Friday, December 30, 2011


Margaret M. Miles (ed.), Cleopatra. A Sphinx Revisited. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011. Pp. xii, 238. ISBN 9780520243675. $49.95.

Reviewed by Robert Steven Bianchi, Fondation Gandur pour l'Art, Genève (

Version at BMCR home site

[Table of Contents is listed at the end of the review.]

The volume represents the printed versions of papers presented at a symposium held at the University of California, Irvine, in March 1999. The papers by Erich Gruen and Peter Green are reprinted here; that by Sally-Ann Ashton was submitted after the symposium.

Margaret Miles introduces the volume and its themes, describes European interest in ancient Egypt, focuses on the obelisk in New York's Central Park, briefly mentions underwater archaeological activity at Alexandria, Egypt, and concludes with a survey of recent research on Cleopatra and Egyptomania.

Sally-Ann Ashton places Cleopatra VII in the historical context of her predecessors in order to gain an enhanced understanding of the role of art within the queen's political agenda. To that end she reviews her initial suggestion about the triple uraeus as a royal marker before positing that certain images of the queen portray her as the goddess Isis. Her essay will be extremely informative to art historians of the period because she avoids a pedantic insistence on whether a putative mixed school, in which pharaonic and Hellenistic stylistic features are commingled, existed. Instead, she argues, refreshingly, that the multiplicity of artistic styles represents the queen in a plurality of guises, each appropriate for a different audience to which it is addressed.

Erich S. Gruen takes as his point of departure the iconic scene in which Cleopatra (played by Elizabeth Taylor) triumphantly enters Rome in the film by Joseph Manciewicz. He suggests that Cleopatra's actual entry into that capital was quite the opposite: low key, and perhaps hardly noticed. He argues for two trips, each of short duration, against an extended stay of almost a year and a half. Her first visit in 46 BC was to secure official recognition from Rome in the form of a signed and sealed treaty of alliance aimed at bolstering her position at home and abroad. Her second in 44 BC was to protect the interests gained from the first. Both trips were extremely short, and the thesis Gruen offers for their brevity is eminently defensible. I am less certain about the motivation he suggests, because official recognition of her regime by Rome would have had little currency in Egypt, whose elite were notoriously xenophobic. Furthermore, the queen's power base at home must have been extremely solid. If it had not been, her absence, even for the briefest of periods, would have been an open invitation for a coup.

Robert A. Gurval frames his narrative in the form of a multiple-choice question raised in the Hollywood film, Ball of Fire (1941) in which one is asked to identify how Cleopatra VII died. He then rehearses the suggestions, both ancient and modern, about how the queen committed suicide, focusing on the subjects of a serpent and poison. He begins by discussing the symbolic meaning of the asp in Egyptian, Greek, and Roman culture and presents a rather detailed interpretation of Horace,Ode I.37, which leads into discussions of passages in the Aeneid, narratives of death in both Plutarch and Galen, and considerations of the early Christian and Chaucerian interpretations of the queen's death. The narrative is interesting and informative in the extreme, but I would simply question the validity of the author's stated position, namely, that the asp is the uraeus. Egyptian royal iconography appears to have distinguished between the uraeus, or cobra, and a non-hooded viper.1 Such a distinction seems to be implied in the concluding identification of the serpent in this essay as "a small snake," which would not normally be reflected in the size of a cobra.

Sarolta A. Takács begins with the poem, Cleopatra to the Asp, by Ted Hughes in order to introduce the rather complex topic of the appearance of Egyptian material culture in Rome during the early Principate, in light of the seeming antipathy of Augustus to all things Egyptian. She reviews the literary testimonia to suggest the extent of Augustus's activities during his brief sojourn in Egypt, before assessing the historical impact of the cult of Isis on Rome and the relationship between that goddess and Cleopatra. She suggests, correctly to my mind, that adherents to the cult were not members of the demi-monde before she engages in a discussion of the Roman reception of Egyptian Isis in general as reflected in monuments in both Campania and Rome. This sets the table for her compelling conclusion that "Ptolemaic Egypt's dynastic etiology and ideology swam ever so gently toward Rome."

Brian A. Curran concentrates on the papacies of Julius II (1503-13) and of Leo X (1513-21), his successor, framing the career of the former in the role of Julius Caesar and of latter in that of Augustus. Central to his discussion are the roles of Rome's obelisks, specifically the Vatican, and the Egyptian hieroglyphs, particularly as they were interpreted by Giovanni Nanni, better known as Annius of Viterbo.2 The discovery of The Laocoon and the acquisition by Julius II of The Sleeping Ariadne, then identified as an image of Cleopatra VII, reveal the importance of things Egyptian in framing political agenda, and helps to explain why the symbolist approach to the ancient Egyptian language of the hieroglyphs was so long-lived in Europe as an impediment to its decipherment.

Ingrid D. Rowland's principal objective is to identify the author of Letters on the Infamous Libido of Cleopatra the Queen, allegedly exchanged between Marc Antony, Cleopatra VII, and her physician, Quintus Soranus of Ephesus. She builds her case for the identification by placing that work within the context the Priapeia, sometimes ascribed to Virgil, and several literary works allegedly written by Cleopatra VII. These discussions provide valuable background information for a deeper understanding of the reception of the plays by William Shakespeare and Samuel David on themes of Cleopatra and do much to further the continuance of the posthumous salacious nature of Cleopatra's character.

Margaret Mary DeMaria Smith treats Cleopatra VII as the subject of a particular aspect of the oeuvre of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. She does this against the background of Egyptomania and Orientalism in Europe, suggesting that Edward Said's critical approach is problematic from many points of view, not the least of which is his attempt to collapse "all cultural production into one pretext."3 Her analyses of these paintings are meticulous, as seen in her conclusion that the setting of his painting The Meeting of Anthony and Cleopatra: 41 BC is Alexandria and not Tarsus. She paints a convincing picture of just how responsive that artist was to prevailing market trends which dictated subject matter, indices of which can be gauged by how his audience either received or rejected the themes conveyed by those Egyptianizing works.

Maria Wyke and Dominic Montserrat demonstrate that sensational archaeological discoveries are not the only events that trigger Egyptomania. They review how the Victorians received Cleopatra VII, focusing on her portrayal in contemporary literary works, only one of which was by a practicing Egyptologist, Georg Ebers. Many of these works rely on the trope of her sexuality, which motivated the characterization of the queen by Sarah Bernhardt and later Theda Bara, whose publicists suggested that she actually aver that she was the reincarnation of the queen. As the film industry developed, so, too, did associated marketing strategies, pioneered by Cecil B. DeMille, to accompany his film featuring Claudette Colbert in 1934. All of this is presented against the background of excavations at Amarna and the West's embrace of Akhenaten and Nefertiti.4 Their narrative concludes with a discussion of "Lizpatra," in which, as one critic remarked, "It was hard to tell whether Liz and Burton were reading lines or living the parts."5

Giuseppe Pucci presents a diachronic survey of how different epochs each created an image of the queen as an embodiment of their own fantasies and desires. He observes, as do Wyke and Montserrat (pages 178-81), that the queen is at once erotically alluring and inherently murderous, particularly when she is regarded as a sinister, vampire-like creature whose sexual allure may lead those seduced to their death. He then explores manifestations of this "bifurcated image" of the queen in painting and literary works, before discussing her characterizations in the nineteenth century. He furthers the discussion of the statue acquired by Pope Julius II (pages 114-116), which influenced a painting by Artemisia Gentileschi. He concludes with a brief survey of the ways in which Cleopatra VII is treated in the cinema, and how the costumes of patrons at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada, suggest she is idealized even now.

The volume ends with Peter Green's poem, Cleopatra. The Sphinx Revisited, which provides its title.

I think it fair to state that one is still imperfectly informed about the life, career, and death of Cleopatra VII. The contributors to this volume understand just how opaque those issues are. Consequently, they do not pretend to present any definitive historical assessments. Instead, they each in their own way attempt to frame specific issues with the objective of furthering the understanding of a number of prominently held misunderstandings about those issues. After reading, and perhaps re-reading, the contributions to this remarkable set off essays, the reasons contributing to the posthumous super-status of Cleopatra VII become self-evident.

There is, however, one salient feature of this volume which deserves comment. Whereas a conscious decision was apparently made to include many of the literary references in both their original language and an accompanying English translation, the same decision was apparently set aside when it came to illustrating each of the visual works of art discussed by various contributors. Whereas practical issues of fees for rights and reproductions may have been a very real issue, of course, without illustrations, the discussions of these works cannot be fully appreciated.

Table of Contents

Illustrations, vii
Preface, xi
Margaret M. Miles, Cleopatra in Egypt, Europe, and New York. An Introduction, 1
Chapter 1-Sally-Ann Ashton, Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, 21
Chapter 2-Erich S. Gruen, Cleopatra in Rome. Facts and Fantasies, 37
Chapter 3-Robert A. Gurval, Dying like a Queen. The Story of Cleopartra and the Asp(s)in Antiquity, 54
Chapter 4-Sarolta A. Takács, Cleopatra, Isis, and the Formation of Augustan Rome, 78
Chapter 5-Brian A. Curran, Love, Triumph, Tragedy. Cleopatra and Egypt in High Renaissance Rome, 96
Chapter 6-Ingrid D. Rowland, The Amazing Afterlife of Cleopatra's Love Potions, 132
Chapter 7-Margaret Mary DeMaria Smith, HRH Cleopatra. The Last of the Ptolemies and the Egyptian Paintings of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 150
Chapter 8-Maria Wyke and Dominic Montserrat, Glamour Girls. Cleomania in Mass Culture, 172
Chapter 9-Giuseppe Pucci, Every Man's Cleopatra, 195
Epilogue-Peter Green, Cleopatra.The Sphinx Revisited, 208
Bibliography, 213
Contributors, 233
Index, 235


1.   Alan Henderson Gardiner, An Egyptian Grammar33 (Oxford/London, 1969), 476, Sign List I 9 - I 13; Serge Sauneron, Un traité égyptien d'ophiologie. Papyrus Brooklyn Museum nos. 47.218.48 et 85 (Cairo:L'institut français d'Archéologie orientale, 1989) [Bibliothèque Générale XI], 156-157; and Jack A. Josephson, "A Variant Type of the Uraeus in the Late Period," The Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, 29 (1992), 123-130.
2.   The career of this notorious Dominican friar can better be understood within the context of other contemporary Italian forgeries, for which see now, Ingrid D. Rowland, The Scarith of Scornelo. A Tale of Renaissance Forgery (Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press, 2004).
3.   There is a growing revisionist approach to the principles expounded by Edward Said, for which see, too, John Rodenbeck, "Edward Said and Edward William Lane," in Paul Starkey and Janet Starkey [ed], Travelers in Egypt (London/New York: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 1998), 233-43.
4.   Explored at length by Dominic Montserrat, Akhenaten. History, Fantasy, and Ancient Egypt (London/New York: Routledge, 2001).
5.   Page 190, with footnote 52, citing W. Wanger, My Life with Cleopatra (1963), 134.


William G. Thalmann, Apollonius of Rhodes and the Spaces of Hellenism. Classical Culture and Society. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. xix, 262. ISBN 9780199731572. $65.00.

Reviewed by Félix Racine, University of St Andrews (

Version at BMCR home site


Now is a good time for the reading or rereading of ancient epics previously deemed derivative or artificial. The rehabilitation of Lucan and Statius was achieved a while ago, scholars no longer flee at the mention of Aratus and opinion is slowly warming to the late antique masterpieces of Prudentius and Nonnus.1 Apollonius' Argonautica, of course, has never gone unread, but a series of recent publications have brought to light the author's originality and, tentatively, his engagement with the social reality of third-century BC Alexandria. William Thalmann's Apollonius Rhodius and the Spaces of Hellenism carries forward this new reading of Apollonius by putting the emphasis back on the central theme of the Argonautica: the voyage of the ship Argo across the Black Sea and much of the Mediterranean. By analyzing the spatial aspect of the Argo's journey, Thalmann outlines the ways Apollonius explores questions of Greek identity and relationships with foreign populations, and how the poem plays out socio-cultural issues pertinent to Hellenistic Alexandria.

The justification for a spatial analysis of the Argonautica is laid out in the first two chapters, which respectively outline a theoretical framework for the study of spatiality in narratives, and trace the ways Apollonius defines and explores space through the Argo's journey. Unlike past studies distinguishing between real and mythological aspects of the Argonautica's geography, Thalmann judiciously starts from the observation that the poem does not in fact engage in geographical descriptions but rather constructs space through the travels and experiences of the Argonauts. By focusing on Apollonius' poetic construction of space, Thalmann builds upon recent work on the Argonautica (notably by Santiago Rubio and Richard Hunter2) but seeks a different vantage point by anchoring his analysis on theories elaborated by social scientists and cultural geographers, most prominently Henri Lefebvre's work on the spatial embodiment of social relations, Christopher Tilley's theorization of the experience of space through movement, and Yi Fu Tuan's idea of the transformation of spaces into places through narrative or experience. This cluster of theories has been formerly applied to geographical depictions in Greco-Roman historiography,3 but it is particularly promising in a poetic context, and forms a solid basis for Thalmann to explore Apollonius' construction of a Mediterranean space through the narrative of Greek journey.

However, this theoretical framework may distract from the intellectual context of Apollonius' poem. A reader will emerge from Thalmann's introductory chapter fully equipped with modern refinements on the concepts of place and space, but with little sense of their meaning for Apollonius and his readers. The author leaves unexamined terms for space and place such as chōra/chōros, used by Apollonius (e.g. 1.371, 2.929, 1117, 3.981, 1164) and subject to much scrutiny by philosophers from Plato to the contemporary Stoics and Epicurians. These terms may provide a much more immediate context for a spatial reading of the Argonautica, as there is evidence that it is precisely during the Hellenistic era that philosophers made the first serious effort to isolate and define space as a concept.4 If, as is likely, Thalmann is right to see Apollonius as a full participant in intellectual trends in third- century BC Alexandria (as he discusses in his conclusion), Apollonius' poetic preoccupation with space should be read within the context of these ancient thinkers' efforts to grapple with issues of space.

Chapter 2 follows up these theoretical considerations by examining Apollonius' creation of space through narrative. Offering a sophisticated analysis of the concept of pathways (poroi) in Greek culture and in the Argonautica, Thalmann outlines the Argonauts' role in ordering space and linking places through the establishment of navigable pathways. A mandatory discussion of aitia in the Argonautica brings out the stratified time of the poem, which asks readers to think simultaneously about the journey of the Argonauts and about the present-day Mediterranean world, where signs of the Argo are still visible. The chapter ends on a programmatic statement that the Argonautica represents both a Greek appropriation of space justifying the domination of foreign peoples, and a questioning of Greek identity through the exploration of boundaries between categories.

This Greek exploration and appropriation of space is explored in the following five chapters. Chapter 3 focuses on Greece as physical and symbolic center of the Argonauts' voyage, as revealed by their movements through most of the first book of the Argonautica. Thalmann perceptively sees the Catalogue of Argonauts at 1.23-227 as (among other roles) defining Greece as a network of places represented by emblematic heroes gathering at Iolcus, but given the length and importance of the passage this spatial analysis is frustratingly short. Various scenes of departure from Iolcus are explored more fully and more fruitfully: the tension between home and journey emerges from Jason's leave of the city; the communal choice of a leader, the soothing of quarrels and the cooperative establishment of an altar on the shore all point to future elements of the Greek polis; and the Argonauts' encounter with the Lemnian women affirms but also questions Greek gender norms. Despite the extensive scrutiny these episodes have already received from other scholars, Thalmann's spatial focus helps bring to the fore their exploration of Hellenic identity.

Spatial analysis comes into sharper focus in chapter 4, "Colonial spaces", which examines the narrative construction of future sites of Greek colonization visited by the Argonauts, through the examples of Cyzicus (book 1), Heraclea Pontica (book 2) and Cyrene (book 4). In each of these locales, the actions of the Argonauts offer models of interaction between Greek colonists and native populations, and they are furthermore anchored in the landscape through a number of aitia transforming these locales into places of Greek memory (or, looking forward from the time of the Argonauts, places with a Greek future). Aitia at Cyzicus acknowledge in cult form the conflict between Greek newcomers and the local population, which puts into question the cultural superiority of the Greek aggressors. At Heraclea Pontica, a city with strong Ptolemaic ties, Apollonius evokes the cooperation between the Greek newcomers and the local Mariandynians; however, the Greeks end up absorbing and suppressing local customs. Finally, at Cyrene, the Argonauts' passage through a formless desert decisively marks out the landscape as a Greek space.

Chapter 5, "Contact", examines Apollonius' construction of Colchis as both a familiar and alien space. Thalmann finds the rationale for this ambiguous description of space in Herodotus' assertion that the Colchidians hail from Egypt, unfortunately not explored further here, which enabled Apollonius to play out in the Caucasus problems of cultural contact faced by Greeks in Ptolemaic Egypt. The main evidence for this reading of Colchis as both barbarian and Greek are the many poetic connections established between Colchis and Greece in book 3 of the Argonautica, but also in the layout of Aietes' palace, which combines exotic as well as familiar elements of Greek domestic spatial organization.

One of Thalmann's major concerns is to bring to light the means by which Apollonius imposes order on landscapes and to trace the limits of this spatial definition. This comes fully to the fore in chapter 6, "Rivers, Shores, Margins and Boundaries," which explores the role of rivers in the narrative structure of the Argonautica. Attention is first paid to rivers successively sighted by the Argonauts in the Black Sea region in book 2. These rivers are not mere physical landmarks but are also imbued with cultural significance, being associated with episodes of the Argonauts' journey or with characteristics of local populations, e.g. the disorderly Thermodon flows through the territory of the unruly Amazons. The point that culturally meaningful rivers frame the Argonautic landscape is well taken, but Thalmann's suggestion that Apollonius' Ptolemaic readers might have known these rivers from a common source (or first-hand-experience) is too optimistic. Turning to the Argo's European journey in book 4 along the Istrus, the Eridanus and the Rhodanus, Thalmann takes the lack of form and features of these pathways as an acknowledgement of their location outside of a Greek system of space.

The narrative of the Argonauts' return from Colchis in book 4 of the Argonautica is notoriously convoluted and erratic. Thalmann argues in chapter 7, "The Roundabout Homecoming," that this randomness is deceptive and hides a masterful blending of different traditions on the voyage of the Argo, crafted to create a picture of the Mediterranean seen from a traditional Greek viewpoint, while tracing the limits of the Greek mastery of space. The Argonauts' sub-journey in the Adriatic (4.323-506, 982-1222) acquires here a special importance in Thalmann's interpretation of the Argonautica as a text concerned with the experience of displaced Greeks in Ptolemaic Egypt, as it further develops models of colonial interaction between settlers and local populations already outlined in chapter 4.

Hints to the importance of Apollonius' Alexandrian context are peppered throughout the book (e.g. pp. 9, 35, 51, 121, 167). This theme is belatedly addressed in the conclusion (chapter 8), which situates Apollonius within contemporary trends in Alexandrian poetics and attempts a reading of the Argonautica that takes into account the juxtaposition of cultural elements in Alexandria's public spaces. In a move that complements Daniel Selden's and Susan Stephens' studies of Greek poetic responses to Egyptian culture,5 Thalmann presents the Argonautica as an alternative response to the displacement of Greeks in Egypt, offering Greeks in Alexandria and elsewhere a common identifying myth by integrating culturally different places in a coherent Greek-centered narrative. Comparing and linking Apollonius', Callimachus', Theocritus' and Posidippus' engagement with spatial representation is a worthwhile achievement of this analysis and will be of interest to other scholars of Hellenistic poetry. More tentative and less conclusive is Thalmann's evocation of the prominent place of Egyptian architecture and statuary in Alexandria as a context for the Argonautica's juxtaposition of cultures.

Apollonius of Rhodes and the Spaces of Hellenism is a welcome book. Thalmann presents new readings of the Argonautica and a valuable theoretical framework for the investigation of Apollonius' work, which might also be applied to other spatial epics. Well-written and evocative, it should help readers unfamiliar with modern theorizations of space to approach them through a well-known but still underestimated text.


1.   The final frontier in ancient epic may now be late antique paraphrases of the Bible in hexameters and the little-read Latin translations of Dionysius Periegetes and other Greek didactic epic.
2.   S. Rubio, Geography and the Representation of Space in the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius, diss. UC San Diego (1992); R. Hunter, "The Divine and Human Map of the Argonautica," SyllClass 6 (1995), 13- 27.
3.   E.g. K. Clarke, Between Geography and History: Hellenistic Constructions of the Roman World (Oxford, 1999).
4.   See e.g. the evidence laid out in K. Algra, Concepts of Space in Greek Thought (Leiden, 1994), 37-38.
5.   D. Selden, "Alibis," ClAnt 17 (1998): 289-412; S. Stephens, Seeing Double: Intercultural Poetics in Ptolemaic Alexandria (Berkeley, 2003).

Thursday, December 29, 2011


Karol B. Wight, Molten Color: Glassmaking in Antiquity. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2011. Pp. 136. ISBN 9781606060537. $20.00.

Reviewed by Chloë N. Duckworth, University of Nottingham (

Version at BMCR home site


There exist several works which provide introductions to ancient glass production,1 reflecting the many faceted nature of the material itself and its study. Molten Color seeks to add to this volume of publications by presenting glass objects from the exhibit of the same name at the Getty Villa. The book is offered as an introductory work in seven brief chapters, accompanied by color images of objects from the collection. A small number of objects on display at the Corning Museum of Glass, New York, and the Römisch-Germanisches Museum, Cologne, are also illustrated where suitable examples, such as the extremely rare cage cups, could not be found in the Getty collection.

The book focuses on glass from the second millennium BC to Late Antiquity, predominantly from the Mediterranean area. The vast majority of the pieces in the collection are Roman, and the writing is also heavily focused towards Roman material, which is Wight's primary area of expertise. Following a brief introduction in which modern uses of glass and attitudes to ancient glass are discussed, Chapter 1 provides a background to the earliest discovery of glassmaking and the raw ingredients and colorants required. Chapters 2 and 3 examine the earliest use and spread of glass in the second and first millennia BC, including an extended and useful description of the production of mosaic glass and its variants in chapter 3. Chapter 4 introduces the subject of glass blowing and discusses the profound changes this discovery had on the nature and value of glass, which went from being a rare luxury to a material which was widely produced and consumed. Chapter 5 presents some of the glass working techniques practiced in the Roman Empire and provides a detailed discussion of mold-blowing. Chapter 6 deals with diversification and regional distinctions in the later Roman Empire, while chapter 7 addresses the issue of how glass was used, and more specifically how it became widely available.

The writing is clear and accessible, providing a basic introduction to ancient glass suitable for the non-specialist. Members of an academic audience may find the text lacking in detail, but will find the work factually accurate and up to date. Despite the brevity of the work the author excels at describing glass forming – or 'working' – techniques . A rather small non-annotated bibliography and further reading section is provided, and reference to limited examples of specific research mentioned in the text can be found here.

The book features 92 color images and several black and white line drawings illustrating various glass-working techniques. The color images are of a relatively high quality and should be of interest to the glass scholar. Of particular note are some more unusual items from the Getty Museum collection, including a Greek core-formed amphoriskos to which the suspension chain is still attached (JPGM 2003.168), and a number of fine examples of Hellenistic to Early Roman mosaic and ribbon-ware vessels. The black and white illustrations of glass-working techniques are reminiscent of the photographs in Hugh Tait's Five Thousand Years of Glass,2 and cannot always be clearly made out. The corresponding written descriptions, however, are very easy to follow.

In some places it could be argued that historical sources are emphasized at the cost of other evidence. For example, the discussion of furnaces and glass production tools in chapter 1 refers only to depictions dating from the post- Medieval period, despite the fact that earlier furnaces are known to have been rather different, based on archaeological evidence. Just such evidence is found in the depiction of a glass furnace on two second-century AD clay lamps which is discussed in some detail in chapter 4 but not illustrated. Descriptions of important furnace remains, such as the 14th-century BC glass-melting furnace from Amarna in Egypt or the large slab of raw glass found at Beth She'arim, Israel, suggesting the use of tank furnaces in the 4th century AD, were omitted.

Minor criticisms aside, this work provides a succinct, factually accurate and eminently readable introduction to techniques of glass working in antiquity. Written by an established expert in the field, the non-specialist will find the text a valuable introduction, particularly to the processes involved in forming glass objects, and both specialist and non-specialist can benefit from the catalogue aspect of the work and the useful illustrations from this interesting collection.


1.   See for example Henderson, Julian. 2000. "Glass" in The Science and Archaeology of Materials. London: Routledge; Newton, R. G. and Davison, S. 1996. Conservation of Glass. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann Ltd.; Stern, E. Marianne and Schlick-Nolte, B. 1994. Early Glass of the Ancient World 1600 BC – AD 50. Ostfildern: Verlag Gerd Hatje; Tait, Hugh (ed.). 1991. Five Thousand Years of Glass. London: British Museum Press; Grose, David Frederick. 1989. Early Ancient Glass: Core-formed, Rod Formed and Cast Vessels and Objects from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Roman Empire, 1600 BC to AD 50. New York: Hudson Hills Press; Goldstein, Sidney M. 1979. Pre-Roman and Early Roman Glass. New York: the Corning Museum of Glass.
2.   Tait, Hugh (Ed.). 1991. Five Thousand Years of Glass. London: British Museum Press.


Heinz Barta, "Graeca non leguntur?": zu den Ursprungen des europäischen Rechts im antiken Griechenland. Ein Beitrag zur Wissenschafts- und Kulturgeschichte des Rechts Bd. 1. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2010. Pp. xvii, 683. ISBN 9783447061216. €58.00.

Reviewed by Sven Günther, Deutsche Schule Tokyo Yokohama (

Version at BMCR home site

Endlich eine neuere Gesamtdarstellung der so vernachlässigten griechischen Rechtsgeschichte! Und dann noch in so gewaltiger Form, daß die Prolegomena und strukturellen Zugänge einen stattlichen ersten Band einnehmen! Dachte sich der Rezensent und bemühte sich schnurstracks im Herbst des Jahres 2010 um ein Rezensionsexemplar.

Nun, gut ein Jahr später, das vom Wechsel zwischen interessiertem Lesen, erstauntem Nachforschen, aber auch öfteren Beiseitelegen geprägt war, ist die grundsätzliche Bewunderung ob der Fülle der Darstellung aus der Feder des emeritierten Professors für Zivilrecht an der Universität Innsbruck geblieben, gemischt hat sie sich jedoch mit so mancher kritischer Anmerkung ob der Darstellungskunst des Themas. B. verfolgt in seinem vom Geleitwort H. E. Trojes als „opus magnum-maximum" (p. X) bezeichneten Werk die Absicht, die griechischen Wurzeln des europäischen Rechtsdenkens offenzulegen, die bislang trotz der erhellenden Antrittsvorlesung Trojes1 aus dem Jahre 1970 unter der erdrückenden Macht des Römischen Rechts in dessen Rezeption und Institutionalisierung vergessen zu werden drohten. Ein lobenswerter Ansatz also, zumal von einem „Außenseiter" ausgeführt, der sich zwar seit Jahren mit der antiken Rechtsgeschichte befaßt, dessen Profession jedoch eigentlich das Bürgerliche Recht und die Rechtstatsachenforschung darstellt. Hier kann der Zugang zur griechischen Rechtsgeschichte nämlich vom unabhängigen, anders strukturierten und hinsichtlich juristischer Sachverhalte geschärften Blick eines juristisch Gelehrten profitieren, und ein unvoreingenommener Blick auf die tatsächlichen Wurzeln des europäischen Rechtsdenkens ist es ja, was geleistet werden soll. Es besteht jedoch die Gefahr, daß eben die fehlende Vertrautheit mit der antiken Rechtsgeschichte von Grund auf zu Mißdeutungen und Mißgriffen führt, die einem „Experten" so nicht passiert wären.

Nun ist die skizzierte Gefahr bei B. glücklicherweise gering ausgeprägt, er hat sich diesbezüglich mit einer enormen Belesenheit, nicht immer der neuesten, jedoch der gängigen, Literatur gewappnet und auch nicht zum ersten Mal zur antiken Rechtsgeschichte geäußert.2 Insofern ist seine Darstellung, nach allem, was man nach Lesen des ersten Bandes sagen kann, durchaus valide.

Allein die Art der Darstellung empfindet der Rez. desöfteren als Zumutung für den Leser. So beginnt die Darstellung mit einer sehr ausladenden Einleitung (pp. 1-56). Hier mischen sich sinnvolle Gedanken, wie etwa zum Standort der Griechischen Rechtsgeschichte als Disziplin, das Nachsinnen über die Methoden der Rechtsgeschichte oder die in das Thema einführenden Fallbeispiele, mit einem andauernden, nicht nur latenten Lamentieren über die Wissenschaftsfeindlichkeit und den Bildungsverfall unserer Tage (e.g. pp. 14-5; 29-31; 49-52). Dies mag berechtigt sein, erschwert jedoch hier und auch bei späteren Wiederholungen das Fortkommen in der Lektüre enorm.

Unter Kapitel 1 „Perspektiven", das den Rest des ersten Bandes einnimmt(!), versammelt B. dann prolegomena-artig zehn Themenbereiche, welche die griechische Rechtsgeschichte dem Leser eröffnen sollen. Der „Buchtitel" (57-92) dient ihm dabei als Aufhänger, um sowohl die Mißachtung griechischer Passagen des Corpus Iuris Civilis seitens der mittelalterlichen Glossatoren darzustellen als auch die Nichtberücksichtigung der Verdienste des griechischen Rechtsdenkens in der modernen Wissenschaft zu kritisieren. Es geht B. dabei nicht um den wohl auch nicht zu erbringenden Nachweis eines einheitlichen griechischen Rechts, vielmehr setzt er mit einem sozialhistorisch- kulturellen Ansatz beim Rechtsdenken an und konstatiert „das Ganzheitliche der Auseinandersetzung der griechischen Kultur mit dem Recht und seinen Phänomenen" (p. 66). Daß er darüber hinaus auch in der Fortführung anglo-amerikanischer Forschungen die Anfänge einer griechischen Rechtswissenschaft in weiteren Bänden untersuchen will, ist ebenso lobenswert.

Hernach periodisiert er die griechische Geschichte sowie die parallel dazu erfolgte Entwicklung des Rechts. Den Einfluß des griechischen Rechtsdenkens auf Roms Rechtssystem macht er dann an drei Phasen – bis zum Zwölftafelgesetz (451/0 v.Chr.), 3./2. Jhd. v.Chr., 2./1. Jhd. v.Chr bis ins 4. Jhd. n.Chr. – fest und sieht dessen Leistungen insbesondere, aber nicht ausschließlich im Bereitstellen kultureller Methoden, auf denen dann das Römertum sein Rechtsverständnis aufbauen konnte. Zum Abschluß des ersten Themenbereiches dient ihm diese Erkenntnis wieder zu einen Generalangriff gegen das Studien- und Bildungssystem seines Heimatlandes. Damit diskreditiert er seinen methodischen Ansatz, eine Verbindung von Rechtsgeschichte mit Rechtssoziologie und weiteren Rechtsforschungsgebieten herzustellen.

Mit dem „Wert humanistischer Bildung" (pp. 93-122) führt B. im zweiten Unterkapitel dieses Abschweifen vom eigentlichen Thema fort. Hier dient die griechische Rechtsgeschichte nunmehr als Aufhänger, um über den allgemeinen Wert von (antiker) Bildung an und für sich zu philosophieren. Dies erfolgt mit Thesen wie „Bildung vermag Kreativität zu fördern" (p. 112) und wird weit mehr noch als in Kapitel 1 durch seitenlange Zitate aus fremden Federn geschmückt – ein Trend, der auch die folgenden Kapitel belastet. Und ob man mit P. Sloterdijk einen kausalen Nexus von modernem Humanismus und Bellizismus, wegen des Versagens der Humanisten, im (totalitären) 20. Jahrhundert annehmen kann (cf. p. 120), und daraus dann noch die Alternative des antiken „Humanismus"-Begriffs, der bezeichnenderweise hier unscharf bleibt und nur aus der Negation des modernen Terminus zu bestehen scheint, ableiten sollte, sei einmal dahingestellt.

So irritierend Unterkapitel 2 anmutet, so provozierend gestaltet sich die These des dritten Unterkapitels „'Europa und griechisches Recht'" (pp. 122-129), daß sich die Isolierungstendenzen des römischen Rechts, also die Abkapselung des juristischen Denkens und Systematisierens von der gesellschaftlichen Wirklichkeit bis in die heutige Zeit mit einem Übergewicht des Römischen Rechts gegenüber der griechischen, aber auch der orientalischen Rechtskultur fortgesetzt hätten. Mithin drohe H. E. Trojes Forderung nach einer umfassenden Analyse der Grundlagen Europas auf griechischem Rechtsboden also in Vergessenheit zu geraten.

Auf dieser zugegebenermaßen pessimistischen Grundannahme fußen sodann die Überlegungen zu den „Phasen der römischen Rechtsentwicklung" (pp. 129-139). B. sieht hier stets griechische Einflüsse, wenn diese auch in der ersten, im starren ius civile verharrenden Phase noch nicht so deutlich seien wie etwa dann seit dem 3. Jhd. v.Chr., vor allem vermittelt durch das Fremdenrecht und ius honorarium des Prätors sowie erkennbar in der Formularpraxis der lex Aebutia. Insofern bestreitet er auch in gewisser Weise die gängige Annahme eines Konservativismus und einer Selbstisolierungstendenz der römischen Juristen, die stattdessen wesentliche Denk- und Strukturprinzipien aus dem griechischen Rechtskreis übernommen hätten, und sieht die Philosophengesandtschaft des Jahres 155/4 v.Chr. als einen der Vermittlungspunkte griechischer Rechtsphilosophie an die römische Bildungsschicht an.

Im fünften Unterkapitel fragt B. nach der „Andersheit" der griechischen Rechtskultur (pp. 139-159). Ausgehend von der These Fr. Pringsheims, daß es im alten Griechenland noch keine privatrechtliche Literatur gegeben habe, führt B. zu Recht vielfältige Argumente gegen diese meist abwertend gedeutete Annahme an, indem er u.a. sowohl auf die öffentlich-rechtliche Regelungsstärke der griechischen Polis mit immer auch privatrechtlichen Auswirkungen wie auf die viel stärker verwurzelte Form des griechischen Gewohnheitsrechts hinweist.

Dies führt ihn dann zur wichtigen Frage nach der Existenz eines „gemeinen" griechischen Rechtes (pp. 159-215). Verdienstvoll setzt er sich hier intensiv mit den Thesen eines M. I. Finley und, Finleys Ansatz modifizierend (nur gemeinsame Wurzeln im Verfahrensrecht), M. Gagarin auseinander, die eine Einheit des griechischen Rechts verneinen. Zwar nimmt auch B. richtigerweise keine engeren Zusammenhänge zwischen den verschiedenen uns überlieferten Rechtsregelungen an, doch seine auf der Arbeit von L. Mitteis aufbauende und mit zahlreichen Beispielen untermauerte These vom „griechischen Rechtskreis", der auf ähnlichen Strukturbedingungen (u.a. Sprache, Kultur, Religion) beruhe und über die Vernetzung der Poleis bereits zu früher Zeit einen gemeinsamen Rahmen erhalten habe, ist einleuchtend.

So umfangreich sich das siebte Unterkapitel „Olympische Religion und Heroenkulte" (pp. 215-344) gestaltet, so kompliziert ist auch dessen Struktur. Die durchaus plausible These von der Förderung einer gemeinsamen Rechtskultur durch die hellenische Religion, insbesondere die Heroenkulte, mündet in einer religionshistorisch- soziologischen Betrachtung der Genese dieser Religion. Auch hier zeigt B. wieder seine Belesenheit, jedoch ebenso seine Tendenz, wiederum seitenlange Zitate namhafter Religionswissenschaftler, zudem in verkleinerter Schrifttype, die jedoch nicht immer das Unwesentliche vom wesentlichen Gedankengang absetzt, zu präsentieren, anstatt übersichtlich die Ergebnisse seiner Recherchen darzustellen. Immerhin gelingt es ihm, die paternalistischen Züge der Religion mit ihrem hohen Schutz von Familie, Ehe und Oikos deutlich zu machen, Themen, die auch die ersten rechtlichen Regelungen erfuhren (cf. Zusammenfassung pp. 293-303). Den Rest des Kapitels bilden dann „Gedanken zur Polisbildung", wobei die spezifische Entwicklung nach B. wiederum mit Erscheinungsformen der Religion korreliert. Was jedoch in diesem Zusammenhang die Ausführungen zu „Alexander und der Eid von Opis" (pp. 340- 343) bezwecken, blieb dem Rez. bis zum Schluß verborgen.

Deutlich strukturierter und vom Ergebnis ertragreicher zeigen sich die drei verbliebenen Teile des Bandes. Unter „Rechtskollisionen im archaischen Griechenland" (345-441) arbeitet B. die frühen Leistungen der Griechen im Bereich zwischenstaatlicher Regelungen heraus. Anhand dreier Beispiele – der Koloniegründungen von Thera in Kyrene, von Opus in Naupaktos sowie des Synoikismos zwischen Orchomenos und Euaimon – zeigt er auf, wie die Konkurrenz der verschiedenen Rechtsordnungen mithilfe verschiedener Kollisionsregeln bereits in der Zeit der sog. Großen Kolonisation3 gelöst wurde. Hier kann man tatsächlich von Vorläufern eines modernen Internationalen Privatrechts bzw. eines Internationalen Öffentlichen Rechts (p. 441) sprechen.

Auf diesen Ergebnissen aufbauend, widmet B. sich den „Anfänge(n) des Völkerrechts" (pp. 442-511). Ausgehend von der antiken Definition dieses Gegenstands als gemeinsames Verkehrsrecht zeigt er aus der Sicht des Rez. einleuchtend, wie die vornehmlich privatrechtlichen Regelungen auch im staatlichen Sektor Eingang fanden. Er spannt hier einen weiten Bogen vom orientalischen Ursprung über die vorher behandelten Rechtskollisionen bis hin zu den griechischen Staatsverträgen in Form von Spondai und Symmachien. Zudem weist er nach, daß diese Rechtsfiguren sowie die Epieikeia ins römische Rechtsdenken hinüberwanderten und als genuin griechische „Erfindung" mit orientalischer Wurzel unter dem breiten Mantel des im christlich-abendländischen Raum bereitwillig rezipierten Römischen Rechts verschwanden.

Dies führt ihn abschließend noch einmal zu einem kritischen Blick auf die „Rezeption durch Rom?" (pp. 511-561). Indem er die lange Forschungsdebatte (u.a. M. Kaser / J. Partsch) über den Einfluß des griechischen auf das römische Recht nachzeichnet, gelingt es ihm zu zeigen, daß eine gewisse Betriebsblindheit von Römischrechtlern dahingehend vorherrsche, nur auf konkrete Übernahmen von Rechtsfiguren zu schauen. Obwohl es diese Übernahmen, wie in den vorigen Kapiteln gezeigt, gebe, werde dadurch doch die breite Rezeption griechischer Sprache und Kulturformen (u.a. Philosophie, Theater, Kunst) verwischt. Dies mündet in seiner Forderung (der sich auch der Rez. anschließen möchte), nicht nur diese Selbstisolierung der römischrechtlichen Forschung, sondern auch die These der Selbstisolierung der römischen Juristen, aufzugeben. Stattdessen sei interdisziplinär zusammenzuarbeiten, um zu tieferen Erkenntnissen in der (nicht nur griechischen) Rechtsgeschichte zu gelangen.

Summa summarum bleibt ein zwiespältiger Eindruck zurück: So anregend die Fülle an Bildung, die jede Zeile des Bandes zeigt und die auch das umfängliche Literaturverzeichnis (pp. 577-669) erahnen läßt, wirken könnte, so sehr wird an vielen Stellen gerade eine solche Wirkung durch die langatmige Darstellungsart verhindert. Die Massen an Sekundärliteratur-Zitaten lassen auch die durchaus unterschiedlichen Konzeptionen und Denkansätze der jeweiligen Zitate-Lieferanten undeutlich werden. Hier wäre weniger deutlich mehr gewesen! Hinzu kommt die in diesem Band noch geringe Einflechtung von direkten Quellenzitaten. Das oftmalige Vorgehen, Quellen mit Hilfe von Sekundärliteratur-Zitaten zu paraphrasieren, ist dabei methodisch äußerst fragwürdig. Gleichwohl ist das Interesse am zweiten Band ist nach dem Lesen dieses ersten Teils nicht minder geworden; man freut sich auf B.s Ausführungen zu Drakon und Solon. Man hofft aber auch, daß diese in deutlich strukturierterer, konziserer und quellennäherer Weise dargeboten werden; denn sonst drohen wichtige und richtige Gedanken in der allzu umfangreichen Ausbreitung von Sekundärliteratur zu ersticken.


1.   H. E. Troje, Europa und griechisches Recht, Frankfurter Antrittsvorlesung 1970, Frankfurt 1971; jetzt zugänglich in: H. Barta / Th. Mayer-Maly / F. Raber (Hrsg.), Lebend(ig)e Rechtsgeschichte. Beispiele antiker Rechtskulturen: Ägypten, Mesopotamien und Griechenland, Wien 2005 (Recht und Kultur; 1), pp. 249-269; dazu der Beitrag dess., Bemerkungen zu „Europa und griechisches Recht", in: ebd., pp. 270-281.
2.   Cf. seine Publikationsliste auf der Homepage der Universität Innsbruck (25.10.2011).
3.   Zu den Ursachen und Gründen der sog. Großen Kolonisation wäre noch das konzise Werk von F. Bernstein, Konflikt und Migration. Studien zu griechischen Fluchtbewegungen im Zeitalter der sogenannten Großen Kolonisation, St. Katharinen 2004 (Mainzer Althistorische Schriften; 5) heranzuziehen gewesen.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Francesco Ademollo, The Cratylus of Plato: A Commentary. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Pp. xx, 538. ISBN 9780521763479. $140.00.

Reviewed by Simon Noriega-Olmos, University of São Paulo (

Version at BMCR home site


Since the publication of Goldschmidt's Essai sur le 'Cratyle' in 1940, at least six other books entirely, or to a large extent, devoted to the Cratylus have been printed, including a commentary,1 not to mention a generous number of articles. Yet, it is only now, at long last, that a complete and in depth commentary has been published. Ademollo's commentary is the pinnacle of a long-standing discussion on the Cratylus within the academic community, and it will establish itself as the canonical philosophical commentary on the Cratylus for a long time to come. Three features of this work justify that status. First, Ademollo does justice to the dialogue's scope and incredibly diverse array of philosophical topics and hermeneutical issues, which include the relation between names and their referents or nominata, relativism, conventionalism, naturalism, truth and falsehood, the role of names in philosophical inquiry, Heraclitean Flux, the Theory of Forms, the history of etymologies, and the ancient commentary tradition on the Cratylus. Second, Ademollo's systematic treatment of these issues is always philologically illuminating and insightful, as well as rigorous, imaginative, profound, and stimulating. Third, Ademollo's commentary has the exceptional asset of reporting and assessing contending interpretations on specific issues and passages, as well as different translation of the dialogue, including Ficino's Latin translation. At times Ademollo brings supplementary arguments for what he thinks is the best interpretation, at times he argues for his own interpretation, and more often than not unarguably supersedes the existing secondary literature.

Ademollo's is a running commentary insofar as it progresses by quoting chunks of text, all in his own translation, and explaining them line by line in full detail. It should be noticed that the text of the Cratylus is not quoted or studied in its entirety. The passages selected contain an argument, information relevant to an argument, or philosophically pertinent information. This selection criterion, in conjunction with Ademollo's approach, results in a philosophical commentary. Issues of textual criticism and interpretation are considered, provided they have some philosophical significance. As a result, philological comments are ancillary to philosophical interpretation.

The book is divided into an introduction and nine chapters, each one with sections of its own usually devoted to a small chunk of text and occasionally to a specific issue. The Introduction identifies the subject of the dialogue, its structure, the dramatic characters, their relationship to historical figures, the dramatic date, and the place of the dialogue within the chronology of Plato's works. In Ademollo's view, the Cratylus is not a late dialogue and "it is designed to be read after Phd. and before the Tht.." The first two chapters, 1 Cratylus' naturalism (383a-384c) and 2 Hermogenes' conventionalism (384c-386e), respectively analyze the two contending theories of the dialogue. In chapter 3, Naturalism defended (386e-390e), a series of arguments designed to refute conventionalism in favour of naturalism are carefully assessed. The next four chapters, 4 Naturalism unfolded (390e-394e), 5 Naturalism illustrated: the etymologies of 'secondary' names (394e-421c), 6 Naturalism illustrated: the primary names (421c-427e), and 7 Naturalism discussed (427e-433b), deal with the longest, most puzzling, and least studied section of the dialogue, which consists in the development of a naturalistic theory of names supported by an apparently motley collection of etymologies frequently dismissed by interpreters as blatant nonsense and a trivial joke. In chapter 8, Naturalism refuted and conventionalism defended (433b-439b), Ademollo examines a final refutation of Naturalism and the etymologies, and determines which philosophical aspects of the Naturalistic position are, in Plato's view, to be preserved and which are to be rejected. This leads to an elucidation of the role convention plays in naming and the role names play in the understanding of reality. The final chapter, 9 Flux and forms (439b-440e), interprets the final four elliptical arguments of the Cratylus, which appear to contain Plato's final word on naming in the dialogue. The book has two appendixes, one devoted to the text of 437d10-438b8, which has been transmitted by the MSS in two different versions. The second appendix registers interpolations and non-mechanical errors in MS W (Cod. Vind. suppl. Gr. 7) and its family of MSS δ. In addition to a General Index, the book has three handy indexes for ancient texts, Greek expressions, and words discussed in the dialogue.

Given the extent and attention to detail of the commentary, I will limit the rest of this report to a handful of exegetical achievements that either exemplify Ademollo's mode of operation, represent a significant development beyond previous scholarly discussion, or could be of help for those willing to undertake further work on the Cratylus. Commentators usually condemn Plato for committing the fallacy of division at Cratylus 385c1-6, where they take Plato to hold that all parts of a false proposition are false. In fact, a false proposition need not have the same truth-value as its terms (cf. p∧q and p∨q). But Ademollo argues that Plato is making a different claim, namely that a sentence such as 'Callias walks' is true iff 'walks' is true of Callias and 'Callias' is true of something that walks, and it is false iff 'walks' is false of Callias and 'Callias' is false of something that walks. The advantage of this economic and sound reading is not only settled by the principle of charity, but by the context itself. Insofar as Plato's interest in the Cratylus is the correctness of names, he is focusing on names and their referents and not on the logical syntax of propositions – not to mention the fact that Plato in the Cratylus, unlike in the Sophist, is still subject to the view current in his time that sentences were noun phrases.

The passage where the alleged fallacy of division is found, 385b2-d1, is problematic for one more different reason. Even though it has been transmitted in the very same location by all MSS, it does not square with its context. Schofield proposed to place it after 385c7, but Ademollo correctly argues that the passage does not fit there either, and since Proclus read it where the transmitted MSS have it and there is no compelling reason to place it anywhere else in the dialogue, it should not be moved. This treatment of 385c1-6 and 385b2-d1 illustrates Ademollo's method, whose motto seems to be that every explanation and comment should be charitable, historical minded, philosophically insightful, sound, textually faithful, and non-intrusive.

The bulk of Ademollo's contribution to the study of Plato's Cratylus lies in his exhaustive examination of the "etymologies section" of the dialogue. Here, Ademollo brings to light the historical antecedents and inspiration for the etymologies. In his view, the etymologies provide a philosophical sketch of the history of Greek wisdom and thought from Homer down to Plato, with explicit or implicit mention of Heraclitus, Diogenes of Apollonia, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Protagoras, the Atomists Democritus and Leucipus, but with the remarkable exception of Parmenides. Plato's implicit reference to the Atomists in Cratylus had already been noticed, but Ademollo goes further to content that there is an atomistic hypothesis in the background of both the etymologies and the Flux Theory.

Against the opinion that the "etymologies section" is a parody or a joke, and that neither Plato, nor Socrates, could have seriously entertained the view that names or letters reproduce the nature of things, Ademollo maintains that the dramatic character Socrates seriously believes that Greek letters resemble certain features of things and that names resemble objects. Ademollo argues that Socrates, the dramatic character, is convinced that the etymologies are correct as he analyzes them, though the flux thesis they are based on is wrong. He, however, recognizes that the tone of the etymologies is humorous and that Socrates' claim to have been inspired by Euthyphro (396c6-d8) is a bad start and leads one to expect the total refutation of naturalism. Yet, although Socrates may at times appear to say that his etymologies are ridiculous, that is not a disavowal of the etymologies, but rather an indication that they strike the reader as novel and surprising. The role of humour in the etymologies, Ademollo suggests, can be compared to Plato's use of myth in other dialogues. He does not fully develop this claim, but he obviously implies that humour is a literary as well as a philosophical device.

Ademollo recognizes that the dialogue in the end concludes that it is false that a name can indicate its referent by simply resembling it, however great the resemblance may be. He believes that Socrates, the dramatic character, either fails to fully see the falsity of the etymologies or has reasons not to disclose his views, while Plato, the author, was fully aware of the falsity. It may well be the case, Ademollo suggests, that Plato has Socrates hold something false for the sake of the discussion. Unfortunately Ademollo does not explain what use this disparity between Plato and his apparent mouthpiece, Socrates, has, nor does he fully and convincingly explain why the character Socrates might hold a view inconsistent with the conclusion of the dialogue. It strikes the reader as odd that Ademollo did not consider that Socrates might be ironical through all or some of the etymologies. The "etymologies section" of the Cratylus has once again proven to be difficult to interpret, and it seems that in addition to historical elucidation, it demands a study of its relationship to the other sections of the dialogue.

One more widely discussed issue on which Ademollo has something to say about, is the meaning of δηλοῦν (to show) and σημαίνειν (to signify), and the relationship between name and nominatum in the Cratylus. Ademollo, like most interpreters, thinks that δηλοῦν and σημαίνειν are equivalent, but unlike them he goes on to argue that if for Socrates names such as Ἄναξ and ῞Εκτωρ signify almost the same thing and refer to something insofar as they give a description of that thing (399c, 415cd, 419a, 437ab), then to signify the same for Socrates is not to have the same referent but to have the same etymological meaning, sense, or connotation. Consequently, a name 'signifies' not merely a referent but some sort of informational content about the referent conveyed by the name's etymology. A detail emphasized by Ademollo which interpreters have overlooked, is that expressions of will and communication such as ὅτι βούλεται τὸ ὄνομα, i.e. 'what the name wants/intends', mean the same as δηλοῦν and σημαίνειν. This suggests, according to Ademollo, a close connection between the meaning of a name and what a name-giver means by the name.

This analysis of the name-nominatum relation, however, is extracted from the etymologies, which are based on a theory that at the end of the dialogue is refuted. What, then, would Plato's final word be on that relation at the end of the Dialogue after the refutation of the etymologies? This question seems to be left to the reader. Ademollo's commentary unfolds diachronically with anticipatory and retrospective remarks, but it neither offers a synchronic and synthetic view, nor any global reflection on the dialectical interplay between the different sections of the dialogue. The commentary is intended as an analysis of individual passages and individual arguments, and it is thus apparently conceived as a tool for further comprehensive philosophical work.

This commentary is an indispensable tool for anyone who intends to understand and work on the Cratylus. Despite being a book exclusively devoted to one single Platonic dialogue, it offers extensive information on Platonic philosophy and how to do philosophical and philological work in the field of Ancient Philosophy. Graduate and undergraduate students will find in this book an invaluable source of help and inspiration, while specialist on Ancient Philosophy will find a stimulating and bright interlocutor. This is a priceless book for Hellenists interested in Greek intellectual culture and lore, as well as for anyone interested in the history of grammar and ancient Greek reflection on language in general.


1.   Goldschmidt, V. (1940) Essai sur le 'Cratyle'. Paris. Gaiser, K . (1974) Name und Sache in Platons 'Kratylos'. Heidelberg. Rijlaarsdam, J.C. (1978) Platon über die Sprache. Ein Kommentar zum Kratylus. Utrecht. Baxter, T. M. S. (1992) The Cratylus. Plato's Critic of Naming. Leiden, New York and Cologne. Barney, R. (2001) Names and Nature in Plato's Cratylus. New York and London. Sedley, D. (2003) Platon's Cratylus. Cambridge. Derbolav, J. (1972) Platons Sprachphilosophie im Kratylos und in den späteren Schriften. Darmstadt.


Emanuele Lelli (ed.), ΠΑΡΟΙΜΙΑΚΩΣ . Ιl proverbio in Grecia e a Roma (3 vols.). Philologia antiqua, 2, 2009; 3, 2010; 4, 2011. Pisa; Roma: Fabrizio Serra editore, 2010. Pp. 233; 234; 240. ISBN 9788862273435. €240.00.

Reviewed by Victoria Jennings, University of Adelaide (

Version at BMCR home site

ΠΑΡΟΙΜΙΑΚΩΣ will be an indispensible resource for anyone interested in the use of proverbs and sententiae in ancient texts.


Emanuele Lelli, Premessa (9): ΠΑΡΟΙΜΙΑΚΩΣ offers "una panoramica accurata" of proverbs and sententiae from Hesiod to the fifth century AD.

Renzo Tosi, Introduzione (13-29), reviews proverbial wisdom from earliest texts to Byzantine paroemiography. Tosi laments the loss of Aristotle On Proverbs for definitive assessment of the proverb's lapidary take on popular ethics, but also recommends expanding the purview to include gnomai and sententiae.

1. ESIODO. Andrea Ercolani, Enunciati sentenziosi nelle Opere e Giorni di Esiodo (31-43). Works and Days exemplifies 'model' wisdom literature. Ercolani's typological approach covers formulaic structures (δεινόν (ἐστί) + infinitive [687]; ἀνήρ formulations), meter, and gnomic frequency (95 of 828 lines are sentential).

2. ARCHILOCO. Luca Bettarini, Archiloco fr. 201 W.2: meglio volpe o riccio? (45-51). Was Archilochus fox or hedgehog? Which is superior? Is it his skill to be both? Bettarini deftly reviews these old questions. I would have welcomed broader discussion of Archilochus' proverbial programme.

3. ALCEO. Emanuele Lelli, La pragmatica proverbiale di Alceo (53-60). Alcaeus is the most proverbial Greek poet (1 proverb per 20 lines). Sympotic, political, maritime and 'pragmatic' (animals, objects, daily life) themes predominate. For Lelli, Alcaeus' use of proverbs is intensely pragmatic: quotidian Realien render the message immediate and inviolable.

4. TEOGNIDE. Federico Condello, Proverbi in Teognide, Teognide in proverbio (61-85). The proverb's multi- functionality allows Theognis to 'shift' (technically and in terms of transition beyond the performative moment) between particular/general, singular/universal, historical/ahistorical and aristocratic/popular.

5. ESCHILO. Maurizio Grimaldi, Il proverbio in Eschilo: un aspetto della tecnica drammatica (87-104). Proverbs can represent a mode of speech enabling communication across class barriers and designating a speaker's status. Clytemnestra's proverb at Ag. 264-5 (flagged, ὥσπερ ἡ παροιμία...) well illustrates how a proverb's simplicity of form proves complex in application.

6. SOFOCLE. Pierpaolo Peroni, Inconsapevoli profezie (105-25). Proverbs reinforce normative values to listeners familiar with their static ethics. This familiarity narrows the distance between audience and mythic past. Peroni examines paranetic (persuasive/ dissuasive), apologetic (explanatory/ justificatory) and interpretative (what has or should have happened) functions of Sophoclean proverbs.

7. SOFOCLE, Antigone. Giovanni Di Maria, Antigone a Crotone (127-35), notes a Calabrese survival in the context of modern reception of Ant. 904-20.

8. ERODOTO. Lorenzo Miletti, «Ippoclide non se ne cura!»: Erodoto storico delle forme brevi (137-44). Herodotus adopts "un metalinguaggio preciso" when alluding to popular wisdom (proverb, gnome, chreia, apophthegm). Proverbs occur mostly in direct speech. Miletti explores Herodotus' aetiology of οὐ φροντὶς Ἱπποκλείδῃ ('Hippocleides doesn't care!' 6.129-30) and its reception (οὐ φροντὶς Ἡροδότῳ: Plutarch De malignitate Herodoti 33, 867b).

9. CRATINO. Emanuele Lelli, Il proverbio a teatro (145-54). Popular cultural and folkloric references are common in comedy, which manipulates familiarity for laughs. Cratinus is the most proverbial comic poet. Themes include animals (asses are big), the quotidian, geography (including fantastical), komodoumenoi, gods/heroes (especially Heracles), and sententiae of known authorship (less common). A rewarding chapter from a scholar entirely at home with the material.

10. ARISTOFANE. Silvio Schirru, Due ateniesi «ai corvi». Espressioni proverbiali negli Uccelli di Aristofane (155-61). Bird proverbs add appropriate metaphorical 'piumaggio' to the utopian Birds (e.g., γάλα ὀρνίθων, 'birds' milk': 734, 1673). Do proverbs possess a broader functional significance? Schirru compares the persuasive and analogous functions of fable with proverb, then seeks functional reasons for repetition of the cussing ἐς κόρακας ('[Go] to the crows!' 28, 889).

11. ARISTOTELE. Michele Curnis, «Reliquie di antica filosofia»: i proverbi in Aristotele (163-213). This edifying chapter covers Aristotle's lost work on proverbs; the Ps.-Aristotelian Paroimia; Aristotle in the paroemiographical tradition; how Aristotle distinguishes paroimia, gnome and apophthegma; and the use of proverbs in Rhetoric, Politics (notably, ἄνθρωπος φύσει πολιτικὸν ζῷον, 'man, the social animal': 1253a1-4) and Nicomachean Ethics.

12. MENANDRO. Silvio Schirru, Proverbi e sentenze nelle commedie di Menandro (215-27), details how Menander introduces proverbs (commonly, τὸ λεγόμενον ), and the content, structure and structural logic of proverbs and sententiae.

13. MENANDRO, Monostici. Carlo Pernigotti, Il migliore dei testi possibili? Osservazioni su proverbi, sentenze e critica testuale (229-33). The transmission of proverb/sententia collections has been neglected. Pernigotti's insights derive from editing the Menandri Sententiae: 877 lines of Christianization, abridgement, invention and multiple redactions of a shadowy Ursammlung.


14. CALLIMACO. Emanuele Lelli, Il proverbio in laboratorio (11-25), discusses Callimachus in the paroemiographic tradition and examines the type and use of proverbs in Hymns/Hecale (traditional sententiousness), Aetia (evidential; argument bolstering), Epigrams (idiomatic tone), and Iambs (popular, folkloric feel). Iamb 11 [201 Pf.] presents a 'tasty' proverbial aition.

15. TEOCRITO. Claudio Meliadò, Proverbi e falsi proverbi in Teocrito (27-36), studies proverbs used — not composed — by Theocritus. Some Idylls prove particularly rich (14; 16). Meliadò investigates the transmission and paroemiography of ἀπωτέρω ἢ γόνυ κνάμα (16.16-8: 'the shin is further than the knee').

16. SETTANTA. Umberto Livadiotti, "Come un picchetto piantato nella roccia": commercio e cupidigia in Sir. 26,20 - 27,2 (37-43). Proverbs linking trade and avarice in Ben Sira (Sirach/Ecclesiasticus) warn of the moral dangers of Jerusalem's commerce with the Hellenistic world.

17. EPITAFIO EPIGRAFICO. Valentina Garulli, Epitafio epigrafico e tradizione proverbiale: spunti per una riflessione (45-59). Gnomic pithiness — proverbial 'keywords' — facilitates epitaphic recognisability. Garulli examines popular themes and sources.

18. PLAUTO. Silvia Paponi, L'andamento sentenzioso della frase plautina: proverbi ed enunciati sentenziosi (61-74), explores proverbial signposting (scio; nam/conjunction), function (e.g., introductory — rousing the spectators' curiosity), speakers (almost everybody, regardless of social status) and effects (flavour of oral speech; audience identification).

19. TERENZIO. Marco Giovini, Proverbi e sententiae a carattere proverbiale in Terenzio (75-116), groups Terence's proverbial expressions alphabetically into 40 themes to facilitate 'organic', 'thematic-conceptual' discussion. Giovini translates each example and comments on sources and reception. Some themes prove common (love, Fortune, wisdom); others less so (food, 'animo umano').

20. CECILIO STAZIO. Marco Cipriani, Homo homini Deus: la malinconica sentenziosità di Cecilio Stazio (117- 59), translates the many sentential fragments of Caecilius Statius and comments on sources, context, stylistic nuances, dramatic function, and reception. An appendix of very fragmentary, likely sentential passages completes a first-rate chapter.

21. ACCIO. Giampiero Scafoglio, Le sententiae nella tragedia romana (161-80). Scafoglio examines the structure and sources (popular wisdom; philosophy; Greek tragedy; New Comedy) of Accius' fragments. Major themes are human responsibility, nobility and power/tyranny; lesser themes include prudence and female guile.

22. CICERONE. Valentina Bonsangue, "Non avere nemmeno un pelo di uomo onesto". Impiego proverbiale e allusioni comiche nella Pro Roscio comoedo di Cicerone (181-9). In Pro Q. Roscio Comoedo Cicero's physiognomical and comedic allusions culminate in the witty, denigrating proverb of the man shorn of hair and eyebrows — without a single hair of an honest man (ne ullum pilum viri boni habere dicatur [20]).

23. ORAZIO. Marcella Guglielmo, I proverbi nel primo libro delle Epistole di Orazio (191-206), analyses the didactic Epistles for playful twists given to traditional themes (amicitia; sympotic gnomai) and material (philosophical maxims).

24. FEDRO. Caterina Mordeglia, Dalla favola al proverbio, dal proverbio alla favola. Genesi e fortuna dell'elemento gnomico fedriano (207-30), systematically examines Phaedrus' proverbs and gnomai (reception is a major interest), and tackles the chicken-and-egg relationship of proverb and fable. Fable condenses easily into proverb (cf. pro- and epimythia); proverb expands readily into fable/narrative.


25. SENECA IL VECCHIO. Andrea Balbo, Tra sententia e proverbio. Problemi di paremiografia in Seneca il Vecchio (11-33), adopts a methodical approach to Seneca's 'materiale proverbiale'. Proverbium occurs once; dictum is more common. Seneca uses proverbs to reinforce, close (epigrammatically) or explain an argument and for paradoxical/ironic effect. Proverb and metaphor often blur. The tenor is moralistic and didactic. Themes include fortune, misogyny, virtue, love, daily life, and divine power.

26. SENECA, Apocolocyntosis. Alice Bonandini, Sentenze proverbiali latine e greche nella satira menippea (35-45), analyses the distribution (uneven) and stylistic purpose of Apocolocyntosis' proverbs (30 in 25 Teubner pages). They function programmatically, parodically and for colloquial effect. Proverbs feature in Latin to Greek code-switching (as Menippean as proverbosity): ἔγγιον γόνυ κνήμη (10.4; requiring cross-reference to Chapter 13).

27. SENECA MORALE. Alfredo Casamento, Benefici proverbiali (tra Publilio e Seneca) (47-53), speculates on the influence of Publilius Syrus on beneficium on De beneficiis, and contemporary ideas of beneficium. This is tricky: the Sententiae will inextricably interlace with the Ps.-Senecan sententiae. I wanted more on Senecan proverb (and the Stoics), given Epistles 108.10 on the efficacy of poetic sententiae to leaven philosophical prosody.

28. SENECA, Epigrammi. Maria Nicole Iulietto, Alcune gnomai sul tempo negli epigrammi di Anthologia vossiana attribuiti a Seneca (cc.1 e 20-20a Zurli) (55-60). Iulietto's analysis of 'time' (e.g., tempus edax) in the pseudo-Senecan epigrams determines the Anthologia Vossiana's constituents: Pindaric, Horatian and Ovidian-styled clichés and chunks of Publilius Syrus larded with Stoicism.

29. PETRONIO. Giulio Vannini, La funzione stilistica e caratterizzante delle espressioni proverbiali nel Satyricon (61-81). Proverbs are most frequent in speech ("essenziale all'imitazione del parlato"), particularly among lower orders and women (although they also nuance cultured speech), and increase in frequency with the lowering of an argument's tone. Frequency rockets when freedmen speak. Themes are pessimistic and quotidian.

30. MARZIALE. Delphina Fabbrini, "Vendere fumo": da Marziale a Sant'Agostino (con un'appendice su Erasmo da Rotterdam) (83-98), traces the shifting connotations of 'selling smoke' through Martial 4.5 (vendere… vanos circa Palatia fumos), Apuleius, Historia Augusta, Augustine and Erasmus.

31. LUCIANO. Gianluigi Tomassi, Proverbi in Luciano di Samosata (99-121), discusses Lucian's stylistic use of proverbs (tonality; accessibility; hyperbole), themes (divine; historical anecdote; geographical stereotyping; daily life; natural world). Animal proverbs are chiefly used to denigrate. Lucian's proverbial reflex is common to his time.

32. PLUTARCO. Stefano Amendola, "I giardini di Adone": Plu. Ser. Num. 560 b-c ed Erasm. Adag. I I 4 (123-31) explores the origins and reception of τοὺς Ἀδώνιδος κήπους ('the gardens of Adonis') in Plutarch's allusion to the soul's ephemerality. Amendola demonstrates the influence of Erasmian hermeneutics on paroemiology.

33. STRATONE DI SARDI. Lucia Floridi, Espressioni proverbiali in Stratone di Sardi (133-46). Strato manipulates the communality and authority of proverbial themes, with scandalous consequences (e.g., juxtaposing gnomic pretentiousness with pragmatic eroticism). On proverbs created from literary sources, Floridi notes the highfaluting 'gold for bronze' opening of AP 12.204, χρύσεα χαλκείων (Iliad 6.236), alluding to inequitable sexual exchange.

34. EUSTAZIO. Eleonora Mazzotti, Χρύσεα χαλκείων. "Armi d'oro per armi di bronzo" (147-52), examines the transmission of the gold/bronze locution through Homer, Plato, Cicero, Aelian, Martial, Pliny, Gellius and Eustathius. Strato is absent.

TEMI E MOTIVI: 35. ORIENTE E GRECIA. Anna Sofia, Misoginia e femminismo nei proverbi egizi, demotici e greci. Linee di un confronto (155-75), compares treatment of women in Egyptian and Greek proverbs (and society). Amid much 'internationalisation' of traditional wisdom (e.g., human limitations; friendship; justice), women appear particularly popular subjects in Egypt. Sofia examines Ankhsheshonqy, the Narmouthis demotic ostraka and the misogynistic Menandri Sententiae.

36. GLI ADYNATA. Doralice Fabiano, "La giara forata". Un adýnaton tra proverbio e racconto (177- 85), traces the proverbial adynaton of carrying water in a leaky jar from its application to Eleusinian non- initiates to the dominant narrative of the eternally sieving Danaids. Fabiano well demonstrates the resistance of proverbs to fossilization.

37. PROVERBI E ANIMALI. Riccardo Marzucchini, I proverbi con gli animali (187-209), would classify animals in the Greek cultural imagination by an axiological scale from high (noble, positive) to low (humble, negative) which might align with an axiology of genres (epic to iamb). Studying animals in proverbs (20% of proverbs in Zenobius) highlights some problems, notably animals with positive and negative characteristics (the bee is a simple example; the dog a very complex signifier). Detailed studies of the pig and the eagle conclude this remarkable chapter.

38. POSTFAZIONE. Riccardo Di Donato, Anthropologica antiqua (211-5), seeks an 'anthropology' — not morphology — of popular wisdom. Historical and sociological theory aid this idealistic endeavour.

Some general considerations: almost every contributor expands discussion from proverb sensu stricto to an understandably broad terminological position incorporating gnomai and sententiae. ΠΑΡΟΙΜΙΑΚΩΣ is admirable in scope, but coverage can seem slender when contributors focus on one proverb/work of, say, Aristophanes or Cicero. There are gaps: no Plato, Virgil, Ovid; history and philosophy are under-represented. I wanted more on proverbs created by the ancient authors (almost an adynaton?). Lack of cross- referencing or an index of proverbs and subjects likewise detract from utility. There is an index of passages discussed. Some contributors translate ancient texts; many do not. Volumes I and II contain few significant typographic errors; volume III has gone to the dogs.1 These factors should not detract from these enthusiastic and rewarding attempts to dissect the functioning of proverbial wisdom.2


1.   Examples: I p.40n3 Rythm; meaningsful. II: p.110n5 (19662) [(19662)]; p.188n2 commedies; p.208n6 and passim Grubmuller/Grubmüller. III: p.7 Apocolocynthosis; p.12n2 Repubblic; p.109 forrme; p.115n3 borrozed; p.116n4 βίοςβραχύς; p.115n3 and passim ecrivain; p.117n2 reworkind; p.120n6 wirkllich; p.127n3 comon; p.130 Reinassance; p.136n2 wolfes; p.141n5 Bizantine; p.156n4 and passim sumerian; p.156n4 Cheaster; p.157n6 Costantine; p.160n4 Phocilides; p.165n5 Papirology; Literatur[e]. Two chapter titles contain misprints: Chapter 33 'Statone' (continuing in the headers); Chapter 34 ΧΡΗΑ ΧΑΛΚΕΙΩΝ (and χαλκέων in Contents). Chapter 25 has a different title in the cumulative Contents.
2.   These papers' footnotes reinforce the relevance of one particular reference text, which has been supplemented but never supplanted: Leutsch, E. L. von and F. G. Schneidewin (edd.). Corpus Paroemiographorum Graecorum, Volume 1, Paroemiographi Graeci: Zenobius, Diogenianus, Plutarchus, Gregorius Cyprius cum appendice proverbiorum (Leipzig, 1839). CPG has now been reprinted for the Cambridge library collection (Cambridge University Press, 2010. ISBN 9781108015530) and is freely available on Google Books (where one can enlarge the tiny scratchy apparatus).


John H. Oakley (ed.), Die attischen Sarkophage. Die antiken Sarkophagreliefs, Bd IX. Die Sarkophage Griechenlands und der Donauprovinzen, Tl 1. Berlin: Gebr. Mann Verlag, 2011. Pp. 109, 64 p. of plates. ISBN 9783786126409. €69.00.

Reviewed by Danilo Nati, Scuola Archeologica Italiana di Atene (

Version at BMCR home site

Nel 2007 la Direzione Centrale dell'Istituto Archeologico Germanico ha deciso di istituire un comitato internazionale con l'incarico di proseguire la realizzazione del corpus degli Antiken Sarkophagreliefs e la serie di studi a questi correlati. Il volume di John Oakley (il primo a essere stato redatto sotto l'egida del nuovo comitato) costituisce il terzo di una serie complessiva di quattro fascicoli che hanno il fine di ripubblicare, in maniera sistematica e secondo criteri attuali, tutti i sarcofagi attici figurati.

I temi mitici maggiormente documentati sui sarcofagi attici sono costituiti da episodi tratti dalla vita di Achille e Ippolito (analizzati nel primo volume della serie: S. Rogge, Die attischen Sarkophage, 1. Achill und Hippolytos, 1995) oltre che da scene di battaglie fra greci e amazzoni, ovvero greci e troiani (oggetto del lavoro di prossima pubblicazione a cura di C. Kintrup, Die attischen Sarkophage , 2. Amazonen, Schlacht zwischen Griechen und Trojanern, Schlacht bei den Schiffen vor Troja). Il fascicolo di J.Oakley è dedicato ai sarcofagi attici i cui rilievi presentano scene mitiche attestate con minore frequenza su questa classe monumentale : Bellerofonte con Pegaso (nn. 1-10), Elena e i Dioscuri (n. 11), le fatiche di Eracle (nn.12-22), Ifigenia in Aulide (nn.23-24), Kairos (n.25), i Centauri impegnati in caccia o battaglia (nn. 26-41), Leda e il cigno (nn.42-43), le Muse (nn. 44-45), Ulisse e la strage dei Proci (nn. 46-48), Edipo e la Sfinge (n. 49), la morte di Ofelte (nn. 50-52), episodi tratti dall'Orestea (nn. 53-58), Orfeo (nn. 59-60), Pelope (n. 61), Polissena (n. 62), i Sette contro Tebe (n. 63), Scilla (n. 64), Teseo e Arianna (n. 65), e infine una scena di ambientazione oltremondana, probabilmente la raffigurazione del Iudicium Orestis (n. 66). La prima parte dell'opera (pp. 13-59) si compone di 19 capitoli, in ognuno dei quali si discutono scelte tipologiche, varianti iconografiche e proposte cronologiche dei sarcofagi, raggruppati per tema mitologico, con alcune considerazioni riguardanti scelte iconografiche e valore iconologico di ciascun episodio mitico in rapporto alla sfera funeraria.

Il primo capitolo è consacrato all'analisi dei 10 sarcofagi attici, tutti databili nella seconda metà del II secolo d.C., raffiguranti Bellerofonte in compagnia di Pegaso, che mostrano l'eroe che doma il cavallo alato oppure lo fa abbeverare presso la fonte Peirene (nn.1-10). Segue l'esame dell'unico sarcofago attico raffigurante Elena e i Dioscuri (n.11), il cui luogo di rinvenimento (Atene, Kifissia), in concomitanza con l'inusuale scena rappresentata -- un hapax nella produzione attica-- è stato riconosciuto quale probabile monumento funerario appartenente ad un membro della famiglia di Erode Attico, verosimilmente Elpinice o Polydeukion. Il terzo capito è destinato all'esame di undici esemplari sui quali sono raffigurate otto delle dodici fatiche di Eracle (il cinto della regina Ippolita, il cinghiale di Erimanto, la cattura di Cerbero, la cerva cerinite, l'Idra di Lerna, il leone nemeo, gli uccelli stinfalidi, e i pomi delle Esperidi), nonché lo scontro fra Eracle e Anteo. L'arco cronologico dei sarcofagi che hanno come protagonista Eracle è più ampio dei precedenti, e va dal terzo quarto del II secolo sino al secondo quarto del III secolo d.C.

I capitoli 4 e 5 sono dedicati rispettivamente ai due sarcofagi a Salonicco e Varsavia raffiguranti il sacrificio di Ifigenia in Aulide (n.23-24), e al frammento di sarcofago a Torino, Museo dell'Antichità, che offre un'interessante raffigurazione di Kairos (n.25), immediatamente riconoscibile per la chioma fluente sulla fronte e la nuca calva. Segue un capitolo, il sesto, dedicato alle scene comprendenti Centauri, raffigurati su 16 sarcofagi, con una cronologia che va dal terzo quarto del II secolo sino al terzo quarto del III secolo d.C. Le scene sono state suddivise in due nuclei tematici -- Centauri impegnati in una battuta di caccia e Centauri in lotta contro i Lapiti -- con divario cronologico di circa un cinquantennio fra il primo e il secondo gruppo. Il capitolo 9 presenta tre frammenti appartenenti ad altrettanti sarcofagi che mostrano la strage dei Proci ad opera di Ulisse, databili complessivamente nell'ultimo quarto del II secolo s.C. Nel capitolo 12 vengono esaminati sei sarcofagi (nn.53-58) , databili nell'ultimo quarto del II secolo d.C., sui quali sono rappresentati quattro differenti episodi tratti dalla vita di Oreste (nn.53-58) : l'uccisione di Egisto e Clitennestra (nn.53-56), l'incontro di Oreste ed Elettra presso la tomba di Agamennone (n.53), Oreste e Ifigenia in Tauride (nn.57-58), infine Oreste e Pilade presso l'altare (n.58).

I temi mitologici associati a Bellerofonte, i Centauri, ed Eracle, rispettivamente rappresentati su 10, 16 e 11 sarcofagi, sono di gran lunga i più frequenti nell'ambito della categoria dei miti raramente attestati. Se gli esemplari appartenenti ai primi due gruppi sono complessivamente databili intorno al 150-180 d.C., epoca equivalente alla Experimentierphase, la maggior parte di quelli decorati con le fatiche di Eracle si collocano cronologicamente nell'ultimo quarto del II secolo d.C. I restanti temi mitologici sono di norma rappresentati su un solo sarcofago, o su un massimo di tre, e sono tutti prodotti nello stesso ambito cronologico: fanno eccezione soltanto i sarcofagi con le scene di Leda e il cigno, Ifigenia in Aulide, e le Muse, le cui attestazioni—che non superano comunque i tre esemplari ciascuno— hanno cronologie distinte. Il sarcofago di Polissena a Madrid/Parigi (n. 62) e quello di Pelope ad Atene (n. 61), entrambi prodotti intorno alla metà del III secolo d.C., mostrano su tutti e quattro i lati scene mitiche strettamente connesse le une alle altre, circostanza che permette di ipotizzare una loro realizzazione su specifica richiesta del committente.

La prima parte del volume si conclude con una breve sintesi che riepiloga il numero di attestazioni e la cronologia dei sarcofagi attici ivi presentati (capitolo 20), e una nota (capitolo 21), a cura di Sabine Rogge, relativa ad una nuova ipotesi ricostruttiva del frammentario sarcofago di Pelope conservato al Museo Nazionale di Atene (n. 61). La seconda parte del volume (pp.69-99) è costituita dal catalogo, ossia le schede analitiche di ciascun sarcofago, comprensive di luogo di conservazione, luogo di rinvenimento (qualora noto), misure, e una dettagliata e approfondita descrizione dell'esemplare in esame, preceduto da una scrupolosa raccolta della bibliografia precedente. Il volume si chiude con due indici (dei luoghi di conservazione e dei soggetti) e una tavola delle concordanze con l'ASR. Di notevole qualità la documentazione fotografica: ben 64 tavole in bianco e nero riproducenti la totalità dei sarcofagi attici presentati.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Alan Kaiser, Roman Urban Street Networks. Routledge Studies in Archaeology, 2. New York; London: Routledge, 2011. Pp. xvii, 249. ISBN 9780415886574. $125.00.

Reviewed by Jeremy Hartnett, Wabash College (

Version at BMCR home site

Amidst a growing interest in Roman urban thoroughfares and especially movement along them,1 this book offers a quantitative methodology for describing and assessing the organization of space in Roman cities. Borrowing tools from urban geography, such as access analysis, Kaiser studies the street networks of four well-preserved cities from various times and places in the empire (Pompeii, Ostia, Silchester, Empúries). Veterans of these sites will find that this book opens their eyes to issues of accessibility and connectivity across the urban fabric, even as the study's conclusions largely confirm suppositions about the cities' organization. Perhaps the greatest value of this innovative methodology lies in the aggregate, however, since it permits the cities to be set in conversation with one another for comparative purposes. Such a juxtaposition reveals certain common features of Roman cities and also highlights the unique circumstances of individual examples.

Historiography and methodology dominate the introduction and first two chapters. The introduction traces the influence of the urban geographer Kevin Lynch on studies of Roman urbanism.2 Kaiser draws on textual and visual evidence to support Lynch's emphasis on "paths" (i.e., streets) as one of the key elements by which Romans perceived of and came to understand their cities, but he also stresses the need to find additional methods to "analyze streets and understand their role in the creation and use of urban space" (p. 12).

The bulk of Chapter 1, "Textual Evidence for Roman Perceptions of Streets and Plazas," is dedicated to the vocabulary used to describe streets. Kaiser argues that whereas English words for urban thoroughfares are based primarily on physical properties (e.g., alley, boulevard), Latin terms added a more charged cultural connotation to the material component. Romans demonstrate a tendency to divide streets into two camps: main thoroughfares (via, platea) and side streets (angiportum, semita). Generally speaking, when the former are employed in texts of various stripes, it is in connection with public acts, from parading a condemned criminal to dedicating an honorary arch. The latter terms were less frequently associated with social display and could be used in reference to realms such as commerce and industry. As Kaiser puts it, "Angiporta and semitae were the streets people used to conduct more private activities that they did not want to share with the community by conducting them on the wide, busy, public streets" (p. 45). This textual survey is valuable for the information it supplies about Roman attitudes about street types, but employing those sentiments as a yardstick for measuring or categorizing what is found on the ground seems less convincing.

Chapter 2, "Defining and Analyzing Street Networks in the Archaeological Record," seeks to establish an approach that "investigate[s] the role of each street in relation to every other street" (p. 47). After laying out some of the physical features of streets, plazas, and the like, Kaiser attempts to sharpen such generic labels as "main streets" and "side streets" by applying three quantitative measures. These derive from the pioneering work of Hillier and Hanson, whose form of analysis—which is most often called "space syntax" or "access analysis"—uses simple numeric data to draw conclusions about a street's role in its city network.3 Kaiser's first index of a street is its "depth" from outside the city, in other words, "how many streets and plazas one must pass through" in order to move from the city's edge to the street in question (p. 53). A street that leads directly from a gate, then, has a depth of one. The second index, depth from the forum, involves the same concept, but counts the number of streets away from this "practical center of the city" (p. 54). Third, the number of intersections a street shares with other streets is another useful analytical attribute, as it describes "how well a particular street integrates or segregates the streets of the city" (p. 56). Finally, Kaiser undertakes, to the degree the surviving evidence allows, an assessment of how much a given street was open to cart traffic. Kaiser's primary analytical tool for the depth and intersection data is a comparison between the number of different types of buildings (residential, commercial, etc.) along a given street and the number we would expect if there were an even distribution of those buildings throughout all streets of a city. Are shops concentrated disproportionately, for instance, on streets with a lower depth from city gates? At Pompeii, the answer, according to a standard chi-square test, is an emphatic "yes."

This methodology has the advantage of providing an objective, data-driven approach to examining how the cities in the case study fit together. (The "network" in the book's title is key.) It favors issues of accessibility and connection in the urban fabric over physical proximity, which is often the focus of such discussions. The result is a book driven by maps and tables, without any photographs of a street from a pedestrian's perspective. One downside, then, is that their treatment in the case studies can leave the cities feeling very much like moribund laboratories for statistical evaluation rather than spaces pulsing with life. A greater degree of clarity would have been welcomed with regard to the categories of "primary" and "secondary" streets into which all thoroughfares of the case studies are slotted. Chapter 1's text-based analysis drives the creation of such a polarity, but are individual streets assigned to a category because of their physical characteristics, their scores according the depth and intersection metrics, or some other basis? The statistical analysis might have been more valuable in exploring tensions between the ideal laid out in texts and the reality played out on the ground.

Each of the next four chapters tackles a single city under Rome's dominion to do the heavy lifting of Kaiser's analysis. The sites in question, all from the western half of the Mediterranean, have a majority of their intramural area exposed through excavation; a major benefit is the inclusion of cities beyond Roman Italy. Each of the chapters proceeds formulaically. As background, it outlines layout, topography, and history of the city in question; the author then discusses the structure of the city's streets; and next comes an assessment of how well we can identify building uses from the archaeological record. Kaiser then devotes a section of each chapter to analysis of the city's street network on the basis of the four criteria spelled out above (street depth from city gates, street depth from the forum, the number of intersections a street had, and its accessibility for cart traffic). Finally, each chapter identifies and discusses the primary and secondary streets along with the forum and any plazas. Extensive tables supplement plans of the cities, and color-coded maps showing different uses of space are available at an on-line supplement to the book.4

Chapter 3 is dedicated to the most famous of the case studies, Pompeii. The abundant evidence here allows Kaiser to move beyond his standard categories of architectural units and to introduce additional subcategories, such as bakeries, brothels, and non-elite housing. The analysis of the street network supplies few surprises: the streets leading to either the forum or the city gates (an overlapping group) are most densely packed with doorways and also host more commercial properties, fountains, and spaces dedicated to production than an even distribution would suggest. These were the busiest streets and hosted the greatest diversity of building types. Against this backdrop, the much-discussed restriction of wheeled traffic on several of these streets (such as portions of the Via dell'Abbondanza) comes into higher relief; it supports the argument that rumbling carts bore a strong stigma for Romans. Secondary streets at Pompeii were much quieter, with fewer destinations lining their streetface, yet played host to the residences of the nonelite disproportionately. Whether the owners of smaller houses sought out back streets or could only afford these locations is not clear.

The boomtown at Rome's port, Ostia, provides a more complex situation in Chapter 4. Here much of the street network, as we have it, emanates from a central east-west spine that ultimately led to Rome. As at Pompeii, commercial structures and bars tended to cluster on streets with low depths from city gates and the forum, while residences, by contrast, appeared with greater than expected frequency along streets that had higher depths. This tendency to live on more remote streets, Kaiser suggests, could have resulted from a desire to be isolated from the greater number of non-residents who passed through this commercially-oriented city. On a related note, Ostia also had a greater degree of "directionality," that is, its streets' clear hierarchy made it easy for strangers to find their way to the forum or out of the city.

Chapter 5 moves far in distance, time, and density to the British site of Silchester, whose remains document a rural town set amidst a productive countryside in the third and fourth centuries. After Claudius' invasion of Britain, a new street grid was superimposed over what had been a Belgic settlement. Over time, stone structures gradually replaced those in wood, yet within its walls the site retained much open space, which could have hosted grazing or housed markets. On the one hand, Silchester offers the best illustration of Kaiser's methods, since he successfully complicates what on the surface seems like a simple gridded town layout. He demonstrates how the forum, though central geographically, was not very well integrated into Silchester's street network, but nevertheless hosted a great concentration of commercial properties. This suggests that entrepreneurs catered primarily to the city's residents, rather than visitors. On the other hand, this chapter also raises questions about the book's approach, since initial excavations here recorded only stone structures (and not wooden ones), which forces Kaiser to take account of a limited subset of Silchester's buildings. What was missing here, or along the streets within Ostia's walls that have not been subject to open-air excavation? And what impact might gaps have had on the statistical analysis?

In Chapter 6, the final case study, Empúries in Spain, engages these questions somewhat, since it intentionally studies only a subset of a larger conurbation. The original Greek settlement of Neapolis represented an organically- evolved neighborhood that eventually was paired with a Roman colony laid out on a grid plan (the so-called Ciudad Romana). Kaiser nicely shows how Neapolis' organization of space differed markedly from the other case studies, noting the role of its agora as an integral space through which traffic moved. The argument that such phenomena resulted from Neapolis' Greek heritage is strengthened when Kaiser sets the city in comparison with its immediate neighbor, Ciudad Romana, whose sparse remains nevertheless sketch out a pattern of use similar to the three previous case studies.

The conclusion argues that the example of Neapolis/Ciudad Romana illustrates the potential for applying the book's methodology to partially excavated urban sites. Yet there is reason to hesitate on this score, for when statistical anomalies arise in the Neapolis case study, the book has to examine specific circumstances to explain them away. Nevertheless, the Empúries comparison illustrates the book's strongest suit: the side-by-side analysis of Roman cities. This book's individual chapters will profit scholars specializing in each city, but the most profound points emerge when the book is read in its entirety. Kaiser's work exposes some dynamics and phenomena that might otherwise slip by and provides critical context for sites like Pompeii that can occasionally be taken as "typical" or paradigmatic for Roman urbanism. All in all, Kaiser should be commended for bringing a new and rigorous approach to these cities and for arming scholars of Roman urbanism with a toolkit for interrogating other street networks and the placement of buildings within them.


1.   E.g., Laurence, R. and Newsome, D. (eds.), 2011. Rome, Ostia, Pompeii: Movement and Space, Oxford.
2.   Lynch, K. 1960. Image of the City, MIT Press.
3.   Hillier, B. and Hanson, J. 1984. The Social Logic of Space, Cambridge.
4.   Roman Urban Street Networks online supplement