Tuesday, June 30, 2009


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Jacob Blevins (ed.), Dialogism and Lyric Self-fashioning: Bakhtin and the Voices of a Genre. Selinsgrove, Pa.: Susquehanna University Press, 2008. Pp. 265. ISBN 9781575911205. $60.00.
Reviewed by Stephen M. Kershner, Denison University

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

Adequately defining lyric subjectivity and lyric consciousness has always been a thorny task, particularly because of the diversity of themes, forms, and eras that help constitute lyric poetry. The volume under review, Dialogism and Lyric Self-Fashioning: Bakhtin and the Voices of a Genre, edited by Jacob Blevins, makes a valuable and rather stimulating contribution to the ever-larger body of scholarship on lyric as a genre, attempting to describe more clearly certain characteristics of lyric subjectivity and make progress in correcting certain scholarly misunderstandings about lyric's dynamic and complex nature. Blevins and the contributors take as their starting point the agreeable position that lyric poetry generally manifests its subjectivity through the use of multiple voices and discourses, in opposition to the sometimes-held belief that lyric is exclusively personal or meditative poetry--that is, an expression that inherently lacks any kind of social or ideological engagement, a kind of confessional performance. In making this claim, Blevins and the contributors turn to Mikhail Bakhtin's theories of dialogism as a way to reveal the "multi-voiced" discourse found in lyric poetry, particularly those voices that compete for primacy and/or ideological control within their respective poem(s). In using Bakhtin's dialogism as a theoretical platform, Blevins and the volume's contributors are able to demonstrate the complex relational aspect found in lyric discourse because of its status as born from, positioned between, or in response to the voices (both heard and unheard) of others. The papers in this volume consequently suggest ways of reading the strategies that lyric poets use to adapt and attune both their voice(s) and their poetry to specific social and ideological contexts. In the end, this volume is decidedly successful in its goal of constructing a "transhistorical survey of dialogism and the lyric genre"(17). Before offering short assessments of the individual papers, I would first like to offer a few comments delineating this volume's particular strengths.

Some readers might find the use of Bakhtin's dialogic model, originally formulated for use with the novel, a bit surprising since Bakhtin famously regarded poetry (lyric and epic) to be essentially monologic. Yet, as Blevins and the contributors continually display throughout the volume, Bakhtin's assessment of lyric poetry is far too narrow and theoretically limiting to sufficiently describe its examples (variously referring to Bakhtin's theory as "disregarding," "miscalculating," "misunderstanding," or "vastly underestimating" lyric poetry). Recent scholarship on lyric subjectivity has indeed begun to move away from the constrictive conception of lyric as monologic and, thus, the use of dialogism here is quite natural. In the process of demonstrating the multi-discursive nature of lyric, Blevins and the contributors are also able to develop further and extend some of Bakhtin's ideas for use outside the novel, a benefit that will continue to yield results.

Perhaps thus volume's greatest strength is its careful organization to present as many of the diverse instantiations of lyric as possible. Blevins suggests that this volume is intended to be a "transhistorical" survey of lyric and, indeed, it profitably incorporates essays on ancient, medieval, early modern, and modern lyric poetry. But, in many ways this designation undersells the volume's scope and value as we find essays exhibiting a broad variety of lyric themes (e.g. encomiastic, agonistic, sacral, erotic, amorous, bucolic, intellectual, and activist) as well as the oppositions that animate lyric as a genre (e.g. male vs. female, active vs. passive, public vs. private, introspective vs. demonstrative, the individual poem vs. the collection, intertextual vs. intratextual). Part of the volume's success in proving the multi-voiced nature of lyric is its ability to offer the reader such a broad and sophisticated coverage of lyric forms.

Another strength is the use of lesser known or at least less thoroughly examined poets as its body of data. As Blevins notes in the introduction, some readers might wish that certain canonical poets such as Catullus, Petrarch, Shakespeare, or Wordsworth had been included. But, the deliberate inclusion of poets such as a Statius or a Thomas Edwards allows the contributors' comments on lyric to escape the poetic canon's cult of personality and make coherent conclusions about the lyric as a genre of poetry.

As a physical product, this book has been ably edited and suffers from less than a handful of minor typographical errors. Its aggregated bibliography is particularly welcome as it offers a good cross-section of scholarship on lyric poetry from classical, medieval, early modern, and modern philologists. The volume also includes a surprisingly full index containing major literary theorists as well as the basic terms of their approaches to analyzing lyric.

Blevins sets the table well in the introduction to the volume by first outlining the basic problems in defining the concept of lyric subjectivity, particularly because of its status as personal, yet interpersonal, public, yet private. After touching on some of the previous attempts to make this definition (e.g. T.S. Eliot, N. Frye, M.H. Abrams, W.R. Johnson, and P.A. Miller), Blevins turns to the concept that lyric poetry is inherently dialogic poetry and, thus, introduces the relevance of using Bakhtin's theories of Dialogism. In presenting the introduction this way, Blevins gives the readers a necessary and appropriate foundation for the theoretical assumptions that the contributors make, as well as the vision to understand how and why the volume's varied essays cohere so well.

The first of three essays on Greek and Roman lyric, Ellen Greene's contribution, "Masculine and Feminine, Public and Private, in the Poetry of Sappho," looks to revise her previously held position that Sappho is engaged in a distinctly feminine and private discourse, instead demonstrating that "desire [is] a profoundly complex experience that cannot be strictly categorized as either 'masculine' or 'feminine'" (p.25). Through the close readings of several Sapphic poems and fragments, Greene is able to show that both masculine and feminine voices share in the Sapphic definition of desire and love with Homeric and military imagery paralleling an idyllic landscape of female affiliation. This new reading is thus able to move beyond the limiting view of Sappho's poetry as distinctly and solely feminine or a deviant form (because it is written by a woman) of masculine discourse.

David H.J. Larmour's contribution, "An Agon on the Slopes of Helicon: Corinna's Dialogues with Pindar and Hesiod," begins with the observation that lyric poetry is founded on a sense of competitive dialogue as the real-life poetic agones found at religious festivals and legendary competitions between canonical poets (e.g. Homer vs. Hesiod) show us. He then examines the tradition of references to an agon between Pindar and his female contemporary (possibly) Corinna as well as their own poems, focusing on the inherent dialogism at work here. Corinna, Larmour argues, constructs her agonistic dialogue with Pindar "by engaging and adapting Hesiodic myth" to confront the tensions between male and female, Panhellenic and local voices. In the end, we are able to see that Corinna celebrates her poetic prowess by acknowledging her Boeotian countrymen and uncovering themes that she can use to distinguish herself as a poet.

Shifting to Roman lyric in "Singing in the Garden: Statius's plein air Lyric (after Horace)," Diana Spencer makes the observation that Horace may have purposely embedded a kind of lyric failure in his Odes, particularly as lyric poetry negotiated its relationship with space (e.g. gardens). This failure thus made future emulation of his approach nearly impossible until Statius's deliberate and self-conscious re-imagination of Horace's lyric landscape in Silvae 4.5. She suggests that Statius, through a careful and at times comic dialogue with Horace's lyric mode, is able to reinvest the rural (or perhaps even pastoral) landscape with poetic and philosophical distance from the urban landscape of Rome. While constructing his parva rura as a zone of ataraxia and otium, Statius is thus able to negotiate the social, political, and poetic identities of both himself and his addressee, Septimius Severus.

Daniel E. O'Sullivan's contribution, "Putting women in their place: Women's Devotional Songs in the Rosarius (BnF fr. 12483)," posits an intratextual dialogue between the various lyric poems in the Rosarius, an Old French collection of devotional songs. Specifically, he suggests that the lyric songs in this collection become "juxtaposed to other texts, opening opportunities for potential dialogue among the voices contained in its chapters," ultimately leading to a "discourse in behavioral prescriptivism for medieval women" (p.84). What is particularly intriguing about this collection is that the female voices step away from their male author to construct a wholly feminine approach to a devotion to Mary.

In "Subjective Identity and Collective Conscience in the Songs of Colin Muset," Christopher Callahan examines the multi-layered discourse of the medieval French poet, Colin Muset, recognized to have a voice "forged of, and thriv[ing] on, a tension between the conventional and the innovative, the lyric and the narrative, the personal and the collective" (p.97). Indeed, Colin, in a "quintessentially dialogic" form, depicts himself in his poems as poet, performer, and character simultaneously. Ultimately, Callahan shows that Colin's manner of having the "personal" speak for the "collective" allows us to see how the poet can be part of a collective awareness of poetic identity.

Using Bakhtin's theory of the stratification of poetic discourse, John Everett Bird's essay, "Producing (and Reproducing) Poetic Identity in Thomas Edwards's Narcissus," examines Edwards's epyllion Narcissus for indications of its self-conscious formation of an identity that is "professional" and communal. Bird posits that Edwards's careful stratification of discourse in his epyllion creates an ambivalence with its relation to contemporary texts, such as Marlowe's Hero and Leander and Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis, with its "status in the contemporary present" (p.116). Bird finally suggests that the "status of poet is ambiguous," in that there is an emerging professionalism in their endeavors, yet poets also wish to "obscure the motives of their profession" and distance themselves from the vulnerability of what they do.

In "That Noble Flame: Literary History and Regenerative Time in Katherine Philips's Elegies and Society of Friendship," W. Scott Howard examines the inherently dialogic discourse of friendship in the bucolic elegies of Katherine Philips. He states that Philips "consistently posits friendship as a living, worldly principle that paradoxically celebrates both the union of two individuals and their distinctive singularities" (p.137). In constructing such a conception of friendship, Philips is thus able to use it as a "foundational trope for literary history." More specifically, Howard argues that Philips's elegies articulate the bonds of friendship, particularly female, and present a regenerative and constitutive relationship between her poetry and the social world outside of that poetry.

Dafydd Wood's essay, "Apollinaire's Late Lyrics," directly questions the limitation of Bakhtin's concept of heteroglossia towards poetry, suggesting that poetry, more so than prose, allows for a great wealth of interpretations because of its "saturation" with meaning and symbol. In Apollinaire's later lyrics, specifically his Poèmes à Lou and Poèmes à Madeleine, we find three separate dialogues: between masculine and feminine voices in a single poem, at the level of tradition in which "the tropes of the religious lyric and love lyric are blended inseparably" (p.163), and between Apollinaire and literary tradition. Ultimately, in examining these three dialogues, we find that Apollinaire's poetry presents us with a true heteroglossia in which none of the voices are privileged over the other; indeed, they rather work symphonically.

In "The Waste Land as a Human Drama Revealed by Eliot's Dialogic Imagination," Ian Probstein attempts to use Bakhtin against himself, focusing particularly on the concepts of chronotopos, polyphony, and parody as they apply to lyric poetry. In his close reading of The Waste Land, Probstein finds that Eliot plays extensively with his poem's subjectivity through the careful allusion to a variety of tropes, authors, characters, and voices thereby "defamiliarizing reality." In performing this example of unfettered dialogism, Eliot is thus able to build a "dialogue with humanity" and exposes his reader to an open, free (in Bakhtinian terms) human drama.

Amittai Aviram's and Richard Hartnett's contribution, "'The Man with the Blue Guitar': Dialogism in Lyric Poetry," examine the way that the lyric subject exists in a kind of game, engaging the reader "in his or her simultaneous recognition of the subject imitated and (author's emphasis) of the fact that it really is merely an imitation" (p.205). Specifically, they examine Wallace Stevens' poem "The Man with the Blue Guitar" and its way of challenging basic notions of representation as it references an essence (so to speak) of Picasso's cubist paintings. In this way, Stevens' poem portrays the comparable struggles that various artistic media (such as poetry, painting, or the novel) share in representing reality. In all media, representing reality is a game about subjectivity and this game thus implies a dialogue between possibilities.

The final essay, Tom Lavazzi's contribution "Echoes of Dubois: The Crisis Writings and Jayne Cortez's Earlier Poetry, discusses the creation of racial identity by examining the conscious construction of a new African-American voice in Jayne Cortez's poetry as different from an earlier, insufficiently genuine one. Further, Lavazzi considers how W.E.B Dubois's formulations of Black identity influenced or even pushed Cortez's work. In the end, he demonstrates how Cortez "restag[es] earlier ideological concerns" by focusing on a different kind of discourse, based on the images of jazz and its syntax and a different kind of audio performance.

Jacob Blevins

Masculine and Feminine, Public and Private, in the Poetry of Sappho
Ellen Greene

An Agon on the Slopes of Helicon: Corinna's Dialogues with Pindar and Hesiod
David H.J. Larmour

Singing in the Garden: Statius's plein air Lyric (after Horace)
Diana Spencer

Putting Women in Their Place: Women's Devotional Songs in the Rosarius (BnF fr. 12483)
Daniel E. O'Sullivan

Subjective Identity and Collective Conscience in the Songs of Colin Muset
Christopher Callahan

Producing (and Reproducing) Poetic Identity in Thomas Edwards's Narcissus
John Everett Bird

That Noble Flame: Literary History and Regenerative Time in Katherine Philips's Elegies and Society of Friendship
W. Scott Howard

Apollinaire's Late Lyrics
Dafydd Wood

The Waste Land as a Human Drama Revealed by Eliot's Dialogic Imagination
Ian Probstein

"The Man with the Blue Guitar": Dialogism in Lyric Poetry
Amittai F. Aviram and Richard Hartnett

Echoes of Dubois: The Crisis Writings and Jayne Cortez's Earlier Poetry
Tom Lavazzi
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Anne L. Klinck, Woman's Songs in Ancient Greece. Montreal/Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2008. Pp. xxii, 290. ISBN 9780773534483. $85.00. ISBN 9780773534490. $32.95 (pb).
Reviewed by Mary R. Lefkowitz, Wellesley College

Table of Contents

Klinck, professor emerita at the University of New Brunswick, is the author of a book on old English elegy and editor of An Anthology of Ancient and Medieval Women's Song, with texts and translations of selections from Alcman, Sappho, Aristophanes, Euripides, and Theocritus, prefaced by brief introductions.1 The present anthology is a "collection and study based on voice and performance rather than authorship." The poems and passages selected are "expressions of a sense of female community. They represent a constructed rather than an essential femininity--constructed differently by male and female authors" (ix-x). The inclusion of passages from poems by male writers allows readers to hear female voices in the kinds of extreme situations that no surviving ancient Greek woman writer chose to describe.

Unlike Klinck's earlier volume, this anthology seems to be primarily intended for readers who know at least some Greek and who wish to have some contact with the original texts. For the convenience of those readers, Greek texts of the selections discussed have facing English translations, plus explanatory notes in which Greek words are cited in transliteration. A general introduction and introductory sections before each chapter provide surveys of relevant issues and scholarship which assume that readers already have some background in Greek literature, if only in translation. Such readers (including advanced undergraduates) will find in this book a well-informed and useful guide to the many complex issues involved in understanding the nature and function of women's songs. Experienced scholars also will find Klinck's discussion of the texts stimulating and informative.

The general introduction begins with a judicious discussion of various theories of performance put forth in the last fifty years. Klinck argues that oral transmission might have made it possible for audiences to fail to make a distinction between author and performer, and perhaps even to forget about the author altogether. But can we know what any audiences thought, given the almost total lack of any contemporary information about reception? Klinck rightly warns against taking traditional and modern designations of genres too seriously, or drawing too sharp a distinction between public and private. Klinck uses the term gynaikeia mele to describe poetry either by anonymous or female or male authors with women-voiced speakers who warn about the dangers of passion and other forms of excess, and briefly notes how the tradition continued in Western Europe; readers who wish to know more will need to refer to her earlier anthology.2 Klinck sees ancient Greek maiden-song as a genre that was particularly acceptable in a male-dominated culture, because of the modesty and piety voiced by the girl speakers.3 She surveys the role of the "innocent, unheroic" female choruses in Greek drama, and briefly describes the learned and self-conscious depictions of women's life in the poetry of the Hellenistic period. In conclusion, Klinck makes a general distinction between the spontaneous and communal character of women's writing (and songs written by men for maidens) and the more dangerous femininity portrayed in works by men.

The anthology is weighted toward songs written by women and by men for women's choruses. Texts are presented in chronological order: most of Alcman, followed by most of Sappho and of Corinna, then Pindar's partheneia, and fragments of other lyric poetry, including Simonides on Danae. Klinck then offers lyric passages from drama: Electra's opening monologue and exchanges with the chorus and Orestes from Sophocles' drama (though not the urn speech), then from Euripides the first and second stasima of the Hippolytus and the third and terrifying fourth stasima of the Bacchae. These selections, with their emphasis on piety and morality, provide good illustrations of what Klinck would call "constructed" notions of female character and, in case of the chorus of Asian Bacchants, of considerable emotional excess. Klinck's translations are occasionally too anodyne. For example, "what is lovely is always dear," seems far too polite for the refrain ho ti kalon philon aei (Eur., Ba. 881, 901), because in this passage the chorus is singing about the gratification that comes from defeating one's enemy. The final chapter presents some of Nossis' epigrams, Theocritus' Epithalamion for Helen, and Bion's Lament for Adonis, selections that describe the communal behavior of women.

It is all too easy to second-guess the compilers of anthologies, but Erinna's Distaff (Supp.Hell. 401) would logically have belonged in this collection, even though it is composed in dactylic hexameter, like the passages that Klinck includes from Theocritus and Bion. As long as Klinck was including non-lyric verses, she might also have added some passages from tragedy in which women speak in iambic trimeter about womanly virtues: e.g., Andromache's speech about being a good wife (Eur., Tro. 643-58) or Jocasta's speech recommending equality in government (Phoen. 531-48), or Praxithea's patriotic speech from Euripides' Erechtheus (TrGF 5.1, 360).4 In ancient Greek poetry at least, women could act as wise advisors to men.


1.   Anne L. Klinck, ed., An Anthology of Ancient and Medieval Woman's Song (Gordonsville, VA: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).
2.   See Klinck 2004 (n.1) 1-15.
3.   One wonders if the content was similar in the informal girls' wedding songs alluded to in Pindar, Pyth. 3. 16-19, or the relayed "Sapphic conversations" (Posidippus IX 2) and "the Sapphic songs, divine melodies" accompanying the dirges sung for a dead girl (Posidippus VIII.24), where Sapphoia presumably means "in the style of Sappho," songs by women for women.
4.   For other possibilities, see e.g., "Men's Words in Women's Mouths" in Mary R. Lefkowitz and Maureen B. Fant, eds., Women's Life in Greece and Rome, Ed. 3 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), 10-15, 367-69 (not included in Klinck's bibliography).

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Monday, June 29, 2009


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Margarita Gleba, Hilary Becker (ed.), Votives, Places and Rituals in Etruscan Religion. Studies in Honor of Jean MacIntosh Turfa. Religions in the Graeco-Roman World; 166. Leiden: Brill, 2008. Pp. xliv, 291. ISBN 978004170452. $154.00.
Reviewed by Liza Cleland, University of Edinburgh

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

As well as the Introduction and prefatory material typical of a Festschrift, this substantial volume contains fourteen chapters on specific aspects of the archaeology of Etruscan religion from the international symposium 'Unveiling Etruscan Religion', at the University of Pennsylvania, 2007. Overall, these provide new material of interest not only to Etruscan specialists but also to those interested in the wider archaeology of ritual. The papers vary widely in scope, approach, and length, as well as topic, but are of a consistent quality. As a whole, the volume provides a welcome overview of the present nature of Etruscan scholarship, and is a very useful addition to general scholarship on Mediterranean ritual archaeology. It is well-indexed, and has over fifty black and white illustrations.

The fourteen main chapters are divided into three sections: votives, places and rituals. The first two chapters remain in their original French, emphasising the international nature of the volume (their language is clear even for readers of relatively minimal fluency). However, readers likely to find this off-putting might perhaps have been more comfortable had the non-English chapters not been placed together at the very start of the volume.

MG and HB provide a concise introduction, emphasising that the volume interrogates fundamental topics from various perspectives: "Ritual can best be mapped by uniting a range of disparate and often overlapping information, including not only ancient textual sources but also inscriptions, votive objects and the sites themselves" (p. 2). Indeed, the chapters provide case studies not only of different types of evidence, but also of the variety of possible approaches and their impacts. These confirm that "Etruria offers an exceptional opportunity to probe . . . ritual practices in the ancient world, because of the diverse range of evidence available for the study of Etruscan religion" (p. 3).

Jean Gran-Aymerich's 'Gli Etruschi fuori d'Etruria: Dons et Offrandes Étrusques en Méditeranée Occidental et dans l'Ouest de l'Europe' provides a thoroughgoing survey of Etruscan ritual artefacts found outside Etruria, with a welcome focus on the West. The emphasis on votive character for either find or findspot is interesting and justified, as are detailed arguments concerning whether each indicates pure trade or accompanying ritual use by travelling Etruscans. JG-A makes a convincing case for further work on these areas, and for a perspective on Etruscan ritual and religion which extends far beyond Etruscan territory in all periods. In terms of subject, this contribution is right where it should be, emphasising the reach (in space and time) of Etruscan influence.

In contrast, the focus of Dominique Briquel's 'Les Inscriptions Votives du Sanctuaire de Portonaccio à Véies' is very tight. Dealing with artefacts from the period 600-540/30 BCE, DB discusses a rich store of dedicants' names inscribed on fragments found in a foundation deposit of the second-phase sanctuary at Veii. This technical chapter goes into great detail about these inscriptions, relating them in style as well as content to other dedications from across Etruria, and so drawing the limited conclusions possible about the location of various aristocratic families in this early period. DB gives a valuable model for what can be done with this type of evidence, and the general conclusion that this sanctuary was of pan-Etruscan significance impacts the volume overall.

Margarita Gleba's 'Textile Tools in Ancient Italian Votive Contexts: Evidence of Dedication or Production' closes the 'Votives' section. MG begins with an exemplary general outline of the topic of votive loom-weights (a feature in many Mediterranean contexts) which contextualises her argument about specifically Etruscan finds. This deals particularly well with the ubiquity of loom-weights in the ancient world, and their associated problems as evidence. Clear information on deposits and sites for the less common contexts is also very welcome, as is the fact that the references discussed 'open up' the topic effectively. The conclusion -- that large finds of loom weights, even in ritual contexts, indicate workshops not deposition -- is well supported, and should lead to more widespread publication of the details of loom-weight finds, not simply their amounts). A map in-text would have been very welcome.

Hilary Becker's chapter on 'The Economic Agency of the Etruscan Temple: Elites, Dedications and Display' opens the 'Places' section. Discussion is set against the statement (p. 89) that "religious dedications provided another outlet for socio-economic transactions between elites . . . an opportunity for aristocratic competition and display . . . 'sanctioned by and mediated through the gods' (Whitney 2001, 144)." The volume of dedications, role of votives as temple assets, and the open-endedness of elite dedication (as opposed to the constraints of reciprocity in intra-elite gift exchange) are all well discussed, raising interesting questions. The emphasis on redistribution could well be considered in terms of time, as well as throughout the community, and the issue of the 'disposability' of elite dedications might also be considered in terms of 'ring-fencing' or investing resources, rather than simple sacrifice.

Ingrid Edlund-Berry's 'The Historical and Religious Context of Vows Fulfilled in Etruscan Temple Foundations' is short and to-the-point, but perhaps raises more questions than it answers. Proceeding by contrast with Roman temple-building practices, IE-B suggests that the opposition between temples and sanctuaries is of particularly Roman origin. This sound point might have been made more strongly. Similarly, the idea that social factors played a part in Etruscan temple foundations analogous to Roman vows deserves further attention.

P. Gregory Warden's chapter, 'Remains of the Ritual at the Sanctuary of Poggio Colla' is a clear report of new evidence, with convincing arguments regarding possible understandings of specific rituals, and social context. Its central premise, that "evidence from . . . Poggio Colla raises questions about whether such sacred contexts would always have remained closed" (p.108), is of great importance for ritual archaeology. A further issue is implied: if closed contexts were not the norm (yet evidence is innately biased towards them) how might we compensate in analysing evidence? PGW makes a further point "While the nature of a single offering can be understood, at least in the most generic and banal way, aggregate ritual evidence can have the most diverse meanings . . ." (p.108). 'Votive' should not be seen as an answer, but rather the beginning of a series of questions. Among these, PGW suggests, are issues about parallels between individual or community action and single votives or deposit complexes, alongside the importance of social contexts and change. Again, a plan in-text would have helped greatly.

Stephen Steingräber's chapter, 'The Cima Tumulus at San Giuliano -- An Aristocratic Tomb and Monument for the Cult of the Ancestors of the Late Orientalizing Period' has a similarly direct focus, if less general engagement with wider issues in the archaeology of ritual. For a wider readership, SS also gives an excellent sense of the ritual landscape surrounding this unusual tumulus. It is good to remember that ancient explanations of ritual action are not without their own problems.

Iefke von Kampen's 'Stone Sculpture in the Context of Etruscan Tombs: A Note on its Position' comprises, for the most part, a survey of such sculptures with details of the problematic aspects of their find and/or excavation histories. Such treatment of an often neglected aspect of the modern history of scholarship is welcome. IvK raises the important consideration of differences in the perception and practice of visibility, past and present.

Gilda Bartolini's 'The Earliest Etruscan Toast. Considerations on the Earliest Phases of Populonia' outlines the complexity of Populonian settlement archaeology, and what needs to be done to maximise its utility. GB makes interesting use of Greek written sources (with their oral context) to contextualise the theorised ritual, widening its implications. This might have been even more effective if the chapter had begun with its detailed argument about ritual, widening to include the complexity of the settlement archaeology, rather than giving the broad picture first.

Nancy T. de Grummond's 'On Mutilated Mirrors' is, like its title, clear and concise (the last five pages survey the artefacts). This chapter goes beyond the simple concept of destruction for the dead to make wider links with Etruscan ritual and thought, using an interesting application of theory and abstractions to particular cases in doing so. This approach is persuasive, and one hopes that others will take up its challenge: "that those studying [artefacts] . . . close at hand will be alert to . . . physical conditions . . . that may bring greater understanding" (p. 177).

Larissa Bonfante's 'Ritual Dress' is an excellent concise summary of the topic, which should encourage readers to look more closely at ritual dress. Its 'working back' of Roman ritual dress to reveal Etruscan practices is interesting. Dress in art is frustrating, yet it does remain a unique source for contemporary significance: more than the forms themselves, this is difficult to ascertain from Roman sources. The points made here about 'legacy' aspects of ritual dress (for instance, how aristocratic shapes, as of helmets, persisted in new fabrics) are immensely important, highlighting the processes of dress practice formation.

Fay Glinister's 'Veiled and Unveiled: Uncovering Roman Influence in Hellenistic Italy' maintains the focus on dress, arguing convincingly that 'veiled means Roman' is too simplistic: "whether people covered their heads while sacrificing. . . encompasses questions of identity, Romanisation and acculturation" (p. 194). FG's summary of Roman veiling and sacrificial practices and use of detailed evidence to defy simplistic assumptions are excellent. The necessity of challenging past assumptions (that assume simple and direct links between one look and one factor in the study of dress) is supported by the overall conclusion. "The significance of the veil lay in the nature of the ritual required, and so the same worshipper could use a different mode of sacrifice -- depending on the god, on a particular festival, even on a single specific moment of a festival" (p. 211).

L. Bouke van der Meer's short chapter 'On the Enigmatic Deity Lur in the Liber Linteus Zagrabensis' illustrates some of the available lexicographic sources for Etruscan religion. In doing so, it certainly whets the appetite for a monograph: the subject clearly requires both more detail, and more general discussion.

Finally, Marshall Joseph Becker's 'Cremation and Comminution at Etruscan Tarquina in the 5th-4th Century BCE: Insights into Cultural Transformations from Tomb 6322' provides an excellent outline of approaches that deliver valuable information from even the simplest grave. While acknowledging the many obstacles to obtaining such maximal data, MJB sets out a clear program for overcoming them. In the process, he also demonstrates the importance of considering remains of every status, not simply those with complete skeletal remains and rich assemblages.

Considering the complexity and range of evidence discussed, I would have liked an Afterword. However, the arrangement of subjects overall is thoughtful and effective, so it is a shame this volume is rather expensive -- it deserves a wide readership. Many of the illustrations are simple line drawings which would have been more useful spread throughout the text on plain paper, rather than confined to the photo section at the rear. There are few typos, although several of the second-language papers would have been better served by closer editing to correct occasional infelicities. This volume has much to commend it, and will hopefully have the impact on future work advocated by its contributors.


List of Illustrations xi
Tabula Gratulatoria xv
Jean MacIntosh Turfa -- An Appreciation xxii
Bibliography of Jean MacIntosh Turfa xxvii
Editors' Preface xxxiii
Authors xxxv
Bibliographic Abbreviations xli
Introduction (Hilary Becker and Margarita Gleba) 1

Part One -- Votives
Ch.1'Gli Etruschi fuori d'Etruria: Dons et Offrandes Étrusques en Méditeranée Occidental et dans l'Ouest de l'Europe' Jean Gran-Aymerich 15
Ch.2 'Les Inscriptions Votives du Sanctuaire de Portonaccio à Véies' Dominique Briquel 43
Ch.3 'Textile Tools in Ancient Italian Votive Contexts: Evidence of Dedication or Production' Margarita Gleba 69

Part Two -- Places
Ch.4 'The Economic Agency of the Etruscan Temple: Elites, Dedications and Display' Hilary Becker 87
Ch.5 'The Historical and Religious Context of Vows Fulfilled in Etruscan Temple Foundations' Ingrid Edlund-Berry 101
Ch.6 'Remains of the Ritual at the Sanctuary of Poggio Colla' P. Gregory Warden 107
Ch.7 'The Cima Tumulus at San Giuliano -- An Aristocratic Tomb and Monument for the Cult of the Ancestors of the Late Orientalizing Period' Stephen Steingräber 123
Ch.8 'Stone Sculpture in the Context of Etruscan Tombs: A Note on its Position' Iefke von Kampen 135

Part Three - Rituals
Ch.9 'The Earliest Etruscan Toast. Considerations on the Earliest Phases of Populonia' Gilda Bartolini 159
Ch.10 'On Mutilated Mirrors' Nancy T. de Grummond 171
Ch.11 'Ritual Dress' Larissa Bonfante 183
Ch.12 'Veiled and Unveiled: Uncovering Roman Influence in Hellenistic Italy' Fay Glinister 193
Ch.13'On the Enigmatic Deity Lur in the Liber Linteus Zagrabensis' L. Bouke van der Meer 217
Ch.14 'Cremation and Comminution at Etruscan Tarquina in the 5th-4th Century BCE: Insights into Cultural Transformations from Tomb 6322' Marshall Joseph Becker 229

Illustrations Section 249
Index of Places 285
General Index 289
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Nora M. Dimitrova, Theoroi and Initiates in Samothrace: The Epigraphical Evidence. Hesperia Supplement, 37. Princeton: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2008. Pp. xiv, 280. ISBN 9780876615379. $55.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Kirsten M. Bedigan, University of Glasgow


This volume is the product of Dimitrova's doctoral dissertation which has subsequently been revised and expanded into the current format. It is made clear from the outset that the purpose of this volume is not the definitive discussion of the inscriptions relating to theoroi and initiates. Dimitrova presents this volume as a means to further the current discussions upon the epigraphical evidence from Samothrace and the information they provide on the cult, the sanctuary and the city between the fourth century B.C. and the third century A.D. All known inscriptions are gathered together, including those previously published as well as texts presented here for the first time.

The cult at Samothrace was possibly established before the colonisation of the island by Athenian settlers c.700 B.C. There is some evidence for non-Greek names associated with the deities; the 3rd c. B.C. author Mnaseas gives the names Axieros, Axiokersos and Axiokersa with the Greek equivalents Demeter, Hades and Persephone. To this list is frequently added Kasmilos or Kadmilos/Hermes. Although a significant part of the architecture of the site dates to the fourth century B.C. and later, rock-cut altars and other structures indicate an active and important sanctuary from an early date. Like Eleusis, the sanctuary of the Great Gods was a mystery cult, and initiation offered protection for those at sea. Many votives from the sanctuary and elsewhere in the Mediterranean testify to its importance for seafarers.

Both Eleusis and Samothrace appear to have a two-level initiation process, each affording the participants different levels of access at the cult. At Eleusis the first stage, or 'Little Mysteries', involved the sacrifice of a piglet and a purification ceremony, perhaps with some form of ritual consumption. The full initiation, 'Great Mysteries', took place at a fixed point in the calendar during the month of Boedromion (August/September). This involved a grand procession from Athens, purification in the sea (spread over several days), and finally the revelation of the sacred things to an audience of mystai (first-time attendees) and epoptai (those who had attended previously). The Samothracian cult operated in a similar manner, with one subtle difference, in that initiation at both levels (mystai and epoptai) could take place consecutively and was not limited to the festival period, unlike Eleusis which required preliminary initiation and then attendance at the festival during Boedromion. Various inscriptions indicate multiple level initiation within the space of a single day, (see Nos. 50 (IG XII 8.186), 56 ((IG XII 8.188), 671 and No. 89,2 however, Dimitrova argues that lines 16-19 in No.89 are a later addition). It has been suggested that in the Samothracian case, initiation into the higher level of mysteries was not obligatory, unlike Eleusis. Documentary evidence also suggests that admission to the level of epoptai was relatively rare, indicating that there may have been certain compulsory conditions.3

Theoroi had an official capacity during the festivals at the sanctuary, acting as sacred ambassadors from the Greek cities. They were essentially sent to observe the festivals. Inscriptions also refer to theoroi-proxenoi. These are again sacred ambassadors, but with the added function that they acted as official representatives of the Samothracian sanctuary upon their return to their home cities.

The volume is subdivided, Part I dealing with the theoroi and Part II with the initiates; supplementary appendices discuss additional inscriptions which may have some relevance to these two types of sanctuary guest. A clear and concise discussion of the etymology behind theoros/theoroi opens the introduction (Chapter One) of Part I and comes to the conclusion that the word is a compound of either θέα or θεός with ὀπάω. The opinion is reached that the latter combination is more apt as it explains the fact that both Ionic and Doric scripts use the same term, a usage unlikely in the Doric equivalent of θέα (θάα). Other related inscriptions are briefly introduced and non-Samothracian examples explained. A similar introduction is offered for Part II (Chapter Five). Modern (and inaccurate) perceptions on mystery cults are dismissed and the evidence from other mystery sanctuaries in the ancient world is highlighted and utilised as a foundation for elucidating the Samothracian mysteries. The μύσται being the 'closed ones', in the context of either mouths or eyes is interesting; especially when one considers iconographic evidence from other 'mystery' cults like those at Eleusis or Thebes.4 A summary of initiation based on this additional information completes the discussion of the context of the initiate records. Furthermore, the issues pertaining to these texts are briefly referenced, from the unknown nature of the unexcavated areas of the site (and the surrounding area) to the unfortunate dispersal of inscriptions in the nineteenth century across the island resulting in the subsequent loss of provenance for many of the examples provided in this catalogue.

A significant number of the theoroi inscriptions have near identical dimensions for the blocks on which they are recorded, c. 0.35m in height. This leads Dimitrova (in Chapter One) to propose the theory that they all belong to a single building which was used as a display receptacle for texts of this type, a practice which is known elsewhere in the Greek world, such as at Delphi and Thasos. However, none of the blocks correlate with currently known structures within the sanctuary. Without further excavation of the areas at present unexplored, Dimitrova can only hypothesise that this as-yet-undiscovered structure was erected in the city and not the sanctuary. A full catalogue of the theoroi inscriptions is provided in Chapters Two (wall blocks from the possible structure, dating to the second and second/first century B.C.) and Three (other stones, dating to the third-first centuries B.C.). There is one anomaly in the wall blocks, an inscription (No. 4, IG 8.168) recording theoroi and proxenoi, dates to the first/second century AD. This different date is based on the lettering but no further discussion is provided. Re-use of the structure for recording initiate lists during the Roman period is indicated in inscription No. 14 (IG XII 8.173). Other inscriptions from both chapters provide more information on the site, from non-Samothracian theoroi such as Attic colonists presumably from Lemnos or Imbros given the rarity of actual Athenian theoroi making the journey.5 Others are from Myrina, either the Asia Minor city or that of Lemnos (since the city referred to in the inscription is not provided with any geographical descriptor, No.9, IG XII 8.162) and other locations in the Greek world. Sometimes these origins can be seen in the names provided for the theoroi. The Thracian name in No. 19 (IG XII 8.177) is unsurprising given the relationship between Thrace and Samothrace. The city of Seuthopolis has the earliest foreign inscription referring to the Great Gods of Samothrace in the fourth/third century B.C.6

The openness of the cult is emphasised in Chapters Six (with ethnics) and Seven (without ethnics) given the frequency of freeborn, freedmen and slaves in the inscriptions. No. 36 is a good example, providing a clear and typical layout of the lists containing free and enslaved initiates.

Perhaps the most important, and certainly one of the most interesting inscriptions is No. 29.7 Although not Samothracian, lines 13-14 contain the only mention of κάβιρος at Samothrace as well as information on the initiates' experience -- 'the doubly sacred light of Kabiros'. It also refers to the opportunity for initiates to gain a better place in the afterlife, a benefit previously only ascribed to the Eleusinian mysteries. The identification of the Great Gods as Kabeiroi is a long standing debate in the study of ancient religion with the majority opting for the conclusion that the two groups are separate, albeit related. This confusion also extends to the ancient world. Herodotus (2.51) clearly states that the gods of Samothrace are called Kabeiroi. It is possible that this inscription, given its second/first century B.C. date follows Herodotus' misconception and that by this point in history the two groups had become conflated. Dimitrova does not explore this text as thoroughly as it deserves in the volume, (although additional research is available) and it is clear that further work is required. Its non-Samothracian origin also casts doubts on its relevance to the other texts within the volume, since other texts from outside the island are excluded.

Additional and related inscriptions (prohibitions, decrees, etc.) are included in Chapter Eight and Appendices I-II. Some relevant information on the location of specific inscriptions is provided and discussed (see Nos.168-169, SEG XII.395, XIX.593). Indices of Greek and Latin names are also included.

The Pan-Hellenic nature of the cult is also emphasised in the conclusions (Chapters Four and Nine) as both the theoroi and the initiates show a wide range of origins across the Greek world which are neatly illustrated by the maps in the introduction (Figures 1-2, pp. 2-3). The distribution patterns of attendees show trends which Dimitrova ascribes to the popularity of the Eleusinian mysteries in certain regions as compared with the Samothracian ones. The impact of other cults and the relevance of the Samothracian cult to these regions are not considered. Those cities which provided theoroi and initiates are predominantly coastal (although there are exceptions) and Samothrace's association with the gift of protection at sea is perhaps of more importance to these city-states than others. Dimitrova highlights central Greece as being a poor provider of visitors to Samothrace, but the nature of the region perhaps precludes it from attending an obviously marine-focused cult. Other areas also show limited attendance yet these are not mentioned. Other observations are also made, with further discussion on the roles of theoroi and the lack of Roman examples to the festival(s) which may have taken place at the cult centre.

Overall, Dimitrova offers a clear and systematic presentation of the known epigraphic evidence. The discussion of the possible interpretation and value of the texts is logical and justifiable. This volume provides an exceptionally useful resource for those interested in the Samothracian cult and also provides valuable evidence on access and initiation in the mystery cults of the ancient world. Its value will surely increase once the remaining volumes of the Samothrace excavation reports are completed. The importance of interpretation cannot be overestimated and this text will provide a useful companion to the forthcoming Samothrace 12: The Religion of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods.


1.   Fraser, P.M. 1960, Samothrace: Excavations Conducted by the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University 2.1: The Inscriptions on Stone. New York. See No. 28.
2.   Fraser 1960, No. 36.
3.  Bedigan, K.M. 2008, Boeotian Kabeiric Ware: The Significance of the Ceramic Offerings at the Theban Kabeirion in Boeotia. University of Glasgow, Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, p.45.
4.   Bedigan 2008, p.245-247, 346.
5.   Matsas, D. and Dimitrova, N. 2006, New Samothracian inscriptions found outside the sanctuary of the Great Gods, ZPE 155, pp.127-136. See pp.129-130.
6.   Guettel-Cole, S. 1984, Theoi Megaloi: The Cult of the Great Gods of Samothrace. Leiden: Brill, p.21.
7.   Karadima, C. and Dimitrova, N. 2003, An epitaph for an initiate at Samothrace and Eleusis, Chiron 33, pp.335-345.

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Sabine Panzram (ed.), Städte im Wandel: bauliche Inszenierung und literarische Stilisierung lokaler Eliten auf der Iberischen Halbinsel: Akten des interntionalen Kolloquiums des Arbeitsbereiches für Alte Geschichte des Historischen Seminars der Universität Hamburg und des Seminars für Klassische Archäologie der Universität Trier im Warburg-Haus Hamburg, 20. - 22. Oktober 2005. Geschichte und Kultur der iberischen Welt; Bd. 5. Hamburg/Münster: Lit, 2007. Pp. vi, 400. ISBN 9783825808563. €39.90.
Reviewed by Danielle Slootjes, Radboud University Nijmegen

Table of Contents

Scholars are often highly specialized in one particular field and time period. The aim of the international colloquium, Städte im Wandel. Bauliche Inszenierung und literarische Stilisierung lokaler Eliten auf der Iberischen Halbinsel, held in 2005 in Hamburg, was to bring together different specialists for an interdisciplinary approach. A group of ancient historians, archaeologists of the Classical and Early Christian periods, engineers, medievalists, Islamic specialists and historians of the early modern period investigated the cities of the Iberian Peninsula, from early settlement in the eighth-seventh centuries B.C. through the 1700s. Literary sources, inscriptions and material culture were at the centre of their discussions, and the results of many archaeological expeditions of recent years have also allowed for much more comparative research between cities. The results of their papers are presented in fourteen articles in this volume, edited by Sabine Panzram.

For an understanding of the functioning of the cities and their Stadtbild (defined by Panzram as the concretion of social structures and cultural value systems in a specific era) two themes were chosen as the main threads throughout the volume. First, there is the investigation of the architectural settings of cities, which helps to understand the defensive, administrative, social and economic functions of these cities (p.3). Analysis of individual monuments furthers our understanding of these functions. Second, an examination of the positions and (self-)representation of members of the local elites is another way to perceive the functioning of cities. The ways in which local elites are presented in literary and other written sources such as inscriptions are valuable for such an examination.

The first article, by Niemeyer on the early Phoenician settlements on the Iberian peninsula can be considered as an introduction to the other articles and the two main themes. Although Niemeyer concludes that the early settlements should not be seen as exemplary or prototypical for the later cities, it does make sense to start out a survey of the cities in the region with a discussion of its earliest settlements. The other essays in the volume are then presented in three parts: nine articles on the Roman period between Republic and Late Antiquity; two articles on the period between the Conquista and the Reconquista (711-1492); finally two articles on period of the Spanish Golden Age (1492-1700).

The section on the Roman period is the most extensive and central part of the volume. Pina Polo's article opens the section by concentrating on the early involvement of the Romans on the peninsula. He shows that the ancient evidence does not allow us to go so far as to speak of a master plan by the Romans by which they alone dictated the development and urbanisation of the region. The events that led to changes in the region should also be connected to a change in mentality of the local inhabitants. The following five contributions each focus on a particular part of a region, a city or even monument for a thorough investigation. The joint article by Abascal, Almagro-Gorbea and Cebrián discusses the process of monumentalization in Segobriga, which acquired the status of municipium with Latin Rights in 15 B.C. The urban changes after this upgrade led to many euergetic activities of the local elite and show how the city became important within its region. Haley concentrates on fiscal and administrative issues in Baetica to show how cities and individuals functioned within a province which was known for its prosperity. In an examination of the elites in the colonia Patricia, Ventura Villaneuva attempts to reconstruct a particular day in the lives of its inhabitants. Ventura Villaneuva follows Annaeus Seneca on the day of arrival of the proconsul Publius Petronius Turpilianus in 8 B.C. when the provincial oath of loyalty to the emperor had to be taken. After the oath the season of the conventus Cordubensis started off with a first court case in which the famous rhetorician Marcus Porcius Latro appeared. The experiment certainly brings to life the excitement felt on such an important day for the province.

Two articles follow that take the reader into the imperial period and the involvement of the emperors at the local level. Ahrens discusses how the patria of Trajan and Hadrian, Italica, after its upgrade to colonia, was expanded by the development of the so-called nova urbs, an area almost three times as large as the original city. However, despite large building projects, this part of the city turned out to be a too ambitious project as it was given up for mostly unknown reasons by the end of the second century. Ruiz de Arbulo offers an interpretation of the provincial forum in Tarraco, with a particular focus on the actual site from an archaeological point of view. The temple for Augustus, which was restored at the time of Hadrian's visit to Tarraco in 122/123 A.D., was the most significant building in the forum and functioned as a centre for several official activities at provincial level such as court cases of the governor or meetings of the provincial assembly.

After several articles with archaeological or architectural focus, the contributions by Panzram and Mateos Cruz at first sight seem not to correspond as well to the other essays, because they discuss the role and influence of Christianization in Spain in the fourth century. Panzram investigates a specific instance in the development of Christianity: the meeting of nineteen bishops in Elvira in the early fourth century for which the evidence survived as part of the so-called Concilium Eliberritanum. Almost half of the 81 canones that were decided upon at this meeting dealt with sexual morality. Mateos Cruz, on the other hand, focuses on the process of Christianization and attempts to investigate the ways in which Christianity functioned alongside paganism in the cities in the fourth century, as Mateos Cruz regards this period as one of transition in religious life. He argues for a minimal influence of Christianity on the physiognomy of cities in the fourth century, whereas in the fifth century Christian elements seem to appear in architecture, at least in Spain.

The section on the Roman period ends with Arce's contribution on cities and especially citizenship in the fourth through the seventh centuries for which he discusses the late antique city in Hispania and the ways in which citizens experienced both their city and their citizenship, with emphasis on change and continuity.

The section on the medieval period in Spain opens with an article by Ewert which presents a comparison between three Spanish Islamic cities which are different in many aspects: Córdoba (a religious and political center), Almeria (a port) and Madinat az-Zahra (an imperial residence). As Ewert unexpectedly passed away, his contribution is one that he had published before in a volume edited by Joachim Henning (2002, Europa im 10. Jahrhundert). The second article on medieval Spain is by Vones who shows how the kingdom of León can be analyzed as a center of ideological self-representation in the 10th and 11th centuries.

Finally, the part on the Spanish Golden Age consists first of a contribution by Pietschmann on the relation between city and rulership in the 16th century, in which he examines the role of cities, elites and the church in the three Christian empires on the Iberian peninsula (Aragón, Portugal, Castile). Particular attention is given to the revolution of the Castilian cities (Comunidades). The final article is by Wohlfeil who investigates in what ways coins can offer a perspective on Spain's history regarding the administration, legitimation and self-representation of rulership.

For whom is this collection of essays valuable? In principle the volume is of interest for all those who are working on the history of the Iberian Peninsula. Also, those who concentrate their work on cities and local elites in other parts of the Roman Empire, Medieval or early modern Europa might find some of the articles worthwile for a comparison to their own findings as well. However, the uneven distribution of the articles (by far the most the largest part discussing Roman times) makes the volume much more attractive to scholars of the ancient world than those of later periods. I even wonder to what extent the contributions on Spain of the medieval period and the Golden Age are visible to other scholars of those periods as the title of the volume gives no indication of the inclusion of these periods. If, for instance, someone is interested in numismatics of the early modern Europe, how easily would he or she find the contribution in this volume on that topic? Visibility is key to scholarly work. This seems to be a point to take into consideration for anyone editing a volume with such diverse contributions.

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Elizabeth Jeffreys, John F. Haldon, Robin Cormack (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies. Oxford Handbooks. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Pp. xxix, 1021. ISBN 9780199252466. $158.00.
Reviewed by Przemyslaw Marciniak, University of Silesia/Freie Universität Berlin

Orchideenfach (orchid discipline) is the the German for rare academic disciplines. Undoubtedly (and possibly unfortunately) Byzantine Studies are not part of the scholarly mainstream. It is fairly young for an academic discipline compared to classical philology. This contributes to the fact that students of Byzantine Empire do not have at their disposal all necessary scholarly tools. There are no modern dictionaries of Greek language from the Byzantine period (though works of Erich Trapp and the successors of Emmanuel Kriaras, when finished, will become indispensable tools for all scholars dealing with Byzantium); we still await a grammar of mediaeval Greek (our hopes are running high for the project "Grammar of Medieval Greek" based in Cambridge whose outcome should be a 'comprehensive description of the Greek language between 1100 and 1700' 1). However, from the point of view of either students beginning their studies or a simple enthusiast of Byzantium all sorts of introductions and manuals are equally important. Such works were certainly produced before by Otto Mazal, Guyla Moravcsik and Constable Giles and Alexander Kazhdan.2 To a certain extent, these introductory works are complemented by the work edited (in Italian) by Guglielmo Cavallo.3 Still, none of them have a scope comparable to the present volume.

It is a signum temporis and a sign of modern scholarship that one single scholar is unable to produce a work that would cover equally well all subdisciplines of a given specialty. The book under review clearly shows its editors' awareness of this fact. The editors have brought together over seventy eminent specialists from various areas of Byzantine studies -- from archaeology to history to literature. The scholarly perspective is by no means limited to the British one since among the contributors one can find representatives from many European (and non-European) academic centres. The book is clearly aimed at undergraduate students (or enthusiasts) of the Byzantine Empire since it provides readers with basic information and suggests further reading. Undoubtedly, the editors have achieved their purpose and this splendid work will serve future Byzantinists well.

The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies is divided into four parts: "The Discipline", "The Physical world", "Institutions and relationships", and finally "The World around Byzantium". All four parts are made up of chapters and some chapters are divided into section and sub-sections (though all contributions are called 'chapters' by the editors). The divisions are clear and allow cross-references throughout the book. The reader will also find two appendices with lists of Eastern Romans ruler, 324 - 1453 and patriarchs and popes, and an index.

This is not a book that one reads from cover to cover (though there is no obstacle to doing so). Each contribution can be read separately as an entry in the dictionary. The length of the contributions vary from a couple of pages to dozens. All of them are followed by the bibliography and many by suggested further reading (Wolfram Hörandner's and Athanasios Markopoulos's contributions are exemplary here). This facilitates the use of the Handbook as a reference book but at the same time some works are listed time and again (number one on the top ten list is Herbert Hunger's Die Hochsprachliche profane Literatur der Byzantiner). Paul Lemerle's Le premier humanisme byzantin is usually listed in French original except for the text of Elizabeth Jeffreys, "Rhetoric" who uses the English translation by A. Moffat and H. Lindsay (Canberra 1986). It would have been useful to have a separate general bibliography encompassing major works on Byzantium but I realize that is one of those things easier said than done.

All authors had a difficult task to perform -- to present complex issues as concisely and clearly as possible (which is even more difficult if the contributors are world-class specialists and could easily write a thick book instead of a short article). In my view, they succeeded. The texts gathered in the book are written in a clear style and introduce fairly complex matters in such a way that they can be digested by a beginner. I found texts such as the introductions to Byzantine weights and weighting by Christopher Entwistle or to prosopography by Dion Smythe to be exemplary. All texts in the section 'Literature' are written in a very clear, instructive way, and what is perhaps especially important, present studies on Byzantine literature as a modern and important discipline (cf. the contributions of Elizabeth Jeffreys, Margaret Mullett, Alice-Mary Talbot, Wolfram Hörandner etc.) Inevitably, the way of presenting the topic to the reader varies from one author to another, and hence some texts are more academic in style whilst others have a more 'anecdotal' approach. Anthony Bryer's enjoyable text on chronology is, however, not very informative for a person looking for basic definitions and concepts. More useful would be the chapter in Rautman's book on the daily life in the Byzantine Empire.4

A reviewer can always find things to cavil at; and can always suggest that something is missing, especially when it comes to bibliography. I understand that limited space did not allow extensive bibliographies but I think that Albrecht Berger's study on Byzantine baths (Das Bad in der byzantinischen Zeit) has earned its place in the chapter on health, hygiene and healing by Peregrine Horden (Berger's work is listed, however, in Michael Decker's chapter on everyday technologies which proves once again that a general bibliography would be helpful). Charlotte Roueché, in the very interesting chapter on entertainment, mentions Walter Puchner's article "Acting in Byzantine theatre" but there is a newer book of the same author which better summarises modern studies on performances in Byzantium (The Crusader Kingdom of Cyprus -- a Theatre Province of Medieval Europe?). Contrary to what Roueché states, I would argue, pro domo mea, that not all modern works on Byzantine theatre are really based on the studies of Walter Puchner whose contribution is of course invaluable. Nonetheless, I am very glad that Roueché highlights (quite correctly, in my opinion) the idea of performativity of Byzantine culture. It is a pity that, in the same chapter, there is no mention about Anthony Bryer's article "Byzantine games". This text, though popular in character, is a very good introduction to tzykanion (polo) mentioned only en passant. These are of course minute changes that does not detract from the general, utterly positive, picture.

The texts in the Handbook cover virtually all areas of Byzantine life and culture. Still, there is at least one more field that should become a part of Byzantine Studies, as it is a part of classics: the study of the reception of Byzantium. This is a sub-discipline that has become fairly popular in the last decades and the number of studies on the reception of Byzantine art and the image of Byzantium in modern literature is growing. It should be embraced by Byzantinists as it was embraced by classical philologists.

The book, including the appendices, has 1021 pages; it is edited almost flawlessly. Even though I tried hard, I found only a handful of typographical errors (e.g. 'byzantine' instead of 'Byzantine' on p. 794, 'Literator' instead of 'Literatur' on p. 906).

This book was not intended as an oeuvre to shake the foundations of Byzantine Studies. Nonetheless, it is a magnificent work which will be an invaluable help to all students of Byzantium. In times of crisis, this compliment is worth more than before -- the Handbook is worth every penny (or cent) spent on it.


2. O. Mazal, Handbuch der Byzantinistik. Geschichte - Religion - Gesellschaft - Sprache - Kunst, Graz 1989. G. Moravcsik, Einführung in die Byzantologie, Darmstadt 1976. A. Kazhdan, G. Constable, People and Power in Byzantium. An Introduction to Modern Byzantine Studies, Washington 1982.
3. G. Cavallo (ed.), Lo spazio letterario del Medioevo. 3. Le Culture circostanti. Vol. 1. La cultura bizantina, Roma 2004.
4. M. Rautman, Daily life in the Byzantine Empire, Westport-London 2006, 1-8. (read complete article)


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Peter Fibiger Bang, The Roman Bazaar: A Comparative Study of Trade and Markets in a Tributary Empire. Cambridge Classical Studies. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Pp. xv, 358. ISBN 9780521855327. $110.00.
Reviewed by Harri Kiiskinen, University of Turku

Table of Contents

In this book, Peter Fibiger Bang has taken on the challenge of formulating a completely new model for Roman economy. Using comparative material from the Mughal Empire and concepts developed in anthropology he postulates new principles by which the economy of the Ancient Roman Empire should be understood. Bang advocates a step further beyond the positions adopted by the primitivist and the modernist traditions, and aims to sidestep the whole dualism of Roman economy studies by adopting a completely new set of organizing principles and analytical concepts. He succeeds in this remarkably well. The book is not really aimed for a layman, but readers already somewhat versed in the ongoing discussions on the Roman economy will find Bang's work a seminal contribution to the field.

In the short prolegomena, serving as an introduction to the study, Bang presents the reasons for his chosen approach, and emphasizes the importance of conceptualizations in historical studies, especially concerning times and subjects where sources are scarce and interpretative difficulties abound. He rightly emphasizes the importance of interpretation in the historian's job, but the criticism on page 3 ,"the discipline has neglected the development of interpretative tools", is hardly relevant for a large part of the history profession today and is only partly relevant concerning classical studies in general, but may be more to the point within economic history. Bang then describes the particular problems of studying premodern tributary empires, among which he includes Rome. They are seen as our own forefathers, so in the beginning they were studied through similarities. A slightly more modern approach has been the borrowing of concepts and models from anthropology, which, however, tend to work well for relatively isolated communities. Economics, as a third choice (even so-called development economics) has little to offer, as today's third world is hardly comparative to the ancient civilizations; today's third world people know perfectly well that they are the poor and undeveloped ones, whereas the Romans were in every way at the top of their world. All this has motivated Bang's search for better concepts and models, which he then has discovered mainly in the works of Clifford Geertz on the bazaar economy and generally the research on the Indian Mughal empire.

After the introduction, the book is divided in two parts, the first of which Bang explains new approaches and why and how to think differently. In the second part Bang then applies this new thinking to the actual 'matter at hand', economic institutions in the Roman world.

Bang begins the first chapter by showing, where the economic history of the Roman world went astray, or perhaps better put, where it failed to take off and get rid of the first impressions and reactions -- the primitivist-modernist dispute. He starts with an analytical history of the field, all the way from Bücher and Meyer. Refreshingly though, Bang contextualizes these early practitioners in their own time, so the reader has a better understanding of the origins and the motivations of their bitter arguments. Bang follows closely two lines of development in the discussions, first the slow rise of the primitivist views, culminating in the work of M. I. Finley, and then the modernizing reactions to these views. Although Bang does not deny the effect new archaeological and epigraphical data has had on the primitivist views, he still heavily criticizes modernizing approaches. Especially important is his analysis of the reasons why the early modern Europe actually does not provide good comparative material for Roman economy. Bang allies himself with the primitivists in concluding, that the Roman economy was qualitatively different from later European-based economic systems; the differences are to be found in the position of the merchants in the society and the strength of the state. In order to escape from this trap, where neither of the old approaches is feasible, Bang looks for comparative material in other tributary empires similar to Rome, like China, the Ottoman Empire or the Mughal Empire. In addition to the succinct description of the history of Roman economy studies, the analysis of the non-compatibility of early modern Europe is very illuminating, and demonstrates, how easily uncritical assumption of apparently innocent concepts predefines the research by limiting what can be studied and how.

In the second chapter, Bang investigates the position of trade in the Roman (and Mughal) world. He begins by questioning our use of the concept of trade as a marker for modernity in itself. We should see, that trade can operate also in different conditions. Roman interregional trade, for example, had relatively little to do with regional specialization of production, which is behind most modern international trade. On the contrary, confronted with the imports, local production started to imitate them, and this is a habit behind which Bang sees what he calls "a peasant mentality in production", where first comes subsistence, then self-sufficiency and in the end, some surplus, if needed. Behind trade, in general, Bang does not see the profit-oriented actions of the merchants, but the revenue processing needs of the state. Because of this, economy is not the cause but the effect of tribute extraction by the state. By developing a model for the GDP -- a sine qua non for the economic historian of classical times, it seems -- and estimating the composition of the population, and combining this with an analysis of the governing practices of the bureaucratically weak state that had to rely on the elites for cooperation, Bang shows that the state actually had a major share in the movement of resources. However, the close cooperation between the state and the local and imperial elites led to a concentration of resources and the exclusion of merchants' interests. In this conclusion, Bang furthers his argument from the previous chapter, that we should not automatically assume anything about the social position of merchants: that they are important today, and were important in 17th century, does not mean, that they were important in Rome.

The third chapter, beginning the second part of the book, sees the argument move to the institutions of trade. Bang investigates the integration of trade in the Empire -- and the lack of it. The natural place to start is the costliness of transport, but Bang does not let this detain him from moving further. He presents evidence documenting the volatility of the markets and analyzes Egyptian market price series in search of support for integrated markets, and finds very little. He then proposes that there was a very low level of institutional integration over the Empire, and sees two main reasons for this: integration was not an interest for the local elites, who were more interested in maintaining their own local dominance; and the state had no economic policy that would have tried to integrate the institutions. In the end, Bang notes, how well these features fit together with Geertz's definition of the bazaar as a market type. The analysis is convincing, and Bang's low-integration model seems very credible. One can always question the importance of the whole concept, as it is an application of modern theory to past times, but Bang at least tries to make a model that fits the past instead of trying to fit the past into a model.

The fourth chapter concentrates more on the "predatory" practices of the state and the elites towards trade. Customs taxes and other sorts of costs of protection were ubiquitous, and Bang sees these as expressions of the state attitude to trade as something to be (fiscally) profited from. The protective policies of the state were mostly limited to curbing the excesses of the predatory policies of officials so as not to let the disincentives to trade grow too strong. Bang's analysis of the customs laws and the Egyptian practices is illuminating, and has implications also outside purely economic significances. Bang's model of the Roman state, especially as presented in this chapter, is an important reformulation of the state's relation to its "subjects", and the positions of different social strata in the society, with a special emphasis on the strong position of the towns in the reciprocity of taxes and protection.

After this harsh exposition of the general loneliness of the traders, Bang in the fifth chapter turns to strategies of survival, which in general were based on communities of different kind. The professional traders' associations provided the members with the social networking necessary for operation in volatile economic environments, where trust was important for building up a business relationship. In addition to networking, these associations formed the basis for social life for the members, and also the primary places of arbitration in cases of conflict between members. Bang's view of the Roman courts as powerful, inventive and highly risky sources of justice supports the strong importance of these associations, and the practices Bang connects to these groups explain well for example the famous Piazzale delle Corporazioni in Ostia. In addition to the associations, which provided the professional environment for operations, the household was important as a source of resources. Whereas the associations provided the contacts -- and the competitors --, the household was the source of capital and the family the source of cooperation. Both these institutions are important in Bang's model and strongly contribute to what he calls the "compartmentalized networks of trade", where "the markets" were formed by parallel and overlapping but completely separate networks. The emphasis Bang gives to the social communities of the merchants is commendable, and is a very natural explanation fitting well with what has already been said about the nature of Roman associations and family relations, although rarely in the context of economic actors.

In the Epilegomena at the end of the book, Bang does more than just summarize the chapters of the book. Here, at the end of the book, he finally introduces the concept of consumption to the reader. It is perhaps no surprise to the reader, that also here, a different mentality is found behind consumer practices. Bang claims -- as the shortness of the chapter does not allow for a further analysis -- that consumption was inherently luxury oriented, and aimed toward the individual and special, a certain "Art of Consumption", where elites could show their social standing through consumption. In the end, Bang concludes with an overarching long durée from the Roman times to the Mughal Empire, which he sees as the last manifestation of the same model that first appeared in Imperial Rome.

After reading the Epilegomena, the reader might easily be disappointed. After all this writing, no real conclusion? On the one hand, one might say that the book concluded itself in the beginning. Bang's point is clear from the start, and he manages to write a convincing argument in its support, so the reader -- providing he accepts Bang's interpretations -- should agree already. On the other hand, Bang's quest is long and winding, and his aim never was to answer questions like "Is there?" or "Is there not?", but to understand a complex phenomenon -- the reader either gets it or he doesn't, but anything Bang could have said in the end probably could not change it.

Bang's style is clear and although some of the original analyses and model constructions are slightly difficult to follow, the argumentative line of the book is clear. The book is a very well written contribution to our understanding of the ancient Roman economic history. Bang is very knowledgeable, and demonstrates in many cases a good analytic ability by dissecting the earlier interpretations for their weaknesses and presenting his own instead. I'm sure, this book will be hotly debated, and many will object to at least some of Bang's arguments. I cannot call the book as a must-to-read in the sense, that you would know new facts you didn't before, but this is definitively a book that should be read, because it just might change the way you think about what you knew. For better or worse, that is for the coming generations to judge.

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Version at BMCR home site
Robin Robertson (trans.), Euripides: Medea. New York: Free Press, 2008. Pp. xxii, 85. ISBN 9781416592235. $16.00.
Reviewed by George L. Greaney, Hofstra University

When I noticed this title on the BMCR list of books received, I could not avoid asking myself, "Does the world really need another English translation of the Medea?" As recently as last year David M. Schaps, the reviewer of BMCR 2008.06.18, announced: "This is the Medea we have been waiting for," in reviewing Diane Arnson Svarlien's new translation of the play.1 We also have several other English translations which have appeared in the last several years, not to mention the Loeb of David Kovacs, Euripides: Cyclops, Alcestis, Medea, from as recently as 1994.

So what does Robin Robertson contribute to this feast of translation? Certainly not a faithfully literal rendering of the Greek text. We find an excellent example of a translation that supplies that desideratum in David Kovacs' translation. In fact Robertson acknowledges Kovacs' edition as "my primary source" (xxii). In general, but not in every detail, Robertson's translation relies on the same Greek text Kovacs uses. Places where 'Robertson's translation seems to reflect different textual choices suggest that he has also made use of Donald J. Mastronarde's Cambridge edition,2 which appeared in 2002.

But what are we to make of the merits of this new translation? Above all it is a more dramatic translation than Kovacs' in every respect, couched in language which is more vivid and striking than that of Kovacs. And because of this I would judge Robertson's translation to be a much superior acting text to Kovacs'. The dialogue moves swiftly and makes an impact on the (imagined) theatrical audience which Kovacs' scholarly translation does not. Bold new metaphors in Robertson's English do not so much translate as mark the text in places where Euripides' Greek makes a strong impression, but the metaphors are Robertson's creations, so in a sense Robertson's translation is "inspired" by the Greek but in no sense a rigorously literal rendering of the original. Therefore I would choose Robertson's text to stage the play, but Kovacs' would be far more useful in a class devoted to the specifics of Euripidean style and expression. Some examples will, I hope, make this clear.

Perhaps the first critical test of the translation occurs at line 20 (p. 6), where Kovacs translates the word ἠτιμασμένη as "cast aside." Mastronarde points out (p. 167) that the idea of honor is a key to Medea's heroic, even man-like, character, which, I would submit, is key to her extraordinary actions in the play. Here Robertson translates "dishonored," highlighting a thematic point by simply translating literally. At line 26 the same word appears in the Greek and Kovacs and Robertson each translate it in the same way they did above.

Earlier, at line 16 (p. 6) the Greek is νῦν δ' ἐχθρὰ πάντα καὶ νοσεῖ τὰ φίλτατα '. Robertson translates "but now this house is full of hate; its timbers are rotten with it." In Robertson's rendering Euripides' abstractness is converted to a very concrete and bold image of a rotting building. The extremely abstract τὰ φίλτατα becomes the timbers of the building, which the audience can imagine concretely. The English is a powerful piece of dialogue that strikes the imagination, whereas the vagueness of Euripides' Greek would not make for a striking line if it were translated literally. Yet the word "rotten" reflects the connotations of the original νοσεῖ. It is this strategy of substitution that marks Robertson's approach and is, I believe, a major merit of his text.

Again, at lines 44-45 (p. 7) an unfamiliar (to a modern audience) reference to singing a victory song is replaced by the very plain and blunt "and none who spark her rage will walk away." Here the idea of clashing or dashing together in συμβαλών is reflected by the substitution "spark her rage."

At line 107 Robertson translates νέφος οἰμωγῆς as "black clouds of grief," whereas Kovacs translates "cloud of lament." The latter preserves the synesthesia of the original but lacks the monosyllabic force of Robertson's rendering. It is this staccato sound that makes an impression on the ear.

At 237 the phrase ἀνήνασθαι πόσιν has occasioned some comment. Kovacs translates "to refuse wedlock," but Robertson seems to agree with Mastronarde that it means to refuse intercourse, translating "we can refuse him nothing." Robertson translates the preceding lines as follows: "but if we divorce / we are seen as somehow soiled , as damaged goods." This is based on the less vivid language of the Greek: οὐ γὰρ εὐκλεεῖς ἀπαλλαγαὶ / γυναιξὶν, of 236-237. The original sense seems to be a dilemma: divorce brings disrepute, but refusal of conjugal rights is not possible. Kovacs' interpretation is neater: one cannot refuse to marry, but divorce is not a real option.

At 258 the phrase μεθορμίσασθαι τῆσδ'...συμφορᾶς ' is translated by Robertson as "to shelter me from shame," whereas Kovacs uses the word "calamity." Robertson's alliteration is striking and highlights the disgraceful aspect of Jason's abandonment, which is foremost in Medea's mind. Here the substitution of "shame" seems justified, as it is the shame above all which Medea resents (cf. line 20).

At 465 Kovacs translates παγκάκιστε as "vilest of knaves." Robertson wisely paraphrases: "There are no names for something / as foul and spineless as you. / A man who is no man at all." This rendering skillfully incorporates the meaning of the Greek by totally recasting the form, whereas Kovacs tries to preserve the form of the Greek: "for that is the only name I can give you, the worst reproach tongue can frame against unmanly conduct." The last two words translate ἀνανδρίαν , which Robertson skillfully renders "a man who is no man at all." The repetition of the word "man" echoes the repeated initial syllable in the Greek ἀνανδρίαν .

Robertson frequently demonstrates his skill in effective paraphrase, creating a vibrant English equivalent to the Greek, rather than a word for word rendering. In this sense, Robertson's language is more suitable to performance, while Kovacs' prose is more serviceable to a reader who may need help with the Greek.

Again, at 470 Kovacs' translation is perfectly accurate: "to wrong your loved ones and then look them in the face," but Robertson makes the line more forcefully sarcastic: "to wrong your family and then visit them" (emphasis in the original). Using the word "visit" to render ἐναντίον βλέπειν goes beyond the connotation of the original Greek but captures Medea's sarcasm better than Kovacs' more literal rendering. The benevolent connotation of "visit" is what, in context, creates the irony and sarcasm.

In lines 520-521 a punctuating choral distich is marked by the figure of polyptoton in φίλοι φιλοῖσι. Kovacs' translation of this line is flat but very faithful: "Terrible and hard to heal is the wrath that comes when kin join in conflict with kin." Robertson has "There is no anger worse than this / when dearest love has turned to deepest hate." The medical connotation of δυσίατος is lost in Robertson's translation but the rhetorical features are reflected in the opposition of dearest love/deepest hate. Moreover the English couplet scans as iambic tetrameter and pentameter respectively. The juxtaposition of love and hate reflects the juxtaposition of φίλοι φιλοῖσι. Thus, the English of Robertson preserves the gnomic quality of the Greek without reproducing the words exactly.

Robertson omits to translate line 782, which Brunck deleted on the grounds of redundancy given line 1060, whereas Kovacs accepts and translates the line. Yet Robertson's rendering reflects the omitted καθυβρίσαι in his reference to "rabble" in translating line 781. One can find other examples of subtleties in this translation which bespeak a familiarity with more than just the Loeb edition Robertson acknowledges.

On the negative side of the ledger, at 535 Jason uses the phrase ὡς ἐγὼ φράσω , "as I shall make clear" (Kovacs, 299). Mastronarde points out (261) the almost forensic overtones of this phrase and cites 522-5 and 548-50 as other examples of "self-conscious reference to the performance of the argument." But this forensic connotation is lost in Robertson's translation, where the whole self-referential phrase is omitted and the whole line of Greek becomes simply "but you gained more than you gave" (30).

At 623-26 Medea's parting shot mocking Jason as a lover is elaborated and cast in colloquial English by Robertson What is perhaps implicit in the dismissive imperative νύμφευ' ' is made lurid and slangy in Robertson's rendering: "I can tell you're keen to get back to the palace / and your hot little playmate. She'll be waiting in bed, / I imagine, dying for it / Go play the bridegroom while you can..." Moreover, Robertson has chosen to add a reference to the bride's sexual desire in addition to the πόθος of Jason in the Greek original. One is moved to wonder, "Is this a mistranslation or merely an "improvement" on the Euripidean original? By their colloquialism in English these lines stand out from the more elevated tragic register elsewhere. However, it might be a good practice to use English colloquialism to translate only what we can identify as Greek colloquialism in the original.

Of course, as in the case of any other translation, one can find fault with Robertson's lack of attention to other aspects of the Greek one might wish to see reflected, if possible, in English. For example, the striking sigmatism of line 476 and the repeated π of 478 is not reflected in either Kovacs' or Robertson's translation. Or again at 807-8 when Robertson compresses three adjectives in the Greek (φαύλην, ἀσθενῆ and ἡσυχαίαν ) into the phrase "mild as milk." At line 53 Robertson translates τέκνων ὀπαδὲ πρέσβυ as "old teacher, tired slave of Jason's children" for no apparent reason. In a conspicuous lapse at 155 Robertson translates καινὰ λέχη σεβίζει as "thresh [sic] in the bed of desire."

But to give a more complete impression of this translation as a whole and a taste of its rapid and forceful colloquial language, I submit the following lines (p. 32), corresponding to lines 579-87 of the Greek text:


Well, Jason, that's one way of looking at it.
I see things from a different point of view.
An eloquent brute is still a brute.
Someone who defends their evil plausibly
deserves the greatest punishment.
And that goes for you.
You cannot dazzle me with gilded words and fancy rhetoric,
nor can a thousand pretty phrases cover up your crime.
Your arrogance is matched only by your stupidity.
If I pull one thread, the whole thing unravels.
If this marriage is so sensible you could have been honest
and talked it through with me first, won me over.
But no, you kept your grubby secret to yourself.
Have you ever told the truth?

Whatever is lost in this translation -- and a lot of detail is lost -- is compensated for by the eminently speakable and actable nature of the English Robertson has crafted.


1.   Diane Arnson Svarlien (trans.), Euripides. Medea, with an introduction and notes by Robin Mitchell-Boyask. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2008.
2.   Donald J. Mastronarde (ed. and trans.), Euripides, Medea. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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Friday, June 26, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
Michael Gagarin, Writing Greek Law. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Pp. xi, 282. ISBN 9780521886611. $99.00.
Reviewed by Zinon Papakonstantinou, University of Washington

Table of Contents

Over the last 30 years Professor Michael Gagarin has been among the most committed researchers of Greek law. His contributions include numerous books and articles on law in the communities of archaic and classical Greece, especially Gortyn and Athens. In Writing Greek Law, the issue of writing in the legal systems of archaic Greece and classical Athens takes central stage. Given the limited amount of the extant evidence the author inevitably re-visits much of the evidence that he has discussed before. Nonetheless, he has clearly re-thought the issues he discusses and he sometimes departs from his own earlier published views. The result is an engaging study that is brimming with original insights.

The book is divided into ten chapters, with an Introduction and a Conclusion. In the Introduction, besides summarizing the contents and arguments of the book, Gagarin spells out in concise terms his views on some issues that have been debated for decades by specialists on Greek law (e.g. the "unity of Greek law"). He then proceeds in Chapter 1 ("Law before Writing") to an analysis of the evidence (mainly from the Homeric epics and Hesiod's Works and Days and Theogony) for law in archaic Greece before the first attested use (at the present state of the evidence, c. mid-seventh century BC) of alphabetic writing for recording law. The author emphasizes that dispute resolution in the communities of early archaic Greece involved much negotiation and compromise between litigants. Justice was meted out most successfully by charismatic leaders famous for their oratorical skills, in a process of adjudication conducted in public and freely accessible to all interested members of the community. In the same chapter Gagarin also speaks of "oral law" (his quotation marks) as an expression "useful to designate the totality of procedures and rules (including customs, norms and traditions) that regulated disputes among preliterate Greeks" (p. 33).

Gagarin's early archaic "oral law" should not be understood as a set of clearly defined rules with full legal authority, for in order for these rules to be recognized as laws they had to be written down (thus p. 36 "before writing we can speak of oral law--viz. judicial procedures without writing--but not oral laws").1 Thus for example, in Il. 9.632-6 Ajax refers to the principle of blood-money payment by the killer to the family of the deceased as a means to settle homicide peacefully. But in Od. 23.118-20 after the killing of the suitors Odysseus warns Telemachus that a killer normally flees the community to avoid starting a vendetta. Are these rules laws? And how about the advice given by Phoenix to Achilles in Il. 9.508-12, also articulated as a rule, that humans should respect their prayers to gods? Does the latter qualify as law? Gagarin claims that choosing which ones of these rules are laws would be arbitrary and anachronistic, i.e. it would depend on the application of modern legal categories (e.g. homicide but not religious practices) to designate what counts as law in early archaic Greece. Moreover, Gagarin continues, even the rules about the settlement of homicide mentioned above cannot be construed as laws, because they "cannot be authoritative at the same time" and because "a legal system cannot tolerate such obvious contradictions in its laws" (p. 32). It is of course difficult to imagine how both rules --blood-money payment; exile -- regarding the settlement of homicide could be applicable at the same time, but one can still perceive them not as "contradictions" but as dispute settlement options, i.e. rules with legally binding force that were viewed as viable alternatives in the process of homicide settlement.2 Failure to enforce one of the rules could prompt one of the interested parties to resort to adjudication by arbitration, as in the trial on the shield of Achilles which deals precisely with the issue of blood-money payment after homicide. On the contrary, there is no evidence that anyone in early archaic Greece ever resorted to a court of the basileis for a trial related to the amount of respect paid in one's prayers to the gods. Hence Phoenix's advice to Achilles in Il. 9.508-12 can be more appropriately designated as a moral rule whose enforcement lay outside the realm of civic litigation.

Written laws appear in the Greek world ca. 650 BC, and they quickly become a fixture of civic life in many (although not all) Greek cities. Whenever available, archaeological evidence suggests that most of these laws were publicly displayed, often built in the walls of a local sanctuary or set up as free-standing monuments in a public location. They were therefore physically accessible to anyone who wished to inspect them. In Chapter 2 ("Writing and Written Laws") Gagarin proceeds to examine in detail some of the earliest specimens of written laws from archaic Greece. In addition to matters of substantive law, legal procedure and political organization of the communities that generated them, Gagarin also dissects the importance of physical features of these inscribed laws, as well as their style and internal organization. Characteristics such as the big, painted and clearly cut letters, some up to 25 cm (e.g. many of the laws from the walls of the Apollo Pytheios temple in Gortyn), the inclusion of visual dividers (vertical lines or dots) which demarcate words or entire clauses, and the apparent grouping of these laws in accordance with their subject-matter, suggest to Gagarin that "those who inscribed early laws were concerned to make these texts as easy to read as possible for an audience that would have included some whose reading skills were rudimentary" (p. 48).

There can be little doubt that the enacting authorities of extant written laws considered their public display as a significant factor in the process of lawmaking. Still, some of the evidence that Gagarin examines might actually be interpreted in a different way. For instance, a number of inscribed laws built in the walls of the Apollo Pytheios temple in Gortyn contain one or two lines of text written retrograde or boustrophedon (IC 4.10, which in Gagarin's estimate must have been 30-40 meters long; IC 4.14) and almost certainly extended to at least two sides of the temple. Hence readers of IC 4.14 which contained two lines of text would have had to walk some distance around the temple before reaching the end of the top line, and then retrace back their steps while reading the second line until they reached the end of the document. Moreover, the positioning (too high or too low) of the inscriptions on the wall could have further frustrated potential readers . Besides the inscribed laws from Gortyn, part or the entire text in some archaic written laws was written vertically, including the law from Chios, the law from Eretria, and the sacred law from Cleonae.3 This orientation meant that readers had to tilt their heads 90 degrees to the side to read. As far as one can tell, the law from Chios was inscribed on all four sides of a freestanding stone, which was quite possibly positioned directly on the ground. The stone bearing the law from Eretria, inscribed on three sides of the stone, was originally built into the lower corner of a wall or building.4 And the sacred law from Cleonae was also inscribed on three sides of a stone, originally perhaps the base of a pillar (see Gagarin, p. 64). In other words, the stones bearing these laws appear to have been originally placed directly or very near the ground and not on the reader's eye level, which must have rendered the exercise of reading the sides with the vertical text even more cumbersome. Finally in the same context one must mention the archaic law inscribed on the walls of a covered passage at the Acropolis in Tiryns (Nomima I, 78 = IGT 31). Because the text was inscribed in a "serpentine" fashion and in a dim location, it was almost impossible to read in a customary way.5 All these things suggest that, even though in several archaic Greek communities publication of the laws and dissemination of their content was deemed important, accessibility and readability of the inscribed texts was not always a primary concern.

Chapter 3 begins with the assertion-- really an extension of the arguments presented in Chapter 2--that "there was a fairly large number of potential readers of laws in Greece" (p. 70), an assertion that is in agreement with the growing evidence for literacy in archaic Greece.6 Of course, as Gagarin himself acknowledges, literacy skills do not necessary translate into an ability or interest to read and comprehend the texts of laws (on this issue, see further below). Furthermore, he rightly detects "a number of different motives for writing down and publicly displaying" (p. 85) laws in various communities of archaic Greece; yet in this context he emphasizes the importance of two factors: the desire of the wider community to express their legislative authority and the practical need to preserve details of increasingly complex legal rules in a more efficient manner. Gagarin sees the perceived accessibility of archaic written legislation, combined with the sanctioning formulas of some archaic laws that suggest that the entire citizenry enacted the laws in question, as symptomatic of a wider interest on the part of archaic communities in authorizing and publicly displaying legislation. Hence, for example, the publication of the so-called "constitutional law" from Dreros (BCH 61 (1937), 334 = Nomima I, 81 = IGT 90) that was enacted by the polis "marks a stage in the development of a communal self-awareness" (p. 79), in the sense that it promoted a self-identification as the polis of Dreros. As for the latter, Gagarin argues that the need to create detailed legal provisions for the increasingly complex legal systems of the demographically expanding archaic Greek communities contributed to the spread of written legislation.

The last point is plausible; yet, although the demographic expansion of the archaic world accounts in part for the proliferation of written legislation, it does not fully explain why some communities appear to have generated a considerable amount of written laws, while other city-states very few or none at all. Even though the involvement of the ordinary citizens in legislative procedures can hardly be overstated, one has to keep in mind that a reference to the polis, demos or other collective term in the enacting formula of a civic law or decree should not necessarily be equated with an unbridled legislative authority on the part of the citizenry. As the case of the Spartan rhêtra (Plu. Lyc. 6.1 and 8 = Nomima I.61) suggests, in some cases the power of the demos to enact law could have been qualified by the probouleutic powers of other bodies. A caveat must also be raised with respect to the argument that, since written legislation articulates "the desire of a body of ordinary members of the community to confirm their own authority" (p. 86), the same legislation cannot for the most part be the product of intra-elite competition. Even though for most of the extant written archaic laws we are completely in the dark as to the particular social and political circumstances that led to their enactment and publication, the predominance of the aristocracy in the politics and the judiciary branch of the legal systems of most archaic communities and the evidence for political strife among elite factions, especially in the cases of Crete and Mytilene, also justifies our viewing inter-aristocratic conflict as a major factor contributing to the rapid spread of written legislation in archaic Greece, along with the emergent popular legislative authority and the need to create more elaborate rules.

Chapter 4 ("Why Draco Wrote his Homicide Law") narrows the focus of the arguments presented in Chapter 3 and looks at the specific reasons behind the enactment and publication in writing of Draco's homicide law. For the most part, Gagarin argues that the same factors that he presented in Chapter 3 contributed to the emergence of written law in archaic Greece, namely the need to provide a detailed set of legal rules on homicide and to convey a sense of Athenian identity both by making the law applicable to all members of the community and by alluding to Athenian boundaries and differences of legal treatment between Athenians and foreigners. Unlike many scholars, Gagarin also insists on dissociating the Cylonian affair of 636 B.C. from Draco's homicide law, enacted about fifteen years later. He is certainly right that the latter could hardly have been conceived as a direct resolution of the former, but it is difficult to dismiss any link between the two events: laws are usually a result of precedents and contingencies. In this instance, the need for more comprehensive legislation in order to keep up with the growth of the Athenian legal system was probably combined with the benefit of past experiences. In other words, following the Cylonian affair, homicide was brought into the foreground of Athenian social and political life as a particularly contentious issue to the extent that, in conjunction with other factors, fifteen years later a comprehensive re-evaluation and rendition in writing of the legal principles in dealing with that issue was deemed necessary. Draco was the man appointed to carry out that task.

In the same chapter Gagarin also briefly explores the wider intellectual context of Draco's law and detects broad parallels in the latter's skillful structure and organization with pre-socratic philosophical thinking (especially monism) and developments in pictorial arts (geometric style). For Gagarin, writing provides for law what geometric patterns provide for vase-painting: the means to structure, standardize and rationalize. "In law, writing standardizes rules and procedures, and helps make them uniform and stable over time and space. Second, writing depersonalizes information; that is, it divorces the written text from its personal source" (p. 109). This point cannot be pressed very far: in the case of legislation, writing helps create a particular set of rules. But practice shows that, both in antiquity and today, the interpretation and use of these same rules by litigants and other individuals in legal and extra-legal contexts is very often far from uniform and stable.

It is well documented that, since the seventh century B.C., writing was used for recording legislation in parts of archaic Greece. But is there any evidence for the use of writing in other aspects of the legal systems of archaic Greek communities? In Chapter 5 ("Oral and Written in Archaic Greek Law") Gagarin poses the question and explores the evidence for the filing of written indictments (graphai) in Athens, a procedure that might go back to Solon. The author also briefly considers the case of the archaic Athenian thesmothetae and suggests that "If they had a judicial role from the beginning, they may have been writing down established practices and procedures, not for publication but just to keep them for use in the future. If so, the Thesmothetae were not writing legislation, but something like notes for their own use" (p. 115). This assessment is not in keeping with the importance attributed by the ancient sources to the thesmothetae who, along with the archon, the basileus and the polemarch, constituted the nine archons, i.e. the board of the highest executive magistrates in archaic Athens.7 It is perhaps more likely that among their various responsibilities the archaic thesmothetae performed a role similar to that inferred for the mnamones and scribes of some communities in archaic Crete, i.e. recording through memory and the written word judicial decisions and rules with legal force as well as making them available for future use in the courts and perhaps elsewhere. Spensithios is the best-documented case of a rememberer/scribe in archaic Crete and Gagarin briefly examines the document that outlines his responsibilities and privileges. Overall, Gagarin's emphasis on the overwhelming use of writing for recording legislation and the largely oral legal procedure in archaic Greece is sound and consistent with the extant evidence.

Chapters 6 and 7 are devoted to the fifth-century written laws and public documents from Gortyn. Chapter 6 ("Writing Laws in Fifth-Century Gortyn") examines structural and stylistic features of select fifth-century laws and decrees while chapter 7 ("Writing the Gortyn Code") explores the structure and organization of the so-called Gortyn Law Code (= GLC). In Chapter 6 regarding written laws and decrees other than the GLC, Gagarin demonstrates the ability of the fifth-century Gortynian legislators to organize and present laws in a lucid and coherent mannermanner. Moreover, the author makes the point repeatedly that the documents in question were in all probability enacted by the citizenry and that they were readily accessible and widely used by most community members. There can be little doubt that the written laws of Gortyn were practical and functional texts (especially when compared to some Near Eastern laws) aimed at providing guidance in dispute resolution in the context of the civic legal system. However, the extent and the facility with which an average Gortynian with no extensive previous experience in legal matters could make use of civic laws can easily be overestimated. The frequent cross-references to "what is written" in some laws, also examined by Gagarin, highlight the practical difficulties of accessibility, if nothing else, in a city with hundreds of laws and legal inscriptions. When encountering a reference to "what is written" how easily could a citizen largely inexperienced in legal matters locate and utilize the inscription containing the legal provision relevant to his case? The role of the mnamones was critical in promoting the accessibility and utility of written legislation. A case in point is the GLC, the longest surviving Greek inscription. Was this extensive compilation of substantive and procedural rules accessible to Gortynians? In chapter ten Gagarin adduces its physical appearance and internal organization as evidence that the GLC was above all a practical document aimed at providing guidance for litigation. In that respect, the GLC and other archaic and early classical Greek legislation contrasts sharply with legal codes from the ancient Near Eastern (e.g. the Hammurabi code, which Gagarin discusses in some detail in order to highlight its qualitative differences from the GLC) and even with medieval and early modern legal codes. Gagarin also suggests that "a single legislator most likely drafted the full text of GC, drawing on earlier laws and custom, on the results of earlier litigation, and not least on his own sense of fairness, reasonableness, and practicality" (p. 170).

In Chapters 8 and 9 the discussion moves to classical Athens. Chapter 8 ("Writing Law in Classical Athens") documents the conditions of enacting, writing and publicizing laws under the Athenian democracy, as well as the use of written documents in legal procedure in the popular courts of Athens. An interrelated phenomenon, partly deduced from the incremental use of written documents, is the growing level of literacy among Athenian citizens. The establishment and subsequent work of the boards of anagrapheis and nomothetai at the end of the fifth century is, according to Gagarin, critical in providing Athens with an explicit "rule of recognition", i.e. a measure of what constituted state law. "Before this, the implicit rule of recognition in Athens, as elsewhere in Greece, had been that a law was a rule that was written and publicly displayed, perhaps in a specific place or a few specific places" (p. 185). This conjecture is not directly supported by archaic and fifth-century evidence, and is conditioned by the author's assumptions regarding the primacy of written versus oral legal regulations. Further legislation provided, according to Gagarin 8, "a full set of secondary rules for recognizing, changing, and (at least by implication) adjudicating among its substantive laws" (p. 187). In the remainder of the chapter Gagarin highlights the increasing use of writing in the legal system of fourth century Athens. 9 Besides written legislation, written texts were used primarily during the preliminary proceedings and to a more limited extent and mostly indirectly, e.g. written laws or other documents orally presented to jurors by a clerk during litigation in the popular courts. The overall picture for archaic Greece and classical Athens is one of "widespread use of writing for legislation but restricted use of writing for litigation" (p. 197). The author also briefly examines Athenian attitudes towards written texts as reflected in extant forensic orations.

Chapter 9 ("Writing Athenian Law: a Comparative Perspective") compares some salient features of the classical Athenian legal system, especially regarding the role of writing and the openness and accessibility of legal processes, with features of the legal systems of other classical Greek cities, Rome and medieval England. The brief survey of non-Athenian evidence suggests, according to Gagarin, that "the same basic structure of written legislation and oral procedure characterizes all other Greek legal systems" (p. 214). In contrast, the use of writing from an early period at Rome in close connection with legal procedure led to increasing formalism of the legal system and to the burgeoning of a caste of legal technocrats. As at Rome, the increasing use of writing in medieval English common law for recording writs led to greater complexity and encouraged the development of specialist legal professionals.

Chapter 10 ("Writing Law in Hellenistic Greece") surveys select evidence regarding the use of writing in Hellenistic legal systems. Gagarin detects Athenian influences, such as procedural features attested for the first time in classical Athens, but also differences and developments, especially in the expansion of the use of writing for legally related matters, as in recording verdicts and publicly displaying manumission decrees. Areas conquered by Alexander the Great had of course their own legal traditions, and these were often accommodated in Hellenistic kingdoms (e.g., by the continued operation of Egyptian and Greek courts in Ptolemaic Egypt). Ptolemaic Egypt also shows a greater use of written documents in legal procedure and litigation, as well as less frequent display of written laws in public--both in contrast to practices in classical Athens.

The book ends with a concluding chapter, where the major arguments of the study are summarized, four appendices with legal texts discussed in the book, a bibliography, an index locorum and a subject index. Editorial production is of a high standard with only minor slip-ups. The main audiences of this book are specialists on Greek law and Greek history in general, as well as students of comparative law. Taking writing as the central theme of his study Gagarin offers a valuable, thought-provoking and welcome contribution to the growing body of literature on Greek law that seeks to move away from formalist and positivist approaches and achieve a wider understanding of the cultural context of law in the communities of ancient Greece.


1.   This view is very similar to the argument articulated most fully by Gagarin in Early Greek Law, Berkeley 1986, 8-10 and passim, as part of an evolutionary model on the emergence and development of law in archaic Greece. Several aspects of this model have not met with widespread approval. See E. Cantarella, 1987, "Tra diritto e prediritto: un problema aperto" DHA 13 (1987), 149-181; D. Cohen, "Greek Law: Problems and Methods" ZRG 106 (1989), 90-94; K.J. Burchfiel, "The Myth of 'Prelaw' in Early Greece" in G. Thür (ed.), Symposion 1993. Vorträge zur griechischen und hellenistischen Rechtsgeschichte, Köln 1994, 79- 104; R. Thomas, "Writing, Law, and Written Law", in M. Gagarin and D. Cohen (eds) , The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Greek Law, Cambridge 2005, 41-60; Z. Papakonstantinou, Lawmaking and Adjudication in Archaic Greece, London 2008, 155-156.
2.   As pointed out by Eva Cantarella, op.cit. note 1, p. 152.
3. Law from Chios, Nomima I, 62 = IGT 61; law from Eretria, IG XII 9, 1273-74 = Nomima I, 91 = IGT 72-3; law from Cleonae IG IV 1607 = Nomima II, 79 = IGT 32.
4.   see E. Vanderpool and W.P. Wallace, "The Sixth Century Laws from Eretria" Hesperia 33 (1964), 382.
5.   Gagarin (p.65) also points out that the Tiryns inscription "would have been difficult to see, let alone read".
6.   See lately M.K. Langdon, 2005, "A New Greek Abecedarium", Kadmos 44 (2005), 175-182.
7.   See J.P. Sickinger, Public Records and Archives in Classical Athens, Chapel Hill 1999, 10-14; M. Faraguna, "Tra oralità e scrittura: diritto e forme della comunicazione dai poemi omerici a Teofrasto", Etica & Politica 9.1 (2007), 81-2; Z. Papakonstantinou, Lawmaking and Adjudication in Archaic Greece, London 2008, 78-9.
8.   Following H.L.A. Hart, The Concept of Law2, Oxford 1994.
9.   See also recently Christophe Pêbarthe, Citê, dêmocratie et êcriture. Histoire de l'alphabêtisation d'Athènes à l'êpoque classique, Paris 2006.

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