Friday, April 29, 2011


Deborah Steiner (ed.), Homer: Odyssey. Books XVII-XVIII. Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Pp. $34.99 (pb). ISBN 9780521677110.

Reviewed by Barry Spence, University of Massachusetts Amherst (

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It is twenty years since the Oxford University Press published a three-volume English revised edition of Omero: Odissea, the six-volume commentary in Italian commissioned by the Fondazione Lorenzo Valla and brought out by Mondadori. That comprehensive commentary still stands both the intermediate and the advanced student of Homer in good stead, as does, indeed, W. B. Stanford's commentary of 1964. But so much important new work on the Odyssey has appeared since, especially with respect to Penelope's agency and motivations, that Deborah Steiner's thorough and insightful Odyssey Books XVII and XVIII is welcome indeed.

Steiner's commentary takes its place beside R.B. Rutherford's commentary on Books XIX and XX (1992) and A. F. Garvie's on Books VI-VIII (1994) as one of the monographs of the Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics series dedicated to the Odyssey. It manages to function simultaneously as an accessible guide for recently minted intermediate Greek students, and as an engaging and judicious reexamination of two of the Odyssey's less studied books as well as of the extensive scholarship that attends them. Steiner's formidable but unobtrusive fluency with the secondary material and her even-handed attention to the proliferating range of scholarly approaches to the Homeric text could stand as a model for how to fashion a commentary. She demands considerable sophistication of her readers: where Garvie's supporting bibliography runs to six pages, and Rutherford's to four, Steiner's is a full fifteen pages. Far from encumbering students with repetitious discussions of familiar problems, these fifteen pages offer guidance to innovative approaches from such innervating disciplines as cognitive science and narratology.

Having said this, I should immediately emphasize that Steiner's general approach, which is expressly in keeping with Rutherford's and Garvie's, and with the driving rationale of the Cambridge series as a whole, is to treat the Odyssean text from a "literary or stylistic and structural" perspective, instead of bearing down on the "strictly technical aspects of the poem" (ix). This approach affords access to the intermediate student of Greek even as it illuminates the obstinate interpretative conundrums one encounters in these two books of the nostos. Most importantly, Steiner's finely grounded and nuanced reading resolves the seeming inconsistency between Homer's undeviating depiction of Penelope as a model of "virtue and marital fidelity" and the problem that "begins in book 18, where Penelope declares (following Athena's prompt) her intention of showing herself before the suitors; [and] when displayed before them…announces her willingness to remarry and to be won with gifts" (27). With a nod to historical efforts at resolution, in particular the Analyst approach of seeing the passage as interpolated, Steiner contextualizes her reading within a contemporary understanding of the strategy of "narrative indeterminacy" (28). Penelope's alternation between "eagerness and caution," as well as the inclusion in the narrative of other wife models—will she prove another Clytemnestra? Or another Helen?—corresponds to the "poet's complex narrative design," in which the audience is kept in a state of doubt as to the familiar tale's resolution (28). This balanced reading gives us an up-to-date Penelope viewed as difficult to interpret because of her complex and ambiguous "focal position" (25). Steiner frees her from earlier readings that indict her for fickleness and irrationality. She recognizes Penelope's powers of agency, consequently clearing her of the charge leveled by some contemporary interpretations that argue she is but "an unconscious puppet" (25). Penelope's capacity for autonomy is situated within the various constraints of familial and social duty inherent in her roles as wife (and potential widow), mother, and daughter. Steiner's reading highlights the circumscribing dynamics of the οἶκος, while at the same time acknowledging the fact that the "poet deprives his heroine of the information necessary to know how to act" (28), an exclusion held in narrative relief by the web of machinations on-going between Odysseus, Athena and Telemachus. According to Steiner, Homer is able to portray Penelope as "intuitively responding to the cues that Odysseus and his advent supply (part of the almost magical 'like-mindedness' of this marital pair)" (27), and these then motivate her to leave off mourning and to engage her own initiative. Furthermore, Steiner includes in her reading "the archetypal story of the maiden on the brink of marriage" as a fundamental dimension of the Penelopeia (28).

Steiner's focus on Penelope emerges in her Introduction. The Introduction itself is divided into five parts: 1) Homer and his poetic medium; 2) Books 17 and 18 within the Odyssey; 3) Transmission; 4) The text; 5) Homeric metre. The first and second parts occupy the bulk of the Introduction and are further subdivided. Part one consists of: (a) The Iliad and Odyssey; (b) Oral composition, the Kunstsprache and formulas; (c) Modifications and challenges; (d) Audience and setting. Part two is subdivided into: (a) Books 17 and 18 and the structure of the Odyssey; and (b) The thematic concerns of books 17 and 18, which is further subdivided into: (i) Hospitality, theoxeny, and the ethical problems of Odysseus' revenge; (ii) Disguise, impersonation and fiction; (iii) Abuse, genre and ideology; (iv) Penelope; (v) Telemachus; (vi) The οἶκος. Steiner does not include an overview of Homeric grammar, but this observation does not constitute a substantial criticism. The Commentary regularly accounts for morphological and syntactical peculiarities, and her introductory discussion of the Homeric Kunstsprache incorporates a description of the hybrid nature of the poem's language, with details and examples of the differences between Aeolic and Ionic word-forms. The Introduction as a whole offers a balanced selection of topics indicative of the most salient themes and structural features of these two books and considers these books in relation to the rest of the Odyssey. In particular, the six subchapters of part 2.b are rich with thematic insights and together form a powerful lens for exploring these books' complexity.

The Greek text that follows the introduction relies on the editions of Allen (Oxford, 1919), Von der Mühll (Basel 1946), Russo (Rome 1985) and van Thiel (Hildesheim 1993) (36). The apparatus is considerably simplified and "generally notes major areas of divergence between the readings in standard editions" (36). The Commentary proper occupies one hundred and forty-five of the volume's two hundred and forty-two pages. The vast majority of lines of the Greek text of both books receive an entry. The Commentary is distinctive for its generally expansive attention to the range of thematic, structural, narratological, self-referential, cultural, and philological issues occurring in the text. There are a judiciously moderate number of citations of relevant scholarship and Steiner is conscientious in her inclusion of points of view that diverge from her own. The entries are substantially informative and engaging, due to the fact that Steiner does not stint on exegesis. For example, the entry for the recognition scene between Odysseus and his dog Argus (17.291-327) is an extended five-part examination of how the scene functions within the epic, in effect forming a micro-essay (116-18). The Commentary is followed by the Bibliography, and the volume closes with "Subjects" and "Greek words" Indexes.

In discussing the rationale behind the selection of these books, Steiner foregrounds the particular and singular richness of the Odyssey's Books 17 and 18. Citing on one hand the "burlesque comedy" of the pugilistic scene between Odysseus πτωχός and Irus town parasite, and on the other hand the epiphanic pathos of Argus' recognition of his twenty-year absent master and his subsequent release from the indignities of neglect, Steiner emphasizes these books' extraordinary "diversity and tonal range" (ix). Connected to this great variety are the "virtuosic displays" of Odysseus' unending resourcefulness in disguise and role-playing, his prodigious fluency in the spinning of intricate lying tales, and his deployment of verbal irony in the face of his unrelenting antagonists. Steiner thus itemizes the aspects that make these two books deserving of a full commentary. Not only do these books articulate "the theodicy that in part shapes the hero's revenge," they also (as noted above) showcase "the contrary impulses and motives that will inform Penelope's future conduct" (ix). Steiner's diagnosis of the thematic and narrative importance of these arguably less dwelt on Odyssean books—an analysis that pays special attention to the ideological, ethical, and generic dimensions which they bring to the poem as a whole—amply justify her choice of books.

Steiner's scholarship incorporates the most important recently developed critical frameworks. In addition to attending to narrative indeterminacy (here she cites the work of M. A. Katz and N. Felson-Rubin) and to the various narratological strategies shaping the action (here she references primarily the work of I. de Jong), Steiner considers how the poet of the Odyssey makes glancing use of alternative versions of Odysseus' travails and wanderings in order to deepen, vitalize, and bring to prominence the poet's own narrative innovations. These vestiges of alternate realities often make their appearance in Odysseus' lying tales. She persistently singles out textual instances where the poet appears to "revisit and even revise Iliadic material." She discusses as one possible reworking the correspondence between Irus' verbal abuse of Odysseus and Thersites' vilification of Agamemnon in Book II of the Iliad. Or, to cite an example involving the important cultural institution of ξενία, Steiner discusses how the "extensive divine intervention on the side of morality and justice" in the Odyssey constitutes a striking renovation of divine behavior as depicted in the Iliad (20). Steiner's assessment of the dialogue with the Iliad in these two books is explicitly predicated on the "one point [which] remains undisputed: as philologists, archaeologists and historians have shown, the Odyssey we possess postdates the Iliad" (2). Her interpretative assessments incorporate as well an ongoing examination of "the poem's ideological orientation and the social, political and religious context that it assumes" (x). In her introductory discussion of oral composition she finds room for the Neo-Analytic notion of "sampling" (citing the work of R. Martin), the concept of "traditional referentiality" propounded by J. M. Foley, and the cognitive take on traditional oral poetry as a form of "special speech" (citing the work of E. Bakker). Steiner deepens our reading of the initial confrontational encounter between Odysseus and the churlish goatherd Melanthius (17.182-260) by attuning us to the passage's spatial signifiers. She uses Elizabeth Minchin's recent work with cognitive mapping to suggest the visualizing function of the syntactical deployment of spatial indicators (ἀμφί, ὑψόθεν, ἐφύπερθε) as a mnemonic device for facilitating oral composition (103). In short, the commentary is richly but judiciously inflected with fresh critical perspectives.

Steiner is sensitive as well to the dynamics of self-reflexivity—the poet's meta-discourse on "his own art and modes of composition"—that come pervasively but subtly into play in these two books. She views Odysseus' lying tales and role-playing as one of a number of manifestations of this dimension of the poem. In a similar vein, she offers a perspicacious and extended note on Homer's repeated (fifteen times) but curiously exclusive use of apostrophe (it is confined to the swineherd in the Odyssey, and to Menelaus and Patroclus in the Iliad). The narrator's addresses to Eumaeus (προσέφης, Εὔμαιε συβῶτα) illustrate the "poet's striking departure from his more usual practice of hiding his presence" (113-114). Steiner's reading of this complex self-reflexive structural aspect of the poem, as seen through the lens of these pivotal books of the nostos, is exceptionally suggestive, not least because she does not overstate the case.

In conclusion I observe that Steiner's Introduction could be read with benefit by anyone interested in the Odyssey, not just by Greek students who are translating these particular books. Its broad but detailed discussion recommends it as a succinct and up-to-date summary of many of the thematic, narratological, structural, linguistic and ideological issues at play in Homeric epic. Steiner's monograph as a whole brings a focused application of recent approaches in Homeric scholarship and is a welcome potent resource for close reading.

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William Harmless (ed.), Augustine in His Own Words. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2010. Pp. xlii, 496. ISBN 9780813217437. $34.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Rocki Wentzel, Augustana College, SD (

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St. Augustine of Hippo was notoriously long-winded and his corpus correspondingly vast. William Harmless' project, to assemble a mosaic portrait of Augustine from excerpts chosen from Augustine's works, is a bold undertaking. Intended for newcomers, this anthology, Augustine in His Own Words, assumes no previous knowledge of the man or his works. It includes, to use Harmless' terms, not only Augustine's "greatest hits" but also "hidden gems," which may be familiar to the scholar but perhaps not to the novice. Harmless begins every chapter with a few pages of useful background. Each excerpt within each chapter is introduced by brief remarks, which include summaries, historical context, reception, theological implications, Biblical background, and comments on terms or words. Key concepts are also helpfully highlighted in these introductory comments. The reader is assumed to have no background in Latin. The translations are largely the author's adaptations of FOTC versions and are readable and accessible. Following the introduction is a list of texts and translations. Relevant and current scholarship is footnoted throughout. Additionally, a thorough list of suggestions for further reading appears in the back of the text organized by chapter, along with a chronology of events, a list of Augustine's works, and various indices of all the texts cited.

Harmless' text consists of ten chapters, which can be divided into two parts: Chapters 1 through 5 form an autobiographical portrait of Augustine, while Chapters 6 through 10 present Augustine's theology through the various controversies, in which Augustine engaged throughout his career. With the exception of Chapter 1 titled after his Confessions, the chapters of the first half are titled according to the various roles Augustine played throughout his life: Augustine as philosopher, bishop, preacher, and exegete. Together they illustrate Augustine the man with episodes from childhood; personal relationships; philosophical influences, particularly, Neoplatonism and Academic skepticism; daily duties and activities as bishop; and eating and dressing habits. Harmless is committed to producing a living and dynamic image of the charismatic Augustine, repeatedly urging his audience to read passages of Augustine's works aloud, particularly the sermons, in order to experience a sense of the orality, which he believes is preserved even in translation. Chapter 1 concerns only the Confessions, but the excerpts for Chapters 2 through 5 are chosen from a range of Augustine's works. Chapter 2, for instance, includes excerpts from Soliloquies, On True Religion, On the Teacher, and Against the Skeptics. Chapter 3 on Augustine as Bishop draws largely from letters and sermons, but is supplemented by passages from Augustine's biographer Possidius of Calama, one of only a few deviations from strictly autobiographical sources. As issues from the chapters on philosophy and exegesis overlap with theological concerns, such as the problem of evil, Harmless revisits many of them in depth in the later chapters on the controversies.

The second half of the text concerns the various controversies that occupied Augustine's time, effectively giving an overview of the evolution of Augustine's view on every major theological issue during his time. Chapter 6 "Against the Manichees" presents issues of evil and the goodness of creation. Chapter 7 "Against the Donatists" concerns baptism and the catholicity of the Church. Chapter 8 "Augustine as Theologian: On the Trinity" presents Augustine's theology of the Trinity, while the latter half of the chapter is devoted to his speculative exploration of psychological analogies to the Trinity. Chapter 9 on Augustine's longest work, "Controversies (III): On the City of God, Against the Pagans" covers a variety of issues including political philosophy, apologetics, controversy against the pagans, the theme of the two cities, and human sexuality. Harmless saves the weightiest portion of Augustine's legacy for the final and longest chapter, "Controversies 4: Against the Pelagians." Here he traces Augustine's thoughts on original sin, infant baptism, free will, predestination, and the human condition. In this chapter, Harmless also includes voices from the other side of the controversies, including those of Caelestius, Pelagius, and Rufinus the Syrian. Harmless, generally prone to championing Augustine, comes to his defense more than once in regards to theories that he feels have often been attributed to Augustine erroneously or inaccurately, such as certain Western views on sexuality and the "just war" theory. Otherwise, he does, for the most part, allow Augustine to speak for himself.

Harmless' multi-faceted, but perhaps not always balanced, view of Augustine is an, at times neutral, but almost always complimentary portrait of Augustine, as a man much sought after, full of the best intentions, highly conscientious, moderate yet passionate, and fiercely dedicated to the pursuit of truth. Harmless gives little credence to Augustine's detractors, but this portrait is, after all, in Augustine's own words. Augustine is not always kind to himself, yet he emerges, even out of his errors, in a glowing light.

Given the enormity of the Augustinian corpus, Harmless' has tackled a tremendous task. It would naturally be impossible to touch on everything. Nevertheless, Harmless has succeeded in providing a useful resource, an excellent jumping off point for the novice wanting an introduction to Augustine or an overview for scholars interested in incorporating Augustine's works in their own research. This text would be a valuable supplement in a course on Augustine or in a course on the early church fathers. The selections are not redundant, yet there is sufficient overlap of central issues and themes, so as to give the reader a solid overview of Augustine's chief concerns and the evolution of his thought. The text is intended to whet the appetite and paint a portrait of Augustine the man, the philosopher, and the servant. Harmless' elegant collection is a success not only in this regard but is also an engaging and accessible introduction to Augustine's works.

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Maria Cistaro, Sotto il velo di Pantea: Imagines e Pro imaginibus di Luciano. Orione 3. Messina: Dipartimento di Scienze dell'Antichità - Università degli Studi di Messina, 2009. Pp. 356. ISBN 9788882680251. €60.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Jaś Elsner, Corpus Christi College, Oxford and University of Chicago (

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This publication of Maria Cistaro's doctoral thesis on Lucian's Imagines and Pro Imaginibus is warmly welcome. The book takes its place in the forefront of a rich vein of contemporary writing about ekphrasis, and in particular ekphrasis in the Second Sophistic, as well as certainly being the most significant secondary work to date on Lucian's great pair of dialogues on the heady mix of portraiture and panegyric.

The book is in 5 substantial chapters. The first, 'between eulogy and ekphrasis', after a brief scene setting section, explores the range of Lucianic ekphrasis with short but acute accounts of Herodotus, Zeuxis, Hippias, Hercules, De Calumnia, De Mercede Conductis, De Domo and Imagines. The bibliography is up-to-date, but the account may be seen largely as a creative interrogation of the outstanding 1994 introduction by Sonia Maffei (insufficiently known or referred to in the Anglophone literature) to her collection of Lucian's Descrizioni di opere d'arte (Turin: Einaudi, 1994, pp. xv-lxxi). Like Maffei, Cistaro does not discuss De Dea Syria, despite its very likely Lucianic authorship (as argued by Jane Lightfoot's outstanding 2003 Oxford edition and commentary) nor Amores, which most people still seem to think is not by Lucian although I cannot myself see why. The misfortune of this, in particular the exclusion of De Dea Syria, is that it cuts away the major piece of religious ekphrasis in Lucian's oeuvre (which takes him closer to Pausanias in some ways than to Philostratus), and thus fails to give a full representation of his remarkable ekphrastic range and sustained interest in a long career. Since part of the attack on Imagines in Pro Imaginibus is on its 'sacrilege and sin' (asebema and plemmelema, Pro Imaginibus 8, 12-13) in comparing Panthea to divine statues, and part of the defense is that the comparison was not with the goddesses but with the remarkable qualities of their statues' workmanship (Pro Imaginibus 23), it seems unfortunate that the complexity of the Lucianic corpus' account of religion is not given a little more play.

The second chapter, on the sources and the eclecticism of the mimesis in Imagines, is a super account of the dialogue and at about 100 pages arguably the heart of the book. Its discussions of both the statues and the texts bowdlerized by Lucian's speakers in order to create portraits of Panthea's body and soul are excellent, as is its discussion of the dialogue's structure. Cistaro's main concern is with the range of quotation, visual and literary, in which Lucian indulges, rather than with issues of encomium or indeed ekphrasis as such, which are at least as important. But ekphrasis was the topic of Chapter 1 and the problems of eulogy are effectively the theme of Chapter 3 on the Pro Imaginibus. The result is a very impressive exposition of Lucian's learning and the eclecticism of his mimetic enterprise in the Imagines. Chapter 3's discussion of Pro Imaginibus is shorter (just under 60 pp.), but explores with great interest and in detail that dialogue's discussion of the differences between flattery and praise and the fundamental problems of eulogistic discourse in an imperial context, which would characterize literary production beyond the Roman empire and into Byzantium. Perhaps a little predictably it divides the dialogue in two, dealing first with the case made against Imagines as too flattering and hence a false form of praise, and then the defense mounted by Lucian in the character of Lycinus.

For my taste here, perhaps there is not enough attention given to the complexity of recessions in both dialogues about the object of praise, and about who voices what. Panthea is never named in Imagines but only grasped in body through the part-objects (bits and pieces of famous statues and paintings) used by Lycinus to evoke her, and then in soul through the exempla quoted by Polystratus. Likewise, her response to Lycinus in Pro Imaginibus is neither directly given (it is retailed by Polystratus) nor does it respond to the actual speech made by Lycinus, but rather to Polystratus' account of it. In both dialogues there is a complex and deliberate recession of the referent of praise—gendered female, she is absent except through the descriptions made by male speakers. Even when she does speak in Pro Imaginibus, her words are ventriloquized through Polystratus' voice. The gaps in these texts between author, speakers, personas and objects are dazzling, surely orchestrated, and need to be accounted for in order to ground any full discussion. A potential model for an approach of this kind might be Ruth Webb's piece on Philostratus' 'Imagines as a Fictional Text: Ekphrasis, Apatê and Illusion' in M. Constantini et al. Le défi de l'art, Rennes, 2006, 113-36, which Cistaro cites but does not follow in regard to this theme.

The last two chapters, standing back from the texts to make wider reflections, are both interesting. Chapter 4 looks at some overarching themes in the two dialogues—notably paideia in relation to taste and judgment, and questions of theatrical metaphor and ridicule. Chapter 5 focuses on inter-textuality and meta-textual reflections—taking up the challenge of the book's title to go beneath the veil of Panthea. The discussions of literary hybridity and meta-ekphrasis are outstanding. Cistaro is to be congratulated on a fine discussion which will be invaluable to readers of these texts, to readers of Lucian more widely, and to anyone with an interest in Ekphrasis.

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Jan N. Bremmer, Andrew Erskine (ed.), The Gods of Ancient Greece: Identities and Transformations. Edinburgh Leventis Studies 5. Edinburgh:: Edinburgh University Press, 2010. Pp. xxi, 528. ISBN 9780748637980. £95.00.

Reviewed by Frederick Naerebout, (Leiden University)

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This volume is the fruit of the fifth A.G. Leventis Conference held in Edinburgh in November 2007 (the Greek-Cypriot A.G. Leventis Foundation, officially based in Liechtenstein, supports Greek studies in Europe as part of its wide-ranging charity work, including a bi-annual professorship and conference at the University of Edinburgh). From the title it is not immediately apparent that these are conference proceedings.1 The volume is disguised as a monographic publication. Not only because the word 'proceedings' is not on the title page, but also because the editors at least suggest that this is a carefully planned, and thus coherent, volume. See its description in the preface as "a synchronic and diachronic view (my italics)… generating new approaches" (p.viii) and see the lay-out of the book in four parts labelled 'systematic aspects', 'individual divinities and heroes', 'diachronic aspects' and 'historiography'. In fact, it very much is what it is: conference proceedings; and thus a rather mixed bag. That is not to say that it does not indeed generate new approaches: it does, and it is important because of that.

The volume contains an introduction, 25 papers and an epilogue (see the contents listed below). It is impossible to mention, let alone discuss in detail all of these within the confines of this review. Let us first of all have a look at the subjects covered: there is an introduction by Jan Bremmer which, although also discussing the prehistory of the Greek gods, is mainly a piece of historiography, dealing with international scholarship in the 20th century, and thus it really belongs in section 4, with the historiographical paper by Konaris (on 19th- and 20th-century German and British scholarship), which languishes there all on its own. In fact, it would have been helpful to have both papers at the front, together with the first chapter by Albert Henrichs, titled 'What is a Greek god?' – which seems to be the true introduction. Albert Henrichs' paper is in many respects the most interesting in the book, and the one which most explicitly addresses the main issue – what is a Greek god? It is marred somewhat by its polemic tone, maintaining that Henrichs (and the other contributors) provide what has been neglected for at least a century. An overstated claim, to which we will return below.

Next, we come to the systematic section, dealing with issues of the pantheon (the 12 gods in particular), inscriptional evidence (which turns out to be not very informative about gods – but Fritz Graf's discussion of epikleseis is important), metamorphosis, sacrifice, epiphany (mainly in votive reliefs), and statues (epiphany, or pseudo-epiphany, again). An odd omission – for the subject is very interesting in the context of this volume – is deification and ruler cult (as indeed Andrew Erskine notes, somewhat curiously, in his epilogue to the volume). I would also have liked to hear something about the dead and their possible super-human status (some relevant information is hidden away in Bernabé's paper on later Orphism).

The second section deals with individual divine creatures, who turn out to be Zeus (twice), Hephaistos, Artemis, Herakles and not so much an individual, as a whole category, of goddesses with heroic parhedroi (Calame). One can understand why these divinities have been selected; it is less easy to understand why others have been left out – especially heroes, now rather underrepresented, might have shed more light on the nature of divinity itself.

The third section is headed 'diachronic aspects', but the papers do not deal with developments over time. Diachrony is confused with chronology. All papers, except for Auffarth's whose theorizing about statues and the materiality of images does not belong here, but in the systematic section, address a phenomenon at a particular moment in time. They are arranged chronologically on a time line from pre-Socratic philosophers to Christian apologists. Of course, if you read through all of them, and do a lot of mental work, you will have some sort of do-it-yourself diachrony, but an extremely sketchy one.

So, does this rather haphazard collection do what it claims to be doing, does it help us to understand what this elusive being, a Greek god, actually is? I daresay it does: it contains a wealth of information and of interesting observations. I could single out Georgoudi on the affinity between sacrificial victim and god, Lapatin about the dubious categorization of 'cult statues' versus other representations, Barringer on the background of military dedications at Olympia, Seaford on the idea of divine ubiquity and omnipotence being predicated on the monetization of Greek society, Calame on 'rites de passages', and Faraone on the reframing of gods in the context of magical spells. But in doing so, I feel somewhat unjust towards the other contributors: some papers may be quite substantial, and others a bit slight, but the overall quality is very high.

As I just said: the volume helps us in understanding the nature of Greek divinity. Still, as one can see from my ultra-short summaries above, some papers deal more directly with the gods and their characteristics (Seaford, Faraone), while others do it in a more roundabout way (Georgoudi, Lapatin, Barringer, Calame). Some papers have actually little to say about gods, and rather more about cults or about sources. It is all a question of emphasis: e.g. with Dickie on Lucian and Dowden on the antique novel, it is less about what we can learn from these sources about the ancient image of the divine, and more about what divinities, as literary personae, do for Lucian's oeuvre or for the novel.

I repeat: this is a very rich collection of papers which no one interested in ancient Greek religion can afford to miss. It is not the coherent study we would like to have on the subject, but maybe cannot have as yet. It is definitely pointing the way to much of what such a study should address. So why spoil this by claims that can hardly be substantiated? In the epilogue Andrew Erskine, echoing Albert Henrichs (esp. pp. 24-27), again stresses how new all this is: attention has been focused exclusively on ritual, and the gods have been left out. This is obviously untrue.2 Even those not explicitly discussing the gods in their studies of ancient Greek religion have been speaking about the gods nevertheless. And there are plenty of publications on individual gods – especially the new Routledge series (which Henrich does not like, p.27), but also much older work (see the introduction by Bremmer and the paper by Konaris!). The editors, however, say that the study of individual gods is not their intent (why then the six papers on individual gods, one by one of the editors?), but that they seek to answer more fundamental questions. Well, again, they are not the first to do so. We even have another set of proceedings not advertising themselves as such, titled What is a god? Studies in the nature of Greek divinity.3 One should not dismiss this, as Albert Henrichs does in his paper (p.38), with a single line: "the book never lives up to the lofty promise of its title". In fact, with its 11 papers on 180 pages, it is much like a 'light' version of the present volume, and they are quite complementary – both very useful, both somewhat unsatisfactory. And when we look beyond titles dealing explicitly with the divine, where does that leave the innovation supposedly provided by this volume? Sacrifice, votive reliefs, epiphanies, statues, dedications, divine hierarchies, discrepancies between literary and cultic imagery, heroes and burial practices, apotheosis, divination, initiation, 'rites de passage', and so on and so forth: it is completely unnecessary to enumerate the enormous amount of work done on all these subjects before the appearance of this volume – indeed, its own rich annotation testifies to it all.

Still, this is a book that pushes at the boundaries of our research, and, although I reject its claim of drastic renewal of the field, I recommend it warmly. It is not only an important, but also a very well-produced book: I did not notice any misprints, there is an index (a general one which includes some ancient sources; a true index locorum would have been helpful) and the illustrations are of a very decent quality. The price is hefty, however, and one would hope for a paperbound edition which could assure this volume of a wider dissemination.

Contents [adapted from the publisher's website]

List of illustrations
Notes on Contributors

Introduction: The Greek Gods in the Twentieth Century, Jan N. Bremmer

1. What is a Greek God?, Albert Henrichs

Systematic Aspects
2. Canonizing the Pantheon: the Dodekatheon in Greek Religion and its Origins, Ian Rutherford
3. Gods in Greek Inscriptions: Some Methodological Questions, Fritz Graf
4. Metamorphoses of Gods into Animals and Humans, Richard Buxton
5. Sacrificing to the Gods: Ancient Evidence and Modern Interpretations, Stella Georgoudi
6. Getting in Contact: Concepts of Human/Divine Encounter in Classical Greek Art, Anja Klöckner
7. New Statues for Old Gods, Kenneth Lapatin

Individual Divinities and Heroes
8. Zeus at Olympia, Judith M. Barringer
9. Zeus in Aeschylus: the Factor of Monetisation, Richard Seaford
10. Hephaistos Sweats or How to Construct an Ambivalent God, Jan N. Bremmer
11. Transforming Artemis – From the Goddess of the Outdoors to City-Goddess, Ivana Petrovic
12. Herakles between Gods and Heroes, Emma Stafford
13. Identities of Gods and Heroes: Athenian Garden Sanctuaries and Gendered Rites of Passage, Claude Calame

Diachronic Aspects
14. Early Greek Theology: God as Nature and Natural Gods, Simon Trépanier
15. Gods in Early Greek Historiography, Robert L. Fowler
16. Gods in Apulia, Tom H. Carpenter
17. Lucian's Gods: Lucian's Understanding of the Divine, Matthew W. Dickie
18. The Gods in the Greek Novel, Ken Dowden
19. Reading Pausanias: Cults of the Gods and Representation of the Divine, Vinciane Pirenne-Delforge
20. Kronos and the Titans as Powerful Ancestors: A Case Study of the Greek Gods in Later Magical Spells, Christopher A. Faraone
21. Homo fictor deorum est: Envisioning the Divine in Late Antique Divinatory Spells, Sarah Iles Johnston
22. The Gods in Later Orphism, Alberto Bernabé
23. Christian Apologists and Greek Gods, Lautaro Roig Lanzillotta
24. The Materiality of God's Image: Olympian Zeus and Ancient Christology, Christoph Auffarth

25. The Greek Gods in Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century German and British Scholarship, Michael Konaris

Epilogue, Andrew Erskine
Index of names, subjects and important passages.


1.   I was not present at the conference, but in the published programme I noticed two papers that are not in the proceedings (by Gabor Betegh and Richard Janko). There is also a paper in the book by an author who was not listed as a speaker (Simon Trépanier). The preface is silent on the history of the volume; apparently, there has been quite some opportunity for editing between 2007 and 2010: references include publications that appeared in 2008 and 2009.
2.   Disproving this claim is not difficult: Albert Henrich states that before Robert Parker used it in the title of his Polytheism and society at Athens (2005), 'polytheism' had become a 'proscribed word' (p.24). Was it? I list a few titles: C. Picard, Les origines du polythéisme hellénique: l'ère homérique, Paris 1932; G. François, Le polythéïsme et l'emploi au singulier des mots theos, daimon dans la littérature grecque d'Homère à Platon, Paris 1957; G.J. Aalders, The tolerance of polytheism in classical antiquity and its limits, Amsterdam 1965; M. Detienne, Apollon le couteau à la main. Une approche expérimentale du polythéisme grec, Paris 1998 (Detienne is quite fond of the word); S. Fine, Jews, Christians and polytheists in the ancient synagogue. Cultural interaction during the Greco-Roman period, London 1999 (in studies on Judaism and early Christianity in their pagan surroundings, the word is common). Books which do not carry 'polytheism' in their title, can nevertheless be replete with it: e.g. B.N. Porter (ed.), One god or many? Concepts of divinity in the ancient world, s.l. 2000 (a book which for other reasons might have been discussed at some length in the present volume).
3.   A.B. Lloyd (ed.), What is a god? Studies in the nature of Greek divinity, London/Swansea 1997 (reprint 2009); the proceedings of a 1994 conference at the University of Wales Institute of Classics and Ancient History, 1994 / Contents: From Knossos to Homer, by B. Dietrich. From epiphany to cult statue: early Greek theos, by W. Burkert. Heraclitus and the rites of established religion, by C. Osborne. The moral dimension of Pythian Apollo, by J. Davies. Gods and mountains in Greek myth and poetry, by M. Clarke. Aspects of Athena in the Greek polis: Sparta and Corinth, by A. Villing. Herodotus and the certainty of divine retribution, by T. Harrison. Divinity and moral agency in Sophoclean tragedy, by S. Schein. Thunder, lightning, and earthquake in the Bacchae and the Acts of the Apostles, by R. Seaford. Athena and the Amazons: mortal and immortal femininity in Greek myth, by S. Deacy. Orphic gods and other gods, by A. Morand.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011


L. B. T. Houghton, Maria Wyke (ed.), Perceptions of Horace: A Roman Poet and His Readers. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Pp. xii, 366. ISBN 9780521765084. $99.00.

Reviewed by Jonathan Wallis, University of Tasmania (

Version at BMCR home site


This disparate collection of Horatian essays is very aptly titled. The editors of Perceptions of Horace want to focus our attention on the ways in which the suggestively affable personality of Horace's texts and the differing priorities of his readers over two thousand years have interacted to form often vividly-conceived portraits of the poet behind the poetry, as well as differing contemporary takes on what this figure represents. The collection adopts a traditional starting point in the ways that the Horatian text itself offers up its various personae; but, predominantly, these essays engage with the ways that readers—including Horace himself—have since understood and redeployed these various 'Horaces'. Thus this is essentially a series of studies in Horatian reception, but with emphasis being given to tracing the operation of 'reception' even in the ongoing writing of the poems (where Horace is his own first reader), and to the pervasive feature of Horace's later reception (in common with that of Catullus and Martial), that reading his poetry is regarded especially as an interaction with the poet himself. This sets up what its editors regard as the centralising theme of their wide-ranging collection: 'it is of crucial significance that … who wrote the poetry of Horace depends very largely on where you're looking from' (p. 3). Whence, once again, we gain the collection's title—through these essays we shall engage with perceptions of Horace.

The collection has its origin in a conference held at University College London in July 2007. The scope and amibition of the resulting book is avowedly broad: its introduction promises a focus over seventeen ensuing chapters 'on particular episodes in the life and afterlife of the Horatian corpus, encompassing a range of different media and historical periods' (p. 6). At this level, Perceptions of Horace offers frequent and valuable illumination, especially through contributions from some of the most important names of Horatian and Latin literary scholarship. Within the broad field of reception studies, this collection's focus on perception is useful, too, in reminding readers of the ways in which 'Horace'—in particular—has often been identified as a meaningful individual in the mindsets of those who have engaged with his writing.

I should note, though, that the breadth promised in the editors' introductory sales pitch does prove slightly disingenuous: the coverage within the collection concentrates mostly on the classical period (chs. 1-8) and on the 17th-18th centuries (chs. 10-15), leaving editor Houghton's own contribution on Petrarch (ch. 9) and the closing pieces from Harrison and Talbot on the 19th and 20th centuries respectively feeling, as a result, a little like historical outliers (also refreshing variation!); the editorial gesture towards a range of media really plays out only in Mayer's paper on Otto Vaenius' 1607 pictorial representations of Horatian sententiae (ch. 11). Nevertheless, it is actually the book's own introductory pages—by taking an oddly prominent and defensive stance on the question of coverage (pp. 6-7)—that make this more of an issue than it need be. While there are certainly gaps, the book's coverage didn't strike me as a problem, and it shouldn't detract from the collection's greatest strength: its genuine worth as a frequently insightful series of individual engagements with the central theme of Horatian reception (and I glance at several of the more valuable of the contributions below).

More troublesome for me—when approaching this collection as a book—is its unevenness in tone and scope, and its overlap with two recent publications on Horace, the two Companions produced by Cambridge (2007) and Blackwell (2010). On the question of style, some of the contributions here are presented as fully worked-up articles, while others show more clearly their roots in the oral delivery of the conference format; in addition, particularly early in the collection one encounters several sustained and intricate close readings of individual poems (Gowers' piece on Satires 1 is a stand-out here, in the second chapter); the second half of the collection, however, is marked by broader chapters with an inevitably more general manner, as for instance with Stevenson's 'series of snapshots' (p. 182) of English women's engagement with Horace across the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (ch. 10), and Wilson's use of Horace as a test-case in her overview of the practice of writing classical commentaries for a vernacular audience in eighteenth-century England (ch. 15). At the same time, it is these latter, more generalising chapters that share considerable material and purpose with the 'reception' sections of the recent Companions - particularly the Cambridge Companion, whose pieces on reception are also arranged by historical period. I hasten to add that I don't mean to judge these different approaches as intrinsically better or worse in themselves, but rather to point out that across the course of the book a significantly different familiarity with the primary material is assumed in the book's readers—and that this works to complicate the book's having any single purpose. Besides this, the more general observations about the use to which Horace was put in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries will already be familiar to many readers.

The first eight chapters of Perceptions of Horace are located in classical home-territory, with investigations of the figure 'Horace' in the Latin texts of classical authors, including the texts of Horace himself. In several cases, the individual contributors have made very productive use of the collection's focalising theme. Martin Dinter (ch. 5) offers the provocative approach of reading 'Horace' as the collocation of his poetic sententiae, as abstracted from their various generic contexts, a poetic ideology thus laid bare by stripping away surrounding narrative—'Horace's sententiae, when pieced together, serve to convey a sense of an author' (p. 106); though, perhaps, Dinter offers a suggestive methodology rather than a discussion of the consequence of reading Horace in this way. Barbara Graziosi (ch. 8) introduces the attractive possibility that Horace's conspicious efforts to construct his own poetic persona borrow from the conventions of the Hellenistic biographical tradition and the related cultic worship of Greek poets as miraculous figures rooted in a local landscape (though, by contrast, Graziozi perhaps goes too far in suggesting that Horace was thus guarding against future misappropriation of his own persona by providing his proto-cultic readers with an authorised 'biography' as he went along). But, to my eyes, three chapters from this section of the book stand out in particular. Denis Feeney (ch. 1) opens the collection with one of the more important contributions to the ensuing discussions of Horatian reception by positioning Horace himself as his own first reader, as well as in a position where his own reception by other readers (staged, or 'real') actually becomes one of the themes of the poetry, in the guise of a tension between a creative artist and his jealous audience. Jennifer Ingleheart's excellent piece (ch. 7) reads Tristia 2 for Ovidian engagement with Horatian engagement with the imperial system, and with the authority of Augustus in particular; Ingleheart makes much of Ovid's differences from his model, whereby Ovidian self-construction occurs via ironic contrast with the outwardly more 'successful' career of Horace, vis-a-vis the emperor. And Emily Gowers (ch. 2) provides one of the real treats of the collection, a delightfully subtle reading of Horatian play with the multivalency of the term finis during the quasi-philosophical journey of Satires 1—simultaneously a temporal marker, a boundary or terminus, a moral goal, and a symbol of literary closure.

Luke Houghton's ninth chapter on Petrarch, Andrew Lang and Horatian epistolary precedent intercedes between the classical perceptions of Horace, and the seventeenth and eighteenth century incarnations which dominate the second half of the book. Houghton also introduces a theme of readerly reflexivity which recurs regularly across these latter chapters. When discussing Petrarch's verse epistle Ad Horatium Flaccum, Houghton offers the important observation that Horace's personality as it emerges in Petrarch's letter bears remarkable similarity to Petrarch's own persona as found elsewhere in his vernacular lyric verse; as part of a programme to eradicate distance between him and his classical predecessor, it seems not so much that Petrarch has recognised Horace in himself, but rather that he has recognised Petrarch in Horace (the case of Lang seems the exception among the book's later engagements with Horace for its emphasis on distance and difference, as Houghton goes on to discuss). Yet, in ways similar to the Petrarchan epistle, the various Horaces of the remaining chapters are not, in each instance, a classical figure necessarily translated for a contemporary setting, but are rather comfortingly familiar figures, invoked as already representing (or being perceived to represent) values held dear by—or deemed appropriate for—their later readership. Thus Jane Stevenson (ch. 10) links the unusually high use of Horace by educated female readers and writers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with an appreciation of Horace's simple, rural character as 'extremely compatible with the posture of refined retirement suitable for an aristocratic woman' (p. 184); in the same vein, Stephen Harrison (ch. 16) offers a window into his ongoing work on Horace's impact in the Victorian era with a lucid discussion in which '[o]nce again we find Horace the honorary Victorian gentleman' (p. 295); while Roland Mayer (ch. 11)—the one chapter which engages a non-textual perception of Horace—pleasantly portrays the pictorial Horatian Emblemata of Otto Vaenius as a contemporary exercise in humanist morality where 'the reader or viewer is meant to see that the moral lesson of the [Horatian] motto applies to him or her here and now' (p. 202). But the inevitable consequence of using Horace in this way is that, in the end, perceptions of Horace soon give way to the self-perceptions of Horace's readers. This gradual effacement of a classical Horace as the book progresses reaches its ironic conclusion in John Talbot's wonderful final paper (ch. 17) on the fashionability of writing English Alcaics in the mid-twentieth century. It was Auden, consciously aligning himself with Horace, who did most to embed Alcaics in English verse; but Talbot points out here, in wry tones, that Auden's great influence gave immense popularity to the Alcaic stanza 'among those writing without Horace in mind, and even in some cases without any knowledge of Horace at all' (p. 317).

This is a constructive, thoughtful and often entertaining series of essays which, as a collection, adopts a nuanced approach within the busy field of Horatian reception. The scope and manner of the individual contributions vary across the course of the book, but every Horatian scholar will find many points of value and illumination in this significant collection.

Table of Contents:

1. Becoming an authority: a Roman poet and his readers (Denis Feeney)
2. The ends of the beginning: Horace, Satires 1 (Emily Gowers)
3. Horace's Bacchic Poetics (Alessandro Schiesaro)
4. Horace: critics, canons and canonicity (J. S. C. Eidenow)
5. Laying down the law: Horace's reflection in his sententiae (Martin Dinter)
6. Social status and the authorial personae of Horace and Vitruvius (Marden Nichols)
7. Writing to the emperor: Horace's presence in Ovid's Tristia 2 (Jennifer Ingleheart)
8. Horace, Suetonius, and the Lives of the Greek poets (Barbara Graziosi)
9. Two Letters to Horace: Petrarch and Andrew Lang (L. B. T. Houghton)
10. Horace and Learned Ladies (Jane Stevenson)
11. Vivere secundum Horatium: Otto Vaenius' Emblemata Horatiana (Roland Mayer)
12. The poet's voice: allusive dialogue in Ben Jonson's Horatian poetry (V. A. Moul)
13. Theme and variation: Horace in Pope's correspondence (Niall Rudd)
14. Appropriating Horace in eighteenth-century France (Russell Goulbourne)
15. Horace and eighteenth-century commentary (Penelope Wilson)
16. Horace and the Victorians (Stephen Harrison)
17. A late flowering of English Alcaics (John Talbot)
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Wolfgang de Melo (ed.), Plautus: Amphitryon; The Comedy of Asses; The Pot of Gold; The Two Bacchises; The Captives. Loeb Classical Library 60. Cambridge, MA/London: Harvard University Press, 2011. Pp. cxxxiii, 628. ISBN 9780674996533. $24.00.

Reviewed by Peter Kruschwitz, University of Reading, Department of Classics (

Version at BMCR home site

Paul Nixon's translation of Plautus in the Loeb series has become a problematic read for students of Roman drama. The translation was fairly loose to begin with. The language used for the translation itself had become heavily dated, and, after almost 100 years of scholarship, the Latin text itself was in dire need of reconsideration. The volume under review here presents itself as the first volume of a new Loeb translation of Plautus, undertaken by Wolfgang de Melo. The volume, like its counterpart by Nixon, comprises five plays, following the established alphabetical order of the Plautine corpus: Amphitryon, Asinaria, Aulularia, Bacchides, and Captivi.1

Nixon's first volume comprised 571 pages; de Melo's edition comes with a whopping cxxxiii+628 pages. The increase is due to de Melo's decision to equip this volume with a substantial introduction and bibliography. This will make this new edition particularly useful to the modern student. (In this respect, it is also worth mentioning that de Melo decided to equip both his Latin and the English text with line numbers, a commendable practice, as it helps students who do not have the ancient languages to find and reference specific passages.)

The introduction itself covers (i) a general introduction, (ii) Plautus' Life, (iii) Plautus' Greek Sources, (iv) Themes and Characteristics of Plautine Comedy, (v) Plautus and Native Italian Traditions, (vi) Plautine language, (vi) Plautine verse, (vii) Staging, (viii) Text of Plautus, and (ix) Plautus' Influence on European Drama, concluded by almost ten pages of bibliography.2 The introduction is accurate, precise, and informative. It is understandable that, given the very purpose of this format, critical engagement with scholarship remains limited and general; de Melo's judgement usually is impeccable; however, footnotes of the type 'X pace Y' are not always helpful. De Melo's approach is largely linguistic and technical, hence he does not go to great lengths studying Plautus as literature or poetry beyond technical description. Given the restrictions of the format and its intended readership, I will abstain from more detailed, punctual observations of where one might have chosen a different weighting over de Melo's own solutions.

The main part of this volume comprises the text and its English translation. Each play is introduced by a short general introduction and a specialist bibliography. The choice of what has been included and omitted in the latter is somewhat arbitrary at times and not always fortunate.

Both the text constituted by de Melo and his translations deserve praise. He has done an excellent job of constituting a new text, just short of extensive manuscript research, but well-connected to the Urbino Plautus project, and also with reference to other Plautine scholars' textual work. The edition alone is an achievement to last for decades to come. The translations themselves then are usually highly readable, not least due to de Melo's refusal to introduce inept idiosyncrasies as a means of verbal humour (recent times saw a plethora of translations that chose diatopic and/or diastratic varieties of English to add to Plautus' linguistic characterisation). However, it must be noted that, where Nixon tried to provide an overall smooth read, de Melo shifts between the idiomatic and the occasional awkward moment, especially where his translation attempts to stick closer to the original.3 Whereas the text is thus not designed to be used for a performance, the student of Plautus will get a fairly realistic overall impression of Plautus' language.

It seems helpful to discuss a few select passages next, comparing and contrasting Nixon's and de Melo's renderings (the careful reader will immediately notice some close similarities; de Melo clearly states that he is indebted to Nixon's version):

1. The prologue of the Amphitruo is an extraordinary piece, as it consists of more than 150 lines, which makes it account for more than ten percent of the entire play. It is characterised by its delightful and sophisticated structure: Mercury, the prologue speaker, makes no fewer than five attempts to give the audience an exposition of the play, repeatedly getting side-tracked and caught in metadramatic issues. The underlying structure is brought out well by Nixon's use of paragraphs, breaking the text down into meaningful units. Unfortunately, de Melo has decided against the use of paragraphs and gives the prologue as a coherent stream of verbosity. A translation should support the readers' understanding. De Melo is generous in giving stage directions which very obviously were not in the original, either -- and in this spirit he should have considered breaking down longer passages as well.

The virtues and defects of a translation often stand out whenever the original text contains elements that divert from seemingly unmarked language. The prologue of the Amphitruo is full of such moments; I shall focus on just two of them:

a. Lines 33-37 give an extended word play:

iustam rem et facilem esse oratam a uobis uolo
nam iusta ab iustis iustus sum orator datus.
nam iniusta ab iustis impetrari non decet,
iusta autem ab iniustis petere insipientia est;
quippe illi iniqui ius ignorant neque tenent.


"It is a just and trifling request I wish you to grant: for I am sent as a just pleader pleading with the just for what is just. It would be unfitting, of course, for unjust favours to be obtained from the just, while looking for just treatment from the unjust is folly; for unfair folk of that sort neither know or keep justice."

De Melo:

"I want to ask you for a just and small favor: I was appointed as a just pleader pleading with the just for a just cause. For it wouldn't be right to obtain what's unjust from the just: but it would be stupidity to demand what's just from the unjust since those who are unjust don't know or keep justice."

It is clear that de Melo decided to stick with the successful 'just/unjust' solution for the abundance of iustus and iniustus in the Latin. An interesting case is the rendering of insipientia--Nixon chose 'folly'; de Melo's rendering 'stupidity' is bolder. Does either one of them do justice to the text? Here I feel that the answer might be 'not really'; considering the spectrum of connotations for insipientia as laid out in the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, it is obvious that its meaning must be something like 'lack of judgement/understanding'. Overall, De Melo's translation is more to the point (and closer to the original) than Nixon's, certainly by the standards of our times; however, the above case shows that there are places in which the translation is a tad too bold for no good reason.

b. Lines 69-74 represent the register of legal language:

siue qui ipse ambissint palmam histrionibus
siue cuiquam artifici, si per scriptas litteras
siue qui ambissit seu per internuntium,
siue adeo aediles perfidiose cui duint,
sirempse legem iussit esse Iuppiter,
quasi magistratum sibi alteriue ambiuerit.


"(with great solemnity) … Or if there be those who have solicited the palm for actors, or for any artist -- whether by letter, or by personal solicitation, or through an intermediary -- or further, if the aediles do bestow the said palm upon anyone unfairly, Jove doth decree that the selfsame law obtain as should the said party solicit guiltily, for himself or for another, public office."

De Melo -- introduced by a footnote which states that "what follows is a parody of a law against corrupt practices, such as the lex Poetelia of 358" (19 nt. 3) --:

"(…); or if any people should try to canvass the palm for these actors or any artist, through letters written, or if anyone should canvass himself, or through an intermediary, or for that matter, if the aediles should give it to anyone unfairly, Jupiter has decreed that the same law should apply as if he'd canvassed for an office for himself or another party."

This again highlights the strength of de Melo's translation: it is to the point and brings out a flavour of the text, but it also supplements the reading with notes, to help the reader appreciate its artistic nature whenever needed.

2. Moving on to the Aulularia, one notes the absence of substantial critical and interpretative pieces from the bibliography (for a relevant coverage of previous scholarship cf. P. Kruschwitz, Hermes 130, 2002, 146-163; further articles have appeared since then). One of the most important passages of the play is Megadorus' monologue on whether or not to marry a rich woman (Aul. 475-495). The passage opens thus:

narraui amicis multis consilium meum
de condicione hac. Euclionis filiam
laudant: "sapienter factum et consilio bono."
nam meo quidem animo si idem faciant ceteri
opulentiores, pauperiorum filias
ut indotatas ducant uxores domum,
et multo fiat ciuitas concordior,
et inuidia nos minore utamur quam utimur,
et illae malam rem metuant quam metuont magis,
et nos minore sumptu simus quam sumus.


"Well, I've told a number of friends of my intentions regarding this match. They were full of praise for Euclio's daughter. Say it's the sensible thing to do, a fine idea. Yes, for my part I'm convinced that if the rest of our well-to-do citizens would follow my example and marry poor men's daughters and let the dowries go, there would be a great deal more unity in our city, and people would be less bitter against us men of means than they are, and our wives would stand in greater awe of marital authority than they do, and the cost of living would be lower for us than it is."

De Melo:

"I've told many friends about my plan for this match. They praise Euclio's daughter: "a sensible thing to do and a good plan." Well, at least in my opinion, if other people who are well off did the same, marrying the daughters of poorer people without dowry, the city would become much more harmonious, we would suffer less from envy than we do now, women would be much more afraid of a hard time than they are now, and we would spend less than we do now."

The improvements of de Melo's translation are obvious, most notably when it comes to Nixon's inept rendering 'stand in greater awe of marital authority', a sentiment that is nowhere to be found in the Latin: de Melo's version 'afraid of a hard time' is spot on. What is regrettable, is that de Melo's translation here does not give an accurate idea of the highly stylised composition of the speech -- every line beginning with et, the contrast of indicative and subjunctive (utamur ~ utimur; metuant ~ metuont; simus ~ sumus), etc.; one might argue that Nixon's translation was more successful in that respect.

3. Finally a look at the Captivi. The bibliography within the introduction to the play should have listed Matthew Leigh's volume on Comedy and the Rise of Rome; equally absent is Lore Benz's and Eckard Lefèvre's edited volume Maccus barbarus which is dedicated entirely to this play.

Plaut. Capt. 951-952 is an interesting passage because of its use of the awkward image statua uerberea:

uos ite intro. interibi ego ex hac statua uerberea uolo
erogitare, meo minore quid sit factum filio.


"As for you lads, step inside. Meanwhile I want to inquire of this whipping post here (pointing to Stalagmus) what was done with my younger son."

De Melo:

"You two go in. In the meantime I want to get the information out of this whipping-post here (points to Stalagmus) as to what's happened to my younger son."

The differences (but also the similarities) are striking: de Melo brings out the prosaic directives of the Latin, where Nixon chose to be more literary in tone. One may of course, in either case, wonder if uolo is not actually closer to English 'I will' than to 'I want' (i. e. a future rather than an expression of determination or intention). Rendering sit factum as 'what's happened' clearly is closer to the original than Nixon's 'what was done with'.4

The volume is concluded by an index of metres and an index of names.

In conclusion, de Melo deserves praise and gratitude: his Plautus is beautifully produced. The volume has an excellent introduction, a refurbished text, and a translation which is a substantial improvement on the previous one. The aforementioned criticisms and observations of more minute details must not detract from the achievements. This reviewer for one is looking forward to the subsequent volumes.


1.   Just why de Melo keeps the Greek spelling I do not understand -- it should be called Amphitruo.
2.   A glaring omission in the latter is Benjamin Fortson's recent book on Language and Rhythm in Plautus; Alison Sharrock's volume on Reading Roman Comedy might have appeared too late to be included in the bibliography.
3.   Straightforward mistakes are rare, but note e. g. 'because the Theban people is at war with the Teloboians' (where are would be more grammatical) at Amph. 101.
4.   As for the correct rendering of statua uerberea, I will stand by my point that a statua uerberea is not a whipping-post, but a monument to a slave's back worn out by the whip; cf. P. Kruschwitz, Hyperboreus 5, 1999, 350-353.

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Saro Wallace, Ancient Crete: From Successful Collapse to Democracy's Alternatives, Twelfth to Fifth Centuries BC. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Pp. xxvi, 450; 6 p. of plates. ISBN 9780521112048. $99.00.

Reviewed by Antonis Kotsonas, University of Amsterdam (

Version at BMCR home site

This book covers a field of research which has attracted substantial attention, particularly in the last fifteen years. Because of the plethora of new evidence and interpretations, a wide-ranging synthesis of the kind now offered by Saro Wallace was long overdue. The author is well-known for her work on the archaeology and economy of highland sites in Crete. Socio-economic perspectives pervade Wallace's book, the scope of which, however, is much wider and covers the island's culture from the 12th to the 5th century BC.

The 12th century is marked by upheavals which dismantled Crete's palatial socio-political system. Wallace follows other scholars in using the term "collapse" for these developments, but also argues that the relatively fast recovery of complexity and stability on the island make the collapse "successful" (the alternative term "positive collapse", found only in the title of Part Two, looks like a relic of an otherwise abandoned choice). Many will find the term "collapse" outdated; resilience is lately seen as a more accurate term to describe a society's response to crisis.1 More serious problems pertain to Wallace's choice of the 5th century as the lower end of her study. This choice deserved some explanation by the author, particularly since no notable cultural changes have been identified in 5th century Crete.2 The subtitle suggests that democracy lies behind the choice, but this never reached the island and, anyway, was not a standard type of sociopolitical organization in the Greek world, against which the "alternatives" of Wallace's title are to be defined. Democracy is not referred to in the entire body of the book and the introduction or the epilogue do not convince me that the concept is particularly relevant to Crete.

Wallace's main argument is that the collapse which Crete suffered in the 12th century involved a planned adjustment. Because of this, social complexity recovered on the island already in the 10th century, considerably earlier than in mainland Greece, and brought about a socio-political system which remained fairly stable thereafter. Notwithstanding the significance of the 12th century developments, the argument for their pervasive impact on the island's later culture is deterministic. Communities in Crete changed considerably in the course of the Early Iron Age and this was, among other reasons, because of the island's contacts with the Near East, which were occasionally deeper than the author's economic approach entails.3

Wallace's study is not only diachronic, but also admirably inclusive. A wide range of topics in the archaeology of Crete receive a treatment which is characterized by a commendable balance between theory and fieldwork, the treatment of long-term social process and the study of particular contexts. Likewise, evidence from an impressively high number of sites is taken into account and this evidence is often compared to that from other Aegean regions. Nonetheless, the book's overall approach lags behind current island archaeologies like those available for other Aegean islands or Cyprus.4 Symptomatic of processualism are the evolutionary character of Wallace's narrative, the use of a single, island-wide model of socio-economic development, which is more of a straight-jacket, and the paucity of references to current concepts like insularity and Mediterraneanization. The feeling of an outdated viewpoint is enhanced by recurring references to works from the 1970s-1990s as recent or as representative of what scholars "still" think (p. 13, 24, 32, 41) and comes along with neglect for current study projects and fieldwork. Actually, literature stops in 2006.

A welcome contribution of Wallace is the treatment of settlement as "the spine and engine of the island's social organization" (326). However, by placing emphasis on defensible upland sites and considering Knossos as "exceptional", the author adheres to a model put forward more than seventy years ago.5 I personally find this model one-sided and believe that the lowland sites, which Wallace repeatedly calls exceptional/unrepresentative and discusses disproportionately briefly, stand for a different pattern of occupation which deserves more attention. This pattern involves extensive sites showing continuous habitation from the Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age and occupying the major lowlands of Crete: Knossos in the Herakleion basin, Phaistos in the Mesara and the overlooked site of Grivila in the Mylopotamos plain. The sheer size of these sites (which has, in the case of Knossos, been fully documented by recent surface survey) raises questions over their regional role, which should have been tacked. I maintain that settlement patterns and historical trajectories in Early Iron Age Crete can only be understood in their complexity when defensible sites do not monopolize the discussion.

Because of the integration of archaeological and textual evidence she pursues, Wallace identifies her work as cultural history (5). Nonetheless, the two types of evidence receive no integrated analysis, with archaeology discussed in a holistic way in Parts Two to Four and literary sources and epigraphy treated highly selectively in the brief Part Five. Also, the author's command over the actual evidence is occasionally unsatisfactory, with implications for the reliability of a work which will be extensively used by scholars and students alike. I note some misunderstandings, inaccuracies and factual errors as follows.

Wallace repeatedly mentions that the Knossos North Cemetery was established in the 12th century (24, 155, 158, 187), despite the fact that the publication she cites mentions the 11th. Mistakenly early dates are given for the Knossian temples of Demeter and Rhea (271, 328), while Kommos Temple A and the tripillar shrine are erroneously dated to the 8th century (208). The identification of the Amnissos cave with the Homeric cave of Eileithyia and the Psychro Cave with the mythical Dictaean Cave (319) is unsubstantiated and so is the recurrent argument that Crete exported subsistence goods during the 6th-5th centuries (227, 330, 346, 374). Children are thought to have been always excluded from cremations at Eleutherna (302), but this is disproved by the physical anthropological work Wallace herself cites. The Late Geometric date given for Eleutherna tomb A1K1 and the concentration of weapons it contained (300) is erroneous; the claim that Dreros was abandoned in the Archaic period (284, 331, 342) is debatable and so is the certainty for the abandonment of other poorly known sites; the argument for the resemblance of a burial rite manifested at Arkades with another documented at Carchemish (303) is confused. Sadly, some archaeological finds mentioned are non-existent; these include the "clusters of tombs" in Gortyn (297), the eastern imports in the Gortyn tholos (217), the stone sarcophagus at Rotasi (303) and the Phoenician inscription at Gavalomouri (212). Along come gross exaggerations: the "numerous" Attic and Cycladic imports to Phaistos and Gortyn (217); the "many" pre-firing inscriptions (227) and the "especially high concentrations" of faience figurines at Kommos (219); the "up to twenty-one burials dating from the late 9th century" in Arkades tomb R (290); the "large amount of Knossian ceramics at Arkades" (217). In this last case the author misinterprets her secondary source and overlooks the relevant reference from N. Coldstream's Greek Geometric Pottery (London, 1968, 257), a classic work she has missed altogether. This omission is symptomatic of the author's attitude towards studies of artifact classes.

Problems abound in the discussion of Cretan, particularly Knossian tombs. Wallace misunderstands her sources about the dates of tombs containing Attic amphorae (207), the proposed identity of the occupant of tomb 186 (184) and the gender of the individuals interred in polychrome urns (300). Her conclusion that "no single very preeminent wealth or power groups are manifested" in Cretan burials of the 12th-11th century (162) overlooks the fact that Knossos tombs 200-202 "must be richer than any contemporary burials" in the Aegean of the time.6 The laborious statistical analysis of Knossian evidence (304-311) is poorly discussed and puts aside many of the vicissitudes that pertain to quantifying tomb material. It is indicative that three graphs quantify "wealth items", yet the reader is never told what these items are. The actual figures are occasionally questionable: for example, the number of Knossian tombs starting at PG B-EG is considered to be higher than what Wallace thinks (310).7 One also wonders why the number of EG-LG pots of fig. 193 is lower than the number of pots assigned to the same phases in the more detailed fig. 194. Comprehension is obscured by occasional typos (fig. 193: LPG-PG B/RG and probably fig. 191: EPG-LPG instead of EPG-MPG). Lastly, throughout Chapters 15 and 30 the author mentions that the Knossian and other Cretan collective tombs were used by kin groups, barely explores any alternative interpretations and further uses this overarching assumption to construct complex arguments on the role of kinship. I have elsewhere called this assumption the greatest factoid in the archaeology of Early Iron Age Crete.8

Discussions of the popular subject of imports/imitations are wide-ranging. Wallace's treatment of the island's overseas contacts, nonetheless, occasionally reverts to notions of geographic determinism (9) and fails to grasp the variable degrees of Cretan insularity, noted already by Aristotle (Politics 1271b, 1272a-b). Chapter 24, on the Orientalizing, is unsatisfactory, and, despite emphasis on Egyptian(-izing) features, misses two volumes from the museum exhibition Crete-Egypt (Herakleion, 2000). Moreover, the treatment of Cypriot pottery imports and their local imitations is undermined by the use of the flawed term Cypro-Phoenician. Lastly, based on a vague reference, the author identifies the Cretan exports to Gela in Sicily as west Cretan (217, 369) and thus overlooks a much more reliable argument for the provenance of these vases from south central Crete.9

The treatment of textual and epigraphic evidence is inadequate. The stories of Etearchos and Ergoteles and the song of Hybrias are omitted, while the decision of the Cretans to abstain from the Persian Wars is not assessed. The Zakynthian interest in Kydonia (368) is a misreading of the ancient text, while dating the work of Konon in the 4th century (367) is erroneous. The suggestion for the development of port sites in Crete of the Early Archaic period (331-332) could have taken into account Pausanias III.2.7. By considering it "impossible to believe" that a defeat in war could lead to the temporary but drastic abandonment of a Cretan metropolis (328), Wallace overlooks the history of Lyktos. Further problems pertain to the discussion of the Dorian identity in Crete. Instead of tackling the issue by studying migration traditions, Wallace focuses on ancient references to the comparability of the polities of the Spartans and the Cretans. She therefore over-emphasizes the island's link to Sparta and underestimates a variety of other sources, including the single reference we have on the view of the allegedly colonized Cretans about migration myths (Pausanias VIII.53.4). Scholars may have additional reservations about Wallace's admittedly restrained reference to the role of Peloponnesian imports (366, 371) in the emergence of a Dorian identity in Crete. If, as Wallace has it (372-373), tangible trade links were behind the adoption of the island's dialect, the Cretans would have spoken Ionic, if not Phoenician.

More illustrations show landscapes than archaeological finds and images of landscapes from outside Crete are unnecessarily numerous. Several line-drawings are badly reproduced.

The bibliography is rich but avoids non-English scholarship. Major publications (including almost the entire monograph series for Syme Viannou), recent studies, even a book on Cretan settlements10 are overlooked. The spelling and accent of Greek titles is vandalized and, generally, the reference list has escaped any editing.

On the whole, the book is outdated and, in places, rich in misunderstandings and factual errors, which, I fear, may be reproduced by non-specialists in the future. It is, however, useful and comprehensive and will stimulate much discussion.


1.   E. Mackil. 2004. Wandering Cities: Alternatives to Catastrophe in the Greek Polis. American Journal of Archaeology 108: 493-516. P. A. McAnany and N. Yoffee. 2010. Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire. Cambridge.
2.   On this period see B. L. Erickson. 2010. Crete in Transition: The Pottery Styles and Island History in the Archaic and Classical Periods. Princeton.
3.   Much missed is S. P. Morris. 1992. Daidalos and the origins of Greek art. Princeton: 150-172.
4.   C. Constantakopoulou. 2007. The Dance of the Islands. Oxford. A. B. Knapp. 2008. Prehistoric and Protohistoric Cyprus. Oxford.
5.   J. D. S. Pendlebury. 1939. The Archaeology of Crete. London, 303, 305.
6.   J. N. Coldstream and H. W. Catling, eds. 1996. Knossos North Cemetery: Early Greek Tombs. London, 715.
7.   ibid, 718. J. Whitley. 1986. Style, Burial and Society in Dark Age Greece (PhD thesis, Cambridge University), figure 5.
8.   A. Kotsonas. 2011. Quantification of ceramics from Early Iron Age tombs. S. Verdan, T. Theurillat and A. Kenzelmann Pfyffer (eds), Early Iron Age pottery: a quantitative approach. Oxford: 129-138.
9.   Coldstream 1968, 375.
10.   N. Ξιφαράς. 2004. Οικιστική της Πρωτογεωμετρικής και Γεωμετρικής Κρήτης. Ρέθυμνο.

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Mariska Leunissen, Explanation and Teleology in Aristotle's Science of Nature. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Pp. xiii, 250. ISBN 9780521197748. $85.00.

Reviewed by Owen Goldin, Marquette University (

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Many of those studying Aristotle's philosophy of science during the last twenty five years have focused on determining the extent to which the model of scientific inquiry and explanation developed in the Posterior Analytics is reflected in the record of Aristotle's own researches in the physical sciences. There have been two main challenges. First, the biological and other physical treatises are put forward in a meandering way, offering an apparently disorganized mix of observations, consideration of opposing theories, classifications, and partial explanations that is far from the orderly array of principles, premises derived from principles, and demonstrative syllogisms, which one might expect from APo.. Second, many of the explanations that are offered in these treatises are teleological, explaining regularities in nature on the basis of how they serve or are necessitated by the good of various natural kinds. But such explanations do not seem to be easily cast in demonstrative form. Aristotle's one attempt at making sense of how this would work, in APo. 2.11 has been roundly criticized as unclear at best and an incoherent failure at worst.

Gotthelf, Lennox, and others have shown how the first problem is less formidable than first appears.1 Aristotle can be seen working his way to definitions, from which the basic explanatory principles can be derived; he does so by developing fragmentary explanations, which allow him to determine and isolate certain core explanatory facts; the completion and integration of these, and the facts they explain, within the context of a whole science, remains an incomplete project. It is the second project that has proven more recalcitrant, and is Leunessen's focus in the present study. There are two major aspects to the project. The first is to isolate and clarify the various explanatory principles concerning the workings of final causation in regard to the structure and activities of natural beings. The second is to clarify what Aristotle means when he says that, even in regard to teleological explanations, the explanation (aition) is revealed through the middle term (APo. 2.11 94a20-94a23).

Leunissen begins with the defense given in Phys. 2.8 of the general applicability to the natural realm of teleological explanations. She offers preliminary distinctions that will feature prominently in what follows. Primary teleology "involves the realization of a preexisting potential for form through stages shaped by conditional necessity, where the fully realized form constitutes the final cause of the process" (18). In this case, a nature serves as an efficient cause that is responsible for certain features of that which has the nature, which features are necessary preconditions for the existence of that form. Thus, the nature of a bird requires the existence of wings; a bird's possession of wings is due to an instance of primary teleology. In a case of secondary teleology, what is explained is not a necessary condition for form; it is rather the existence of certain features that aid or facilitate the performance of certain functions that are determined by the natural form. The efficient cause of these features is something external to that natural form; they often arise through "material necessity." But, given the existence of these features, they are employed or adapted in a way that is conducive to the accomplishment of the natural good appropriate to that kind. In both cases, Leunissen argues, we are dealing with temporal processes in which earlier stages cause and thereby lead to later stages. It is the later stage that is the goal, and thus the final cause of the process. Accordingly, the cause that leads to and is responsible for the goal will be a formal or efficient cause, not the final cause which is the goal itself. It will be this formal or efficient cause that will appear in a demonstration as a middle term; the final cause will feature as the major term.

The distinction between primary and secondary teleology allows Leunissen to account for what many have taken to be a puzzling aspect of Aristotle's argument in Phys. 2.8 that regular connections cannot be the result of chance: only teleological causation can account for them. His example of a regular connection is how the rains come in winter, the time (in Greece) at which the crops grow. This suggests that Aristotle holds that the rain is for the sake of the crops. This has struck many as a very difficult result, as it suggests either an un-Aristotelian holism or his attributing some sort of causal pull of the crops on the rain, which would mean that the physical processes internal to evaporation and condensation are insufficient to account for the rainfall. Leunissen instead suggests that this is a case in which a certain teleological activity (that of the human art of agriculture) takes advantage of a process occurring through material causation in order to facilitate a goal that is not that of the material process per se: it is a case of secondary causation. In this way, she is able to account for the clear implication of the text (the growing of the crops is indeed a final cause of the rain) without attributing to Aristotle the view that facilitating the crops is an essential aspect of the rainwater or its descent.

Chapter 2 clarifies the teleological role that Aristotle gives to soul. The soul of a certain kind of living being is a formal cause that determines the natural goals that it has as a matter of primary teleology. The ensouled body is geared towards the performance of those goals in a way that displays both primary and secondary teleology. The biological works build on this understanding of soul.

The third chapter presents evidence concerning the distinction between primary and secondary teleology from within Aristotle's own biological writings. Leunissen is not the first to point out that Aristotle takes biological explanations that identify a certain feature as crucially necessary for a goal to differ in kind from those that indicate that certain features are "for the better" and that the latter often involve the use of materials that are generated at the level of material necessity (which do not themselves always necessitate the parts and functions that they necessarily presuppose), but the distinction has never been laid out so clearly before. One of her contributions is to point out that those biological features that are not necessary but contribute to an organism's good can be further subdivided into those that make a contribution to necessary functions ("subsidiary parts") and those (which she calls "luxury parts") that do not benefit the organism in this way, but rather "contribute to the well being of animals in some other way" (92). An example is the horns of a goat; a goat can live without horns, but it lives better with horns, as it is then better able to defend itself. The distinction between contributions to necessary functions and contributions to well being has a certain intuitive plausibility, but exactly what it amounts to is unclear to me. Presumably, self-protection makes a contribution to vital functions: an animal unable to defend itself against predators would presumably not be able to engage in basic life functions like nutrition or reproduction. Perhaps Leunissen wants to say that, unlike luxury parts, subsidiary parts themselves are directly involved in the performance of basic life functions. But if the role they play is merely contributory, how exactly is it the case that it is they that are directly involved in these functions? Among the subsidiary parts are kidneys, which assist the bladder in the collection of residues by providing extra storage space. But how is this different from how horns assist in the rearing of young by providing protection for them? The lines between the different sorts of teleology seem to me to be blurry enough to call into question the cogency of the distinction.

The fourth chapter surveys the use of teleological principles in the biological works, primarily PA 2-4. These principles are not specific to the individual physical sciences; they are rather "heuristic principles" that provide the basic framework for finding what the discovered explanations would look like, and accordingly guide the investigation into what the relevant demonstrative principles are. Leunissen surveys the various forms that the superordinate methodological principle "nature does nothing in vain" might take and the various patterns of explanation that might be used in making sense of living things by appeal to such a principle. She shows how a teleological principle of this kind allows one to engage in thought experiments that determine the advantage or necessity of regular features of certain biological kinds.

Ch. 5 explores the extent to which the results of the previous chapters can be applied to Aristotelian cosmology, which, like biology, makes ample use of teleological explanation. She shows how the cosmological explanations are extensions of the explanatory strategies that had been so successful in regard to biological kinds at the terrestrial level, and how Aristotle offers such explanations in full awareness of their more limited suitability, in light of how little is empirically known about the heavens.

The final chapter (apart from a summarizing conclusion) turns to the main issue that has plagued efforts to understand teleological explanations in conformity with the strictures of the Posterior Analytics: how can the final cause serve as middle term? Leunissen's answer is that it doesn't. Readers have been misled by Aristotle's assertion that for all varieties of causation the aitia is revealed by the middle term, thinking that here, as elsewhere in Aristotle, aitia is synonymous with aition. Leunissen argues that here, aitia means "explanation," not "cause." Aristotle's point, then, is that the middle term is crucial in revealing that whole explanation of the goal that serves as final cause; it does not itself express that final cause (though it does express the formal or efficient cause that serves to explain the final cause). I am dubious of this move, for within the Posterior Analytics, the term aitia is on two occasions used to refer not to the whole demonstration that serves to explain and allow one to understand something, but to the cause that such an explanation identifies. Thus at 71b9-12, the aitia is explicitly identified as that through which the fact (pragma) is. At 85b21-22, Aristotle uses the term aitia to refer, not to the logos that reveals the source of error, but to the cause of the error itself. One could say that these passages are aberrations in a book that otherwise consistently employs a term in a way that is aberrant from the rest of the corpus, but for me the most likely account of APo. 2.11 is still that which is widely accepted: Aristotle goofed.

Even if it does not win general acceptance, the account of the syllogistic structure of teleological explanations presented in the sixth chapter is one to be reckoned with. The preceding chapters can be recommended unconditionally. They offer a clear and wonderfully helpful schematic presentation of the explanatory and methodological structure of the various teleological explanations offered in the physical treatises; future readers of these treatises would be well advised to make ample use of them.


1. See especially A. Gotthelf, "First Principles in Aristotle's Parts of Animals in A. Gotthelf and J. G. Lennox (eds.), Philosophical Issues in Aristotle's Biology (Cambridge, 1987), 167-98, and J. G. Lennox, Aristotle's Philosophy of Biology: Studies in the Origins of Life Science (Cambridge, 2001).

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Lorenzo Calvelli, Cipro e la memoria dell'antico fra Medioevo e Rinascimento: la percezione del passato romano dell'isola nel mondo occidentale. Memorie 133. Venezia: Istituto Veneto di Scienze Lettere ed Arti, 2009. Pp. xix, 409. ISBN 9788895996158. €45.00 (pb).

Reviewed by William Stenhouse, Yeshiva University (

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Table of Contents

Most scholarship on classical traditions and reception in the pre-modern period has focused exclusively on Western Europe. With this book, Lorenzo Calvelli turns our attention to Cyprus. He analyzes in rich detail a series of accounts of the island's past (the "passato romano" of the title is to be understood broadly) dating from the medieval Lusignan era to the fall of Venetian rule, written by pilgrims, merchants, scholars, and administrators. For the most part, these writers came from the Italian peninsula and German-speaking territories to the north, and when they tried to describe Cyprus's history and remains they did so through the lens of their classical and religious education. Calvelli presents a series of revealing vignettes to show how visitors applied their textual knowledge of Cyprus to the remains they saw in the ground; their experience of the island itself challenged or modified their preconceptions. His book makes an important contribution to scholarship on developing ideas of the classical past in the Renaissance, as well as to ideas about the history and significance of Cyprus in particular.

Calvelli divides his book into two parts. The first examines what accounts of the island from a variety of contexts, and in a variety of genres, have to say about the Roman past. These accounts begin with Wilbrand von Oldenburg's description of his pilgrimage in 1211-12, and end with Stefano Lusignan's Chorograffia et breve historia universale dell'isola de Cipro of 1573, written patriotically in exile after the Ottoman defeat of the Venetians in 1571. Collectively, Calvelli's evidence, divided into admittedly porous categories of "Viaggiatori," "Eruditi," and "'Archeologi'," provides an essential supplement to Claude Delaval Cobham's Excerpta Cypria, first published in 1908. Not surprisingly, the most detailed descriptions date from the sixteenth century, from the pens of humanistically-trained Venetian administrators and their advisors. In 1546, for example, Giovanni Matteo Bembo took over as Captain of Famagosta, a key military office. His interests were not primarily martial, however (his uncle was the cardinal, scholar, and collector Pietro Bembo), and he took the opportunity of his foreign posting to commission deliberate, successful excavations of classical remains. Some of his finds contributed towards the beautification of Famagosta, including the so-called "tomb of Venus" from Paphos and a monumental inscribed dedication to Trajan from Salamis. Others he sent home; Calvelli agrees that an anthropoid sarcophagus, now in the Museo Correr, arrived in Venice via this route, doubtless not an isolated example. But pilgrims also recorded what they thought were pagan antiquities. For example, in 1480 the Dominican Felix Fabri stopped in Cyprus on his journey to the Holy Land. In the cathedral at Nicosia he was naturally drawn to the chapel dedicated to St. Thomas Aquinas, where he found a huge sarcophagus, carved from one block of a colored stone. He measured and recorded its height, width, and depth, and described its lid, offering sufficient detail for Calvelli to point out that it cannot have been classical. (A few years earlier, the French pilgrim Pierre Barbatre had mentioned a block of porphyry that had been brought from Jerusalem, which is almost certainly the same piece). The church canons, however, told a slightly skeptical Fabri that it had originally been created by Mars as a couch for Venus – the jealous lover thought that the stone would calm her ardor – and that on the goddess's death her followers preserved it in place of an idol. For Fabri, this last detail was vital. He knew from Virgil, via Boccaccio's Genealogie deorum, that the simulacrum of Venus did not have a human form, and, as Calvelli argues, he was typical of learned visitors in his willingness to write down the canons' story because it accorded with what he had read.

In the book's second part, Calvelli applies his research to two case studies. In the first, he looks at the development of Saint Catherine of Alexandria's connection with Cyprus. He shows that previous scholars have conflated two sites for her cult: beginning in the 1330s sources record a chapel in the ruins of Byzantine Constantia, supposedly on the site of her birth-place; and only from 1493 do we have evidence of a second site at some distance from the chapel in the area of the necropolis of Salamis, where she was said to have been imprisoned by pagans, and which is still known as the prison of Saint Catherine today. The second case study focuses on accounts of Paphos, which attracted antiquaries looking for the temple of Venus, and pilgrims interested in St. Paul's visit to the island. Calvelli shows how early modern visitors compared the written accounts of Strabo, and especially Ptolemy, with what they found, and examines in particular their various attempts to distinguish Old and New Paphos.

Calvelli's sources are often frustratingly imprecise. Fifteenth- and sixteenth-century geographical writers were happy to draw implicitly on their classical and more recent predecessors, and determining which observations are copied, which are inventions, and which are the result of autopsy is not easy. Their laconic descriptions of particular ruins fight for space with reflections on the buildings' sad decline or the unchanged lubricity of Cyprus's inhabitants; Venus had a lot to answer for. Even in cases where accounts give specific details, their descriptions leave plenty to be clarified. Stefano Lusignan, for example, included a relatively long account of discoveries at Kouklia (which he called Citherea), which Calvelli calls the first evidence of an explicit antiquarian interest in a west coast site. These discoveries, however, included "un carbonchio," "un re quasi intiero," and "un licorno tutto intero et secco con il corno." (p.313) Calvelli identifies the first of these as a reddish stone, but it is not at all clear what the other two were. Typically, rather then spending more space describing these finds, Lusignan adds the detail that "il villano che ritrovò queste cose, per la ignorantia sua, perdé assai et fu ingannato." (p.313) Indeed, collectively Calvelli's sources are better evidence for a well-established market for antiquities than for individual objects. Florio Bustron, a Venetian official, wrote that in the middle of the sixteenth century villagers regularly dug deliberately for coins and earthenware near Salamis (just as Bembo did), and his account is supported by the accounts of visitors. Thanks to a Bavarian, Wolfgang Gebhardt, we learn of a 1560 discovery there of shields, two spurs, and a golden bowl, and other objects, which Calvelli suggests came from an eighth- or seventh-century BCE tomb. Gebhardt writes that the Venetian authorities immediately paid money for the finds, presumably ready to put them on the antiquity market back home.

Because of the imprecision of the sources (late sixteenth-century accounts of Crete, for example, are more specific and detailed), Calvelli's book is probably of more immediate interest to scholars of early modern antiquarianism and related fields than to archaeologists and historians of classical Cyprus, though the latter can access information about particular sites or accounts through the detailed index and full bibliography. Calvelli is sensitive, for example, to the resonances of Venus as an imperial signifier in Venice, and to the ways in which travelers pitched their accounts to their audiences (some works, like Lusignan's, were written for publication; others were written in manuscript for a deliberately limited circulation). He demonstrates very clearly how those travelers pondered the island's deep and more recent past. His detailed and thorough research makes this an important work of reference as well as a revealing insight into early modern attitudes to place and the past.

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