Thursday, December 14, 2017


Clément Chillet, De l'Étrurie à Rome: Mécène et la fondation de l'Empire. Bibliothèques des Écoles françaises d'Athènes et de Rome, 373. Rome: École Française de Rome, 2016. Pp. xii, 609. ISBN 9782728312023. €33.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Peter Mountford, University of Melbourne (

Version at BMCR home site

This is the second book in French on Maecenas to be published in the past two years. It follows Le Doze (2014) Mécène: Ombres et flamboyances. While each purports to be a biography of Maecenas, the approach of the two authors is very different. Le Doze's book concentrates on presenting a biography of Maecenas, whereas Chillet's biography is at times lost in the discussion of the social background of Rome and Italy in the first century BCE. Chillet's at times very dense book has been developed from his doctoral thesis presented in Lyon in November 2012. He sets out his approach to the topic in the introduction (1-17). In this he lists previous works on Maecenas and bemoans the paucity. Strangely, he begins his list with the work of Frandsen (1843) and Feugères (1874), but, in so doing, he ignores the earlier work of Richer (1748), which was translated into English by Schomberg.1

The text of 484 pages is divided into three sections, each with three chapters. Each chapter is divided by many subheadings to indicate the structure and focus. After the text, there follow a series of appendices (486 – 515), an extensive bibliography (517 – 553), a list of epigraphical, numismatic and papyrological sources used (555 – 561), a list of all ancient sources used (563 – 588), an index of places (589 – 593) and of persons (595 – 603) and a more detailed reference to the contents (605 – 609). The first section (21 – 167) considers Maecenas' Etruscan background, his possible links to Etruscan royalty and his decision to remain an eques. The second (171 – 331) discusses the roles which Maecenas played in supporting Octavian/Augustus, in bringing about the establishment of the Augustan principate and fulfilling roles in Rome and Italy on Octavian's behalf. The third part (335 – 484) concentrates on Maecenas' role as adviser to Augustus, his position and that of his household in the Augustan principate, and his relationship with others in Roman society, especially the poets. A look at Chillet's previous and intended publications in the bibliography indicates his particular interests, notably Maecenas' gardens on the Esquiline, the roles of magistrates in the first century BC and the Etruscan background of Maecenas. He has obviously undertaken very thorough research in preparation for writing the book. In spite of his very impressive list of various sources, there are several ancient texts which refer to Maecenas that he does not mention, such as Horace Carmina 2.18 and 2.20; Martial Epigrams 1.107, 11.3; Juvenal Satires 7.94-7; Suetonius Vita Vergili.

In Chapter one he produces as much evidence as he can to establish Maecenas' Etruscan lineage, especially his links to the Cilnii of Arretium and any possibility that he can be said to be of royal descent. He also considers what it meant to be an Etruscan in the first century BC and how the Romans at that time reacted to Etruscans, especially, ones with claims to royalty. As there are very few Etruscan sources and the ancient Latin and Greek texts do not give us much information about Maecenas' background, much of what Chillet suggests has to be hypothetical, as he himself frequently admits. He does not seem to provide proof that the Lucius Maecenas in Nicolaus of Damascus 31, 133 is in fact the father of Maecenas. Hall considers that Nicolaus is actually referring to Gaius Maecenas.2 Nor does Chillet take account of the fact that Richer states that his father was Menodorus and gives a genealogy going back to Porsenna.3

In Chapter two Chillet suggests various possibilities as to why Maecenas chose to remain an eques rather than become a senator. He concludes that Maecenas had nothing to gain by becoming a senator, as, by being a member of the equites with a noble Etruscan background, he had prestige enough in Rome. The third chapter concentrates on Maecenas' lifestyle and the habits which seemed to offend the younger Seneca, whose criticism Chillet responds to, particularly by considering the new Italian society which was emerging under the principate.

Chapter 4, the first of the second section, concentrates on the changes being brought about to Italy in the first century BC, especially by the establishment of colonies of veterans, by conscription of soldiers and the imposition of taxes. He discusses the role that Maecenas may have played in these processes. He argues that Maecenas had an important role to play in winning Italy over to the new regime and the new order. In the following chapter he discusses the importance of the role played by Maecenas as a negotiator on behalf of Octavian in the 30s BCE and the possible financial support given to Octavian by Maecenas and his family. He argues that such support was generously repaid with estates in Egypt in 30 BC. He also considers Maecenas' role in encouraging Virgil to write the Georgics in order to encourage a return to the land, which had been ignored during the Civil Wars and much of which had been given to veterans. He discusses at some length whether the poem was composed to meet the ideology of Augustus. In Chapter 6 he considers the role played by Maecenas in maintaining order in Rome and Italy at various times in the 30s BCE, the reasons why this role was important and what it achieved, such as the suppression of the plot of Lepidus. He then discusses at some length how Maecenas exercised power in this role and the legality of his actions, as his position predates the introduction of the praefectus urbi by Tiberius in AD 13. This second section might have benefitted from a greater focus on Maecenas and less on the socio-political background.

In Chapter 7 Chillet addresses the role of Maecenas as an adviser to Augustus after the establishment of the empire. Here Chillet lays to rest for good the proposition put forward by Earl and others, that Maecenas retired to the background in disgrace following the conspiracy of Murena.4 His careful use of the ancient texts suggests that this is highly unlikely. Chillet discusses whether the debate between Maecenas and Agrippa in Dio Cassius reflects possible effects on Augustan policy or whether it reflects the situation in the Severan age. He concludes that we cannot use the debate as a way of understanding Maecenas' political thought. He finishes the chapter with a discussion of the composition of the consilium principis from which Maecenas' equestrian status precluded him. Yet, he considers that Maecenas continued to have the ear of the emperor as on the question of succession in 23 BC. Chapter 8 concentrates on Maecenas' family life and the difficult question of his relationship with his wife Terentia. He discusses the family of the Terentii at some length and concludes the chapter with consideration of what we can learn about Maecenas' household from inscriptions to his slaves and freedmen. In Chapter 9 he considers the networks (réseaux) that existed in Roman society and the ties (liens) which bound people to each other and discusses the ways in which Maecenas was involved in such arrangements. He dislikes the use of the term 'circle' when used of the poets whom Maecenas supported, yet acquiesces in the use of the term elsewhere, as in 'cercle des épicuriens de Campanie' (405). Although he gives reasons for this dislike, they do not seem convincing. He discusses the reasons for gathering together such a group of poets and their use to Maecenas and to the principate. He brings the third section and the book as a whole to a conclusion with a summary of the political situation at the beginning of the empire as he sees it, and with a summary of the life of Maecenas which he believes can be drawn from the ancient texts and his research.

As one might expect of a book of this length, there are some errors which ought to have been avoided by proofreading. 5 Examples are: une repeated (192), rencensus for recensus (220), la question repeated (273), pas repeated (301), nous sources for nos sources (329), Le Doze, 2006 p 99-109 should (presumably) be 2009 (350 n.76), DC LV, 5, 2 should be LV, 7, 1-6 (355 n.98), Tenrentia for Terentia (377), Pseudo-Asconius for Pseudo-Acronius (381), le deuxième point seems to be le troisième (453). Some page references in the sources do not match the pages.

Much has been written about Augustus over the years. Many of those texts give ample coverage to the role of Agrippa under Octavian/Augustus, but pay little attention to the role of Maecenas. Any text which attempts to bring Maecenas into the spotlight is welcome. This text does just that and covers some ground not considered by previous books on Maecenas. For example, his discussion on the background of Maecenas, although often hypothetical, highlights what can safely be claimed about Maecenas' origins and what cannot (Chapter 1). He deals more thoroughly with the question of why Maecenas decided to remain an eques (Chapter 2) and the possible role played by Maecenas in the wider context of Italy (Chapter 4). He also covers the family of Maecenas' wife Terentia in greater depth (Chapter 8). At times, however, the main focus on Maecenas seems to be lost in too many hypotheses and distracting digressions. In spite of this, it will, no doubt, generate further discussion on this important figure of the Augustan age, and the wealth of references will be of great use to scholars. Much of what might be termed extraneous material in the text will also be of value to historians studying Rome and Italy in the first century BC.


1.   Richer, M. (1748) The Life of Maecenas, trans: Schomberg, M. (1766), London.
2.   Hall, C.M. (1923) Nicolaus of Damascus' life of Augustus: a historical commentary embodying a translation, Northampton, Mass. See also Toher, M (2016) Nicolaus of Damascus: The Life of Augustus and the Autobiography. Edited with Introduction, Translation and Historical Commentary, Cambridge, 417. He considers that there has most likely been an error in transcription and that Nicolaus is referring to Maecenas, not his father. See also Gardthausen, V. (1891) Augustus und seine Zeit, Leipzig; Dessau, H. (1924) Geshichte der römischen Kaizerzeit, Berlin; Avalone, R. (1962) Mecenate, Naples; and Levi, P. (2012) 32 Virgil: a Life, London, 32. Le Doze, P. (2014) Mécène: Ombres et Flamboyances Paris, 23 argues a contrary view.
3.   Although Richer (2-3) does not give a source for his statement, he must have been following Pseudo-Acron ad Hor. C.1.20.5-6 (nam et Porsennae dicitur adfinis fuisse).
4.   Earl, D. (1968) The Age of Augustus London, 81, followed by Syme, R. (1986) The Augustan Aristocracy, Oxford, 389; Everitt, A. (2006) The First Emperor; Caesar Augustus and the Triumph of Rome, London, 229; Clark, M.D.H. (2010) Augustus, First Emperor: Power, Propaganda and Politics of Survival, Exeter 94 .
5.   Perhaps the fact that French is not my first language made me more aware of them than a native speaker.

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Rogério​ Sousa, Burial Assemblages from Bab el-Gasus in the Geographical Society of Lisbon. Monumenta Aegyptiaca, 14​. Turnhout: Brepols, 2017. Pp. xiv, 290. ISBN 9782503565750. €89,00 (pb).

Reviewed by Marissa Stevens, University of California, Los Angeles (

Version at BMCR home site

Burial Assemblages from Bab el-Gasus in the Geographical Society of Lisbon by Rogério Sousa marks the first complete publication of a group of four 21st Dynasty coffin sets discovered in 1891 in the Bab el-Gasus cache of Deir el-Bahri in the Theban necropolis, and now housed in Lisbon. The Bab el-Gasus cache contained 153 21st Dynasty (1070-945 BCE) coffin sets belonging to members of the Theban priesthood of Amun. This archaeological find was of major significance for Egyptology, particularly in the areas of Egyptian religion, mummification, and coffin studies. Despite its importance, however, the materials of the Bab el-Gasus, scattered across museums worldwide, have received scant and inconsistent scholarly study and publication. Sousa's publication consequently stands as a great contribution to the field of Egyptology and a call for scholars with access to similar material to continue the research dialogue in the field of coffin studies. Sousa's descriptions and commentaries of the four coffin sets are supplemented by 121 black-and-white plates and 16 color plates to provide a full research record of the coffins.

For coffin studies, the focus on a discrete museum group of coffins can provide valuable information regarding the construction, decorative variation, use, reuse, and ownership of 21st Dynasty coffins. Sousa's contribution fills a growing need within the field, which is currently overwhelmed by the amount of data and objects under its purview. This volume presents a large quantity of data in a structured manner. Being able to publish discrete coffin sets or a museum corpus is a growing trend in coffin studies that contributes widely to the field.

Sousa conceptually divides the monograph into two parts: description and documentation, although in reality, the book follows a tripartite construction that includes a commentary after the description of the coffin sets. Part one, which focuses on the description of the coffins, addresses each of the four coffin sets in turn. These sets are referred to primarily by their A list numbers assigned by the excavator, Georges Daressy, A.4, A.27, A.110, and A.136, respectively.1 A.4 is the coffin (lid and case) of an anonymous woman; A.27 is the coffin (lid and case) and mummy-cover of an anonymous woman; A.110 is the coffin (lid and case) and mummy-cover of Djedmutiuesankh; and A.136 is the outer coffin (lid and case), inner coffin (lid and case), and mummy-cover of Henut-taui. Part two consists entirely of the plates accompanying the text of the monograph.

Each of the coffin pieces is systematically described in part one in terms of its iconography and inscriptions. The descriptions follow a pattern of discussing the head-board, upper section, central panel, lower section, and foot-board as defined in the introduction (2-3). Within these organizational sections, however, Sousa uses terms such as centrifugal block and centripetal block, which are uncommon in coffin studies. A discussion of these and other sub-divisions of the coffins would have been beneficial for the reader.

Several important research topics are presented in the commentary to part one. These topics, which include construction quality, reuse, religious iconography, style, and economy, might have been better incorporated into the descriptions, or separated completely into a new section of the book. Many of these discussions lack reference to the intricate and methodical descriptions of the coffin sets featured in the first half of part one.

The discussions of religious iconography and style are compelling and comprehensive, drawing not only upon other coffins as points of comparison, but also contemporary papyri and earlier tomb decoration. These comparisons permit a sense of iconographic development over time. Sousa insightfully discusses the difficulties of transposing motifs common in tomb decoration onto coffins, the reinvention and reinterpretation of certain funerary motifs into new compositions, and the syncretism of Osirian and solar beliefs about the afterlife. Sousa's insights contribute to his wider discussion of style, which focuses on the appropriateness of a coffin's decoration for an owner and the ways in which decoration changed over the course of the 21st Dynasty.

The considerations of construction quality, reuse, and economy are less sound. Part one does not include a systematic evaluation of construction methods, and the resulting discussion of quality is disjointed and lacks an explanation as to how the final assessment of quality was derived. Statements such as "poor construction" and "good construction" are not explained, and an overarching discussion of coffin construction and decoration is absent from the work, despite precedent in the Egyptological literature for such analyses.2 This shortcoming is quite possibly the result of limited access to these museum objects. Close inspection of the pieces, coupled with wood sampling, x-ray or CT scans, and pigment analysis would have been necessary to provide a more detailed discussion of construction quality and economy. A related problem is the topic of coffin reuse. The broader discussion of institutionalized and sanctioned 21st Dynasty reuse, which has become a major topic in coffin studies in recent years,3 does not feature prominently in this work, although several of the coffin sets in Lisbon show signs of reuse. More collaborative work is needed on the topic, and Sousa is indeed participating in these efforts. Nonetheless, despite mentioning the possibility that several of the coffins were reused, Sousa omits reuse from his discussion of coffin construction and Theban economy.

While one of Sousa's goals was to showcase a "combined use of drawings and textual description," (5) the separation of the iconography and the inscriptions within part one results in a lack of cohesive engagement with text and image. Images are presented together in part two, making it cumbersome to refer to the plates while reading. In addition, an error in the numbering of the plates resulted in all black-and-white plates after Plate 40 (190) being mislabeled and subsequently misnumbered.

In addition, there are no transcriptions of the hieroglyphs or transliterations of the texts provided with the translations. The reader must refer to the plates in part two to view line drawings of the hieroglyphic inscriptions, which are often drawn separately from the accompanying images. Complicating this issue further is the fact that Sousa does not always refer to the inscriptions by plate number, but by inscription number, which makes them difficult to find in the 121 black-and-white plates. Further, the plates themselves are often too dark to reveal the details Sousa emphasizes in part one. The color photographs are an appreciated addition, although their overall printed quality is slightly blurry.

Sousa's monograph provides a detailed picture of four coffin sets in the Geographical Society of Lisbon. His subject, however, goes beyond four burials and connects these coffins to others from the Bab el-Gasus cache and others containing the internments of Egypt's 21st Dynasty priesthood. This micro-analysis helps develop the larger picture of 21st Dynasty burials, society, religion, and economics. It is through works such as Sousa's that scholars will begin to have access to information that has been scattered across museums worldwide. This publication and others like it are the foundation of Bab el-Gasus scholarship and the springboard for long-term research, collaboration, conservation, and curation of a dataset that deserves scholarly attention. The meticulousness of the information presented in this work is a model for others who aim to combine an art historical and textual approach to coffin studies. Sousa's work illustrates the worth of detailed research by publishing material that can be used to further coffin studies and highlight the larger social environment of the 21st Dynasty. Sousa's work also challenges other scholars to continue the expanding dialogue of coffin studies and focus on collaborative research. ​


1.   See Georges Daressy, "Les cercueils des prêtres d'Ammon (Deuxième Trouvaille de Deir el-Bahari)" ASAE 8 (1907): 3-38.
2.   See René van Walsem, The coffin of Djedmonthuiufankh in the National Museum of Antiquities at Leiden, Vol. I: Technical and Iconographic/Iconological Aspects, Egyptologische Uitgaven 10 (Leiden, 1997); Kathlyn Cooney, The Cost of Death: The social and economic value of ancient Egyptian funerary art in the Ramesside Period, Egyptologische Uitgaven 22 (Leiden, 2007); and France Jamen, Le cercueil de Padikhonsu au musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon (XXIe dynastie), Studien zu altägyptischen Totentexten 20 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2016).
3.   Lara Weiss, The Coffins of the Priests of Amun: Egyptian coffins from the 21st Dynasty in the collection of the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, Papers on Archaeology of the Leiden Museum of Antiquities 17 (Leiden: Sidestone Press, Forthcoming, 2018). ​

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Anthony Ellis (ed.), God in History: Reading and Rewriting Herodotean Theology from Plutarch to the Renaissance. Histos supplements, 4. Newcastle Upon Tyne: Histos, 2015. Pp. viii, 245. ISBN 2046-5963. viii, 245.

Reviewed by David Branscome, Florida State University (

Version at BMCR home site

Open access

Within the flourishing field of reception studies, classical scholars have increasingly turned their attention to Herodotus' Histories.1 Entering this field is Ellis' edited volume (available online on the Histos website). Given that "[t]he rich and complex history of intellectual engagement with Herodotean theology and religion . . . has yet to receive detailed study" (4), Ellis aims for his book to begin to fulfil this lack. The book, therefore, becomes the first devoted to the reception of Herodotus' views on the divine.2 Ellis is to be commended for putting together a very stimulating and cohesive collection of articles.

Of the book's five chapters, Ellis himself contributes the first and the fifth, plus an introductory preface. That the book lacks an overall conclusion is presumably because Ellis sees the project as ongoing: as it stands, the book covers the reception of Herodotean theology from the first/second century (Plutarch) to the sixteenth century (the Reformation), but Ellis says (4 n. 14) that "[i]t is . . . hoped that further contributions will be added, taking advantage of the possibilities of the online publication format." According to Ellis, such future contributions could focus on several different areas, whether in the time period covered by the current volume (such as Josephus: 5 n. 15) or in subsequent time periods (such as Germany's Altertumwissenschaft or twentieth-century anglophone scholarship: 9).3

In the Preface, Ellis points out that since antiquity critical evaluation of Herodotean theology has been filtered through the lens of Plato, who in the Republic (379a-80c) posits that the gods are the source of good, not evil, for human beings. In the past, says Ellis, scholars normally took one of two approaches: either (as eighteenth- and nineteenth- century Christian scholars) Herodotus' views were not so different from Platonic or Christian views of the divine, or (as Plutarch and many Catholics and Protestants) Herodotus' views were theologically offensive and wrong. Similarly, Ellis explains that modern scholars have normally taken one of two readings: either (as Munson) Herodotus sees the world as governed by divine tisis (vengeance/retribution), which is activated in response to human immorality, or (as Asheri) Herodotus' gods are fundamentally hostile and capricious.4

Chapters 1 and 2 complement each other well, as they both focus on Plutarch's reception of Herodotean theology, particularly in the area of divine phthonos (envy/jealousy/ill will). In Chapter 1 ("Introduction: Mortal Misfortunes, θεὸς ἀναίτιος, and τὸ θεῖον φθονερόν: The Socratic Seeds of Later Debate on Herodotus' Theology"), Ellis looks at how the Socratic and Platonic rejection of the notion—so prominent both in Herodotus and in earlier authors, such as Homer, Aeschylus, and Pindar—that the gods feel phthonos toward humans (especially in the latter's good fortune) paved the way for Plutarch's (and other Platonist, as well as Christian, thinkers') criticism of this notion. In Chapter 2 ("Defending the Divine: Plutarch on the Gods of Herodotus"), John Marincola argues that Plutarch faults Herodotus' treatment of the divine in two main ways. First, Herodotus misrepresents the true nature of the gods, especially regarding the existence of divine phthonos. Second, Herodotus does not have the gods take as direct involvement in the Greeks' victory in the Persian Wars as Plutarch (or the heroizing tradition of the conflict that developed after Herodotus' time) believed was appropriate.

Similarly, Chapters 3 and 4 are complementary, as each deals with Herodotus' reception by Byzantine historians. In Chapter 3 ("Fate, Divine Phthonos, and the Wheel of Fortune: The Reception of Herodotean Theology in Early and Middle Byzantine Historiography"), Vasiliki Zali investigates the ways in which three Byzantine historians—Procopius (sixth century), Michael Psellus (eleventh century), and Nicetas Choniates (twelfth-early thirteenth century)—engage with Herodotus and his theological beliefs, including that of divine phthonos. Procopius links a reversal in human good fortune to the phthonos not of the Christian God, but of lesser supernatural entities, such as evil spirits (daimones) or tychē (chance/fortune). According to Psellus, a benevolent God will not strip away prosperity from a person, but, provided the person eschews arrogance, He will even maintain that prosperity. For Choniates phthonos—although still an instrument of God's overarching will—becomes a supernatural power in its own right that causes reversals of fortune for humans. In Chapter 4 ("Explaining the End of an Empire: The Use of Ancient Greek Religious Views in Late Byzantine Historiography"), Mathieu de Bakker argues that the last two Byzantine classicizing historians, Kritoboulos (ca. 1410-1470) and Laonikos Chalkokondyles (ca. 1423-1465?), used Herodotus and Thucydides as explanatory models in writing about the Ottomans and their conquest of Constantinople in 1453. Both Kritoboulos and Laonikos relied on their audiences' familiarity with the Greek historiographical tradition as a means of "anchoring" their authorial innovations in handling Ottoman matters; the historians, for instance, echoed theological themes (such as the importance of tychē for historical causation) found in the works of Herodotus and Thucydides.

In Chapter 5 ("Herodotus Magister Vitae, or: Herodotus and God in the Protestant Reformation"), Ellis steps out of the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine worlds to examine the reception of Herodotus' work by sixteenth-century northern European Protestant humanists, especially the German David Chytraeus (a student of the Lutheran reformer Philipp Melanchthon) and the francophone Henri Estienne. While Chytraeus (like Melanchthon before him) often had to "massage" (188) Herodotus' stories about Croesus, Cyrus, and Xerxes to make them more suitable exempla for moral instruction, Estienne, in his ambitious attempt to show the utter compatibility between Herodotus' theological beliefs and those of Christianity, sometimes had to selectively edit his translations of Herodotean passages, such as removing entirely Artabanus' comment about "the god" feeling phthonos (ὁ θεὸς φθονήσας, 7.10ε). 

Regarding the articles in the collection, one criticism I have concerns de Bakker's claim (136-7) that Kritoboulos' and Laonikos' calling the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II simply "king" (βασιλεύς) is a direct borrowing from Herodotus' practice of referring to the Persian king as βασιλεύς without the definite article. On the one hand, even before Herodotus, the poet Aeschylus refers to Xerxes simply as βασιλεύς (Pers. 5); on the other hand, it became such a standard practice among many post-Herodotean prose writers (e.g., Thucydides [8.48] and Xenophon [(An.  1.1.5]) to refer to the Persian king in this same way that it is impossible to determine exactly from whom Kritoboulos and Laonikos adopted their own practice.

A larger criticism is that the articles do not show enough precision or clarity when dealing with Herodotus' stance on divine phthonos and similar concepts. In English the phrase "divine phthonos" (which I have used repeatedly in this review) is ambiguous: does it mean that a god is feeling or experiencing phthonos or that phthonos is itself a god? The question, then, is whether Herodotus ever conceives of phthonos as a binatural god, being both a god and an abstract concept (Envy/Jealousy/Ill Will) at the same time.5 Binatural gods (gods/concepts) appear occasionally in the Histories; the Pythia, for example, lectures Croesus about the (binatural) Moirai (Fates: 1.91.2). Whenever Herodotean characters (whether Solon [1.32.1], Amasis [3.40.2], or Artabanus [7. 7.10ε, 46.4]) associate phthonos with the divine, however, the implication is always that a god is behind the phthonos, rather than that the phthonos is an independent, divine actor. Zali's treatment of such concepts is particularly misleading. She says of 1.34 that "great divine nemesis fell upon Croesus"; Herodotus' Greek (which Zali also cites) actually reads: ἔλαβε ἐκ θεοῦ νέμεσις μεγάλη Κροῖσον (literally, "a great nemesis from a god took Croesus," as both de Bakker [152] and Ellis [201] rightly understand it). Hence, in this passage Herodotus emphasizes that nemesis (vengeance/retribution) is sent by a god, but is not a god itself. Likewise, Zali's (115) reference to divine phthonos as "the force that disturbs human happiness" seems to obscure the fact that in Herodotus, at any rate, gods are the ones who motivate this force.6 The reason it is so important for us to distinguish between phthonos as an emotion felt by gods (as Herodotus presents it) and  phthonos as a separate supernatural entity is that this is exactly the distinction that Platonists (like Plutarch) and Christians (like Choniates) were at pains to make: phthonos had to be essentially separate from gods/God because they/He, being good, could not feel this emotion. 

Except for a number of typographical errors, the volume as a whole is well edited, and all the articles are of a uniformly high quality.7 As an impetus for further research on the reception of Herodotean theology, moreover, Ellis' collection should be judged a resounding success.


1.   Recent works on the reception of Herodotus include: S. G. Longo, ed., Hérodote à la Renaissance (Turnhout 2012); J. Priestley, Herodotus and Hellenistic Culture: Literary Studies in the Reception of the Histories (Oxford 2014); J. Priestley and V. Zali, eds., Brill's Companion to the Reception of Herodotus in Antiquity and Beyond (Leiden 2016). Forthcoming collections are: T. Harrison and J. Skinner, eds., Herodotus in the Nineteenth Century: Ethnography, Nationalism, and Disciplinary Formation; J. North and P. Mack, eds., The Afterlife of Herodotus and Thucydides.
2.   Earlier studies of religion in Herodotus include: J. Gould, "Herodotus and Religion," in S. Hornblower, ed., Greek Historiography (Oxford 1994), 91-106 (reprinted in R. V. Munson, ed., Herodotus: Volume 2: Herodotus and his World (Oxford 2013), 183-97); T. Harrison, Divinity and History: The Religion of Herodotus (Oxford 2000); J. D. Mikalson, Herodotus and Religion in the Persian Wars (Chapel Hill 2003); S. Scullion, "Herodotus and Greek Religion," in C. Dewald and J. Marincola, eds., The Cambridge Companion to Herodotus (Cambridge 2006), 192-208; K. Roettig, Die Träume des Xerxes: zum Handeln der Götter bei Herodot (Nordhausen 2010). Most recently, there are: J. Kindt, Revisiting Delphi: Religion and Storytelling in Ancient Greece (Cambridge 2016), 16-54 (on Herodotus); M. Krewet, Vernunft und Religion bei Herodot (Heidelberg 2017).
3.   In a subsequent study on Herodotean theology, Ellis attempts to bridge the gap between the Renaissance and Altertumwissenschaft: "The Jealous God of Ancient Greece: Interpreting the Classical Greek Notion of Φθόνος Θεῶν Between Renaissance Humanism and Altertumwissenschaft," Eruditon and the Republic of Letters 2 (2017) 1-55.
4.   R. V. Munson, "Ananke in Herodotus," JHS 121 (2001), 30-50; D. Asheri, "General Introduction," in O. Murray and A. Moreno, eds., A Commentary on Herodotus Books I-IV (Oxford 2007), 1-56 (at 39).  
5.   A second category of binatural gods is physical spaces/gods, such as Gaia (Earth) and Ouranos (Sky) in Hesiod's Theogony; on this category, see W. Hansen, Classical Mythology: A Guide to the Mythical World of the Greeks and Romans (Oxford 2004), 49-50. I would add a third category of binatural gods: tangible things/gods: such a one is Dionysus, who is both wine and a god (Eur. Bacch. 280-5; Cyc. 519-29).
6.   As Mikalson (op. cit., n. 2) observes (82; cf. 39-40, 81, 151), "phthonos in Herodotus is attributed only to the divine collective, never to an individual god or hero."
7.   Wrong word/reference: 42 n. 3: "next note" for "previous note"; 107 n. 47: "6th century" for "11th century"; 12: Asheri's "Book I" should instead be his "General Introduction" (cited in 9 n. 19: op. cit., n. 4). Missing commas: 128: Thucydides, for instance by; 134 n. 17: In Kritoboulos' case observe (cf.  135 n. 19: In the case of Kritoboulos, scholars); 139:  A priori however; 162 n. 74: convinced however by; 220: Estienne, by contrast interprets. Possible error: 55: should "Persian prince" instead be "Lydian king" (i.e., Croesus)?

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017


Maxime Pierre, Carmen: étude d'une catégorie sonore romaine. Collection d'études anciennes. Série latine, 79​. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2016. Pp. 336. ISBN 9782251328942. €45.00 (pb).

Reviewed by John Henderson,

Version at BMCR home site

This thesis-book clinches a richly furnished 2008 Paris PhD (with Florence Dupont). I shall decoct. Pierre will study, not the word, but the difference of carmen within its family nexus. He delivers a historically and text-agenda sensitive re-examination of the appearances of the cluster around carmen-cano and finds/pursues a clearly etched and argued account of shift between early and Augustan Latin usage. This is a crowded topic, but sharp observations emerge from this fresh look at the familial loci classici involved. A methodology proem (pp.9-19) announces an intracultural ('emic') approach, resisting pressure from 'original sense', 'etymology', and tendentious 'OLD-style' mapping by tabulation determinations, but staking out interferences from, and interactions with, Greek in the various forms of calquing, bilingualism, and parallel/reciprocal morphing between discourses and genres.

Pierre himself, however, begins from the outset with classic 'etic' parti pris in the nexus of *canmen—'carmen et canere sont absolument indissociables'—complete with in-/con-vocation of the 'famille indo-européenne', thus abjuring as 'tout bonnement fantaisiste' carmen-carpere/carere, and therefore representing carere lanam...ex quo carminari of Varro LL7.54-Isidore E1.39.4 as creative intervention, and while noting 'carminari («enchanter»)' as 'assez tardive', passing over 'carmino, To card; to produce by carding' (OLD: Varro, Plin.HN), pp.10-11, esp. nn3-4. It will prove crucial for the argument that (to put it so!) OLD 'carmen 4 The cry or song of birds' and '5/5 Instrumental music' shall come first, and there be no hint whatever of textual weaving— of writing— in there at, or (what amounts to the same thing) near, 'the beginning/s'. A better start would be to mess with any clean 'etic-emic' polarization, and join Varro's gang, namely the whole lot of us…— interventionists; but (nb) this way Romans are attributed acceptance of self-realizing utterance, not us.

Chap. 1 'Une musique?' (pp.22-55) addresses the supposed core of the carmen-cano clan as bird and stringed/wind instrument noise, extended to humans, and thereafter metaphorizing them as human-ish vocality. Pierre cues therein a pragmatic force, i.e. affective sounds requiring no external authorization but systemically bestowing authority. This project, then, lies athwart the grand theory battleground of…— let's just say there's no Derrida in the bibliography, just one reference in a footnote, p.148 n48. (The oddity of French Latinity's limited inc. More below, just a little.) Trumpets [seek to] order; flute and lyre seal ritual prayer, birds and cicadas send signals. Greek melos confines instruments to tool status and ôdê is for human or bird language, yet the psychagogic efficacities packaged in nomoi exert performative influence upon Latin (modus, numeri…) that will intensify from Republic to Empire. This is presented as if there ever were a Latin that was not already confected with Greek, in a now, surely, passé - as if before plurilingualism - version of The Beginning/s of [the institution/purgation of] Latin… — that other critical abyss. For finale, how to mesh/clash carmen with cantus? Fixed (vehicle) vs variable (performance), as per Lucr.5.1380? (pp.50-4).

Chap. 2 'Justice' (pp.57-110) celebrates institutional speech activation, first treating to caustic revision the 12 Tables as interpretations thereof, their supposed connections with the curse tablet tradition/s, and carmen stories in legal con/texts, along with their scholarship: (i) the main loci in Cic. and Hor.Serm./Epp. read 'verse' back into the Tables, but see Plin.HN.28.17-18, Sen.NQ4.7.2-3; (ii) the defixiones never use carmen-cano, and they only appear at the end of the Republic when the poets after Virg.E8 import epôidê from Hellenistic poetry in the gloss carmen, now playing between poem and incantation in a 'poetic fiction'; (iii) injurious smear stories always did blur spells with poems: their utterance powers them. Next, in the Philosophica (De Or.1, Leg.2) Cicero uses carmen of the teacher's/professor's lessons and presents juridical formulae as if spell-binding; in Orationes it applies tendentiously to issues featuring efficacious speech fantasized as automatically settling dispute (Mur.), as if posting a vote already puts it in force (Leg.Ag.2) of a tyrant's decrees (Rab Perd.). Here, carmen comes tendentiously to take over from and displace its [supposed] antecedent ius, now broadened to encompass way beyond utterance-at/as/in-law. Finally, Livy countenances a - deplored - myth of archaic justice beyond appeal/disputation and hosts many a process of ordaining laws and of oath- taking moments in priestly, military and conspiracy scenarios, with carmen as, not a fixed category of law but the term to capture the performativity dimension of the formulaic.

Chap. 3 'Liturgie' (pp.111-164) explodes an Edenic-atavistic carmen displaced by precatio while exposing ongoing semantic realignment/invention. In Cato carmina were spells, not prayers 'communicating with' gods, but the Salian/Arval (non-)carmina were prayers, not poems—until Varro back-projected a Greek-style story of originary religion (cf. Hor.Epp.2.1.86-89)—only they were performative stomp, read-out unaccompanied hocus, 'working over' gods, not asking for cooperation. The Roman 'hymn' was riddled with archaizing myth from the start—would-be primordial choroi in (Varro's) carmen saeculare for Proserpina and Festus' Juno Regina fest (LL6.94, Fest.446.30L.), with carmen canere of girls singing-and-dancing away the imported humnos (Liv.27.37.7-14, 31.12.9-10). So to the extravaganza of the Augustan carmen saeculare montage, mongrelizing placation-by-force-of-utterance or -by-ambient-context-of-utterance spiced with preces and uota, in-and-as (now designated) carmen, as mirrored in the hymn-and-chorus show of Virgil's fantasised Salian performance (A8.280-305), where pre-Rome is always already at root a—post-Arcadian—Greek invention. Still more intricately, Pierre detects an Augustan shift in which hymnus and preces hybridize, before carmen is commandeered (by Plin.HN) to cover any praying whatever, sacrificial, medical, younameit, by virtue of the common pragmatic efficacity underlying their previously registered heterogeneities: cue review of enigmatic carmen precationis (Liv.39.15.1), euocatio/deuotio formulae, carmen magnetized by Augustan poetry's magoi and this novel usage retrojected to 'the origins'; of cano glossing Hellenistic aidô in quasi-priestly cult ritual, esp. à la Medea's carmina, her perverted prayer freak-out (her flying hair, her herbal-verbal muttering schtick) or her clone the re-conceived Ovidian Circe's, or the carmina-uenena of the Triumviral-Augustan poets' witches and their adapted performance of epôidai-homoeopathics-direct palpation of gods, or the absurdist fusion of preces and carmina by Lucan's Erichtho. Furthest out, though, is Plin. HN28.10, coming close to explicitly sponsoring the power of formulaic utterance in prayer as working by utterance, not by striking a pact with gods.

Chap. 4 'Paroles des dieux' (pp.165-196) digs into carmen-cano of the ?self-authorizing? massaging/messaging by figures such as Carmenta, in uaticinatio contexts such as diuinatio (<=> mantikê) or vatic reference to the whole epic crew of musical aoidoi (<=> manteis) Homer, Proteus, Nereus, etc. What powers oracles? Prophecies? Fate powers a Sibyl's utterances, the Parcae are doing it for themselves, cursing and text(ualiz)ing away in their similarly ineluctable, scriptible, ways, while a Sphinx by contrast riddles as if couching law, netting us in her either/or régime. Here Pierre's survey tries to weave into the tape-recording extras from his extended polythetic family: father Cato's medicaremen for his son, doctors and sages, all powered by Tradition's eternal auto-motion; similarly with the guru Seneca's memorable maxims, clarion verses trumpeting verse precepts called carmina, and sliding carmina into 'sententious verses' (EM33.6 etc). So there arrives the book's thesis: as the Republic became Late, under influence from aidein 'song' and 'divination' lost opposition and fused, à la grecque, and carmen-cano came to spell verse-music (pp.194-5).

Chaps. 5 'Poètes sous la République' and 6 'Poètes sous Auguste' now stake out this proposed trajectory, adding (text- productive) poeta to those voice-specialists, priest, jurist, and co., and therewith complexifying the writing/speech metaphorics/conceptualizations that (this bit's me) power literature. Pierre demonstrates consistently that Great Authors make a difference with the versions of carmina they authorize. So Varro creates an archaic culture of poems, Salian, Numa's, and—to instal Latin Muses before the mousai can arrive—his confected *Casmena nexus, oneiric Ennian Fauni shoehorned into uates signed-up-as-primal-poets, and Saturnians fantasised as lost 'verse', at home in the culture of Catonian 'lays' at banquets, spooky Pythagorean precepts, and boy-singers of the carmina ueterum. On and back to the (historical and mythical) Roman stage's performance culture of cantica- cantores, vocal with or without music, <=> its writer-poetae; and, where Ennius self-billed as (unstagey) epic poeta against Greek aidô-ôidê, Lucilius and Varro will bag the tags poeta-poema-uersus for their work, excluding cano-carmen. With Catullus and Lucretius carmen = poetry finally arrives, melding the written unsung hymn, the poem text presented as if a(n oral, choral, etc) performance, to inflect and affect a welter of Greek terms/notions. Now Lucretius claims carmen for the didactic epic's pronunciamentos, for a book's volume, and the aoidos has pupated into poeta-scriptor.

Horace, Propertius, Virgil dominate a convergent—?unificatory?—Augustan carmen. In Hor. = generalized melos, choral in CS, ego elsewhere, and debuts as of satire, and iambos; in Prop. chorus- Musa etc are genre-blind, usually elegiac-lyric, it covers all Virgil's works. They are caught up in the retrojective archaism already explored, featuring a new-fangled Varronian uates-cum-mantis valorized as inspirational priestly transmitter of authority (esp. Hor.Epp.2.1.21-7, 86-9, 156-60 etc, pp.274-6). carmen now moves into the Palatine library, along with (what Pierre argues is the pivotal-lead model) the libri Sibyllini reformés, but come out to play the authority-saturated audiences recitationes by invitation, amid deprecation of a cantor's delivery expertise and valuation of Greek poets at Rome as writerly aoidoi-poetae. Pierre recognizes two big anomalies: [reportedly] sung-and-capered production of the Eclogues (E5.72-3, cantabunt...'; cf. Ov.Tr.2.518-9) and the unicum C.S. By now Pierre has shown how eg OLD carmen 1-3 have faked up an immanent core of meaning centred on the word-family's arrival at its Augustan floruit and the aetiological fictions cooked up by Republican Rome and the would-be definitive settlement of the discourse of (scripted) poetic enunciation by the classic 'imperial' Authors, appropriating mythic-mystificatory powers to seal the deal. Just read them out...

A precise 'Conclusion' (pp.295-99) elicits-theorizes the circuitry of Carmen—a 'situational' rather than 'semantic' polysemy from pragmatics, working on/with a nexus of apparently emic instances of self-ordaining illocution. Overlaid on this [claimed] 'native' base is transformative glossing-riffing on the Greek family of 'song-ing' as verse-enunciation that eventually-eventfully agglomerated the 'nebulous sense' of an underlying recurrent property across the wide field of carmen-ôidê.

As noted, this project is Latin heartland. Pierre was blessed with Michèle Lowrie for external, in time for her to in-text salient references and acknowledgments in her then readied-for-press opus magnum, Writing, Performance, and Authority in Augustan Rome (2009: esp. pp. 329-30), which delivers magisterially on (?commands!?) very many of the topics and loci, but within the full ambit of contemporary (Anglo-French) critical theory. More, the nexus of song- ritual-speech-act-culture in the history, in our histories, of the Beginning/s of Latin/Latin Literature, has been thoroughly thrashed over (think Tom Habinek, think Denis Feeney...), and incisive analysis such as Lowrie's brilliant synthesis in BMCR 2006.04.34 rather defangs Pierre's efficacity, at any rate in Anglophonia. Nevertheless Carmen produces a welter of sharp insights and I have found it an instructive pleasure to read.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017


S. P. Vleeming, Demotic Graffiti and Other Short Texts Gathered from many Publications (Short Texts III 1201-2350). Studia Demotica, 12. Leuven; Paris; Bristol, CT: Peeters, 2015. Pp. lxxiv, 595; 1 p. of plates. ISBN 9789042931879. €92.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Eugene Cruz-Uribe, Northern Arizona University (

Version at BMCR home site

The third volume of the Short Texts series of Prof. Vleeming consists of miscellaneous items that the author has collected under the general heading of graffiti. The author does modify that in the title and on page 335 by noting that certain inscriptions on objects "may not have been strictly speaking graffiti." This volume is the third of his "Short Texts" series, the previous volumes having been reviewed quite favorably in the BMCR.

The volume is organized in a relatively straightforward manner. Chapters 1-9 present graffiti starting in the south and divided into a series of chapters for each of the regions and sub-regions of Nubia, the Oases, Upper, Middle, and Lower Egypt. Chapter 10 consists of inscriptions found on a variety of objects such as coins, hieratic papyri, hieratic linen pieces, stelae, sculptors' models and plaques, scribal palettes and writing tables, vases and amphora, other miscellaneous pieces and additions. For each inscription Vleeming assigns a convenient number beginning with 1201 and ending with 2350 (volume I of the series had #1-277 and volume II had #278-1200). Each entry normally consists of the location of the 'graffito' geographically, with a bibliographic reference (see 'Editions and Discussions', xx-xlv) though journal articles are listed only by journal name, volume, year, and page. The author's name is sometimes listed in front of the journal (e.g., #1914) and sometimes at the end of the entry heading (e.g., #1915). One must infer that in the cases where an author and monograph are listed (e.g., #2091) with an additional name following the entry that the latter name must have provided, in some manner, a suggested reading. No article titles are listed. Pages lxix through lxxiv contain corrections to entries found in Short Texts volumes I and II.

The strength of this volume resides like any collection of texts in providing a convenient vehicle for bibliographic information on a large number of texts published in a myriad of journals and books. Vleeming is to be congratulated for spending the extensive amount of time to compile this information and for making certain suggested new readings in the manner he followed in the Berichtigungsliste (A. Den Brinker, B. Muhs and S. Vleeming, A Berichtigungslisteof Demotic Documents, 3 vols., Leuven, 2005-2013).

However, this reviewer sees some shortcomings with this volume and its approach. The author limited the number of texts to be included in this volume by deliberately not including graffiti and other short texts found in no fewer than nine major publications (listed on p. vi). In addition, Vleeming notes that some texts were not included (such as those coming from North Saqqara) as they were being worked on and thus he "did not want to impede work on these collections" (p. vii). He then makes certain comments about Demotic graffiti at Philae noting that "the mass of graffiti is so great, the number of texts unworthy of recording is also significant" (p. 22). In some ways that reflects almost word for word some of Griffith's comments about the Philae graffiti eighty years ago. Is it not our duty as Demotists to record everything that we can find from ancient Egypt and then make a determination on how we can use all of that material to better understand the world of ancient Egypt? For those scholars who work in the field we can understand the author not wanting to encroach on another's active research. But it is important to be aware of the many other projects currently underway (and the author was able to do this for some graffiti from several preliminary reports, e.g., #1835-1843).

Since the field of Demotic studies lacks an online database of texts, if one is to make a compilation of 'graffiti', then it is incumbent on the scholar to be inclusive rather than exclusive. Since that appears to be the manner the author followed in his Short Texts I and II, I am disappointed that he excluded from this volume many hundreds of short texts.

For example, with text #2346 (pp. 500-2) he notes material from the tomb of Psametik in Saqqara (just north of the Unas pyramid). The material was discovered in the burial chamber of the tomb and was first partially recorded by Alexandre Barsanti and published in ASAE 1 (1900), 181ff. Barsanti notes that these texts come from the east, south, and west walls and he details twenty-seven different texts. Vleeming rearranges these texts without comment and lists them in order of what seems to be a commonality of the initial words and the ascending order of numbers. What he does not note is that Barsanti's number 1 is one of the few examples of a Demotic inscription in situ written vertically rather horizontally which makes it worthy of significant discussion. Vleeming says these texts "seem to be building notes, whose exact purport is not clear." I was fortunate to have worked with the late Prof. Adel Farid several years before his tragic death on the initial field work to record the texts in the tomb of Psametik (and reported on at the SSEA conference the following year). I hope to finish that field work in the near future, but I am able to comment that the Demotic graffiti from this tomb appear to be records of work done in the tomb to carve the hieroglyphic inscriptions. We initially thought that the dated graffiti marked work finished up to that date as they have sequential dates and many were written at the top of columns of hieroglyphs.

A similar example would be the work of Adel Kilany, "Marks of the quarry workers at the Unfinished Obelisk Quarry, Aswan, Egypt: Preliminary report," in P. Jockey, ed., Interdisciplinary studies on Mediterranean ancient marbles and stones. Proceedings of the VIIIth International conference of the Association for the Study of Marble and Other Stones used in Antiquity (ASMOSIA), (Aix-en-Provence, 2006), 547-565, who worked at the granite quarries in Aswan. His work has uncovered a series of Demotic graffiti, again quarry-worker marks.

Thus, this reviewer is both excited and disappointed in the results of this volume. It is my hope that the author continues his Short Text series and includes in subsequent volumes those items not found in this one.

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Neil Bernstein, Seneca: Hercules furens. Companions to Greek and Roman tragedy. London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017. Pp. xv, 151. ISBN 9781474254922. $88.00.

Reviewed by Aikaterini Tsoka, Athens (

Version at BMCR home site

This volume is the fourth of the Companions to Greek and Roman Tragedy to deal with a tragedy by Seneca. The aim of this book is to scrutinize the artistry and the literary qualities of Seneca's drama through a careful examination of the theme, structure, and style of Seneca's Hercules furens. The titles of Seneca's plays such as Hercules furens reveal that Seneca has not just taken on Greek myth but also classic Greek tragedies. Yet while Seneca displays an evident and important intertextual awareness of his Greek models, his works are clearly more than mere translation or imitation. While all the plays invoke similar systems of imagery and dwell obsessively on the corrupting power of passion, they also reflect a continuous effort to experiment, to create deeply individual, thought-provoking, and challenging drama, exhibiting originality and creativity in both theme and structure. Seneca's Hercules furens, as Bernstein puts it in his illuminating analysis and discussion in this volume, allows evil to triumph, but it also explores the ironies of victimhood, guilt, the role of fate in suffering, and the operation of classic Roman virtues, courage and duty, in the face of tyranny.

The book consists of five short but rich chapters. The opening chapter (Chapter 1) provides what I see as a fitting introduction to the reading of Hercules furens. It presents briefly the background of the myth and the action of the play, and thus provides a context for the discussion of the basic aspects of Senecan drama, the object of a long series of specialized studies published over the last two decades. 1 The chapter is thorough and precise and the emphasis is put on things Roman in terms of plot, props, formats, and settings, which are presented in detail in the subsequent chapters.

One of the major themes (Chapter 2) of Hercules furens is that it begins by staging the process of its own construction. Contrary to the modern criticism regarding Hercules' responsibility for the crime committed against his children and wife, Bernstein gives emphasis to the role of Juno: A superhuman character, Juno, with all her metadramatic resonances, provides the impetus which sets in motion the dramatic action and offers the creative momentum that underlies the tragedy as a whole. At the same time, in Seneca's radical reinterpretation of Greek myth, none of the traditional heroes measures up to any respectable standard, Stoic or otherwise. Seneca is neither lecturing here on Stoic virtue nor denouncing vice. Commentary is unnecessary, for the failure of heroic and honorable conduct in Senecan drama is everywhere apparent. According to Bernstein, Seneca's artistic presentations must speak for themselves, leaving the audience to assess the nature of his characters and the quality and value of their acts.

Seneca's Hercules furens exhibits a continuous, even obsessive confrontation with its models, since it cannot escape from a largely predetermined series of events. At the same time, it is very much concerned with issues such as legitimacy, identity, and differential instability encompassing courage, violence, and suicide.2

Taking the analysis one step further, Bernstein brings in Chapter 3 the miscellaneous representations of Hercules to the fore, tracing the different variants of the myth in Greek and Latin literature available to Seneca from antiquity to his own time. As in Euripides' play, Seneca's protagonist will return victorious from the Underworld, only to be driven mad and kill his wife and children. Coming to his senses, he considers suicide before finally going into exile with Theseus, trapped in a living Hell. But while Euripides' play challenges the audience to make sense of the nature of divinity itself, with Hera engineering an attack on the innocent and conspicuously rational Hercules half way through the play, Seneca moves his Juno front and center (Hercules furens 1-4). This Hercules is the architect of his own downfall in a way which makes the protagonist's own behavior, not simply Juno's, the central problem of the play. Seneca's Hercules furens does not merely re-frame the master text of Augustan age, Virgil's Aeneid, within a Neronian tragic prism. In evoking and then exploding Virgilian virtus, Seneca's tragedy may not be so much distorting the Aeneid as revealing some of the problems of human experience illuminating the nature of furor and the operation of power, impotence, delusion, and guilt already in that epic. The dramatist's piling of crime on crime merely explicates the power dynamics already inherent in Augustan Rome's foundational epic. 3 In Bernstein's account, the literary features of Hercules furens should be viewed with the same eye for detail as a Horatian ode or a book of the Aeneid, and Seneca' s skill as a poet shines through in each line. The intertextuality is a main aspect of his poetics, as it grants his language additional resonance that colors not only Seneca's text but also the Augustan originals as he interprets their works in a tragic context.

While Chapter 3 analyses Seneca's play against its Augustan counterparts, Chapter 4 sees Hercules furens as a Roman drama even though Bernstein does not explain tragedy's obsessive concern with power and the abuse of power or the related strand of criticism that seeks to place these dramas within the larger philosophical, but also the social and political, context. Whether strictly political or not, Senecan tragedy certainly creates in its mythological drama contexts, settings, and language that are distinctively Roman. 4 That Roman color is part of a deeper system of resemblance between the world of the plays and contemporary Rome. However tempting it is to see the tragedies as acts of political defiance, doctrinaire assumptions about the intentions behind Seneca's depiction of power in the tragedies, or attempts to break any supposedly pre-programmed code, are bound to fail. Senecan dramaturgy is too dense, challenging and polysemous to be pinned down in such a fashion. Bernstein approaches the still remaining questions of the nature and latent issues of Hercules furens in an open-minded way: he explains Seneca's dramatic language as a medium for doing moral and political philosophy but also as an inherently dialectical and hybrid genre that allows him to intertwine and contrast voices, positions, and reactions and to put debate and interrogation on display. He thus attempts to keep both readerships in mind: not to take knowledge of the ancient world for granted, but at the same time not to presume knowledge of the workings of the stage and the deciphering of a dramatic script. Bernstein makes use of his own consistent translations in his frequent quotations from the text to illustrate his points; all events are dated, persons are identified, and technical terms are explained, providing readers with interesting insights.

Chapter 5, finally, looks at key episodes in the fate of the script, roughly from the point when it re-emerged from the Dark Ages. The primary focus in this section is on the often acknowledged impact of Senecan drama on the theatre of the early Italian Renaissance, moving from there onwards to France and England. Bernstein also discusses modern versions, playwrights, and film-makers, with their often insightful, self-reflective manner of turning linear narrative into living drama. Both plays and movies offer eloquent witness to the continuing engagement with the Hercules myth in literature and theatre. Bernstein emphasizes the moral message carried by each of Hercules' modern adaptations, ending by illuminating the figure Hercules as represented in the 21st century. And we can expect the process to continue, as each new generation finds points of traction with this.

Hercules furens proves to be a peculiar blend of rhetorical, mannerist, philosophical, and psychological drama. Bernstein's treatment of the drama is framed with more general reflections on the nature of tragic poetry gleaned both from other Senecan tragedies and from his prose work. The goal of the author is definitely not to superimpose on the play a normative explanation that would forcibly orient interpretation, but to claim that the tragedies' own self-reflexive statements on the nature of poetry afford readers considerable latitude in their own exegetical explorations.

The book has a comprehensive bibliography, an index, and a useful guide to "Further Reading" containing the most recent bibliography to Seneca. This study may prove of interest, not only as an introductory guide to students of theatre and of Roman political and cultural history, but to all interested in specific topics such as the societal interplay of writing, spectacle, ideology, performance, and power. I believe also that its reading will enhance the understanding not just of ancient drama, but also of its post-classical revival.


1.   Boyle, A.J. (1997), Tragic Seneca: An Essay in the Theatrical Tradition, London; Harrison, G. W.M. (2000), Seneca in Performance, London.
2.   For Seneca's intertextual practices see Trinacty, Ch. (2014), Senecan Tragedy and the Reception of Augustan Poetry, Oxford.
3.   Schiesaro, A. (2003) The Passions in Play: Thyestes and the Dynamics of Senecan Drama, Cambridge, pg. 208.
4.   Walter, S. (1975), Interpretationen zum Römischen in Senecas Tragödien, Zürich.

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Monday, December 11, 2017


Maaike Groot, Livestock for Sale: Animal Husbandry in a Roman Frontier Zone: The Case Study of the 'Civitas Batavorum'. Amsterdam Archaeological Studies, 24. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2016. Pp. vii, 254. ISBN 9789462980808. $124.00.

Reviewed by Carolyn Willekes, Mount Royal University (

Version at BMCR home site

The work under review is part of an important branch of scholarship focusing on zooarchaeology in the ancient world. This field is receiving a growing amount of attention by scholars, however there is still often a disconnect between zooarchaeological data and more traditional approaches to studying the past. Groot shows how we can use zooarchaeology as a tool for identifying sociocultural and economic changes, and moreover, possible reasons for these developments. She studies how self-sufficient rural communities during the period of Roman occupation (12BC-AD 350) in the Civitas Batavorum (the Lower Rhine in the Dutch River area) responded to demand for agrarian products and further, the impact these demands had on agrarian strategies. The aim of the study is to use zooarchaeological data to find evidence for interactions between farmers and the consumers in both and urban and military context, in particular how these interactions led to developments in animal husbandry with regards to production and market consumption. To address these questions, Groot uses data related to species proportions, age and sex, skeletal elements, butchery, biometrics, and archaeobotany for the four primary domestic mammals: cattle, sheep/goats, horses, and pigs. The book is organized into eight thematic chapters that create a comprehensive analysis of the study data, creating a very coherent and readable piece of work.

Chapter One (Introduction) provides a systematic breakdown of the purpose and methods and gives a short synopsis of the topographical development of the Dutch River Area, as well as a short chronological description of the region in the Roman period; both of these components are helpful in familiarizing the reader with the region and its historical context. We are also given a clear and general overview of basic food production and supply. Finally, Groot provides a brief explanation of the evolution of a market economy.

Chapter Two (Archaeological Sites) details the selection criteria used to choose the 72 sites for the study. The author had two primary requirements: the presence of animal bones and data reports for these bones. The sites fall into one of four categories: rural, military, urban, and temple, with the rural sites further subdivided into villa sites. Thus, the sites occupy a variety of contexts and provide a relatively clear distinction between producer sites and consumer sites. The producer site is always a rural context, while the consumer sites are identified as military, urban, and temple. Groot is quick to acknowledge that the classification of a site is not always clear-cut and further, that some of the sites used in the study were difficult to categorize and the choice depended on availability of data. The study categorizes 46 sites as rural, 11 as military, 6 as urban-military, 4 as urban, and 5 as temple. Thus, the majority of the study sites belong to a rural context as producer sites (64%), with the remaining 36% belonging to the consumer category, of which the majority have a military context (65%).

In Chapter Three (Zoological Background), Groot discusses the zooarchaeological components of the study—species proportions, age and sex, skeletal elements, butchery, and biometrical analysis—in a manner that is relevant for both specialists as well as those who might be new to zooarchaeological study. Chapter Four (Methods) deals with how the methodological approaches apply to the data, region, or species in question and the potential pitfalls of each element.

Chapter Five (Rural Settlements: Animal Husbandry and Consumption) focuses on the rural production and exploitation of animals. She begins by providing an outline of farming practices in the Late Iron Age, which serves as a backdrop for understanding the evolution of agriculture during the Roman period with its shift from an agrarian subsistence economy to a market economy. When it comes to examining the evidence at hand the author clearly follows the methodological approaches outlined in the previous chapter. She concisely addresses the data from these rural sites, particularly concerning the changes in species proportions, the exploitation of each study species within the rural context and how this changes over time, and finally how the biometrical analysis of each species is indicative of changes in size throughout the Roman period. Chapter Six (Consumers: Urban, Military and Temple Sites) examines the patterns of animal consumption and exploitation in a non-rural context following a layout similar to the previous chapter.

Chapter Seven (Interaction between Producers and Consumers) aims to create a more comprehensive picture of animal production, consumption, and the relation between the two in the Dutch River Area. The detailed discussion at the end of the chapter is very useful for putting together this bigger picture, and moreover, how animal husbandry and exploitation practices changed from the Early to Late Roman periods as well as possible reasons for these shifts, which primarily seem to be connected to the establishment of Roman garrisons in the region. This placed a greater demand on the farmers for primary and secondary animal products, which in turn influenced the what animals were being raised. For example, the period of early Roman occupation sees an increase in sheep numbers. Groot suggests that this could be on account of their faster reproductive rate (in comparison to cattle), allowing enough surplus meat to fill a rapidly expanding market, while also meeting an increased demand for wool. This period likewise sees a size increase in cattle, which the author indicates could be related to the spread of imported cattle.

The final chapter (Final Thoughts) sums up Groot's analysis of the data. She concludes that the introduction of Roman garrisons to the region had an immediate impact on the local agrarian economy. Not only did it influence the purpose of agriculture- supplying a market economy vs. a smaller subsistence economy, there was also a need to produce a substantially greater quantity of meat and animal products. The local response was to specialize: instead of farms practicing a form of subsistence mixed agriculture, they focused on producing specific products- wool, horses, etc. Farming methods also reflect these changes with more emphasis placed on intensive arable farming, which in turn affected the use of large livestock like cattle- they were needed for traction as well as food. An increase in horse breeding and size reflects the demand for cavalry mounts. Groot's study of the Roman Dutch River Area thus provides an excellent example of how rural communities can adapt to socio-cultural and economic changes.

Groot's well-written volume is illustrated throughout with diagrams and charts. She regularly points out any data irregularities, whether from a scarcity of physical remains, or a marked unevenness in species representations, while also providing possible reasons for the occurrences. Most significantly Groot shows how zooarchaeological data can contribute to a broader understanding of daily life by showing how this data can be used to reflect changes in animal husbandry, food supply, demand, and population (both size and demographic). For example, she uses analysis of butchery marks to explain where the animals are being slaughtered and by whom—more extensive butchery in towns where animals are intensively exploited to maximize potential food supply. Changes in butchery marks at rural sites corresponds with the arrival of the Romans, suggesting that military butchers introduced new techniques and new tools, with cleavers only appearing in the Middle Roman period. An increase in animal size suggests crossbreeding with imported livestock from elsewhere in the Roman world, indicating a growing trade network. With this book Groot shows clearly how we can use zooarchaeological data to look at socio-cultural and economic patterns. Food and secondary animal products were a necessity for life and as Groot indicates throughout this volume, changes in animal production practices are indicative of socio-cultural shifts. Herein lies the value of this work: it shows the many ways researchers can use zooarchaeological data, a source that has been relatively unexploited in Classical scholarship. One of the most impressive aspects of this volume is its usefulness for both specialists and non-specialists: it is written in a manner that is clear and succinct. This volume is a valuable addition to the growing body of zooarchaeological literature, while it also contributes to a better understanding of agriculture, economics, and life of the northern frontier of the Roman empire.

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Margaret Malamud, African Americans and the Classics: Antiquity, Abolition and Activism. Library of classical studies, 12. London: I. B. Tauris Publishers, 2016. Pp. xiii, 290. ISBN 9781784534950. $99.00.

Reviewed by Ronald Charles, Saint Francis Xavier University (

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This book is an important contribution to the study of classical reception and the place of Classics in American history. The short introduction to the volume is helpful in laying down Malamud's central argument and purpose: to demonstrate the role that knowledge of the Classics played in the fight for social and economic emancipation of blacks in American history. The author shows how classical texts, tropes, and images were used to keep blacks in slavery, and how many African Americans studied the ancient languages and classical texts to speak back, to write back, and to challenge deeply seated injustices and prejudices against them.

The first chapter ("Fighting for Classics") presents a fascinating history and analysis of "why free African Americans wanted a classical education and the battles they fought to acquire one from the late eighteenth century through the early twentieth century" (5). The fight for the opportunity of receiving a classical education by African Americans was engaged on two fronts: first, to disprove the ridiculous idea held by many (e.g., David Hume, Thomas Jefferson, and the infamous nineteenth-century American senator John C. Calhoun) of the intellectual inferiority of blacks as incapable of learning ancient languages; second, to acquire the necessary knowledge of Latin, Greek, and ancient history to be admitted to colleges, seminaries, and professional schools. Without the Classics one's future was in jeopardy, and fighting to have a classical education became a constant struggle many African Americans felt they needed to engage in. An exemplary figure who defied these misconceptions was William Sanders Scarborough (1852-1956), a former slave, who became a brilliant philologist. Scarborough was the first black member of the American Philological Association (now called Society for Classical Studies), as well as the Modern Language Association (17)."1 The author could have made that clearer instead of stating he was "one of the first African American members of the American Philological Association" (17).

This chapter is filled with stories of perseverance of various African Americans determined to have a classical education in order to advance in their lives, in spite of the rejection and ridicule to which they were subjected. The description of James McCune Smith is very moving: "He graduated with honours from the African Free School and went to work as an apprentice to a blacksmith to earn a living, working six days a week, studying Latin and Greek in the evenings and all day Sunday. His friend Henry Highland Garnet vividly described him as 'at a forge with the bellows in one hand and a Latin grammar in the other'" (25). He went to the University of Glasgow in 1832, where he earned his B.A. (1835), M.A. (1836), and M.D. (1837). The chapter is fascinating in highlighting the differences and discussions regarding education among black leaders of the nineteenth century: Booker T. Washington, for example, advocated for technical/manual skills as readiness for available jobs, whereas Scarborough, Du Bois, and many others argued that a classical education was relevant for all, regardless of race and social class.

Chapter 2 ("Figuring Classical Resistance") demonstrates how classical imagery, figures, metaphors, and rhetoric were used by various groups to conceptualize the place of African Americans in the broader landscape of American history. The chapter delves into the story of the Amistad (the African slave-trading ship that was seized off Long Island in 1839), to illustrate how resistance in the classical past was used to advocate for the rights of these slaves to return to Sierra Leone, where they had been kidnapped and sold by Spanish slavers. The Northern abolitionists used classical heroes as models of resistance to tyranny, and they regarded Sengbe Pieh (Joseph Cinqué), who was the leader of the slaves, as a modern hero willing to die for his liberty. The portrait of Pieh shows him wearing a traditional Mende dress—"a white cloth draped his body leaving his right arm and shoulder bare, while in one hand he holds a spear, a symbol of leadership" (55). Malamud should have been more careful in concurring with a comment made by Marcus Rediker that the painting might evoke the African leader as wearing a toga. Romans did not reveal naked shoulders, and the idea that "the white toga suggested that Cinqué's willingness to fight to the death for liberty" (55) is not accurate.2 Furthermore, the author indicates that Toussaint L'Ouverture (1743-1803), who was instrumental as a leader in the fight of Haiti against imperial powers, was viewed as an African Spartacus and an inspiration to many African Americans in their fight for freedom and equality. Malamud is correct to note the important role Toussaint played in the Haitian revolution. I question, however, the qualification that Haiti's successful revolution was "the first successful slave revolt on the French colony of Saint- Domingue" (59). It is important to point out that the Haitian revolution was, and remains, the most successful slave revolution in history, and the first abolition of slavery in an important slave society. And L'Ouverture won, whereas Spartacus failed.

Malamud shows, convincingly, how whites celebrated model heroes of antiquity and claimed them as models for themselves, and how love of freedom was a white prerogative not applicable to black slaves. Proponents of slavery conceived traits like courage and manliness far differently from blacks and abolitionists who used images episodes, and figures from the classical past in their fight for emancipation. The rest of the chapter touches on the celebration and support of the modern Greek revolution by many white Americans; on identification of the model of Greek beauty as an aesthetic ideal; and on the use of Greek and Roman rhetoric by both supporters of slavery and abolitionists to argue their cases. Among the most effective users of rhetoric to achieve abolition, of course, was the former slave and orator par excellence, Frederick Douglass, who achieved great prominence as an African American leader.

Chapter 3 ("Ancient and Modern Slavery") analyzes the ways in which references to ancient slavery played a role in the debates over the place of slavery in antebellum America. On the one hand, pro-slavery advocates argued that Greece and Rome flourished because free citizens could use their time to think, to participate in politics, to enjoy art, and to do productive work, instead of engaging in menial and repetitive labor deemed worthy of slaves. On the other hand, the abolitionists and black intellectuals argued that the ancient civilizations declined and died because of slavery, which clouded the humanity of the ancients. The chapter ends by showing how political figures in contemporary America still have to deal with references to antiquity and its legacy. As Malamud states, "References to Antiquity in debates over slavery and politics remain fiercely contested; their meaning shifts in accordance with the ideological and political concerns of their producers" (146). This fascinating chapter illuminates the fraught use and abuse of the classical past in contemporary political debates and monuments.3

Chapter 4 ("Constructing History") explores how African Americans confronted the racialized picture of their past: first, by claiming the ancient Egyptians as ancestors and second, by reworking images and tropes of the past to voice their struggles, past and present. On the one hand, the Egyptian pyramids, testify to the greatness of an ancient African civilization and connects racially modern Africans to ancient Egyptians (159-165). Such connections show that the claims of African racial inferiority cannot hold. On the other hand, the "return to Egypt" was also seen as problematic by many African Americans. Egypt epitomizes the land of slavery, and Pharaoh the despot is akin to white slaveholders. Two Egypts were then envisaged: the Egypt of powerful black rulers with a great civilization, and the Egypt of Hebrew bondage, which symbolized African slaves longing to go to Canaan. Sojourner Truth's biographical anecdote (1797-1883) exemplifies this latter understanding: "when I left the house of bondage, I left everything behind, I wasn't going to keep nothing of Egypt on me" (166). African Americans also negotiated the past by deconstructing and reframing figures of the ancient world. Cleopatra, for example, is represented as a black African woman; themes from ancient mythologies are used to speak about issues confronted by contemporary African Americans. African-American intellectuals and artists of the early twentieth century began to be interested in modern Africa, and in the history of Africa beyond the mythical Egypt or Ethiopia. African Americans sought to understand themselves not solely from a Western, European frame, but from the larger canvas of African and global history.

The book ends with an "Afterword" that reflects on the trajectory of African Americans and the classical world, especially in African American Classical reception in the twentieth and early twenty-first century. In novels, plays, sculptures, and even movies, the author shows how various African Americans have engaged with the classical texts. The point of these different works is not to place blackness in Graeco-Roman Antiquity but to meditate and navigate as human beings what Classics and classicism could look like beyond color in a "'De-Segregated Republic of Letters'" (199).

In conclusion, I have a few corrections, which should in no way undervalue the scholarly contribution of this volume. The author could have pointed out on page 10 that we have no proof that Calhoun ever said that "learning Greek inducted one into the heart of Western civilization." Under the picture of W.S. Scarborough on page 18, fig. 1.3, the author puts "ca. 1913." It is not 1913 but closer to 1908 when Scarborough became president of Wilberforce University (1908-1920). The author should have been more careful about her use of a certain "P.S. Twister" on page 48, who allegedly was a journalist with the Chicago Conservator. "Twister" is not a real person. It was a penname for a "press bureau" in Washington DC. Harrison J. Pinkett (1882-1960) was one of the journalists of the bureau. I have noticed only a few typos: On page 57, at the bottom of the page, one should read: "a Philadelphia abolitionist newspaper, exposing the real reason why the painting was not shown," instead of "…exposing the real reason the painting why…" On page 205, note 27, the name of William Sanders Scarborough is misspelled. On page 216, note 23, the "u" is missing in the name of Toussaint L'Ouverture.

In spite of these few editorial infelicities, this book is a fascinating read and will be of interest to anyone interested in classical studies, classical reception, African American history, and the history of race relations in the United States of America. The book is well written, and the research is solid. It should be noted, however, that this book is a stepping-stone to the many scholarly investigations that still need to be done.


1.   See Michele Valerie Ronnick, whose contribution to Classics has brought to light the essential and rare works of Scarborough: The Autobiography of William Sanders Scarborough: An American Journey from Slavery to Scholarship, edited, introduced and annotated (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2005) and The Works of William Sanders Scarborough: Black Classicist and Race Leader, edited, introduced, annotated (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).
2.   The author misidentifies the dress as a Roman toga instead of a Mende ceremonial dress. She agrees with Rediker's comment that "viewers of the painting might see the African leader as wearing a toga, like a virtuous Roman republican citizen, or as Moses, staff in hand, having led his compatriots back to the Promised land." See Marcus Rediker, The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom (New York: Viking, 2012), 174-5.
3.   For an additional perspective see J. Albert Harrill, "The Use of the New Testament in the American Slave Controversy: A Case History in the Hermeneutical Tension between Biblical Interpretation and Christian Moral Debate," in Religion and American Culture 10 (2000): 149-86.

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Jacob A. Latham, Performance, Memory, and Processions in Ancient Rome: The 'pompa circensis' from the Late Republic to Late Antiquity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016. Pp. xxii, 345. ISBN 9781107130715. $120.00.

Reviewed by Susan Dunning, University of Toronto (

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The Roman pompa circensis, the procession that preceded games at the Circus Maximus, had its origins in the mists of the early Republic and saw its final performance during the fifth or sixth century CE. Thus, the development of the pompa circensis is closely bound up with the history of Rome itself. Latham's monograph draws on his earlier studies on the subject and is the first to focus on circus processions and related pompae. This work goes beyond filling a major gap in scholarship on Roman processions: Latham's decision to approach the pompa circensis through a sweeping, diachronic study sheds light on religious and socio-political changes at Rome over many centuries.

Our surviving evidence for pompae circenses is highly fragmentary, and Latham makes careful use of a wide variety of materials—literature, coinage, imperial reliefs, sarcophagoi, etc.—in order to reconstruct and analyse the procession at different stages in history. His study is meticulously researched and aimed at a specialist audience, but also serves as a valuable sourcebook. Direct quotations from ancient texts are often tucked away in the endnotes; while translations are provided to make them accessible to readers from other fields, their separation from the context of the discussion impedes the reader's engagement with the literary evidence, while images remain in the body of the text and are thus given more prominent placement. The work is divided into two main sections: the first provides a reconstruction of an "ideal-type" for the pompa from the Late Republic, before changes were introduced by Julius Caesar, and the second section traces the pompa's development under the emperors and into Late Antiquity.

In Chapter 1, Latham examines the description of the Republican pompa circensis set down by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, which is based on an earlier record of the procession from Fabius Pictor. Latham cautions against relying too heavily on these literary accounts, which were likely distorted by their authors' desire to create a Greek heritage for Rome, and instead highlights the "grammar" and "syntax" of the ideal pompa, the roles and identities of participants and their ordering in each procession, constructed in order to inspire "wonder" among spectators. Human participants (magistrates, the praeses ludorum, youths, charioteers and athletes, dancers, musicians, etc.) are discussed in Chapter 1, and in Chapter 2, attention is turned to the divine participants, whose presence was indicated through statues (simulacra) carried on litters (fercula) or objects symbolizing deities (exuuiae) that were carried in tensae, (special chariots). The procession of gods and sacred objects constituted a kind of performed theology through which divine closeness and difference could be communicated; disturbances in this pompa deorum could also serve as omens indicating divine displeasure. Chapter 3 gives an overview of the itinerary of the pompa circensis from the temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline through the Forum, and finally into the Circus Maximus, situating it within the physical landscape of Rome as well as the landscape of communal memory.

In the second section, Chapter 4 looks beyond the Republican period to innovations in the pompa circensis introduced by Julius Caesar and his successors. Latham illustrates how the inclusion of images or symbols associated with living or deceased emperors in the pompa deorum, or at times the presence of emperors themselves, complemented other expressions of divine privilege, such as the extension of triumphal honours. Like the triumph, the pompa circensis reinforced the power of the imperial family and their unique status between the traditional gods and the Roman people. The chapter concludes with an examination of the additions of imperial building programmes to the processional route. Chapter 5 is a bold venture into processions derived from the original pompae circenses at Rome, from pompae at provincial circus games to processions preceding theatrical spectacles (pompae theatrales), for which the evidence is even more fragmentary. The final chapter deals with the fate of the pompa circensis in the late empire: while circus games and processions continued to be highly popular, their "excesses" and close associations with traditional religious expressions came into conflict with Christianity's growing influence at the imperial court. Latham traces the process by which the pompa was reformed and stripped of "pagan" associations before evidence for its performance ends in the fifth century CE, and for circus games in the sixth century CE.

Latham's diachronic approach to the pompa circensis using a variety of source materials is one of the great strengths of this study: the investigation would be far less rich and fruitful if it had only taken into account a single type of evidence, or if it were restricted to a narrower window of time. Given the paucity of concrete evidence for these processions, Latham's approach strives to avoid the extremes of unsubstantiated speculation and failure to engage fully with the fragmentary material. The conclusions in this study often manage to find this middle ground, but on occasion veer too far towards conjecture. For example, at intervals throughout the work it is suggested that Christian symbols could have been introduced into the pompa circensis as a replacement for the exuuiae of the gods of polytheism. In the last chapter, it is revealed that this hypothesis is based on coin reverses depicting emperors holding cruciform sceptres and mappae (the cloths dropped to signal the start of the games). The reverses could illustrate the appearance of emperors and the items they carried in the procession, it is argued, and the cruciform sceptres could be conceived of as taking the place of "pagan" exuuiae, thereby making the Christian god present within the pompa. While the first theory is plausible, the latter fails to account for the ubiquity of these sceptres on late imperial coinage, often in contexts completely dissociated from the pompa circensis. It seems likely that ancient spectators would have perceived of the cruciform sceptre as a symbol of the power and Christian allegiance of the emperor, rather than as a relic replacing ancient exuuiae.

This study also addresses questions of more general interest in scholarship on religion at Rome. Latham demonstrates how imperial interference in the pompa circensis transformed and reoriented the performance to serve as a showcase of the emperor's role in preserving the continuity of Rome through dynasty and close relationship with the gods (particularly his deified predecessors). This development has close parallels in the development of supplications or the Saecular Games from the Republican to Imperial periods. Latham also demonstrates how the malleability of the sequence of the pompa in the past, as well as its association with imperial authority, provided a vehicle for the pompa's secularization and adaption for the Christian context of the fourth and fifth centuries. Festivals and performances involving sacrifices or other offerings to the gods could not be so easily detached from the context of traditional religion, and ceased to be held at an earlier date.

Latham enters into the debate on the role and nature of religious belief in Roman society in Chapter 2. His analysis of the "performed theology" of the procession allows that the Romans could have genuinely held beliefs of a religious nature, but, following a widely-held position, he gives primacy to civic performance and action as the authority for religious thought. Yet at p. 51, Latham cites Seneca's famous critique of people creatively initiating acts of worship through the offering of their talents to various gods on the Capitoline, including an old mime who still danced for the gods.1 While Latham hesitates to emphasize an emotional engagement with divinities in the pompae, his catalogue of the various participants in these processions and the responses of spectators to innovations invite further research on the subject. If a mime could view his art as a means to enter into a relationship with a deity, could the dancers, musicians, and athletes have viewed their roles in the pompa circensis in a similar fashion?

In Chapter 4, Latham favours Gradel's emphasis on power as the essential factor separating humanity from divinity,2 and emphasizes the development of imperial power through the inclusion of images of deified emperors and their family members, diui and diuae, in the pompa. Latham departs from Gradel's argument in allowing that humanity and divinity may have been distinct and absolute categories for the Romans, following Koortbojian and Levene, 3 but his own evidence for the pompa provides opportunities to show that the Romans did not reduce divinity merely to the quality of power. For example, he observes that the elephant-drawn chariot granted to the image of diuus Augustus would have been visually impressive and powerful, but rather than elevating Augustus to the level of Jupiter or Juno, the new vehicle would have differentiated the emperor's status from that of traditional gods given the honours of humbler litters or horse-drawn chariots (p. 107).

Latham's project serves as a reminder that the significance of a performance or practice is understood most fully only when its history is studied in its entirely, as far as possible, and in dialogue with more general changes and developments in society. Through his ambitious approach to the pompa circensis, Latham's study gives us a better understanding of the symbiotic relationships of entertainment, religion, and expressions of power across the centuries in Roman society.


1.   Preserved in Augustine, De ciu. D. 6.10.4.
2.   Gradel, I. (2002) Emperor Worship and the Roman Religion. Oxford.
3.   Levene, D.S. (2012) "Defining the Divine in Rome", TAPhA 142, 41–81,; and Koortbojian, M. (2013) The Divinization of Caesar and Augustus: Precedents, Consequences, Implications. Cambridge.

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