centuries, Kiprovska sees spoils— "'manubial' monuments" like those of ancient Rome surveyed by Inge Uytterhoeven. For Kiprovska, an iron relief depicting the Wedding at Cana on the palace gate at Pleven is "a classical display of spolia as a war trophy," since its German inscription ("Es war ein Hochzeit..." is legible in the photo) "suggests that it was probably seized as booty during one of the Mihaloğlus' raids in Austrian lands" (68). Yet Pleven's Christians (and German-speakers) must have puzzled over the display of a Gospel scene on their once-Christian ruling family's door; even while they and others could recognize a simpler boast about hospitality (within the wine never runs out).4

Ünver Rüstem's account of the relation between the Baroque and the neo-Byzantine in eighteenth-century Istanbul demonstrates— in excellent photographs finely reproduced— the combinatory potential of multiple chronologies. Horizons realign and much more meaning results. Nothing is more Byzantine than the Ottoman claim that the twelve great courtyard columns of the Nurosmaniye Mosque in Istanbul (completed in 1755) came from Pergamon—as when, in the ninth-century Diegesis, columns converge on Hagia Sophia from Rome, Ephesus, Cyzicus, Troy, and the Cyclades.5 Both claims recall an image, evoked by Magdalino via Metochites, "in which the recycling of building materials is compared to the circulation of water in nature," and Constantinople becomes "an imitation of the cosmos itself" (347)— except that theirs is a cosmos of multiple cities, living and dead, a very old idea of the oikoumene.

I am captivated by the Greek liturgical vestments of the Ottoman period studied by Elena Papastavrou and Nikolaos Vryzidis, whose chapter is also accompanied by photographs of great beauty. One should buy the volume for their Figures 1 and 2 alone, in which silver-brocaded silks bearing the "closed crescent" jostle in "patchwork" against velvet tulips. Here the seams are as plain as on those thirteenth-century gates. The ornamental vocabulary is at first glance little "classical," until one thinks again of Stilfragen, and its author's claim to "have forged the various links of this chain in an unbroken sequence, thereby connecting the mysterious flower of the Nile Valley ... with the wondrous achievements of the Arabesque."6

To return to the beginning: why for de Laborde is Iznik clumsy, Konya elegant? In part, I think, it is because the Konya gate was more regularly built, its spoils more symmetrically arranged. But perhaps it is also because, for him, the Laskarid emperors of Nicaea were Christian Greeks, and thus poor custodians of their own heritage; while the Seljuk sultans of Konya were Turkish Muslims, admiring collectors of something not their own. If so, does it follow that Raphael too was unclassical, as much an outsider as the Seljuks, separated from Roman antiquity not only by time but also by culture?

Perhaps Magdalino has something of the sort in mind when he pronounces: "Renaissance man was himself the heir to, if not very much a part of, the medieval world" (343). I would draw a different lesson, in two parts. First, the tripartite chronology doesn't help in Anatolia. Second, it never worked very well in Rome. These stones are things to make us humble. They are the objects out of which classicists build thought-worlds, but otherwise arranged, and resistant to our categories.

Authors and titles

Ivana Jevtić, Introduction

I. From Spoils of War to Reused Materials and Spaces
Inge Uytterhoeven, Spolia, -iorum, n.: From Spoils of War to Reused Building Materials: The History of a Latin Term
Mariya Kiprovska, Plunder and Appropriation at the Borderland: Representation, Legitimacy, and Ideological Use of Spolia by Members of the Ottoman Frontier Nobility
Tuğba Tanyeri-Erdemir, Remains of the Day: Converted Anatolian Churches

II. Biographies of Monuments
Claudia Barsanti and Alessandra Giuglia, Spolia in Constantinople's Hagia Sophia from the Age of Justinian to the Ottoman Period: The Phenomenon of Multilayered Reuse
Elif Keser-Kayaalp, The Great Mosque of Diyarbakır in Light of Discussions on Spolia and Classicism
Nicholas Melvani, Late, Middle, and Early Byzantine Sculpture in Palaiologan Constantinople

III. Rewriting History through Spolia
Livia Bevilacqua, Spolia on City Gates in the Thirteenth Century: Byzantium and Italy
Scott Redford, The Sarcophagus as Spolium: Examples from Thirteenth-Century Konya
Suzan Yalman, Repairing the Antique: Legibility and Reading Seljuk Spolia in Konya

IV. Aesthetics of Variety
Philipp Niewöhner, Varietas, Spolia, and the End of Antiquity in East and West
Elena Papastavrou and Nikolaos Vryzidis, Sacred Patchwork: Patterns of Textile Reuse in Greek Vestments and Liturgical Veils during the Ottoman Era

V. Conceptual Spoliation, or Spolia in Re
Ünver Rüstem, Spolia and the Invocation of History in Eighteenth-Century Istanbul
Suna Çağaptay, On the Wings of the Double-Headed Eagle: Spolia in Re and Appropriation in Medieval Anatolia and Beyond
Paul Magdalino, Epilogue: A Meditation on the Culture of Spolia


1.   Léon de Laborde, Voyage de l'Asie Mineure (Paris, 1838), 39 and 116-117.
2.   Personal communication.
3.   Dale Kinney, "Spolia: Damnatio and renovatio memoriae," Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 42 (1997): 122.
4.   I suspect from the medium and format that the relief was a stove plate, of which many were made in German-speaking lands from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries, frequently featuring the Wedding at Cana. Compare, e.g.: Stefanie Funck, Christoph Otterbeck and Eveline Valtink, eds., Bibel in Eisen: Biblische Motive auf Ofenplatten des 16. Jahrhunderts (Kassel, 2015), Cat. No. 17; Helmut Rüggeberg, Ofenplatten in Nordwestdeutschland: eine Dokumentation. Ofenplatten mit biblischen und welfischen Darstellungen (Cloppenburg, 2013), Cat. Nos. NT 67-89 and 259; and Erich Schmitt, Pfälzische Ofenplatten (Berlin, 1968), Cat. Nos. 13-16, 37 and 44.
5.   Albrecht Berger, trans., Accounts of Medieval Constantinople: The Patria (Cambridge, 2013), 232-235.
6.   Alois Riegl, Problems of Style, trans. Evelyn Kain (Princeton, 1992), 305.

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Federico M. Petrucci,, Taurus of Beirut. The Other Side of Middle Platonism. Issues in ancient philosophy. London; New York: Routledge, 2018. Pp. xv, 287. ISBN 9781138186743. £115.00.

Reviewed by Christina Hoenig, University of Pittsburgh (

Version at BMCR home site


Federico Petrucci's thought-provoking study of Taurus of Beirut has the ambitious aim of rewriting the traditional account of Taurus' role within Middle Platonism. The traditional account associates Taurus with a non-literalist or metaphorical interpretation of Plato's creation story as it is set out in the dialogue Timaeus, relying on Taurus' inventory of alternative interpretations of the crucial term genēton, "generated" (on which more later) which is used by the dialogue's protagonist to describe the cosmos. Reevaluating the textual evidence, Petrucci paints a radically new portrait of Taurus the teacher and philosopher; a portrait, moreover, that places the author at the origin of an ideological shift towards a literalist reading—as Petrucci insists—of Timaeus' creation story that would exert a decisive influence on the Middle Platonist tradition. He undertakes to do so in four chapters, and an appendix that offers a new collection and the first English translation of Taurus' "texts", a term that avoids the problematic distinction between "fragments" and "testimonia".

Chapter One, "Taurus in Context", grounds the discussion with a biographical sketch of Taurus as the central figure of Athenian Platonism, mostly based on the account by his famous pupil Aulus Gellius. Gellius, whose credentials as a rhetorician must be kept in mind, describes a mentor close to the elusive ideal of the philosophical sage; a teacher of a conservative bent, concerned to convey to his students Plato's ideal combination of rhetorical style with philosophical depth. Taurus' mathematics and medicine are given short shrift in Gellius' account, while his ethics turn out to align with those of Aristotle and his school, admittedly with some added Platonic refinement. The remainder of the discussion is a preview of the subsequent chapters: Taurus' Plato left behind complete philosophical discussions, designed as purposeful rhetorical constructs that explore a given topic from all the relevant viewpoints. It is up to Taurus and his students to deconstruct his "multiplex" writings, and to disentangle Plato's doctrine from alternative viewpoints that are to be rejected.

Chapter Two, "Taurus on Plato's Cosmogony. Middle Platonism and Literalism", of which the core has been explored in a previous publication by the author,1 is an important contribution to the scholarly conversation on the reception of Plato's Timaeus. The crucial question is whether we are to take literally the protagonist's statement that the universe is generated (genēton). A literalist reading of his creation account has thus far been associated with a temporal interpretation, i.e. an interpretation according to which the Timaean creator god created the universe at a specific point in time. This interpretation has traditionally been opposed to the supposedly metaphorical "sempiternalistic" reading, which denies that an actual creation has taken place, and instead takes the account of creation to be a metaphor, describing a step-by-step creative process for the sake of elucidation, clarity, or similar educational purpose. According to the sempiternalistic reading, the universe has neither beginning nor end, but is eternal in nature.

With regard to the traditional dichotomy of a literalist-temporal vs. a metaphorical-sempiternalistic interpretation of the dialogue, Petrucci's central and revolutionary claim is that no representative of the sempiternalistic camp ever regarded their own view as "metaphorical"—quite the contrary. Sempiternalists, too, interpreted the term genēton literally, albeit not as implying temporality. Petrucci's new literalist interpretation is based on a fresh analysis of sources. These include Cicero and Varro, in whom we find the temporal understanding of creation, which had been favored during the Hellenistic period before the opposite course was taken by Eudorus. Taurus emerges as the originator of a literalist-sempiternalist interpretation of Plato's cosmogony, as witnessed by his own inventory of nontemporal interpretations in John Philoponus' On the Eternity of the World against Proclus. All sides of the debate, then, rely on a "literal" reading of Timaeus' creation account, but disagree on what precisely the meaning of the account is. In contrast to the "truly" metaphorical reading of the dialogue by the Neoplatonists, the appeal to literalism, that is, to Plato's own words—whatever they are meant to signify—is shown to be a common methodological feature among Middle Platonic writers.

Chapter Three, "Taurus' Cosmology. The Other Side of Middle Platonism", aims to dethrone what has commonly been regarded as a hallmark of Middle Platonism, the idea that craftsmanlike divine causation is responsible for the creation of the universe. This requires Petrucci to rewrite our traditional narrative, according to which the Middle Platonists were unified in their cosmological and metaphysical perspectives. Petrucci paints a more fragmented picture, arguing that support for craftsmanlike divine causation was limited to individuals like Plutarch and Atticus (and, in a qualified sense, Numenius, whose second god takes on the craftsman's role), against whom Taurus establishes what Petrucci calls "the other side of Middle Platonism", a network of intertwined doctrinal stances centered on the commitment to a non-craftsmanlike model of divine causation. Petrucci's analysis focuses on texts T26 and T27 (= John Philoponus, On the Eternity of the World against Proclus VI.8, pp. 121.18-21 and 145.1-148.25 Rabe; VI.21, pp. 123.15-16 and 186.6-189.13). These texts lay out four nontemporal meanings for the crucial term genēton. The kind of causation Petrucci finds at work in Taurus' cosmos combines the paradigmatic effect of form, which accounts for the structure of the physical universe, and the impact of the god's mere presence, which ensures that this structure is the best possible and able to function as an automaton.

An analysis of relevant passages from Apuleius' On Plato and his Doctrine and On the Cosmos, Maximus of Tyre's Orations, and Alcinous' Didaskalikos illustrates how Taurus' model was adopted by subsequent authors of varying philosophical inclination to propound the idea of non-craftsman-like causation. In the case of Apuleius, it is worthy of mention that he not only appropriates Taurus' first and third meanings for genēton in, as Petrucci notes, "the qualified sense that [the cosmos] encompasses generated items, but in itself … has never been generated and has always existed" (p. 92). Apuleius also adopts an additional meaning, Taurus' number four, explaining at On Plato and his Doctrine 1.8, 198, that the universe's sempiternal nature is owing to its ontological dependence upon the highest god, who is its nascendi causa. In the case of Alcinous' Didaskalikos, which distinguishes a highest god from divine intellect, Petrucci cautiously suggests that the work's support of a non-craftsmanlike type of causation develops aspects that have their foundation in Taurus' side of Middle Platonism, without discounting a direct influence between the two authors. In what follows, Petrucci draws up a compelling and enjoyable narrative that reveals Taurus as the thus-far unacknowledged central protagonist and strategist on the doctrinal battlefield, and establishes multiple connections between the main characters invested in the fight, ascribing to them rather shrewd strategies. With Atticus and Plutarch on one side of this battle, Taurus himself spearheads the other side of Middle Platonism and, having chosen his allies wisely, can rely on support for the advance of his Platonic cosmological model from the Aristotelian and Peripatetic repository of ideas, most crucially the idea of a cosmos that does not require any direct, craftsman-like intervention for its orderly structure and preservation.

One may ask, of course, if the history of Middle Platonism really involved such wily and farsighted planning. Did Taurus deliberately intend to undertake "two moves", one being his emphasis on the harmoniously constructed and self-preserving structure of the cosmic machinery, and the other his "subordinative appropriation of Peripatetic elements and arguments, acting as troopers within the Platonist army", a move that "makes his Platonist army ready to fight against the curious motley alliance it is called to defeat" (p. 118)? Taurus' efforts, according to Petrucci, were answered by a "radical pact with the Stoics" on the part of Atticus, that, in turn, elicited Alcinous' sempiternalism, itself a "reaction against Atticus' radicalization" that led him to "recruit new and fitter troopers from the Peripatetic army, hoping to win the final battle through this new strategy" (p. 123). This kind of narrative rather confidently credits the various Platonic actors with intentions, motives, and strategies, of which they themselves might not always have been aware. That said, Petrucci's account makes for a captivating read, and there is really no good reason why one should not inject some excitement into Middle Platonism.

Chapter Four, "Taurus and Middle Platonist Exegesis", underlines Petrucci's case for a more fragmented narrative of Middle Platonic doctrine by arguing that any coherence of this ideological current was due mostly to shared exegetical methodologies rather than doctrinal perspectives. Examining Taurus' exegetical method, Petrucci denies that T12, in which Gellius describes Taurus' pedagogical practice, is sufficient evidence for a shared Middle Platonic methodology of written exegesis. After a survey of sources including Galen's Commentary on the Timaeus, the Anonymous Commentary on the Theaetetus, and Longinus' fragmentary Commentary on the Timaeus, he concludes in fact that no standard pattern can be identified. Instead, Petrucci argues that the pattern revealed in T12, an apparent combination of rhetorical analysis and philosophical discussion, is witness to a common didactic approach or school activity.

Turning to Taurus' own written practice, Petrucci argues that it revolved around so-called "centers of gravity", i.e. individual, thematically aligned passages that have been detached from the internal flow of their individual dialogues and arranged by Taurus into a web of core doctrinal perspectives that, in turn, attract and throw a specific light on other passages less central to, but compatible with, the specific doctrine under focus. Petrucci relies mostly on T26, T27, and T30 for examples of Taurus' written exegesis, but draws on other texts for support, in particular T13. In this text, Gellius describes a philosophical dinner conversation at Taurus' house attended only by his preferred students, and thus a rather exclusive "educational" venue that perhaps does not lend itself readily as an example with which to compare Taurus' written exegetical practice. In fact, T13 and other texts, such as T17, T18, T19, T20, T21, and T22 are interesting in that they reveal a penchant for "ad hoc" teaching on Taurus' part, in scenarios outside the classroom in which a particular event (a slave boy who has run out of supplies; a philosopher friend who has fallen ill) gives rise to spontaneous philosophical discussions. In any case, Petrucci's analysis of Taurus' exegetical practice leads him to dispense with the traditionally detected patterns of philosophical commentary, the specialist commentary limited to a specific topic or cluster of topics, and the running commentary that follows the flow of Plato's dialogues. In their place, Petrucci detects a "wave-like" pattern in Taurus and other Middle Platonists, whose commentaries he characterizes as "lemmatic" in the sense that they pick out specific problems or dilemmas from a given dialogue without following Plato's narrative in its entirety. Petrucci's appendix helpfully provides a revised collection of texts and their first English translation. Petrucci follows the example of Lakmann in not distinguishing between "testimonia" and "fragments", in contrast to Gioè.2 Petrucci's rationale for choosing and discarding specific texts is sound, and his English translation lucid and flowing. I only found a single rendering I would contest: for Petrucci's "accomplishment" for the Greek teleiōsis in T31, "completion" seems preferable.

It is no exaggeration to describe Petrucci's study as an impressive and revolutionary portrayal of Taurus, embedded in an exciting account of the battle for Middle Platonic doctrine.


1.   F. Petrucci, "Argumentative Strategies for Interpreting Plato's Cosmogony: Taurus and the Issue of Literalism in Antiquity", Phronesis 61 (2016), 43-59.
2.   M.-L. Lakmann, Der Platoniker Tauros in der Darstellung des Aulus Gellius (Leiden: Brill, 1995); A. Gioè, Filosofi Medioplatonici del II Secolo d.C. (Naples: Bibliopolis, 2002).

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