Friday, March 30, 2012


Edward J. Kenney (ed.), Gioachino Chiarini, (trans.), Ovidio Metamorfosi. Volume IV. Libri VII-IX. Scrittori greci e latini. Roma; Milano: Fondazione Lorenzo Valla, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 2011. Pp. lxxii + 484. ISBN 9788804604242. €30.00.

Reviewed by Joseph B. Solodow, Southern Connecticut State University;Yale University (

Version at BMCR home site

Following three other volumes in the same series—Books I-II, by Barchiesi (2005), III-IV, by Barchiesi and Rosati (2007), V-VI, by Rosati (2009)—the present volume, though similar in many respects, yet differs from them conspicuously. The format is the same, naturally, and this commentary too explicates the course of the narrative, with all its turnings, as well as the nuances of the language, and it illuminates no less thoroughly the backgrounds to the poem, whether literary, historical, mythological, material, or cultural. But this introduction, though rich with insight, lies more within the tradition of belles lettres than the others do, a tendency rare and perhaps refreshing in our hard-charging, theory-driven times. And whereas the earlier volumes ignored the grammar of the Latin, leaving it to be elucidated by the facing-page Italian translation, this commentary often does explain it. Moreover, it is not only less informative in one important regard, but also somewhat less exciting in its interpretative stance (see my unrepentantly enthusiastic review of the preceding volume, by Rosati, in CR 61 (2011) 133- 36). Nonetheless, on these three central books of the the Metamorphoses no more valuable commentary exists: this is now unquestionably the authoritative edition, and for sound reasons it will long remain so.

Conforming to the plan adopted for this set, Kenney's edition is based on the Oxford Classical Text of Tarrant (2004). The forty places where he differs are conveniently listed. He is less inclined than Tarrant to expel verses as interpolations, and perhaps I may be permitted here simply to state my opinion that on the whole Kenney's text represents an improvement. Five of the differing readings are his own innovations.1 The texts of those passages and many another he discusses with concision, understanding, and enlightenment. Kenney confines a few further suggestions of his own (on 7.195, 7.535, 8.411-13, 9.396, 9.756) to the apparatus criticus, from which, furthermore, the neophyte reader will learn to appreciate the immense contribution to the text made by Nicolaus Heinsius: his name appears there more often than those of all other scholars combined.

The Introduction is a rapid and elegant survey of the poem's key characteristics, of a sort that only a scholar deeply familiar with Ovid could produce. (Kenney's first published work on the poet stretches back more than a half century; the bibliography here cites twenty items by him that are devoted to Ovid, and they are not all. And perhaps for the first time in this long career his given name peeps out from behind "E. J.") The Introduction spotlights Ovid's intertextual play, the correspondence between the variety of his material and the variety of his treatments thereof, the prominence given to the feminine, the centrality of the narrator, to whom even the gods are secondary, and, briefly, some leading features of Ovid's language and style. With appropriate nuance, persuasively, and movingly, Kenney defines the poem as an epic of the human spirit—a view which would render it more nearly universal than the Aeneid. In this connection, the speech of Pythagoras, which opens the final book and has long been an object of critical controversy, he interprets as detailing the most extreme test of the soul—its very destruction. (But is any soul there recorded as reacting to its own metamorphosis in any way?) The Introduction is illuminated, like the commentary, by apt references to other writers, not only our own classics, like Shakespeare, Dryden, Defoe, Sheridan, Trollope, and Kipling, but also Lewis Carroll and P. G. Wodehouse, Camus and Nabokov. The editor is truly a man of letters.

The commentary is bound to be the most interesting and valuable part of the volume. It addresses surely the questions readers would want answered—and translates the many quotations from Greek and Latin—and it provides them and scholars alike with scores of revealing observations and unexpected insights. About nempe at 7.53, Kenney points out the particle's relative frequency in Ovid—found 35 times: in Virgil just once—and suggests a good explanation thereof. The setting for Jason's confrontation with the fire-breathing bulls (7.101-03) is said to resemble the Circus Maximus, with Aeëtes presiding over games like an empurpled emperor. In recounting the plague at Aegina, Ovid switches abruptly from the pluperfect tense to the present, tristes penetrant ad viscera morbi (7.601): Kenney likens this to a marginal note on a patient's chart, implying, I take it, the intrusion of the narrator into the text. The long description of Hercules's final torments is momentarily interrupted by the phrase nec modus est (9.172), which declares the hero's agonies to be unending—and which, Kenney suggests, may also be a metapoetic reference to the possible weariness of the reader. Original comments like these invite us to a profound enjoyment of the poem.

On the one hand, unlike his predecessors in the set, Kenney often pauses to explain the grammar of the Latin. He reminds us that utrum is sometimes omitted in the first half of an alternative question, that the infinitive is a neuter noun, that here we have a dative of purpose, there the ab urbe condita construction. Some philological notes, to be sure, broaden into valuable general observations, such as those about the avoidance of unelided atque in elegy (7.535) or an idiomatic use of et to express bitter incredulity (9.203). Nonetheless, the grammatical notes might nearly all have been dispensed with; so too the oft-repeated remarks about the (illusory) nuances of -que ("but," "because," ...) or about golden lines or, worse, lines that are nearly golden. Nec modus est. On the other hand, the introduction to Book VIII merely mentions the especially dramatic alternations in tone and style, announces the existence of thematic connections among the stories, and refers to Ovid's ways of weaving the stories together. Kenney endorses the views of other scholars on these significant topics, but, unfortunately, refuses to share them with the reader. Yet the reader would greatly value a summary of what Hutchinson, Crabbe, and Tsitsiou-Chelidoni, respectively, have to say about these matters. The introductions to VII and IX are similarly skimpy. The grammatical explanations ought to have been jettisoned, so that this type of interpretative material could be taken on board, not merely listed on the manifest. Let me make it clear, nonetheless, that Kenney's line-by-line exegesis of the poem can scarcely be bettered.

For Book VIII we possess a plethora of commentaries, comparisons among which illuminate the particular qualities of the one under review. At 8.251-59 Ovid describes Perdix's metamorphosis into the partridge. Hollis's commentary (1970—the 1983 reprint merely adds a page of addenda) emphasizes literary history here: the passage, it says, reflects the tradition of the Greek Ornithogonia, which typically stresses both the intervention of a god, often provoked by pity for unjust suffering, and the bird's retention of the person's name after metamorphosis. Bömer (1977) offers comments about individual phrases and their placement in the verse (for example, at illum at the end of 251) and about the technical terms of metamorphosis, like abire in. Kenney is more prone to literary observation and literary interpretation. He notes the suspenseful, dramatic effect of at illum and points out the ironic contrast between the artificial wings that destroy Daedalus's son Icarus and the real wings with which Minerva rescues Daedalus's victim Perdix, a contrast invited by the repetition of excipere.

The story immediately following is the Calydonian boar hunt and its aftermath, which confronts critics with the problem of wildly varying genres and styles. Hollis identifies in his introduction a different style in each of the three parts: the boar hunt is epic; the dilemma of Meleager's mother Althaea, tragic; the metamorphosis of Meleager's sisters, "whimsically Alexandrian" and "comic." Bömer is somewhat more sophisticated, and Kenney in turn defers to his exhaustive account of the sources of the story, the variants, and, surprisingly, even Ovid's treatment. Yet the comments he adds, though brief, are subtle. He stresses the boar hunt's quality as an "epicizing tour de force" (a refined formulation), which transfers the themes of battle to the hunt, and thereby strips away all traces of epic dignity, turning the hunt into uproarious farce. The transition to the sharply contrasting passage that follows is gradual, he points out. He rejects the description of the metamorphosis as "comic."

Not every shaft hurled hits its target, of course. Of a phrase from the Perdix story, ingenii quondam velocis (8.254), Kenney says that quondam has nearly adjectival force: is it not, rather, simply an adverb modifying velocis, "his formerly quick spirit"? In the second verse following, non tamen haec alte volucris sua corpora tollit, he explicates tamen as "despite knowing how to fly" and claims that volucris serves as the protasis of a conditional sentence; presumably, therefore, he would translate it "if [although?] a bird [and thus capable of flight], nevertheless [tamen proleptic: see OLD s.v. 4] it does not raise its body aloft." Chiarini, however, renders the verse "Quest'uccello non riesce a sollevare il corpo di molto," which is less tortuous and completely correct.

One can always uncover omissions, of varying significance—all the more readily in a commentary upon an author who has been the object of such very intense, fruitful scrutiny during recent decades. The epic motif of the the dead or wounded hero carried off the battlefield by his companions might have been noted at 8.361; Hollis notes it. Certain chronological inconsistencies, such as arise at 8.403 and 9.198, might have been pointed out, and their presence explained, by reference to Cole's illuminating Ovidius Mythistoricus: Legendary Time in the Metamorphoses (2008), p. 55.2 The singular nature of Ovid's contrary-to-fact sentences, instances of which are found at 7.350-51, 8.365-68, 8.376-77, and 9.666-68, might have been indicated, with reference to The World of Ovid's Metamorphoses (1988), pp. 45-46, 57-60. That Hercules' labors, plus four parerga, are merely catalogued by himself and not recounted (9.182-198) is in line with the poem's strong tendency to refer obliquely or summarily to well-known episodes from mythology and to employ characters rather than the authorial narrator to refer to them; this might have been stated for the reader's benefit. The association repeatedly made between Erysicthon and fire (ardor 8.828, incensa 829, flamma 846, the simile at 837-39) is probably a learned allusion to the name Aethon, which he bears in the pseudo-Hesiodic Catalogue of Women, frag. 43a.5 M.-W. There are very few references to the thematic links between stories.And so on.

Nonetheless, this is an outstanding commentary by one of our pre-eminent scholars of Latin poetry, and accordingly we welcome the news that Cambridge University Press is planning to publish the entire Fondazione Valla set of the Metamorphoses in English.


1.   At 7.430 and 7.504 the spellings Erectheidis and Achaeidos do seem better. Replacing harenas with harenis at 7.267 is an unmistakable gain: the sands of the shore are now the source of the magical ingredient (pearls), not the magical ingredient itself, and pearls from the East now are neatly contrasted with those from the West. By reading suoque at 9.771 Kenney removes an un-Ovidian inconcinnity. At 8.56- 57 the exchange of vinci and multis does not alter the meaning, but it does prevent the sentence from ending lamely and is strongly supported by the word order in the other passages the editor cites.
2.   It is evident that the gestation of this volume was exceptionally long. Though not published until 2011, the Introduction was written ten years earlier (p. xxxiii, n. 1). Still, several later items were taken into account, not, however, Cole's book nor the article that paved the way for it, in HSCP 102 (2004).

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Elizabeth Schofield, Ayia Irini: the Western sector. Keos, 10. Darmstadt: Verlag Philipp Von Zabern, Pp. xix, 224; 84 p. of plates. ISBN 9783805343336. €86.00. Contributors: Contributions by Jack L. Davis and Carol Hershenson and Architectural Drawings by Whitney Powell-Cummer.

Reviewed by Vassilis P. Petrakis, National Hellenic Research Foundation (

Version at BMCR home site

[The volume's contents are included at the end of this review]

The tenth volume in the illustrious series of monographs publishing the results of Caskey's excavations at Ayia Irini on the island of Kea (Cyclades) deals with the so-called Western Sector, a cluster of buildings situated immediately to the west of the site's most imposing building, known as 'House' A, the subject of an earlier monograph by the same author.1 Based on a core of substantial study by the late Elizabeth Schofield, and supplemented by excellent editorship, this volume publishes architecture and deposits from the entire cluster, dated to the final Middle Bronze Age phases (Period V) and to the early Late Bronze Age (Period VI, contemporary with the Late Minoan IA/Late Helladic I; Period VIIa, with early Late Minoan IB/Late Helladic IIA; Period VIIb, with late Late Minoan IB/Late Helladic IIA/IIB transitional and Period VIIc, Late Helladic IIB). Material from the Late Bronze Age III phases, which was found in some quantities in the Western Sector, is not included, but will be dealt with in separate monographs.

It is important for the reader to bear in mind the long history of this volume. Parts of it, especially the publication of House C, began life as parts of Schofield's (then Milburn) doctoral dissertation.2 An important part had been completed before the author's untimely passing in 2005.3 Davis's involvement in this volume is not simply editorial. Originally responsible for the publication of the Period VI site, he was an early collaborator on this publication, and had placed all relevant notes at Schofield's disposal when he could no longer continue in this project due to other commitments. It is difficult not to think that, with his initial involvement and now editing, Davis should have co-authored the book, as was Schofield's original intention (p. vii). However, his decision to release this work under her single authorship deserves praise.

The structure of the volume follows the Western Sector's topography, dealing separately with different structures and areas in seven substantial chapters (flanked by a short Introduction on the topography of Western Sector and Conclusions). The description of artefacts and building techniques follows closely the author's publication of House A, to which the reader is referred. The focus of the volume is clearly on the architecture and on the identification of the successive building episodes. The text is always very effective and the organisation is quite user-friendly. Chapters II and V-VIII present and discuss individual buildings ('Houses') and room complexes (the so-called 'Infill') and typically begin with a short and comprehensive introduction, a presentation and interpretation—room/area by room/area—and a final synthesis, which attempts to outline the history of each area. This 'formula' is only not followed where it would have been ineffective: the complexity of the situation in the so-called 'Central Block' (Chapter III) suggested that a chronological account of the area's arrangement be placed at the beginning of the chapter. The 'Spring Chamber' and the adjacent 'Western Square' (later succeeded by the 'Platform') form the most 'fragmentated' part of the volume, but even this seems too strong a word: the absence of a final synthetic section here does not inhibit comprehension by any means. Pottery, terracotta, stone, metal and other finds, selectively used in the text to support chronological matters and the interpretation on the function of spaces, are always listed separately at the end of each chapter. Finds are shortly described, numbered continuously through chapters II-VIII and always accompanied by references to Plates. Plans, photographs and drawings are all of outstanding quality.4 The choice of concordances for the Appendices I-III is also very reasonable, listing unstratified finds separately (avoiding assumptions as to their assignment) and giving essential information from those wishing to pursue any aspect further, digging into earlier reports and primary excavation data. The presentation, as a whole, is impeccable.

An important general impression gained by reading through this masterful presentation is that there is no single uniform account of the architectural history of the Western Sector as a whole. Rather, we should think of different successions of architectural episodes creating histories in the Plural. The construction, re-construction and reorganization follow individual trajectories in most cases. However, there are features which affect the overall structure of the Western Sector: besides the natural contour of the slope and the fortification wall, the stepped 'Spring Chamber' (and the 'Platform' associated with it) is a so-far unparalleled feature, whose short life (Periods VIIa and perhaps VIIb at best) is quite intriguing. Perhaps its end can be associated with a contamination of the source by saltwater following a tectonic event (p.56), but the reasons for its late construction remain to be discussed. 'House' C is definitely one of the most important buildings in Ayia Irini, sharing many architectural refinements with 'House' A and second in size only to it in Period VI.

Points of criticism in such a magnificent volume can only be minor. The editors have noted certain discrepancies between Schofield's text and the field sheet marks and made the elegant editorial decision to leave them uncorrected, but explicitly noted in Davis' Foreword (p. ix: a list every reader should carefully check). However, these points should have been cautioned in the text itself, even as footnotes, since casual readers might not read the Foreword at all. Conclusions could also have been differently structured, in order to make it easier for the reader to grasp what the general picture is in a clear way, avoiding the outline of the progress of Schofield's views with extensive excerpts from unpublished papers that could have been included in an Appendix. It is not really critical to note that, with the exception of a few notes on the comparison between 'Houses' A and C, the challenge of placing the architectural histories of the Western Sector within the development of Periods V-VII Ayia Irini, or the whole southern Aegean in the early Late Bronze Age, is largely left for the interested reader. One might also have expected the Conclusions to have incorporated more discussion of the stratigraphic evidence on the distinction of pre- and post-destruction Late Helladic IIB pottery (for some interesting deposits from the 'Infill' see pp.165-166, 168), but this can always be discussed elsewhere and in a much more liberal format. Schofield, Davis and Hershenson put at our disposal a vast amount of reliable data so well-presented that they illuminate enormously a difficult and complex part of this important settlement. This is already an amazing feat. Every Aegeanist should be grateful.

No reasonable criticism can possibly obscure this reviewer's opinion that Keos X is a major scholarly as well as editorial achievement, and a true progress in our knowledge of one of the key sites for understanding the material correlates of the 'Minoanisation' of the southern Aegean extra-Cretan cultures. Beyond any reasonable doubt, this posthumous publication should be in every library with a serious interest in Aegean prehistory. Moreover, meticulous work by the editors managed to transform it into the truly monumental swansong Liz Schofield's career deserved.

Table of Contents

Foreword [by Jack L. Davis] (vii)
Abbreviations (xiii)
Bibliography (xv)
List of Plates (xvii)
I. The Western Sector
II. House F (3)
Introduction (3)
Room F.1 (4)
Rooms F.2-F.5 (5)
Room F.6 (9)
Terrace Z.1 (9)
Summary and Discussion (10)
Catalogue (15)
III. The Central Block (29)
Introduction (29)
Chronology of Construction (30)
Description of Spaces (31)
Catalogue (40)
IV. The Spring Chamber and Its Access (53)
The Town Wall and the Spring Chamber (53)
The Spring Chamber (53)
The Western Square (53)
Alley W.40 (56)
Alley/Drain W.47 (57)
The Platform: Spaces W.48-W.51 (58)
Spaces W.41-W.43 (61)
Courtyard W.44/W.45 (61)
Room W.46 (61)
Catalogue (62)
V. House J and Its Environs (77)
Introduction (77)
Rooms J.1 and J.2 (77)
Room J.3 (79)
Room J.4 (80)
Room J.5 (81)
Room J.6 (81)
The Stairway (82)
Cupboard Beneath the Stairs (83)
Room J.7 (83)
Space W.53 (84)
North and East of House J (85)
House J: Summary and Discussion (85)
Catalogue (88)
VI. House EJ and Its Environs (101)
Introduction (101)
West of House EJ (101)
House EJ (102)
Summary and Interpretation (111)
Catalogue (114)
VII. House C and Its Environs (135)
Rooms C.1-C.4 (135)
The Eastern Terrace (138)
Alley AC and Space W.19 (139)
Rooms W.13 and W.14
Rooms W.10/W.11
Room W.12
Room W.15/W.18
VIII. The Infill Between Houses C and EJ (159)
Room W.4 (159)
Room W.6 (160)
Room W.7-W.9 (160)
Room W.20-W.22 (162)
Room W.23, W.24 and W.25 (164)
Room W.33 (166)
Summary and Interpretation (167)
Catalogue (169)
IX. Conclusions (191)
Appendix I. Unstratified Finds (197)
Appendix II. Inventory and Field Numbers to Catalogue Numbers (201)
Appendix III. Publication Room Numbers to Excavation Room Numbers (211)
Index (213)
Plates 1-84


1.   W. W. Cummer and E. Schofield Keos III. Ayia Irini: House A, Mainz: von Zabern 1984.
2.   E. Milburn Aegean pottery from Late Bronze Age Houses at Ayia Irini in Keos, Doctoral Dissertation, University of Cincinnati 1965.
3.   Obituary by G. Cadogan, 'Elizabeth Schofield, 1935-2005' American Journal of Archaeology 110 (2006), 157-159.
4.   Although the 'logical', 'zoom-in' succession of Plates is 1a to 2 and back to 1b, Plate 2 still needed a full-page print to be legible and this would demand an extra plate sheet.

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Andrew Erskine, The Hellenistic Stoa: Political Thought and Action. Second edition (first published 1990). Bristol Classical paperbacks. London: Bristol Classical Press, 2011. Pp. xv, 233. ISBN 9781853997471. $40.00.

Reviewed by Andy Crane, University of Kent (

Version at BMCR home site

[A table of contents can be found at the end of the review.]

When the first edition of Andrew Erskine's The Hellenistic Stoa: Political Thought and Action was published in 1990 very little had been written in English on Stoic political philosophy. Despite the disparaging accusation from one reviewer at the time that Erskine had "resurrected the corpse of Stoic socialism,"1 Erskine's study marked the beginning of an increased academic interest in the topic, and books such as Dawson's Cities of the Gods2 owe a great debt to Erskine and the work reproduced in this volume, as do more general studies on Hellenistic political philosophy such as Laks' and Schofield's Justice and Generosity.3

The Hellenistic Stoa is divided into 8 chapters. The first focuses on Zeno and his Politeia, beginning by arguing not simply for a later date of composition, but also that this later date was accepted by early members of the Stoa. A brief summary of Zeno's philosophy is given before the philosophical and political background to the work is considered. Chapter 2 considers Zeno's and Chrysippus' views on slavery and society, using slavery as an example to show that early Stoics were not merely interested in society but were also engaged in analysing it. Erskine believes slavery is a particularly pertinent example because Zeno and Chrysippus saw society as a hierarchy of slavery, and the second chapter ends with the argument that the early Stoa saw homonoia as incompatible with slavery. Chapter 3, the book's shortest chapter, examines the Stoics' attitudes towards political participation, an activity that Erskine believes was acceptable both within the current system of government and if used to bring about change within a particular system. This, says Erskine, distinguished the Stoics from the Cynics and Epicureans. All three were dissatisfied with society, but Stoics did not resolve this issue by opting out altogether but rather by allowing for participation in the imperfect system. The second part of this chapter contends that early Stoic thought had a "democratic bias" (71), and that the mixed constitution which Diogenes Laertius says the Stoics preferred was a later development to be associated with Panaetius. Throughout each of these opening chapters comparisons are consistently drawn between the early Stoics and Plato and Aristotle.

The fourth chapter moves from the theoretical to the practical, arguing that the early Stoics' behaviour in the third century BC shows that not only did their political philosophy support the idea of a democratic and independent Athens (as argued in the previous chapter), but they also worked towards this end. The first part of this argument is concerned with distancing Zeno from Antigonus II Gonatas. Erskine makes the convincing claim that the supposed association of Zeno and Antigonus originated in the work of Persaeus, who became a fixture at the Macedonian court. The suggestion that the many anecdotes that associate Zeno and Antigonus derive from Persaeus' work on symposia provides a ground to question the authenticity of the relationship between the great philosopher and the king, and also explains why so many of the stories about Zeno are set at drinking parties, despite the fact that he was a renowned ascetic who declined most invitations to dinner. However, Erskine's attempts to link Zeno with pro-democratic politicians at Athens are not as successful as his attempts to distance Zeno from Macedon. This argument is based on anecdotes from Diogenes Laertius, which are not necessarily any more reliable than those Erskine rejected when they connected Zeno to Antigonus. The third example Erskine uses is the least compelling of all, as he claims the embassy sent from Ptolemy that met with Zeno shows that the Egyptians felt Zeno supported the cause of a free democratic Athens. However, Erskine himself has already noted that by this period it was not uncommon for philosophers to be involved in diplomatic undertakings, and that the Stoics note ambassadorial missions as appropriate acts (87-88), so Zeno may have been selected for his reputation rather than his beliefs. The use of Stoic language in the propaganda of the pro-democratic politicians' use of homonoia, eleutheria and douleia is again more convincing. However, the extent to which this shows the direct influence of Zeno on Chremonides can never be known, and the adoption of linguistic terms does not equate to an adoption of philosophical principles. The final part of the chapter contrasts the lack of Stoic contact with the close involvement of other schools with the powerful monarchies in the mid third century BC, and notes that the re-emergence of the Stoa coincided with a return to democratic thought in Athens.

Chapters five and six focus on property ownership and justice, the first on a theoretical level and the second by comparison with the Spartan revolution of the third century. Erskine argues that although the ideal Stoic society would not include property ownership, the preferred situation in reality would be for each person to have an approximately equal distribution of land. Further, it was the appeal of these Stoic ideas which gave the revolution its widespread impact. It is in this chapter that despite Erskine's admirable methodological approach, the limited and unreliable nature of the sources becomes most evident. While his presentation of Sphaerus as the ideological influence behind the Spartan revolution has been accepted wholesale by many,4 the fact remains that there is no certain evidence for the level of involvement by Sphaerus asserted by Erskine, and no amount of scholarly vigour on behalf of the author can fully overcome the problem of the sources.

Chapters seven and eight move from Greece to Rome and contend that a divide can be seen in the second century BC between those who followed the less palatable philosophy of the early school and those who tried to distance themselves from their more extreme predecessors. The first example used is that of the Gracchi, so again the concepts of property and justice are central. Erskine argues that the comparison of the Gracchi with Agis and Cleomenes used by Plutarch in his Parallel Lives (but certainly originating at a much earlier date5) was the result of "Stoic arguments which began by debating Sphaerus' activities in Sparta and ended up being applied to Tiberius Gracchus" (152). The early Stoa's preference for democratic constitutions and a rough equality of land holdings (discussed in chapters 4-6) are echoed in the reforms of the Gracchi and were the result of their association with Blossius of Cumae. Erskine contrasts the ideas of Blossius with Panaetius: the former, he believes, was more radical and traditional while the latter tempered his Stoicism to suit the political realities of Rome. The section of chapter seven that deals with the democratic elements of the Gracchi's reforms again suffers from the uncertain nature of the sources, as although Erskine argues convincingly that the brothers' reforms were democratically motivated, he is not able to show that these ideas are purely Stoic and not influenced by more general Greek thought.

The final chapter examines the later Stoics' justifications for empire and is used to illustrate the increased acceptance of contemporary society; while the earlier Stoics have been shown to theoretically reject slavery in several different forms (the moral slavery of bad men, chattel slavery and subordination – including imperial subjugation of a state), Roman Stoics revert to an attitude to slavery more compatible with Plato and Aristotle, as well as with the Roman empire. For the later Stoics slavery is beneficial to those who are not capable of self governance, and as such, empire is also in the interests of states who cannot govern themselves.

The principal problem with the second edition of Erskine's work is that it is hardly a second edition at all. No changes have been made to the contents of the first edition, and even typographical errors have not been corrected. Fortunately these were minimal in the first edition, for example, "Tiberius proposed only to distributed ager publicus..." (170), but they illustrate that nothing has been done to reconsider the original work. This means that none of the criticisms of the first edition have been addressed. Erskine, on occasion, "moves from 'possibly' to 'probably' to 'fact' in a couple of pages,"6 and more regularly relies on repetition where self-referencing would be preferable.7 However, most frustrating of all is the lack of any serious discussion of the cosmopolis, particularly as Erskine acknowledges in the new preface that "In retrospect... I would say more about the place of cosmopolitanism in Stoic thought" (viii). Surely a second edition is the perfect opportunity to 'say more'. Other than this new preface, the only other addition to the second edition is the inclusion of a bibliographical supplement, which by the author's own admission is "far from exhaustive" (x).

The fact that nothing has been changed or expanded from the first edition of The Hellenistic Stoa means that ultimately the second edition appears to be something of a missed opportunity. The first edition was Erskine's first major publication, and had its origins in his doctoral thesis and it would have been both interesting and beneficial to discover how – or indeed, if – the increasing number of studies in this area have changed his view since 1990. However, despite this, the influence his work has had in the intervening two decades highlights the quality of the original work, which first appeared at a time when Hellenistic political philosophy was woefully underrepresented in the English language and marked a turning point in our understanding of politics' relationship with philosophy in this period. Therefore, although any library or individual who owns a copy of the first edition will have no obligation to buy the second edition, it is still pleasing to see Bristol Classical Press making an important and influential work more easily available to those who are not yet fortunate enough to have access to a copy.

Table of Contents

Zeno's Politeia 9
Slavery and Society 43
Political Participation 64
Third Century Athenian Politics 75
Property and Justice 103
The Spartan Revolution 123
The Gracchi 150
The Justification of the Roman Empire 181


1.   T.W. Africa, "Review" in The American Historical Review Vol. 96, No. 5 (Dec. 1991), 1514.
2.   D. Dawson, Cities of the Gods: Communist Utopias in Greek Thought, Oxford University Press, 1992.
3.   A. Laks and M. Schofield (eds.), Justice and Generosity: Studies in Hellenistic Social and Political Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, 1995.
4.   Most notable in N.M. Kennel, The Gymnasium of Virtue: Education and Culture in Ancient Sparta, The University of North Carolina Press, 1995.
5.   Cicero, De Off. 2.80
6.   T.W. Africa, "Review" in The American Historical Review Vol 96, No. 5 (Dec. 1991), 1514.
7.   P. Cartledge, "Review" in The Classical Review, Vol. 41, No. 1 (1991), 106.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012


Ernst Heitsch (trans.), Platon, Größerer Hippias. Platon Werke. Übersetzung und Kommentar, VII 1. Göttingen; Oakville, CT: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2011. Pp. 145. ISBN 9783525304174. €48.95.

Reviewed by Albert Joosse, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität (

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The latest installment in Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht's series of German editions of Platonic dialogues offers a translation and commentary of the Hippias Major. Ernst Heitsch succeeds well in his stated aim of making this dialogue accessible to the contemporary reader. Beyond that, he offers scholars working on the dialogue material to consider with respect to the authorship and dating of the dialogue, as well as various matters of philosophical interpretation.

The book opens with Heitsch's translation, then offers a compact commentary, a contribution by Franz von Kutschera, five appendices, a bibliography, and indices of passages cited, names, topics, and Greek terms.

The translation is based on Burnet's text, with deviations noted in the last appendix. The most significant of these are discussed in the commentary, notably 298b2-c4 and 298d1-5 (translated in italics), which Heitsch considers interpolations. The translation follows the Greek closely, but never at the expense of readability. Only in some cases would one like to have a more literal version. In the introductory section of the dialogue, for instance, before the question 'what is τὸ καλόν?' is posed in so many words, the author of the dialogue uses forms of the word καλός to describe things like actions or utterances. The connection between these descriptions and the general question is lost in the translation, which uses different words for different instances.1 But these are marginal comments.

The commentary (pp. 42-109) is largely a continuous narrative, with relatively few subheadings. This form matches Heitsch's announced intention to allow the reader actually to read the commentary (8). It does, however, make it more difficult quickly to check what Heitsch has to say about specific lines or passages. Heitsch's focus is the progression of the narrative and argument of the Hippias Major, with occasional asides about lexical and grammatical features of the text. For more detailed lexical commentaries, he refers his readers to Tarrant and Woodruff.2 The Greek in the main text of the commentary is translated throughout. Not so in many footnotes, which Heitsch addresses to the specialist reader. This is also where the (limited) discussion of existing secondary literature takes place.

Heitsch offers his reader clear guidance through the philosophical moves of the dialogue and the interaction between its characters, Socrates and Hippias. Among many valuable observations he registers that 'Socrates' criticism of Hippias after the latter's third attempted definition is surprisingly harsh (72-3). He notes that Socrates announces that the definition of the fine as the beneficial will appear to be most ridiculous, and that our interpretation must be geared towards that result (85). He helpfully points out that the refutation of the idea that the fine is what is pleasant through sight and/or hearing proceeds via an unexpected omission: the interlocutors first repeatedly appeal to some other features that these two cases share, but then dismiss them solely on the basis of their description as pleasure through sight and hearing (96).

The book also includes a guest contribution by Franz von Kutschera, Heitsch's Regensburg colleague. He offers a rival interpretation of the digression on collective and distributive properties near the end of the dialogue, and its role in the argument. With most commentators, Heitsch thinks the definition of the fine as what is pleasant through sight and hearing fails because Socrates insists on the 'and' here, so that what is pleasant through sight only, for instance, would not be fine. But this result has already been reached before the digression, which thus turns out to be unnecessary. In von Kutschera's view, however, the definition is rejected in the disjunctive form 'pleasant through sight or hearing'. This presupposes the digression, because the failure becomes apparent after both a collective and a distributive reading of this phrase prove unsatisfactory. Although the reader would have benefited from a more pointed presentation of it, the exchange itself usefully signals that there are often many possible readings of a Platonic dialogue – a point that the flowing style of the commentary may otherwise have risked underemphasizing.

An important concern for Heitsch is to establish that Plato did not write the Hippias Major, a minority view, nowadays. There are some scattered remarks in the commentary itself. Some of these argue from perceived authorial failings, implicitly making the assumption (a debatable one) that Plato could not have produced inferior work.3 In his first appendix, however, Heitsch presents the core of his case.4 Heitsch is remarkably confident about the powers of modern philology. Not only does he see it as the sole authority in matters of authenticity (ancient opinions don't count), its verdict in this case has the status of certainty. There are two grounds in particular, each of which he considers sufficient for the certain conclusion that Plato was not the author of this dialogue. In his view, Plato would never have written both the Hippias Minor and the Hippias Major, going out of his way to establish dramatic links between the dialogues (the speech that has just been held in the fictional world of the former is explicitly looked forward to in the latter), given that Hippias is such a different character in each of them (116-7). As his second decisive argument against Plato's authorship Heitsch presents the dialogue's use of the particle combination ἀλλὰ γάρ (117-9). In one of the five occurrences of this combination in the text, he claims, it cannot but have a purely adversative meaning ('but'). The text is: νῦν δὲ θέασαι αὐτὸ ὅ σοι δοκεῖ εἶναι τὸ καλόν. λέγω δὴ αὐτὸ εἶναι—ἀλλὰ γὰρ ἐπισκόπει μοι πάνυ προσέχων τὸν νοῦν μὴ παραληρήσω—τοῦτο γὰρ δὴ ἔστω ἡμῖν καλόν, ὃ ἂν χρήσιμον ᾖ (295b5-c3). Since elsewhere in Plato ἀλλὰ γάρ always requires the completion of a thought between ἀλλὰ and γάρ for which the sequel gives a reason (e.g. 'but (let that be,) for …), we can be certain that Plato did not write the Hippias Major, Heitsch says.

Not all readers will find these considerations equally decisive. One may not find Hippias that different in the two dialogues. But even if we do, how much does that establish? We would still need a plausible account of the difference regardless of who wrote the text. If a follower of Plato had his reasons to portray Hippias differently, then might not Plato have had the same reasons when he sat down to wrote whichever of the dialogues is later? As to Heitsch's second argument, it seems perfectly possible to regard the injunction as the ground for a suppressed thought between ἀλλά and γάρ – something like 'but it isn't relevant that it's me who says this, for you yourself must check it'. Note how λέγω ('I' versus 'you') is replaced by ἔστω after the parenthetical remark. One might ask how different this use really is from, e.g., Politicus 257c2-5: Ταῦτ', ὦ Θεόδωρε, ποιητέον (sc. discussing the statesman)· ἐπείπερ ἅπαξ γε ἐγκεχειρήκαμεν, [καὶ] οὐκ ἀποστατέον πρὶν ἂν αὐτῶν πρὸς τὸ τέλος ἔλθωμεν. ἀλλὰ γὰρ περὶ Θεαιτήτου τοῦδε τί χρὴ δρᾶν με; This passage shares with the one cited above that what follows γάρ is not a neat propositional sentence that provides a reason for the suppressed thought after ἀλλά; nevertheless, both are easily paraphrased into such a sentence.

The particular arguments Heitsch offers, then, fail to convince. Nor do they seem to be the types of argument that would yield more than plausibility. In claiming certainty for his conclusion, Heitsch claims more than he can deliver. A more important concern, however, is that the energy devoted to the authenticity problem distracts from other, some may think even more interesting, questions. Why, for instance, does Hippias answer the way he does, giving the impression that he is not very clever at all? Here we learn little more than that, apparently, the author wished it so. 5 But what we want to know, regardless of who this author is, is why? Also, the more general question about the relation between Socrates' invocation of his acquaintance and what this says about his or the author's views on how thinking works is hardly raised here at all. Is there a meaningful connection to be made with Hippias' insistence that he can find the answer easily if left to himself?

Heitsch follows von Kutschera in thinking that the Hippias Major was written during Plato's last years, by a member of the Academy. As his main evidence for this he sees the author's apparent interest in disjunctive definitions, which shows in the last definition of τὸ καλόν as that which is pleasant through sight and hearing. Aristotle's very similar definition in Topics 146a22 suggests that this was a definition current in the Academy of Plato's later years, says Heitsch, who also points to the definition of being as that which has the power to act or to be acted upon that we find both in Sophist 247de and in Topics 146a23. The idea is plausible, although it is of course very difficult to establish what comes from where in cases like this.

The bibliography does not aim at completeness. It contains the most important discussions of this dialogue in English and German. Among the items one would like to add are the three recent French editions of the dialogue, by Hazebroucq, Balaudé, and Pradeau and Fronterotta, respectively.6 Not taken into account are the valuable textual remarks in Slings 1998.7 The book unfortunately contains numerous typographical errors, as well as inconsistencies in its references to Platonic dialogues and other texts.

This edition is a welcome contribution to the study of a remarkable text. It should promote philosophical interest in its second half, and is particularly suitable for those reading the dialogue for the first time.


1.   We have eight different words in German ('hübsch', 'recht', 'Erfolg', 'schön', 'am besten', 'passend', 'angemessen' and 'geeignet') for ten instances of καλός (281a1, 282b1, d6, 282e9, 283a9, 285b8, 286a4, a5, b1, b4). The last four of these are particularly close to each other, and immediately precede the question 'what is τὸ καλόν?'
2.   Dorothy Tarrant (1928), The Hippias Major Attributed to Plato, Cambridge: CUP; Paul Woodruff (1982), Plato: Hippias Major, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
3.   E.g. on pp. 45, 100 ('Er ist eben auch hier kein Platon, wie sich immer wieder zeigt'), 108.
4.   This material was presented before in a 1999 publication entitled 'Grenzen der philologischen Echtheitskritik: Bemerkungen zum ,Großen Hippias'' (Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur Mainz: Abhandlungen der Geistes- und Sozialwissenschaftlichen Klasse 1999.4), Stuttgart: Franz Steiner; reprinted (2003) in Gesammelte Schriften III, München/Leipzig: K.G. Saur, 87-124.
5.   pp. 66-9, 72, 75. There have, e.g., been readings in which Hippias appears more philosophically coherent or interesting than is the merely arrogant and obtuse Hippias in this book, such as those by Woodruff (see note 2) and Balaudé (see note 6).
6.   M.-F. Hazebroucq (2004), Hippias Majeur, Paris: Ellipses; J.-F. Balaudé (2004), Platon: Hippias mineur, Hippias majeur, Paris: Livre de Poche; J.-F. Pradeau and F. Fronterotta (2005), Platon: Hippias majeur, Hippias mineur, Paris: Flammarion.
7.   S.R. Slings (1998), 'De novis libris iudicia: Review of B. Vancamp (1996), Platon, Hippias Maior, Hippias Minor', Mnemosyne 51:5, 611-6.

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Dominique Lenfant (ed.), Les Perses vus par les Grecs. Lire les sources classiques sur l'empire achéménide. Collection U – Histoire. Paris: Armand Colin, 2011. Pp. 432. ISBN 9782200270353. €35.80 (pb.).

Reviewed by Amélie Kuhrt, University College London (

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Before the decipherment of the old scripts of the Middle East in the nineteenth century, scholars depended on classical writers and the Bible for reconstructing the history of the Achaemenid Persian empire. And even with the ability to read the texts produced by the Persians and their subjects, the long-established picture of the empire was barely modified, as there were few, if any, narrative sources: virtually all of the rich harvest of documents are either formal, royal pronouncements or provide administrative and legal data. They are, of course, important in giving different perspectives, but incapable of yielding the longed for 'Persian Version' of events retailed in classical literature. In creating an enduringly influential picture of the empire, pride of place goes to the Greek authors of the fifth and fourth centuries, such as Herodotus, Xenophon and the only partially surviving Ctesias, who were its contemporaries.1 There were other authors, but they are only rather scantily preserved, such as Deinon of Colophon and – yet more fragmentary – Heraclides of Cumae. To these must be added the writers who accompanied, or lived at the time of, Alexander the Great. The latter's campaign involved marching through the larger part of the immense imperial space, including parts of Iran, Central Asia and the Indus Valley. Their works have not survived, but they were drawn on intensively by Roman period authors (Diodorus, Arrian and Quintus Curtius), so that the picture they painted of the Persian empire has survived to some degree. While the debt owed by these 'Alexander historians' to their now lost sources is clear, all those writing after the end of the empire used the works of their classical period predecessors: Plutarch and Cornelius Nepos for their Lives, and in Plutarch's case for his moral discourses, too; Athenaeus for his display of learned anecdotes; Polyaenus for vignettes of clever strategies; Aelian for his stories of remarkable events and examples of odd animal behaviour. It is clear that someone like Strabo, too, drew heavily on earlier writers so that often what he presents is, in part at least, a picture of conditions several centuries earlier than his own time. And there are many more such instances. Each work that we read does not necessarily constitute a new and different source for viewing the empire, but may rather represent a selection of material drawn from an earlier writer whose text has not survived. Tracing this can be hard, as many authors do not divulge whence their material has come. In other words, the classical material is rich, but textually interdependent, highly complex, shaped by a variety of contexts and the diverse audiences individual writers are addressing. And this does not even take into account the fact that none of the authors we use for constructing our histories would be described as historians now.

Despite all these problems and caveats, the classical sources remain important for trying to understand the history of the Persian empire, precisely because of their narrative style. Despite their capacity to seduce, they can and do contain crucial information, so historians need to learn how to navigate this enticing literary terrain. And that is the aim of this book: to provide a guide to the great diversity of authors and works spanning a millennium (late sixth century BC [Simonides of Keos] to early fifth century AD [Metz Epitome]).2 Dominique Lenfant, who produced what is now the authoritative commented edition of Ctesias in the Budé series (Ctésias de Cnide: La Perse; L'Inde; autres fragments, Paris 2004), as well as one of the Deinon and Heraclides fragments (Les Histoires perses de Dinon et d'Héraclide. Persika 13. Paris 2009), has directed and worked with a group of researchers to provide a critical introduction to this wealth of complex material, for the use of students and teachers, as indicated by its publication in the 'Collection U' series. The very well-informed introduction, which includes a helpful chronological table of authors together with indications of genre (e.g. 'lyric poet', 'philosopher', 'orator' etc.), is followed by a guide to the 54 relevant writers in alphabetical order for easy reference, a chronology of events in Persian history and an index. Under each name is a brief general biography, a list of relevant works, discussion of how, where, why and when Persia figures, and then a summary of those passages. At the end is a detailed bibliography of editions, translations, studies and research tools. Inevitably, there is some selectivity – there are a host of good translations of Herodotus into English, such as that by Greene (1987), while no German ones figure in the case of this writer, for example. But these are minor quibbles. Questions that some may ask are: 'Why, when the title refers to the Greek vision of Persia, are people writing in Latin (such as Justin, Quintus Curtius, Nepos, Ammianus) included? And what about individuals whose specific aim it was to provide the history of their communities in opposition to the Greek stories by drawing on local sources, such as Josephus and Berossus?'3 But the former are heavily dependent on the earlier Greek accounts so that for someone like Ammianus, for instance, the contemporary Sassanian Persians have become timeless figures, interchangeable with those of Herodotus' day. In the case of the Jewish and Babylonian authors, it is their confrontation with the Greek material that draws them into the same stylistic and thematic framework. In this sense, it is indeed the case that all the writers discussed partake of a shared cultural milieu, which is Greek.

No doubt, those specialising in the study of individual authors will find points of disagreement (see my own reservations in footnote 3, below) – that is only to be expected in a work of this kind. But such individual criticisms on matters of detail will not undermine fundamentally the usefulness of such a guide to this exceptionally complex material.


1.   The books of Ezra and Nehemiah have played the main role in crediting the Persian kings (wrongly) with a unique policy of religious toleration, but this has had little effect on popular perceptions, as witnessed by, for example, the recent film '300'. Esther, being a story of intrigues at the Persian court, is very different and chimes more with the images found in the classical stories, as argued by, for example, A. Momigliano, 'Eastern Elements in Post-Exilic Jewish, and Greek Historiography,' in id., Essays in Ancient and Modern Historiography, Oxford 1977: 25-35.
2.   I have to declare an interest: I am personally acquainted with Professor Lenfant and was one of her examiners in 2006
3.   The Berossus article could do with some improvement and corrections. To say that Berossus is not writing a Greek history (p.84) is to ignore O. Murray's article ('Herodotus and Hellenistic culture,' Classical Quarterly 22 (1972): 200-213) where he sets out the standard pattern of Hellenistic ethnography: first, local geography, creation and other legends, to set the scene, then ancient history and finally more recent recorded events. This is precisely the lay-out of Berossus' work and certainly the first (geography and local resources) does not fit at all with Babylonian traditions of history writing. Conversely, giving the early kings reign lengths of thousands of years reflects the Mesopotamian traditions about kings of old, while the places where reference is made to biblical material are almost certainly later insertions and not original to Berossus at all, while Enuma Elish is emphatically Babylonian, dealing as it does with the rise to power of Babylon's patron deity Marduk and the building of the city, not Assyrian. See now Geert De Breucker's edition, translation and commentary on Berossus in Brill's New Jacoby, 680, available on line by subscription.

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Carl Joachim Classen, Herrscher, Bürger und Erzieher. Beobachtungen zu den Reden des Isokrates. Spudasmata, Bd 133. Hildesheim; Zürich; New York: Olms, 2010. Pp. 136. ISBN 9783487143477. €29.80 (pb).

Reviewed by Maddalena Vallozza, Università degli Studi della Tuscia – Viterbo (

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This is a dense, flexible volume, the latest fruit of a long, formidable task of active analysis, direct and personal, on Greek and Latin texts. In particular, it falls into one of the preferred research topics of Carl Joachim Classen, especially in recent years: the reconstruction of the vast system of concepts that gravitate around the area of values, aretai or virtutes. This reconstruction has among its recent expressions a volume on Homer and a collection of essays.1

After a brief introduction, the book is divided into six chapters that only partially reflect the traditional chronological succession of Isocrates' speeches. The first one is devoted to forensic orations, the following to the Encomium of Helen and the Busiris, the third treats the three speeches for the sovereigns of Cyprus, the fourth involves the Against the Sophists, the fifth the Panegyricus, the sixth the Antidosis. A rich conclusion and a dense index of Greek terms complete the volume. Classen excludes other speeches handed down in the corpus because, he asserts (105 n. 1), the data would not have changed the results of his investigation: it is hard to escape a feeling of incompleteness and, dare I say it, of regret.

In an admirable synthesis, Classen explains in the introduction (1-3) the purpose and method of the volume: to reconstruct the values, norms, and ideals behind the philosophia of Isocrates, and the forms chosen to promote and communicate them, starting from the individual speeches and illustrating Isocrates' concepts in context, clarifying Isocrates from Isocrates. It is no coincidence that the bibliography is confined to a few notes on the first page.2 The analysis of the forensic orations is comparatively very large, almost a third of the volume, and of great importance. Classen rightly highlights the continuing tendency of the author to draw on the experience of private trials to reflect on issues and values for the whole community of citizens, not only in the trial involving Alcibiades, but in particular also in those against Euthynus, Callimachus, and Lochites. In this group of speeches, whether in praise or in blame, Isocrates portrays individuals against the background of their relationship with the public power, aiming thereby to emphasize the constant drive towards shared values such as fame and wealth. But, Classen finely observes, it is only with respect to Pericles, in the speech On the Team of Horses (28), that σωφροσύνη, δικαιοσύνη and σοφία come to coalesce in the complete and paradigmatic portrait of the perfect man, the man most worthy of praise among the citizens. In the Encomium of Helen, Classen focuses on the widespread presence of references to desirable forms of education and state organization. Besides the values related to beauty, the characteristic quality of the protagonist, Isocrates unfolds a diverse range of ethical and political qualities, especially for male figures and particularly in the long section on Theseus. Similarly in the Busiris the praise of the individual takes second place to that of the exemplary organization of the state or the religiousness of its citizens. In the third chapter, the good of the community emerges as the fundamental reference for the construction of that articulate and complex Fürstenspiegel that Isocrates develops, according to the chronology accepted by Classen (54 and 106),3 from To Nicocles to Nicocles up to Evagoras, where qualities and actions of the protagonist are interwoven in a framework of unparalleled richness. Along the same lines, Classen illuminates the deepest driving force of the education proposal, developed in the Against the Sophists,4 in the creation of a system of values that assigns responsibility to the individual for collective well-being and, at the same time, to the speaker or to the intellectual the responsibility to train good future citizens. This is a paradigmatic function and a paideutic role which in the Panegyricus the polis as a whole has to fulfil in the Greek world in conducting its struggle against the barbarians. In the Antidosis Classen immediately recognizes the peculiar structure,5 isolating the elements of a true self- praise that stand in contrast to the long list of repeated negative values that dominate the world of fictitious opponents.

From chapter to chapter, the analysis proceeds in a precise manner, following the structure of the speeches, without exceptions or surprises. The notes, numerous despite the small format of the page, are full of references to texts and build a sort of valuable apparatus to the comments developed in the body of the pages, an apparatus often supported by an always careful, elegant translation and enriched with additional references and brief, but useful, observations. The Wortregister, an essential key, comprises a large part of the volume (110-136), unfolding the long list of Greek words cited. The conclusion offers a solid overall vision that, despite its traditional structure, shines a new light on the dense network of concrete values and the constellation of ethical and political virtues that give it substance, which Classen, with measured philological passion, claims for Isocrates as the basis of his philosophia. It is a vision that demonstrates the realization of the intention from which his analysis proceeds: to help put Isocrates in his rightful place alongside the greats of the fourth century.


1.   Respectively C. J. Classen, Vorbilder - Werte - Normen in den homerischen Epen, Berlin / New York 2008, reviewed by W. Polleichtner in BMCR 2009.04.02 and C. J. Classen, Aretai und virtutes. Untersuchungen zu den Wertvorstellungen der Griechen und Römer, Berlin / New York, 2010.
2.   At n. 3 it would be expedient to take a step back from the edition of B. G. Mandilaras, Isocrates. Opera omnia, I-III, Munich 2003, remembered as the new critical edition of Isocrates. Cf. the reviews by S. Martinelli Tempesta in Gnomon 78, 2006, pp. 583-596 and of J. Engels in ExClass 12, 2008, pp. 317-330. At n. 4, where Classen lists monographs which provide a new overview of Isocrates, R. Nicolai should at least be cited for Studi su Isocrate. La comunicazione letteraria nel IV sec. a. C. e i nuovi generi della prosa, Rome 2004.
3.   On the problem cf. E. Alexiou, Der Euagoras des Isokrates. Ein Kommentar, Berlin / New York 2010, pp. 37-39.
4.   Classen believes the final part to be undoubtedly lost. But cf. P. Böhme, Isokrates. Gegen die Sophisten, Wien/Berlin/Münster 2009, pp. 190-209.
5.   Cf. P. M. Pinto in Gnomon 82, 2010, p. 293.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012


W. R. Paton, Frank W. Walbank, Christian Habicht (trans.), Polybius, The Histories. Vol. III, Books 5-8 (revised 2nd edition). Loeb classical library, 138. Cambridge, MA; London: Harvard University Press, 2011. Pp. 607. ISBN 9780674996588. $24.00. W. R. Paton, Frank W. Walbank, Christian Habicht (trans.), Polybius: The Histories. Vol. IV, Books 9-15 (revised edition). Loeb classical library, 159. Cambridge, MA; London: Harvard University Press, 2011. Pp. 631. ISBN 9780674996595. $24.00.

Reviewed by Duncan B. Campbell, Glasgow (

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Volumes III and IV of the six-volume Loeb Polybius appeared in 1923 and 1925 and remained in print until very recently. The translator, W.R. Paton, died in 1921 before ever seeing his work published and, more importantly, before getting the chance to iron out any wrinkles in his translation. Now, ninety years on, a new edition is finally appearing, revised by Christian Habicht and incorporating annotations made by the late Frank Walbank during the composition of his masterful (and still essential) Historical Commentary on Polybius (3 vols., Oxford, 1957- 1979). This explains Walbank's name on the cover as joint reviser, although it is Habicht who deserves our gratitude for seeing this revision through to publication.1

The two volumes under review contain Books 5-15 of Polybius' History, spanning the years 218 to 202 BC. The historical coverage is necessarily uneven: only one book has survived complete (Book 5) and only one other substantially so (Book 6), the rest having been preserved in fragments and excerpts. Like the original volumes, there is no front matter, and we launch straight into the text with facing translation. The Greek is now displayed twenty- eight lines per page, rather than the original thirty-two lines, making these volumes substantially thicker than the originals.2 Each volume has an index.

The dust jacket explains that "W.R. Paton's excellent translation … has been thoroughly revised, the Büttner-Wobst Greek text corrected, and explanatory notes and a new introduction added, all reflecting the latest scholarship".3 No scholar of the twentieth century has been as influential in Polybian studies as Walbank, so it is fitting that the Loeb text has been rearranged in a way that he would have approved of. In Vol. III, chapters 7.14b-14d have been inserted, and 8.38 has moved from Vol. III to Vol. IV, where it has been slipped in between 9.10.13 and 9.11.1 (although its unexplained appearance simply as "38" may confuse readers, as Book 9 already has its own chapter 38). In Vol. IV, 9.9.10a, 9.27.10, and 9.44.1-45.1 have been inserted and 11.24.10 (missing from Paton's text) has been restored. Likewise, 9.40.4-6 and 11.7.1 have been relocated (Habicht adds explanatory text only for the former), as have 15.24a and 24b, though the resulting jumble of section numbers in 15.25 may bemuse unwary readers.

Paton's prose is still serviceable after ninety years, although at 6.36.6, "they are suffered to depart without question" now sounds rather quaint, and it might have been better to replace the recurring reference to punishment by "bastinado" (6.37.1, 9; 38.1, 3) with the strictly literal "beaten with cudgels".

Besides Americanizing Paton's spelling throughout, Habicht has taken on the task of tightening up his translation, particularly in the (very few) places where Paton omitted a word (e.g. "three maniples" at 6.33.6; "lost heart and surrendered" at 9.42.3) or where he misconstrued Polybius' meaning (e.g. at 10.27.13, the money was "paid into the treasury", not "coined with the king's effigy"). A fairly extensive selective check (Books 5, 6, 9 and 14) revealed mainly minor corrections, most of which were already suggested in Walbank's Commentary.4

Several corrections are fundamental. At 6.24.6, Paton's mistaken description of the manipular σημαιαφόροι as vexillarii has been corrected to signiferi, and at 6.35.8-9 and 6.37.5, the ἰλάρχης whom Paton had unwittingly promoted to "praefect of cavalry" has been justly downgraded to decurio (i.e. troop commander). These (and others) are, of course, to be welcomed. Less welcome, in my opinion, is Habicht's revision of 6.37.8 (on the Roman military tribunes' abuse of power), where Paton's "demanding sureties" (an eminently sensible translation of Polybius' ἐνεχυράζων) has been replaced by the obscurely legalistic "distraining on goods" (which caused me to reach for a dictionary). If there is a technicality to be observed here, it would have been wiser to add the details in a footnote (for which there is abundant space on p. 393).

At the same time, some expected changes have not materialized. At 5.1.11, Paton's translation has been allowed to stand, although Walbank inclined towards the alternative interpretation, that, "as soon as Philip struck camp, the Achaeans would immediately give him fifty talents to serve as three months' pay for his army, and would give him in addition ten thousand medimni of corn". (Paton preferred to grant Philip a bonus of fifty talents, over and above his monthly pay of seventeen talents.) Also, at 5.88.7, Paton's literal "fifty catapults three cubits long" has been allowed to stand, although (as Walbank – a contemporary of Eric Marsden's at Liverpool – well knew) these are "catapults [designed to shoot arrows] three cubits long".

In many passages, Paton's translation, though acceptable, might have been improved. For example, at 6.29.1, "cavalry camp" for τῆς τῶν ἱππέων παρεμβολῆς has been allowed to stand, although it would surely be better as "the cavalry quarters" (Polybius is describing the area of the Roman camp occupied by the legionary cavalry). In 6.29.3, on the encamping of the triarii behind the cavalry troops, Paton's quaint "a company next each troop" might be more accurately rendered as "a maniple behind each troop". Indeed, understanding the entire section on the Roman camp really requires a plan, which might comfortably have been accommodated on one of the several blank pages at the rear of Vol. III.

Amongst other minor observations, Paton's "cavalry officers" at 6.34.5-6 (where Polybius refers only to ἱππεῖς) could have been corrected, and at 6.35.12 and 6.36.5, it would have been nice to see "bugle" changed to the bucina (a long, straight instrument quite unlike a bugle) that Polybius intended. At 6.34.8, Paton's "maniple" (a perfectly reasonable translation of Polybius' σημαία) has been changed to "unit", though the same change has not been applied elsewhere (e.g. 6.34.9), and Paton's mention of maniples at 6.29.5 (where Polybius refers only to ἄνδρες) has been retained. Finally, at 6.37.3, in connection with the punishment of fustuarium, it might have been wiser to replace Paton's ambiguous "dispatching him", which may be open to misinterpretation, with the more straightforward "killing him".

So much for the translation. The task of "correcting" Büttner-Wobst's Teubner text is an admirable endeavour, but the places where the Loeb now diverges are not always obvious to the reader. Many of Habicht's emendations have been flagged in the footnotes and are mostly minor, requiring minimal alteration (or none at all) to Paton's translation (but note 5.41.2, where Büttner-Wobst's Ἄτταλον has been changed to Schweighäuser's Ταῦρον). However, several are unmarked: for example, at 5.1.11, Büttner-Wobst's σίτου μυριάδας has been replaced by Schweighäuser's σίτου μυριάδα, and at 10.39.6, Büttner-Wobst's προσπίπτοντας by Scaliger's προσπίπτοντες; in both cases, Paton's translation already matched the improved readings. But note 9.9.3, where Büttner-Wobst's συντρῖψαι has been replaced by Hultsch's συμπέμψαι (the translation has, of course, been amended to take account). Often, brackets have been employed to indicate an interpolation, as with the major insertion at 14.7.2, which is flagged (in Vol. IV, p. 501, n. 14) simply as "B-W's supplement". However, at 10.27.11, the same treatment has been given to the (quite justified) emendation of Νικάνορος to Νικάτορος, leading readers to assume that the entire word is an interpolation. Ideally, all such alterations should be flagged and explained, although readers need hardly be reminded that the Loebs are not intended as critical editions; for that, the ongoing Budé text with its apparatus criticus must still be consulted.

One expected emendation has not materialized: at 5.88.5, Habicht notes that "a rebuilding of the fortifications [of Rhodes] has dropped out of the text" (Vol. III, p. 235, n. 157), but Walbank was happy to entertain a variation on Reiske's interpolation (from Diod. Sic. 26.8, which was clearly lifted directly from Polybius). And it would have been nice to see Habicht follow Foulon's Budé in emending ἐντός to ἐκτός at 10.7.5, in order to correctly locate the Conii people beyond the Pillars of Hercules.

The new Loebs now aim to provide essential critical and explanatory notes. It need hardly be stated that no series of footnotes could ever replace Walbank's Commentary, but a judicious, summarized selection from that work could easily have been accommodated in the space available. Certainly, many footnotes send the reader in search of a particular passage in "WC", which most will eventually realize indicates Walbank's Commentary. But Habicht has high expectations of his readers' reference shelves. Not only does he assume ready access to Pauly's Realencyclopädie (frequently referenced, but – irritatingly – only by headword, column number and article author), but he also shows a preference for French and German specialized monographs (even citing a Hamburg dissertation of 1975 in Vol. IV, p. 26, n. 14). And for the Roman army, he recommends Kromayer and Veith's Heerwesen und Kriegführung der Griechen und Römer (1928). All of this (I would venture to suggest) rather defeats the purpose of a generally accessible English-language Polybius. It might have been wiser to standardize on the lines of the OCD or Brill's New Pauly, which seem more of a match with the Loeb Classical Library's philosophy. In a similar vein, it would have been helpful to quote the modern equivalent of Polybius' ancient measurements in all cases, rather than in a few only.

At any rate, it is to be hoped that the first reprint of each volume will include a list of abbreviations, explaining the likes of "PP" (Leuven University's multi-volume Prosopographia Ptolemaica project), StV (evidently Schmitt's Die Staatsverträge des Altertums, Vol. 3, 1969), and I. Syrie (Waddington's Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie, 1870), as well as the standard acronyms, since familiarity with these and others (e.g. NGG, TGrF) should not simply be assumed.

I noted only three misprints. In Vol. III, at 6.21.8, Paton's "distinct in age and equipment" has become "district in age and equipment" (p. 353), and at 6.37.11, Paton's "in the actual battle" has become "on the actual battle" (p. 393). And in Vol. IV, at 9.19.7, Paton's "scalers" have become "sealers" (p. 51).5


1.   Volumes I and II appeared in 2010 and were reviewed in BMCR 2011.05.40. Volumes V and VI are scheduled to appear during 2012.
2.   This has had unwelcome consequences for many of the facing pages, where the English translation no longer requires a full page, leaving areas of unsightly white space at the foot. Also, in my opinion, the original Greek and English typefaces were noticeably more legible than the new ones.
3.   The "new introduction" appears only in Vol. I.
4.   Changes other than those recommended by Walbank's Commentary are generally less essential, such as at 6.25.10, where Paton's "in defence and attack" (which neatly captured the spirit of Polybius' πρὸς τὰς ἐπιβολὰς καὶ πρὸς τὰς ἐπιθέσεις) has been changed to the more ambitious "against both missiles from a distance and from attack at close quarters" (where the second "from" is redundant). Or again, at 6.42.4, where Paton seems to have captured the essence of Polybius' meaning with "whereabouts in the camp his own place or the place of his corps is", Habicht has substituted "whereabouts his own position and the details of the camp are"; but Polybius' μέρος surely refers to the area around the individual soldier's position (i.e. Paton's "the place of his corps"), rather than to the entire camp.
5.   I noted a few minor slips. In Vol. III, p. 365, the word extraordinarii has retained the hyphen from Paton's edition (in which the word broke across two lines). In Vol. IV, p. 3, the redrafting of a sentence requires the deletion of Paton's comma after "Ephorus"; on p. 19 (line 4), Paton's missing full stop is still missing; on p. 35, at 9.12.9, Paton's "anyone" should have been changed to "any one"; on p. 39, at 9.14.10, the word "behindhand" has retained an intersyllabic space from Paton's edition (in which the word broke across two lines); and the running header on p. 73 is incorrect.

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Nick Fisher, Hans van Wees (ed.), Competition in the Ancient World. Swansea: Classical Press of Wales, 2011. Pp. xi, 308. ISBN 9781905125487. $100.00.

Reviewed by Peter Van Nuffelen, Ghent University (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Competition seems an ubiquitous phenomenon in ancient societies, ranging from the so-called "competitive spirit" of Archaic and Classical Greece to the intercity rivalry characteristic in the Eastern provinces of the Roman Empire. Because competition seems a self-evident notion, there is often little explicit reflection on it in the context of classical studies. This is regrettable: its prominence in contemporary analyses is obviously related to the fact that competition occupies a central position in modern economic and social theory. The volume under review presents itself as "a tentative step" (p. ix) towards the goal of a more comprehensive analysis of competition in the ancient world and that is an apt self-description. It combines theoretical and comparative perspectives with analyses of the history of scholarship and detailed studies of literary, archaeological and historical evidence.

Strong theoretical claims are made in the opening chapter by one of the editors, Hans van Wees: "I shall argue that competitiveness is a widespread human characteristic and has been the driving force behind many of the most dramatic developments in history from 10,000 BC onwards." (p. 1) Competition for superiority is put in the place of population growth and ecological change as the driver of change in primitive societies. Identifying four dynamics in the process (escalation, regulation, exclusion, and rejection), van Wees shows that competition does not drive change in one particular direction (as some evolutionary accounts claim); that is, it can cause a change for the better or for the worse. This model is applied to the Pygmy and Ik and to the neolithic monuments of Göbekli Tepe, which for van Wees illustrate the competition generated when resources become plentiful and people start to engage in seemingly useless building projects out of sheer competition.

The model is not without its problems. First, competition seems defined as competition between individuals (see page 4). Competition between groups is only briefly mentioned on page 27. Here the modern emphasis on individual competition, well visible in economic theory, seems to surface in an unreflective way. Second, competition takes place in specific social systems and hierarchies (briefly alluded to on page 24). Given the embedded nature of competition in a social system, is it not more logical to define competion as a form of social relation (as the German sociologist G. Simmel has done1), rather than as a universal, almost biological, driving force? Then we might be better positioned to ask what type of competition is fostered, tolerated or prohibited in what kind of society.

Karen Radner focuses on the competition for honour among soldiers of the Neo-Assyrian empire. Soldiers competed for recognition, fame, but also eternal life. Military prowess was often expressed in bringing the heads of defeated enemies to the attention of the general or king. The more one delivered, the more status one could achieve — status that was expressed in changes in dress, weaponry, and jewelery. Towards the end of the Neo-Assyrian empire, civil officials started to eclipse soldiers in competition for supreme honours. My impression is that this chapter would have benefited from more attention to the wider context and theories of competition. One would in particular need more background on how Neo-Assyrian society functioned in order to be able to understand the importance of the system of honour for soldiers, which can be parallelled in almost any given society.

Frances Berdan takes us to the Aztec empire. Made up of numerous city-states, the empire knew an important population growth in the 14th and 15th centuries. The ensuing scarcity of resources generated intensive competition, on all levels of society. The elite, especially, tried to maintain their status through public display, but the kings continued to control material wealth and could dispose of it as they saw fit: they could thus intervene in the struggle for status among the elite. The paper generates a complex picture of the various factors that shaped competition (social structure, environment, and dynastic policies) and thus avoids easy generalisations.

The fourth paper, inaugurating the section on Greece, opens with a qualified contradiction of van Wees: "It is clear, at any rate, that competition is not a genetic given, and without a thorough examination of human history, one cannot presuppose that competition is an anthropological constant" (p. 85). C. Ulf traces the idea of a prominence of competition in ancient Greece back to the nineteenth century and to economic thought, when competition is seen as a source of wealth and welfare. He shows that the idea only slowly got hold of scholarship, especially due to the rise of the ideal of fair competition among English gentlemen. In other words, it betrays the ideal of amateurism and bourgeois elitism in which competition is something positive. By historicising the notion of competition and raising questions about its usefulness as an analytic tool, Ulf suggests a crucial corrective to van Wees's introductory chapter.

In "Conflict and community in the Iliad", W. Allan and D. Cairns revisit the conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon, in which individual interests clash with those of the community. They argue that this tension between society and individual also drives the literary representation of both characters and steers the responses of the audience. Homer can thus be seen as depicting the dangers of strife that get out of hand.

S. Forsdyke deconstructs Herodotus' story about the renaming of the Dorian tribes of Sicyon by the sixth-century tyrant Cleisthenes (Hdt. 5.67-68) and the introduction of the cult of Melanippus. According to Herodotus, Cleisthenes ridiculed the inhabitants by choosing "pigmen", "assmen", and "swinemen" as new names. Melanippus was introduced to rival the cult of Adrastus. Forsdyke argues that these stories are, in fact, invented traditions: Dorian identity was adopted only in the late sixth century, but projected back onto the primordial past. The changes of Cleisthenes serve the purpose to obliterate the fact that the Dorian identity was late in coming. The cult of Adrastus, Forsdyke suggests, was also introduced in the sixth century, to take part in the prestige deriving from the myth of the Seven of Thebes at a time of growing competition among poleis. Necessarily, the argument is highly speculative.

Concluding the section on Greece, N. Fisher argues that non-elite citizens participated in the teams representing the Athenian tribes in contests during the city's festivals in the classical period. Selection, financing, and training were provided by rich liturgists. He emphasises the positive impact of competition: because collective training is needed to be successful, competitions forge a sense of identity for the tribes and foster unity in society. Contests hence were "social factors of the greatest importance in explaining Athens' relative success over two centuries in achieving political stability, social cohesion, and relatively low levels of violence and disorder" (p. 204).

Using a comparison with Venice, H. Mouritsen discusses the third-century reform of the Roman comitia centuriata, in which (probably) the centuries of the first class were coordinated with the 35 tribus and the procedure of a centuria praerogativa, selected by lot from the first class to vote first, was instituted. He argues that this reform had the aim of counteracting electioneering and elite competition: the vote of the comitia praerogativa may have had an important effect on the vote of the other centuries, and it would be very difficult to target all the seventy centuries of the first class.

According to H. Platts, the recurrence of hippodrome- and theatre-style art and architecture in Roman villas of the empire is an expression of competitive demonstrations of status among the elite. She sees them as referring back to the venues where the elite could exercise patronage and display wealth under the Republic. This otherwise fine paper relies on what seems a mistaken assumption: for Platts all power resided with the emperor and the elite and owners of the villas were not anymore "at the pinnacle of society and power" as they had been in the Republic (p. 243). But because competition in display continued, they now turned inwards (into the private sphere) and backwards (to the past). Yet the rise of the empire did not simply emasculate the old elite: it created a new elite and aristocracy, incorporating many elements of the old one. Even the emperor could not rule alone. There is hence nothing surprising (and I would think nothing inward-looking) about the fact that display and jockeying for status continued. Indeed, what Platts fails to explain, is what end elite competition still could serve, except nostalgia, in the Roman empire as she understands it.

Together with the chapter by Allan and Cairns, J. König's is the only one that attempts to identify ideas about competition in ancient texts themselves. Focusing on how competition between sophists, athletes, and intellectuals was seen during the Second Sophistic, he shows that competition is often explicitly valued. In the process, he succeeds in setting out a few basic sociological facts about competition. He notes, for example, that rivalry presupposes mutual recognition (p. 286), that is, social equality: one does not compete with a slave nor with the emperor. Refusing to enter into competition can hence be an expression of disdain.

If the volume puts forward an overarching conclusion, it is the case made in the preface, and more substantially in the first essay by H. van Wees, for seeing competition as widespread in human societies and taking on similar forces in similar circumstances. In this claim the main weakness of the volume surfaces: the assumption seems to be that competition is an easily identifiable phenomenon. But in fact, competition is not a "natural" social phenomenon in itself: talking about competition relies on identifying certain actions as expressing competition, and such an identification is, in turn, influenced by our modern tendency to put competition at the heart of our understanding of society. But what counts as competition may well differ depending on the nature of the society. In fact, in different papers of the volume, different concepts of competition are at work: whereas Platts implicitly combines Veblen's and Goffman's notions of self-presentation,2 Fisher seems to rely on the belief in the integrative power of Greek contests that Ulf historicises. Mouritsen relies on the assumption that it is the nature of politics to be competitive, but there are also political systems that are highly consensual. König understands competition as a form of social relation rather than as an abstract, general phenomenon. In offering this variety of perspectives, the volume succeeds in stimulating reflection – the next step to take is to look more critically at the notion of competition itself, its variety, and its possible applicability.

Table of Contents

Part I: Competition in comparative perspective
1. Rivalry in history: an introduction - Hans van Wees
2. Fame and prizes: competition and war in the Neo-Assyrian empire - Karen Radner
3. Levels and strategies of competition in the Aztec Empire - Frances F. Berdan
Part II: Competition in Greece
4. Ancient Greek competition - a modern construct? - Christoph Ulf
5. Conflict and community in the Iliad - William Allan and Douglas Cairns
6. Peer-polity interaction and cultural competition in sixth-century Greece - Sara Forsdyke
7. Competitive delights: the social effects of the expanded programme of contests in post-Kleisthenic Athens - Nick Fisher
Part III: Competition in Rome
8. Lotteries and elections: containing elite competition in Venice and Rome - Henrik Mouritsen
9. Keeping up with the Joneses: competitive display within the Roman villa landscape - Hannah Platts
10. Competitiveness and anti-competitiveness in Philostratus' Lives of the Sophists - Jason Konig


1.   G. Simmel, Soziologie : Untersuchungen über die Formen der Vergesellschaftung, Munich, 1908.
2.   T. Veblen, The theory of the leisure class : an economic study of institutions, New York, 1899; E. Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, London, 1969

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Eva Mira Grob, Documentary Arabic Private and Business Letters on Papyrus: Form and Function, Content and Context. Archiv für Papyrusforschung und verwandte Gebiete, Beiheft 29. Berlin; New York: De Gruyter, 2010. Pp. xix, 269. ISBN 9783110247046. $140.00.

Reviewed by Emily Cottrell, University of Pisa (

Version at BMCR home site


This doctoral dissertation, the first comprehensive work on Arabic private and business letters on papyri (with the exception of the Qurra ibn Sharik archive) appeared shortly after its defense at the University of Zurich. Under the able supervision of Professor Andreas Kaplony, Eva Mira Grob has produced a major work of research. Grob has also been active as one of the contributors to the Arabic Papyrology Database (APD), conceived in 2002 and currently giving access to some 2,500 documents. This dissertation is therefore both personal research on early Arabic epistolary materials and a companion to the APD. Scholars from a variety of horizons — historians, linguists, Arabists, paleographers and codicologists — will find here plenty of food for thought. For paleographers and codicologists, Grob's dissertation will prove to be a milestone in the footsteps of Geoffrey Khan's scrupulous analysis of papyri scripts.

Egyptian papyri have long been a valuable source for historians: commercial practices, lists of goods, private orders by all actors of society can be followed from Ancient Egypt to the Byzantine and Muslim periods. Arabic papyri are no exception. Grob concentrates on "letters written on papyrus from Egypt, between the 1st- 4th/7th-10th c. with a focus on the 3rd/9th". The papyrological and codicological study proper is illustrated with a number of useful charts where the reader can see at a glance the quantity of internally dated Arabic documents on papyrus, paper and parchment between the end of the seventh and the mid-thirteenth century CE, or the distribution of papyri by date and genre. The first business letter, discovered by Y. Raġib, who assigned it to the first century Hijra [= 16th July 622 to 3rd August 718], is written over a Latin text on parchment, and not on papyrus (cf. Grob, p. 1, n. 2). After 255/870, papyrus declined with the arrival of paper introduced from Syria (pp. 10-11), which finally took over in the 4th/10th c. (It is a feature of Arabic codicology that paper documents can be older than parchment, while for Western manuscripts paper replaces parchment at the end of the 13th c.). But as Grob remarks, "dating of paper documents is highly problematic, and palaeographic studies are an absolute desideratum." (p. 7).1

The introductory chapter on the extant material and archives also considers the difficult question of the 'Arabisation' and 'Islamisation' of Egypt. Aware that no generalisations are appropriate since relatively few documents have been published (about 2,500 from 130,000 extant pieces!), Grob mentions "several parallel developments," including a "growing Arabic-speaking population [near] al-Fusṭāṭ".2 For Grob, the "increasing number of Arabic documents reflects the on-going Arabisation of the native population through conversion to Islam," a process in which the 3rd AH/9th CE century would have been pivotal. She states further that "…conversion to Islam can be assumed for most people writing Arabic (…), an Egyptian Christian — even if he were able to write in Arabic — would most probably have resorted to Coptic when writing to a fellow Christian…" (Grob, p. 86).3 But one may have liked to find more references to recent research on the different Christian denominations in Late Antique Egypt, including that of the Copts. As we know, Late Antique religions in Egypt and the Middle East display a complex intricacy of Egyptian, Pagan Greek, Roman, Judeo-Christian, and Gnostic layers. Furthermore, the fact that Arabic belongs to a family of cognate languages spoken in the area — Syriac, Nabatean, South-Arabic, Aramaic, Hebrew — is oddly almost never a criterion in the analysis of the processes of 'Arabisation'. Polyglossia may have been just as common as it is today on the African continent. Besides, Arabic was written in different alphabets before the advent of Islam (e.g., Nabatean and Sabaic). To write Arabic therefore may not have implied a particular ethnicity.

Chapters 2 and 3, on the "epistolary formulary", demonstrate the organisation of Arabic letters in different sections and the "pragmatics" of letter writing in Arabic. Attempting a discourse analysis on the Arabic epistolary material, Grob discovers what she calls the "algorithm" of the formulae linking expressions of politeness and religious formulae, such as "invocations", "blessings and "others, such as glorifications and prayers." A chart provides an "overview of the typical sections and their sequence" (pp. 82-83) and appendices at the end of the book offer samples of translated letters following different themes, all showing the existence of the 'algorithm' according to which the formulae are organized. The inevitable conclusion is that we are in the presence of a highly sophisticated language. Grob's analysis leads her to insist on an important difference between 7th- 8th c. and 9th-10th c. letters: the mandatory prescript has been replaced by a mandatory "initial blessing" section.

The fourth chapter, "Language", is too brief. It is well known that papyri have been used to support a claim for the existence of an intermediary register between Classical and Vernacular, called "Middle Arabic" by some. But instead of taking a clear position in this debate and its related questions — the existence of a Middle Arabic (Blau, Hopkins), Old versus Neo-Arabic (Blau, Owens), and Pre-Classical versus Classical (Fischer, Kinberg) — Grob posits a new concept of "documentary standard" (p. 156-158).4

It is disappointing that a long discussion on qad and anā as "pivotal points structuring the sentence" occupies much of the fourth chapter. Qad is considered a "classical feature," but nowhere do we find an explanation of this statement. As qad is overwhelmingly present in early poetry and the Quran, its broad use is well-attested. Grob (p. 140) follows Hopkins in stating that the use of qad is striking, but neither of them seems to be aware that it is still widely used in the dialect of Ṣanʻāʼ (Yemen). Grob states that qad is important in "discourse structuring" (p. 141), but some of her examples to assert the particle's role are less relevant than others.5 The explanation (p. 155) on qad versus anā, where it is noted that they both serve for "heavy coding", with qad as the onset of discourse spans and anā a pivotal point for comment-parts, is no more than an explanation of the use of "nominal" and "verbal" sentences in Arabic.6 The further comments on anā (p. 149, n. 82; pp. 149-150; p. 152; p. 154 ex. 206) as introducing information about what the writer is doing or about to do are trivial, because these are precisely the functions of the mubtadāʼ and khabar in a jumla ismiyya.

In the final chapter, "Script and Layout," Grob states that "Arabic private and business letters have not received much attention regarding script development, for they do not exhibit sophisticated script styles…" Grob notes that the date of 3rd/9th c. for papyri has usually been assigned on palaeographic ground, but that it should be considered rather as a default-category covering "papyrus letters, written in a script of advanced cursiveness, without prescript" (p. 7, p. 207). The illustrations she gives (pp. 160-161) illustrate her point well: the earlier are the less "cursive" and at times close to a semi-Kufic (see, for example, Illustration 8 p. 161). This makes her dissertation (like G. Khan's publications) the source of an innovative method for further studies in Arabic palaeography. In addition Grob points to an evolution in the "script orientation" and comments that "…[noting] script angle, hanging of baseline, and degree of slanting would help (…) in bringing together documents written by the same scribe." (p. 168) On the layout specifically, Grob gives new insights on the regularity of certain patterns, a "typology of intentional text markings," namely: indentation, linea dilatans, abusive ligatures… (see p. 188 f.). Through the examples given, one can immediately see that the "algorithm" is here underlined in the very layout of the letters.

Translations are usually excellent as they try to reflect the construction of Arabic.7 On the other hand, the transliteration system, which adopts the rules followed by the APD, is not entirely satisfactory for the early Arabic of the papyri. Full iʻrāb should be reserved for the Quran and poetry, and a middle ground between papyrologists and epigraphists methods should be sought. Notwithstanding these minor points, Grob's dissertation will be for years to come a reference work for scholars of various fields, from papyrologists and specialists of Arabic codicology and palaeography to historians of Late Antiquity and Early Islam.


1.   It might have been useful here to cite M. Beit-Arie's typology of paper manuscripts, and his mention of the oldest paper manuscript, discovered in Alexandria's municipal library and dated 838 CE: M. Beit-Arié, "The Oriental Arabic Paper," in Gazette du livre médiéval, 28 (1996), pp. 9-12.
2.   On this matter J.-C. Vadet, «L'acculturation des Sud Arabiques de Fusṭāṭ au lendemain de la conquête arabe,» Bulletin d'Etudes Orientales, 22 (1969), p. 7-14 might have been quoted.
3.   The author also raises the use of religious formulae such as the basmala: "…the early letters with the profession of faith in the prescript reflect the close association of Arabic letters to Islam". (p. 11) but see K. Almbladh, "The Basmala in Medieval Letters in Arabic Written by Jews and Christians," Orientalia Suecana, LIX (2010) pp. 45- 60 where we find the basmala used in letters between Jews in Egypt from the 9th to the 13th c. CE, and already in the 8th c. for letters written by Christians.
4.   Although wishing to skip the confused issue of Middle Arabic, she states that the term should be reserved for written, literary texts. If that is the case, why not mention the literary papyri, and why leave them out of the APD?
5.   Thus, example 176 p. 142 does not show much more than qad's role as a verbal particle,
6.   To quote W. Wright's A Grammar of the Arabic Language, vol ii, pp. 251-252: "The difference between verbal and nominal sentences (…) is properly this, that the former relates an act or event, the latter gives a description of a person or a thing, either absolutely, or in the form of a clause descriptive of state. This is the constant rule (…) unless the desire to emphasize a part of the sentence be the cause of a change in its position."
7.   The following corrections can be suggested: on p. 27 "He is the master of it and able to do it" for 'innahu waliyyu ḏālika wa-l-qādiru ʻalayhi is awkward and does not reflect the emphasis on God's omnipotence. On p. 31, mālinā is translated "your money", instead of "our money" or "my money". In Example 58, p. 62, the translation lacks "my daughter" (ya bintī); on p. 64 n. 110, "pass by me" is a mistake for "to bypass me"; p. 205 wa-saʻādataka should be "your happiness," rather than "your luck." On p. 135 tawwan is not translated either by Raġib or by Grob. It is commonly used in Egyptian dialect to refer to "a short while ago" (taww) . See Lane, Dictionary, vol. I, 321. Finally, the name of a Muslim woman might be "Khansā' bint Muslim" rather than "Khunasa bint Muslim," (p. 81, n. 151).

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