Tuesday, September 19, 2017


Konrad Dominas, Elżbieta Wesołowska, Bogdan Trocha (ed.), Antiquity in Popular Literature and Culture. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016. Pp. 340. ISBN 9781443890243. $98.95.

Reviewed by Michelle Lee Borg, University of Sydney (mbor8692@uni.sydney.edu.au)

Version at BMCR home site


This volume is a collection of essays which derive from a 2014 conference at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland. Together they seek, as Martin M. Winkler notes in his useful introduction, to demonstrate "the continuing presence of the past or, to put it slightly differently, the importance of the past in the present and, by extension, for the future" (p.xiii).

The compilation is arranged into three self-explanatory parts: first, "Antiquity in Popular Literature," second, "Antiquity in Popular Culture," and third, "Antiquity in the Cinema."

Part 1: The first set of papers examines the influence and presence of antiquity in a variety of genres, including speculative fiction, detective fiction, and youth fiction.

Oziewicz ("Antiquity is Now: Modern Strands of the Mythical Method in Contemporary Young Adult Speculative Fiction," pp.3-19) explores theories around the mortal impulses driving myth-making and remembering and refers to a variety of texts throughout. Trocha ("Between the Clichés and Speculative Re-Narration: Features of Ancient Times in Popular Literature," pp.21-36) then broadly summarises the thematic assumption and re-narration of early fiction through to more modern efforts.

The focus on antiquity in literature then zooms in on particular authors and their utilisation of antiquity. Dominas ("What Undergoes Changes and What Remains Unchanged, or How to Research Antiquity in Popular Literature and Culture on the Model of the Trilogy Troy by David Gemmell," pp.37-49) explores fantasy author David Gemmell's conventional use of antiquity in his Troy trilogy series, but also argues, as a case study, that he is being innovative in his transfiguration of Aeneas into Heliacon. Ultimately, Gemmell's mechanisms successfully bring together elements of ancient and popular cultures and new media. Similarly, Zieliński ("The Ancient Quotations in Marek Krajewski's Detective Novels," pp.51-64) examines the use of ancient Latin and Greek quotations in the detective novels of Marek Krajewski. These function according to Zieliński sometimes as an elitist "code characteristic of the educated people" (p.53) and at other times are intentionally misused in order to convey a double entendre or to provide comic relief. Often, ancient quotations are functionally crucial to solving the mystery at hand or appear in an erotic context. Ultimately, this is the author's appreciation of the rich repository of ancient literature preserved for those who value it.

The strategies of two Polish authors transposing mythology for young audiences are considered by Miazek-Męczyńska ("Olympus Shown by Grzegorz Kasdepke and Katarzyna Marciniak, or How We Should Present Mythology to the Youngest Audience," pp.65-75). While both authors render mythology modern in terms of language and sensibility for their contemporary readers, Miazek-Męczyńska asserts that they differ by virtue of their approach and target audience. With regard to these differences, textual elements are re-examined critically for their pedagogical value and shortcomings. Last, Kaczmarek ("The Gladiatorial Games in Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: Some Thoughts on Antique Culture in the Modern World," pp.76-88) surveys the gladiatorial elements of the Hunger Games series, itemising the various aspects of ludi: training; the procession; score-keeping; the arena and the audience. Finally, Kaczmarek draws some very expansive conclusions, but nonetheless underlines the connectedness of these modern texts with ancient pastimes.

Part II: This section focusses on antiquity in popular culture, a somewhat nebulous and generic term. Gemra ("Nec Hercules Contra Plures: What Popular Culture does with Antiquity (Outline of the Problem)," pp.91-116) begins this section by evaluating the use of references to antiquity in popular texts: from Conan the Barbarian to Asterix the Gaul, through Studniarek, and other popular authors such as Gaiman and Pratchett. The strengths (the connection of past to present) and weaknesses (facts that are distorted in order to entertain are taken to be fact) are examined, ending with an exhortation to fashion well-made texts that establish a sense of belonging with a modern audience.

Next, Wojciech Mikołajczak takes the reader through an interesting and well organised discussion of ancient influence on fountain pens ("Antique Motifs in the Design of Fountain Pens", pp.117-125), distinguishing between and exploring the syntactic, symbolic, and functional aspects of the pen. Examples of the reception of antique motifs, in particular lines of pens from different parts of the globe, are examined from production, nomenclature to ornamentation.

The extent to which anti-Napoleonic satirical cartoons drew upon the ancient world is explored by Fulińska ("Ancient Topics in Anti-Napoleonic Caricature (1796-1821)," pp.127-155). The survey of British, French, and German cartoons uncovers, surprisingly, that the use of the ancient world to satirise Napoleon was neither prolific nor deeply meaningful. Ultimately, the author hypothesises that the usefulness of ancient personalities for the purpose of ridiculing a current leader is minimal when those personalities were otherwise heroes and role-models. The proceedings then move on to the more obscure, yet illuminating introductory overview of the portrayal of Mount Athos in society and popular culture (Dymczyk, "Sacrum Versus Profanum: the Reception of Holy Mountain Athos in Ancient and Contemporary Culture," pp.157-175). Dymczyk traces the references to the natural monument in ancient and apocryphal literature, popular literature, and even tourist guide books. Dymczyk concludes that the mysticism and obscurity of the mountain itself, whether as a religious symbol or tourist destination, will likely continue.

The focus on popular culture turns to video and computer games and the depiction of Hercules therein (Chmielewska, "C://Hercules in Computer Games/A Heroic Evolution," pp.177-191). The full gamut of these representations is examined, from the demi-god's highly pixelated form in the 1980s through to the most recent and nuanced God of War series. From a focus on Greece, the proceedings next move to the Near East. Zinkow ("Pop-Pharaohs – 'Reversed Pharaohs': Remarks on the Carnivalized Model of the Reception of Egypt," pp.193-203) argues that the contemporary fascination with Egypt has less to do with the authentic past but a constructed Egypt that is exotic and exaggerated. This view of Egypt began with Herodotus' characterisation for his Western audience and has continued in kind, in various guises, to the present day. The focus on Egypt continues in the next paper with an examination of such motifs as used in products for children (Taterka, "Egyptianizing Motifs in the Products of Popular Culture Addressed to Younger Recipients," pp.205-221). A keen observation is the methodological difficulty inherent in the study of the use of ancient motifs in contemporary culture, resulting in a reversion to a descriptive approach. Moving through literature, animated series, cinema, computer games, toys, and even food, Taterka ultimately notes the didactic value of these representations, even if they are inaccurate.

Part III: The third and last part of the proceedings focuses on antiquity in cinema and deals first with the many uses of Latin in film (Skwara, "In Theatro Cinematographico Latine Loquentes: Latin in Modern Film," pp.226-241), as a determinant of time and place, of fantasy, and of one's profession. These signals of a language that is both foreign and familiar are used in ways that are intended to aid the plot or style of the film, but that can stray into ridiculousness.

The intertextuality of political satire is then examined between Plautus' Amphitruo and Schünzel's film adaptation, Amphitryon: Aus den Wolken kommt das Glück (McHugh, "The Art of Safe Speech: Schünzel's Amphitruo," pp.243-254). McHugh argues that Schünzel's own work was as subtle and successful as that of Plautus, making him a worthy heir. The next paper re-focuses the reader on the use of Latin, but this time in horror films (Piętka, "Thrill for Latinists: Latin Language in Contemporary Horror Films," pp.255-266). The author claims that a "dead" language experiences a second life as a cinematic device rich with allusions to the sacred (such as the right of exorcism) and the occult (à la demonic incantations).

Returning to science fiction television, Klęczar ("The Wise Road-Builders and the Empire of Evil: The Image of Ancient Rome in Science Fiction TV Shows," pp.267-285) surveys the way in which Rome is represented, considering a variety of programs as case studies: the Star Trek universe, Doctor Who, and Star Gate. Interestingly, Klęczar notes that these representations are often self-referential and sourced from popular culture itself rather than from primary evidence or historical commentary.

Stróżyński ("The Oedipus Myth in Selected Films: Antiquity and Psychoanalysis," pp.287-303) provides an analysis of Oedipal structural and thematic motifs, and Freudian psychoanalysis in three case studies from popular culture: the films Minority Report and The Matrix, and the television series Dexter. The various symbolisms and allusions reinforce the relevance and value of these universal Oedipal anxieties.

The last but not least paper (Gierszewska, "Ancient Rome, Anything Goes: Creating Images of Antiquity in the BBC Series Doctor Who," pp.305-314) returns to representations of ancient Rome in the second generation of the Doctor Who television series. Rome, both geographically and ideologically, functions as a marker of a preconceived place, time, and language for the Doctor Who audience. These associations are constructed in a way as to be simultaneously familiar and new, and ultimately Gierszewska concludes that "[i]t is not meant to be historically accurate; it aims to entertain, but it preserves enough of the real classical antiquity to call it a laudable effort at educating" (p.313).

A proceedings volume such as this provides an invaluable platform for conference contributors, both early career and established scholars alike. This particular collection is distinguished by its generic and temporal breadth and (understandable) inclusion of the reception of antiquity in Eastern Europe, as well as the West and the Americas.

Limited space perhaps restricted the ability of contributors to include references to evidence and secondary literature where it would be otherwise expected, requiring some frustrating guesswork for those wanting to know more. The generic structure (literature, popular culture, and cinema) is, at times, only loosely adhered to as an organisational framework, which can be distracting when one is consuming the volume in sequence. Last, there is some overlap of subject-matter between papers, especially concerning Doctor Who, Star Trek, and representations of ancient Rome in television, particularly in the latter half of the volume.

At the same time, there are some refreshingly original topics – Hercules in computer games, Schünzel's Amphitruo, and fountain pens, to name just three – resulting in a corpus well worth reading. Some black and white photographs provide visual interest and typological errata are minimal. The collection does largely fulfil Winkler's stated aim: to demonstrate the presence and importance of antiquity both now and into the future.

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Nina E. Livesey, Galatians and the Rhetoric of Crisis: Demosthenes - Cicero – Paul. Salem, OR: Polebridge Press, 2016. Pp. 273. ISBN 9781598151749. $26.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Alexandra Gruca-Macaulay, Saint Paul University, Ottawa (amacaulay@ustpaul.ca)

Version at BMCR home site

The New Testament Letter to the Galatians continues to raise questions regarding the function of its sustained polemics against the primacy of Mosaic law and the requirement for male circumcision for gentile adherents to the early Christ movement. In Galatians and the Rhetoric of Crisis, Nina Livesey has sought to bring the Letter to the Galatians into a comparative analysis with selected passages from Demosthenes' and Cicero's Philippics from within a "rhetoric of crisis" framework, in an attempt to uncover "a viable explanation...for Paul's stance regarding circumcision and Torah adoption of non-Jews" (p. 8).

In 1983 Cecil W. Wooten proposed that Demosthenes' orations against Philip of Macedon, and Cicero's against Antony, emerged from similar types of political crises that led to a distinctive form of rhetorical response: a "rhetoric of crisis."1 According to Wooten, the aim of a rhetoric of crisis is to persuade an audience to take immediate action to protect its state from a perceived threat posed by a "totalitarian menace."2 Wooten characterized the rhetoric of crisis as an attack against an opponent that presents "a clear-cut struggle between good and evil," where victory is the only tenable outcome.3 As a result, such discourse is marked by an intensely urgent tone that draws upon features such as repetition and short sentence structure, as well as the use of conventional topoi and caricature that aim to accentuate and exaggerate the contrast between the character of an unequivocal enemy—Philip, Antony— and the noble ethos of the orator —Demosthenes, Cicero.

In Galatians, Livesey taking up Wooten's model, argues that the author of Galatians, Paul, drew upon stylistic features that were similar to those used by Demosthenes and Cicero in their Philippics in order to create the appearance of a threatening external situation of crisis, "for the specific purpose of winning the Galatians to his side and away from his competition" (p. 176). Paul's "emphasis on the 'right' position, that is, on his position, indicates that winning the Galatians to his side and from the side of his competitors is more significant than the issues themselves" (p. 36).

In each of her four chapters, Livesey first chooses examples from Demosthenes' and Cicero's Philippics to illustrate stylistic features common to classical rhetoric that could contribute to a rhetoric of crisis, and then turns to Galatians to argue that Paul availed himself of similar rhetorical features. Each chapter concludes with a summary that aims to show how the three authors crafted their works with comparable goals and rhetorical means.

In Chapter 1 Livesey argues that the authors in question created a sense of urgency through repeated words, phrases, and sounds. These repetitions at times helped to create short phrases that contributed to a rapid pace of delivery. In addition, Livesey notes cases of repeated words that refer to time in order to create a sense of "time running out," and argues that these too aided the authors in fabricating a sense of imminent danger. Moreover, Livesey sees many of these and other repetitions as deliberate attempts to grow the chasm between the author's position and that of his rival(s).

Chapter 2 is devoted to showing how each author actively fashioned his own credibility, most especially as a favourable contrast to his competitors. According to Livesey, as part of each author's ethos-building initiative, acts of self-disclosure were intended to showcase the speaker's trustworthiness. Thus, Livesey equates the manner by which Demosthenes and Cicero raised and addressed criticisms targeted at them by their opponents with Paul's confession of having been an aggressive persecutor of the early Christian movement, and portrays all of these as ethos-building displays of candor. In addition, in the case of Paul, Livesey argues that his self-fashioning as an apostle was intended to contrast his own superior divinely chosen status with that of his competitors.

In Chapter 3 Livesey moves to pathos, and most especially, to the ways by which Demosthenes, Cicero, and Paul attempted to instill fear and hatred of their respective rivals in the audience. So, in Livesey's analysis, Demosthenes "greatly exaggerates Philip's treachery and plays loose with the facts," Cicero turned Antony into a tyrant by using commonplaces associated with tyranny, and Paul conjured the demonic to provoke fear (p. 99, 101, 109). In the case of Paul's rhetoric, Livesey argues that his use of βασκαίνω in Gal 3:1, intends to suggest "that his opponents participate in evil eye practices" (p. 112). Livesey does not raise other possibilities that might be suggested by βασκαίνω including more common idioms, such as those used by Demosthenes, that revolve around maligning or disparging, nor does she engage with rhetorical critic Troy Martin's argument that ἐβάσκανεν in Gal 3:1 should be translated as "maligned."4 Instead, Livesey argues that Paul portrays his competitors as participants in a "malevolent" practice in order to conjure "the demonic realm around his opponents" (p. 112).

In the fourth and final chapter of her analysis, Livesey takes up Wooten's argument that central to a rhetoric of crisis is a "disjunctive" mode that unambiguously contrasts the position of the opponent with that of the speaker, thereby offering the audience "mutually exclusive clear-cut alternatives" (p. 129). For Wooten, in a disjunctive mode existing dichotomies, e.g., freedom and slavery, are exploited in order to distinguish the stark consequences of a choice between the speaker and his opponent.5 In Livesey's approach, however, Paul creates oppositions between concepts that would not have been considered to be inherently oppositional. So, for example, Livesey claims that when Paul develops his argument that opposes "works of the law" with πίστις (which Livesey translates as "trust," leading to difficult readings of verses such as Gal 2:16 "we know that a person is justified not by works of the law but through trust in Jesus Christ. And we have come to trust in Christ Jesus...," etc.), the ensuing dichotomy is a sui generis fabrication by Paul. Moreover, since, according to Livesey, the sole purpose of these disjunctures is clearly to delineate between two competing groups, the concepts that underlie them "are not in and of themselves significant" to the author (p. 160). In this manner, Livesey is able to claim that the actual topics of law/Torah, circumcision, and faith hold no real significance for Paul since they are but instruments towards his goal of opposing a rival group.

Livesey concludes her argument by re-stating her position that a rhetoric of crisis produces a sense of "an imminent crisis where none exists" (p. 171). The actual situations on which the three orators urgently sought their audience's assent "take a back seat to the authors' desire to gain supremacy over their competition" (p. 171). By asserting that each author's interest in the topics used to invent his argument is limited to their utility as vehicles towards his victory over his rivals, Livesey is able to conclude: "In Paul's case, he develops the adoption of works of Torah and circumcision into a crisis, not for theological, sociological, or political reasons, but simply because they reflect the position of his competitors. He advances hyperbolic reasons why the Galatians should not adopt circumcision. These rites are caught up in the middle—innocent victims—of his polemical fight with his competitors" (p. 176).

Livesey's rhetoric of crisis approach to interpreting Galatians raises a number of questions. Wooten's argument was rooted in his view that a rhetoric of crisis could be effective in cases where an established society felt threatened by some type of invasive opponent. As the voice of a prevailing society, the orator could readily shape the disjunctive "us," and "them" that lies at the heart of a rhetoric of crisis. However, in contrast, Paul in Galatians is a disruptive element who attacks deeply valued traditions such as circumcision and the law, and therefore cannot readily blend his audience's worldview with his own. Likewise, Wooten's model needed a clearly identified enemy to create a credible sense of imminent danger. As Livesey herself observes, in Galatians the rivals are not identified; an absence that has led to much continued debate as to whether the letter's polemics reflect an intra- or an inter- community conflict. How then is the requisite "us" and "them" dichotomy that underlies a rhetoric of crisis effected when the "them" is not named? Connected to this question is the role of the claim of universal unity in Gal 3:28, not treated by Livesey – "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female..." – and how this argument for unity is compatible with a stridently oppositional rhetoric of crisis.

Perhaps the larger set of questions, however, relate to Wooten's model itself, and specifically to whether the model adequately manages to explain how conventional rhetorical practices are transformed into a distinct and efficacious rhetoric of crisis. Better put, in a review of Wooten's book, B.P. Newbound asked, "If Cicero's rhetoric just reflects a real crisis, it is unremarkable; if it does not, why did his audience 'believe' it?" 6 In other words, there is nothing distinct about a rhetor seeking to craft a favourable ethos, or to develop passionate invective aimed at a perceived enemy. However, if indeed the entire rhetorical situation was "engineered," as is Livesey's claim in the case of Galatians (p. 17), then we are left to wonder how this rhetorical subterfuge might have been accomplished.


1.   Cecil W. Wooten, Cicero's Philippics and Their Demosthenic Model: The Rhetoric of Crisis (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983).
2.   Ibid. 170–71.
3.   Ibid., 58.
4.   Demosthenes 1 Aristog.. 80, 83; Chers.. 19, 22; Cor.. 132, 139, 190, 242, 252, 307, 318, 108, 119; Fals. Leg.. 24; Lept.. 24; Mid.. 210; Meg.. 19; Troy Martin, 'Apostasy to Paganism: The Rhetorical Stasis of the Galatian Controversy,' in The Galatians Debate: Contemporary Issues in Rhetorical and Historical Interpretation, ed. Mark D. Nanos (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002), 83 n. 53.
5.   Cecil W. Wooten, cit., 62–63.
6.   B. P. Newbound, review of Cecil W. Wooten, Cicero's Philippics and their Demosthenic Model: The Rhetoric of Crisis, Journal of Roman Studies 74 (1984): 238.

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Enrico Norelli, Averil Cameron, Markion und der biblische Kanon; Christian literature and Christian History. Hans-Lietzmann-Vorlesungen, 11; 15. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2016. Pp. xiv, 53. ISBN 9783110374056. $28.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Joshua Yoder, Bryn Mawr, PA (jyoder4@alumni.nd.edu)

Version at BMCR home site


The Hans-Lietzmann-Vorlesungen honor the man who succeeded Adolf von Harnack as Chair of New Testament, Church History and Christian Archaeology at the Humboldt-Universitӓt Berlin (1924) and as editor of the series "Griechische Christliche Schriftsteller" from 1930 until his death in 1942. This volume contains two of these lectures, given in 2009 and 2013 by Enrico Norelli of the University of Geneva and Averil Cameron, emerita of Oxford.

Enrico Norelli's contribution tackles the subject of the second century teacher Marcion's role in the formation of the Christian biblical canon. It is well known that Marcion adopted a set of writings that would later be included in the New Testament—to wit, the Gospel of Luke and ten letters of Paul—and adapted them to suit his own views and the needs of his followers. This is the first instance known to us of a prescribed set of writings in Christianity. What influence, then, did Marcion have on the gradual adoption of another prescribed set of writings that would be called "the New Testament?"1

Norelli begins his remarks by taking a wide view of second century Christianity as emerging from considering itself a sect of Judaism to forging an identity in contrast to Judaism. Before turning to Marcion he spends some time with Ignatius of Antioch's deployment of the concept "Judaism." He then gives an overview of Marcion's life (of which we know little) and thought. Norelli's depiction of Marcion's theology is congruent with the foundational work of Adolf von Harnack,2 taking its starting point from Marcion's understanding of Jesus' message as a message of radical love. Marcion attributed humankind's incapacity for such radical love to an inferior creator god, revealed in the Jewish scriptures as a creature of wrath who punishes those who violate his commands. In Jesus Christ, however, the true God who is fundamentally alien to our world has intervened to make possible salvation from this god and his world.

Marcion found support for his views in the letters of Paul, with their strong contrast between law and grace. He attributed the positive role played by the God of Israel and the Jewish scriptures in Paul's writings and his gospel (Luke) to later interpolators who, like Jesus' disciples themselves, confused the God of Christ and the creator god. With careful editing, however, the original form of these writings could be reclaimed. Thus, Marcion's view of scripture contrasted markedly with the views of someone like Papias, who privileged the "living and abiding voice" over written sources (frag. 3, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39). For Marcion, the adulterated state of the tradition handed down from the disciples made the (purified) written text the only trustworthy source of authority for the church. "Here the normative authority was ascribed for the first time—as far as we know—not to the content of a tradition guaranteed by the precedence of its tradents, but only to a collection of definite written texts, and indeed because of such texts' capacity, independent of the character of its tradents, to remain comparatively intact through time" (15-16).

Having traced out Marcion's theology and view of scripture, Norelli makes three remarks on the question of Marcion and the canon in his closing pages. First, Marcion's true canon was his principle of a radical opposition between gospel and law. Whatever written texts he accepted he did on the basis of their expression of this principle. At the same time, he derived his thinking from these writings, creating a circular process. Second, Marcion's "canon" was not closed (his disciples probably added the pastoral epistles to it) nor inviolable (future "improvements" to the text were possible). It was not a canon in the sense in which the New Testament became a canon in the fourth century.3 Third, Marcion and the proto-orthodox church had different views about how tradition related to the written word. For the latter, the New Testament canon takes its place within a stream of church tradition. To the former, tradition is suspect and plays a much more limited role.

Norelli concludes that the question "was Marcion the creator of the NT canon?" should be reformulated: "What role did a collection of normative written texts play in Marcion's system, on the one hand, and on the other in a system that designated itself as orthodox?" (26). Reframing the question in this way abandons the question of causality and influence in favor of considering Marcion's canon and the orthodox canon simply as parallel developments. This result comes as something of a disappointment after one has made one's way through all the preliminary remarks and general background on Marcion. Nevertheless, the lecture stands as a good summary of the author's view of Marcion and his movement, and offers some well-grounded insights on the nature of Marcion's "canon."

As it was given in 2009, Norelli's lecture does not take account of subsequent work on Marcion, notably new books by Sebastian Moll (2010) and Judith Lieu (2015).4 Norelli does engage with Moll in his footnotes (p. 7 n. 10; p. 11 n. 18), but for a more thorough assessment one must read his review of Moll in The Journal of Ecclesiastical History (2014). 5

Averil Cameron's lecture focuses on approaches to Christian literature in the field of late antiquity. Unlike the field of patristics which it has to some extent displaced, this field "is not generally concerned with theological questions, except in terms of their contribution to intellectual history" (30), nor do its practitioners assess early Christian texts "from the primary point of view of the history of the church" (31) but rather within a matrix of various forms of Christianity, Judaism, Neoplatonism and, eventually, Islam. The ongoing shift from historical-critical concerns to literary and rhetorical analysis raises the question whether and how early Christian writing can be approached as "literature."

Cameron finds that most current scholarship takes an instrumental approach to early Christian literature, examining how it operated "to win arguments and gain authority" (39) as well as to solidify various forms of Christian identity. In such work, literary features are assessed in terms of how they serve ideological purposes. Christian texts are seen as "constitutive of a late antique Christian world" (47).

Cameron proposes two alternatives to such an approach. One is to examine Christian writings within the larger context of late antique rhetoric. Rhetoric was the basis of education for Christian writers as well as non-Christian ones, and this necessarily impacted Christian writing. However, Cameron concludes that this factor "cannot be the main or only key to a critical analysis of Christian literature as a whole" because few Christian writers wrote works that clearly fell into the category of rhetoric. Here she utilizes the term "rhetoric" in a more restricted sense than in her earlier book, Christianity and the Rhetoric of Empire.6

A second approach takes aesthetics as a starting point, considering the texts as "literature." The study of the literary aesthetics of late antique texts is just beginning (Cameron provides a healthy number of examples in the footnotes) and tends to focus on Latin and poetry. Cameron notes that "Part of the impetus behind this work is the wish to rescue late antique literature from the stigma of 'decline'" (46). Including Christian literature in such study has the advantage of taking Christian literature "out of its special box" (46). In contrast to the functional approach, the literary approach considers literature not as constructing a worldview, but as reflective of its society of origin.

Cameron offers as an example the range of Christian prose dialogues that start with Justin Martyr and Minucius Felix and continue through the Byzantine period. (Cameron feels that study of these dialogues should include Christian-Muslim as well as Christian-Jewish dialogues.) To Cameron, the vitality of these dialogues in the Byzantine period counts as contrary evidence to the view that the advance of Christianity closed down "'true dialogue,' that is, unbiased discussion according to current ideas of what dialogue should be" (48-49). Cameron considers the relative influence of Plato and Aristotle in these dialogues, as well as the question of their basis in real public debate. More of the promised aesthetic evaluation would have been welcome here.

Cameron's lecture provides an engaging and erudite overview of the state of the field of late antiquity as it relates to patristics and other disciplines, by a highly respected scholar in the field. Her call for a consideration of the literary- aesthetic qualities of late antique Christian literature is welcome. Surely at least some of this literature was not written solely to persuade, but also to delight. Indeed, a text's aesthetic features can reinforce its persuasive power.


1.   Some different positions on this question are summarized in John Barton, "Marcion Revisited," in The Canon Debate, ed. Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2002), 342-344.
2.   Adolf von Harnack, Marcion: Das Evangelium vom Fremden Gott (2nd ed.; Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1924).
3.   On the definition of the term "canon" see Eugene Ulrich, "The Notion and Definition of Canon" in The Canon Debate, ed. Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2002), 21-35, especially pp. 29 and 31. Ulrich would dispute that an inviolable text should be a consideration in the definition of canon—it is books that are canonized, not forms of the text (31-32).
4.   Sebastian Moll, The Arch-Heretic Marcion (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010); Judith M. Lieu, Marcion and the Making of a Heretic: God and Scripture in the Second Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015).
5.   Enrico Norelli, "Un 'Dieu Bon' Agressif et Haineux? Le Marcion Discutable de Sebastian Moll," The Journal of Ecclesiastical History 65 (2014), 347-353.
6.   Averil Cameron, Christianity and the Rhetoric of Empire: The Development of Christian Discourse (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 13, and see 73-88 on common ground between Christian and epideictic rhetoric in the early centuries CE.

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Michael Squire, Johannes Wienand (ed.), Morphogrammata / The Lettered Art of Optatian: Figuring Cultural Transformations in the Age of Constantine. Morphomata, 33. Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2017. Pp. 548. ISBN 9783770561278. €78.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Christine Luz, University of Berne/Basel (christineluz@bluewin.ch)

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents
[Authors and Titles are listed below.]

What do you do when political misfortune has led to your banishment from the Roman metropolis and you want to get back? You might just try it: Optatian sent his emperor Constantine a volume of poems and achieved his revocation from exile. These poems not only delighted their imperial addressee but enjoyed multiple imitations in later antiquity and the Middle Ages up to Modern times, yet they were rather despised by classical scholars of the last two centuries. Only in recent years has Optatian met with renewed scholarly attention—and maybe this is no coincidence as several contributors to the present volume suggest. But who is he and what did he write?

Imagine an ancient manuscript, richly decorated with purple dye, whose letters are written in gold and silver colour. The thus lavishly exhibited poems mainly praise the emperor but also invite the reader to study them closely and to discover their ingenious compositions: some of them are pattern poems whose layout on the page sketches an image of their subject; others, the so-called carmina cancellata, display acro- meso- and telestichs or other intexts in various shapes, e.g. geometrical patterns, Greek and Latin letters (frequently the Christian chi-rho symbol) or even pictures of objects; a third group contains metrical and linguistic sophistries such as lines with words that consist of certain numbers of syllables or verses that can be read backwards in the same or a new metrical pattern; in other poems, the word order can be rearranged into a multitude of new poems etc. Optatian plays with the visual dimension of the text, invites multilayered perception, juggles with surface and hidden meaning, and challenges the reader to play the active part of a discoverer, interpreter and re-creator. Long considered a kind of a nerd obsessed with poetry that can at most be valued as art for art's sake, Optatian is today on the point of being appreciated as one of the most creative and innovative poets of late antiquity. Taking up and significantly promoting this trend, the present volume asks questions about what inspired such extraordinary compositions and how they relate to the literary tradition, the cultural context and the Zeitgeist of their time. Written in the second and third decade of the fourth century AD, in a time of cultural, philosophical, and not least religious transformations where the newly established Christianity challenges many a traditional view of how things are, Optatian's poetry not only reflects this fluidity but goes to the very core of the most crucial intellectual dynamics and anxiety of his time.

The central part of the volume consists of 14 contributions mainly by leading specialists on Optatian but also by academic newcomers; about a third of them are written in German (authors and titles are listed at the end of the review). The rich variety of subjects and the diversity of methodical approaches shed light on Optatian and his work from very different and often complementary angles. Literary and historical analysis stands next to comparative, lexicographic and philosophical studies, art history and archaeology find their place as well as investigations of Optatian's notion of text and mediality and of the ludic character and the interdisciplinary dimensions of his poems. The selection of topics shows a representative sample of the most booming interests of contemporary scholarship in such a multifaceted author and is by no means—and not meant to be—comprehensive. Rather it draws a wide horizon of research possibilities and seeks to attract attention, to break fresh ground and to cross-fertilise an already ongoing and fruitful discussion.

This central part is preceded by acknowledgements which explain the origin of the book, the customary lists of abbreviations, black and white figures and colour plates (the latter being assembled at the end of the book) and a typographic representation of Optatian's figurative poems. These are 23 out of the 31 surviving poems ascribed to Optatian. One might have considered to print the remaining works too (or at least those referred to by the volume's contributions) as not all readers can be expected to have their Optatian always ready at hand. The book concludes with useful summaries of all contributions in English which facilitate the reader's orientation in a more than 500-page volume (see also the synopsis in the first introductory chapter by Michael Squire) and notes on the contributors. There is no bibliography at the end: each contribution is followed by its own bibliographical notes.

The first contribution by Michael Squire provides an instructive and well-rounded introduction to the book and its subject. It presents Optatian's poems, their composition and original mise-en-page and puts them into their literary, intellectual and artistic context, in particular highlighting their affinity to visual art. But not only do the poems reflect the culture of their own time. Squire stresses their foreshadowing some intellectual concerns of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries (such as the instability of the text, the notion of iconotext, the text as a field to be navigated, the amalgamation of author and recipient etc.) and thus explains why today's scholarship rediscovered this fascinating poet.

The next two contributions expound the historical and literary contexts of Optatian's works. Johannes Wienand looks at the political significance of Optatian's poems and their role in the poet's relation to Constantine. On the basis of a re- examination of the epigraphic and epistolary evidence and the biographical information in the poems, he suggests a new chronology of Optatians career and the publication of his works (conveniently illustrated in a table).

Jan Kwapisz' contribution traces back possible Greek and Latin models for Optatian's ingenious poetry as far back as the Hellenistic technopaegnia. The examples are manifold: pattern poems, acrostichs, isopsephic verses, etc., which often originate in the context of sympotic entertainment at an aristocratic or imperial court, destined for amusement and playful competition. In particular, Kwapisz identifies two direct sources of inspiration to Optatian's poems: first, the Altar of Vestinus dedicated in all likelihood to Hadrian, which served as a model for Optatian's own altar-shaped poem 26, and second, the isopsephic epigrams of Leonides of Alexandria, active at the courts of Nero and Vespasian.

The ensuing five contributions interpret Optatian's poetry (or single poems) by investigating them in the light of particular intrinsic characteristics. Anna-Lena Körfer explores the ludic character of the poems by pointing out the frequent use of forms of ludere and by drawing a parallel to the archaeological evidence of contemporary board games. She compares the text to the game board on which the lector ludens deciphers the poem according to the rules of its game. As a showcase serves poem 6, dedicated to Constantine's victory over the Sarmatians, which invites the emperor to relive and replay his martial success.

Meike Rühl reads the poems as multilayered fabrics admitting a variety of readings not only within the individual poem but also across the whole corpus and reaching back into the literary tradition. To illustrate this, she applies the metaphor of the palimpsest where hidden texts can be discovered by penetrating beneath the surface into deeper levels of the fabric. So, she states, the panegyric message works on several levels far deeper than the conventional topics on the surface.

Marie-Odile Bruhat sees the dynamics of space as one of the key features of Optatian's poetry. Physical space—the distribution of the letters on the page—and metaphorical space—for instance, the visualisation of the poetic programme in poem 2—merge into a presentation of the emperor's sublimity and the poet's relation to his patron.

Petra Schierl and Cédric Scheidegger Lämmle position Optatian's panegyric poems within the tension between the hackneyed topics of the generic tradition and the need to innovate in order to make one's praise exceptional. The poet's uniqueness, the authors argue, lays in the poetics of his virtuoso compositions. Particularly intriguing they find poem 3, which deconstructs the convention of imperial panegyric literature to draw on portraiture: while claiming to outdo even the best painter, the poem paradoxically represents in its versus intexti a simple geometric pattern. Irmgard Männlein-Robert equally investigates the puzzling picture of poem 3 and explains it as a deliberate strategy of ambiguousness. Furthermore, she interprets the poet's frequent use of weaving, painting and singing metaphors throughout the corpus as a multimedia address to the emperor which highlights not only the visual and intellectual but also the performative aspect of Optatian's compositions.

The following two contributions deal with Optatian's word material. Martin Bažil explores the metaphor of weaving and in particular Optatian's use of the word textus in relation to earlier Latin poetry and contemporary innovative notions of textuality, especially as found in Christian commentators on the bible. He argues that Optatian's poems, most notably the carmina cancellata, are representatives of a fundamental transformation of the concept of text in this period.

Aaron Pelttari's contribution contains a lexicographical analysis of poem 25, in which the words can be rearranged according to certain rules to new poems with the same metrical pattern. His aim is to show how interlinked lexicographical databases, which allow easy tracing of relevant intertexts, can significantly help our understanding of and working on late- antique poets, who heavily draw on and play with the long tradition of poetic diction.

The next three contributions look at Optatian's poetry in their philosophical, religious and intellectual context. Thomas Habinek investigates Optatian's poems in the broader context of late-antique philosophy, employing Aristotelian, Neoplatonic and Stoic ontology. Allowing multiple ways of reading on and beneath the surface, Optatian's poems represent ontological puzzles and as such tie in with other artefacts of the age of Constantine.

Meditating on the closeness of magic and poetry, Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe compares Optatian's poetry to contemporary gems and explores similarities in their use of signs (e.g. the Christian chi-rho symbol) and their protecting and promoting power.

Jesús Hernández Lobato looks at Optatian's works as conceptual poetry by juxtaposing them to twentieth century conceptual art. Many of the underlying notions which characterise this modern art movement mirror the cultural, philosophical and religious paradigm shifts of the early fourth century AD. Thus, the author argues, the poems reflect in artistic expression intellectual problems addressed by famous philosophers and Christian thinkers such as Augustine or Gregory of Nyssa.

The last contribution by Jaś Elsner and John Henderson termed as an envoi to the whole volume contains a retrospect to its themes, a literary-historical contextualisation of the poems and an outlook into the future of scholarship on Optatian.

Authors and Titles

Michael Squire: Optatian and his lettered art: A kaleidoscopic lens on late antiquity
Johannes Wienand: Publilius Optatianus Porfyrius: The man and his book
Jan Kwapisz: Optatian and the order of court riddlers
Anna-Lena Körfer: Lector ludens: Spiel und Rätsel in Optatians Panegyrik
Meike Rühl: Vielschichtige Palimpseste: Optatians Panegyrik und die Möglichkeiten individueller Lektüren
Marie-Odile Bruhat: The treatment of space in Optatian's poetry
Petra Schierl and Cédric Scheidegger Lämmle: Herrscherbilder: Optatian und die Strukturen des Panegyrischen
Irmgard Männlein-Robert: Morphogrammata - Klangbilder? Überlegungen zur Poetik und Medialität bei Optatian
Martin Bažil: Elementorum varius textus: Atomistisches und Anagrammatisches in Optatians Textbegriff
Aaron Pelttari: A lexicographical approach to the poetry of Optatian
Thomas Habinek: Optatian and his œuvre: Explorations in ontology
Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe: The power of the jewelled style: Christian signs and names in Optatian's versus intexti and on gems
Jesús Hernández Lobato: Conceptual poetry: Rethinking Optatian from contemporary art
Jaś Elsner and John Henderson: Envoi: A diptych
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Sunday, September 17, 2017


P. G. Walsh, Augustine: 'De Civitate Dei' Books XIII and XIV. Edited with an Introduction, Translation and Commentary. Aris & Phillips classical texts. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2016. Pp. 218. ISBN 9780856688775. £50.00.

Reviewed by Gillian Clark, University of Bristol (gillian.clark@bristol.ac.uk)

Version at BMCR home site

Peter Walsh (1923-2013), an excellent classical and medieval Latinist and translator of a wide range of texts, published in 2005 his text and translation, with commentary, of Augustine City of God books 1 and 2. He called it 'this pioneering edition … with the possibility of other volumes to follow' (vi), and untypically for Aris & Phillips Classical Texts, other volumes did follow. The series offers texts which might be studied by high school and college students of Greek and Latin, such as Euripides and Xenophon, Cicero and Sallust. The envisaged reader is evidently not a beginner, but does not expect a full academic commentary. The series offers an affordable paperback of a short complete work, or of one or two books of a longer work, with text, facing translation, brief introduction, and commentary which is succinct, but fuller than that allowed in most annotated translations. It is worth noting that in recent years some translation series, for example Ancient Christian Writers, have increased their annotation in response to the needs of readers, and that William Babcock's two-volume translation of City of God, in the series 'The Works of St Augustine: a translation for the 21st Century' (New York City Press, 2012), offers a full introduction and generous annotation. Volumes in the Bibliothèque Augustinienne provide Latin text (noting differences between two major editions), French translation with notes, and an extensive introduction and notes complémentaires. But, as the new publishers of Walsh's volumes say, this is the only edition of these books in English which provides a text and commentary.

Who, then, are the envisaged readers, and what help do they need? Are they reading, or teaching, these books as set texts (in Classics, in Theology, in Early Christian Studies?), or consulting Walsh for information on a passage or a theme? How much do they already know, and how easily can they follow up 'see further'? These are never easy questions to answer, and they have prompted lively debate on the methods and assumptions of classical commentary (see Christina Kraus and Christopher Stray, eds, Classical Commentaries: Explorations in a Scholarly Genre, OUP 2015).

City of God has 22 books, each, with the exception of the very long Book 18, about the length of a chapter in a present-day academic work. After his 'pioneering edition' Walsh published Books 3-4 (2007), 5 (2009), 6-7 (2010), 8-9 (2013), 10 (2014) and 11-12 (2015). The volume under review reaches 13-14, and 15-16, the point at which Walsh's work ended, is advertised for July 2017. By 2005, late antiquity was securely part of Classics, but late ancient texts were rarely part of the classical curriculum. So City of God was an unexpected addition to the Aris & Phillips series, even though Augustine wrote it in the classical Latin which was instilled by late ancient education, and even though, knowing that non- Christian readers did not accept the authority of Judaeo-Christian scripture, he cited the classical authorities they were taught to respect. For medieval and early modern readers, City of God, especially books 1-10, was a treasure-house of citations from lost classical works: the Antiquitates of Varro, Cicero de re publica, Seneca de superstitione, Porphyry de regressu animae. Commentators in this period, including Vives who was commissioned by Erasmus, said that readers were already well informed on Christian scripture and theology, but needed help with the classical references which predominate in Books 1-10 and Book 18. J.E.C.Welldon (like Augustine, a teacher before he was a bishop) is credited with the first English commentary (1924), but much of it is not in English, because he assumed readers like himself: classically trained clergy needing little more than references to Greek, Latin and Hebrew texts with which they were already familiar. It is likely that present-day readers need at least as much help with Augustine's exegesis and theology, which predominate in the second part of City of God, as with the classical material.

In a letter (1A*) written when City of God was finished, Augustine explained how the books should be bound, in two codices or in five, in accordance with the structure. Books 1-10 refute those who think that many gods should be worshipped, for blessings in this life (books 1-5) or for blessings after death (books 6-10). Books 11-22 expound the origins, course, and due ends (four books for each) of the two cities to which all rational beings belong: the city of God, whose citizens are all angels and humans who love God, and the earthly city, whose citizens are all angels and humans who love themselves. Books 13-14, the second half of the four books on origins, conclude (14.28) with Augustine's fullest and most quoted definition of the two cities (Walsh does not remark on this). In Books 11-12 Augustine discussed the creation of the universe, the creation of angels and how some turned to themselves instead of to God, and the creation of human beings; he worked chiefly with exegesis of scripture, but gave some attention to rival philosophical theories of the making of the universe. The next question is the fall of humanity, which brought into the world death, sexual desire, and sexual shame. Books 13-14 are therefore concerned with topics of universal interest: how it all went wrong, death and afterlife, body and soul, emotion and sex, including Augustine's speculations (14.23) on how the human race would have reproduced if Adam and Eve had not sinned.

The series does not offer new critical editions, and Walsh follows the standard text of Dombart and Kalb (ed. 4, 1928-9, often reprinted), noting in the commentary any small divergences. Vincent Hunink, reviewing Books 8-9 in BMCR 2013.10.46, suggested that the annotation could include discussion of textual matters, but in practice there are few specifically textual problems. Walsh's translation is, as always, lucid, accurate, and pleasing to read. Inevitably, there are some debatable choices. Why, for instance, translate non enim potestas sed egestas edendi ac bibendi talibus corporibus auferetur (13.22) as 'it is not their chosen option [my italics], but the need to eat and drink which will be relieved in such bodies'? Is 'depression' the best translation for tristitia (14.5 and elsewhere), when Augustine is concerned with surges of emotion as well as settled states? Voluntas (14.6 and elsewhere) is conventionally, but questionably, translated 'will', and this highlights the question of the needs of readers. The commentary does not alert them to the one page (209) of Addenda, which include a warning that Augustine's use of voluntas was always ambivalent, and a comment that 'emotions are quite simply acts of the will' does not mean 'emotions are a matter of self-control'. But Walsh does not discuss what 'all emotions are nothing more than voluntates' does mean, or observe that some scholars think that 'will' is not a helpful translation because 'will' as a faculty is a later concept (see Sarah Byers, Perception, Sensibility and Moral Motivation in Augustine, CUP 2012). No commentator ever answers all the questions, but this example points to a general need for fuller annotation and for guidance to recent resources.

Walsh would perhaps have returned to this volume in the light of comments from the publisher's readers or of his own work on later books. The material he left demonstrates his wide-ranging classical scholarship and his familiarity with Christian scripture and tradition. It has been seen through the press by the classicist Christopher Collard, who has published in the same series. He says (iv) that his 'role has been that of copy-editor' and that he has 'corrected only slips'. This is an understandable policy, but it leaves some puzzles for readers, especially if they have not used earlier volumes in the sequence. What, for instance, is the significance of the two asterisks on p. 4, three lines down? Do the Abbreviations and Bibliography list only the works which are cited in this volume? The answer to the second question is 'no', because Walsh's practice was to offer only a brief list of titles relevant to a specific volume. For general guidance he referred readers to the works listed in the preface of Corpus Christianorum series Latina, vol. 47 (Brepols 1955) and in Gerard O'Daly's invaluable City of God: A Reader's Guide (OUP 1999). The latest work listed in this volume was published in 2000, and some much older works are not now easy to find, or assume a high level of classical or theological knowledge. Peter Brown's classic Augustine of Hippo is listed as 1967, without mention of the second edition (2000) which adds chapters on new discoveries and approaches. Notable absences from the Bibliography include John Rist, Augustine: Christian Thought Baptized (1994), and the many on-line and print resources for the study of Augustine which have appeared since the turn of the millennium. The patristic scholar Isabella Image contributes an appendix on Books 13-14 in the context of the Pelagian controversy; she could also have been invited to update the bibliography, and Peter Walsh's scholarship could have been made more accessible for new generations of readers less expert than himself. He worked to the very end of a long life, and he is remembered with respect and affection.

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Stephan Dusil, Gerald Schwedler, Raphael Schwitter (ed.), Exzerpieren - Kompilieren - Tradieren: Transformationen des Wissens zwischen Spätantike und Frühmittelalter. Millennium-Studien / Millennium studies, 64. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2017. Pp. viii, 264. ISBN 9783110501261. $126.00.

Reviewed by Mary Alberi, Pace University (malberi@pace.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

Exzerpieren publishes papers first presented at a conference in Zürich, held in 2013. In their introductory comments, the volume's editors reject older paradigms of cultural "decline and fall," which assume that the transformation of knowledge during the fourth to eighth centuries inevitably signaled a change for the worse. Certainly, late antique and early medieval authors did simplify literary, historical, and legal knowledge inherited from the classical past. Much knowledge was lost as well. But the editors of this volume argue that an unbiased approach to the subject is necessary. They present the papers in this collection as a starting point of an investigation into the methods late antique and early medieval authors used in their adaptation of classical learning for a rapidly changing society. The detailed studies of the transformation of knowledge which follow undertake this investigation by analyzing these methods: excerpting, compiling, and transmitting knowledge. The arrangement of papers according to these methods demonstrates how late antique and early medieval authors, often disparaged for lacking originality, created a storehouse of knowledge for their historical era. Three papers are in English, the rest in German. All the papers have abstracts in English.

Marietta Horster's study of the Periochae, an abbreviation of Livy's History by an anonymous fourth-century epitomator, opens the section on excerpts. Comparison of passages on the Second Punic War from Livy and the Periochae reveals how the epitomator created an original narrative. Rather than following Livy in his emphasis on the Roman Republic, the narrative of the Periochae adopts epic conventions, highlighting its heroes' moral attributes.

Christian Rohr studies the way Isidore and Bede excerpted passages on meteorological phenomena from the second book of Pliny's Naturalis historia, which both authors knew first hand. While following Pliny's organization, Isidore offered an explicitly Christian interpretation of meteorological phenomena in his Etymologiae. Intent on brevity, Bede excerpted passages from both Pliny and Isidore in his De natura rerum, but omitted Isidore's moralizing interpretations. Rohr's discussion of twelfth- and thirteenth-century encyclopaedists challenges the notion that classical knowledge was inevitably lost. Indeed, these later authors added excerpts from Aristotle to information taken from Pliny, Isidore, and Bede.

The volume's second section, on compiling, begins with Inge Kroppenberg's reconsideration of the Codex Theodosianus. Rather than dismissing the Codex because it does not conform to modern notions of jurisprudence, Kroppenberg suggests that further research should concentrate on the pastoral nature of late imperial rule, the sacral qualities of the Codex, and its place in the creation of a Christian Roman political community.

Carmen Cardelle de Hartmann suggests that Isidore wrote an early version of Etymologiae, Books I-X, as a compilation of essential knowledge intended for the use of the Visigothic King Sisebut (612-621) and his court. Isidore handled his pagan and Jewish sources carefully to minimize their potential influence on his Christian readers. He clearly thought aspects of classical culture, such as speculative philosophy, were out of date, and he omitted all mention of them. This version of the Etymologiae had political significance for Sisebut's efforts to wrest control of southeastern Spain from the Byzantine emperor, since enhanced knowledge of Roman culture might support his claims to legitimacy.

According to Hans-Georg Hermann, the compilation of early medieval leges was a complex process. Political circumstances and the need to decide pressing cases led early medieval kings to preserve some laws, alter others, or even consign others to oblivion. Hermann's analysis of law governing donation of mobile goods in a southern Frankish collection made during the second half of the sixth century, the Fragmenta Gaudenziana 15 (London, British Library, Add. MSS 46676), illustrates this process. Compiled from as many as four unacknowledged sources, the Fragmenta created new law to meet contemporary needs.

Mayke De Jong examines sources used by Paschasius Radbertus, a monk, later abbot of Corbie, in his Epitaphium Arsenii, written to honor Radbert's mentor, Abbot Wala of Corbie, nicknamed Arsenius. The Epitaphium Arsenii defends Wala, a member of the Carolingian family, whose involvement in a failed rebellion against Emperor Louis the Pious in the early 830s cost him his abbacy and left his monastery open to allegations of infidelity. Written in two stages, the first book in the 830s, the second in the 850s, the Epitaphium Arsenii presents Radbert's highly original version of the contentious politics of Louis the Pious's reign. In a wide-ranging discussion of his classical and patristic sources, De Jong shows how Radbert's choice of sources and style altered over time. He cited Terence frequently, either directly or through intermediate patristic sources, in the first book of the Epitaphium Arsenii. But in the 850s, when political conflicts ended in his retirement from Corbie's abbacy, Terentian irony no longer seemed so apt. Instead, Radbert rebuked Wala's enemies in language borrowed from Jeremiah and Job. Political turmoil, however, led to Radbert's deeper engagement with Cicero, evident in his use of res publica to describe the resources of the Carolingian polity. Unfortunately, De Jong's paper suffers from typographical errors.

Annina Seiler analyzes twenty-five Old English glosses from the Épinal glossary, unusual in their early use of the runic characters, wyn and thorn. These glosses evidence an Old English orthography that had fallen out of favor by the time the Épinal glossary was copied in the late seventh or early eighth century. Seiler demonstrates that these glosses originated as aids to the study of Orosius's Historiae adversum paganos and Isidore's Etymologiae. Since the glosses show more extensive reading of Isidore than previously recognized, more research is necessary, especially since their ultimate origin may be Canterbury's cathedral school in the time of Archbishop Theodore and Abbot Hadrian. Seiler lists the glosses using wyn or thorn in an appendix to the paper.

The third section of the volume, on the transmission of knowledge, begins with Julian Führer's paper on taxation in the Merovingian kingdom. Führer argues that Merovingian kings adapted imperial Rome's tax system for their own use. He exposes as unfounded the assumption that taxation ended in the late sixth-century Frankish kingdom. This assumption stems from a misunderstanding of Gregory of Tours' protest against excessive, illegitimate, taxes, levied forcefully by King Chilperich and his queen, Fredegunda. Frankish kings were still collecting taxes in Fredegar's time, although their administration, now centered on royal treasuries in a divided kingdom, no longer resembled imperial Rome's. Führer makes a strong case for the application of their extensive knowledge of imperial administrative practices in the Frankish kingdom. Yet evidence of such administrative practice has to be balanced against the significant political and social change occurring within the emerging Frankish kingdom. The end result seems to be a tax system that had been modified gradually over several centuries, in a process that casts doubt upon the model of an abrupt rupture in administrative practices with the foundation of so-called barbarian kingdoms.

Ian Wood questions the assumption that late Merovingian culture was in decline. Wood finds ample evidence for knowledge of classical and patristic texts in seventh- and early eighth-century manuscripts and in works written by contemporary Merovingian authors. Yet Merovingian authors cited the classics less frequently than the Bible and Fathers, which were more suited to their interest in writing hagiography and the history of the church and the Frankish kingdom. Wood's provisional list of Merovingian manuscripts at the end of his paper comes with a reminder that much has been lost which otherwise would provide more evidence of knowledge of classical culture in the later Merovingian period. His paper demonstrates the need for more investigation into the Merovingian origins of what is often described as the Carolingian renaissance.

Karl Ubl's analysis of the rediscovered Septinas septem provides evidence for the continuity of legal knowledge in the Merovingian period. Copied between 750 and 780 in the northern Frankish kingdom, this version of the Septinas septem, now Paris, Bnf, lat. 4411, is one of the earliest witnesses to the late sixth-century C-text of the Lex salica. Whoever compiled the Septinas septem wanted to create a guide for use of the Lex salica. The contents of the Septinas septem indicate that the Lex salica was still in use during the later Merovingian period, contradicting the view that it had fallen into disuse prior to Carolingian reform. Ubl suggests the Lex salica played a role in the formation of Frankish identity, for the compiler of the Septinas septem made a significant change in substituting Francus as a synonym for the original ingenuus found in the Lex salica. Ubl's paper ends with a critical edition of the Septinas septem from Paris, Bnf, lat. 4411.

Peter Stotz's paper summarizes previously published research on a late tenth- century anthology of late antique and early medieval historical texts, now preserved in a copy of a lost exemplar, MS Bamberg Staatsbibliothek, Hist. 3. Intended for aristocratic Italian lay readers, this historical anthology contained simplified versions of several texts, many pertaining to Lombard history. The anthologist modified the original texts' vocabulary to make the material more comprehensible to Italian speakers, abridged and simplified content, and added passages of moralizing Christian instruction.

The volume ends with a brief conclusion by Andreas Their. Their highlights the importance of Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages in the creation of a canon of literary and legal texts used throughout the Middle Ages, the innovative applications of knowledge in a creative transformation of knowledge, and the necessity of examining the immediate social and political conditions which influenced the ways late antique and early medieval authors chose to modify knowledge.

In general, the papers in Exzerpieren-Kompilieren-Tradieren offer valuable insights into the way late antique and early medieval authors and their audiences coped with rapid political and social change. However they responded to changing circumstances, these authors made deliberate choices about preserving, modifying, or even consigning to oblivion knowledge available to them. This is as true of the fourth-century anonymous author of the Periochae, about whom little is known at present, as of the better known, ninth-century Radbert of Corbie. The papers in this volume not only make a convincing case for the need for more research into the methods by which late antique and early medieval authors creatively transformed the learning of the ancient world, but also provide models for carrying on that research in the future.

Moreover, the papers in Exzerpieren-Kompilieren-Tradieren clearly demonstrate that older paradigms of decline and fall, focused almost exclusively on discontinuity and rupture, obscure the subtle changes that are the hallmark of a paradoxical era. While acknowledging the significant loss of knowledge, these papers provide alternative approaches to understanding the creative transformation of knowledge by examining in detail a particular author's intention and methods. As a result, papers on a seemingly abstract topic offer valuable insights into the inner lives of a number of late antique and early medieval authors, some well-known, others obscure in their anonymity. The result is a significant contribution to the growing body of research on this as well as other topics, which as a whole call into question a host of assumptions about those frameworks of historical periodization which create artificial distinctions between Antiquity and the Middle Ages.

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Friday, September 15, 2017


Andrew Hui, The Poetics of Ruins in Renaissance Literature. Verbal Arts: Studies in Poetics. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016. Pp. x, 282; 8 p. of plates. ISBN 9780823274314. $28.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Susanna de Beer, Leiden University (s.t.m.de.beer@hum.leidenuniv.nl)

Version at BMCR home site

This book posits the emergence of a distinct Renaissance poetics of ruins, explaining "how Renaissance poets used the topos of architectural ruins to think about the life cycle of their own works—from conception, composition, print, revisions and circulation to afterlife" (p. 5). Hui's vision can be summarized as this poetics being a transformation of the ancient poetic immortality topos, which compared poetry to monuments, under the influence of the Renaissance reality of the Roman ruins.

On the one hand, Hui argues, "confronted with the monumental detritus of antiquity, Renaissance writers hoped to craft a more enduring artefact" (p.2). This hope was supported by the very survival of ancient literature as proof that the ancient writers' claims of poetic immortality had indeed come true. Renaissance writers thus continued the Horatian adagium of "a monument more enduring than bronze," but replaced the ancient monuments with the ruins they saw around them, an even stronger point of reference to set their poetic aspirations against.

On the other hand, as Hui points out, "beneath this exultant sheen of poetic everlastingness, humanist poets were never entirely comfortable with such hyperbolic claims, since so much of ancient letters clearly did not survive" (p.4). The ruins thus offered not only a contrasting image, but also an analogy for the present state of antiquity's literature and language(s). This spurred the poets to restore this situation in their literary works, while also reminding them of the contingency of cultural survival in general.

As poets realized that literary survival was not guaranteed by fixity or permanence, Hui states, "the Renaissance poetic response to ruins is […] to create a work of art that absorbs the past and is in turn open to future appropriation and mutation. The Poetics of Ruins in Renaissance Literature imagines fluid multiplicity rather than fixed monumentalization as a survival strategy in the classical tradition" (p.3). Although I am not convinced that this is a typical Renaissance strategy, through the passage in Ovid's Amores which Hui quotes in comparison, the author convincingly shows that it is typical for Renaissance authors to use the ruins to thematize the "crisis of preservation".1 Moreover, unlike their ancient predecessors who limited the expected life cycle of their works to the Roman empire, Renaissance writers realized that the reception of their work could also be guaranteed beyond their own nation or language. At the same time, they set a new limit by their emphasis on apocalyptic time (p.46).

Hui's book is different from many other books on the Renaissance fascination with ruins and on ruin poetry, as it is not interested in poetic descriptions of ruins as such, but only in the way the ruins are employed as metapoetic tropes for literature and literary survival. Moreover, and this is arguably the greatest strength of the book, it adopts a comparative transnational approach. This is especially important because it does justice to the transnational nature of the poetic discourse on ruins, as well as the chain of receptions within this discourse. Not without reason, Hui chooses three authors (Petrarch, Du Bellay, and Spenser), who are "not only the most illustrious writers of their vernacular literature who talk about ruins, but they also talk to each other precisely on the subject of ruins" (p. 18). Hui's comparative approach also immediately shows its worth in the insights about the Renaissance poetics of ruins used to formulate his own critical positions towards the individual authors discussed.

In the introduction Hui describes his methodology as "embracing the principles of close reading and cultural semantics developed by Eric Auerbach and Leo Spitzer" (p. 14). In keeping with the topic of his book he sees an analogy between the humanist reconstruction of the ancient past and his own philological reconstruction of the humanist poetic discourse on ruins. As a specific method of entering this discourse he turns to cultural semantics because he believes "that a single word contains within itself a microhistory of ideas, resonating with overtones beyond its literal sense" (p. 17). Accordingly, Hui has chosen "three words with expansive semantic reach and deep etymological roots": vestigium (trace) in Petrarch, cendre (ashes) in Du Bellay, and moniment (monument) in Spenser (p.17).

Before moving on to these authors, Hui concisely but comprehensively outlines his understanding of the two main elements in the book's title: poetics and ruins. Chapter 1 "traces the geneaology of the poetic immortality topos from antiquity to the sixteenth century" (p. 30), while Chapter 2 offers a "synchronic portrait of Renaissance Rome" as a means to introduce the humanist fascination with ruins.

Chapter 3 traces the poetics of ruins in Petrarch's oeuvre, discussing examples from his Rerum vulgarium fragmenta, the Africa, the letters, and the Secretum. Hui is interested not only in Petrarch's poetic and metapoetic meditations on the ancient ruins, but also in how this work is implicitly driven by the discourse of ruins. Thus the chapter moves from Petrarch's investigations into the past as a piecing together of fragments to create an ideal Rome, to his search for vestigia in terms of imitation. In practice this means that much of the chapter traces Petrarch's intertextual links with predecessors like Cicero, Virgil, Lucan, and Dante.

Chapter 4 on the Hypnoteromachia Poliphili is perhaps the odd one out, because no specific word is chosen to characterize it and it is much shorter than the other three. Nevertheless, it is informative of the erotic and comic aspects of the Renaissance fascination with ruins as "a yearning for an unattainable wholeness" (p. 137).

Chapter 5 centres on the word and the idea of cendre (ashes) in Du Bellay's oeuvre, with a special focus on Les Antiquitez de Rome. Hui shows that ashes as an image of Rome and Latinity in ruins enabled Du Bellay to "plunder its scattered remains and export them to France" (p. 19). Moreover, through an analogy with dust and Lucretian atoms, ashes can also signify the "atomization of other texts" out of which all literature is produced. By so doing Hui suggests that Du Bellay focuses on the impossiblity of really restoring or bringing to life the ancient texts or the ancient city, something that Petrarch still wished for.

In Chapter 6, discussing passages from A Theatre for Voluptuous Worldlings, the Amoretti, the Shepheardes Calender, The Ruines of Time, and the Faerie Queene, Hui shows the ambivalent place that scenes of ruination have in Spenser's work. Spenser both mourns them and sees them "as victorious signs of divinely sanctioned punishment" (p. 180). By starting with the ancient etymologies of the word moniment, Hui convincingly shows that Spenser indeed conceives of his poetic works as memorials, but also sees the "limitations of the poetic immortality topos". Like the previous ones, this chapter also identifies the poetics of ruins in the form of Spenser's oeuvre, enumerating several ways in which allegories in the Faerie Queene can be perceived as ruins (p. 212).

In the Epilogue the author returns to the initial question posed to him by a Japanese friend: "Why are the ruins still there?" (p. 1). At the end of this book, which Hui conceived of as the long answer to that question, he comes to the conclusion that even though there is an Asian poetics of ruins, it lacks the typically European hope for poetic immortality and sublimity that is inspired by the association with ruins.

These short summaries can by no means do justice to the admirably rich interpretations and varied reading strategies each chapter has to offer. The three words that form the basis for Hui's cultural semantics are very well-chosen, as they each highlight a different aspect of the discourse on ruins, summarized by the author as follows: "If vestigium is form without matter, and cendre is matter without form, then moniment is supposed to be the coalescence of form and matter into a well-wrought artifact of allegory" (p. 179).

The book as a whole is very well grounded in primary and secondary literature covering a substantial part of the authors' oeuvres, alongside a wide range of other cultural-historical and philosophical topics. Moreover, it offers very readable translations and discusses a number of relevant works of art in comparison.2 This is no small achievement, given the interdisciplinary nature of the topic. The book thus speaks not only to scholars in Renaissance (art) history and Classical Reception Studies, but also to specialists of the authors discussed.

Hui is an attentive reader and an associative writer. He is very good at drawing comparisons and connecting dots that were not connected before. The poetics of ruins has also clearly sharpened his skill in observing fascinating analogies, such as the analogy between the longing for the absent past and that for the absent friend in Petrarch (p. 117), the analogy between sexual and archaeological desire in the Hypnoteromachia Poliphili (p. 140), the analogy between translation and the ruin in Du Bellay (p. 165), and the analogy between the "non finito" and the ruin in Spenser (p. 214- 215), to name but one example for each chapter.3

However, this associative style of writing—Hui characterizes it himself in the chapter on Du Bellay as moving "through the agitations of associations rather than the trajectory of a single argument" (p. 146)—also means that the book offers no systematic overview of the wide range of connections between the discourse of ruins and the Renaissance poetics it brings to the fore. This is also a result of Hui's decision to assign every author his own word and thus emphasize individual appropriations of the poetics of ruins. This leaves less space for a potentially productive exploration of links between the themes in different chapters. One could for example identify an ethics of ruins in the link between the medieval notion of the ruin's power to teach a moral lesson on the vanity of all things (p. 67) and Spenser's interpretation of monimenta as true reminders of "the divine admonishment of human vanity" (p. 185).

Likewise, a politics of ruins could be discerned in Petrarch's wish to 'reconstruct' Rome in writing, in Du Bellay's "nationalist zeal for creative destruction" (p.179), and in Spenser's "sense of nationhood" (p.192). Such a conception ties in with the fact that the Renaissance fascination with ruins, apart from eliciting universal meditations on human aspirations and cultural survival, is also very much a fascination with the fate of Rome: whether it was just, whether it was reversible, and if so, how? These questions drive much of the "ironic reasoning" that Hui rightly observes in Du Bellay: "[H]e uses the authority of the ancients to legitimate his own appropriation of the ancients" (p. 167). This same ironic reasoning can be observed in Du Bellay's attitude towards Latin, which should be plundered and replaced at the same time. I would suggest that the irony goes even further, since Du Bellay also wrote about Rome in Latin, and stated in Latin that—in contrast to Rome itself—Latin was still very much alive.4

One could go on with examples like this, with the risk of even further complicating the already very complex discourse that Hui's book addresses. Indeed, he deserves praise for having restricted the number of examples he gives to support his thesis, while at the same time not limiting himself to only one cultural realm. In this way, he sets an example for a type of Renaissance studies that bridges both temporal and linguistic divides, just as ruins do.


1.   Hui quotes from Ovid's Amores 1.15 on p. 218.
2.   The book has 14 black and white and 8 color illustrations.
3.   I find the analogy between the ruin and the printing plate (p. 48) less productive.
4.   In the passage of Du Bellay's Latin Descriptio Romae, quoted on p. 172.

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Roger S. Bagnall, Roberta Casagrande-Kim, Akin Ersoy, Cumhur Tanriver, Burak Yolaçan (ed.), Graffiti from the Basilica in the Agora of Smyrna. New York: Institute for the Study of the Ancient World; New York University Press, 2016. Pp. x, 488. ISBN 9781479864645. $85.00.

Reviewed by Peter Keegan, Macquarie University (peter.keegan@mq.edu.au)

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In his preface, Roger Bagnall outlines the stages of conservation and scholarship over the period 2003-2016 involved in bringing the graffiti in this volume to light, including the extent to which co-authors, copyists, and photographers were "mindful of the difficulties inherent in any method of publishing walls full of texts and drawings" (p. ix). The stated aim of the project is a model for similar efforts in the future: providing drawings and photographs that show the relationship of verbal and pictorial elements, allowing readers "to detect connections or distinctions" beyond those presented in the publication (p. x).

The introduction (pp. 1-54) contextualizes the catalogue of graffiti to follow, comprising: a history of excavations in Smyrna (Ersoy); a description of the Agora Basilica from its construction phases to abandonment (2nd century BCE to the beginning of the 7th century CE), including a closely detailed examination of its two main parts, the cryptoporticus and the building above courtyard level (Yolaçan); a brief commentary on the general characteristics of the graffiti (Bagnall), followed by a detailed overview of the pictorial graffiti (Casagrande-Kim); a careful review of criteria useful in dating the textual graffiti—internal evidence (e.g. use of era years, particular titles), palaeography and references to money (Bagnall); a synthesis of the language of the graffiti—phonetic interchanges, spellings and new word types; references to the "healing of eyes" and to "someone or something capable of being thanked" (i.e. the Baite); cultural formations (Christianity, civic pride); identification of names with numbers (isopsephism) in religious and erotic contexts; and the phenomenon of word-play (Bagnall). Next is the catalogue of graffiti (pp. 55-462) discovered during excavation of the basement level of the Basilica. Texts and descriptions are based on copies of graffiti and original photographs taken in 2003 and 2004. Subsequent to renewed conservation, the cleaning process revealed newer discoveries, leading to a complete revision against the original photographs and copies in 2012, followed by a final revision of the recently discovered texts and collation against all the drawings in 2014.

The system used in the catalogue for identifying the graffiti—either T(ext) or D(rawing)—is based on (a) original numbering of bays and piers in the basement1 and (b) a second numbering later introduced for reference to graffiti where there was no original bay number. A concordance to the systems (p. 479) and a plan of the basement (Fig. 4, p. 5) provide clarity for the reader.

A strength of this volume is the sheer number of previously unpublished texts and drawings, but also the team's careful attention to both texts and drawings. The remainder of this review will focus on several categories of graffiti and individual texts and drawings deserving special attention.

Bagnall notes that a significant number of graffiti refer to eyes, and some to the healing of eyes (pp. 42-4). Using the pertinent inscriptions (T12.2, 14.1, 14.3, 15.4, 16.1, 27.1, 27.2, 103.2; pp. 149-50, 173, 175, 183, 200, 264-66, 440), Bagnall convincingly reconstructs the critical phases associated with the healing process: a prayer for the eyes, the act of healing, and the dedication of lamps in thanksgiving. Intriguingly, based on particular references to (the) Baite and the act of drinking, it is possible that the local population associated the healing with a fountain or spring, and may have personalized or divinized this water source accordingly. Another equally fascinating category of verbal inscription displays the phenomenon of isopsephism; namely, a selection of graffiti that include the formula "I love a woman whose number is …". What is striking about the isopsephic items in the Smyrna corpus is not simply that the graffiti allow the identification of names associated with the various numerical values but help to enhance our understanding of the phenomenon. Taken in conjunction with the expression of word-play discernible in a number of texts—e.g., two graffiti preserving a new example of a five-by-five letter square (T9.6, T12.1; pp. 122-3, 148)—the Smyrna corpus accommodates the possibility that using a number to conceal the identity of a particular (female) object of desire conforms not so much to preserving the secrecy of the writer's erotic fixation as to the evident playfulness of the practice.

The catalogue of iconographic subjects provides similar fodder for closer study. Roberta Casagrande-Kim suggests that the bustling corridor with the greatest distribution of surviving pictorial graffiti constituted a "primary venue where one could openly display extemporaneous messages as well as more complex scenes depicting widely popular motifs" (p. 24). Importantly, the images and texts on the bays and piers of the cryptoporticus were accessible on a daily basis to a diverse viewership of persons that used the corridor to move within the Basilica or the Agora. Based on the range of artistic renditions (schematic to complex) and the degree of detail in many of the painted images (dipinti) of gladiatorial combat and ancient ships (the most common themes in the corpus of images), Casagrande-Kim is also able to suggest that certain graffiti were planned to address certain needs and with the consent of individuals or institutions who owned the surface on which the drawings were made or who had an interest in promoting the images in such a public space. For example, the complex series of images in Bay 28 (= G35, between piers A39 and A40) of gladiatorial combats and of spectators cheering at the games may reasonably be associated with a gladiatorial familia (eight of the 31 images of gladiators, combat scenes, and three scenes of venatio preserved in the cryptoporticus [DP28.2-8, pp. 276-87]). The images on Pier 84 of the incised hulls and painted sails of two ships (two of the 48 surviving images of ships [DP 84.2, 84.4, pp. 403, 405]) reflect familiarity with marine engineering or at least empirical knowledge of seafaring, as well as with the primary vessels of the provincial Roman fleets (as indicated by reverse types of ship's bows with high, inward-curved acrostolia on the local 3rd century CE coinage).

The catalogue also includes, in decreasing order of number, a record of images depicting geometric or nonfigural motifs, portraits of individuals, phalli, animals, and architecture.

The book concludes with a bibliography, an index of Greek words (names of persons, geographical names, divinities, money, and voces magicae), an index of subjects and motifs of drawings, a general index, and concordances with the present volume of Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 61 and of piers and bays (pp. 463-88).

This volume represents a fine piece of scholarship that confirms the utility of graffiti as a source of evidence that builds on the collaborative work of art historians and philologists, affords opportunities for enriching our knowledge and understanding of archaeology, epigraphy, language use, palaeography, and social and cultural history associated with a particular Graeco-Roman site, and more broadly adds another substantial point of reference in the growing repertoire of graffiti studies that relate to the form and function of informal marking practices in antiquity.2


1.   As used by Roger S. Bagnall, Everyday Writing in the Graeco-Roman East, Berkeley; Los Angeles; London 2011, pp. 7-26.
2.   Jennifer Baird, Claire Taylor (ed.), Ancient Graffiti in Context, London-New York 2010; Rebecca Benefiel, Peter Keegan (ed.), Inscriptions in the Private Sphere in the Greco-Roman World, Leiden-Boston 2016; Peter Keegan, Graffiti in Antiquity, London-New York 2014; Kristina Milnor, Graffiti and the Literary Landscape in Roman Pompeii, Oxford 2014.

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W. V. Harris (ed.), Popular Medicine in Graeco-Roman Antiquity: Explorations. Columbia studies in the classical tradition, 42. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2016. Pp. xv, 319. ISBN 9789004325586. $138.00.

Reviewed by Kai Brodersen, Universität Erfurt​ (kai.brodersen@uni-erfurt.de)

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

It frequently happened to me on my journeys that when I myself or my family were ill, I made the acquaintance of various frauds of doctors (medici): Some sold very inferior remedies at tremendous prices, others dared to profit from diseases they were unable to heal. I have also seen that some were anxious to treat ailments, which they could remedy in just a few days or even hours, over a long time so that they could enrich themselves by their patients. Therefore the doctors were worse than the diseases themselves!
The author of this outburst, who refers to himself as "Plinius Iunior", then presents his readers a handy compilation of more than a thousand easily available and mainly natural healing agents and methods, thus providing them, the book's late antique and medieval copyists, and modern scholars with first-hand evidence for popular medicine in the Roman world.

Yet texts like the Medicina Plinii, which starts with the quotation above, have remained under researched, probably because of the fact that the work is "derivative" and mainly based on extant parts of Pliny the Elder's Naturalis Historia, with the addition of some "folk" medicine, some magic, and some items of what German-speaking researchers like to refer to as "Dreckapotheke" (dirt pharmacy). However, books like this provide us with valuable evidence for the practices and social settings of ancient healthcare, and explorations of popular medicine in Graeco-Roman antiquity are timely and most welcome. The present volume—inspired, and edited, by W. V. Harris—may be said to emulate "Plinius Iunior" in taking the study of ancient healthcare away from the professionals (in Harris's case, the historians of learned and temple medicines) and making the evidence, and methods, for its understanding more widely available.

This collection combines a substantial introduction by the editor and twelve essays of varying length and depth by experts in ancient medicine who were invited to a conference in Columbia University in 2014. The book focuses on popular medicine which the editor defines as "those practices aimed at averting or remedying illness that are followed by people who do not claim expertise in learned medicine (Gk. iatrike) and do not surrender their entire physical health to professional physicians (Gk. iatroi)." The book argues that our knowledge about ancient healthcare is "severely unbalanced" as there are "large bodies of evidence that concern elite/learned/rationalistic medicine on the one hand and temple medicine on the other", while "the evidence about popular medicine ... is scattered, refractory and elusive" (vii). The book aims to redress the balance, and certainly succeeds in making classicists and ancient historians more aware of the evidence, and the models used to interpret it, and thus to further our understanding of classical medicine in a wider sense.

In this reader's view the essays which are especially successful in widening the perception are Rebecca Flemming's study of anatomical votives in Republican Italy, which uses archaeological evidence often overlooked in studies of classical medicine, Isabella Andorlini's short but substantial piece on "crossing the borders between Egyptian and Greek medical practice" as shown in papyri, Catherine Hezser's essay on representations of the physician in Jewish literature from Hellenistic and Roman times, and Ido Israelowich's paper on medical care in the Roman army during the High Empire. All four succeed in adducing what may fairly be called "scattered, refractory and elusive" evidence to the main topic and thus strengthen the foundation of a model which argues for classical healthcare beyond professional and temple medicine. Other essays use the writings of professional physicians to show that they were aware of "popular" medicine and may have considered it as a competition (witness the evidence discussed by Laurence M.V. Totelin in her re-evaluation of the sources for the Pharmakopolai).

Oddly, however, a major body of evidence which is not really "scattered, refractory and elusive", is almost completely relegated to footnote 8 of the introduction: the so-called Euporista literature which enabled Graeco-Roman (and, as the many medieval copies of these books show, later) users of "popular medicine" to make use of "well accessible" (euporista) healing substances and methods without recourse to professional medics. The Medicina Plinii is indeed referred to in that footnote, as is Quintus Serenus (though classifying his work as "mainly a learned compilation" seems to me to put too much weight on form and too little on content), while other works, like Damigeron's—and, indeed, other—Lapidaria on the healing powers of stones are not even mentioned, and the Herbarius transmitted under the name of "Apuleius Platonicus" is only once referred to in passing when lunatics are discussed (269). Yet these, and similar, extant books from the Graeco-Roman world would strongly support the editor's, and many of the contributors', conviction that popular medicine represents a substantial, and often successful, mode of healthcare, especially outside the urban centres.1

The book is well produced (and expensive), and the editor as well as Caroline Wazer (whose contributions are acknowledged, and evident beyond her own paper and translation of Danielle Gourevitch's) are to be congratulated on making an important point regarding the evidence, and models, for studying ancient medicine. It is to be hoped that the editor's prediction that "a much more detailed and nuanced account of these matters will certainly be written in the future" (p. 64) will become reality before long, and that such an account will include the body of evidence we have in the Euporista literature.

In sum the volume makes a cogent case for further explorations in the emerging field of popular medicine in the classical world, and for entrusting such studies not only to professional historians of "learned" medicine, but also to experts in other bodies of evidence, and other methods, including especially social historians like W. V. Harris himself. Then Ps.-Apuleius, echoing the quotation from the Medicina Plinii, with which we began, will not have written the preface to his Herbarius in vain: "From many public documents we have truthfully handed down some powers of herbs and treatments for the body, because of the verbose stupidity of professionals (ob stupiditatem verbosam professionis). ... What do they do? Nothing! They wait for the opportunity and make a profit as they prolong the time for the treatment—indeed, I believe them to be more dangerous than the diseases themselves! As a way out, we shall present the names of the diseases which are now the most prevalent, and let our fellow-citizens, both our countrymen and foreigners, who suffer some physical ailment, find healing thanks to our written-down science (nostra litterata scientia) even against the will of the medici."

Table of Contents

Preface, List of Figures, Abbreviations, Notes on the Contributors
1. W.V. Harris: Popular Medicine in the Classical World
2. Laurence M.V. Totelin: Pharmakopolai. A Re-Evaluation of the Sources
3. Olympia Panagiotidou: Asclepius. A Divine Doctor, A Popular Healer
4. Rebecca Flemming: Anatomical Votives. Popular Medicine in Republican Italy?
5. Caroline Wazer: Between Public Health and Popular Medicine. Senatorial and Popular Responses to Epidemic Disease in the Roman Republic
6. Julia Laskaris: Metals in Medicine. From Telephus to Galen
7. Isabella Andorlini: Crossing the Borders Between Egyptian and Greek Medical Practice
8. Catherine Hezser: Representations of the Physician in Jewish Literature from Hellenistic and Roman Times
9. Chiara Thumiger: Fear, Hope and the Definition of Hippocratic Medicine
10. Ido Israelowich: Medical Care in the Roman Army during the High Empire
11. David Leith: How Popular Were the Medical Sects?
12. Danielle Gourevitch: Popular Medicines and Practices in Galen
13. Vivian Nutton: Folk Medicine in the Galenic Corpus
Bibliography, Index


1.   Cf., e. g., the excellent survey (not mentioned in the volume) by Klaus-Dietrich Fischer, "Wenn kein Arzt erreichbar ist. Medizinische Literatur für Laien in der Spätantike", in: Medicina nei Secoli: Arte e Scienza n. s. 24, 2012, pp. 379- 401. ​

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