Sunday, October 21, 2012


Marianna Scapini, Temi greci e citazioni da Erodoto nelle storie di Roma arcaica. Studia Classica et Mediaevalia, 4. Nordhausen: Verlag Traugott Bautz, 2011. Pp. 363. ISBN 9783883096759. €40.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Koen Vanhaegendoren, Université de Liège (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

The present volume has its origin in a tesi di laurea which the author completed at the University of Verona under the supervision of Attilio Mastrocinque. As not plainly suggested by the title, this study deals with motifs and themes borrowed from Greek historians (essentially but not exclusively Herodotus) and present in Roman but also Greek historiography on archaic Rome. What the book is not about is the use of verbatim quotations from Herodotus, be they more or less literal. Scapini studies the way(s) in which authors of Roman archaic history shaped their stories with reference to Greek models, using structural schemes and motifs they found in their predecessors. She quite admirably manages to demonstrate her case and to put forward several explications for the parallels under examination. Some objections about text analysis which I will be detailing further on do not compromise Scapini's general thesis, which cannot fail to attract the attention of an audience interested in Greek and Roman historiography as well as matters of ancient history.

The book consists of two main chapters which have been divided into some subchapters and are followed by an appendix (pp. 291-309) on features of Lydian and Phrygian history present in the account of early Roman history. Chapter I (pp. 19-221) is chronologically organized and presents a series of cases of clear Greek inspiration within texts, Greek and Latin, about the Roman Kingdom from Romulus through Tarquinius Superbus and even up to the Battle of the Cremera in 477.1 The second chapter (pp. 223-289) tries to systematize the analytical readings of the preceding one. Several important questions are here addressed and answered in an often stimulating way. So we learn about the reasons for Fabius Pictor's representation of history as being cyclical (pp. 238-243). This very author, whom Scapini indicates as the one mainly responsible for the introduction into Roman historical tradition of Greek themes, especially when taken from Herodotus, possibly inherited this conception from the Etruscans, according to a position of Marta Sordi whom Scapini readily follows. Another filiation completes the reconstruction of the direct and remote origins of Greek influence on accounts of early Roman history when the author points to Timaeus of Tauromenium as the probable source of quite a lot of these parallels between Greek and Roman history. Chapter II further discusses the preeminence of Herodotus rather than Thucydides as a model and the role of Hellenistic historiography in the transmission of motifs to historians of Rome. A major part of the energy of Scapini throughout her study is devoted to determining the ideological implications and aesthetical reasons of this feature of ancient literature. We have to welcome this fact, because a mere analytical approach would have left open the question why the writers of the archaic history of Rome made the deliberate choice of imitating patterns from Greek history. Here, Herodotus again plays an important role. One explication of this clear tendency towards imitation is indeed of aesthetical, that is literary nature: Herodotean historiography being at the same time more "epic" and "tragic" in some sense than Thucydidean inquiry and presentation of facts, it lends itself better to a mimetic view of history and thus corresponds well to the search for correspondences between historical facts in different cultural, geographical and chronological areas. As for the ideological implications, Scapini offers plausible analyses of the political and propagandist reasons authors like Fabius Pictor, Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus had for"copying" their Greek models and for distorting Roman episodes in order to align them with Greek precedents.

As I stated at the outset of this review, some objections can be made to the approach and the analysis of the ancient sources by Scapini. First of all, the author never cites Greek and Latin passages in the original text notwithstanding some occasional quotations of single words or groups of words.2 Scapini doesn't seem to attach much importance to the language used by the authors she is studying. She is not unconscious of the particular status of Fabius Pictor as Rome's first native historian who wrote his Annales in Greek, but Fabius is being considered for the contents transmitted in the surviving fragments through Latin and Greek authors like Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, not in regard to strategies of transposing these contents from one linguistic area (the Greek one) into another one (Latin). This might explain how one of Fabius' most prominent readers, Dionysius, not only belongs to the group of "storici di Roma" – which is of course a valid statement – but is also subsumed under the heading of "storiografia romana" (p. 12 and passim). The question to what extent the authors of Roman history treated in this book were acquainted with Greek language is not being discussed, as far as I can see.

The same failure to take a closer look at the texts occurs when Scapini uses the notion of "citazione" when actually dealing with motifs and themes. Within the wide spectrum of forms of intertextuality, Scapini privileges those resting not necessarily on verbatim reminiscences but mainly on similitudes in structure or content. This is a valid choice in se but it distorts the nuances that characterize the different degrees of imitation and reutilization of texts3 and it can in some cases obstruct a more profound analysis of the passages being compared. An episode from Tarquinius Superbus' warfare may illustrate this. Scapini (pp. 98-106) is right in seeing with many other scholars (p. 98, note 296) the correspondences between the story of the conquest of Gabii by the last Roman king (Livy 1, 53, 4 - 54, 10) and the Herodotean account of the taking of Babylon by Darius (3, 151-160). Both successes are due to military deception or, more elegantly, stratagems. It happens that we are entitled to read some little Latin and Greek at this point (p. 99): fraude ac dolo in the Livian text (1, 53, 4), σοφίσματα and μηχανάς in Herodotus (3, 152). The author makes the good decision to quote these words, possibly indicative of a reminiscence. She even asks the relevant question if in addition to the thematic coincidence there might be a verbatim quote. But then she disappoints when answering negatively: "è comunque improbabile, dal momento che la locuzione fraude ac dolo sembra cristallizzata già all'epoca di Plauto. Inoltre, se la connotazione dell'espressione latina è in generale fortemente negativa, il greco σόφισμα può avere anche un valore neutro o positivo" (p. 100). I would rather state that the qualification of the stratagem by Livy (1, 53, 4) as minime arte Romana,4 to which fraude ac dolo is in apposition, gives the key to understanding this passage on a deeper level: the Roman historian explicitly refers to a foreign example, in casu an oriental trick, that is the stratagem applied by a Persian king and narrated by the Greek historian whom Livy is closely following. Thus, the correct supposition by Scapini (p. 100, note 301) that Livy didn't appreciate the reign of Tarquinius Superbus would have gained support from this close reading, which makes the text all the more complex and for that reason more rich and interesting. Tarquinius cannot serve as an exemplum in the eyes of Livy, a writer so fond of good exempla and eager to note any deviation from the good old national tradition, especially in the person of a Roman king who doesn't align himself with the ars Romana but rather with oriental cheating. I feel this particular example tells us a lot about the missed opportunities of this volume.

I will now move to minor observations on the bibliography. In a work dealing with such a variety of aspects and periods, omissions in matters bibliographical are almost inevitable. Let me just cite three rather significant titles missing from the author's discussions. Besides the introduction, text, German translation and brief commentary one can find for Fabius Pictor and nine other lost historians of Republican Rome, Hans Beck - Uwe Walter, Die Frühen Römischen Historiker, I. Von Fabius Pictor bis Cn. Gellius. Texte zur Forschung, 76. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2001 which offers a substantial general introduction in which questions such as the as genesis and development of early Roman historiography – central for Scapini's purpose – are treated. I would have expected the author to use this edition alongside Peter's HRR I and Chassignet's Budé edition of the Roman annalists,5 two standard editions which Scapini very justly works with. Then Scapini could have benefited from an article by John Dillery on the place of Fabius Pictor within Greco-Roman historiography and the very influence of Greek historical writing in Rome that she is engaged in herself.6 A third item overlooked by Scapini deals with the chronology proposed by Timaeus for early Roman history and its reception by Fabius Pictor, a key issue indeed in the present book.7 Besides lacking some interesting items, the bibliography contains too many errors in German and, to a lesser degree, French titles.

On the whole, the volume, which lacks indices, is interesting reading on aspects of the very complex question of literary influences of Greek historiography on Greco-Roman historiography involved with the early history of Rome. Scapini is convincing in the general case she makes, but not always in the particular analyses of Greek and Latin sources.


1.   On p. 19, the title of this Chapter reads as follows: "Trame greche nella storia di Roma dalla fondazione al sacco gallico, erodotee e non solo". As a matter of fact, Chapter I takes us as far as the pernicious battle of 477 – as correctly indicated in the Table of Contents – to which the Sack of Rome by the Gauls (the "sacco gallico" of 390) can be paralleled (pp. 192-193).
2.   The little Greek that is actually quoted in this book is often erroneous. We read, e.g., μεχανή and μεχαναί (p. 99), αὑτομολήσω and αὑτόμολος (p. 101), ἒπος (p. 109), φιλτάτῇ (p. 183), etc.
3.   It is odd to read how Scapini (p. 312) attributes to Dionysius of Halicarnassus "la citazione erodotea della discussione dei nobili Persiani", where the Greek historian of Augustan times is certainly being clearly influenced by his predecessor from Halicarnassus (pp. 33-39), without quoting him however. If there were any quotations, Scapini should have made these tangible through close textual reading.
4.   Scapini is well aware of this immediate context, since she cites it in translation: "con un'arte punto romana" (p. 99).
5.   Hermann Peter, Historicorum Romanorum Reliquiae, I. Leipzig: Teubner, 19142; Martine Chassignet, L'annalistique romaine, tome 1. Les Annales des Pontifes et l'annalistique ancienne (fragments). Collection des Universités de France. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1996.
6.   John Dillery, 'Quintus Fabius Pictor and Greco-Roman Historiography at Rome,' in: John F. Miller - Cynthia Damon - K. Sara Myers (eds.), "Vertis in usum". Studies in Honor of Edward Courtney. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde, 161. München: Saur, 2002, pp. 1-23.
7.   Aleksandr Koptev, 'Timaeus of Tauromenium and Early Roman Chronology,' in Carl Deroux (ed.), Studies in Latin Literature and Roman history, 15. Collection Latomus, 323. Bruxelles: Latomus, 2010, pp. 5-48.

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