Saturday, April 18, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
Biagio Virgilio (ed.), Studi ellenistici XX. Pisa/Roma: Fabrizio Serra Editore, 2008. Pp. 553. ISBN 9788862271059. €195.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Livia Capponi, Newcastle University

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

This volume of collected essays on Hellenism continues the series founded in 1984, and directed since then by Biagio Virgilio (Pisa). It comprises twenty essays on different aspects of Hellenism, with no apparent thematic, chronological or geographical order. Overall, these studies are a highly valuable collective effort, which contribute significantly to the current state of research, either by analysing new evidence, or by redefining and challenging the existing consolidated scholarly views on this part of Mediterranean history. The series Studi Ellenistici has proven to be an extremely useful tool for all students of ancient history, and the director should be thanked for his work. For reasons of space, in this review, I will comment on a limited number of contributions.

The introductory essay by Emilio Gabba examines the reception of Greek Classical culture by the upper classes of the ancient world, starting from the Hellenistic and Roman periods, and continuing up to the admiration and emulation of Greek culture as the locus of an imagined spiritual originality in Neo-classical Europe. After considering modern types of philhellenism (e.g. the European sympathy for Greece's struggle for liberation from the Turks) Gabba underlines how from the middle of the nineteenth century the progression of knowledge of the Near East helped scholars to shift from the worship of the Greek miracle to a more balanced, even anti-classical, consideration of the Greek cultural horizon.

Pierre Briant's first essay could be briefly summarised as 'the Rostovtzeff delusion'. The scholar highlights the contradictions and shortcomings in Rostovtzeff's teleological vision of the Achaemenid state as a pre-Hellenistic reality, and criticises some passages where the Russian scholar minimised the rupture between the Achaemenid and the Hellenistic kingdoms, and exaggerated a stereotyped model of longue durée. Briant shows that Rostovtzeff neglected most documentary evidence available about the Persian domination, such as the Elephantine papyri from Egypt. Although Rostovtzeff shows himself to be aware of these documents and interested in them, he does not take account of them in his larger historical picture of Achaemenid-Hellenistic continuity.

The stimulating essay by Manuela Mari on the ruler cult in Macedonia argues that divine honours were attributed to at least two Antigonid kings, Antigonus Gonatas or Doson, worshipped in the area of Oreskeia in the Strymon valley (and perhaps in Amphipolis, too) and Philip V in Amphipolis, in Berge, and in a city of Chalkidike. Probably, such an initiative followed the concession of privileges or marked the special relationship between the ruler and a city (the epithet ktistes is significant and should be taken in a flexible and figurative sense). It must be noted, however, that this type of interaction between king and cities was limited to the area outside the 'Old Kingdom' of Macedon, in other words, to the free poleis that had been annexed by Philip II (e.g. Pydna, Kassandreia, Amphipolis, Philippoi and Philippopolis, Maroneia and Thasos). The author concludes that the interaction between local and state cults was never established in Macedonia in a standardized way. Differently from other areas of Greece and Asia Minor, in Macedonia only a few cities, and apparently none of the 'Old Kingdom', felt the need to approach the kings to solicit their benefactions through the offer of divine honours. If it is true that Philip was the only king who consciously tried to introduce a divine representation of himself, his attempt was a failure.

Biagio Virgilio contributes to this series with a learned essay on the portrayal of Hellenistic kingship in Polybius. Through the investigation of different passages, the author shows that Polybius' negative portrayal of Hellenistic monarchies is both exaggerated and instrumental to his justification of the rise of Rome. Polybius places a great emphasis on the political constitution of a state as a substantial reason for its success or failure, thus it seems natural and even inevitable that the Roman constitution prevails over the declining institutional framework of the Hellenistic kingdoms. Polybius' analysis of the failure of these kingdoms points to different causes: the moral degradation of individual rulers (e.g. Ptolemy IV Philopator, caricaturised as a drunkard, or Antiochus Epiphanes, the 'madman') is made worse by the intrigues of Hellenistic courts and the superpower of courtiers, constantly plotting against the kings, and by the financial problems of the kings who often begged for loans of cash from the haute bourgeoisie. Polybius' view is that the chaos and arbitrary quality inherent to the Hellenistic monarchies would never be possible in Rome. The other ideological focus of Polybius is the 'ideal democracy' of the Achaean League, which remains however suspended in a nostalgic and patriotic limbo. Polybius thus explains the rise of Rome in terms of technical superiority: stronger army and more efficient institutions, but no better culture. Culture remains firmly anchored to the side of the losers.

Lucio Troiani provides a new comparative analysis of 1 and 2 Maccabees. Through an attentive examination of the differences in background, readership, language and style, and a careful consideration of the different emphasis that each book places on different parts of the same story (the Maccabean revolt against 'Hellenism') he shows that the purpose, origin and date of composition of the two works are radically different. 1 Maccabees is a local history, written by an inhabitant of Judea, of the deeds of the Maccabean brothers Judas, Jonathan and Simon, that looks at circa forty years and stops with the rise of John Hyrcanus I. The historical and cultural background of this work remains a mystery. However, it seems clear that its main concern is to show how the Maccabean heroes defended the national religious and legal tradition against a policy of forced assimilation and homogenization. This policy brought a revival of Palestinian cults which culminated in the construction of a bomos, an altar, in the temple of Jerusalem (the litholatric cults were typical of the Caananite tribes, the historical enemies of the Jews). In 1 Maccabees, thus, the enemy of Judas is not Greek culture, but rather globalisation. 2 Maccabees is a more sophisticated and stratified work. It is a collection of documents with an edifying purpose, apparently aiming to recall the Diaspora Jews to the celebration of the traditional cult of Jerusalem (as is clear from the two introductory letters from the Jews of Jerusalem to the Jews of Egypt of 143 and 124 BCE). Many of the problems emphasised by the book, e.g. the laws of purity (amixia) and the sabbath, were burning issues of discussion among the Jews of the Diaspora cities. For Troiani, the slogan 'adopt Greek customs', which the author of 2 Maccabees attributes to the reform of Antiochus IV, is probably a political catchword that circulated among the Jews who lived in the Greek poleis. In substance, while 1 Maccabees looks at the effects of the reform within Judaea, the dossier contained in 2 Maccabees shows the repercussions and consequences that the reform at Jerusalem and the Maccabean movement had for the Diaspora. The differences between these two perspectives do not imply that one is better or more reliable than the other.

The perceptive essay by John Ma surveys the paradigmatic modern approaches to various aspects of Hellenism. He starts by contesting two binary models. The first is the alleged Hellenistic fusion between cultures, versus a colonial paradigm of radically separate cultures, with Greek culture of the ethno-élite being completely detached from the local cultures of the dominated groups. The second is the juxtaposition of a supposed decline versus a continued vitality of the polis. The author suggests that we should hold both paradigms in our field of vision, and wonders whether all these categorisations are a modern problem, rather than an ancient one. Hellenistic Egypt, for example, is a land of paradoxes. The images of the Ptolemaic rulers, often mixing Greek style portraits with Egyptian motifs, give us the impression of 'seeing double', and documents such as the Rosetta stone, produced by Egyptian priestly élites on the model of the Greek honorific decree, seem 'strange' to both Classicists and Egyptologists. Moreover, the gradual 'Egyptianisation' of the Ptolemaic rulers seems to take place precisely when the Egyptian native population is shaken by rebellions, and loses for good any power of real interaction with the Macedonian rulers. Other paradoxes may be seen at the local level in Karia, Lykia, and Hasmonean Judaea, where cultural and military resistance to a Hellenistic kingdom leads to the creation of an imperialist and expansionist power, a Hellenistic kingdom such as that which the pious Jews rebelled against. The author raises the question whether all these paradoxes are inherent to the object studied, or may have been superimposed by the interpreters. He concludes that paradoxes (or, one might say with Finley, 'models') should emerge from the ancient documents through an exercise of induction. In other words, only a comparison and analysis of the documents can provide conceptual models that, in turn, need to be constantly questioned.

The essay by Gianluca Casa is a useful survey of a specific oath formula (exomosia) in Hellenistic papyri. This contribution shows the heavy dependence of Hellenistic legal terms on Egyptian, or even on Near Eastern institutions, and raises the interesting question of the contribution of Persian institutions and bureaucratic terminology to the Ptolemaic state. Domitilla Campanile looks at the introduction of the Roman conventus in the provinces and argues that this took place around 129-126 BCE, when Manius Aquillius reorganised the new province of Asia. Campanile then turns to look at the role of the city élites in the exchange of favours with the Roman government, down to the imperial period, and finds that a major turning point was the request in 29 BCE on the part of the Asian legates to build a temple to Octavian and dea Roma in Pergamum and Nicomedia. This gesture profoundly affected the life of the assemblies in the cities of Asia, allowing them to strenghten their ties with the centre of power and to insert the local élites into the imperial administration. Finally, the most original contribution is that of Omar Coloru, who sketches a fascinating picture of the reminiscences of the Graeco-Bactrian kings in Mediaeval and Modern literature, from Boccaccio and Chaucer to Kavafis, down to the science-fiction novels of the American writer H.P. Lovecraft.

Overall, this collection of essays represents a vital contribution to the scholarly research on Hellenism. It is presented in a learned, yet accessible manner, and is enriched by an open-minded, international and interdisciplinary approach. The huge size of the work (553 pages) is perhaps behind the editor's choice of having neither indexes nor general bibliography. Nonetheless, this is a very welcome contribution to Hellenistic Studies, and a necessary reference work for all students of ancient history.

Table of Contents

Emilio Gabba, "Il mondo culturale del Mediterraneo antico e l'idea del classico", 9

Christian Habicht, "Judicial Control of the Legislature in Greek States", 17

Bruno Helly, "Encore le blé thessalien. Trois décrets de Larisa (IG IX 2, 506) accordant aux Athéniens licence d'exportation et réduction des droits de douane sur leurs achats de blé", 25

Federicomaria Muccioli, "Stratocle di Diomeia e la redazione trezenia del 'decreto di Temistocle'", 109

Pierre Briant, "Michael Rostovtzeff et le passage du monde achéménide au monde hellénistique", 137

Pierre Briant, "Retour sur Alexandre et les katarraktes du Tigre: l'histoire d'un dossier (suite et fin)", 155

Manuela Mari, "The Ruler Cult in Macedonia", 219

Pierre-Louis Gatier, "Héraclée-sur-mer et la géographie historique de la côte syrienne", 269

Raymond Descat, "Isabelle Pernin, Notes sur la chronologie et l'histoire des baux de Mylasa", 285

Biagio Virgilio, "Polibio, il mondo ellenistico e Roma", 315

Lucio Troiani, "Note storiografiche sopra I e II Maccabei", 347

John Ma, "Paradigms and Paradoxes in the Hellenistic World", 371

Roberto Mazzucchi, "Mileto e la sympoliteia con Miunte", 387

Andrea Primo, "Seleuco e Mitridate Ktistes in un episodio del giovane Demetrio Poliorcete", 409

Gianluca Casa, "Giuro di no. Note a PSI com. VI 11", 427

Francis X. Ryan, "Breadth and Depth in the Account of the Dedications to Athana Lindia", 455

Roberto Sciandra, "Il 'Re dei Re' e il 'Satrapo dei Satrapi': note sulla successione tra Mitridate II e Gotarze I a Babilonia (ca. 94-80 a.e.v.)", 471

Domitilla Campanile, "Vita da provinciali: Asia e Bitinia in età romana", 489

Patrick Robiano, "Caspérius Élien, ou Claude Élien? Ou comment Philostrate écrit l'histoire", 503

Omar Coloru, "Reminiscenze dei re greco-battriani nella letteratura medievale europea e nella science-fiction americana", 519

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