Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Dana LaCourse Munteanu, Emotion, Genre and Gender in Classical Antiquity. London: Bristol Classical Press, 2011. Pp. viii, 269. ISBN 9780715638958. $80.00.

Reviewed by Donald Lateiner, Ohio Wesleyan University (

Version at BMCR home site

Collecting an introduction and eleven authors' ten essays, each with its own bibliography, this volume evolved from a 2008 conference in Liverpool. Nine essays discuss literary expressions of emotion while the other (Prioux) compares surviving visual representations with ecphraseis of emotion in ancient art-descriptive texts. The editor reasonably claims that genres influence the selection of emotions (e.g., more grief in tragedy and elegy) and that "genres can impose idiosyncratic modes of presentation on descriptions of emotions" (2). These generic conventions limit the kinds of emotions and gender the modes of expression. For example, Konstan and Dutsch point out that women in Greek New Comedy are not in a position to show anger, while dowered wives of Roman comedy often do— regardless of what happened on the via Cornelia, Labicana, or Asinaria. Some authors approach the irresolvable issue of whether surviving literary and visual examples faithfully re-present contemporary life. Internal audiences who laugh, take offense, or show surprise provide us with reasonable horizons of contemporary expectation.

How Greeks and Romans constructed their emotional expressions differently from each other and from other Mediterranean cultures remains a difficult question beneath the surface. They too had multiple styles and sub- cultures, such as elite/commoner, civilized/barbarian, young/old, urban/rural, Roman/Egyptian. To take a minimal example of problems of ancient interrelatedness from an important but absent genre, prose fiction, which emotion do Apuleius' Venus and Heliodoros' heroine Charikleia convey when they scratch their cheeks near the ear, a gendered and/or ethnic gesture (Metam. 6.9.1, Aith. 2.8.1)? Less puzzlingly, Juvenal notes (Sat. 1.166-8) that angry auditors might redden in the face, sweat, and weep (uncontrollable displays of affect, or "leakage").

Emotion—an indispensable but murky concept—often reveals itself (intentionally or not) by affect, for example, facial expressions, gestures, and bodily postures (or, indeed, a lack of the same, e.g., the ultra-stoical Stoic, Cato Minor in Lucan). Emotions, however, are easier to recognize than to define, although a basic entry might run thus: an affective state of consciousness, often accompanied by physiological changes, such as joy, sorrow, fear, and hate. Authors writing on emotions generate both longer and skimpier lists. Even a short list always includes Sadness and Joy, Disgust and Trust, Anger and Fear, Anticipation and Surprise. Aristotle offers a non-congruent list of eleven pathe (passions? emotions?); see Nic. Eth. 1105b 20-3, cf. de anima 403a, or the ambitious study of David Konstan 2006: The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks. Studies in Aristotle and Classical Literature. Seriatim, here we find the following essays:

Douglas Cairns ("Veiling Grief on the Tragic Stage") lucidly discusses the veil's manipulation of tragic grief, starting (naturally) from Aristophanes' critique of Aiskhylos placed in the mouth of Euripides. He elegantly describes veiling as "concealment on display" (16) and points out its utility for permitting descriptions of unseemly tears that could not anyway be seen on a stage populated by masks. The veil worn by tragic females (and, more rarely, and markedly, by males) provides a synecdoche for weeping, silence, wailing, and ritual mourning, in general. Further, a veil physically separates the individual from his/her group, hostile or compassionate. The "visual cut-off ...creates a personal space" and visibly enacts "psychological interiority" by an ostentatious display of mourning (19-20). Whether recounted about tear-hiding Odysseus marooned on Phaiakia or weepy Phaidon in Sokrates' execution chamber (or affect-controlled Sokrates himself there), veiling displays "social dramaturgy" that makes emotion visible. Like breast-beating or turning away (proxemic orientation), mourners' face-veiling is an ephemeral distinction, leaving no sign after performance, unlike the more enduring self-mutilations of hair-cutting, hair-tearing, or cheek scratching. These latter, self-mutilating mourning displays of the living take time to heal and more clearly anticipate the corpse's permanent damage. The final "veiling" of the entire body in a funeral shroud disappears the deceased into the further "garment of earth" or into a mist or cloud at the hands of Death (Il. 5.696, 6.464, Eur. Hipp. 250-1, Pind. Nem. 11.13-16, cf. Cairns' n. 43 noting verbs such as krupto, kalupto).

Jessica Wissman ("Cowardice and Gender in the Iliad and Greek Tragedy") compares "the rhetoric of cowardice" in epic and tragic verse. Wissman's note 10 usefully provides hero Idomeneus' detailed description for Meriones of cowards' self-betraying self-presentation (Il. 13.279-83).The heroic code implies, per contra, the "unheroic code," for which, in different ways, Paris and Thersites are paradigms. Society's weapon against an individual's revelation or display of cowardice is shame. Anxiety about feeling shame, an emotion magnified by humiliation, insult, and abusive exhortations, as well as by self-condemnation (guilt), knows no gender boundaries. While Agamemnon tries to spread it around, accusing his men of womanishness in the Epipolesis, several other Homeric characters also equate cowardice with feminine weakness (physical and moral, even mental). Noteworthy courage, however, characterizes epic and tragic women, for example, besieged Penelope, friendless Medea, or Sophocles' Electra filling "the heroic vacuum" in Aigisthos' Argos before Orestes' return. Indeed Euripides' Electra, here a sour farmer's wife, spurs on her brother, a hesitant, unheroic dawdler (43, citing Eur. El. 982- 4). She effectively "play[s] this card" suggesting to her brother that he could be perceived as a "wuss" or weakling. Threats of mocked reputation and disgrace imputed to cowardice, however, do not display "emotion" but orchestrate a guilt-trip designed to motivate someone to action (cf. p. 44, e.g., Aithra strong-arming her son Theseus, Eur. Suppl. 314-25).

Dorota Dutsch and David Konstan ("Women's Emotions in New Comedy") helpfully consider New Comedy—the genre closest to everyday behavior and idioms (57). They believe that pity and shame gain little attention, although the latter seems to ooze from Moschion in Samia. They look at anger and indignation to see how they grid onto the Attic spectrum of power and rank. "The right to be angry was among the defining characteristics of adult male citizens in classical Athens" provides an arresting thesis. Women can still be angry at the disempowered, such as slaves, but the women of Attic New Comedy must often content themselves with expressing modulated irritation and upset. When they bring a large dowry, though, Aristotle (EN 1161a1-3) acknowledges that such rich women have unusual elbowroom and sometimes sharp elbows. The authors point out how angry Menander's men are, especially old men in Samia, suffering as they often do under Perikeiromene's tutelary goddess, Agnoia—or Lady Ignorance. The authors also analyze Latin comedy and find stronger women there, such as Dorippa, the tight-fisted wife (uxor dotata) who angrily blurts out "I wish I had been born a man" (792-3). Courtesans (meretrices) are somewhat empowered by their outsider status and sexual magnetism, e.g. self-employed Thais in Terence's Eunuch. Roman women certainly had to endure a fierce legal double-standard of sexual morality, but the brutal Plautus (71) enjoys "the spectacle of the irate matron who humiliates her husband." This dramatic freedom displaying women's assumed liberties had "no support in the Roman law on adultery" (77; cf. Asinaria finale). Dana Munteanu, the editor, contributes "Comic Emotions": Old Comedy's shamelessness and New Comedy's moderated emotions. She also considers in an excursus the "shamelessness" of tragic women and the rare emotion named in comic texts: envy (phthonos). She examines Greek New Comedy and Roman through the distorting lenses of Roman critics, Cicero, Quintilian, and Gellius, none of whom seems inclined to laugh. Quintilian seeks moral guidance in the theater and endorses the evolving transformation of comic characters' staged emotions "from wild to mild" presentations (104). No wonder Plautus is not this stiff Roman critic's favorite comedian. This analysis seems more concerned with later ethical criticism of emotions publicly displayed than of the emotions that the comic dramatists portray (e.g., anger, fear, lust).

Laurel Fulkerson dissects "Helen as Vixen, Helen as Victim," discussing multiforms of sexy Helen in Homer, Euripides, Gorgias, and Ovid. Helen's self-awareness and position are opaque in most texts, although Ovid's character in the Heroides provides an exception. The bibliographic swamp in which Helen remains mired arises from a self- generated difficulty, because the Homeric Ur-Helen blames herself before anyone else can do so (119). "Siding with the resistance" provides another strategy that "leave[s] obscure her agency." "Her [Iliadic] performance of remorse" mutates into Euripidean claims of innocence [Helen] or self-interest [Troades], and, in Ovid [Her. 17], a deniable request from the coy seductress that groveling, lovesick Paris abduct her from Sparta.

Evelyne Prioux engagingly crosses the bright line separating verbal and visual expressions of emotion in "Emotions in Ecphrasis and Art Criticism." She raises good methodological questions concerning literary testimonia for ancient works of art (Elder Pliny and Philostratus, Greek Anthology) that puzzle us, when we possess the works themselves. Similarly, the critic Winckelmann admired the restraint of feeling in the Laocoon group, not its emotionalism, its baroque expressivity (136). Prioux discusses thin archaic smiles, the classical gods and humans portrayed with emotional self-restraint (by contrast to the non-human, pained centaurs at Olympia), and the Hellenistic "emotional outburst" of representation (13 illustrations). She affirms that Classical art shows pathos through formulaic postures rather than by facial expressions. A hand resting on one's head can be read as overwhelming pain, however calm the facial expression (of, e.g., the "Sciarra" Amazon, Copenhagen). The codified bodily schemata she mentions also are found in drama, to judge by texts and vases illustrating dramatic productions. "There is no strict correspondence between a gesture or posture and a given meaning" (142), and the images cannot be interpreted "in the light of 'realism.'" Otherwise put, we should not grid later conventions for representing emotion onto the ancients. Prioux then examines how ancient writers describe attempts to present ethe and pathe in images. Xenophon (Mem. 3.10) represents Socrates with the sculptor Parrhasios conversing about the showing of emotions. (The valuable Appendices on 163-5, including references to agalmatophilia, B.3b, "seduction by statues," will confuse readers until Appendix B is corrected to "Emotions and characters in Sculpture [not Painting, as earlier for A].) Polygnotos was praised (e.g., Pliny NH 35.58) for his pioneering enhancements such as showing characters "with varied [facial] expressions." This thorough paper offers important insights into ancient representations of emotion and the reactions of consumers and critics.

Anna McCullough explores conjugal Love and Grief (of widowers) in "One Wife, One Love," "key values" (182) in Statius' Silvae. Roman manliness and legalized randiness finds unexpected "renegotiation" in the stifling "diminished political agency" prevalent in imperial, esp. Domitian's, Rome. The Republican univira ideal of chaste civic womanhood finds itself transformed into expectations of chaste Flavian elite males, at least in Statius' elegies, even after the death of wives in their second marriages. Beyond the oft expressed concordia, when death did them part, husbands are celebrated for losing their "self-restraint and grieve without limit." The womanish associations of "hysterical grieving" crippled republican Cato and Cicero's expression of misery, but ideals of masculinity were now "renegotiated." The men's floodgates for tears were demolished, and emotional display replaced political expression in newly circumscribed Domitianic political spaces. Men now may weep their fill, glut themselves on tears, because Emperor and Censor Domitian has restored familial Pietas to the earth (5.2.91). Thus, Abascantus is encouraged to lament openly for his deceased legitimate wife—a proper tribute.

Peter Anderson's contribution ("Absit Malignus Interpres") concerns Martial's "apologetic" Preface regarding which negative emotions he may arouse in his audiences. Humor provides an effective weapon in rousing victims to emotional reactions. Martial's disingenuous claim of harmlessness should obviate anger and pre-empt desire for vengeance. He further argues that men of sound views won't much care what other Romans think (200). Anderson supports Martial's position with texts of Cicero and Seneca, the former producing an oratorical theory of inappropriate kinds of jokes (de off. 1.99-104), the latter, a Stoic, asserting that the wise man cannot be harmed by such, so Cicero's rhetorical concern is rendered moot. Otherwise offensive verse should not be censured, if the epigrammatist is a cultured Roman, and potentially angry readers have been warned to busy themselves elsewhere (1 pref. 6-8).

Margaret Graver discusses a brief passage in Lucan De Bello Civili 2.326-91, in which durus Cato remarries Marcia, mother of his three children by their previous marriage. Viewed either as Stoic icon and voice of the young poet, or ironized stiff and unemotional prig rising above false sentiments like marital affection, impassive Cato expresses no affection for his old/new bride Marcia, who has just recently (only in Lucan) lost her second husband Hortensius. His only emotions arise from grief for the state, as if it were his child. Graver tells us that his flat affect, inside (no gaudia) and outside (no blush, sigh, tear), conflicts with true Stoic tenets (230). He is not an exemplar but a freak, and Marcia is no different. Is Lucan making mischief, calling Rome Cato's real wife (2.388: urbi maritus, cf. here p. 235), or is he destabilizing the admired Stoic virtues, or is he just incoherent—are these choices, indeed, mutually exclusive? We might note that Lucan's heap of negatives and the desirable things absent from the typical happy wedding (including ribaldry) descend from Ovid's inauspicious wedding of Eurydice and the many present absences in Somnus' cave, and ascends later to the drunken hag's description of Psyche's funeral wedding pomp in Apuleius' longest inset tale.

Zara Torlone's "Engendering Reception" warily considers Joseph Brodsky's "Dido and Aeneas" as a rejection of epic glorification. Rather, the twenty-nine verse poem, written in 1969 and presented here in transliteration and translation, requires a "palimpsestic reading" of Roman myth woven into Brodsky's experiences in Soviet Russia. But is this queen Vergil's Dido or Ovid's? Both Augustan Didos show a "love bordering on pathological obsession," but Ovid's world-view precludes a patriotic Aeneas, dutifully directed by forces beyond his control. Brodsky counterpoints Ovid's presentation of the heroine's point of view by describing the male's desertion through the abandoner's weird thoughts: "her love was just a fish." In Brodsky's poem, the queen is as mute as one, while "the great man" pursues his higher cause, his destiny made manifest. She becomes dead as a Dido.

The circumstances of editions of conference papers impede full coverage of their announced topic, while monographs can exhibit a suitably narrow focus. Consider David Konstan's book on Pity Transformed (2001); William Harris' Restraining Rage (2001), a diachronic study of one emotion and its ideology; and Peter Toohey's Melancholy, Love, and Time (2004) surveying the slippery complex of depression, malaise, boredom, and ennui (noted, introduction: 9 n.1). Despite valuable individual contributions, ancient emotions and genres are here inadequately defined and discussed. This reader found few pages addressing prose authors: only Gorgias and a pinch of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and Seneca Minor. One cannot expect consideration of all emotions and all genres, but this absence—in a book on genre—of many relevant genres of prose (history, ethnography, oratory, philosophy, and especially fiction) disappoints students of ancient feelings.

1 comment:

  1. On behalf of the contributors to the volume "Emotion, Genre and Gender in Classical Antiquity" (London, 2011), I would like to say that we are pleased that the reviewer approves of our approach and has warm praise for the individual essays. But since the review concludes on a negative note, expressing concern that we were not able to cover certain genres, I would like to point out that the collection was intended from the beginning as a way of launching a discussion of the topic of genre and gender, rather than as a comprehensive assessment that would treat every genre in relation to emotions. As stated in the preface, we “hope to develop new ways of understanding the subject so that scholars will continue to develop it in the future” (p. 5). Thus, we welcome future treatments of oratory and history, in which the reviewer has produced distinguished studies (it is unclear to us whether “ethnography” and “fiction” are genres in the relevant sense, but we are open to all ideas).
    Several corrections: read Cairns’ in place of Cairn’s (paragraph 4, toward end); Dorippa in place of Demea (paragraph 6); Munteanu in place of Monteanu (paragraph 6); the volume is not a collection of edited conference papers (last paragraph), although the idea of a volume on this topic started from a conference (as noted in the first paragraph).


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