Sunday, September 2, 2012


S. D. Lambert (ed.), Sociable Man: Essays on Ancient Greek Social Behaviour in Honour of Nick Fisher. Swansea: Classical Press of Wales, 2011. Pp. xiii, 378. ISBN 9781905125517. $110.00.

Reviewed by Jeremy Trevett, York University (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

The volume under review is a Festschrift in honour of N. R. E. Fisher on the occasion of his retirement as Professor of Ancient History at Cardiff University. Fisher has established himself as a leading social historian of ancient Greece, and is the author of a number of influential books in the field: Social Values in Classical Athens (1976), Hybris: A Study in the Values of Honour and Shame in Ancient Greece (1992), Slavery in Classical Greece (1993), and Aeschines: Against Timarchos (2001). (A complete bibliography of Fisher's work is included at the end of the volume.) As the subtitle indicates, the papers are all concerned with aspects of Greek social behavior, broadly defined. They derive a further coherence from the fact that most of them engage in one way or another with themes that are central to Fisher's work, including honour and hybris, gender and power, and male sociability.

The volume opens with a short Foreword by Pamela-Jane Shaw, a former PhD student of Fisher, who writes appreciatively of his qualities as a teacher. This is followed by Paul Cartledge's discussion of the state of Athenian social history 'After Nick Fisher'. Cartledge ponders the perennially difficult question of how (Athenian) social history should be defined, and pays tribute to Fisher's continuing influence on the field. He rightly draws attention to the impact and lasting value of his first published work, Social Values in Classical Athens.

John Davies discusses the career of the fourth-century Athenian politician Hegesippos of Sounion, the probable author of the anti-Macedonian speech On Halonnesus ([Dem.] 7), whom he depicts as in some ways a more typical participant in public life than his famous contemporary and political ally Demosthenes; this chapter includes as an appendix the draft entry for Hegesippos from the (yet to be published) revised second edition of his Athenian Propertied Families 600-300 BC.

In a stimulating and original contribution, Robin Osborne examines the relationship between landscape and historical memory in the countryside of late-classical Attica. Taking the well-excavated demes of Thorikos and Rhamnous as examples, he suggests on the basis of the material remains that the inhabitants of the two places may have had quite different views of Athens' past, and of their place in it. Classical Thorikos had extensive historical remains but appears to have become a rather parochial and inward-looking place. Rhamnous, by contrast, with its important temple of Nemesis and a military garrison, was more outward-looking: better connected with the rest of Attica, and more closely implicated in Athenian history. Osborne goes on to suggest that the city of Athens might have seemed a more familiar sort of place, despite the obvious difference of scale, to an Athenian from Rhamnous than to one from Thorikos. Whether or not one agrees with his necessarily speculative arguments, Osborne raises important and interesting questions, not least about the ways in which the methods of the emerging discipline of psychogeography can be applied to the ancient world.

Sam Potts addresses the dynamics of social interaction in the classical Athenian navy. He attempts to sketch out the relationships between and within the various categories of people on board an Athenian trireme, from the trierarch down to the humblest slave rower. Whilst in some senses the trireme can be seen as an egalitarian place—the school of democracy according to Barry Strauss—it was also very hierarchically organized.1 Even among the rowers there were important distinctions: of juridical class, between citizens, metics, foreigners and slaves, and also between the different classes of rowers. There needed to be cooperation in order for the ship to function effectively, but there was also tension (e.g. between marines and rowers) and competition (e.g. between trierarchs). Potts also argues that within the narrative of Dem. 50 there are two episodes where the trierarch Apollodorus seems, contrary to the general view that patronage was absent from classical Athens, to have acted in a patronal capacity towards a member of his crew.

Moving away from Athens, James Roy attempts to dispel the stereotype of the classical Arcadians as a backward people. Instead, he argues, their way of life was in most respects comparable to that of other Greeks. The notion of Arcadian primitivism is more a matter of (self-)image than of reality, compounded to some degree by conflation with the literary Arcadia of poetry. In particular, Roy notes that the Arcadians believed that they were autochthonous— indeed that they were older than the other Greeks—and that their earliest ancestors had lived simply and close to nature. They may once have been 'acorn-eaters', as they are famously described in an oracular response of the Pythia, and prided themselves on their past, but in the classical period they were part of the Greek mainstream.

Douglas Cairns examines the issue of reparation for Agamemnon's offence against Achilles in Iliad Book I. Taking issue with the views of Donna Wilson (in her Ransom, Revenge and Heroic Identity in the Iliad), he argues against the existence of a sharp distinction between the terms poinē and apoina.

The next three chapters engage with various aspects of hybris. Hans van Wees seeks to reinforce Fisher's view that the Athenian law of hybris was enacted by Solon. He argues that the supplementary clause in the law (as quoted by Demosthenes in the speech Against Meidias) 'or [if anyone] does anything unlawful …' indicates that the law was concerned not just with hybris, but covered a range of other offences as well. He then makes the bold suggestion that this law is not in fact a substantive law dealing with the specific offence of hybris, as is generally believed, but is none other than the law by which Solon established the procedure for bringing a prosecution called graphē. This procedure, which is known from other sources to have been introduced by Solon, allowed prosecutions for various offences, including but not limited to hybris, to be brought by any Athenian citizen who wished to do so. In van Wees' view, the reason why this procedural law mentions the specific offence of hybris is that this was the most serious offence that could be prosecuted by means of a graphē (there were different procedures for bringing a prosecution for homicide). If van Wees is correct, our picture of Solon's reforms will be significantly altered. For example, the text of the law makes it clear that the heliaia (i.e. the people sitting as a judicial body) was to be the court of first instance in such cases. Thus, on van Wees' argument, Solon went much further than instituting the right of appeal against the judgment of a magistrate to the heliaia, as he is generally believed to have done on the basis of [Ar.] Ath. Pol. 9.1. This strikingly original reinterpretation of the law of hybris is certain to spark considerable debate among historians of Athenian law.

Louis Rawlings explores the presence of Hybris in a list of suitable names for hunting dogs given by Xenophon in his Cynegeticus (7.5). Rather than seeing hybris as an ideologically neutral term describing the desirable quality (in a hunting dog) of aggression towards its prey, Rawlings suggests that its use is ideologically loaded, and reflected the social values of the animal's owner. Those who owned hunting-dogs were members of the wealthy elite, and as such may have been inclined to view hybris, in the sense of contempt for their social inferiors, as a positive quality. Thus anyone who named his dog Hybris was making a statement not so much about the dog, but about himself.

James Whitley looks at the victory monuments set up in panhellenic sanctuaries, and specifically at the issues raised when one Greek community wished to memorialize a military victory over another. He takes as his starting point the statue of Nike erected at Olympia to celebrate the victory of the Messenians and others over the Spartans in the Archidamian War. What is striking is that the dedication names the victors but not the vanquished. Whitley suggests that to have done so would have offended the Spartans, and that the Eleans who controlled the sanctuary may have insisted that Spartan sensibilities be respected. Whitley also explores the broad shift in the 6th and 5th centuries from the dedication of captured arms and armour, which made the fact of the losers' defeat quite apparent, to the dedication of statues, which might be less invidious.

Stephen Lambert asks the deceptively simple question, 'What was the point of inscribed honorific inscriptions in classical Athens?' He suggests that publicizing the grant of an honour in this way served both to increase the honour, by making more people aware of it, and to associate it with the gods, since most inscriptions were set up on the Acropolis. In what I found the most interesting part of his chapter, Lambert draws attention to the appearance in the 340s of hortatory clauses, indicating that an honorific inscription was specifically set up in order to encourage others to act in ways that would merit honour, and offers some suggestions as to why this development occurred when it did.

The remaining six papers are all concerned with issues of gender and sexuality. Sian Lewis explores the position of women under the tyrants of archaic and classical Greece, with particular reference to Aristotle's striking claim that women do well under tyranny (Politics 1313b32-38). She concludes that the women of a tyrant's family could exercise influence by virtue of their closeness to the ruler, whereas the female relatives of his opponents might often be in danger of ill-treatment by him. Non-elite women, however, were unlikely to be much affected by tyranny. Insofar as Aristotle is correct, she suggests, it is because tyranny by its nature breaks down normal gender-based patterns of dominance in the polis.

Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones asks how prevalent were domestic abuse and sexual violence against (free) women in ancient Greece, and reaches the plausible conclusion, on the basis of ancient and comparative evidence, that such behaviour was probably so common as to merit little comment on the part of contemporary writers.

Janett Morgan offers a strongly revisionist account of the andrōn, conventionally viewed as the locus for specifically male sociability within the oikos. An examination of textual references to andrōn and andrōnitis leads her to conclude that 'Classical texts do not show that a formally separated male areas was a feature of the houses of ordinary Athenian men' (p. 273). In fact, she suggests, the andrōn is associated by classical authors chiefly with the palaces of eastern rulers, which were thought to contain specifically male quarters. Moreover, the archaeological remains of dining rooms at Athens (where they are generally not found in private houses) and at Olynthus do not in themselves suggest that they were reserved exclusively for male use.

Ruth Westgate examines the figural motifs used in the floor-mosaics of early Greek dining-rooms. She argues that the users of these rooms were typically men, and sees the majority of the motifs as reflecting male interests and pursuits. So for example wild and fabulous beasts were popular as symbols of power and as exemplars of specifically masculine qualities. In the Hellenistic period, by contrast, different and less aggressive aspects of the lifestyle of the rich came to be depicted. Given their differing views about the gendered nature of Greek dining-rooms, it is a pity that Morgan and Westgate do not engage directly with each other's arguments.

David Konstan, in a paper that extends the chronological limits of the volume into the imperial era, argues that the 13th and 14th letters of Alciphron are the earliest examples of ancient pornography, in the sense of texts intended to cause sexual excitement, and that the epistolary form was particularly suitable for this form of expression.

Finally, Emma Stafford considers male masturbation in late archaic and classical Athens. After discussing the terminology used to describe masturbation, she argues that in literary texts it is generally practised by 'non-ideal' types: slaves, foreigners and the elderly. Depictions of male masturbation on vases are typically associated with the symposium, either because they appear on symposium-ware or because of their setting. Some of these scenes are of satyrs, which is ideologically unproblematic insofar as satyrs are the opposite of ideal citizens. There are, however, also depictions of men and youths, apparently citizens (or at any rate not obviously non-citizens), which are harder to interpret.

The volume has been very carefully edited by Stephen Lambert and handsomely produced by the University Press of Wales.

In conclusion, the generally high quality and thematic coherence of the contributions make this volume both a fine tribute to the honorand and a valuable collection in its own right. It contains plenty of interest to social historians of ancient Greece.

One final point: at a time when numerous earlier works of classical scholarship are being either reprinted or republished electronically, it is a shame that Nick Fisher's Hybris is not only long out of print, but also virtually unobtainable used.


1.   B. S. Strauss, 'The Athenian trireme, school of democracy' in J. Ober and C. Hedrick (ed.), Dēmokratia: A Conversation on Democracies, Ancient and Modern (1996) 313-326.

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