Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
Jakub Pigon (ed.), The Children of Herodotus: Greek and Roman Historiography and Related Genres. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009. Pp. 404. ISBN 9781443800150. £39.99.
Reviewed by Cynthia King, Wright State University

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

This book must have been a labor of love for Jakub Pigon and Cambridge Scholars Publishing. It has a fine bibliography and index of ancient personal names (much needed). Unfortunately, it has no introduction, and thus information about its genesis and purpose comes from the dust cover, which might well not survive cataloging in a library. From the dust cover we learn that the 22 papers in the book were originally presented at a conference on ancient historical writing in May 2007 in Wroclaw, Poland. The contributors are identified in the book; eleven are scholars from Polish universities. All the essays but one (in French) are in English. The dust jacket notes that "all Greek and most Latin quotations are translated." Some references to German scholarship in footnotes are not translated. Also from the dust jacket: "The focus of the volume is, on the one hand, on the ancient historians' methods of approaching the external world, especially a non-Greek (or non-Roman) world, and, on the other, on the political dimension of historical writing, especially Roman imperial historiography."

1. In a lively paper Stephen Evans examines the evidence for and against Herodotus' orality. "The recitation of the entire Histories would take up fifty hours," which some consider impossible, "though actually in India or Africa it would be possible..." (11): Evans cites the work of Lauri Honko, Textualizing the Siri Epic (Helsinki 1998).

2. Klaus Karttunen examines the influence of Herodotus the Ethnographer on later classical writers. With regard to the gold-digging ants, he could have mentioned the reports about marmots in northern Pakistan who throw up rubble that does contain gold dust from their burrows (Marlise Simons, "Himalayas Offer Clue to Legend of Gold-Digging 'Ants'", New York Times, November 25, 1996).

3. Angnieska Wojciechowska discusses the Egyptian evidence for Cambyses' rule there, which paints a much more favorable picture than Herodotus does. Indeed, Herodotus was so concerned to show Cambyses' offenses against custom that he devoted a whole book to Egyptian history and ethnography.

4. Marek Wecowski believes that Thucydides shares with Herodotus the idea that "a historical work is to provide ... a well-grounded insight into the human condition and human nature" (55); he calls this "paradigmatic historiography" (56). The discussion of Thucydides' implicit attacks on Herodotus shows how much Thucydides learned from Herodotus. (I hope that his forthcoming commentary on Hippias of Elis in Brill's New Jacoby will enlighten us about who in recent times decided to revive the scholiast's label for Thucydides' preface.)

5. Lynn Kozak's title is borrowed from Hillary Clinton's attack on General Abizaid in November of 2007 (she gives the first name as "Hilary"). Her opening shows the danger of using contemporary events, since she assumes "an ever-shrinking likelihood of a positive outcome" in Iraq. Her actual subject is an extensive and interesting comparison of the doomed military leaders, Hector in the Iliad and Nicias in Thucydides.

6. Rosie Harman restricts discussion in her paper "to the use of vision in the representation of Cyrus as an imperialist" (74) in Xenophon's Cyropaedia. "The power of Cyrus as imperial conqueror is constructed through his control over his viewers, in the production of spectacle" (90). The Greek reader is in the position of an "ethnographic viewer gazing on exotic sights" (91), and the way in which Xenophon frames the various spectacles highlights for Greeks the problems of either resisting or submitting to Cyrus's imperialism.

7. Bogdan Burliga discusses the narrative passages in Aeneas Tacticus's military handbook, four of which come from Herodotus. Aeneas uses them to illustrate his advice but also to give pleasure.

8. The fragments of the little-known Hellenistic local historian Archemachus are examined by Slawomir Sprawski, who suggests that all come from the Euboika and that he probably did not write a Metonymiai.

9. Przemyslaw Szczurek examines the extensive description of Indian suttee in Diodorus (19.34.1-6). He believes that Diodorus took this description from Hieronymus of Cardia, who may well have been an eyewitness to the funeral of Ceteus in 317 BC. Ceteus commanded the Indian contingent on Eumenes' side in the conflict with Antigonus the One-Eyed. Greek references to this custom are earlier than Indian sources, which Szezurek also examines. Diodorus's explanation of the origin of the custom is problematic. The idea of competition among surviving widows, which does not match Indian reality, may have been influenced by Herodotus's description of Thracian widows (5.5).

10. Strabo's "difficult relationship with Herodotus" (159) is discussed by Johannes Engels, who provides a useful list of passages in the Geographika that refer to passages in Herodotus.

11. To the current interest in what it meant to be Greek under Roman rule, Avi Avidov adds consideration of the position of Jews. Hellenized Jews like Philo and Josephus "were marginal twice over, in that they were marginal within a marginal community"; their "utopian vision of the Roman empire... was quite irrelevant to the interests of its Gentile addressees, and quite incomprehensible to its Jewish ones" (179).

12. Nicholas Victor Sekunda uses Plutarch's notice about the books that Alexander ordered Harpalus to send him to suggest that Alexander was planning for a personal dynasty, following the example of Dionysius of Syracuse. The most striking of these books was that of Philistus, author of Peri Dionysiou and a member of Dionysius's government and extended family.

13. Lydia Langerwerf tackles the problem of being Greek under Rome in a study of Pausanias's Book 4 and the Messenians. The issues of loss of cultural identity through enslavement and exile are involved in her reading of their situation. She thinks that Pausanias portrays both the Spartans and the Messenians in a negative light.

14. Martine Chassignet's essay in French is concerned with how Hannibal and his family were portrayed in the Greek and Latin historians before Livy. The Greeks were pro-Carthaginian, nervous about Rome's advance; those who were contemporary with Hannibal saw him as a worthy successor to Alexander. The Romans reacted to this picture and thus began their tradition of historical writing; with the exception of Cato the Censor, they wrote in Greek to reach a Hellenistic audience.

15. The aim of Jacek Rzepka's essay is "to show, how (if ever) the Aetolians pictured their history" (220). Their claim to fame "was the successful defence of Central Greece against the Gauls under Brennus in the years 281-279 BC" (221). Rzepka presents two passages from Justin's abridgment of Pompeius Trogus (one describing an interesting embassy of the Romans to the Aetolians in ca. 240 BC) and one a more famous passage from Polybius (5.104.10), where it is an Aetolian who warns other Greeks about the clouds looming from the west (Rome).

16. The reliability of Curtius Rufus's account of the mutiny of Alexander's Macedonian soldiers at Opis in 324 BC is the subject of Marek Jan Olbrycht's paper. He finds that "Curtius's narrative ... offers a vivid and at some points unique account of the Iranians' role and Alexander's policies towards" them (252).

17. Kurt Raaflaub's important paper deals with Tacitus's negative attitude towards emperors and the principate even though he claims to write sine ira et studio (Annals 1.1) and neque amore et sine odio (Histories 1.1). Tacitus's purpose, as Raaflaub's title makes clear, is to reveal the truth about tyranny. The subject must have been quite poignant in Poland: note Raaflaub's reference to a bitter comment from Jakub Pigon about Pliny the Younger as a "time-server" (p. 266, n. 12). I would assign this paper to students; Raaflaub translates all Latin phrases.

18. Franz Roemer's paper is a similar examination of Tacitus. He makes interesting comparisons to the Aeneid: (1) Virgil "tells the story of Aeneas"; Tacitus "relates historical events." (2) Virgil "outlines the historical mission of Rome"; Tacitus tries to analyze historical developments. (3) Virgil "indicates the fate of mankind"; Tacitus ponders "the best form of government" (285) and "the perilous state of the imperium Romanum": the republic is dead, and "the principate threatens to fail for lack of a capable princeps" (286).

19. What Tacitus intends for the reader to think of Germanicus's behavior in the mutiny of Lower Germany at the beginning of the Annals is Jakub Pigon's subject. He shows that Tacitus's use of the passive voice in crucial passages serves to some extent to remove blame from Germanicus's handling of the mutiny. Because of the philological nature of Pigon's interesting and detailed discussion, the reader needs to know Latin.

20. In a detailed analysis of the Agricola, Andrew Fear shows how Tacitus uses comparison with Julius Caesar and the Gallic Wars to highlight Agricola's achievements in Britain. Tacitus shows Agricola as a better soldier than Caesar, but also as a "more effective imperialist" (316).

21. Agnieszka Dziuba's discussion of brevitas in Roman historiography again requires the reader to know Latin. Her essay is an overview of authors who use brevitas, and she then focuses on three rhetorical devices used by Sallust, Velleius Paterculus, and Florus. I would have liked at least one essay devoted to Sallust in this collection.

22. Bruce Duncan MacQueen turns from Herodotus's children to his stepchildren, the Greek novelists in particular. (I am not sure what he wants to do with Petronius and Apuleius.) He suggests that the novel comes about "when the mind turns away from society as it actually is, and imagines a society that could be" (343). His discussion of "the sequence in narratology that leads from myth to history to fiction" (347) uses the idea of process to explain the appearance of this genre, "a series of changes taking place in a rational sequence over a period of time" (346).

Authors and Titles

1. Stephen Evans, The Recitation of Herodotus (1-16)
2. Klaus Karttunen, Phoebo vicinus Padaeus: Reflections on the Impact of Herodotean Ethnography (17-25)
3. Agnieszka Wojciechowska, The Black Legend of Cambyses in Herodotus (26-33)
4. Marek Wecowski, Friends or Foes? Herodotus in Thucydides' Preface (34-57)
5. Lynn Kozak, "Hope Is Not a Strategy": Homer's Hector and Thucydides' Nicias (58-68)
6. Rosie Harman, Viewing, Power and Interpretation in Xenophon's Cyropaedia (69-91)
7. Bogdan Burliga, Aeneas Tacticus Between History and Sophistry: The Emergence of the Military Handbook (92-101)
8. Slawomir Sprawski, Writing Local History: Archemachus and his Euboika (102-118)
9. Przemyslaw Szczurek, Source or Sources of Diodorus' Accounts of Indian sati Suttee (Diod. Sic. 19.33-34.6)? (119-143)
10. Johannes Engels, Universal History and Cultural Geography of the Oikoumene in Herodotus' Historiai and Strabo's Geographika (144-161)
11. Avi Avidov, A Marginal Vision of Empire: Philo and Josephus on the Jews' Integration into Imperial Society (162-180)
12. Nicholas Victor Sekunda, Philistus and Alexander's Empire (Plutarch, Vita Alexandri 8.3) (181-186)
13. Lydia Langerwerf, The Messenians and their Foolish Courage in Pausanias' Book 4 (187-205)
14. Martine Chassignet, L'image des Barcides chez les historiographes latins de la Republique: naissance d'une tradition (206-218)
15. Jacek Rzepka, Principes Semper Graeciae: Pompeius Trogus/Justinus and the Aetolian Politics of History (219-230)
16. Marek Jan Olbrycht, Curtius Rufus, the Macedonian Mutiny at Opis and Alexander's Iranian Policy in 324 BC (231-252)
17. Kurt A. Raaflaub, The Truth About Tyranny: Tacitus and the Historian's Responsibility in Early Imperial Rome (253-270)
18. Franz Roemer, Reconsiderations on the Intention and Structure of Tacitus' Annals (271-286)
19. Jakub Pigon, The Passive Voice of the Hero: Some Peculiarities of Tacitus' Portrayal of Germanicus in Annals 1.31-49 (287-303)
20. Andrew T. Fear, A Greater than Caesar? Rivalry with Caesar in Tacitus' Agricola (304-316)
21. Agnieszka Dziuba, Brevitas as a Stylistic Feature in Roman Historiography (317-328)
22. Bruce Duncan MacQueen, The Stepchildren of Herodotus: The Transformation of History into Fiction in Late Antiquity (329-348)


  1. A summary in the review of what the review author sees as the total value of the project would have been useful. There is little here to help discern strengths and weaknesses (except the ocassional aside and hte comment on the Raaflaub entry). Should a review not be more than a simple summary of the contents?

  2. The subject must have been quite poignant in Poland: note Raaflaub's reference to a bitter comment from Jakub Pigon about Pliny the Younger as a "time-server" (p. 266, n. 12). I would assign this paper to students; Raaflaub translates all Latin phrases.


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