Tuesday, May 10, 2011


D. W. P. Burgersdijk, J. A. van Waarden (ed.), Emperors and Historiography: Collected Essays on the Literature of the Roman Empire by Daniël den Hengst. Mnemosyne Supplements 319. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2010. Pp. viii, 362. ISBN 9789004174382. $179.00.

Reviewed by Patrick Paul Hogan, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (Patrick.Paul.Hogan@gmail.com)

Version at BMCR home site


This collection, made by two students in a tribute to their PhD advisor, is a survey of the past three decades of the scholarship of Daniël den Hengst. It includes his essays and reviews on three main subjects, corresponding to the three main divisions of the book: prose of the Late Republic and Early Empire, in which Cicero figures prominently; the Historia Augusta; and Ammianus Marcellinus. A chronological bibliography (p. 5-11) shows that, although den Hengst's interests are wide indeed, including articles on Ovid's Amores and Dutch translations of Seneca's tragedies, these three provinces are where his heart lies.

Cicero dominates the first several essays in the first section. Chapter 1, "Cicero and History," is a reexamination of Cicero's theory of history, in which den Hengst starts from a passage of the De Oratore and confronts the arguments of other modern scholars. Chapter 2, "Dic, Marce Tulli!," is a stylistic commentary on an exchange of letters between Cicero and C. Matius after the death of Julius Caesar. In Chapter 3, "Memoria, Thesaurus Eloquentiae," den Hengst examines the theories of rhetorical memory in the Auctor ad Herennium, Cicero, and Quintillian. The next four articles focus on ancient history and biography. Chapter 4 discusses various aspects of the preface of Livy, especially with respect to his attitude to Sallust and Augustus. Chapter 5, "Alexander and Rome," provides a convenient and straightforward overview of the use of Alexander the Great's imagery and memory by Roman generals and emperors; indeed, teachers of lower level Roman history classes will find it attractive and suitable to present to students. Chapter 6, "The Biographies of Roman Emperors," surveys the development of imperial biographies in Suetonius and the Historia Augusta, and documents the use of Ammianus Marcellinus by the latter. Chapter 7 explores possible links between Marcellinus and Plutarch.

The second section is devoted to the Historia Augusta, and begins with an essay on inventio in the speeches and other documents offered up in that pseudo-historical mélange (chapter 8). That ancient author's predilection for Vergil is the major theme in two of den Hengst's essays and appears often in the rest: "The Author's Literary Culture" (chapter 9) and "The Plato of Poets" (chapter 13). Other essays are more focused: in chapter 10, "Die Poesie in der Historia Augusta," den Hengst examines the verses translated by the author in the Vita Opilii and traces out their Greek roots, and in chapter 12 he looks at how the author took meager historical materials to raise the edifice of the Vita Taciti. Chapter 14 deals with the old and thorny problem of the authorship of the HA, and den Hengst not only reviews past scholarly theories but offers his thoughts on modern stylometric studies; chapter 11, an investigation into the scattered occurrences of "Selbstkommentare" in the HA, forms a nice complement to it. Chapter 15 examines the frequency and use of the conjunctions quod, quia, and quoniam in Cicero, Seneca, Suetonius, Ammianus Marcellinus, and the Historia Augusta. The last three chapters in this section (16-18) are, fittingly, reviews of three volumes of the Bude edition of the Historia Augusta.

The largest section of the book deals with Ammianus Marcellinus, an unsurprising move for a scholar best known for his participation with J. den Boeft, J.W. Drijvers, and H.C. Teitler in a project to create commentaries on each book of the Res Gestae. Indeed, readers interested in this project will find in chapter 27, "Vir Heroicis Connumerandus Ingeniis," not only an analysis of Marcellinus' judgment of Julian, but also comments on the project itself and how the four modern scholars interact as they create the commentaries. Chapter 26 is an account of Sigismund Ghelen, an early editor of Marcellinus.

Literary issues dominate the selection of essays in this part of the book: a brief article on textual problems in RG 20.3 (chapter 20); the use of scientific digressions in the Res Gestae, which den Hengst finds to have more structural and thematic weight than previous scholars have allotted them (chapter 21); Marcellinus' views on Egypt and Christianity (chapter 22); his reworking of the Roman historical trope of Lebensaltervergleichnis (chapter 23); and his deep knowledge of Vergil as shown in his quotations (chapter 24). Of particular interest is den Hengst's essay on Ammianus' use of Greek and Roman satirists in his second digression on Rome (chapter 25). The book ends with "Preparing the Reader for War," in which den Hengst compares Ammianus' description of siege equipment with other accounts from antiquity.

Although the text is well edited for the most part, there are occasional misspellings and errors in transcription from the original essays: e.g. γενομένος for γενομένου in the Greek quotation on p. 227. None are so severe as to mar this useful collection.

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