Friday, October 31, 2008


McGinn, Thomas A. J., Widows and Patriarchy: Ancient and Modern. London: Duckworth, 2008. Pp. vii, 230. $50.00. ISBN 9780715637432.
Reviewed by John Henderson, King's College, Cambridge (

Tom McGinn's now considerable body of work on Roman law in respect of sexuality (around the topic of prostitution) and the family earns him plenty of authority to advise social historians of the West on research findings to date on the main lines of difference, change and cyclicity within social life scripts for widows. The present book (prompted by the arrival of two daughters: Preface) requires readerly trust, since it is pitched as intermediary between primary research across three distinct cultural contexts and ourselves. M achieves compact evenness of treatment by rigorously abstaining from parading all spectacle, curiosity, or horrorshow throughout, in favour of directing us instead on through 1278 footnotes (to 164 pages of text). Successive Widows of Ephesus and invocations of Jerome and choice loci from the New Testament aside, M pays particular figures and diktats but one visit each, and mentions, but refrains from re-telling, tales along the way, no matter how juicy, rending, or otherwise graphic they may be. The sole scurrility proves to be the combination of volume epigraph from Walpole with the jacket illustration (the only pic, repeated on the back cover -- just where a 'poor widow' should stare out at us): on, and of, 'the indomitable Bess Hardwick, . . . second wealthiest, and arguably second most powerful, woman in England after Elizabeth I'. But to find out more about this First Lady of Chatsworth, her four marriages, and her 'ambitious programme of building that relied on iconography largely drawn from antiquity to advertise her virtues as a wife and widow', off you must go--to, or round, the library, to chase up the endnote refs. (p.61). Thus if you feel tantalized by the next exhibit, 'Lady Anne Clifford commissioned a painted triptych that in a manner granted her both male and female attributes and emphasised her role within her own birth family, eclipsing her two husbands, one dead, the other estranged' (or. . .escaped?) -- get used to it. Readers must imagine 'the famous Pompeian funerary monument erected by Naevoleia Tyche for her deceased husband. . .: more about her than about him' (p.34) and 'the 1436 autobiography of Margery Kempe, which recounts in detail her entrepreneurial (mis)adventures' (p.65) . . .; nor will you be meeting up with 'Perhaps the most egregious [instance of "merry" widows hunting for new mates], the Florida widows who provoked a scandal through alleged war profiteering' (p.152). Instead of stooping to my sort of level, M deliberately commits himself to insistent re-formulations of the riff: 'The precise mix varied according to time and place', and never lets us forget it, spelled out, and flagged up, thus: 'a range of factors helped shape the personal choices available to widows, above all, wealth, rank, age and personality. An obvious point is worth repeating. Widowhood was experienced differently by different women' (p.65 bis). He tells us in no uncertain terms why it's worth hammering away like this, first in his 'Introduction' (pp.1-17), last in the 'Conclusion: Widows in history' (pp.156-65). The terse clarity of the latter drives the point home and makes the book matter--makes sure it does.

M is out to use his position as authority on ancient (i.e. Graeco-Roman) experience of law as instrument of, and guide to, the dynamic economies of classical patriarchy to rub our noses in the 'highly unpredictable, almost infinitely flexible and adaptive' record of patriarchy 'as an historical form . . .: complex, varied and resistant to broad evolutionary trends' (p.164). His approach is pinned to 'the modest aim' of 'develop[ing] criteria that allow a broad comparison of gender hierarchy in different historical contexts' (p.3). The Scylla is specialist microhistory and the trap of ahistoricism is Charybdis, i.e. wariness pilots this helm: 'There are some obvious cautions to raise, however'. Before all, 'While political engagement has been a great strength of feminist scholarship it must in the end yield to careful scrutiny of the historical record' (p.4 bis). After all, therefore, 'All the same, there is hope our understanding of it can improve' (p.164). I confess I don't see why, or that, 'our' historical understanding deserves to prevail over political engagement--'in the traditional phrase "kiss or kick"' (p.110: 'must' vs. 'yield'), but I'm aware that the very idea of 'the record' makes cicada types like me glaz-z-ze over.

Three parallel 'case study' chapters synthesise the picture for 'Classical antiquity' (pp. 18-48), 'Late medieval and early modern England and Germany' (pp.49-104: 1350-1650, featuring the Reformation), and 'Modern England and the United States' (pp.105-55: 1850-1925, or the Industrial Revolution). And they are truly parallel, since M follows the fivefold divisiones proposed at the outset scrupulous as can be: 'numbers of widows; widows and private law; widows and economic privilege; widows and freedom of movement; widows and remarriage'. Six times we get the run down, so cross-comparison is in effect mandatory, even obligatory: for Greece, then Rome; England, and Germany; England, plus the United States. In fact the coverage allowed for the dyad on antiquity is just 30 pages in total -- of which pp.41-8 dwell on Jerome. Pretty well all the judgments--and caveats--persuade, and family historians will find this strictly self-monitored survey both usable and useful. Inevitably, though, the teases come thick and fast: 'As with Greece, it is clear that "widow" was not an independent legal category at Rome and it is disputable whether it even qualifies as a sociological type' (p.29) or ''a pastoral epistle attributed insecurely to Paul ... begins with an injunction to honour . . . the "real" or "true" widows' (p.38). Such inviting praeterita!

M proves that generalising about either continuity or change for widows in the West requires extreme caution (p.156), and convincingly warns others that Roman historians should not sponsor claims for a 'family life in antiquity. . . , if not quite "modern" in its lived experience, far less harsh than it was once argued, or simply assumed, to be' (p.162). And his take on modernity must be salutary, too: 'Revolution is to be rejected as a model for change', but 'it is even more important to reject the alternative of evolution' (p.139). As I see it, M's presentation of widowhood in its imbrications with wives, divorçees, deserted wives, and the never-married, and through its role in the syntax of lives prescribed for women, fully vindicates the importance of this supplemental category of ?'woman-plus'? (p.2) as he sets about scotching a flurry of wild notions. Whether the strategy of intently flat rhetoric really pays off as pledge of seriousness in underlining such 'important truth' I leave to others: 'It has perhaps ever been the case that some men have derived greater advantage from gender hierarchy than others' (p.72); 'There is a strong possibility that the valuation which women, at least women married once before, placed on marriage changed over time' (p.77); 'The experience of widowhood could vary considerably over time and from culture to culture, as well as within a culture' (p.162). Wouldn't the lesson register better if we ran into some haggard 'sorrowing widows' and some large as life 'merry' specimens along the way?

In quality of production, the volume lives up to the attractive and meticulous standard you expect from Duckworth in every respect. (On p.83 '. . . operated to the consistent disadvantage of women, whose alleged inferiority was used to justify even the few privileges they were granted' can't be quite what's meant, but I noticed no errata).

(read complete article)


Jason König and Tim Whitmarsh (edd.), Ordering Knowledge in the Roman Empire. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Pp. xiii, 304. $99.00. ISBN 978-0-521859-69-1.
Reviewed by Daniel Harris-McCoy, University of Southern California (

Table of Contents.

König and Whitmarsh's collection of eleven essays, whose origins can be traced to a 2001 conference held at St. John's College, Cambridge, is a welcome edition for what might be called the emerging field of the history of information science; that is, scholarship that investigates how data is collected, organized, and packaged for its consumers and the cultural forces--philosophical, literary, political, etc.--that underlie these activities.

This field is relatively new to classical studies and owes its existence largely to Foucault's work on the relationship between knowledge and power, which in turn inspired landmarks in Greco-Roman scholarship such as Claude Nicolet's Space, Geography, and Politics in the Early Roman Empire and Andrew Wallace-Hadrill's now classic article "Mutatio Morum: The Idea of a Cultural Revolution." A flood of monographs on the relationship between mainly Roman technical and encyclopedic literature and their imperial contexts followed. Pliny's Natural History has received the most attention (Isager, Murphy, Carey) though other authors have also been examined using a political lens including Vitruvius (McEwen), Frontinus (Peachin), and others.

König and Whitmarsh's volume is similarly interested in the intertwined relationship between the ordering of data and its Imperial context but excels its predecessors insofar as it takes pains to highlight the complexity of this relationship. This is partly the result of the range of authors and analytical tools that appear in the volume, bringing the markedly varied landscape of Imperial-era compilatory texts, their construction, and their motivations into sharp focus.

An additional plus: the authors in this collection are frequently under-studied. Well-known figures such as Pliny, Galen, and Gellius appear, but relatively obscure or unexpected authors such as Frontinus, Manilius, Volusius Maecianus, Scribonius Largus, and Petronius receive equal status.

The volume is divided into three sections: Introduction (Part I), Knowledge and Textual Order (Part II), and Knowledge and Social Order (Part III). As the editors themselves acknowledge, however, the essays do not sit quietly in their assigned categories. Many are concerned with specific details of internal order, and all relate that order to their larger cultural contexts. With this in mind, in the summary of essays that follows, I will examine the contents of the book out of order, tracing out some of the noteworthy themes.

The introductory essay, co-authored by König and Whitmarsh, begins by setting out the aims of the volume: to study the relationship between particular conceptions of knowledge and its composition, and the social and political practices and ideals of the Roman Imperial Period. The editors recognize that this relationship is complex. Power and, by extension, control over forms of knowledge, is acted out and reshaped not exclusively by the 'powerful,' but also within "the smallest interactions of everyday life" (6).

The remainder of the essay explores some of the forces that acted upon the composition of knowledge during the period: the Hellenistic/Republican compilatory tradition; the allure of local knowledge within the globalist, melting-pot ideology of Roman rule; the more specific response(s) of Greeks under Rome; and the influence of social class (and negotiating the all-important relationship with the emperor) on how information is arranged and presented. A small section is also dedicated to developments in book technologies (the appearance of the codex, tables of contents).

The helpful message that emerges is that, while compilatory texts are certainly bound up in issues of power, the forces that influence their composition are diverse. For this reason, these texts should not be regarded as crudely pro- or anti-imperial. This outlook is representative of the papers that follow.

Alice König, for example, provides nuance to the common view that, in spite of the change and uncertainty of the period, Frontinus' On Aqueducts unflinchingly promotes the policies and ideals of Nerva-Trajan. According to her reading, the text is exploratory, used by Frontinus to consider the relationship of senators, newly appointed to positions of real authority under Nerva, to the emperor. Indeed, Frontinus' demonstration of his mastery over the discipline; authority over his subordinates; ability to reduce fraud and deliver an abundant water supply to Rome; and the presence of verbal parallels drawn between the emperor and author (diligent. loving) raise a number of uncomfortable questions noted by König: if power lies in knowledge, where does this leave the emperor? Must the emperor apply the same principles as Frontinus to his own position? If not, does this diminish the authority of the princeps?

Serafina Cuomo's essay on Volusius Maecianus' Distributio, a monetary treatise on the division of the as probably written in 146 CE, provides a different take on knowledge and imperial power. Cuomo offers a useful overview of this relatively unknown work before placing it within a broader context based on its status as a metrological document; that is, a technology such as a graph or map that provides a representation of reality more manageable than reality itself and thus replace the object of representation (207). As a document interested in equivalencies between the divisions of the coin, their number, name and sign, as well as their relationship to the world of weights and measures, the text can be related to, for example, discussions of currency and the linguistic (Varro) and moral (Pliny the Elder) realities they signify, as well as contemporary legal debates regarding the ontological status of money. How does this relate to the emperor? The monetary system described by Maecianus is not the external, physical reality of Frontinus' aqueducts, which must be mastered to achieve control. Rather, as Maecianus observes, the system is complex but ultimately arbitrary. Marcus Aurelius must understand Rome's monetary system, but it is his authority alone that ultimately guarantees it and, in turn, is guaranteed by it.

Thomas Habinek explores the relative ability of texts and physical things to act as stable foundations for knowledge and, in turn, imperial power. He observes how Manilius, in his astrological treatise, the Astronomica, grounds the occurrence of events and, by extension, the reigns and successions of emperors in the relative solidity of the body. Astrological knowledge (nosse) and understanding (scire) are differentiated. Understanding is associated with the physical process of handling and inspecting "the entrails of the great universe" in a manner that recalls the activities of the haruspex (Astr. 1.16-17). And references to the corporeal nature of the universe abound in the text. Habinek points out that this is no mere Stoic gesture; if anything, the idea is Pythagorean and more generally recalls the manipulation of an orderly and willing cosmos by the figure of the Augustan-era vates. Body-images are used to redeploy past poetic figures: Lucretius is called to mind, but the rationality of the universe is maintained. Within this scheme, the preeminent position of Rome, its leaders, history, and empire, are celebrated. So why bodies? Habinek observes that, with the dissemination of new disciplines in the late Republic and early Empire, opportunities to critique these practices and, perhaps more critically, their political outlooks, arose due to their textual nature. By equating his object of inquiry with the immutability of the body, Manilius resists potential criticism and is thus relatively well-positioned to help "reproduce the social order over time" (240).

So far, we have looked at essays about Roman authors in relation to Roman politics. The volume also includes essays on the relationship of Greece to Rome that, to their credit, do not simply assume an attitude of revolutionary resistance or complacency.

In this clearly written and useful article (I could imagine it being used in a course on the Second Sophistic), James Warren examines how Diogenes Laertius creates a distinctly Greek intellectual and cultural space in writing his Lives of Eminent Philosophers. He begins by looking at the various options available to Diogenes for writing about the philosophical past. The Lives is a hybrid of these forms, used to achieve Diogenes' philhellenic aims. Philosophy is a Greek concept; it cannot, for example, be translated into any other language (1.4). The discipline can be traced historically to two Greek founding fathers: Anaximander and Pythagoras (1.13). Additionally, the philosopher is defined as one who has been converted to the pursuit of wisdom through the brilliance and charisma (sometimes erotic in nature) of his teacher. Thus the genetic, and necessarily Greek, purity of the philosophical family tree remains intact. What of Rome? Warren notes that it is possible that the absence of Roman philosophers is ethnically motivated (akin to Pausanias' 'oversight' of Rome in his Periegesis) but not certain; it is possible that Diogenes simply was not interested in Rome's contribution to the field.

The relationship between a Greek author to Rome is somewhat more complex in Rebecca Flemming's essay on the concept of order (taxis) in several works of Galen's corpus. As she notes, order, or lack thereof, provides a framework for Galen to prove the quality of his own work and distinguish it from the failures of his rivals, past and present. However, as the size of Galen's own corpus increases, it becomes necessary for Galen to assert control over his own texts. Despite Galen's Pergamene and more generally Greek cultural background, his desire to exploit but also and by necessity assert control over abundance mirrors the requirement of empire, which must give structure and direction to the fecundity of its colonies. Empire and Galen's texts are both vast compilatory exercises in the sense that both accumulate and order territory and information, respectively. Thus, at the figurative level, tantalizing parallels exist between Galen's vision of bodily control and the organization of his texts and the hegemonic control of the emperor, and he certainly appreciates the amount of knowledge made available by Roman expansion and exploration. At a different level, however, Galen is interested in Greek knowledge and Greek modes of ordering knowledge in order to compete with his distinguished predecessors.

The authors in this volume are not exclusively concerned with issues of political power or ethnic identity but also draw connections between issues of editorship, reading, technologies of the book, and control in interesting ways.

Jason König's solo essay provides both a brief outline of approaches to reading that most dis-orderly mode of writing--the miscellany--followed by an analysis of a test case: Plutarch's Sympotic Questions. To his credit, König does not try to explain "the Miscellany" writ large, but rather interprets the text based on Plutarch's corpus. König argues that the Sympotic Questions provides both a model of and opportunity for active reading, listening, and discussing that leads, according to Plutarch's On Listening, the philosophical life.

Just as texts can encourage their readers to pursue knowledge actively and independently, they can also cloak hidden ideological agendas, as John Henderson shows in his reading of Isidore of Seville's Etymologies. Henderson encourages us to avoid prematurely diagnosing the Etymologies as "authorial patchwork, autopilot somnambulation, or mindless compilation" and instead look for continuity, proportion, and direction by READING the text. He accordingly starts from the beginning, examining the various prefatory letters in relation to Isidore's conflicting authorial and religious aims. In his reading of the main body of the Etymologies, Henderson demonstrates that the author's etymological project is tied to a project of "cultural mnemonics" whereby the all phenomena and events are linked to a Christian worldview (cf. the religious underpinnings of Roget's Thesaurus). This article is not easy reading; it is discursive and suggestive and avoids easy answers or summary. Its greatest value is perhaps its repeated demonstrations of creative and revealing ways of reading a text that might appear to lend itself only to relatively dry methods of interpretation.

A more subversive view of writing, reading, and knowing is found in Victoria Rimell's essay on Petronius' Satyricon. Rimell observes that reading the Satyricon requires a comprehensive knowledge of literature. The text is densely packed with allusions intended for a highly literate audience and as such it has much in common with compilatory texts of a more technical variety. Rather than display its information in a systematic and commanding fashion, however, the Satyricon is a cut and paste mishmash of a wide variety of fields of knowledge (literary, medical, zodiacal, culinary, physiognomical, etc., 109). The Satyricon also comments directly on knowledge as a problem of personal identity, and of physical and psychological, as well as intellectual, management. The reader, in attempting to make sense of the text, learns the difficulties of learning along with the characters themselves in what amounts to a critique of the Roman educational system and Neronian-era excesses.

Andrew Riggsby provides a useful overview of the surprisingly limited appearances of tables of contents in ancient literature. He observes only four examples in antiquity: Scribonius Largus' Compounds, Pliny's Natural History, Columella's On Agriculture, and Gellius' Attic Nights. This offers a relatively rare treatment of a particular technology of the book (cf. Doody's article on Pliny's summarium or table of contents; Grafton's famous treatment of the footnote). Riggsby does not attempt to craft a narrative or synthesis of the form; rather, he considers each table on a case by case basis, examining its structure and language; relationship to contents of the actual work; and its function in the text. At the end of the piece, he draws some circumspect observations about the relationship of these tables to ideology.

A comparative approach is also found in John Wilkins' essay, which looks at the methods of organizing nutritional and pharmacological data in Athenaeus' Deipnosophistae and several works by Galen. Factors he considers are intended audience, geography, and cultural identity.

In sum, this volume comes highly recommended on account of the wide range of authors it considers; the variety of analytical methods it employs; and its nuanced understanding of the relationship between compilations of knowledge and their contexts.

Works Cited:

Carey, Sorcha. Pliny's Catalogue of Culture: Art and Empire in the Natural History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Doody, Aude. "Finding Facts in Pliny's Encyclopaedia." Ramus 30.1 (2001): 1-22.

Grafton, Anthony. The Footnote: A History. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997.

Isager, Jacob. Pliny on Art and Society: The Elder Pliny's Chapters on the History of Art. Odense, Denmark: Odense University Press, 1991.

McEwen, Indra K. Vitruvius: Writing the Body of Architecture. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003.

Murphy, Trevor. Pliny the Elder's Natural History: the Empire in the Encyclopedia. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Nicolet, Claude. Space, Geography, and Politics in the Early Roman Empire. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991.

Peachin, Michael. Frontinus and the Curae of the Curator Aquarum. Stuttgart: Steiner, 2004.

Wallace-Hadrill, Andrew. "Mutatio morum: The Idea of a Cultural Revolution." In The Roman Cultural Revolution. Thomas Habinek and Alessandro Schiesaro, edd., pp. 3-22. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. (read complete article)

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Sylvain Delcomminette, Le Philèbe de Platon: introduction à l'agathologie platonicienne. Philosophia Antiqua, 100. Leiden/Boston: Brill 2006. Pp. xvi, 680. €163.00. ISBN 978-90-04-15026-3.
Reviewed by Joachim Aufderheide, University of St Andrews (

One of the major difficulties posed by Plato's dialogue Philebus is its apparent lack of coherence, nicely summed up by Rodier: 'one could maintain. . .that the Philebus was nothing but an assemblage of pieces originally distinct and devoid of organic unity.'[[1]] Another major problem is pinpointing the elusive aim of the dialogue, as can be seen in Damascius' introduction to his commentary on the Philebus: the dialogue could be about pleasure, intelligence (nous), the final cause of the universe, or the good which is present in all animals, from the most godlike to the lowest.[[2]]

In his Le Philèbe de Platon: introduction à l'agathologie platonicienne Sylvain Delcomminette provides solutions to both problems by first identifying the specific goal of the Philebus and then showing that the dialogue coherently moves towards this goal. The Philebus offers something at which other dialogues, most prominently the Republic, only hint. The Republic offers a glimpse of the Form of the Good based on a description of its function, but the reader is not told what the Good is (see esp. Rep. 506d8-e7). Only the Philebus, or so Delcomminette claims, enables the reader to find out what the Good essentially is: its essence (logos) is revealed (13). He calls this project 'agathologie', i.e. the science of the good (12), and claims that this science can only be dialectics, the only real science according to the Republic (Rep. 533c7-e2). The Philebus' particular structure is explained by the requirements of dialectics: the text provides the platform for the dialectical movement requisite for uncovering the Form of the Good.

These claims receive strong and well argued support in Delcomminette's 613 pages of commentary-cum-interpretation of the Philebus. Prefaced by a helpful five-page table of contents and a nineteen-page introduction, the book is divided into three parts, following the apparently tripartite composition of the Philebus. The first part (289 pp.) interprets Phlb. 11a-31b where the problem is formulated and the proper method of solving it is developed. This method, dialectics, is put to work in the second part of the book (250 pp.), which is concerned with the general account of pleasure and true and false pleasures as well as a classification of sciences (Phlb. 31b-59d). This enables the reader to see in the third part (100 pp.) what the Good consists in, with a commentary focusing on Phlb. 59d-67b. The book is further subdivided into 17 chapters which correspond mostly to what Delcomminette takes to be sections of the dialogue.

Despite its name Delcomminette's 'introduction to agathology' is not aimed at beginners. First, the Philebus remains a difficult dialogue despite all the insights contained in Delcomminette's book. Secondly, at times those are themselves hard to understand. This is due to both the high demands Delcomminette makes on his readers, and to the complexity of the book. The reader is asked to suspend judgement about the validity of the interpretation until the end of the book. This is not a modest request, for the reader is expected not only to read the whole book (637pp.), but also to engage actively in the reconstruction of all points and their internal connection (17-8; I will say more about this in the next paragraph). This requires time, energy and, I am afraid, a high level of tolerance for frustration. Two reasons for this stand out most: i) the book contains a host of philosophically substantial arguments which can stretch effectively over some 200 pages - the most interesting of which is perhaps the argument against eudaimonism, culminating in Chapter X (see esp. 504-5); ii) Delcomminette's argument is sometimes marred by reticence, paradoxically for a book of this length, rather than loquacity in explaining the preferred terminology. (This might be due to its being a revised and abridged (!) doctoral thesis which has been prepared for publication in less than three years.)

I will now turn to some details, beginning with the methodological requirement that the reader should participate in the philosophical development of the discussion between Socrates and his interlocutors. This requirement follows neatly from the first part of the book which develops a method for finding out what the Good is, namely the method of dialectics. The frequently novel and always illuminating interpretations of notoriously difficult passages such as 'the one and the many' (Phlb. 15a ff.), 'the god-given method' (Phlb. 16c-18e), and 'the fourfold division' (Phlb. 23b-27c) result in a perhaps non-standard conception of dialectics. Very broadly, Delcomminette understands dialectics as the (intellectual) movement of determining what is previously undetermined (cf. 536). The goal of dialectics is later summed up (528-30) as grasping the content of a Form.[[3]] If this is the only method of grasping Forms (as is argued in the introduction, 1-19), and if the goal of the Philebus is to reveal the essence of the Good, then, of course, the reader cannot understand the dialogue fully unless he or she engages in dialectics.

This straightforward point is, unfortunately, not backed up by a straightforward method for interpreting the dialogue. Delcomminette's appeal to 'the method of an internal commentary which avoids approaching the text from an external perspective' (17) is ineffective because the contrast here between internal and external perspective is unclear.

'External perspective' could be understood here as 'the point of view of another philosophy' or (what probably means the same) 'would-be "objectivity"' (17). None of this helps. Leaving aside the pejorative force of 'would-be', why should the "objective" standpoint be such a hindrance for interpreting a Platonic dialogue? After all, Delcomminette understands that interpreting a Platonic dialogue requires doing philosophy. Yet one crucial aspect of doing philosophy is, as Plato would be the first to admit, a concern for truth. But how can one aim at truth without trying to be objective? Coherence alone does not entail truth. So it is not enough to consider merely the coherence of the Philebus. Rather, the interpreter should step back from the dialogue and consider whether the points in the dialogue are true, and if not, why not. Note that 'stepping back' is both incomplete and a metaphor. Yet once the metaphor is complete, it can reveal something about Delcomminette's approach. The relevant logical form of 'stepping back' here is 'stepping back from X to Y' where X ranges over the Philebus or passages taken from it. It might seem as if Delcomminette wants to restrict Y only to other passages of the Philebus: this, at least, is the most natural understanding of 'internal' commentary. According to another understanding of 'internal' one could restrict Y such that it ranges only over Platonic dialogues. There is reason to doubt, however, that these restricted ranges of Y leave room for doing philosophy. This doubt is fueled by Rodier's remarks on the Philebus that an internal commentary (where Y ranges over the Platonic corpus) does not entail or presuppose a concern for truth: 'we are not concerned with knowing whether the doctrine at hand is true, but whether it is Platonic.'[[4]]

Here is not the place to discuss in detail the question of how to interpret a Platonic dialogue. The relevant question here is how Delcomminette deals with the tension between the requirements for doing philosophy on the one hand, and giving a purely internal commentary on the other. Much to the book's advantage, it is not restricted to a purely internal commentary in either of the two senses above. Delcomminette interrupts the flow of the argument frequently to pause over the plausibility of the theses he discovers in the Philebus. This is obviously not a novel approach, but Delcomminette does well in avoiding irrelevant points. His reflections are frequently not introduced by means of the concerns of modern or contemporary philosophers, but by means of objections Plato's contemporaries could have leveled. Examples are discussions of Aristotle's objection in De Memoria that Plato's theory of memory is too static (322-4) or a Calliclean objection that living a happy life in Socrates' sense amounts to being as dead as a stone (501-3). This seems to be a good way of trying to discern what Plato meant or how a particular argument works. Incidentally, this way of assessing the philosophical merit of Plato's argument provides a sense of the domain over which Y could range so that stepping back from the original text allows for doing philosophy without importing misleading concerns. Whether the interpreter can arrive at truth through this kind of 'objectivity' is a question for another occasion.

Delcomminette is not, however, always faithful to the requirements of a 'philosophical' "philosophical" interpretation of the Philebus. Rodier's approach seems to be unexpectedly close when Delcomminette confesses that he has 'tried to be Platonic' in his interpretation of the Philebus (19). By this he means that one's attempt to understand the Philebus is best helped by reading more Plato and drawing connections between the dialogues, a feat remarkably well done by Delcomminette. Consequently, the book contains a plethora of illuminating points on dialogues other than the Philebus, so that this book is worth studying for those who are interested in Plato's philosophy in general. There are, however, some disadvantages to this approach which will become clear through the discussion of a problem which does not primarily concern methodology.

The problem stems from one of the main themes in the Philebus: determining the relationship between pleasure and the good life. The hedonist interlocutor seems to hold (at some point) that pleasure is sufficient for a good life, whereas Socrates seems to contend that pleasure is not even necessary. To find out who is on the right track, one must become clear about pleasure. What is pleasure? It is not difficult to see that the place of pleasure in the good life depends on the theory of pleasure. If pleasure were only a remedial good, e.g. the alleviation of pain, then Socrates' thesis seems more convincing that the hedonist's. Yet if pleasure were something that is good not only because it brings about another good, Socrates' claim loses support. A major task, then, for the interpreter of the Philebus is to clarify the account or rather accounts of pleasure. For there is good reason to believe that the Philebus distinguishes different kinds of pleasure and that they play different roles in the good life accordingly. So, before the interpreter can give the account of pleasure, he or she must argue that Socrates seeks to unify pleasures under this account. That this is not an easy task becomes clearer from considering these four propositions:

A) Pleasure is a coming-to-be (Phlb. 54c6);
B) If X is a coming-to-be, then X is not in the class of the good (54c6-11);
C) Pleasure is not in the class of the good (54d1-2, from A and B)
D) Some pleasures are good (indicated by the appearance of certain pleasures on the list of things which possess features of the Form of the Good; see 65a1-5 for the features, 65d4-6 for the introduction of the list, and 66c4-6 for the occurrence of pleasure).

The context of A) to C) is a general criticism of pleasure (Phlb. 53-55), whereas D) is taken from the final ranking of what makes life good. There seems to be a tension between C) and D) which becomes more apparent by substituting 'good' in C) and D) to highlight the fact that the referents are similar on both occasions. So, 'class of the good' could be rendered as 'good in itself', and there is reason to believe that things which possess features of the Good are also good in themselves (at least Delcomminette does not deny this). There is thus a tension between

C*) Pleasure is not good in itself, and
D*) Some pleasures are good in themselves.

A ready solution to this problem is to argue that there are two accounts of pleasure in the Philebus: C*) does not mean that all pleasures are not good in themselves. Rather the scope is limited to those pleasures which are cases of coming-to-be, but not all pleasures are cases of coming-to-be. There is a distinction, one could argue, between the pleasures of replenishing, e.g. eating and drinking, and other pleasures such as seeing, smelling or thinking (Phlb. 50e-53c). The former are clearly comings-to-be, whereas the latter are not. Since the text says that only the latter pleasures are good (Phlb. 66c4-6), there is not inconsistency between D*) and C*).[[5]]

Delcomminette accepts the challenge, but rejects the proposed solution. He contends that A) means that all pleasures are cases of coming-to-be. With B), this would imply that no pleasure is good in itself. If this is the correct interpretation, Delcomminette must explain:

1. how the pleasure of seeing or thinking can be a coming-to-be;
2. the fact that the passage Phlb. 53-55 is concerned with all pleasures;
3. why some pleasures are good.

In the remainder of this review I will outline and assess how Delcomminette's deals with these tasks in order to indicate how Delcomminette tackles difficult questions in interpreting the Philebus. As regards 1, it seems to be an advantage if one is not pressed to subsume the pleasures of seeing and thinking, the so-called 'pure pleasures', under the heading of 'coming-to-be'. The pleasures of eating and drinking, so-called 'impure pleasures', are clearly comings-to-be because they are, at root, restorative processes. It is not obvious (and sounds false) that e.g. seeing should be a restorative process too. Yet Delcomminette has no qualms here: all pleasures are explained as felt restorations, the difference between the two kinds being only that the lack is felt in impure pleasures, but not in pure pleasures. Consequently, no pleasure is good in itself (452-3). This claim is, in my view, not well supported. A first warning prefaces the discussion of pure pleasures (Phlb. 50e-53c), 'to achieve a complete and coherent interpretation ... comparison with other dialogues is sometimes necessary' (455). Given the brevity of the passage in question this method seems appropriate. It is inappropriate, however, to use points from other dialogues as premises to reach the desired conclusions - which is what Delcomminette does. Accordingly we learn (452-3 n.3; 456) that the pleasures of smelling are to be understood as replenishment because a similar picture is given in the Timaeus (64b-65d). This seems to be a weak counter to the argument which aims to rule out the possibility that pleasures of smelling can be subsumed under replenishment-type pleasures in the Philebus. Of course one could argue that in this case importing a point from another dialogue is warranted -- but Delcomminette does not take the opportunity to do so. More material for understanding the pleasures of smelling is provided in Delcomminette's discussion of the second kind of true pleasures, dubbed 'aesthetic pleasures' (457). Yet again, as some points from the Symposium are imported here, the initial worry remains that some problems are too readily explained by reference to an (alleged) overarching Platonic doctrine. This is the disadvantage of the attempt to be Platonic to which I alluded earlier.

Even if it is not clear how all kinds of pleasures could be at issue in Phlb. 53-55, Delcomminette provides an interesting argument which turns on considerations about the structure of the dialogue to support the claim that all pleasures are meant (cf. 2.). Unlike e.g. D. Frede,[[6]] Delcomminette argues that the method of collection and division is applied to pleasures. It is characteristic for this method to bring the divisions made in a certain domain under one heading, whether we begin with a) a unit and then understand how it is many, or begin with b) multiplicity and unify later on (Phlb. 16c-d and 17c-18b). If the method of collection and division applies to pleasure and if b) is indeed the right way of thinking about pleasures, then Delcomminette seems right in holding that 'it is completely natural that Socrates should come back to pleasure in general in the course of his analysis, for we have repeatedly pointed out that the inverse way of the god-given method [i.e. b)] implies that the unity of a kind cannot be fully determined before the division into species is complete.' (493). This would support the claim that at the end of the discussion of pleasure, at Phlb. 53-55, all pleasures should be meant, and hence that all pleasures share the feature of being only cases of coming-to-be. This, Delcomminette claims, is the generic account of pleasure (498). Unfortunately, this argument is undermined by Delcomminette's consideration in support of 3.

Delcomminette accepts that only something which has being (ousia) can earn a rank on the list of the goods (cf. 500). He also accepts the challenge to explain the appearance of pleasure on this list despite the fact that pleasure is a coming-to-be. In outline, his solution is that certain pleasures, the pure pleasures, have a 'derived being' which in turn allows these pleasures to appear on the list of goods (500). Suppose the obvious questions could be answered (What does 'derivative being' mean? Why do these pleasures have derivative being? If it is constitutive of pleasures to belong to the category of coming-to-be, how can they have being? ); s uppose the argument would work. In this case it would undermine the reasoning for 2. by undermining its presupposition that prior to Phlb. 53-55 no generic account of pleasure is given.

If at Phlb. 53-55 a generic account of pleasure were given, then all pleasures would have to be subsumed under this account. In particular, those pleasures of 'derived being' would not prove exceptions from the generic account. Rather, that they have only 'derived' being seems to suggest that they do not belong to the category of being, but still to that of coming-to-be. If this point about 'derived' being carries over, Delcomminette's interpretation faces problems. Think of the other potential generic account of pleasure, that pleasure belongs to the ontological category of the unlimited (cf. Phlb. 31a6-10). It seems that this can be seen, with equal right, as a generic account of pleasure. It is true that the text suggests otherwise since unlimited pleasures are equated with unmeasured pleasures, measured pleasures with limited pleasures(Phlb. 52c1-d1), so that there would seem to be two kinds of pleasures, limited and unlimited. Yet this suggestion can be refuted by material which Delcomminette uses in his argument for 2. One could argue that the limit some pleasures have is only derivative. For at Phlb. 28a1-3, Socrates points out that we should look to something other than the character of being unlimited if there is anything good about pleasure. Together with the reminder at Phlb. 31a7-10 that pleasure in itself is unlimited, it seems that only the addition of something else can make pleasure both measured and good (measure or measuredness is one feature of the Good: see Phlb. 65a1-5). If, however, the limit pleasures can have is only derivative, then it is fair to say that a generic account of pleasure as unlimited is given already in Phlb. 24-31: there pleasure is unlimited. Analogous to the use of 'derived being' in Delcomminette's argument, here too pleasure's having 'derived limit' does not rule out pleasure's belonging to the category of the unlimited. If so, it is not clear why Socrates should provide another generic account of pleasure at Phlb. 53-55. Hence, the presupposition for Delcomminette's reasoning to the conclusion that all pleasures are at issue at Phlb. 53-55 seems to be undermined.

The reader is likely to disagree with Delcomminette on particular points of the interpretation -- for a book of this scope this should not come as a surprise. Yet, in my opinion, this disagreement does nothing to diminish the book's value. Delcomminette's Introduction to agathology is a thought-provoking contribution to the study of Plato's philosophy -- even if the reader eventually fails the course in agathology, i.e. fails to grasp the Form of the Good (as was my case). Apart from the felicitous way of illuminating the philosophical merit of Plato's arguments, the most impressive feature of the book is perhaps its outstanding scholarship: adherence to two research maxims 'Read as much as possible!' and 'Don't be stuck in a tradition!' (cf. 19) result in a sixteen-page bibliography of books and articles cited in which almost every searching reader will find previously unknown gems. Anyone with a scholarly interest in Plato's thought can benefit from working through Delcomminette's book. But in particular those who are interested in the Philebus are given a fantastic working tool, containing both a first-class discussion of the secondary literature on any controversial issue in the Philebus and Delcomminette's often novel solutions to intricate problems.


[[1]] Rodier, G. (1900), 'Remarques sur le Philèbe, in (id.) Études sur la philosophie grecque (2nd ed. 1957), Paris: J. Vrin, 47.

[[2]] Westerink, L. G. (1959), Damascius: Lectures on the Philebus wrongly attributed to Olympiodorus, with text, translation, notes and indices, Amsterdam: North-Holland Publishing Company, paragraphs 1-6.

[[3]] The content of a Form seems to be what Nehamas calls 'essential properties of Forms'. See Nehamas, A. (1975), 'Plato on the imperfection of the sensible world', American Philosophical Quarterly (12):105-17.

[[4]] Rodier 1900:97. It should be clear that the remark cannot alone suffice as a guideline for interpreting Plato. One would have to establish beforehand what counts as Platonic, a task which involves all sorts of problems not only about the transparency of the dialogues, but also about Plato's possible philosophical development or the possibility of his discussing different philosophical solutions to certain problems without necessarily endorsing any of them.

[[5]] Cf. Carone, G. (2000), 'Hedonism and the pleasureless life', Phronesis (45): 257-83. See 262-70 for a similar argument.

[[6]] Frede, D. (1997), Platon: Philebos, Übersetzung und Kommentar, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 227. (read complete article)


Apostolos L. Pierris (ed.), The Empedoclean Kosmos: Structure, Process and the Question of Cyclicity. Proceedings of the Symposium Philosophiae Antiquae Tertium Myconense July 6th - July 13th, 2003. Part 1: Papers. Patras: Institute for Philosophical Research, 2005. Pp. 425, xcvi (App.). €100.00 (pb). ISBN 960-88183-1-1.
Reviewed by Jenny Bryan, Homerton College, Cambridge (

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

This is a collection of fifteen papers presented at the Symposium Philosophiae Antiquae Tertium Myconense held on Mykonos in July 2003. If this volume is any indication, the meeting must have been a lively affair. It includes work by many of the most influential modern scholars of Empedocles and covers a wide range of topics from the reception of Empedocles to his methodology of argumentation to the details of his cosmology. In addition, Apostolos Pierris provides, in an appendix, a reconstruction of Empedocles' poem. Several themes emerge from the various papers, most notably the notion of scientific versus religious thinking, the unity of his poem(s?), the importance of the Strasbourg Papyrus, and Aristotle's role in shaping our understanding of Empedocles' cycle. As a whole, the book's most obvious and perhaps most exciting theme is that of 'Strife'. This 'Strife' is not, however, Empedocles' cosmic force (although he does, of course, loom large). Rather it is the kind of discord that seems to arise whenever there is more than one (or maybe even just one) interpreter of Empedocles in the room. This, of course, is no bad thing. This volume represents Pre-Socratic scholarship at its most dynamic.

In general, editing seems to have been rather 'hands off'. Some papers offer primary texts only in Greek, others include translations. One piece in particular is sprinkled with typos and misspellings that do a disservice to its argumentative force.[[1]] That being said, thought has clearly been given to the grouping of the papers. I particularly benefited from the juxtaposition of those papers explicitly about Empedocles' cosmic cycles, if only because it illustrates the strength of disagreement which this topic continues to inspire. Thus, for example, whilst Primavesi employs the Byzantine scholia as the linchpin of his reconstruction of the cycle, Osborne dismisses the same as 'probably worthless as evidence for how Empedocles himself intended his system to work' (299). Whatever position you hold, or indeed if you hold no position at all, this collection will present you with something to get your teeth into.

Anthony Kenny's 'Life after Etna: the legend of Empedocles in literary tradition' offers a whistle-stop tour through accounts of Empedocles' reputed death on Etna, and then arrives at a more extensive discussion of Matthew Arnold's 'Empedocles on Etna'. Kenny points out that, at times, Arnold's Empedocles resembles Lucretius, of whom Arnold was an admirer from childhood. Kenny concludes with the suggestion that, although 'Empedocles on Etna' may be more about Arnold than Empedocles, there is an affinity between the two men: 'Empedocles, part magus and part scientist, was, like Arnold, poised between two worlds, one dead, one struggling to be born' (30).

Glenn Most offers a rather fascinating discussion of Nietzsche's Empedocles in his 'The stillbirth of tragedy: Nietzsche and Empedocles'. Most reveals the extent to which Empedocles 'played quite a significant role in Nietzsche's intellectual world' (33). Although Nietzsche made some abortive attempts at a philosophical discussion of Empedocles, he was 'far less interested in Empedocles as a thinker than as a human being' (35). Such was his admiration for Empedocles, whom he viewed as 'der reine tragische Mensch', that, perhaps under the influence of Hölderlin, Nietzsche formed the (unfulfilled) intention of writing an opera or tragedy about him. Most suggests, in passing, that the tendency for reception of Empedocles to take dramatic form could be due to the influence of Heraclides Pontus (whose dialogue about Empedocles may have formed a source of Diogenes Laertius' account).

In 'Empedocles: two theologies, two projects', Jean Bollack rails against attempts made, on the basis of the Strasbourg Papyrus, to narrow the gap between Empedocles' physical and ethical theories. He interprets 'The Origins' and 'The Purifications' as offering two distinct theologies, tailored to suit the purpose, strategy, and audience of each poem. His view is that '[t]he two poems were very probably intended to shed light on one another precisely in their difference' (47). Bollack also offers, in an appendix, a rereading of fragment B31 'extended by the Strasbourg Papyrus' (62).

Rene Nünlist's 'Poetological imagery in Empedocles' considers the apparent echo of Parmenides B8's κόμος ἐπέων in Empedocles B17's λόγου στόλος. Nünlist argues that Empedocles' 'poetological imagery' is more dynamic and potentially more aggressive than that of his predecessor. Empedocles uses path metaphors to 'convey the idea of philosophical poetry being a process or a method' (79). Nünlist also provides a brief appendix on line 10 of ensemble d of the Strasbourg Papyrus.

Richard Janko returns to the vexed question of whether Empedocles wrote one poem or two in his 'Empedocles' Physica Book 1: a new reconstruction'. Janko presents a masterful summary of the evidence for and against trying to unite Empedocles' physical and religious verses, admitting his preference for accepting Katharmoi and Physika as two titles for the same work (which discussed both physical theory and ritual purification). On this topic, I benefitted particularly from his discussion of the fragments of Lobon of Argos (another possible source for Diogenes Laertius). This discussion serves as the introduction to Janko's reconstruction and translation of 131 lines of Book 1 of Empedocles' Physics, in which he attempts to incorporate some of the ensembles of the Strasbourg Papyrus, which he suggests 'at last gives us a clear impression of Empedocles as a poet' (113).

In 'On the question of religion and natural philosophy in Empedocles', Patricia Curd neatly sidesteps the 'one poem or two?' question, formulating instead a distinction between Empedocles' 'esoteric' and 'exoteric' teachings. She then attempts to establish an essential relation between the two. Curd argues that the exoteric verses, addressed to a plural 'you', offer exhortation and instruction as to how to live a certain kind of life without any 'serious teaching' (145). On the other hand, the esoteric verses addressed to Pausanias offer explanation but lack any direct instruction. Curd's suggestion is that Empedocles holds that 'one must be in the proper state of soul in order to learn and so acquire and hold the most important knowledge' (153). Further, she argues for reading Empedocles as holding the possession of such natural knowledge as the source of super-natural powers. Curd's Baconian Empedocles 'sees knowledge of the world as bestowing power to control the world' (153).

Richard McKirahan's 'Assertion and argument in Empedocles' cosmology or what did Empedocles learn from Parmenides?' offers a subtle and stimulating survey of 'the devices [Empedocles] uses to gain belief' (165). McKirahan attempts a rehabilitation of Empedocles against Barnes's assertion that those reading his cosmology 'look in vain for argument, either inductive or deductive.'[[2]] Offering persuasive evidence from the fragments, he argues that Empedocles employs both assertion and justification (via both argument and analogy) in his cosmology and that the choice between the two is fairly systematic. McKirahan frames his suggestions within a reconsideration of Empedocles' debt to Parmenides, arguing that, in places, 'Empedocles seems to be adding new Eleatic-style arguments for Eleatic-style theses' (183).

Apostolos Pierris argues for a 'tripartite correspondence' (189) between Empedoclean religion, philosophy and physics in his 'Ὅμοιον ὁμοίω and Δίνη: Nature and Function of Love and Strife in the Empedoclean system.' Pierris traces the connection between these three aspects of Empedocles' thinking via an investigation of the relation between the activity of Love and Strife and the role of the cosmic vortex, reconsidering Aristotle's critique along the way. He concludes that 'in understanding Empedocles' system of Cosmos both [i.e., metaphysical and physical levels of discourse] are equally needed, for one sheds light on the other' (213). Further, the physical and metaphysical accounts of the Sphairos and the effects of Love and Strife aid our awareness of our ethical status.

In 'The topology and dynamics of Empedocles' cycle', Daniel Graham attempts a sidelong offensive on the puzzles of Empedocles' cosmic cycle, armed with a plausible belief that a treatment of the cosmic forces of Love and Strife will shed light on the cycle that they dominate. He offers a neat summary of traditional readings of the location and direction of the action of Love and Strife before presenting a defence of the position developed by O'Brien.[[3]] Graham argues that this so-called 'Oscillation Theory' makes the most sense of Empedocles' use of military imagery in B35. He also presents a rather illuminating political analogy whereby Empedocles' Love serves to avoid a kind of cosmic stasis.

Oliver Primavesi's 'The structure of Empedocles' cosmic cycle: Aristotle and the Byzantine Anonymous' also has in its sights O'Brien's reconstruction of the Empedoclean cycle. Primavesi argues against this reconstruction on the grounds that 'O'Brien's hypothesis of symmetrical major alternation of rest and movement is...exclusively based on a controversial interpretation of Aristotle, Physics 8, 1' (257). As an alternative, Primavesi adduces a set of Byzantine scholia which seem to conflict with O'Brien's alternations and which were 'composed in a time when access to a complete work of Empedocles was still open' (257).[[4]] Primavesi concludes by hypothesising a timetable for the cycle compatible with the scholia.

André Laks considers the relationship between Empedocles' cosmology and demonology in his 'Some thoughts about Empedoclean cosmic and demonic cycles'. He champions a 'correspondence model' of interpretation, arguing that, although the two accounts are distinct, they are also clearly related. Laks suggests that one clear point of relation is the shared cyclicity of the cosmic and demonic stories. Laks focuses his discussion on how each of the cycles starts and argues that 'we are entitled to speak of necessity in the case of the cosmic cycle (as Aristotle does) as well as in that of the demonic circle' and, further, that 'although we are entitled to speak of necessity in both cases, we should carefully distinguish between the two cases, and indeed between two kinds of necessity' (267). Cosmic 'necessity' is absolute, whilst demonic 'Necessity' is hypothetical.

In 'Sin and moral responsibility in Empedocles' cosmic cycle', Catherine Osborne also gets stuck into the thorny issue of Empedoclean necessity. She rejects the kind of 'mechanical and deterministic' reading of Empedocles' cycle which, by imposing 'fixed periods between regular recurring events... leave[s] little room for moral agency to have any significance' (283). Osborne worries that notions of sin and responsibility will be meaningless in a cosmos where acts of pollution and periods of punishment are predetermined. Using the illuminating parallel of Sophocles' Oedipus, Osborne argues that a distinction between necessity and prediction should be applied to Empedocles. Empedocles' daimones are moral agents who act voluntarily in a manner that has been predicted (but which they have promised to avoid) and thus, being responsible for their own predicament, they are punished according to the moral code upon which they have previously agreed. She canvasses a variety of possible readings for B115's 'oracle of necessity' and concludes that none of them diminishes the responsibility of the daimones or interferes with their free will. Her ultimate conclusion is that Empedocles intended to 'set the cosmic events within a moral structure, one in which the fall from unity was the effect of violence in heaven' (297). Osborne also offers an appendix on the Byzantine sScholia.

Angelo Tonelli's 'Cosmogony is psychogony is ethics: some thoughts about Empedocles' fragments 17; 110; 115; 134 DK, and P. Strasb. Gr. Inv. 1665-1666D, VV. 1-9' is an intriguing attempt to draw parallels between Empedocles' 'initiation poems' and the 'oriental spiritual tradition'. As the title suggests, Tonelli argues for the unity of physics and ethics in what he identifies as Empedocles' mysticism. He reaches the provocative conclusion that Empedocles' wise man longs for the triumph of Love even at the expense of his own dissolution qua individual into total unity. 'But this', Tonelli asserts, 'is not nihilism: this is psychocosmic mysticism' (330).

David Sedley urges a radical rethinking of Empedocles' double zoogony in his 'Empedocles' life cycles'. He argues against the reading that places Love's zoogony in a phase of increasing Love leading up to the Sphairos. Sedley points out that it would be odd for Empedocles to expend more energy 'accounting for the origin of life forms which he could do no more than conjecture to have existed in a remote part of cosmic history... (since the sphairos has intervened to render them extinct), than he did on accounting for life as we know it' (332). He proposes an alternative reading whereby both parts of the double zoogony are offered as an explanation of life as we know it, i.e. 'Love's zoogony was itself located in our world' (341) and is not separated from us by the Sphairos. Sedley also makes a seductive suggestion regarding the double anthropogony: Love's anthropogony produces daimones (whom Sedley understands to be creatures of flesh and blood), whilst Strife's 'discordant anthropogony' (355) results in 'wretched race of men and women...committed to the divisive sexual politics that Strife imposes upon them' (347).

In 'Empedocles' zoogony and embryology', Laura Gemelli Marciano too turns her thoughts to the double zoogony, reinstating the Sphairos between the twin acts of creation. She argues that Strife's zoogony is, in a sense, a continuation of the creative act of Love. For the creatures who owe their origin to Love are, in time, 'suffocated' by the total unity of the Sphairos (but still present within it) but are then, in a sense, reborn via the divisive power of Strife. Strife's zoogony is dependent on that of Love for 'he only frees little by little those beings that Aphrodite had first created and then suffocated' (381). Gemelli Marciano presents a particularly appealing case for reading Empedocles' double zoogony as 'repeated at a microcosmic level in the mechanism of the conception and development of the embryo' (383). Both zoogony and embryology describe conception followed by articulation. She closes with some thoughts of how this connection should inform our understanding of Empedocles' theory of the transmigration of souls.

I can't help but feel well-disposed towards a book that includes the declaration 'The colour of the cover in this volume corresponds to that of blood, Empedoclean substance of thought' (407). Had the book's design been influenced by more prosaic concerns, its sheer wealth of stimulation, provocation and authority ensures that I would nevertheless recommend it to anyone who feels the slightest curiosity about Empedocles, perhaps the most curious of all the Pre-Socratics.

Authors and titles:

Anthony Kenny, 'Life after Etna: the legend of Empedocles in literary tradition'

Glenn Most, 'The stillbirth of tragedy: Nietzsche and Empedocles'

Jean Bollack, 'Empedocles: two theologies, two projects'

Rene Nünlist, 'Poetological imagery in Empedocles'

Richard Janko, 'Empedocles' Physica Book 1: a new reconstruction'

Patricia Curd, 'On the question of religion and natural philosophy in Empedocles'

Richard McKirahan, 'Assertion and argument in Empedocles' cosmology or what did Empedocles learn from Parmenides?'

Apostolos Pierris, ' Ὅμοιον ὁμοίω and Δίνη: Nature and Function of Love and Strife in the Empedoclean system'

Daniel Graham, 'The topology and dynamics of Empedocles' cycle'

Oliver Primavesi, 'The structure of Empedocles' cosmic cycle: Aristotle and the Byzantine Anonymous'

André Laks, 'Some thoughts about Empedoclean cosmic and demonic cycles'

Catherine Osborne, 'Sin and moral responsibility in Empedocles' cosmic cycle'

Angelo Tonelli, 'Cosmogony is psychogony is ethics: some thought's about Empedocles' fragments 17; 110; 115; 134 DK, and P. Strasb. Gr. Inv. 1665-1666D, VV. 1-9'

David Sedley, 'Empedocles' life cycles'

M. Laura Gemelli Marciano, 'Empedocles' zoogony and embryology'

Appendix--Apostolos Pierris, 'Reconstruction of Empedocles' poem'


[[1]] Angelo Tonelli's 'Cosmogony is psychogony is ethics: some thoughts about Empedocles' fragments 17; 110; 115; 134 DK, and P. Strasb. Gr. Inv. 1665-1666D, VV. 1-9'.

[[2]] J. Barnes, The Presocratic Philosophers (London, 1982).

[[3]] See Denis O'Brien, Empedocles' Cosmic Cycle (Cambridge, 1969).

[[4]] The Byzantine scholia are published in M. Rashed, 'La chronographie du système d'Empedocle: documents byzantins inédits', Aevum Antiquum 1 (2001) 237-259. (read complete article)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Michèle Biraud, Dominique Voisin, and Arnaud Zucker (trans. and comm.), Parthénios de Nicée. Passions d'amour. Grenoble: Éditions Jérôme Millon, 2008. Pp. 314. €26.00 (pb). ISBN 978-2-84137-217-1.
Reviewed by Simone Viarre, Université Charles-de Gaulle Lille III (

Nous avions grand besoin de ce livre, surtout, mais pas seulement, dans la sphère de langue française. Et l'équipe niçoise qui a déjà heureusement travaillé sur cet auteur a notamment publié Littérature et érotisme dans les "Passions d'amour" de Parthénios de Nicée, un beau recueil d'articles réunis par A. Zucker.

L'ouvrage, avec en couverture la reproduction partielle d'un tableau de Véronèse, comporte une longue introduction et les trente-six histoires contées par Parthénios, précédées d'une dédicace. Il nous procure le texte, une traduction et un commentaire, ainsi qu'une bibliographie et trois index (personnages, lieux et thèmes).

L'introduction, très équilibrée, occupe 69 pages. Elle est claire et bien organisée. Les éléments de biographie s'appuient d'abord, comme il se doit, sur La Souda. Les auteurs cherchent des dates, citent des poètes et regrettent que subsiste si peu des poèmes qui ont fait la célébrité de Parthénios en son temps. Ils essaient ensuite de définir "un lettré grec chez les philhellènes" et situent précisément ce philhellénisme romain que met en évidence le rôle des lettrés grecs dans la création de bibliothèques et dans l'aide à la rédaction. Sont ensuite commentées les relations littéraires de Parthénios en insistant sur Laevius et sur les Carmina catulliens. Mais l'introduction concerne surtout l'œuvre: "héritage et tradition". Les sous-titres sont excellents avec un élargissement à tout le monde grec; notons aussi les remarques sur la thématique de la violence et des crimes familiaux, sur l'effort de vraisemblance psychologique, sur le conte préféré au mythe, sur l'érotisme comme spectacle. "L'artiste au travail" est défini par "la complexité des structures narratives" et "la subtilité de la composition générale". On remarque que la collection est disparate au premier abord, avec un souci de la uarietas et la recherche d'une dynamique unificatrice. L'essentiel, c'est l'excellente idée de "l'invention du poème en prose" à laquelle je souscris totalement. L'appropriation à Rome des aspects de l'amour en Grèce représente ensuite un sujet utile mais moins passionnant. En ce qui concerne le texte, retenons l'existence d'un seul manuscrit, le Codex Palatinus GR398 d'une qualité exceptionnelle. Et l'équipe avoue honnêtement qu'elle suit l'édition de Jane Lightfoot (1999) en précisant également quelques divergences de ponctuation et de texte. À propos de cette introduction, j'ai tout de même à l'esprit quelques remarques de détail: p. 21 : que sont donc ces "ritournelles érotiques" concernant Gallus et Properce? p. 23 : qu'est-ce qu'un "nivellement générique vers le bas"? Quelle est alors l'échelle antique ou moderne? p. 49 : comment savoir si "Gallus est moins abondant que Properce"? Je ne lis chez Quintilien que sunt qui Propertium malint. Est-ce que sicut durior Gallus suffit à la démonstration? p. 57 : Le commentaire de Catulle 62, 62 n'a rien à voir avec ce que dit le poète; y a-t-il une faute d'impression? p. : 58 J'aime l'hommage à C. Francese que j'apprécie beaucoup.

Le plus important, c'est tout de même le reste du livre: La dédicace à Cornelius Gallus, p. 77 et suivantes mérite beaucoup de réflexion et de commentaire. C'est vrai, comme le disent les auteurs que celle-ci "a une fonction sociale et un rôle poétique" (p. 80). Parthénios, en quelques mots, définit ce qu'il attend de Gallus, c'est-à-dire de le voir transposer en vers épiques ou élégiaques ce que lui-même présente, avec un parti-pris d'humilité feinte, comme des hupomnêmatia, disons des notices. Certaines des "notices" ont des manchettes qui remontent au troisième ou au quatrième siècle et indiquent les sources du récit; d'autres n'en ont pas. Parthénios emprunte aussi bien à des récits historiques qu'à la mythologie, et mélange le tout, ce qui est moins surprenant qu'il ne peut sembler si l'on songe au statut ambigu de l'histoire dans l'Antiquité.

On aimerait connaître le choix qu'a fait Gallus parmi les propositions de Parthénios. Mais il nous reste seulement un ensemble de 36 pièces, éditées et traduites, avec pour chacune un commentaire de deux ou trois pages qui vise à l'expliquer dans sa composition, ses sources ou ses parallèles et à mettre en relief à la fois la uarietas et une sorte de cohérence dans le recueil.

Comme il serait fastidieux et sans doute inutile de considérer chaque notice l'une après l'autre, je vais essayer, quoiqu'elles soient de valeur inégale et surtout que s'y trouvent souvent imbriquées des données très diverses, d'esquisser un classement qui aura au moins le mérite de rapprocher entre eux certains récits de portée et d'origine différentes.

Voyons d'abord un aspect annexe, mais important pour nous qui sommes toujours en quête des textes que nous avons perdus au cours des siècles. À propos de la légende de Byblis (11), Parthénios nous livre douze vers épiques de Nicaïnétos qui raconte l'une des versions de la légende selon laquelle Caunos aurait pris la fuite parce qu'amoureux de sa sœur; et il illustre l'autre version par quatre vers de sa propre composition selon lesquels Byblis, éprise de son frère, se serait pendue de désespoir à cause de sa disparition. La pièce 14 nous raconte la mort d'Antheus par la ruse de Cléoboïa jalouse en citant vingt-cinq vers élégiaques de l' Apollon d'Alexandre d'Étolie. Il s'agit encore de Milet. Pour Peïsidiké (21), fille du roi de Méthymne, ce sont vingt-deux vers d'Apollonios de Rhodes (dans La fondation de Lesbos) qui illustre la mort par lapidation que lui fait infliger Achille après qu'elle lui eut livré la ville de son père. L'histoire de cette héroïne nous plonge dans un autre monde; et Parthénios la raconte différemment. On pense à Médée comme le dit le commentaire, mais aussi à Tarpeia. Enfin, dans la pièce 34 (Corythos), l'auteur cite trois vers de Nicandre que, selon le commentaire, il aurait mal compris.

Y-a-t-il des récits puremement élégiaques? C'est à peine le cas de la légende de Polymélé (2) qui vient de Philétas et selon laquelle le personnage, après des relations avec le bel Ulysse, survit grâce à des épousailles incestueuses. Sont aussi presque totalement élégiaques l'histoire de Leucippos (5) et celle de Palléné (6). La pièce 10 (Leuconé) présente un chasseur qui à force de délaisser son épouse, la laisse dévorer par ses chiennes mais se suicide ensuite. Mais est-ce comique, élégiaque ou finalement tragique?

Certains aspects de l'amour sont surtout bizarres: Les cas d'inceste accomplis ou non sont à classer ici: Byblis (11), Harpalyké (13) à propos de laquelle le commentaire insiste sur la métamorphose (qui est rare dans ce recueil) avec une comparaison concernant Procné et Térée, malgré l'inversion symétrique des crimes. L'histoire de la mère de Périandre (17) comporte aussi une inversion des crimes par rapport à la légende de Myrrha; mais c'est aussi un récit étiologique; pourtant les références historiques sont consistantes. L'inceste coexiste avec la nécrophilie dans l'histoire de Thymoïtès (31). Les amours d'Alkinoé(27) sont aussi maudites comme celles d'Euliméné (35)avec plusieurs transgressions.

La trahison joue un rôle premier dans la légende de Polycrité (9): celle-ci obtient une trahison de la part d'un ennemi amoureux et périt sous l'avalanche des cadeaux de remerciements. Nanis (22) trahit son père Crésus par attirance pour Cyrus qui évidemment ne l'épouse pas après sa victoire; on pense assurément à Tarpeia.

L'étiologie fait aussi partie des préoccupations de Parthenios: elle joue un rôle dans les pièces 32 (Anthippé) et 36 ; elle est importante dans le récit concernant Keltiné (30) puisqu'il s'agit d'expliquer le nom des Celtes et d'évoquer Héraclès lors de son retour d'Espagne.

Beaucoup des choix de Parthénios s'appuient sur l'épopée: celle d'Apollonios de Rhodes pour Cleité (28) par exemple, mais il s'agit surtout de l'épopée homérique. Ulysse participe à l'histoire d'Évippé (3) et tue son propre fils à la demande de Pénélope; mais cela vient d'une pièce de Sophocle. Oenone fait l'objet central de la pièce 4 pour ses amours avec Pâris et surtout pour son refus de le guérir suivi d'un revirement trop tardif et de son suicide; mais elle est à la marge d'Homère et le commentaire étudie très bien les diverses origines du récit. Dans le récit 12, on a affaire selon le commentaire à "un pastiche burlesque d'un épisode homérique" avec la présence dissimulée d'Ulysse chez Circé. Laodiké (16) concerne une tentative de réclamer Hélène. Achille tue le meurtrier d'Apriaté (26) qui n'est autre que l'un de ses cousins. Corythos (34) est tué par son père Alexandre parce qu'il est amoureux d'Hélène. Enfin, dans le récit 36, le dernier, Arganthoné s'anéantit après la mort de Rhésos qu'elle a aimé. Pour la mort de Rhésos voir Iliade, 10, 434 et suivants, ainsi que la tragédie d'Euripide qui porte son nom. La guerre de Troie est toujours liée ici à l'amour et surtout à la mort.

Beaucoup de récits mêlent surtout politique et légende: L'histoire de Lyrcos(1) qui est liée à la légende d'Io, et aussi à celle de Byblis et Caunos n'est autre qu'une variation sur la légende de Thésée; mais sa conclusion lui donne une portée politique. L'épisode d'Hipparinos (7), où il s'agit d'homosexualité, est surtout une affaire d'amants tyrannicides. En 17, les références historiques sont clairement soulignées. L'histoire de Cheilonis (23) est complétée par un récit de Plutarque Vie de Pyrrhos, 26, 15-20). Pour Phaÿllos (25), l'histoire grecque subit l'intervention du légendaire collier d'Ériphyle. Et ce ne sont que des exemples. L'histoire d'Hérippé(8) concerne la Gaule, etc.

J'ai sans doute laissé de côté au passage des récits moins convaincants, au moins pour moi. Mais il en reste deux sur lesquels je m'arrêterai finalement: Daphné (15), à propos de laquelle le commentaire parle judicieusement d'une "hybridation mytho-historique" (p. 172)se signale en plus par une métamorphose de grande portée. Quant à Daphnis(29), même si le récit est peu clair, il est peut-être le plus significatif parce qu'il s'agit d'un poète inspiré.

Ce volume présente un double intérêt: il nous permet d'approfondir un aspect des origines de l'élégie romaine sur laquelle on s'interroge encore beaucoup. Et singulièrement il met en relief l'aspect talentueux d'un Parthénios beaucoup moins discret qu'il ne le veut faire croire. L'équipe de Nice a fait du bel ouvrage. (read complete article)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Anastasia Serghidou (ed.), Fear of Slaves - Fear of Enslavement in the Ancient Mediterranean. Peur de l'esclave - Peur de l'esclavage en Mediterranee ancienne (Discours, représentations, pratiques). Actes di XXIXe Colloque du Groupe International de Recherche sur l'Esclavage dans l'Antiquité (GIREA). Rethymnon 4-7 November 2004. Franche-Comté:Presses universitaires de Franche-Comté, 2007. Pp. 453. €33.00 (pb). ISBN 978-2-84867-169-7.
Reviewed by TammyJo Eckhart, Indiana University (

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

The first book about slavery that had a profound impact on me was Orlando Patterson’s Slavery and Social Death. Its greatest problem, its breadth, was also its greatest appeal. Such an attempt to reveal universal truths for all of human history could indeed entice readers and scholars to continue their own research, but it could never truly offer a necessary and deep understanding of slavery in any one culture. As an ancient historian I turned my attention to studies that narrowed in on these specifics, though here too many books and articles attempted to find generalities across the centuries or in terms of moral and ethical questions. Slavery is an emotional topic for many people, and living as we do in a time when most societies have outlawed the practice, it can seem very distant as well. The result is a field that never seems exhausted as each new generation finds new evidence and constantly re-examines earlier ideas and interpretations.

Thus from November 4th to the 7th in 2004, a group of scholars gathered for the 29th meeting of GIREA or the "Groupe International de Recherche sur l’Esclavage dans l’Antiquité". While the title may suggest a wider cultural reach, the essays themselves almost exclusively focus on ancient Greece or ancient Rome, with a few pieces looking at the modern historiography or popular presentation of slavery. I was unable to determine how many papers were presented in total at the conference, but 32 are included in this publication. 17 of the essays are in English, 13 in French, and 2 in Spanish. A review that covered each essay in detail would be prohibitively long, so I will say a few words about each study, attempting to give a sense of which pieces are best argued and offer a new view of the study of slavery.

After the inaugural address from Pierre Ducrey, which briefly lays out previous scholarship on slavery and the topics of the current conference, there are eight subsections in this collection, which I assume represent the conference’s panels themselves. As at all conferences, some papers fit better into each topic than others, and there is an overlap of topics and evidence among numerous studies.

The first subsection, "Fear, War, and Revolts", looks at how slavery and military conflicts interacted. Annalisa Paradiso’s "Sur la servitude volontaire des Mariandyniens d’Héraclée du Pont" looks at how agreeing to slavery was a way to end conflict by examining the case of the Mariandyniens. Paradiso claims that looking at slavery as a means to end war is a new topic in history, but in this volume it is also the subject of René van Royen’s "Slavery and Conquest", which tackles the issue of Gaul and Rome. The third essay in this section, Ricardo Martínez-Lacy, "Fear as a Factor in Slave Revolts", too briefly looks at fear as a motivation for the famous slave revolts of the Roman Republic.

Three more essays look at the political nature of slavery in "Slavery and Critical Analysis in a Civic Context". Christopher Tuplin’s "Fear of Slavery and the Failure of the polis" is a solid argument drawing upon philosophical, historical and political authors but ultimately suggests we have used most of these sources, especially Aristotle, as much as we can to undercover ancient attitudes toward slavery. Julián Gallego writes on "Δοῦλος κατὰ νόμον y la idea de hombre en la Grecia clásica".[[1]] This discussion of masculinity and the idea of slavery in Aristotle is a new approach to this philosopher, challenging the conclusions of Tuplin’s essay immediately. Domingo Plácido’s "La guerre, la démocratie et la peur de l’esclavage" returns to the previous chapter’s topic of war, but from the political view of Thucydides’s portrayal of democracy and its decay.

"Manumission, Social Threats and Juridical Restrictions" is the general thread that ties the next five essays together. Miriam Valdés Guía’s "Peur et contrainte des dépendants ratifiées par des pratiques judiciaries et religieuses: les paysans atimoi de l’Attique archaïque" uses a good range of evidence to move away from slavery proper to another dependent status that Solon attempted to deal with: peasant/noble dynamics that could result in debt servitude. Georgios A. Zachos presents a solid study of how political restrictions interacted with freeing slaves in the Hellenistic period in his essay "Interference of the City in the Elateian Manumissions". Pedro López Barja Quiroga rightly claims at the end of his brief essay that his conclusions are tentative and in need for greater exploration when he looks at "Fear of Freedmen. Roman Republican Laws on Voting Procedure". I wanted a lot more speculation and theory about why slaves are punished differently and whether there are any slave-specific offenses by the time I finished with Ilias Arnaoutoglou’s "Fear of Slaves in Ancient Greek Legal Texts". Richard Gamauf’s essay “Cum aliter nulla domus tuta esse posit...”: "Fear of Slaves and Roman Law" is one of the best in the collection as he very logically and convincingly looks at the fear often seen in the senatus consultum Silanianum, expands his search into other aspects of legal and social rules regarding slavery during the early period of the Principate, and finds more examples of rewards than punishments that were used to keep slaves in check and reassure masters.

The next two subsections deal with well-trodden topics in the study of slavery, but given the nature of our evidence one cannot get away from literature and rhetoric. The three essays in "Definitions and Literary Reactions to Slavery" each focus on a different author with varying degrees of success and new insights. David Bouvier’s "La peur de l’esclavage comme peur refoulée dans l’Iliade", clearly is focused on Homer, discussing in fact both the Odyssey and the Iliad, and thus represents the earliest chronological piece in the conference papers, but the argument covers familiar ground. Paul Demont’s essay, "La peur et le rire: la perception de l’esclavage dans les Grenouilles d’Aristophane", focuses too exclusively on just one play, though he does bring in a wide range of scholarship on both theater and Aristotle. Overall I wanted more contemporary examples for what the Greek attitude was during Plato’s lifetime than another look back at the Odyssey in William G. Thalmann’s essay, "Despotic Authority, Fear and Ideology of Slavery".

I was pleasantly surprised that the three essays in "Rhetoric of Slavery" did not just cover the same philosophers and jurists that one usually reads in discussions of rhetoric and slavery. Roger Brock’s essay "Figurative Slavery in Greek Thought" touches upon several sources to discover different attitudes towards slavery in reality versus literature but could use expansion to give more weight to his startling conclusions that legal and political slavery are negative while purely literary uses of the concept are positive. Anastasia Serghidou targets Herodotus after an overview of how fear is connected to the idea of being enslaved in other authors in her essay "Les deux temps de la peur. Crainte immédiate et peur d’asservissement prospectif. Le cas d’Hérodote". Jacques Annequin looks at two separate spheres of fear in "Esclaves-esclavages, peurs individuelles et peurs sociales dans les Métamorphoses d’Apulée". Once more in this collection of conference papers we see an idea in its initial stages that really could use expansion of the evidence and the flow of logic that leads us to the scholar’s conclusions.

When owner and slave live in close proximity there will be issues of sexuality and family, so five essays in "Controlling Affective Ties: Master-Slave Relation, a Problematic Scheme" examine aspects of these issues. Ana Iriarte’s "Une peur colérique, ou la résistance tragique des vierges asservies", looks at the complex and primarily unspoken dynamic between Clytemnestra and Cassandra in the Agamemnon. Andreas Fountaoulakis offers a brilliant and wide discussion of the gender roles, freedom and slavery allow for an engaging examination of Bitinna and her slave Gastron in "Punishing the Lecherous Slave: Desire and Power in Herondas 5". Niall McKeown spends more time finding the flaws in other arguments than offering solid conclusions in "The Sound of John Henderson Laughing: Pliny 3.14 and Roman Slaveowners’ Fear of their Slaves". Holt Parker’s essay "Free Women and Male Slaves, or Mandingo meets the Roman Empire" finds not only a distinct lack of fear that Roman women might have slave lovers but also offers three good suggestions to why this may be so. Dionisio Pérez Sánchez’s "Social Domination and Protective Heavens. Dependences and Withdrawal from the World in the Visigothic Milieu" seemed the least logical piece in this subsection, since it deals with religion and political decisions and not with interpersonal dynamics.

"Producing Fear: Punishment and Morals of Submission" looks at a topic that is currently hot in scholarship on slavery and social inequities across cultures: how punishment and a socially agreed upon morality function to maintain the institution. Five essays tackle this difficult subject, and difficult it is, because our sources often assume their audience, their peers, will know these codes and thus do not elaborate on them. Antonio Gonzales’s article "Peur des affranchis impériaux et compassion envers les affranchis privés dans l'oeuvre de Pline le Jeune" is very aptly named but rightly goes beyond Pliny’s work to place it in a solid historical context to reveal how imperial policies and emperors are changing attitudes toward freedpeople. María José Hidalgo De La Vega’s essay, "The Flight of Slaves and Bands of latrines in Apuleius", looks at Apuleius, comparing both groups as examples of a fairly consistent strategy to resist oppression. Several studies in this collection made one think of James C. Scott’s "Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts", but Manuel Rodriguez Gervás’ essay "Enseigner la peur, reproduire la domination. Une approche" was the most directly connected to what Scott is trying to do across cultures. As with Scott’s work, Gervás must rely upon more modern studies, this time in psychology and sociology, but is focused on the Roman period of the 2nd to the 4th centuries. David Harvey is the only scholar in this collection who mentions and thanks the conference for help with his paper, yet “The severity of the master, and misery of the slave”: "Fears and Evils in David Hume’s Essay Of the Populousness of Ancient Nations" seems more of a criticism of previous scholarship than a solid argument or new insight. Alberto Prieto’s paper ("Miedo, menosprecio y castigo a los esclavos en el cine de romanos") looks at five movie versions of the Spartacus story from 1913 to 1965 from a wide range of angles including race, politics, and sexuality.

At first glance, it seems that the last subsection, "Colonies, Utopian Communities and Fictional Slavery Perspectives", is more about literature, but these four essays look at the social and political stories that cultures create to explain their traditions and past. Violaine Sebillotte Cuchet briefly examines the complex differentiations that a society can make to define social status in her essay "Habiter quelque part: le lien á la terre et la menace de l’esclavage. L’exemple de la représentation spartiate des hilotes entre le milieu du Vème siècle et le milieu du IVème siècle avant notre ère." Adolfo J. Dominguez looks at the evidence for slavery as part of a colony’s foundation legend and a method for dealing with threats through symbolic enslavement; there is not really much about “social control,” however, in "Fear of Enslavement and Sacred Slavery as Mechanisms of Social Control among the Ancient Locrian". The Sicilian rebellions are common topics in the study of slavery. Théodorus Mavrojannis’s study, "Rébellions d’esclaves et réactions politiques de 137 à 101 av. J.-C.", goes beyond those well-known slave revolts to reveal a political and social environment that unconsciously encouraged such resistance. Herodas is the focus of a second essay in this collection, this time from Page duBois in her more philosophical than persuasive piece, "The Coarsest Demand: "Utopia and the Fear of Slaves".

Any collection of conference papers will have its share of excellent essays and poor essays. Quality is determined by both the scholars’ use of any comments or suggestions they received at the conference as well as the editor’s vision of the publication. This collection displays problems in both areas. First, very few of the essays reference the conference at all, either by footnoting where suggestions or comments aided in the revision of the conference paper or by acknowledging similar topics presented at the same or other panels. The result is that most of the essays read like oral presentations, lacking the tight argument and logical flow of evidence that we expect in published studies. The second general problem is editorial, as numerous typographical, grammatical and spelling errors as well as uneven or weak arguments appear throughout.

There are certainly some interesting ideas and new information presented in some of the essays as well as reviews of well-trodden ground. In my opinion two scholars had essays that stood out from the rest, Richard Gamauf and Andreas Fountaoulakis, as each drew upon a wide range of evidence but stayed focused on strongly proving his thesis by taking the reader through his flow of reasoning while keeping up the interest on the topic. Too often the studies in this collection were too brief to fully explore their subjects and persuade me to their conclusions. The result is a collection that is weak in comparison to other conference publications on the same topic I have read, but some of the evidence was new enough to encourage me and hopefully others to continue investigating slavery in the ancient world.

Table of contents

(see also the publisher's website)

Conférence inaugurale

P. Ducrey, "Le monde antique est-il basé sur la peur? Peur des esclaves, peur de l’esclavage dans le monde gréco-romain"

Fear, War, and Revolts

A. Paradiso, "Sur la servitude volontaire des Mariandyniens d’Héraclée du Pont"

R. Martínez Lacy, "Fear as a Factor in Slave Revolts"

R. van Royen, "Slavery and Conquest"

Slavery and Critical Analysis in a Civic Context

Ch. Tuplin, "Fear of Slavery and the Failure of the polis"

J. Gallego, "Dou=los katà nómon y la idea de hombre en la Grecia clásica"

D. Plácido, "La guerre, la démocratie et la peur de l’esclavage"

Manumission, Social Threats and Juridical Restrictions

M. Valdés Guía, "Peur et contrainte des dépendants ratifiées par des pratiques judiciaries et religieuses: les paysans atimoi de l’Attique archaïque"

G. Zachos, "Interference of the City in the Elateian Manumissions"

P. L ópez Barja Quiroga, "Fear of Freedmen. Roman Republican Laws on Voting Procedure"

I. Arnaoutoglou, "Fear of Slaves in Ancient Greek Legal Texts"

R. Gamauf, “'Cum aliter nulla domus tuta esse posit. . .': Fear of Slaves and Roman Law"

Definitions and Literary Reactions to Slavery

D. Bouvier, "La peur de l’esclavage comme peur refoulée dans l’Iliade"

P. Demont, "La peur et le rire: la perception de l’esclavage dans les Grenouilles d’Aristophane"

W.G. Thalmann, "Despotic Authority, Fear and Ideology of Slavery"

Rhetoric of Slavery

R. Brock, "Figurative Slavery in Greek Thought"

A. Serghidou, "Les deux temps de la peur. Crainte immédiate et peur d’asservissement prospectif. Le cas d’Hérodote"

J. Annequin, "Esclaves-esclavages, peurs individuelles et peurs sociales dans les Métamorphoses "d’Apulée"

Controlling Affective Ties: Master - Slave Relation, a Problematic Scheme

A. Iriarte, "Une peur colérique, ou la résistance tragique des vierges asservies"

A. Fountoulakis, "Punishing the Lecherous Slave: Desire and Power in Herondas 5"

N. McKeown, "The Sound of John Henderson Laughing: Pliny 3.14 and Roman Slaveowners’ Fear of their Slaves"

H. Parker, "Free Women and Male Slaves, or Mandingo meets the Roman Empire"

D. Pérez Sánchez, "Social Domination and Protective Heavens. Dependences and Withdrawal from the World in the Visigothic Milieu"

Producing Fear: Punishment and Morals of Submission

A. Gonzales, "Peur des affranchis impériaux et compassion envers les affranchis privés dans l'oeuvre de Pline le Jeune"

M.J. Hidalgo De La Vega, "The Flight of Slaves and Bands of latrines in Apuleius"

M. Rodriguez Gervás, "Enseigner la peur, reproduire la domination. Une approche"

D. Harvey, “'The severity of the master, and misery of the slave': Fears and Evils in David Hume’s Essay Of the Populousness of Ancient Nations"

A. Prieto, "Miedo, menosprecio y castigo a los esclavos en el cine de romanos"

Colonies, Utopian Communities and Fictional Slavery Perspectives

V. Sebillotte Cuchet, "Habiter quelque part: le lien á la terre et la menace de l’esclavage"

A.J. Dominguez, "Fear of Enslavement and Sacred Slavery as Mechanisms of Social Control among the Ancient Locrians"

T. Mavrojannis, "Rébellions d’esclaves et réactions politiques de 137 à 101 av. J.-C."

P. duBois, "The Coarsest Demand: Utopia and the Fear of Slaves"


M.-M. Mactoux


[[1]] I thank an Indiana University colleague of mine, David Woken, for helping me with the Spanish text of the papers by Julián Gallego and Alberto Prieto. (read complete article)


Rhiannon Ash (ed., comm.). Tacitus: Histories Book II. Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. ix, 415 p. $39.99 (pb). ISBN 9780521891356.
Reviewed by Rebecca Edwards, Wright State University (

As a teacher and scholar I am delighted that the Cambridge “Green and Yellow” series is continuing to provide new and engaging commentaries on the works of Tacitus. Having taught the fourth book of the Annals using the commentary of Martin and Woodman (1989), and the first book of the Histories using that of Damon (2003), I look forward to using Ash’s commentary on Book II of the Histories in the classroom. One can only hope that the climactic Book III will soon be added to the series.[[1]]

Ash states in her introduction, “ is the aim of this commentary to enrich students’ understanding of Tacitus Histories 2 at whatever point they encounter the text. The goal throughout has been to elucidate how Tacitus’ style and arrangement of material impose meaning on complex historical events” (vii). In this review, I will try to assess how successful Ash is achieving this goal, while also examining other aspects of the commentary.

Preceding the text and commentary is an introduction divided into eleven separate sections. The first section is a very brief biography of Tacitus. This is followed by an overview of historiography as a genre, then a section on civil war and Roman identity. After discussing these broader themes, the introduction moves on to Book II of the Histories. A brief overview prefaces a list of the dramatis personae, dividing the various characters of the book into ‘Othonians,’ ‘Vitellians,’ ‘Flavians,’ and ‘Others.’ To me, the designation ‘Others’ seems somewhat ambiguous, and perhaps this information could have been expanded into an appendix. Nevertheless, the classification could be helpful, especially to students with no background to the material. This is followed by a discussion of Tacitean style. In particular, Ash is interested in wordplay and puns on names, a feature which will recur throughout the commentary. Next is a study of ‘sententiae and moralising allusions,’ succeeded by discussions of Tacitus’ sources, the parallel tradition, and pro-Flavian historiography. The last section elucidates the textual tradition and includes a list of deviations in Ash’s text from the 1978 Teubner of Heubner.

Ironically, my biggest complaint about the introduction concerns that which Ash herself found wanting in the commentary of Damon (BMCR 2003.09.14). Ash criticized Damon for not including “a separate section in the introduction on the bellum Neronis.” I would have liked a section in Ash’s introduction that summarized the events of Book I.

The text itself is subdivided into digestible paragraphs, just as the commentary is divided into thematic sections. For the most part these sections are sensible, although I do think the large section “The Victorious Vitellius Advances Toward Rome” (57-73) could have been divided into smaller sections. Each section gives an overview of the narrative to be analyzed and allows students to get a look at the big picture before they wade into the Latin. These sections are also useful for scholars as they highlight key difficulties, themes, etc., and often provide useful insights. In particular, her previous work on the military chaos of civil war informs her comments on the relationship between generals (including Vespasian) who are less than honorable and armies that are more barbarian than Roman.[[2]] For example, in her preface to Caecina’s assault on Placentia (20.2-23.2), she compares Tacitus’ account with that of Plutarch, noting, “T., unlike Plutarch, tells the story from a Vitellian perspective (Morgan (1997) 348 n.41, 356), focusing on Caecina’s hopes (20.2) and ultimate disappointment (2.22.3, 24.1). This dovetails with a broader theme of the first two books, the growing rivalry between Vitellius’ generals, Caecina and Valens, each anxious about his own standing in relation to the other (92.1n)” (131).[[3]] This sets the stage for both of these generals to fail Vitellius, and, in particular, for Caecina to betray him.

These insights extend into the commentary itself. In commenting on Otho’s suicide, Ash notes that T. omits the vignette, found in the parallel tradition, of a soldier giving Otho courage to take his own life by setting an example. Ash points out further that Otho’s suicide is premeditated only in T.’s version. Finally, discussing the acceleration of Otho’s death to gain clemency for his family, Ash comments, “Otho in death, as in presented as almost addicted to speed” (209).

Ash also points out elements in the book which allude to previous ideas or suggest ring composition. Otho’s soldiers kiss (exosculentes) their general’s wounds and hands. Ash notes, “The verb suggest peripeteia: the jubilant people exosculari Othonis manum (1.45.1) just after his victory over Galba” (213).

Other nice touches are the aforementioned attention drawn to wordplay and plays on names. Commenting on the treachery of Varus against his friend Dolabella and his regret which comes too late, Ash notes that seram veniam post scelus quaerebat is ambiguous. While ostensibly it means that Varus changed his mind too late to save Dolabella from execution, it could also refer to the fact that Varus has tried too late to redeem his reputation after the scelus of betraying his friend. “The two interpretations are not mutually exclusive; or perhaps the first reading (immediate context) indicates what did happen, while the second reading (wider context) denotes what should have happened” (251).

With regards to plays on names, Ash points out that “the Legio XXI Rapax (aptly) rapuit the enemy’s standards (43.1n. rapuit).” T. also plays on the cognomen of Caecina (Alienus) when he says Caecinae haud alienus (22.3), and that of Valens when “with the arrival of Valens, the party convaluerant (93.2n.)” (19).

Another feature which makes this commentary particularly attractive for use in the classroom is the lucid explanation of technical terms. When describing the preparations for the siege of Placentia, Ash defines the different devices and their uses: “crates: fascines (i.e. bundles of brush), used for building fortifications or for cover (2.22.2, 3.20.3) and for filling in ditches (A. 1.68.2, 4.51.1, Caes. Gal. 3.18.6)” (134). Similar clarity is used in glossing pluteos and vineas, helping students to get a visual picture of the Roman war machine.

Finally, Ash has the ability to amuse as well as to instruct. When describing the Othonians preparing for the battle at Bedriacum, she muses, “It is like watching a crash in slow motion” (184). Commenting on quem ipse ductaverat (100.2), Ash points out that Sallust tried to appropriate the word for historiography, but that it was originally a comedic term meaning “to take home a prostitute (OLD ducto 1b) (376)...Given Valens’ propensity for sexual misdemeanors (30.3n foedum et maculosum), T.’s unique selection of a Sallustian expression, riddled with double entendre, does not seem entirely innocent” (376).

The commentary includes two maps, one of the Roman Empire as a whole, as well as a more detailed map of Italy. The modern names of places are not given in the text, but for a few exceptions (Augustodunum = Autun 244; Augusta Taurinorum = Turin 259).The bibliography is extensive and up-to-date. There are two indices, one a general index, and one dealing specifically with Latin words. Surprisingly, given Ash’s praise for the appendices of Damon, there are none in her own commentary. While Ash does discuss deviations from the parallel sources at relevant points in her commentary, appendices like those in Damon’s commentary, which compare the parallel narratives, would have been nice.

In conclusion, I am grateful to the editors of the Cambridge series for continuing to publish quality commentaries for senior undergraduate and graduate level Latin courses. These commentaries, including the one under review, provide adequate help for students while also allowing teachers the opportunity to initiate scholarly discussions of the material. These books are not only useful in the classroom, but outside as well. Ash’s commentary on Book II of the Histories will no doubt find itself on the bookshelf of Tacitean scholars alongside the previous volumes in the series.

I noticed a few errata. On page 20 in the introduction, the citation isque primus dies principatus dies in posterum celebratus... (2.79) should be short the first dies (the correct reading is found in the text). The name of the procurator of Corsica in 2.16 switches from Picarius to Pacarius. In the commentary, Ash uses Picarius, which is probably correct.[[4]] At 21.3 molis is found in the text, but the commentary reads moles, the reading preferred by the Teubner. The comment on 52.1 discussing Mutina should name Pansa not Pansus (219). The text in the comment on 54.2 omits the crucial sibi before quisque consuluere. The note on 66.2 should read, as the text does, Augustae, not Augusta (259). The text at 71.2 reads Marci Macri, while the commentary has the correct Marti Macri (278). In the note on 82.2, Agrippa should be Agricola (320). At 2.89.1, the text reads a ponte Mulvio, while the commentary has the correct reading, a ponte Mulvi.


[[1]] The series also includes a commentary on the Dialogus by Roland Mayer (2001). There are also Cambridge commentaries (non-“Green and Yellow”) by Goodyear on Annals 1.1-54 (1972); Annals 1.55-81 and Annals 2 (1981); and Woodman and Martin on Annals 3 (1996), but they are rather pricy for use in the classroom.

[[2]] Ordering Anarchy: armies and leaders in Tacitus’ Histories. University of Michigan Press, 1999.

[[3]] The reference is to M. G. Morgan, “Caecina’s assault on Placentia: Tacitus Histories 2.20.2-22.3,” Philologus 141 (1997): 338-61.

[[4]] Chilver’s commentary on this passage (Oxford 1979) prefers Picarius, referencing A. Stein, RE XXI col. 1186. (read complete article)