Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Philip Matyszak, Roman Conquests: Macedonia and Greece. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2009. Pp. xvi, 192. ISBN 9781844159680. £19.99.

Reviewed by Dylan Bloy, Tulane University (

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The story of the Roman conquest of Macedonia and Greece is a worthy one, just as deserving of a book length explication as it was in Polybius' day. This book is a laudable attempt to meet this goal, to explain to a general reader "how Rome came to conquer Greece and Macedon, and exactly what happened in the century that this conquest took" (pg. xvi). There is a real need for a monograph like this covering the Roman conquest of Greece, an era of unprecedented interaction all too often considered marginal to the floruit of both Greek and Roman history. A history written for a general audience should, in my view, not only have an interesting subject, but be written in a lively style eschewing pedantry while presenting both established facts and continuing controversies. Matyszak succeeds in establishing a level of historical detail appropriate for his narrative. Some of his writing, particularly about military tactics and political strategy, is admirably succinct without being reductive. Let the reader be warned, however, that the book contains not only minor errors, especially in proper nouns, but it also in some cases presents generalizations, questionable assertions, and even discredited ideas as fact. I will list some examples of both the minor errors and the more problematic statements, not to criticize the author, but to allow the reader to judge whether they undermine the book's purpose as a general history.

Throughout the work, place names are misspelled, misidentified, or confused with similar sounding names. These include Thessalonians where he means Thessalians (pg. 6), Neopolis for Neapolis (pg. 17), Messenia (the regional name) where he means Messene (the polis, pg. 28), Ambracus for Ambracia (pg. 29), and Dymale for Dyme (pg. 83--confused with Illyrian Dimale?). He identifies the Aetolian federal sanctuary at Thermon as "Thermus, the principal city of the Aetolian confederacy" (pg. 30), the regions of Dolopia and Thessaliotis as "cities" (pg. 101, cf. pg. 116), and Tempe as "a generic name for all the passes to Thessaly" (pg. 96). Names suffer equally, including Sacerdilaidas for Scerdilaidas (pg. 24), Amelius for Aemilius (pg. 25), Antigonos Dosun [sic] (pg. 25), King Heiro [sic] of Syracuse (pg. 36), Charpous of Epirus for Charops (pg. 80), and Marcus Philippus for Q. Marcius Philippus (pg. 143). All these are careless errors that, while distracting, do not necessarily compromise the overall work.

Unfortunately, there are also statements that might well be queried by a knowledgeable reader. Matyszak writes that in 203/202 Philip V "had concluded a full but secret agreement with Antiochus, by which the two kings appear to have agreed to divide Egypt's overseas possessions between them." The very existence of this agreement remains controversial, and Matyszak's notice fails to mention that the source for it (Pol. 15.20) speaks not of "Egypt's overseas possessions" but of the entirety of the child Ptolemy's kingdom, a notion no modern historian is willing to seriously entertain. One of the causes he cites for the Second Macedonian War is more problematic still. Noting the manpower shortage in Rome caused by the war with Carthage, Matyszak asserts that while it "is highly unlikely that Rome contemplated war with Macedon in terms of the most massive slave raid in history, yet this was the terrible consequence for Greece, and an underlying cause of the war," (pg. 59) later explaining that "Italy needed manpower to work its fields" (pg. 60). This confuses the issue in two ways. Firstly, the manpower of landowning citizens that served in the army could not be made up with slaves—these are two completely different kinds of manpower. Secondly, he confuses results with motives; the latifundia that employed large numbers of slave workers were a development of the second century wave of mass enslavements in the Eastern Mediterranean, but did not yet exist at the outbreak of the war in 200 B.C. Matyszak contends that "[g]enerally, once established in the field, the commander would then have his authority as a general prolonged by the Senate in the form of a proconsulship, and in this position he would wage war for the next year, and if successful, perhaps even longer" (pg. 77). At the time he is discussing, Flamininus' consulship in 198 B.C., prorogation of command was by no means a common solution, especially for consular commands. Much more common was what had happened in the first two years of this war—a newly elected consul was sent from Rome to replace the outgoing magistrate. Matyszak also asserts that after captured Ambracia was despoiled of its statues by M. Fulvius Nobilior, "Nobilior's enemies in the Roman Senate made him give it all back" (pg. 119). Whence, then, the 785 bronze and 230 marble statues he displayed in his triumph (Liv. 39.5)? Equally problematic is the claim that "Scipio Africanus was exiled" (pg. 119) when he retired to his country villa amid scandal in the last years of his life. Matyszak is unaccountably skeptical about King Perseus' role in an assassination attempt on King Eumenes II at Delphi in the lead up to Third Macedonian War, arguing that "[o]thers had a motive for wanting Eumenes dead" (pg. 127), despite ancient sources attributing the crime to Perseus' henchman Evander. In the final stage of the war when Perseus fled to Samothrace (not Amphipolis, as Matyszak writes on pg. 155), he ended up eliminating Evander lest he reveal the king's role in the attack (Liv. 45.5). Indeed throughout his Chapter 7, Matyszak seems to empathize strongly with Perseus' predicament, e.g. "nothing that Perseus could do short of outright surrender would stop war from happening" (pg. 128). He speaks of the impoverishment of Athens during the same war and how subsequently "Athens took control of Delos" (pg. 161) without connecting the two, though Delos is usually understood as a Roman reward for Athenian loyalty in the war. He asserts that it was also after Pydna that "Romans started referring to the Greeks as Graeculi" (pg. 162). I am uncertain of his evidence for this notion, since it is in Cicero that we find the first regular use of this term, moreover not always applied to Greeks. Matyszak also repeats the canard, long exposed as a modern invention, that the Roman punctuated the destruction of Carthage in 146 BC by sowing salt in the fields (pg. 175).1

These last two unsupported statements are typical of a more general problem the book has with citation. Matyszak includes endnotes, but the endnotes are few and information taken from ancient sources does not always receive citation, even if directly quoted. This makes it difficult to tell whether a particular anecdote springs from the relatively trustworthy Polybius or the often suspect Plutarch, if it indeed has a textual source. The citation of secondary sources appropriately focuses on scholarship in English, though I thought a further two seminal articles might have been reflected both in the bibliography and the historical narrative.2

Finally there is the matter of coverage. As announced by his title, Matyszak only considers Roman expansion in mainland Greece, leaving out the story of what happens when Antiochus the Great returned to Asia after his defeat at Thermopylae. I suppose it must be that this material was already reserved for the same publisher's forthcoming Roman Conquests: Asia Minor, Syria, and Armenia, but I think it makes more chronological sense and better reflects its source material as a part of this book.

This book will not supplant the relevant sections of the Cambridge Ancient History3 as the best introduction for the non-specialist to Roman intervention in Hellenistic Greece. It does have advantages of format and cost, and boasts a consistently strong narrative voice. Ultimately it is up to the reader to decide if one's interest is met by a book that is entertaining and balances reporting and analysis well, but contains infelicities of the sort sampled above.


1.   R. T. Ridley, "To be Taken with a Pinch of Salt: The Destruction of Carthage" Classical Philology 81.2 (1986) 140-146.
2.   E. Badian, "Rome and Antiochus the Great: A Study in Cold War" Classical Philology 54 (1959) 81-99 and E. Gruen, "Greek Πίστις and Roman Fides" Athenaeum 60 (1982) 50-68.
3.   The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume VIII: Rome and the Mediterranean to 133 B.C., Second edition (Cambridge 1989).

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John D. Grainger, The Syrian Wars. Mnemosyne Supplements 320. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2010. Pp. xvii, 447. ISBN 9789004180505. $200.00.

Reviewed by Stanley M. Burstein, California State University, Los Angeles (

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The Syrian Wars are one of the "bugbears" of Hellenistic historiography. The root cause of the wars was the occupation of Koile Syria by Ptolemy I in 301 BC; and for over a century, beginning in the 270s BC, the Ptolemies and Seleucids fought over this territory at least once a generation. Reconstructing the history of this series of wars—cumulatively almost forty years of campaigns and combat—is, however, difficult, to say the least. The chronology and the sequence of events of many of the wars are unclear, and in the case of the Second Syrian War even who can be said to have won is open to question. Historians even differ concerning how many Syrian Wars they recognize, with the number varying between six and the nine discussed in this study.

What is behind these difficulties, of course, is the wretched state of the sources, which are worse, indeed, than is the case for many other aspects of Hellenistic history. Narrative sources are episodic or non-existent. Indeed, only with the outbreak of the Fourth Syrian War in 221 BC is a comprehensive narrative of a Syrian War provided by Polybius. Although inscriptions, papyri, and cuneiform texts—especially the Babylonian Astronomical Diaries—fill some of the gaps in the literary evidence, they also all too often raise more questions than answers. In this situation it is understandable that the bulk of the scholarship on the Syrian Wars consists of articles instead of books, and that John D. Grainger's new book is the first monograph devoted to analyzing the whole series of wars from the origin of the conflict in the wars of Alexander's Successors to Kleopatra VII's unsuccessful attempt in the 30s BC to use Roman patronage to restore her dynasty's position in Syria-Palestine.

The Syrian Wars is a distinguished addition to Dr. Grainger's numerous works on the history of the Seleucids. In many ways The Syrian Wars is an old fashioned work. It is narrative history in the tradition of E. Bevan's classic The House of Seleucus (London 1902). The focus is on diplomatic and military history interpreted in the light of the geo-political constants of Syria-Palestine. The book, however, is intended to do more than merely reconstruct the history of a frustratingly obscure series of wars. Rather, the author offers a radical new interpretation of Hellenistic history based on the Syrian Wars being "the central diplomatic and political and military factor in international affairs in the Hellenistic world from 301 to 128, and…more important for the first century of that period than anything which happened in the Western Mediterranean….The Syrian Wars were a major cause of both the power of the two dynasties (sc. the Ptolemies and Seleucids), but also of their destruction (p. 419)."

The history of the Syrian Wars is a complicated story, and the author tells it well. The structure of his book is clear and lucid. After an introduction outlining Alexander's campaign in Syria and a prologue recounting the process by which Ptolemy I gained control of Koile Syria, the narrative proceeds chronologically through the nine wars recognized by the author. The treatment of each war is divided into two chapters: the first analyzes the results of the previous war and their significance for the next, and the second narrates the war itself. The history of the wars, as the author reconstructs it, falls into four periods. The first begins with Ptolemy I's occupation of Koile Syria and ends with Ptolemy III's victory in the Third Syrian War and the virtual disintegration of the Seleucid kingdom. The second, which covers the reign of Antiochus III, begins with his failure to conquer Koile Syria in the Fourth Syrian War and ends with his success in the Fifth Syrian War, a success that was facilitated by the internal collapse of Ptolemaic Egypt due to native revolts and the "sloth" of Ptolemy IV. The third, which extends from Antiochus III's defeat by the Romans to the "Day of Eleusis", is limited to the Sixth Syrian War and its background and ends with Roman recognition of Seleucid rule of Koile Syria and the independence of Egypt. The fourth and final period embraces the Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Syrian Wars and is marked, on the one hand, by the chimerical project of uniting the two kingdoms, a goal that briefly seemed within reach during the reign of Ptolemy VI, and, on the other hand, by chronic and debilitating dynastic disputes that sapped the strength of both Ptolemaic Egypt and the Seleucid state.

Reconstruction of this long and complex story is an impressive achievement. Various themes recur throughout it, but three stand out: (1) the resilience of the unitary Ptolemaic kingdom in contrast to the "ramshackle" character of the Seleucid state that rendered it vulnerable to disintegration; (2) the limitation of the wars to roughly one per generation because of the diplomatic "rule" that treaties remained in force during the lifetimes of the signatories; and (3) the effectiveness of the defensive system created by the Ptolemies in Koile Syria in frustrating Seleucid intervention in the area during the third century BC.

As was mentioned earlier, The Syrian Wars is old-fashioned narrative history, and it has the virtues and vices of the genre. On the one hand, the author has a big story to tell, and he tells it well. Particularly effective is his lucid exposition of the close connection between the kings' concentration on gaining or maintaining control of Koile Syria and such phenomena as Ptolemy II's fiscal reorganization of Egypt and the Seleucid loss of Iran, Bactria, and Asia Minor. Also, welcome is his revisionist treatment of the Maccabee revolt as primarily a local problem with limited impact on the Seleucid state as a whole. On the other hand, the author is not as critical of the sources as he might be. So, for example, he too readily accept Polybius' and Josephus' negative characterizations of Ptolemy IV and Alexander Balas, although in the latter case he does note that Balas' energetic actions are hard to reconcile with the sources' picture of him as dominated by luxury. Similarly, we are surely entitled to wonder if the "rule" that treaties were honored during the lifetime of their signatories is due more to the deficiencies of the sources than the honor of the Hellenistic kings. Nevertheless, while we may doubt if the Syrian Wars actually do provide the key to understanding the failure of the Hellenistic kingdoms, as the author claims, the fact remains that The Syrian Was is an important contribution to Hellenistic political and military history that should become the standard treatment of its subject for years to come.

Table of Contents




Prologue: Syria's Importance Revealed

1. Syria Divided

2. Cold War

3. The New Kings, and the First Syrian War

4. Competitive Developing

5. The Second Syrian War

6. Increasing Strains

7. The Third War, the 'War of Laodike'

8. The Seleukid Collapse

9. The Fourth War

10. The Reversal, the Ptolemaic Collapse

11. The Fifth War: the Triumph of Antiochos III

12. Changing Priorities

13. The Sixth War: and the 'Day of Eleusis'

14. Mutual Troubles and a New Agenda

15. The Seventh War, the Triumph of Ptolemy Philometor

16. The Legacy of Philometor

17. The Eighth War, the Last Chance for Union

18. The Ninth, and Last, War

Epilogue: the Ambition of Kleopatra VII




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Miriam Leonard (ed.), Derrida and Antiquity. Classical Presences. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Pp. xi, 406. ISBN 9780199545544. $130.00.

Reviewed by Steven Z. Levine, Bryn Mawr College (

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The aim of the series Classical Presences is "to appropriate the past in order to authenticate the present." In Derrida and Antiquity Miriam Leonard, Lecturer in Greek Literature and its Reception at University College London, gathers twelve essays that clarify the role of ancient authors in the commentaries of Jacques Derrida (1930-2004). Leonard sees Derrida's deconstructions as urgent analyses of our present political moment through rigorous rereadings of canonical texts. The antiquity disclosed in Derrida's readings of Plato, Aristotle, or Augustine is an uncanny inheritance that haunts us today, an antiquity that in its ghostly duplicity is already divided against itself. "The 'one differing from itself,' the hen diapheron heautôi of Heraclitus—that, perhaps, is the Greek heritage to which I am the most faithfully amenable" (p. 36).

This declaration of Derrida's deep Heraclitean affinity is from "We Other Greeks," the newly commissioned translation by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas of Derrida's 1992 response to conference papers by Eric Alliez and Francis Wolff on the critique of Platonism by Derrida and his Parisian colleagues Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault. Placed after Leonard's introduction, this improvised text was never intended to summarize Derrida's views on the legacy of the ancients in twentieth-century culture and politics but was performed as a rejoinder to his critics and may be better read at the end rather than beginning of the volume. By the end, the many instances of self-splitting difference briefly noted by Derrida in an effort to distinguish himself from his colleagues will have been sharply illuminated by the dozen essays to come.

Unlike Gaul, the volume is divided into five parts. Part One, Derrida and the Classical Tradition, opens with "Earmarks: Derrida's Reinvention of Philosophical Writing in 'Plato's Pharmacy,'" by Michael Naas, Professor of Philosophy at DePaul University. "Earmarks" represents the author's effort to invent a word for the unhearable difference inscribed in Derrida's most famous French locution, différance, a neologism that condenses the meanings of "differ" and "defer" in space and time. Famously deployed in Derrida's 1967 landmark text, Of Grammatology, the oscillating self-difference of "différance" finds its viral embodiment in "Plato's Pharmacy" (1972) in pharmakon, a word meaning both remedy and poison in Socrates' myth of the origin of writing in Plato's Phaedrus. On the one hand, writing was invented as a convenient pharmakon-remedy for human forgetfulness; on the other, writing is a deadly pharmakon-poison that vitiates healthy memory. Such identification of a duplicitous "animot" (p. 71), an unstable word that textually behaves like an unruly animal, encapsulates the trademark Derridean event of rereading whereby the would-be stability of meaning upon which the entire Platonic philosophical edifice depends comes undone as an effect of the ineliminable ambiguity of language. Whereas some classicists have rejected Derrida's readerly gambit as willful inattention to the plain meaning of words, Naas insists on the potential new meanings that ancient texts are shown to disclose. As opposed to a traditional hermeneutics that seeks to recover an inherent meaning of the text, the Derridean practice of generating new meanings goes by the name "dissemination," a metaphor pointing to the corporeality of Plato's words and our embodied acts of rereading.

The next essay, "Derrida and Presocratic Philosophy," is lucidly presented by Erin O'Connell, Associate Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature at the University of Utah. "It is to Heraclitus that I refer myself in the last analysis," says Derrida in 1968 (p. 83), but O'Connell goes well beyond his limited remarks on the early Greek philosopher. O'Connell lines up passages from Derrida alongside writings by Anaximander, Parmenides, and Heraclitus to show their shared conviction that reference to the external and internal things of the cosmos and the psyche is inevitably constrained by the artificial medium of language itself. It is by returning to the sayings of the presocratic philosophers that O'Connell urges a Derridean overture to a still unknown future.

The final essayist in Part One, Stephen Gersh, Professor of Medieval Studies at the University of Notre Dame, describes a Derrida deeply identified with Saint Augustine in "Negative Theology and Conversion: Derrida's Neoplatonic Compulsions." Born into a Jewish family on the rue saint-Augustin in Algiers and later the author of an Augustinian Circumfession (1991) in which he, like his fellow North African confessionalist, cries over the death of his mother on the far Mediterranean shore as he cries out to a silent God, Derrida is compelled by the shattering event of Augustine's conversion to compose his philosophical autobiography as a uniquely personal act of "making the truth" rather than claiming to state the truth's impersonal universality. The negative void of truth around which Derridean difference traces its endless circle is said to resemble the protocols of negative theology whereby no elaboration of attributes will ever be deemed adequate to a description of the divinity, but in his conclusion Gersh assails the shortcomings of Derrida's understanding of the "immanent" core of Neoplatonism.

Miriam Leonard's essay, "Derrida Between Greek and Jew," opens Part Two on Antiquity and Modernity. In 1984 Derrida says, "I consider my own thought, paradoxically as neither Greek, nor Jewish. I often feel that the questions I attempt to formulate on the outskirts of the Greek philosophical tradition have as their 'other' the model of the Jew, that is, the Jew-as-other" (p. 136). In Derrida's writings on Hegel, Kant, and Heidegger, Leonard traces the unstable opposition between the particularist figure of the tribal Jew and the universalized Christian subject through which modern European identity asserts itself. For Derrida, the unconditional universality of the categorical imperative is fundamentally tinged with the evangelism of the Roman church, and thus he insists that our contemporary condition of American-style globalization should better be understood "Globalatinization," for it is not Athens but Rome that paves the way of imperial capitalism. "Coming as I do from the other Mediterranean shore," Derrida looks back at Europe from the South and East and invites his fellow Westerners to harken to Jerusalem. As one of his favorite authors, James Joyce, writes, "Jewgreek is greekjew. Extremes meet."

Daniel Orrells, Lecturer in Classics at the University of Warwick, seeks to recover the antique past through the archaeological reconstructions of Freudian psychoanalysis in "Derrida's Impressions of Gradiva: Archive Fever and Antiquity." In Wilhelm Jensen's 1903 novella Gradiva: A Pompeian Fantasy, the protagonist travels to the buried city of Pompeii to look for the real female equivalent of a walking figure in an ancient relief whom he names Gradiva and who uncannily appears as the ghost of his forgotten childhood love. Commenting on the character's apparent delusion, Freud proposes the burial of Pompeii as a metaphor of repression and the archaeological excavation and reconstruction of the city as a metaphor of the interpretative procedures of psychoanalysis. Commenting on Freud's commentary in Archive Fever (1995), Derrida finds here an instance of the uncanny character of the copy that precedes the appearance of the original, or "the ghost of originary iterability that haunts the uniqueness of the event from its origin" (p. 184). Just as the constitution of the archaeological archive requires the supplement of psychoanalysis to make the distortions in the buried material visible so too does the ghostly truth of ancient philosophy require the deconstruction of Derrida to be brought to light.

Part III, A Politics of Antiquity, opens with an essay by Rachel Bowlby, Professor of English at University College London, called "Derrida's Dying Oedipus." Attending to Derrida's meditation on the homelessness of the woman foreigner, Oedipus' daughter Antigone, in Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus, Bowlby juxtaposes the exiled parricide's insistence that the place of his burial be kept secret with the consequent disallowing of his incestuous daughter's right to mourn at his grave. Here again we encounter the familiar Derridean structure of the deferral of meaning, for the killing of Laius and marrying of Jocasta only became traumatic when they took on new significance for the unknowing Oedipus and his innocent issue who must bear the burden of his fate.

In "Possible Returns: Deconstruction and the Placing of Greek Philosophy," Andrew Benjamin, Professor of Critical Theory and Philosophical Aesthetics at Monash University, mines the writings of Derrida to extract the mineral of Greek philosophy as an ore of hybridity, plurality, conflict, and alterity. Interpretation is thus seen as a mode of welcoming the stranger Oedipus into the community even though he is not subject to its laws. To acknowledge the unconditional hospitality due to the one beyond the law is to observe the irreducible gap between the arbitrary limits of any given set of laws and the transcendental force of justice that may require a violent suspension of those laws in the face of the arrival of the unknown stranger.

The theme of the homeless stranger is extended in "Derrida Polutropos: Philosophy as Nostos" by Bruce Rosenstock, Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. Throughout the decades of Derrida's career his manifold turns of deconstruction constitute a continuously renewed homecoming to philosophy's own unhomeliness within. From "White Mythology" (1971), where he interrogates Aristotle's positing of metaphor as an illicit transport of meaning away from its proper place, to The Politics of Friendship (1994) where he tracks the wayward itinerary of the traveler who, like Odysseus, returns home from the East, Derrida has been relentless in exposing the truth-claims of metaphysics to the deconstructive force of the metaphoricity of language. The white man's mythology, the mythology of whiteness itself, is the effacement of the dazzling "Oriental difference" (p. 247) of the rising sun that would be safely extinguished in the harbors of the West.

"Aristotle's Metaphor" is again the subject of Duncan F. Kennedy, Professor of Latin Literature and the Theory of Criticism at the University of Bristol, whose clarifying essay opens Part IV, The Question of Literature. Aristotle's metaphor is Cicero's translatio, for Derrida no abusive transfer of meaning from proper to improper but rather the play of différance itself, the ceaseless movement of language. Kennedy's essay is paired with that of Mark Vessey, Professor of English at the University of British Columbia, "Writing Before Literature: Derrida's Confessions and the Latin Christian World." Here the Derridean trace of literariness is a quality of "as if" whereby, for example, the truth-telling testimony of Saint Augustine is necessarily accompanied by the possibility of "fiction, perjury, and lie" (p. 309). Whereas Augustine calls upon an omniscient God to ratify his claims, Derrida attributes to his readers alone the power to determine the truth-effects of his texts.

Part V, Platonic Bodies, closes the book with a pair of essays on the corporeality of language and the linguisticality of flesh. Paul Allen Miller, Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature at the University of South Carolina, explores the material mystery of creation in "The Platonic Remainder: Derrida's Khôra and the Corpus Platonicum." Said to be "the mother or receptacle of creation" in Plato's Timaeus (p. 322), the khôra for Derrida is the material of ultimate Platonic irony in which the figural ground of the dialogue is pulled out from under the author's fundamental assertion of the unfigured denotative truth.

The deconstructive dialogue of author and other stages the startling final drama of the book. In "Eros in the Age of Technical Reproductibility: Socrates, Plato, and the Erotics of Filiation," Ika Willis, Lecturer in Reception at the University of Bristol, boyishly claims to receive paternal encouragement from Derrida's famous "buggering" reading in The Post Card (1980) of a medieval manuscript image of Plato pressing up against the back of Socrates' chair to queer the transmission of intergenerational knowledge from antiquity to the present by way of a detour into the "Old Guard leather culture" (p. 350) of San Francisco's sadomasochistic sexual subculture of daddies and boys. This is a remarkably enjoyable coda to a very stimulating book.

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Romeo Schievenin, Nugis ignosce lectitans: studi su Marziano Capella. Polymnia 12. Trieste: Edizioni Università di Trieste, 2009. Pp. vii, 217. ISBN 9788883032707. €20.00 (pb).

Reviewed by John Henderson, King's College, Cambridge (

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This attractively priced and produced paperback is the elegant and incisive product of three decades of sustained investigation and enjoyment of one of the most elaborately written and certainly one of the most written-off texts among Latin classics. Eleven of the thirteen chapters re-present articles first published for the most part in less than easily accessible journals or collections between 1983 and 2008. Together they weave together a sort of skein from prologue to epilogue of Martianus' marvellously audacious prosimetric opera to celebrate Philology's big day. There is virtually no inducement from Anglophone criticism to join this feast, and Schievenin is out on his own among devotees for critical nous and sophistication.

Schievenin's single most exhilarating theme artises from the simple principle that (whether here for kicks or to learn something) we never let slip the framing of the whole wondrous performance as dialogical engagement between author and son (his pupil and his self as pupil) dramatized through multiply self-reflexive montage of the education programme as the re-telling of Satire's story of the harmonized self-explication by the seven approved disciplines. He accentuates the negative: beware all raiders of this lost Art! No excerpt is ever self-contained, no episode is stand-alone, no disquisition ever stands proud of these in-folded layers of texturality fringed by paratextual seriojocularity in verse and prose jabs and stunts from Martian outer space. But discussions regularly develop toward the positive: Medicine and Architectonics are to be extruded, after De nuptiis convokes the elect and the gods to tune in through the nine Muses' party pieces in Book 2 for the harmonics scaled through the remainder of the nine book totality. To create one of the European tradition's greatest powerbooks, catchy insets theme, pattern, and metapoetize the parade of learning massively expounding Learning. True, no actual boy, no matter how native to Latin, can ever have coped with the gorgeous coruscation, the fiendish intricacies; but professors across the Humanities really ought right now to be accessed, once again, what amounts to the most splendiferous assertion ever of the interdependent consonance in the philological curriculum of unitary hermeneutic with fecund stylistics.

As it is, Schievenin's final chapter will gently but painstakingly hang out to dry the only full translation into Italian available (by the almost indefatigable Ilaria Ramelli, who has done so much to promote and enhance Martianus). When he regretfully dubs this a 'lost opportunity' (p.184), would it be too much to hope that he is, De nuptiis fashion, also prepared to turn the spoudogeloious pseudo-goad of Satire upon his own efforts? For these collected articles obviously in no way amount to job done; they must (I urge) launch, not obviate, the full monograph splash for Martianus that they warrant. Otherwise, 'Insomma', Schievenin's Studi will themselves mark 'un'occasione mancata', and this 'Reader' for one won't easily 'Forgive him for Trifling'. Meantime, these articles prove time and again that the grain of this text—a dad roughing up the sceptical teenager with syrupy fantastico-sarcasmo-magical impulsion to go learn about learning learning and even Learning—mocks both the traditionally itemic myopia of experts and any visiting dipper's folly in discounting textual intricality. Schievenin's speciality is to catch scholarship time and again tripping over the referents of narrational shifters—before he forays out into grander, broader themes poetic and pedagogic.

1. Prologue: Schievenin expounds the brief elegiac hymn to Hymenaeus as prequel for Philology as cosmic synthesizer, performing as it hails faith in reasoning, in wisdom; and outlines the double framing exchanges between MC pater and MC junior, and between MC and Satura (hooked to metaliterary featurettes at 6.575-9 and 8.806-09)—both of which dub bantering mutual provocation onto the entire mix, indelibly, for the duration. In this wake-up call, bargain on not one word of neutral, unmarked, monologism. The m. c.'s rejoinder to the boy's scathing but unerring jeer at father's rubbishy chanting à la Isis priest opening up for dawn-chorus worship (self-imagery which will persist through to the close of business after the long winter's night read: 9.999) casts the educational project as a Lucretian, Porphyrian, pagan rallying-cry from Roman Carthage against the Epilogue's autographical context set for the pair locked into their dis/respectful jousting (pietas; see 12 below).

2. egersimos: Schievenin's (aptly philological) word-study probes the term in, out, and through nuptial contexts: used at 1.2, as the morning-after bridal song, it recurs at 9.911 of Harmonia's 'ineffable' maiden speech in the senate in the sky. Schievenin would scotch martial/Martian—associations (p.29 and Addendum).

3. Schievenin next hammers home the thesis that the stake of Varro's Disciplinarum libri in De nuptiis is indirect. The connexion is mediated at 6.639 and 662 through Plin. Nat. Hist. 3.45, 4.77-8, including the naming of Varro; at 4.335 and 5.510, 517 through Cic. Acad. 1.25, 2.119-22—was MC's report at 9.928 of Varro's autopsy report at Res Rust. 3.17.4 itself autoptic? And where Varronian information is involved, as at 3.229-30, on litteratio (cf. Cic. Part. 26) or 8.817, the etymology sidus/sido (cf. De ling. Lat. 7.14) the Discipl. were not MC's source. Instead the entre/es of the maids of honour Philosophy and Paid(e)ia tagged to 'M. Terentius and a few Romulean consulars' at 6.578 will open onto the introduction with Arithemetic at 7.728 of the Varronian model of the full encyclic syllabus, but with that crucial trimming of earthbound Architectonics and Medicine from the advanced quadrivium of 'sciences' set to build upon the core trivium. So MC worked (away) from the master plan minus the master.

4. Under the slogan 'the talents of Paideia', Schievenin unpacks that key pair of featurettes overturing Geometry and Astronomy (Books 6 and 8), where the weave of narrative levels is exposed as the chief phases of the syllabus are art...iculated: Satire intervenes to identify those maids to that ass MC; Satire's sarcasm—'fancy inflicting Silenus on heaven!'—provokes donkey MC to formulate his marzipan poetic, as a face-off between that long-forgotten memory, Philosophy, and deliberate disregard of her richly 'multi-talented' sister Paideia (see 9. below). In these seriocomic negotiations the grounding of the Latin tradition of the West in Philological culture is graphically delivered from MC to son, world, and classical futurity (so the envoi poem at 9.997).

5. talentum: a second 'word-study' presentation reclaims 'talent', figurative, in that introduction of Paideia at 6.578, utpote talentorum conscia, from direct inspiration by the NT parable and its Jeromian exegesis: far from picturing evangelical Christian revelation of inner riches as natural gifts, MC perms 'the arts' from the challenging matrix of higher classical education.

6. Still camped in Book 6, at 596-8, Schievenin expounds MC's aptly holistic range of Geometry over all measurement, whether astronomical or terrestrial, while anchoring the chapter on painstaking rescue of MC and/or his MSS from editors and scholarship: far from bungling Eratosthenic measurements of the circumference of the earth as reported in Diomedes' classic account, Geometry fairly explains the operative principles of a complementary set of Eratosthenes' calculations, while not accepting his overall figure.

7. A second barrel of vindication for MC's geometry next rescues his account of the other sectors of the two habitable temperate zones, viz. antoeci, antichthons, antipodes, by pressing their definition as hemispheres pitched from the point of observation relative to the centre of the earth: his consistent (minority but not bungled) nomenclature uses antipodes of a northern temperate zone across from Europe, with our antoeci south of us in the southern zone, and our antichthons opposite us in the southern temperate zone.

8. Fooling around with Fescennine lasciviousness, Venus gets the party going after Geometry's long stretch and in readiness for the number-crunching of MC's seventh heaven. Picking up on her joking with Mercury (6.704-05), the Sex Goddess now whispers an 'indecent proposal' in his ear—to stop drooling over Pallas and (ahem) honour Priapus. Suppressing a giggle, the groom replies just guardedly enough (via cues from Reposianus and Apuleian Cupid). This is turning out to be some wedding.

9. Here Schievenin merrily scotches interference with the paradosis' uel at 8.806 (p.124). Warming up for that second metapoetic ding-dong between Author and Genre thresholding Book 8's Star Turn, Silenus too prompts peals of merriment (cheap laughs, growls Satire)—by stumbling over in a heap when woken from his snores by a smack on the pate from Cupid: not a blushworthy but a fine moment to set out MC's megamix plan of miscere-utile-dulci for an unbuttoned chewing-over at the reception. If it was good enough for Eclogue 6 (with splashes of Ovid, Nemesian, Apuleius), and it was, Satire should come join in this Martian's echt classical fun, patterned on Martial's ... quoting from Ovid (8.809).

10. Is fabulation—reception of Astronomy's speech by the guests—missing from the end of book 8 (887) ? No, explains Schievenin, adducing the explicits of Books 4 and 9, and gently protesting that Venus at once motivates the abrupt ending as interruption, as she protests that what is threatening the occasion is Astronomy's learned longueurs: quis modus? (9.888, v.3) Contrast the matching protest over (in)decorum that opened the preceding book (and chapter from Schievenin).

11. For once in line with Willis' Teubner, Schievenin defends iussa at 8.803, adducing iussus at 9.904 (p.143). But from this lectio out rolls a storyline arc tracking through the whole panoply of De nuptiis which steadily assumes its bulging cast of players into the celestial hierarchy, according to strict rankings that rise from the scheduled Arts programme for mortal beginners through the ancient 'heroes' and up to the more recent 'sapients' of the advanced specialisms, alongside the gods surrounding Jupiter, up on his feet, at the crunch, when after intense instruction in virile rhythms and feminine melody exeunt omnes escorting the bride to bed, and—yes, MC must've been there (p.155).

12. In fact, MC reserves the last word for himself, through a sphragis poem leavened by more grappling with scornful Satire, as MC blames her for their great sprawling work, while she targets his lightweight feebleness. In recovering self-promotion from this send-up, Schievenin homes on the phrase proconsulari ... culmine (9.999, v.8), identified as, not a claim to authorial eminence (p.168), but a reference to the Byrsa, acropolis of Carthage, with the courts operating at its foot, i.e. the officialdom from which MC stands proudly independent, another self-inventing, workaholic, unfunded, orator in the Demosthenes-Cicero mould. Does this give a terminus ante for De nuptiis of 429 (and the last procos. in Africa before the Vandals' rex was installed)? After more close teasing-out, Schievenin accepts among offered termini post the Sack of Rome (and 411), from 6.637 (p.170, defending from emendation the hapax caeliferis and its double reference to apotheosis and to Atlas). Doctrinally, MC is stationed after Iamblichus' work of the 330s; he goes unmentioned until Fulgentius (pp.172-3).

13. Finally, in usum editorum, Schievenin puts the Ramelli translation through the shredder, warning of many pitfalls between any reader and the work, not least in the shape of tralatician errors and references to long-superseded editions.

De nuptiis is just the text if you want to chortle away while you recover enthusiasm for classical rhetoric intelligently lavished on the just cause of literae humaniores. But most (all) of us need the proper battery of aids if we're going to manage this ornate splendorama of florid Latin prose. Schievenin helps show what a ball this could and should be. Thus far, the groom's still waiting at the altar.

1. 'Il prologo di Marziano Capella': pp. 1-17.

2. Egersimos: risvegli e resurrezioni': pp.19-29.

3. 'Varrone e Marziano Capella': pp.31-45.

4. 'I talenti di Pedia': pp.47-59.

5. 'Per la storia di talentum ': pp.61-74.

6. 'Eratostene e le misurazioni della circonferenza terrestre (Mart. Cap. VI 596-8)': pp.75-87.

7. 'Gli scandalosi antipodi di Marziano Capello': p.88-103.

8. 'Venere alle nozze di Filologia e Mercurio. Una proposta indecente?': pp.105-19.

9. 'Racconto, poetica, modelli di Marziano Capella nell'episodio di Sileno': pp.121-36.

10. 'Il libero VIII del De nuptiis è mutilo? (Mart. Cap. VIII 887)': pp.137-41.

11. 'Eroi e filosofi nel De nuptiis di Marziano Capella (VIII 803; IX 904)': pp.143-55.

12. 'Marziano Capella e il proconsulare culmen': pp.157-73.

13. 'Trappole e misteri di una traduzione': pp.175-84.

(Bibliography and indices: pp.185-211)

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Giovannangelo Camporeale, Giulio Firpo (ed.), Arezzo nell'antichità. Roma: Giorgio Bretschneider editore, 2009. Pp. vii, 293; 28 p. of plates. ISBN 9788876892448. €80.00.

Reviewed by Maria Federica Petraccia, Università di Genova (

Version at BMCR home site

Il volume intende offrire una sintesi dei risultati più significativi conseguiti nei singoli ambiti disciplinari relativi alla storia di Arezzo nell'antichità, dalle origini pre- e protostoriche fino a tutto il VI secolo d.C. (pp. 237-253), indicando nel contempo le prospettive di un ulteriore allargamento e approfondimento degli studi.

Situata nel cuore dell'Etruria tra Cortona e Fiesole, la città non conserva le vestigia architettoniche del suo illustre passato etrusco, sebbene sia stato e continui ad essere uno dei centri su cui maggiormente si è appuntata l'attenzione degli studiosi in seguito ad eccezionali ritrovamenti quali le statue bronzee della Minerva e della Chimera, avvenuti nel 1541 e 1553.

In queste condizioni, disegnare un quadro omogeneo dei differenti aspetti della storia della città antica è reso praticamente impossibile dal carattere discontinuo delle testimonianze analizzate, sotto differenti prospettive, da una trentina di specialisti a volte in evidente disaccordo tra loro per quanto attiene all'interpretazione dei dati e archeologici e letterari a disposizione. Giovannangelo Camporeale e Luigi Firpo, i curatori del volume, dopo una premessa in cui chiariscono come esso rappresenti il risultato di un progetto che l'Accademia Petrarca di Lettere Arti e Scienze di Arezzo porta avanti dal 2007 (p. VII), hanno suddiviso i contributi in tre gruppi:

(1) Per una storia delle scoperte e delle ricerche su Arezzo antica (Giovannangelo Camporeale, L'antichità, il Medioevo, il Rinascimento, il Seicento, pp. 3-14; Cristina Cagianelli, Il Settecento, pp. 15-26; Sara Faralli, L'Ottocento, pp. 26-32);

(2) Una sezione, la più corposa del volume, comprendente una serie di contributi tematici, classificati in ordine cronologico e relativi ai differenti aspetti della storia e dell'archeologia di Arezzo (Giuseppe Tanelli, Storia geologica e antiche georisorse della terra d'Arezzo, pp. 33-38; Fabio Martini, Preistoria dell'aretino: documenti, problemi e ipotesi nel quadro dell'archeologia delle origini in Toscana, pp. 39-48; Alberto Nocentini, Il nome di Arezzo, pp. 49-54; Giovannangelo Camporeale, Arezzo in età etrusca: profilo storico, pp. 55-82; Giulio Firpo, La più antica attestazione del Casentino, 83-86; Stefano Bruni, Arezzo etrusca: l'artigianato artistico, pp. 87-104; Luigi Donati, Il ruolo di Chiusi nella cultura di Arezzo, pp. 105-112; Adriano Maggiani, La Chimera bronzea di Arezzo, pp. 113-124; Jean-Paul Morel, Le produzioni ceramiche a vernice nera di Arezzo, pp. 125-134; Luciano Agostiniani, Aspetti epigrafici e linguistici delle iscrizioni etrusche di Arezzo, pp. 135-142; Franca Maria Vanni, Una zecca ad Arezzo in epoca etrusca?, pp. 143-150; Armando Cherici, Genesi e sviluppo di Arezzo etrusca e romana, pp. 151-168; Marta Sordi, Roma, l'Etruria e Arretium nel I secolo a.C., pp. 169-176; Giulio Firpo, Lo status di Arretium in età tardorepubblicana e imperiale, pp. 177-186; Marco Buonocore, Istituzioni e famiglie di Arretium in età romana, pp. 187-196; Pierfrancesco Porena, Gaio Cilnio Mecenate, pp. 197-204; Francesca Paola Porten Palange, La ceramica aretina, pp. 205-216; Giusto Traina, Tigranus e Bargathes: due armeni ad Arretium, pp. 217-218; Giandomenico De Tommaso, Arte romana ad Arretium, pp. 219-226; Giovanni Uggeri, La viabilità romana nel territorio di Arretium, pp. 227-236; Pierluigi Licciardello, Le origini cristiane di Arretium, pp. 237-246; Alberto Fatucchi, La più antica documentazione della cristianizzazione nel territorio aretino, pp. 247-252);

(3) Un gruppo di contributi relativi alle Indagini archeologiche recenti nel territorio provinciale aretino (Silvia Vilucchi, Il Valdarno superiore. Arezzo e il suo territorio, pp. 255-260; Margherita Gilda Scarpellini, Castiglion Fiorentino, pp. 261-263; Monica Salvini, La Valtiberina, pp. 264-267; Luca Fedeli, Il Casentino e la Valdichiana orientale, pp. 268-271; Silvia Vilucchi, Il Museo Archeologico Nazionale «Gaio Cilnio Mecenate» di Arezzo, pp. 272-277).

L'opera è corredata, oltre che da un indice delle fonti (p. 279) e da un indispensabile indice dei nomi propri (pp. 281-293), da 28 tavole a colori e in bianco e nero (oltre a numerose illustrazioni inserite a corredo dei singoli testi, utile sussidio per una lettura più agevole degli stessi).

Tutti i contributi sono di elevato valore scientifico. All'interno della seconda sezione del volume, quella che come si è detto è la più corposa, trovano posto numerosi contributi relativi alla storia e all'archeologia di Arezzo.

Per quanto attiene alla storia, certamente degno di rilievo è quello che reca la firma di Alberto Nocerini (pp. 49-54), che sviscera in modo chiaro ed esaustivo il problema tuttora irrisolto dell'origine del nome latino di Arezzo (quello etrusco non si conosce); molto utile ai fini della ricostruzione del sistema viario del territorio aretino l'indagine effettuata da Giovanni Uggeri (p. 227-236); di grande interesse sono anche le nutrite sintesi relative alla storia della città etrusca e romana curate da Giovannangelo Camporeale, Armando Cherici, Marta Sordi – in quello che fu probabilmente il suo ultimo lavoro – Giulio Firpo, Marco Buonocore e Pierfrancesco Porena (pp. 55-82; 151-168; 169-176; 177-186; 187-196; 197-204). L'aspetto linguistico delle iscrizioni aretine, le più antiche delle quali risalgono alla metà del VI secolo a.C., è indagato da Luciano Agostiniani e da Giulio Firpo (pp. 135-142; 83-86), il quale analizza in modo esaustivo il testo inciso su una lamina bronzea, ascrivibile all'inizio del III secolo a.C. e menzionante quasi certamente un comandante marso di nome Caso Cantovio.

Ma Arezzo in epoca antica deve la propria fama anche e soprattutto alle opere di artigianato artistico recuperate nel corso dei secoli dal suolo aretino, che testimoniano della ricchezza e della vitalità culturali della sua élite municipale (pp. 219-225).

Le prime testimonianze relative alla presenza di santuari e di un impianto proto urbano nel suo territorio sembrano risalire al VII secolo a.C., secolo in cui risulta già fiorente l'industria metallurgica, che diverrà molto presto una delle basi dell'economia aretina, come testimonia l'abbondanza di ritrovamenti di armi, attrezzi agricoli e soprattutto di statue in bronzo, come la famosa Chimera (pp. 87-104 e 113-124), opera collocabile cronologicamente all'inizio del IV secolo a.C., che si può ritenere il prodotto di una bottega di coroplasti e bronzieri etruschi e magnogreci, formatasi probabilmente in qualche area del medio corso del Tevere e spintasi nell'Etruria del nord al servizio della ricca clientela locale (pp. 87-104). Di questa ricca committenza doveva far parte anche la gens Cilnia, la gens di Caio Cilnio Mecenate, il grande patrono di poeti e letterati, amico di Augusto (pp. 197-204). L'industria metallurgica aretina dovette avere anche le capacità materiali (materie prime e manodopera specializzata) per produrre monete: è questa l'ipotesi formulata da Franca Maria Vanni che accenna alla probabile presenza nel territorio cittadino, di un atelier monetario a cui andrebbe fatto risalire il cosiddetto gruppo della "ruota" attivo nel III secolo a.C. (pp. 143-149).

Restando sempre nell'ambito della produzione artistica aretina, una posizione di primo piano la occupano la ceramica a vernice nera, di cui la città iniziò ad essere produttrice a partire dal IV secolo a.C. (pp. 125-133) e quella a vernice rossa, collocabile cronologicamente intorno alla prima metà del I secolo a.C. Arezzo fu rinomata anche per la produzione di vasi cosiddetti a rilievo i cui precedenti vanno ricercati nelle officine ceramiche ellenistiche e in quella italo-megarese e che si fa convenzionalmente iniziare intorno al 30 a.C. (pp. 205-216; cfr. pp. 217-218, in cui Giusto Traina affronta il problema della possibile origine armena dei due ceramografi Tigranus e Bargathes).

Fu solo verso la fine del Rinascimento che nacque un vero e proprio interesse per la storia della città antica, al tempo dei primi eccezionali ritrovamenti di iscrizioni, sculture e mosaici, che colpirono non solo la nobiltà fiorentina ma lo stesso Cosimo I de' Medici che s'improvvisò lui stesso restauratore di metalli, sotto l'occhio vigile di Benvenuto Cellini (pp. 9, 113). Si dovrà tuttavia attendere l'inizio del secolo successivo perché Cosimo II de' Medici inviti l'erudito scozzese Thomas Dempster a scrivere la prima opera interamente dedicata all'Etruria che riserva un posto significativo alle antichità di Arezzo, dal titolo 'De Etruria regali libri VII', rimasta inedita fino al 1723 (p. 11). Il XVIII secolo è dominato dalla personalità del fiorentino Anton Francesco Gori, l'autore di un imponente corpus di iscrizioni etrusche. Ma è nel diciannovesimo secolo che cominciano a prendere corpo ad Arezzo iniziative quali, nel 1823, la creazione del museo archeologico e di storia naturale della città (Silvia Vilucchi, pp. 272-277), grazie anche alla presenza di Gian Francesco Gamurrini, grande protagonista dell'archeologia ottocentesca (pp. 30-31).

Indubbiamente questo ambizioso volume curato da Camporeale e da Firpo costituirà d'ora in avanti uno strumento imprescindibile per chiunque si accinga ad affrontare lo studio dell'Etruria in generale e di Arezzo in particolare, considerato anche l'indubbio valore scientifico dei contributi che recano tutti la firma di studiosi di chiara e riconosciuta fama internazionale in questo ambito di studi.

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Catherine Johns, The Hoxne Late Roman Treasure: Gold Jewellery and Silver Plate. London: British Museum Press, 2009. Pp. x, 278. ISBN 9780714118178. £60.00.

Reviewed by Kirsten Ataoguz, Indiana University Purdue University, Fort Wayne (

Version at BMCR home site

In the early fifth century, Romano-Britons of unknown identity buried a large quantity of coins, gold jewelry, silver spoons, and other precious objects in an oak chest measuring roughly 24 x 18 x 12 inches. Almost 1,600 years later, in 1992, Eric Lawes discovered the treasure with a metal detector while looking for a lost hammer on a farm in the county of Suffolk. Lawes refrained from removing the valuables on his own and notified the authorities, thereby making possible a proper archaeological excavation of the treasure. Peter Guest published the coins in 2005 in The Late Roman Gold and Silver Coins from the Hoxne Treasure, and in 2009, Catherine Johns published the remaining items in The Hoxne Late Roman Treasure: Gold Jewellery and Silver Plate. Johns authored most of the text of this second volume, but incorporated essays by others, as detailed in the contents listed at the end of this review.

In addition to the 15,234 coins published by Guest, the treasure includes: twenty-nine pieces of gold jewelry – a body chain, six necklaces, three rings, nineteen bracelets; twelve silver vessels – most notable among them, a tigress-shaped handle and four piperatoria (pepper pots) in the shapes of a female bust, an ibex, Hercules wrestling the giant Antaeus, and a hound attacking a hare; and, ninety-eight silver spoons, four silver strainers, nine cosmetic utensils, and four fragments from an ivory pyxis. The objects bear fifty-three inscriptions, including twenty-one monogram crosses and twenty-seven personal names. The "Equivalent Gold Weight" of the Hoxne Treasure has been calculated as the fifth largest in the world, ahead of both the Sevso and Mildenhall Treasures.1 The inclusion of the "Empress" Pepper Pot (No. 33) in the History of the World in 100 Objects by the BBC and the British Museum argues well for both the general interest and scholarly relevance of this hoard.

Johns analyzes the objects by type in a sequence of six essays. Her thoroughness often preempts the contributions of her collaborators, and the catalogue merely summarizes her observations. A more integrative organization would have better presented the material. Furthermore, within her typologically organized analyses, Johns's discussions range far beyond the immediate study of the objects in the hoard. The more interpretative material would have been better suited to separate essays on specific themes. In particular, Johns's insights about dining customs (130-131) and the nature of jewelry collecting (59) merit more extensive and dedicated discussion with reproduced comparanda.

The absence of topical essays also leaves problems incompletely explored and intriguing connections unmade. For example, the potency of an old coin mounted onto the clasp of the body chain(No. 1)2 and a gem setting evoking early medieval metalwork on its front render the question of how a woman would have worn the body chain far more intriguing (27). If she wore it underneath her clothing, then the coin and even perhaps the gems would have certainly functioned as amulets. If she wore it outside her clothing, then the apotropaic function of the coin and the gems could have been at least as important as the display of "wealth and taste" (26). The incorporation of a monogram cross through the subtle rounding of one end of a cross to form the rho in the clasp of necklace no. 4 (32) can then be interpreted as another manifestation in the hoard of late antique superstition.

Johns holds some of the most stimulating material in the volume until her "Summaries and Speculations." When she notes the lack of art historical interest in the systematic analysis of the "decorative styles, methods and motifs of Late Roman silver" (208), she repeats an observation that she made twenty years ago.3 Johns acknowledges her use of art historical judgment throughout the catalogue and also challenges archaeologists who view art history as old-fashioned and elitist. Johns may be best positioned to undertake such an endeavor, and thematic essays dedicated to these topics would have greatly enriched the volume.

Her use and defense of art history make unfortunate her own infelicitous use of its methods. Most notably, in a discussion of bracelet no. 23, Johns describes the style of its animals as "naïve to an astonishing degree" (44). She can only attribute its "totally primitive manner" (45) to one of two possibilities – either a child goldsmith or a doting parent or grandparent seeking to preserve a child's drawings on a gold bracelet (46). Johns acknowledges the inappropriate projection of such a modern-seeming "parental besottedness;" nevertheless, she cannot imagine a third or fourth possibility, even when she herself observes that "paradoxically," the drawing gives "a clear impression of craft skill and strong personal style" (45) and that "it is actually easier to identify the animals" (44). In fact, greater art historical sensibilities would have also informed discussion of the "Empress" Pepper Pot, where Johns agonizes over the height of the earrings on the face or the intricacies of the figure's coiffure even while acknowledging that the silversmith likely never saw it being created in real life (85).

Any shortcomings, however, may be easily forgiven in light of Johns's intellectual generosity. She gives her blessing to "new intellectual approaches and new methods" and expresses humility as she offers her theories as "tentative, based on my personal impressions and closer familiarity" (201). Johns concludes the volume with an apologetic for inquiry into the past and an assertion of the value of the subjective response of the modern viewer to the tactile and visual qualities of an object: "Imaginative interpretations based on a feeling that our ancestors would often have responded to events rather as we do ourselves are often viewed askance because they cannot be proved: this does not mean that they have to be wrong." (209) She cautions against intellectual detachment; unfortunately, her own imaginative interpretations demonstrate the risk of insufficient distance between scholar and object.

High quality black-and-white photographs supplemented by line drawings that clarify details and materials amply illustrate the volume; nevertheless, color reproductions between the covers would have greatly favored the objects' precious metals. To conclude, one wonders how the use of tools like Flickr to enable the near immediate sharing of high quality color images of found objects (such as, most recently, with the Staffordshire Hoard) and the resulting collaborative analysis by lay and professionals on blogs and email lists, will change this genre of publication and the thoughtful and sustained, but relatively isolated, deliberation that precedes it.

Contents (unless otherwise noted, author is Catherine Johns): Preface; Acknowledgements; 1 Introduction; Judith Plouviez, Discovery and archaeological investigation of the site; The gold jewellery; Silver vessels; Silver spoons and strainers; Silver toilet utensils, box fittings and miscellaneous items; Objects of ivory, bone and wood; Iron objects; R.S.O. Tomlin, The inscriptions; MR. Cowell and D.R. Hook, The analysis of the metal artefacts; Susan La Niece, Roman gold- and silversmithing and the Hoxne treasure; Caroline Cartwright, Wood and other organic remains; Simon Dove, Conservation of the Hoxne hoard, 1992-7; P.S.W. Guest, Summary of the coins; Summaries and speculations; Catalogue; Judith Plouviez, Appendix 1 Notes on the site in its Roman and post-Roman contexts; Appendix 2 Weights of gold jewellery and silver objects; Summary list of inscriptions; Concordance A Catalogue numbers to contexts; Concordance B Contexts to catalogue numbers; Bibliography; Index.


1.   Richard Hobbs, "Mine's bigger than yours; comparing values of Late Roman hoards," in Roman Finds: Context and Theory, ed. Richard Hingley and Steven Willis (Oxford: Oxbow , 2007), 84.
2.   Henry Maguire, "Magic and Money in the Early Middle Ages," Speculum 72, no. 4 (1997): 1037-1054.
3.   Catherine Johns, "Research on Roman Silver Plate," Journal of Roman Archaeology 3 (1990): 41.

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Richard Hobbs, Ralph Jackson, Roman Britain: Life at the Edge of Empire. London: The British Museum Press, 2010. Pp. 160. ISBN 9780714150611. $19.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Stacey L. McGowen, University of Oxford (

Version at BMCR home site

Over the last century, there has been no shortage of general interest books about Roman Britain, and at first glance at the title, this book appears to be just another. It is, however, a little gem of a book, especially given the relatively reasonable price. The authors are joint curators of the Romano-British collections at the British Museum, and the central focus of their publication is this collection. The authors take the opportunity to discuss a diverse group of objects, most of the finest examples of Romano-British art, which come from a variety of contexts. The focus on the British Museum's collection does lead to a few omissions, for example, the tombstone of Marcus Favonius Facilis or the sculptures from the sanctuary of Sulis Minerva at Bath, but these famous works and a few others are well-covered in other publications. Overall the selection of objects is outstanding for its variety and quality and includes many which might be easily overlooked.

With regard to content, there is nothing much new presented in the way of arguments about Roman Britain. The topics of the chapters offer fairly standard fare on the subject. Following the introductory chapter, the first and last chapters are chronological in presentation, with the former discussing pre-Roman Britain and the latter Britain after the fall. The other chapters are thematic, with topics ranging from the conquest and the army to life in the city and country to trade and religion. Chapter 5, entitled "Language and Literacy", with particular emphasis on the Vindolanda Tablets, which also appear in the chapter about trade, is particularly interesting, as is the small but frequent mention of the Roman navy's role in Britain, a topic not often covered in introductory books about Roman Britain.

Each chapter begins with a brief excerpt from an ancient source, literary or non-literary, relevant to the chapter's theme. For example, Chapter 2 on pre-Roman Britain begins with Diodorus Siculus' assessment of the pre-Roman inhabitants of the island, and Chapter 5 opens with Tacitus' account of Agricola's methods in bringing Latin to the Britons. Chapter 8, which discusses religious life, begins with a translation of a dedication to Silvanus, an unusual choice as Silvanus has nothing in particular to do with Britain. Perhaps a stronger one might have been something from Coventina's Well in Carraburgh or the sanctuary of Sulis Minerva at Bath, both of which are much more expressions of Romano-British religion rather than simply Roman religion in general. Also, the choice of Seneca to open Chapter 7 on town and country living is a bit odd because it is the only one of the selections with no apparent connection to Roman Britain at all. These textual sources do, however, give the reader a good introduction to the types of ancient textual evidence that survives on the topic of Britain.

The focus of each of the chapters is, however, the objects themselves, and the text unfolds largely around them. Many of the selections are fantastic little objects that do not receive much attention elsewhere, if any at all. For example, on p. 42 is a second-century souvenir bowl from Hadrian's Wall, and on p. 52 is a bronze figurine of a North African Moorish cavalryman. Within each chapter is a two-page spread entitled "In Focus" that brings together several objects on a similar theme or presents multiple objects from the same context. It is valuable to see many of the pieces from the so-called Jeweller's Kit from Snettisham (p. 94-95) as well as the hoard from Water Newton (p. 136-137) together, as you would in the museum but are unable to in any other text (to my knowledge). A third example involves cavalry sports equipment (including the Ribchester Helmet), a topic infrequently discussed in other texts on Roman Britain, much less illustrated to this extent.

Although the number of books aimed at general audiences about Roman Britain overall is high, particularly when compared those concerning other Roman provinces, even the European ones, the number of works on the topic of Romano-British art is relatively small. Martin Henig's The Art of Roman Britain remains the standard text,1 and certainly Hobbs and Jackson's book will not supplant it. But what really sets their publication apart are the illustrations. Although a short book of only 160 pages, it has 125 color illustrations with more than thirty full-page images. Moreover, the images are a mix of general views and top-quality details. For example, on p. 92 appears an image of pair of leather shoes from Southfleet together with a close-up of the stitching.

The book has no footnotes or endnotes, as is customary for a work aimed at a general audience, and in spite of the number and quality of the images, it does not have a list of illustrationss. This proves somewhat problematic because it is not entirely clear which of the objects depicted are currently held in the British Museum (the text on the cover flap says that the illustrations are "mainly drawn from the British Museum's world-class collection"). More importantly, it is impossible to know where they are currently held, if not by the British Museum. Though the captions for the images are generally substantial and informative, sometimes this sort of detail is lacking here as well. For example, on p. 93 is a beautiful image of a soldier's shoe and a hob-nailed shoe, but the caption gives no indication of where or in what contexts these objects were discovered. These sorts of omissions are, however, infrequent.

One curious choice of image is that of the famous floor mosaic from Hinton St. Mary, the central tondo of which may be one of the earliest images of Christ. The tondo was, however, only a small part of a large mosaic, including not only decorative patterning but also additional figural scenes, such Bellerophon slaying the Chimera. In 1997, the mosaic was removed from display in the Museum, and since then, somewhat controversially, only the central tondo has been exhibited. Likewise, it is only the tondo that is depicted in the book. As already noted, one of the high points of the book is that it provides excellent images, both wide-shots and details, and this would seem to be the perfect opportunity for such a presentation – why not present the mosaic in full as well as the detail of the important central figure, especially if one is unable to view the entire piece in the museum.

Because of the nature of this book and its intended audience, some of the more complex topics concerning provincial life and art have been simplified. As a specialist in the field, I take issue with a few choices of terminology and phraseology. For example, on p. 19, the term Romanization is placed in inverted commas, but the authors give no indication why the term might be controversial and thereby require such punctuation. Similarly, on p. 124-5, a group of bronze figurines of deities from Southbroom are discussed in the context of Roman-British religion and are said to be of a "'native' style". Again inverted commas are used, with no indication of the features or attributes that contribute to the designation or why the designation might be debateable. These are, however, only minor quibbles with what is an excellent introduction for the general reader to the Romano-British collections in the British Museum, specifically, as well as the topic in general.


1.   Henig, M. 1995. The Art of Roman Britain. London: Batsford.

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Francis Cairns, Miriam Griffin (ed.), Papers of the Langford Latin Seminar, Fourteenth Volume, 2010: Health and Sickness in Ancient Rome; Greek and Roman Poetry and Historiography. ARCA (Classical and Medieval Texts, Papers and Monographs) 50. Cambridge: Francis Cairns, 2010. Pp. vi, 393. ISBN 9780905205533. $120.00.

Reviewed by C. M. C. Green, University of Iowa (

Version at BMCR home site

The fourteenth volume of Papers of the Langford Latin Seminar is also the fiftieth volume of Francis Cairns' ARCA series Classical and Medieval Texts, Papers and Monographs. The series began with a traditional text, translation and commentary (volume 1), and a collection of papers (volume 2, Papers of the Liverpool Latin Seminar), both published in 1976. Cairns thus began as he meant to go on, publishing both monographs and collections of articles.

The most substantive and lasting contributions to the series over these 34 years are to be found among the monographs—e.g. the English translation of Detlev Fehling's Herodotus and his Sources (1989); McKeown's text and commentary on Ovid's Amores (1987); G. M. Paul's An Historical Commentary on Sallust's Bellum Jugurthinum (1984). There are, it seems, fewer articles that have the same dominance in their field as the monographs, but that surely has more to do with how many of us choose to publish such articles these days (if we write articles at all except for Festschriften and edited volumes on specific subjects). The articles in these collections form a significant part of the scholarly discourse. Overall, the authors of both monographs and articles are as distinguished as any set of contributors to a Classical journal or publishing list, and cover a wide variety of subjects—though there is an understandable bias towards Cairns' own interests in poetry and Latin literature in general. Concerns have been expressed in the past, and no doubt will be again, that Cairns is not much concerned with representing the latest trends in Classical scholarship. This is true. Yet a publisher is entitled to set the tone of his list, and this Cairns undoubtedly does.

The volume under review here, edited by Cairns and Miriam Griffin, is a compilation of articles that originated as papers in the Langford Seminars from 2004-2008, with additional contributions made in response to requests by the editors. The five papers in the section Health and Sickness in Ancient Rome mostly derive from the Spring 2008 Conference organized by Miriam Griffin as Visiting Professor and holder of the George R. Langford Family Eminent Scholar Chair at The Florida State University. Of the remaining seven, four are on Augustan authors, one on Semonides, and one on Statius. The last is a more theoretical work on history as intertext.

The section on health and sickness has the most coherence. The opening article is Vivian Nutton's "Galen in Context", a sparkling and very readable survey of the new directions in Galen studies. Would that more Classicists could write so approachably about their subjects! Graduate students with an interest in Galen should especially be directed to Nutton's article, since he outlines the numerous areas where research is begging to be done.

The following articles in this section showcase the important, and widening, significance of studies of ancient medicine. As Rebecca Fleming's "Pliny and the Pathologies of Empire" makes clear, medical analysis of disease and "plague" served the ideology of empire. A. J. Woodman, in "Community Health: Metaphors in Latin Historiography", shows how medicine provided a metaphor for the health of the body politic. Health and medicine form significant themes for Ovid, who, as Gareth Williams demonstrates, pays considerable poetic attention in the Fasti and the Metamorphoses to these subjects, and—of course—to Apollo's role as sufferer from the sickness of love and healer of that sickness in others. These instances all (as readers of the Ars Amatoria will not be surprised to learn) concern the techne of medicine, its practical application and use. Svetla Slaveva-Griffin reminds us that the theoretical side of medicine is deeply embedded in ancient philosophy, though in Plotinus' case the realities of his personal illnesses gave Porphyry and Firmicus a powerful means of analysis of Plotinus' life and work.

As always, because Cairns allows (encourages?) a variety of discussions that differ widely in length, there is a slightly grab-bag feel to the rest of the collection. For example, while Alex Hardie's "An Augustan Hymn to the Muses (Horace Odes 3.4.), Part II"—a learned, dense and minutely argued piece— extends, at 120 pages, almost to monograph size, Damien Nelis takes only 3 pages to dispense a well-crafted note on the implications of Emathia in Georgics 1 ("Vergil, Georgics 1.489-92: More Blood?"). Robert Maltby continues his work on Tibullus (his Tibullus: text, introduction and commentary, 2002, is one of Cairns' excellent monographs) with "The Unity of Corpus Tibullianum Book 3: Some Stylistic and Metrical Considerations".

On a lighter but nevertheless scholarly note, Frederick Williams deftly surveys ape and human physiognomy, as well as desirable/undesirable secondary sexual characteristics from the point of view of a Greek husband ("Monkey Business in Semonides (fr. 7.75)"). This appears to be part of an on-going debate between Williams, H. D. Jocelyn and David Bain, in which all participants seem to be having a fine time. More solemn and imperially focused are the articles of J. G. F Powell ("Horace, Scythia, and the East"), and Robin Seager on a close reading of passages in which Statius refers directly or indirectly to Domitian ("Domitianic Themes in Statius' Silvae"). Last, but hardly least, is Cynthia Damon's "Déjà vu or déjà lu? History as Intertext", a reflection on the indeterminacy of allusions in historical texts. Is the allusion to the event, or to the narrative in which that event has been captured? This is well worth reading as a gloss on any ancient historian, or indeed—as her reading of Virgil and the head of Pompey indicates—on any poet dealing with historical events.

Thirty-four years is a significant amount of time, and fifty volumes represent a contribution to our field that is more than significant. Cairns—scholar, independent publisher, and tireless organizer of symposia and seminars in the UK and now in the US—deserves our grateful thanks on the occasion of this 50th milestone volume.

Heath and Sickness in Ancient Rome

Vivian Nutton: Galen in Context
Rebecca Flemming: Pliny and the Pathologies of Empire
A. J. Woodman: Community Health: Metaphors in Latin Historiography
Gareth Williams: Apollo, Aesculapius and the Poetics of Illness in Ovid's Metamorphoses
Svetla Slaveva-Griffin: Medicine in the Life and Works of Plotinus

Greek and Roman Poetry and Historiography

Frederick Williams: Monkey Business in Semonides (fr. 7.75)
Damien Nelis: Vergil, Georgics 1.489.92: More Blood?
J. G. F. Powell: Horace, Scythia and the East
Alex Hardie: An Augustan Hymn to the Muses (Horace Odes 3.4) Part II
Robert Maltby: The Unity of Corpus Tibullianum Book 3: Some Stylistic and Metrical Considerations
Robin Seager: Domitianic Themes in Statius' Silvae
Cynthia Damon: Déjà vu or déjà lu? History as Intertext.
Index locorum

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Sunday, March 27, 2011


Sabine Kubisch, Lebensbilder Der 2. Zwischenzeit: Biographische Inschriften der 13.-17. Dynastie. 34. Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2008. Pp. x, 383; 12 p. of plates. ISBN 9783110204957. $151.00.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Frood, University of Oxford (

Version at BMCR home site

Kubisch's monograph, which is based on a doctorate completed at Heidelberg University in 2002, is a concise, clearly written study of the biographical texts inscribed on monuments of non-royal individuals during the Second Intermediate Period (SIP), a time of political fragmentation and foreign rule in Egypt (ca. 1755-1520 BC). The most well-known and well-studied sources are the royal and non-royal texts describing the wars of reunification at its end. However, the biographies span the period and, although many have been published separately, until now they had not been collected and analysed as a group; in this Kubisch's work is a significant contribution. The catalogue, in its detailed presentation of the monuments, is a research tool with considerable potential for students and scholars of SIP history and its political and social structure, as well as of developments in contemporary Syria-Palestine and Sudan. However, Kubisch's presentation is geared primarily to Egyptologists and will not be immediately accessible to scholars outside this area. For example, maps and basic chronological tables are not provided. I hope that this review may encourage the use of her material in wider contexts of research. A recent English summary of her results, including translations of extracts of some texts, is a useful guide to this full study.1

The Second Intermediate Period encompasses the 13th–17th Dynasties of Egyptian history; the composition of these dynasties in terms of time, territory and ruling group remains controversial. The period is most associated with the Hyksos, a name given to rulers of Asiatic origin who gained control over areas of the Delta and places further south from about 1630 BC. However, few texts are known from Hyksos areas of influence, and all the biographies Kubisch includes were found at, or are ascribed to, sites far to the south; the northernmost is Abydos. Kubisch's texts are mostly associated with local Egyptian kingship, either of the 13th Dynasty or that which later emerged in Thebes. A smaller number were found at sites in Upper Nubia (north Sudan) which came under the control of the kingdom of Kush; two of the texts belong to Egyptian officials who served the ruler of Kush (Buhen 1 and 2, pp. 166–171, see also pp. 87–88). Also included is a group statue from Ugarit in Syria, and a statue and two stelae of unknown provenance.

Kubisch's volume consists of two major parts, the analysis (chapters 1–6) and the catalogue (chapter 7). The catalogue presents the texts from 66 individual monuments and is, therefore, the foundation for the whole study. Her analysis is divided into four main chapters, each of which has further section subdivisions. These chapters are: a brief assessment of the physical contexts of the monuments (ch. 2), a large chapter exploring various themes emerging from the texts (ch. 3), a separate analysis of aspects of historical content (ch. 4), and a discussion of approaches to dating (ch. 5). A short introduction (ch. 1) and conclusion (ch. 6) frame the analysis. End materials include indices which are usefully organised under names, titles, Egyptian words, and sources, allowing targeted use for specific questions.

The catalogue is organised by site, with each monument designated by the name of its area of known or presumed provenance and a number, thus Abydos 1, Edfu 2. These are then ordered alphabetically which is user-friendly although arguably a geographical, south-north, order would have been preferable. The catalogue includes basic details for each monument, copy-texts or line-drawings, and transliteration, translation and commentary of the texts. Readable black and white photographs are given for just over half the monuments.

The translations are generally accurate and thoughtful, managing the more difficult texts, of which there are many, convincingly. The commentaries focus on citing parallels from biographies of the Middle and New Kingdoms, laying the ground for Kubisch's comparative thematic discussion (esp. sections 3.1–3.4). However, sometimes the meanings of particular phrases are not fully explained and the numerous secondary sources she cites are not evaluated. Although detailed discussions of all points could have doubled the size of the catalogue, fuller treatment of more unusual vocabulary or phraseology would have enriched the treatments and made the translations more accessible to a broader audience. Some interpretive points are developed in her chapter discussions and it would have been helpful for these to have been more clearly signalled in the notes.

Despite the geographic basis for the catalogue, the discussion of the archaeological context of the texts in the first major chapter (ch. 2) is limited. She briefly enumerates their media (pp. 7–9) – stelae, statues, architectural elements and rock and tomb inscriptions – and provides a useful list of the necropolis sites from which many originated (pp. 9–20). However there is little developed analysis of the evidence for or implications of a particular provenance. An exception which demonstrates the potential of more contextually based studies is her assessment of the ritual language of the texts on three biographical statues of a single individual, the 13th Dynasty vizier Iymeru, set up in the temple of Amun at Karnak (section 3.7; Thebes 1–3).

Kubisch's third and most substantial chapter offers thought-provoking discussions of particular themes and phraseology, pointing the way to further areas of work. It is divided into seven main sections, each summarising and assessing specific motifs or groups of material, such the expression of personal relationships to peers, king and gods (3.1), childhood and upbringing (3.2), and the presentation of desirable characteristics (e.g. eloquence, discretion: 3.3). Kubisch uses these themes to explore the social and political conditions which shaped the texts. She concludes that although there was a fundamental continuity of style and structure in biographies from the Middle Kingdom to the 18th Dynasty (p. 134), the SIP material develops some distinctive themes and motifs, including the relationship of individuals to gods, and pragmatic and realistic grounding in events and experiences (p. 135). An example of the latter is the expression of relationship to local areas. In contrast to generalised characterisations of Middle Kingdom individuals as patrons of their city, the SIP texts stress acts of service to the community (p. 24), in some cases expressed in speeches voiced by citizens (e.g. Edfu 6, El Kab 4). Such speeches may be modelled on the performance of praise which is a feature of royal courts. Themes that locate the individual firmly within his local environment are characteristic of First Intermediate Period biographies, an earlier time of political decentralisation in Egypt; throughout her discussions, Kubisch finds the most meaningful points of comparison in this material. This is broadly convincing, although the social and political structures of the SIP would have been very different so the selection of such motifs probably had a different range of connotations. For example, unlike many First Intermediate Period texts, traditional kingship remained crucial to self-presentation. However, as Kubisch argues, expressions of royal love and favour were often responses to particular acts of service in contrast to the all-inclusive statements of the Middle Kingdom, and thus were perhaps more limited (pp. 30–39).

As Kubisch observes, one of the most striking features of the SIP texts is the expression of personal relationships to gods (section 3.1.3), especially in the biographies of priests, to which she devotes a whole section (3.5). While biographies that record personal involvement in cult performances are attested in the Old and Middle Kingdoms, these usually focus on culminating events or are integrated with other activities. The biographies of SIP priests are more detailed in their evocation of daily cult activities, describing access to temple areas (pp. 70–73), recitation of cult texts (e.g. 'one high of voice in the place of silence': El Kab 4b, and pp. 75–76, cf. pp. 54–56) and actions such as breaking seals to sanctuary doors, cleansing central areas, 'revealing' cult statues, and participating in processions (e.g. Thebes 6, with pp. 74–80). An example is Edfu 10, a biography of a priest of Horus Behdety, which integrates the performance of offering ritual in the temple with ancient phraseology of community provision, the culminating verses drawing vividly on military vocabulary ('pounding of step before him (Horus)') to describe his return to the temple (see Kubisch's note to lines 16/17 on p. 213). While these texts offer insights into temple activities, hierarchies (pp. 77–79) and delineations of sacred space, others, including some belonging to civil officials, express a more mutually involving and transforming relationship with the gods: 'one who regenerated his god' (Edfu 18), whose excellence was 'perceived' by the god (e.g. Elephantine 6), who came under special divine protection (Elephantine 5) and who, exceptionally, 'knew the plan of god' (Gebelein 2; see p. 56). One of the most remarkable and well-known SIP texts, that of the priest Horemkhauef (Hierakonpolis 1), reports his receipt of an instruction from Horus, perhaps through an oracle, to travel North to retrieve cult statues from the royal residence (p. 82; cf. El Tod 1 which may also record an oracle). The texts themselves and Kubisch's discussions of them, will contribute to challenging the view, still widely held in Egyptology, that such intimate relationships with gods, especially direct communication, were only possible from the late New Kingdom. Her suggestion that these motifs show how royal patronage was replaced by divine in places far from a royal court is perhaps too limiting (p. 46); rather these texts expand and elaborate ideas that had been expressed earlier, and should be understood in the context of broadly innovating textual production in the SIP.

Section 6 of chapter 3 and chapter 4 explore how the texts thematize the complex political world of the SIP, both explicitly through statements concerning territorial borders and roles in military campaigns, and implicitly through characterisations; a stela fragment of a royal official from Gebelein describes him as: 'one who understands the speech of every foreign land' (Gebelein 2 with note on p. 308: also p. 52). Section 3.6 presents the texts that relate to or were dedicated in Nubia, using them to trace developments in Egyptian involvement during the period. Chapter 4 takes a thematic approach, defining military campaigns and royal building work as key historical events and setting out all the texts that deal with such matters. While these discussions offer few new perspectives on developments in the SIP, bringing this material together allows it to be quickly compared with other forms of evidence, textual and archaeological.

Kubisch's discussions and catalogue are a rich resource for on-going work on the historical and social conditions of the SIP, as well as self-presentation in ancient societies more generally. For example, since most of the texts have a certain or attributable archaeological provenance, contextually based analyses have considerable potential. The recent article by John Baines2 on the 13th Dynasty Abydos stelae of Amenysonbe (Kubisch's Abydos 1–2) shows how the study of biography, related iconography, and context can be productively integrated, in this case to examine questions related to the display of religious concerns. A discussion of iconographic elements of the monuments is included in Kubisch's chapter on dating (5.2, pp. 118–124), but this focus means that specific features cannot be related to the texts in any detailed way. Economic features of self-presentation also seem significant, such as texts which seem to record endowments to a wife (Edfu 17) or to a temple (Edfu 6), the building of houses and shrines (Edfu 3, Edfu 6, Esna 1, El Tod 1), and those which mention maidservants (Edfu 17), sometimes as gifts (Edfu 16, Edfu 21). These are just some examples of many. Thus the importance of Kubisch's work lies as much in the ground it prepares for future work as it does in the new perspectives it offers on this controversial period of Egyptian history.


1.   Biographies of the Thirteenth to Seventeenth Dynasties. Pages 313–327 of M. Marée (ed.), The Second Intermediate Period (Thirteenth – Seventeenth Dynasties): Current research, future prospects. OLA 192. Leuven: Peeters, 2010.
2.   The stelae of Amenisonbe from Abydos and Middle Kingdom display of personal religion. Pages 1–22 of D. Magee, J. Bourriau, and S. Quirke (eds.), Sitting beside Lepsius: Studies in honour of Jaromir Malek at the Griffith Institute. OLA 185. Leuven: Peeters, 2009.

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Feyo L. Schuddeboom, Greek Religious Terminology – Telete & Orgia: A Revised and Expanded English Edition of the Studies by Zijderveld and Van der Burg. Religions in the Graeco-Roman World 169. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2009. Pp. xxii, 285. ISBN 9789004178137. $138.00.

Reviewed by Alberto Bernabé, Universidad Complutense de Madrid (

Version at BMCR home site


This book examines the use of two Greek religious terms: τελετή and ὄργια and it consists of three parts.


Part One Τελετή in literary sources: Chapter One. Introduction (pp. 3-5),1 Chapter Two (pp. 7-37) The use of τελετή up to Alexander, Chapter Three (pp. 39-101) The use of τελετή after Alexander, Chapter Four (pp.103-118) Τελετή in Jewish and Christian authors, and Chapter Five (pp. 119-124) Summary.

Part Two Ὄργια in literary sources:

Chapter Six (pp.127-129) Introduction, Chapter Seven (pp. 131-144) The use of ὄργια up to Alexander, Chapter Eight (pp. 145-196) The use of ὄργια after Alexander.2

Part Three Τελετή and ὄργια in Inscriptions: Chapter Eleven (pp. 201-225) The use of τελετή in inscriptions, Chapter Twelve (pp. 227-238) The use of ὄργια in inscriptions.

Appendix A (pp.239-248) Falsa et dubia, Appendix B (pp. 245-248) The Proper Name Τελετή, Bibliography and Indexes

Part One is a revised edition of C. Zijderveld, Τελετή: Bijdrage tot de kennis der religieuze terminologie in het Grieksch (1934). The author has added new literary sources (listed in pp. XVII-XVIII) and has moved the inscriptions to a new chapter in Part Three. Part Two is a revised edition of the third part of the study by N.M.H. van der Burg, Ἀπόρρητα - δρώμενα - ὄργια: Bijdrage tot de kennis der religieuze terminologie in het Grieksch (1939). The author has supplemented the literary sources (for a list, see pp. XVIII-XIX) and has collected the attestations of the Latin loanword orgia in a new chapter.

The interest of this book is the collection of sources, that will be very useful for further studies about religious language.3 Nevertheless the analysis of passages and meanings, as in Zijderveld's book, is superficial, a criticism that Schuddeboom has not attempted to mitigate (in his own words p. xii). Observations accumulate with little order, and conclusions are frequently somewhat vague. For instance, in p. 35 (about Leg. 870d) the author states: "evidently τελεταὶ here refers to a special religious ceremony teaching the transmigration of the soul". One might want to ask what to what sort of ceremony Plato alluded.

There are also some mistakes in the philological, religious or semantic analysis. I will give some examples.

a) The author includes among the examples of the use of τελετή before Alexander a passage of the Batrachomyomachia that is considered Hellenistic or post-Hellenistic by modern scholars,4 arguing that the parodist possibly used terms derived of old epic (p. 8). He should be more cautious with this testimony, because it is precisely the only place in which the word does not refer to a religious rite, as he correctly states (p. 8); nevertheless in p. 36 his first conclusion is that 'The original, general meaning (performance without a sacral connotation), appears to be attested only at Batrachom. 305'. And in p. 119 he asserts that the original meaning is achievement, performance in a neutral and wide sense. It is hardly acceptable to consider that a single, later testimony that comes from a parody, probably a Hellenistic or post-Hellenistic work, had the original meaning of τελετή against the consistent evidence of his religious character in the other examples from much earlier times. Schuddeboom follows here a prejudice common among 19th-century scholars, according to which the 'original' meaning of all terms was vague and general, against the evidence of examples.

b) Schuddeboom explains why Herodotus calls Egyptian ceremonies τελεταί arguing that 'all Egyptian religious acts were ... performed with meticulous care and a certain underlying dogma' (p. 45). It is easier to consider it a clear example of the well-known Herodotean practice of the interpretatio Graeca of Egyptian rituals.

c) He correctly remarks that Plutarch connects τελετή with τελευτή (p. 4), but it would be interesting to indicate that Plato clearly precedes Plutarch in this connection.5

d) A passage by Chrysippus (fr. 42 v. Arnim) presents τελετή in a metaphorical use, indicating that the philosopher considered philosophy as the highest form of τελετή. Surprisingly Schuddeboom (p. 40) considers that the word has here the meaning 'end doctrine'.6 Evidently, as author states (p. 40) 'this Stoic theology was not intended for everyone'.

e) The use of τελετή in magical papyri is a consequence of the well-known tendency of the magicians to be equated with the professionals of the mysteries; it is not a different use of the term.

Finally, the bibliography is frequently superseded or incomplete.7 Many authors are quoted from old editions.8

To sum up, Schuddeboom's book is useful as a collection of classified and translated materials, both literary and epigraphical, about two important religious terms related with the interesting world of the Eleusinian, Bacchic and Orphic mysteries, but the treatment is rudimentary and there are many shortcomings in both semantic and religious methodology.


1.   It is a sketch of the meanings of τελετή, hardly a list indicating the words to which some Greek authors relate this.
2.   This time the Conclusion takes one page at the end of the Chapter Ten.
3.   I have noticed only one omission: Lyrica Adespota 1038 ΙΙ Campbell ἐμῇ κενώσω τελετῇ. The author could have used some indirect evidence of the use of τελεταί in old epic, for instance, Eumelus' Europia 27 West (Schol. D Il. 6.131) διδαχθεὶς τὰς τελετὰς καὶ λαβὼν πᾶσαν παρὰ τῆς θεοῦ τὴν διασκευήν (Antoninus Liberalis 3.5.1, quoted by author in p. 75, probably refers to the same text); Hesiodus fr. 131 Merkelbach-West (Apollodorus 2.2.2) ἐμάνησαν, ὡς μὲν Ἡσίοδός φησιν, ὅτι τὰς Διονύσου τελετὰς οὐ κατεδέχοντο; Onomacritus F 4 D'Agostino (Pausanias 8.37.5) παρὰ δὲ Ὁμήρου Ὀνομάκριτος παραλαβὼν τῶν Τιτάνων τὸ ὄνομα Διονύσωι τε συνέθηκεν ὄργια κτλ.
4.   Apart from Wolke's monograph (1978), quoted by the author (p. 8 n. 3), cf. H. Ahlborn, Untersuchungen zur pseudo-homerischen Batrachomyomachie Diss. Göttingen 1959, and Pseudo-Homer, Der Froschmäusekrieg, Berlin 1968.
5.   Pl.R. 364e λύσεις τε καὶ καθαρμοὶ ἀδικημάτων διὰ θυσιῶν καὶ παιδιᾶς ἡδονῶν εἰσι μὲν ἔτι ζῶσιν, εἰσὶ δὲ καὶ τελευτήσασιν, ἃς δὴ τελετὰς καλοῦσιν. Using the particle δή Plato states that these rites are called τελεταί because they have something to do with the dead (τελευτήσασιν).
6.   Cf. a similar procedure in Plato, Phd. 69c, who asserts that the real βάκχοι are οἱ πεφιλοσοφηκότες ὀρθῶς. It would be a misunderstanding to affirm that βάκχος means 'philosopher' at this time.
7.   I give only some examples: a) about τελετή: G. Casadio, "Per un'indagine storico-religiosa sui culto di Dioniso in relazione alla fenomenologia dei misteri, II", Studi e Materiali di Storia delle Religioni VII, 1, 1983, 123-149, Ch. Riedweg, Mysterienterminologie bei Platon, Philon und Klemens von Alexandrien Berlin-New York 1987, R. M. Simms, "Myesis, Telete, and Mysteria", Greek Roman and Byzantine Studies 31, 1990, 183-195, and specially (Hispanicum est, non legitur) Ana Isabel Jiménez San Cristóbal, "Consideraciones sobre las τελεταί órficas", in Actas del X Congreso Español de Estudios Clásicos, Madrid, III, 2002, 127-133, ead., Rituales órficos, Doct. diss. 2004, 753 pp. ( b) about Orphic Hymns: Gabriella Ricciardelli, Inni Orphici, Milan 2000, Anne-France Morand, Études sur les Hymnes orphiques, Leiden 2001; c) about rhombos (p. 36): A.S.F. Gow, "Ἴυγξ, ῥόμβος, turbo", Journal of Hellenic Studies 54, 1934, 1-13, O. Levaniouk, "The Toys of Dionysos", Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 103, 2007,165-202. d) On Christian authors: M. Herrero de Jáuregui, Tradición órfica y cristianismo antiguo, Madrid, 2007, BMCR 2008.07.54, new edition, in English, Orphism and Christianity in Late Antiquity, Berlin 2009 BMCR 2010.10.52.
8.   So, for instance, a fragment of Aeschylus (p. 11) and another by Sophocles (p. 12) are quoted from Nauck's edition, which has been definitively superseded by Radt's, while Dionysius Scytobrachion is quoted on p. 42 from Jacoby's edition, instead of Rusten's. The examples could be multiplied.

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