Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Carsten Binder, Plutarchs Vita des Artaxerxes: Ein historischer Kommentar. Göttinger Forum für Altertumswissenschaft. Beihefte N.F. 1. Berlin/New York: Walter De Gruyter, 2008. Pp. xii, 417; CD-ROM. ISBN 9783110202694. $157.00.
Reviewed by M. Weiskopf, Carondelet High School (Concord, CA) (

Binder has written a sober and cautious commentary on Plutarch's Artaxerxes, itself a unicum in subject and treatment in the corpus of lives. He begins with introductory material describing Plutarch's life and career, moving towards a discussion writings, work habits, and sources used (pp. 1-78). The next section is the lemma-by-lemma commentary (pp. 80-360), its tone set by the admonition that it is practically impossible to investigate the historicity of the 'facts' recounted in Plutarch's text (p. 76). Detailed bibliographies and indices complete the work (pp. 361-411). The appended CD represents excerpts from the 2007 Göttinger Forum für Altertumswissenschaft, of which the present work is the first of the Beihefte, Neue Folge.

The strength of the introductory material resides in its fair, dispassionate analysis of Plutarch's use of sources, a characteristic particularly valuable for those Achaemenid scholars more familiar with Near Eastern sources, but who will consult the commentary with or without modern translations of Plutarch's original text. Binder argues the Artaxerxes is an earlier work, one which stands apart from the later emperor-biographies and more commonly known parallel lives. He places proper emphasis on Stronk's and Bleckmann's perceptions of Ctesias as removed from true historical writing. Only to Xenophon can one assign greater worth. It is not possible to achieve any more precision in a source analysis of the Artaxerxes one is only manipulating ground fog.

The main body of the commentary is valuable for both Classical and Near Eastern studies. Binder is versed in the latest Achaemenid scholarship, evidenced by his ability, with the citation of complementary literature, to clarify for Classicists the importance of the Murashu archive (e.g. p. 88) and the cuneiform evidence thought to record a Cadusian campaign (pp. 316 ff). Unfortunately, Fiktion masquerades as Geschichte with no lack of frequency in the Artaxerxes, resulting in numerous inconsistencies in Plutarch's narrative (e.g. p. 108 ff, 189 ff, 234 ff). Binder takes pains to gather together the scattered primary sources and the necessary scholarship, particularly the recent work on Ctesias, but there is little which can be saved of the "Plutarchian phenomena".

There are only minor points with which I take exception. Like Christopher Tuplin, I am uncertain of the lasting value of Hilmar Klinkott's satrap study as a standard work. One article is assigned improperly (a defective manuscript tradition?). On p. 118 (and in the bibliography, p. 366) one should read "(Maria) Brosius", not "(Mary) Boyce".

A more pleasant task is supplementing the commentary. To Binder's discussion of the kitaris/kidaris should be added Christopher Tuplin, "Treacherous Hearts and Upright Tiaras: The Achaemenid King's Head-Dress," pp. 67-97 in Persian Responses: Political and Cultural Interaction with(in) the Achaemenid Empire. Tuplin. Ed. Swansea: The Classical Press of Wales, 2007. One should also take notice of a reasonably argued Seleucid-era parallel to the Metonomasie (from "private-name" to "throne-name") noticed in Artaxerxes 1.4, 2.5 (pp. 96-98, 108) found without reference to Achaemenid scholarship on pp. 34 ff in Peter Mittag, Antiochos IV Epiphanes. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2006. It is perhaps time to tie together these two bodies of evidence.

Finally, and this is the strength of Binder's scholarship, a number of works are utilized but have yet to appear in readily available form: Stronk's edition of Ctesias, forthcoming studies of Ctesias and of the Achaemenid court. These works and promised studies of Dinon by Binder and Lenfant, along with Brill's revamping of Jacoby, should be consulted by Achaemenid historians. Binder, in his cautious scholarship, has laid up a store of goodwill in the houses of all those studying the Achaemenids.

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