Monday, April 30, 2012


Yannis A. Lolos, Land of Sikyon: Archaeology and History of a Greek City-State. Hesperia supplements, 39. Princeton: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2011. Pp. xxviii, 635. ISBN 9780876615393. $75.00.

Reviewed by William R. Caraher, University of North Dakota (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

Land of Sikyonis a handsomely produced and impeccably edited volume that includes a massive amount of new information on Sikyon produced over the course of a diachronic, extensive archaeological survey initiated by Yannis Lolos as part of his dissertation research and expanded in subsequent field seasons. Moreover, Lolos's book provides valuable and extensive synthesis of past work in the region and a careful study of relevant ancient texts. This work is a groundbreaking study of this city and its countryside.

A short introduction presents the scope and method of the work. Lolos's survey revisited numerous sites previously documented and identified over two centuries of fieldwork in Sikyonia. To discover new sites, Lolos employed the "kapheneion" method first articulated by Y. Pikoulas in his work in the Peloponnesus.1 This involved talking with local people to secure information on antiquities in the landscape and then finding local guides to the most significant finds in the field. Once Lolos visited and confirmed archaeological features or artifact scatters, he then conducted an intensive artifact collection to define the area of the city and its chronology. This combination of extensive survey and intensive and systematic artifact collection has obvious limits. Scholars now generally accept that sampling a region in an intensive way is likely to a produce a dramatic increase in the number of sites particular for periods that are less easily recognized or less well preserved in the surface record. It would have made Lolos's book stronger if he had explored these limits more critically.

The first chapter examines the "Physical Environment and Resources" of Sikyonia by providing a detailed description of the topography, geology, climate, flora, fauna, and agricultural resources of the region. The section is thorough and should become the standard citation for many basic details concerning the natural geography of the northern Peloponnesus. Like Lolos's treatment of method, however, this section feels slightly disjointed from the rest of the work. Whereas many intensive survey projects use the geography of the region to guide their sampling of the landscape or to explain the organization of settlement, Lolos's work tends to shy away from such ecological arguments. It remains unclear, for example, whether his arguments for the relationships between settlement and various environmental resources are the product of his survey's sampling strategy or past land use preferences. Even with such potential biases in the data collection methods, Lolos's work confirms the viability of the ancient authors who celebrated the region's agricultural wealth.

The second chapter provides a thorough study of ancient texts related to Sikyonia and a brief, but informative, discussion of the Medieval and Ottoman history of the region. As dictated by the sources, most of this section emphasizes the military and political events and the status of the region in relation to more powerful or larger political entities ranging from the Spartans in the Classical era to the succeeding Roman and Byzantine states. While it is remarkable that such an apparently wealthy region did not feature more prominently in political history and textual sources, it is also clear that during the Archaic and Hellenistic period Sikyon played a more significant role in regional politics than scholars have sometimes appreciated. Lolos's efforts to continue his study of the history of Sikyon into the post-antique period is commendable, although he is clearly (and understandably) less comfortable with the diverse array of sources for the Late Roman, Medieval, and Ottoman period declines.

Chapters 3 to 6 are the heart of this book. Chapter 3 is a detailed study of the ancient, medieval, and early modern roads in the region. For many scholars of the northeast Peloponnesus, Lolos's dissertation has stood as a battered and dog-eared companion for the perambulations and re-imaginations of military movements and the routes of ancient and modern travelers through the area. The published version of this text is not only expanded, but also complemented with vivid maps and clear photographs. Lolos identified numerous stretches of previously undocumented wheel ruts and bridges that allowed him to reconstruct at least partially the major ancient routes into the city and its territory. Recent work on the routes through the western Corinthian and the territory of Kleonai now allow scholars to present a rather extensive - if not comprehensive - picture of travel from the Isthmus of Corinth to points west and south. It is unfortunate that Lolos's did not have the opportunity to integrate Jeannie Marchand's recent work on the road network of Kleonai into his study.2

Chapter 4 considers the remains of urban and rural fortifications in Sikyonia. A detailed study of the city's fortification wall addresses the vexing question of whether Sikyon featured a series of long walls connecting the city to its port like Athens and Corinth. While the evidence for the long walls remains problematic, Lolos argues convincingly on the basis of texts and archaeological remains that a wall of some kind separated the city of Sikyon from its harbor even if evidence remains tenuous for long walls linking the ancient urban core to the port across the plain.

Lolos's discussion of rural defenses in Sikyonia may be more valuable for scholars. Since the publication of J. Ober's Fortress Attica in 1985,3 the study of rural fortified sites has attracted sustained interest among archaeologists of the Classical and Hellenistic Greece. Lolos's work continues in the spirit of Ober in arguing that Classical and Hellenistic fortifications in Sikyonia served the interest of the state and protected vulnerable arteries into the territory. His treatment of these fortifications does not take into account recent work on rural fortifications in the Corinthia, however, nor does it address in a critical or extended way the growing chorus of scholars who have questioned whether such rural installations were fortifications coordinated by the state or erected by local communities or even individuals.4 Despite the limited perspectives offered by Lolos's argument, his work to clarify or document the range of rural fortifications in Sikyonia commendable.

The analysis of settlement patterns forms the core of most recent regional studies, and chapter 5 of Lolos's book features a detailed discussion of settlement in Sikyonia. For all the advantages of the "kapheneion method" of survey, it remains unsystematic and relying on local informants rather than a more blind sampling methods runs the risk of biasing results toward more recent patterns of settlement and rural activity. As a result, this section of the book is appealing as a starting point for the documentation of the dynamic character of the countryside, but unconvincing as a model for understanding the structure of ancient settlement on a regional scale. At the same time, the diachronic pattern for settlement in Sikyonia is familiar to scholars studying the northeastern Peloponnesus: expansion of settlement during the Classical, Late Roman, and Medieval periods and abrupt decline in the number and extent of settlement in Hellenistic, Roman, and Early Byzantine periods. Lolos pays particular attention to the continuities with earlier and later periods at each site and the distribution of small, medium, and large sites in the landscape. This work certainly recognizes the importance of these issues in contemporary intensive survey projects, but offers little contribution to the challenging issues of site definition, function, and size. To support his identifications, this section includes a good selection of color photographs and profiles for diagnostic objects. Lolos also provides useful commentary on the few sites mentioned in the ancient textual sources.

The final chapter in the volume looks at evidence for the ancient religious landscape. Lolos focuses on both intramural sanctuaries at Sikyon and extra-urban sanctuaries in the countryside with a particular emphasis on Pausanias's travel through the area. Lolos's treatment of the healing sanctuary at Titane, for example, draws together a tremendous amount of past research at the site and integrates it with new observations on the ground. Other less well-known sites receive similar treatment and detailed study. It is rather unfortunate that Lolos did not extend his understanding of Sacra Sikyonia into later periods.

The volume concludes with a series of valuable appendixes. The first appendix is a register of sites documented by the survey. Each site in the register receives a short description with information on the location, surface conditions, architecture, small finds, chronology, and function. The detailed information in the site register suggests a greater attention to method and procedure in the fieldwork than the analysis and interpretation reveals. The absence of any quantitative data on the number of artifact, artifact densities, or even the proportion of artifacts from each period does not follow contemporary standards for survey.

The second appendix by A. Koskinas is a useful study of tiles from the various sites and offers a framework for a potential typology of roof tiles. Unfortunately permit restrictions made it impossible to collect a study collection or to subject formal observations with more scientific studies of fabrics. It remains, however, a start and an important point of departure for more systematic studies of tiles in both excavated and survey assemblages in the region.

Appendixes 3 and 4 document the sparse remains of aqueducts in Sikyonia and a horos inscription that appears to mark the boundary of public land. Appendixes 5 by L. Kormazopoulou, I. Zygouri, and V. Papathanassiou and 6 by A. Matthaiou and Lolos present the result of work at the Cave of Lechova where the remains of a sanctuary active from the Archaic to Hellenistic period were found. Appendix 7 provides a transcription and translation of a 16th-century inscription from the church of Ayios Nikolaos in Vasiliko. The use of this inscription to imagine a 16th-century revival in religious architecture in the Sikyonia seems a bit tenuous.

The book is well-edited, as is common to works in the Hesperia Supplement series. It is, however, a bit odd that the author did not provide translation of the Ancient Greek passages as is typical in Hesperia. Finally, the decision by the author and the press not to update the citations after a significant delay in publication (the manuscript was submitted in 2005) is frustrating.

These minor points, however, do not detract in a substantive way from the value of Lolos's work to scholars working in the Northeastern Peloponnesus or on the history of cities and region across the Mediterranean. The books fits well into the flurry of recent publications on the Corinthian landscape and contributes in a meaningful way to this area becoming the best understood territory in Ancient Greece outside of Attica.


1.   Y. Pikoulas, Ὁδικὸ δίκτυο καὶ ἄμυνα. Ἀπο τὴν Κόρινθο στὸ Ἄργος καὶ τὴν Ἀρκαδίας. Athens 1995.
2.   J. Marchand, "Kleonai, the Corinth-Argos Road, and the "Axis of History"" Hesperia 78 (2009), 107-163.
3.   J. Ober, Fortress Attica: defense of the Athenian land frontier, 404-322 B.C. Mnemosyne Supplement 84. Leiden 1985.
4.   Much of the current debate is summarized in S. P. Morris and J. Papadopoulos, "Greek Towers and Slaves: An Archaeology of Exploitation," AJA 109 (2005) 155-225.

(read complete article)


René Bloch, Moses und der Mythos: die Auseinandersetzung mit der griechischen Mythologie bei jüdisch-hellenistischen Autoren. Supplements to the Journal for the study of Judaism, 145. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2011. Pp. x, 298. ISBN 9789004165014. $153.00.

Reviewed by Gábor Buzási, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest (

Version at BMCR home site


This volume, based on the author's Habilitationsschrift in Jewish Studies and Classics at the University of Basel (2008), contains studies on various aspects of mythology in Hellenistic Jewish literature. Its primary focus is an author, Flavius Josephus (most chapters deal with him or are written with a view to him) and a key problem, namely the reception of Greek mythology by Josephus and other Hellenistic writers. The book shows all the strengths of a philologist's approach: it consists of careful readings of the source material and thorough inquiries into their context and background. Thus the volume is not only worth reading for those interested in its specific field but also for anyone who needs a good introduction to the literature and intellectual milieu of Hellenistic Judaism.

In the Introduction (pp. 1-15), the author reflects on the term 'myth' (pp. 5-8), both its meaning and its use in antiquity (an authoritative narrative or, alternatively, something invented and fabricated), and on its modern definitions ('ideology in narrative form' or, more restrictively, narratives presupposing a polytheistic system). The author stresses that he does not aim to engage in theoretical discussion of the term but wishes to examine the reception of Greek myth in Hellenistic Judaism. The outline of previous research (pp. 8-13) concentrates on three areas: Greek mythology in Hellenistic Judaism (hitherto only partially examined1); the relation between Judaism and Hellenism (the author sides with those arguing for an essentially Hellenistic character of Early Judaism, to some extent including Palestinian Judaism); and the attitude of Jews to their own myths.

Chapter One (pp. 17-49) consists of close readings of two passages by Josephus, in which the historian denounces Greek mythology, once even calling it ἀσχήμων, 'shameful' (hence the title of the chapter 'Schändliche Mythologie': Flavius Josephus' Verurteilungen des Mythos'). After a short general introduction to Josephus' life and works (pp. 17- 23, introducing in a sense the entire book), we have two different sections containing the source texts, their translations and analyses. The first one (analyzing Jewish Antiquities, 1.15-16, 21-23, pp. 23-30) highlights, through a parallel in Dionysius of Halicarnassus, the similarly negative attitude to myth in the Jewish and the Roman tradition (accompanied by a comparison with Philo's introduction to his On the Creation). The second one (pp. 30-49) delineates the Greek philosophical background of Against Apion 2.236-256 and points out how, in his defense of Judaism, Josephus used the authority of Greek philosophers, especially Plato, to support his own criticism of Greek mythology.

Chapter Two ('Mythenloses Römertum, Mythenloses Judentum', pp. 51-70) elaborates the parallel between the Roman and Jewish attitude to myth in a historical perspective and resumes the theoretical discussion of myth opened in the Introduction. Focusing on the Romans first (pp. 51-54), the author shows how an ancient scholarly prejudice, based on a Hellenocentric definition of myth and the ensuing claim that the Romans had no mythology, has been replaced more recently by a more inclusive definition (F. Graf). The discussion of Jewish myth (pp. 55-70) follows a similar pattern. The allegation that Judaism does not have myths is traced back to the Hellenistic Jewish authors themselves (who, the author emphasizes, are in this respect part of a Pagan tradition). In the 18th and 19th centuries this claim got an anti-Jewish overtone in that it denied that the Jews were capable of having their own mythology; this prompted a reaction on the part of Jewish scholars (I. Goldziher), giving birth to modern research on Jewish mythology. In the contemporary debate Bloch takes sides with those who hold that many narratives in the Jewish tradition fall into the category of mythology (M. Fishbane) against those who deny this on the ground that it is incompatible with Jewish monotheism and aniconism.

Chapter Three ('Griechische Mythologie in Palästina und Rom zur Zeit des Flavius Josephus', pp. 71-87) gives a survey of the (potential) sources of Josephus' information on Greek mythology in the two major locations of his life. In Palestine (pp. 71-84) he may have had access to Greek myths through three channels: the language (Greek playing a major role in Jewish Palestine), the poems of Homer (the Rabbis' general acquaintance with Homer and Greek mythology is also discussed), and art (vases and mosaics - motifs on the latter well into Late Antiquity are surveyed). Josephus' access and attitude to myth in Rome (pp. 84-87) is inferred from his ekphrastic descriptions of pieces of art, the presence of Greek myth in the intellectual milieu of Josephus' Rome, and from his knowledge of Greek and Roman literature.

Chapter Four ('Das Wortfeld ΜΥΘΟΣ bei Flavius Josephus', pp. 89-103) is a philological analysis of the word μῦθος and its derivatives (μυθεύω, μυθολογέω, μυθολογία) in Josephus. Not only do we find here the whole semantic spectrum of these terms ('word', 'narrative', 'story' in a neutral sense; '(Greek) myth' in a specific sense, whether polemically or not; and 'rumors' or 'legendary tales' in a pejorative sense), but we can also read careful analyses of the passages in which these terms occur.

Chapter Five ('Die Moses-Geschichte bei Flavius Josephus: Ein Beispiel antik-mediterraner Heroenliteratur', pp. 105- 120), partly based on the author's previously published research, discusses Josephus' account of the life of Moses in Jewish Antiquities, focusing on four episodes: the announcement of his birth, his exposure and youth, his love affair with the Ethiopian princess Tharbis, and his disappearance or assumption at his death. The central question is whether Josephus' expansions on the Biblical narrative follow Pagan examples or can be explained from the Jewish tradition as well. The author argues for the latter and comes to the conclusion that both the Pagan and the Jewish versions of the popular hero narrative grew from a common ancient Mediterranean milieu. This is plausible despite the difficulty presented by the generally-accepted later date of most Rabbinic documents used here as evidence.

Chapter Six undertakes a systematic presentation of the encounter with Greek mythology in Hellenistic Jewish texts/authors other than Josephus ('Der griechische Mythos bei jüdisch-hellenistischen Autoren ausser Josephus', pp. 121-189). This 'representative selection' (p. 3) includes the Septuagint, Hellenistic Jewish Pseudepigrapha (the Ps-Orphic fragments, Ps-Eupolemus, Ps-Aristeas, the Sibylline Oracles, Ps-Phocylides) and individual authors (Artapanus the historian, Ezechiel the tragedian, Aristobulus the philosopher, the epic poets Philo and Theodotus, and Philo of Alexandria). Together with the parallel chapter on Josephus (Ch. 7), this is the fullest discussion of the volume's central question. Each of the twelve units has an appropriate introduction, each of them is richly documented, and most of them are brought into relation with Josephus in a concluding section. Although every textual corpus has a different character (one is an authoritative translation of the Hebrew Bible, others were purportedly composed by well known Greek authors, yet others explicitly imitate Greek literary genres, and one of them, Philo of Alexandria, is no less amply documented than Josephus himself) there are certain considerations which are here commonly applied in studying them, such as the presence of mythical names or the terms for mythology (cf. Ch. 4). Particularly interesting is the discussion of Artapanus (pp. 134-141), Ezechiel (pp. 141-149) and the Oracula Sibyllina (pp. 159-165) while the section on Philo (pp. 173-189), although discussing several relevant passages of the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher, admittedly remained incomplete (cf. pp. 173-4, n. 369).

Chapter Seven ('Griechische Mythen bei Flavius Josephus', pp. 191-229) applies the method of the previous chapter on Josephus, the main source of the volume. We are offered a careful analysis of mythic elements in Josephus' account of the creation of Adam and Eve, the Paradise, the Flood, Sodom and Sinai, as well as of his references to Oceanus, the Giants or Andromeda. The lapidary but curious mention of a kinship between Abraham and Heracles (!) in the otherwise unknown historian Cleodemus Malchas (quoted by Josephus) is interpreted as a telling example of the efforts to integrate Judaism into Hellenistic reality by way of Greek mythology (pp. 215-9). The last part of this chapter is devoted to the influence of Greek tragedy in Josephus (pp. 219-23) as well as to the role of theatres in Palestine and Rome in Josephus' day (pp. 223-9).

Chapter Eight ('Grenzen der Apologetik: Zusammenfassende Schlussbetrachtungen', pp. 231-242) is made up of two parts: a critical reflection on the 'apologetic' character of Josephus' writings (pp. 231-238), and concluding remarks on the central argument of the volume as a whole (pp. 238-242). In the first part the author claims, through analyses of Josephus' treatment of charges against Judaism (such as misanthropy and the contempt of the gods) and of controversial passages (like the miracle at the Red Sea) that it is only to a certain extent that Josephus wishes to defend Judaism against external accusations – for he is no less ready to confront his enemies by restating his controversial points. The second part with the general conclusions will be discussed below.

The volume contains an Appendix ('Pagan-theophore und "mythophore" Namen in den jüdischen Katakomben Roms', pp. 243-253) with a list of twenty names in already published inscriptions from Jewish catacombs in the city of Rome. The author suggests that these theophoric names (derived from names such as Aphrodite, Apollo, Asclepius, Dionysus, Hermes, Zeus and the Muses), or names carrying other mythic references (e.g. Daphne, Helene, Jason) imply more than merely the power of fashion; they are more probably the expressions of an attempt at integration.

There is an excellent Bibliography at the end of the volume (pp. 255-282); the only minor deficiency here is, occasionally, the lack of indication in the footnotes as to whether a particular reference is made to an individual study ('Einzelstudien', pp. 260-282) or to one of the editions/commentaries (pp. 256-260) – both are indicated by name and publication year only.

Finally, there is an Index locorum (pp. 283-298), well reflecting the emphases of the volume. Those interested in the interpretation of the individual texts cited will greatly benefit from this index. However, an index of names and subjects is badly needed: it would have made it easier to find topics dispersed in the volume (cf. the Giants discussed on pp. 122-124, 132-134, 164-65, 180 and 204-214); moreover, it could have given the volume a more unified character.

From the general perspective of the book (cf. the conclusions on pp. 238-242), Hellenistic Judaism, comparable to Judaism in the Italian Renaissance (cf. pp. 119-120), was an integral part of the cosmopolitan cultural climate surrounding it. Greek mythology was an essential part of this common Hellenistic-Mediterranean milieu, and Hellenistic Jewish authors could not, and probably did not even want to, ignore this fact. When some of them were critical of mythology, their attitude was either that of the learned Hellenistic intellectual or it was provoked by a polemical situation. And when it came to Jewish myth, Jewish authors were normally less critical than their Pagan colleagues were with their own myths.

Perhaps more reflection on these overarching questions would have made the volume easier reading; its argument could also have been made more unified and explicit. In my view, what makes this book really impressive and significant are its excellent case studies and accurate source analyses; it also gives a highly reliable and up to date survey of research on Hellenistic Judaism in its Greco-Roman context. Those interested in Jewish-Pagan relations in Hellenism, or, more generally, in Hellenistic Jewish literature and intellectual history, will certainly benefit from reading René Bloch's Moses und der Mythos.


1.   Cf. recently F. Siegert, "Griechische Mythen im hellenistischen Judentum", in: R. von Haehling (ed.), Griechische Mythologie und frühes Christentum. Die antiken Götter und der eine Gott, Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2005, pp. 132-152.

(read complete article)


David Apolloni, The Self-Predication Assumption in Plato. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2011. Pp. xxviii, 261. ISBN 9780739144848. $75.00.

Reviewed by Lloyd Gerson (

Version at BMCR home site

The "self-predication assumption" in the title of this monograph refers to a term in contemporary scholarship used to indicate a supposed characteristic of Plato's Forms, namely, that they possess as a property that which their names name. Thus, it might be maintained that the Form of Beauty is beautiful or the Form of Largeness is large or the Form of Identity is self-identical. The problem on which Apolloni focuses is that while some case of the putative self-predication are plausible, some are not. The relevance of the self-predication of any Forms is that in Plato's dialogue Parmenides there is an argument, the so-called Third Man Argument (TMA), that purports to show that if Forms are self-predicative then, along with the reasonable assumption that a Form must be separate from the sensibles that participate in it, a vicious infinite regress can be generated. If, for example, many large things require a Form of Largeness "over and above" them, then a new "many" consisting of the original many plus the Form itself will require a new Form "over and above" them. This regress is supposed to be vicious because the Form, stipulated as being a "one" over a "many," will no longer be one, but will be iterated indefinitely. The evidence from the Platonic corpus regarding the question of whether or not Plato accepted self-predication is somewhat ambiguous. But more important is the question whether or not Plato is forced to accept self-predication of Forms if Forms are to be separate and to account for the properties of things that participate in them. Thus, if things are large because of the Form of Largeness, mustn't Largeness be in some sense large?

Apolloni's dense and well-documented study of this question in the contemporary secondary literature aims to shows that Plato has a way to avoid embracing self-predication such that it does not threaten the coherence of a theory of separate Forms. Along the way, he offers extensive treatment of the contemporary literature regarding self- predication and related matters. A graduate student wishing for an efficient means of getting up to speed on the main lines of the more than half a century of interpretation generated by Gregory Vlastos's famous 1954 article would be well served by this book.

Apolloni's own interpretation, set out against various high-profile alternatives at every stage, is as follows. In the so- called Recollection Argument in Plato's Phaedo, Plato is making the crucial distinction that renders self- predication harmless. This is the distinction between the Form of Equality and "the equals" (74c1), that is, the equal sticks and stones that participate in Equality. What Apolloni wants to show is that the equality of the former and the equality of the latter are not univocally predicable of the Form and the sticks and stones. The difference is that the Form is "just equality, and they are not" (15). To maintain that the Form Equality is equal at all is indeed to be committed to self-predication, but only in the anodyne sense that "equal" describes uniquely what the Form is, that is, it names it. Actually, Apolloni switches between "is equal" and "is Equality", evidently treating these as equivalent. He defends the latter as a predicative statement, but it seems that he does this only to reject R.E. Allen's solution, which is to treat "the Form is F" as an identity statement (20). That the "special predicate" "is equal" when applied to the Form comes very close to an identity statement is eventually admitted by Apolloni (228-9). In fact, they are taken to be logically equivalent.

For Apolloni, the major significance of this interpretation is that it can be applied to refute the TMA. If a Form of Largeness is large, but in a unique way, then the vicious regress argument does not even get started. So, Apolloni is committed to the view that in writing Parmenides, Plato already knew how to solve the self-predication "problem". Consequently, we must not suppose that, as Vlastos put it, that dialogue is a record of Plato's "honest perplexity". But this leaves us with two major interpretative issues. First, what of the rest of Parmenides' arguments against the theory of Forms? Second, since the notoriously difficult second part of the dialogue is explicitly announced as containing an exercise necessary to answer the arguments posed in the first part, one naturally wonders what its point is.

Apolloni's response to the first issue is to claim that the first part of the dialogue is not intended to offer a serious challenge to the theory of Forms but rather to produce a "student exercise both for young Socrates and for us" (130; cf. 197). The claim that the intended audience is "us" is too vague to be very contentious; that the "young Socrates" is also a focus of the argument is, on the other hand, quite puzzling, especially if the young Socrates is Plato himself, unless of course we take this to mean that Plato is announcing how he once was himself troubled by self-predication, though he has long since resolved the issue. But then this leaves just "us" as the target. Fair enough. But then one would have thought that all that the student needed to do to solve the problems posed by the first part of Parmenides is read Phaedo in the way that Apolloni, claims—reasonably enough in my view—is most natural.

This approach does not seem to motivate sufficiently the second part of the dialogue. Indeed, Apolloni's response to the second issue is to argue that the entire second part of the dialogue, the "exercise" conducted by Parmenides, is intended to be "a kind of philosophical purgation" of Eleatic or "mystical" monism (202). The purgation is achieved by discovering the fallacies in Parmenides' eristic reasoning (205). The principal evidence for this is that, as is well known, the dialogue ends ostensibly in a mass of contradictions regarding the nature of the first principle of all, the One. It is crucial for Apolloni's thesis that these be genuine contradictory statements regarding the One and the "Others", that is, that the "One" and the "Others" are not used equivocally throughout the exercise. This claim is dubious for at least two reasons: first, the exercise is rife with arguments and distinctions taken up by Aristotle, especially in his Physics something that one would not expect if he believed that the dialogue was a tissue of fallacies and second, that there is manifestly equivocity in, for example, the initial and second hypotheses in how they interpret "the One is". For the first hypothesis takes a One that in no way partakes of ousia because if it did, it would be complex, and the second takes a One that does partake in ousia and is, according, complex. Someone could argue, I suppose, that "has ousia" and "does not have ousia are intended to be contradictory attributes of the One, that is, the identical subject, but apart from the obvious fact that one would be surprised to learn that Aristotle has gleaned insights which flow from a contradiction, Plato's Republic offers a clear example of a "One" that is "beyond ousia, namely, the Idea of the Good, and a multitude of "Ones" that actually partake of ousia, namely, the Forms. If the exercise is a reductio of Eleatic monism, one wonders why Plato takes Parmenides to be enveloped in contradictions by maintaining something that Plato himself affirms.

I believe Apolloni is right to interpret the passage in Phaedo as not entailing "bad" self-predication, though I do not think his solution is all that different from Allen's. But I do think he is seriously misled by this reading into misreading the first part of Parmenides as not intended by Plato to be focusing on a serious threat to Forms. For the TMA and the other arguments pose a grand dilemma: either the Forms are separate from the sensible world or they are not. If the former, then they become irrelevant to explaining the samenesses and differences that we think we encounter here below. If the latter, then the regress arguments are not so easily dismissed. For the point is not that since the Form is uniquely what its name names it cannot legitimately be included in a "many" requiring a Form over and above, but that if the Form is "in" us, the "largeness in us" and the "largeness" in the Form are evidently, though different, the same in some sense, a sameness which if it is not sufficient to require a Form over and above is deeply puzzling. It is indeed absurd to maintain that the Form of Largeness is large, but it is equally absurd to maintain that the largeness in large things is large, too. This is a serious matter, and viewed in this way, it should occasion no surprise that complexity in Forms—the complexity evinced by that which has what its name names—should be a prominent part of an exercise that is intended to explore how this complexity is to be understood in order to rescue Forms.

The utility of this book is not enhanced by the publisher's lamentable practice of printing endnotes instead of footnotes, especially given the fact that Apolloni places most of his often very lengthy discussions of opposing views in these notes. Some of these useful summaries and criticisms could well have made their way into the main body of the book and none of them should have appeared other than as footnotes.

(read complete article)

Sunday, April 29, 2012


Faya Causey, Amber and the Ancient World. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2011. Pp. 152. ISBN 9781606060827. $25.00.

Reviewed by Giuseppe Squillace, Università degli Studi della Calabria, Rende, Italia (;

Version at BMCR home site


Il volume di Faya Causey fa parte di una ricerca più ampia sull'ambra confluita in una mostra. Il testo, breve ma chiaro, è diviso in paragrafi accompagnati, come nel taglio per lo più archeologico della ricerca, da una serie di immagini di ottima qualità.

La ricerca analizza il tema da differenti punti di osservazione: linguistico, geografico, botanico, medico, storico, artistico, economico e commerciale e si basa per lo più su studi recenti riportati nella bibliografia finale (pp. 142- 145). Le note, poste per scelta editoriale alla conclusione del volume (pp. 131-141), amplificano l'immediatezza del testo accompagnato e chiarito dall'apparato iconografico e completato da una serie di indici (pp. 146-152).

Per la sua multiforme natura legata alla capacità di trasformarsi da resina vegetale in pietra, per il suo colore luminoso e caldo, per la sua rarità che ne accrebbe il valore di mercato, l'ambra fu considerata al contempo pietra preziosa e magica e si inserì nei diversi ambiti della vita quotidiana dei popoli del Mediterraneo antico. "What amber was believed to be, how it was used, and why": questi i quesiti di partenza (p. 13). Nella risposta al primo l'Autrice fa rientrare la simbologia dell'ambra usata come pietra per la confezione di gioielli, come simbolo di unione tra due persone, con funzione di talismano utile contro le malattie, in immagini riferite allo zodiaco, come emblema di potere, dono dopo il parto, elemento connesso ai riti funerari.

Riportando le parole di Jean H. Langenheim,1 l'Autrice (p. 28) lega l'origine dell'ambra ad "an araucarian Agathis- like or a pinaceous Pseudolarix-like resin producing tree…Although the evidence appears to lean more toward a pinaceous source, an extinct ancestral tree is probably the only solution." La resina, emessa dalla corteccia di questa pianta, dispersa poi nell'ambiente e trasportata dai fiumi, si sarebbe col tempo trasformata in pietra e dunque in ambra confluendo in depositi ubicati per lo più nei paesi del Nord Europa, sebbene tracce ne siano state trovate anche in Liguria, Sicilia, Etiopia, India e Numidia.

Indicata dai Greci come elektron e nota fin dal VI secolo a.C. al filosofo Talete per il suo magnetismo, l'ambra diede origine al termine moderno electricity coniato intorno al 1600 dal medico di Elisabetta I di Inghilterra W. Gilbert al fine di descrivere i caratteri del magnetismo. Essa, osserva l'Autrice (pp. 55-56 e note 85- 86), per la sua natura a tratti misteriosa, fu legata al mito di Fetonte, figlio del dio Sole (detto anche Elektor o Splendente) che, avendo ottenuto dal padre di guidare per un giorno il carro col disco infuocato, fu incenerito da Zeus preoccupato che potesse avvicinarsi troppo alla terra. Disperate, le sue sorelle si mutarono in pioppi e cominciarono a emettere dai loro tronchi la resina dell'ambra.2 Come quello di Mirra, madre di Adone, mutatasi nell'omonimo albero, anche questo mitoè caratterizzato da una vicenda di giovinezza, morte e metamorfosi, cui si unisce anche una componente astrologica: Fetonte infatti fu associato alla costellazione dell'Auriga (p. 59).

Se l'Autrice mostra di muoversi agevolmente tra le fonti archeologiche, talora appare poco precisa di fronte alle fonti letterarie greche e latine soprattutto nella sezione a esse dedicata (pp. 66-70). Ad esempio, a p. 67, cita tre passi di Plinio il Vecchio in relazione all'uso dell'ambra (note 111-113), ma a p. 68, pur riportando alla lettera il testo di Plinio, non indica nelle note 115 e 116 il luogo ma preferisce rimandare alla bibliografia moderna. Fa lo stesso a p. 74 per Teofrasto 3.

Nonostante questo limite imputabile al taglio della ricerca, il volume di Faya Causey non manca di pregi ravvisabili in primis nella bellezza delle foto e nell'utile commento che le accompagna e le contestualizza. In particolare sono degne di attenzione alcune parti del volume, come quella, ampia, dedicata agli amuleti usati a scopo terapeutico o apotropaico (pp. 70-88), e la sezione finale dal titolo "Archaeological evidence for the use of figured amber: three periods of abundance" (pp. 89-111). In essa l'Autrice con grande competenza ricostruisce la diffusione dell'ambra presso Greci, Romani ed Etruschi, elenca diversi tipi di manufatto e indica le officine e gli artigiani deputati a lavorare la preziosa resina, la cui sua natura multiforme legata a magia, medicina, profumeria e gioielleria se fu in grado di conquistare i popoli antichi, non manca certo di affascinare anche la società moderna.


1.   J.H. Langenheim, Chemistry, Evolution, Ecology, and Ethnobotany, Portland, Oregon, 2003, p. 169.
2.   Ovidio, Metamorfosi I 750-II 380; ma anche Diodoro Siculo V 23-24.
3.   L'Autrice in questo caso ricorda un aneddoto riportato da Teofrasto relativo a un amuleto che una donna avrebbe donato a Pericle malato, ma nella nota 143 non cita il luogo della fonte ma rimanda ancora alla moderna bibliografia.

(read complete article)


J. C. B. Petropoulos, Kleos in a Minor Key: the Homeric Education of a Little Prince. Hellenic studies, 45. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies, trustees for Harvard University, 2010. Pp. xiv, 171. ISBN 9780674055926. $24.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Benjamin Sammons, Queens College, City University of New York (

Version at BMCR home site


Few passages of the Odyssey have been more discussed, and perhaps none more frequently maligned, than the so-called Telemachy of Books 1-4. Its awkward structural connection with the narrative of Odysseus's homecoming, its slow pace, and its unprepossessing protagonist have long offered grist for the critical mill. Few since the Analysts would deny that it has an important place in the overall design of the Odyssey, yet discussion tends to dwell on the brilliant scenes and exciting storytelling at the homes of Nestor and Menelaus, while the sordid depiction of Ithaca and the portrayal of its woebegone prince in Books 1-2 generally evoke a more ambivalent response. J.C.B. Petropoulos's concise but rich account should do much to redress our prejudices; with particular emphasis on these first two books, he reveals the Odyssey's opening as a Homeric tour de force of characterization and social analysis that serves to introduce, as a kind of anticipatory leitmotif, the fundamental theme of kleos.

Chapter 1 ("Kleos and Oral History") begins with discussion of Telemachus's silent musing over his father in Book 1 (114-18), establishing the importance of the paternal ideal to the young man's development and self- perception. References to the physical resemblance of Telemachus to Odysseus only call attention to the son's shortcomings. His fundamental challenge is to become worthy of an idealized father. Petropoulos argues, with reference to the Iliad, that a hero's pursuit of kleos depends on his connection with his ancestors, and with his father especially. Telemachus lacks such a connection, but Athena makes up the deficit both in her practical "paideutic role" (26) and by fostering Telemachus's increasingly vivid psychological image of his father. Petropoulos shows nicely the diffident and halting manner in which Telemachus slowly accepts the obligations forced on him by Athena's psychological manipulation; he is particularly sensitive to the young hero's tendency to rhetorical hyperbole and flights of fancy (e.g., 21-23 on 1.214-20). The chapter closes with an interesting discussion of kleos as it functions within the heroic world as a kind of social capital: A hero's kleos represents the sum total of oral narratives concerning him, some of which circulate widely enough to become permanent features of the hero's own "social universe" (31). Odysseus's kleos reaches to heaven (8.74, 9.20), whether in his own account or in poetic performances about him, because his story has achieved "a relatively fixed and quasi-objective character" (36). Kleos in this sense is virtually commensurate to one's social identity, and it is precisely such kleos that Telemachus lacks.

Chapter 2 ("Kleos and Oral News") takes a closer look at how information constitutive of kleos is transmitted, preserved or distorted in the oral society depicted by Homer. Drawing primarily on J. Vansina,1 Petropoulos discusses kleos synchronically as "news," a term that covers everything from ordinary gossip to the songs of poets like Demodocus and Phemius. As concerns poetry and poets, some of the argument seems unconvincing, particularly the idea that heralds were originally singers (41-44). Nevertheless, his discussion rightly draws attention to the fact that in Homer's imagined world, singers generally sing about relatively recent events, a problem that is regrettably glossed over in many discussions of the Odyssey's depiction of poetic performance. The chapter concludes with an overview of the great variety of "oral news" exampled in the Telemachy, ranging from wholly unreliable rumors to direct eye-witness accounts. In searching for "news" of his father Telemachus must evaluate many types of information, and the poet himself may well be reflecting on the difficulty of evaluating "oral history."

Chapter 3 ("Kleos and Social Identity") deals with Telemachus's first steps toward true heroic identity, particularly in his new role as a speaker both at home and in the assembly of Book 2. Petropoulos declares that in Homeric society speech is "the highest form of action," and offers a lucid account of Telemachus's first "faltering attempts at deliberative oratory" (66). Petropoulos is particularly good at tracing Telemachus's rhetorical blunders, poorly chosen aims and half-accomplished goals. The discussion offers a salutary case-study in Homer's methods of psychological characterization through conventionalized speech. Yet Petropoulos also notes that Telemachus's rhetorical and political failures in these first books are not merely the result of inexperience; rather it is the absence and unconfirmed death of Odysseus that delineate "the structure of the prince's entrapment in the decaying state of Ithaca" (79), an entrapment from which there is no real escape without Odysseus's return. For although Telemachus may gain some "minor" kleos (and a fair measure of personal confidence) through his impending journey, to drive out the suitors alone would imply surpassing his absent father in a way that would contradict the underlying patriarchal ideology of kleos.

Chapter 4, (rather misleadingly titled "The Little Prince's Voyage on a Borrowed Ship"), deals with Telemachus's relationship with his mother; here Petropoulos seems to follow a more rigidly Freudian approach than elsewhere, and his argument is likely to meet with skepticism. According to Petropoulos, the kleos gained by Penelope in beguiling the suitors necessarily limits Telemachus's own access to kleos. Consequently, Petropoulos sees Penelope and Telemachus in an antagonistic relationship, with the mother trying to infantilize her grown son while the son dreams of eliminating his "surrogate brothers" (the suitors) and becoming his mother's husband, a possibility implied in his wish to string the bow at 21.113.

Telemachus has never received a proper education and has never been properly introduced into heroic society. In Chapter 5 ("Of Beards and Boar Hunts, or, Coming of Age in the Odyssey") Petropoulos attempts to address that very elusive subject, Homeric education, noting that education has been rightly viewed since antiquity as a central theme of the Telemachy. It is unclear to what extent heroic education consisted in the type of training Achilles was supposed to have received from Phoinix (Iliad 9.442-43) and to what extent it was essentially "initiatory" or involved rites of passage. Petropoulos seeks a middle road, arguing through a close reading of the story of Odysseus's scar for a type of initiatory introduction of the young hero to the heroic society of his male relatives. Petropoulos's attempt to read the boar hunt as a "rite of passage" in the strict sense, largely on the basis of relatively late Macedonian comparanda, seems unconvincing, and his belief that other heroes such as Nestor must necessarily have begun their careers with a boar-hunt goes well beyond the textual evidence. He argues more convincingly for a further stage of heroic education in which the young hero is sent on an official embassy or mission, as attested in the case of Odysseus (Od. 21.15ff) and Nestor (Il. 11.670ff.).2 Since such missions would involve "low-risk exposure to warfare and aristocratic courtesies" (122), they would have been ideal for the education of young heroes; needless to say this also matches up well with Telemachus's own journey to Pylos and Sparta. However, it must be noted that such cases imply nothing in the way of ritual or initiatory significance, and in general Petropoulos takes little note of Homer's well-known silence about this whole aspect of historical Greek society.

The final chapter, ("The End of the Telemachy: The culmination of extinction?") traces Telemachus's role in the final books of the Odyssey, arguing that the Telemachy does not end even in Book 17 but is carried through to the final lines of the poem. According to Petropoulos, the final books show a particular interest in social relations based on age over and against those based on kinship, essentially setting up a conflict between a non-kin group of age-mates (the suitors) and an inter-generational genos (the joined forces of Laertes, Odysseus and Telemachus). Because of the "singleness" of the male line within this genos (cf. Od. 16.117-20), what is at stake in the final conflict of Book 24 is the extermination of a royal family. The final scenes of the poem lay emphasis on the solidarity of this family against its more numerous adversaries; the climax consists of a "group portrait" showing the grandfather, father and son standing together and vying with each other over virtue (24.505-15).

There are three appendices, one on the anthropology of "rumor" in oral societies, one on the phrase "father of the people" in connection with Odysseus, and one offering an illuminating discussion of Odysseus's reunion with Laertes and his naming of the trees in their orchard.

Although not quite the "quantum leap" in Homeric scholarship advertised by G. Nagy's "Foreword," this is a fine, engaging and useful book. In arguing that Telemachus's story represents the paideusis of a young hero, Petropoulos brings theoretical rigor to an interpretation that has good ancient pedigree but seems perpetually threatened with the status of a cliché. While his interpretation of Telemachus's character is intensely psychological, he avoids the many pitfalls of "psychologizing" interpretation. For example, while there is a danger in reading too much into the conventionalized and overtly rhetorical speech of Homer's characters, Petropoulos proves a keen interpreter of Homeric rhetoric and often notes how a rhetorical strategy can be illustrative of a psychological motive or an emotional state. Indeed, Petropoulos is at his best when engaged in sustained close reading of speeches and other significant passages.3 But what is most refreshing in this book is the forthright approach to Homeric kleos, viewed as it functions synchronically within Homer's imagined society. It is almost customary these days to make hasty resort to the diachronic, "poetic" meaning of "(imperishable) fame" at every appearance of the word; ordinary uses by the narrator or his characters are often treated as uninteresting except insofar as they represent veiled and ironic allusions to this diachronic significance. Although this latter sense is not absent from Petropoulos's discussion, his real contribution is to show the social complexity and semantic range of the word from the perspective of Homer's characters. Similarly, in his discussion of orality, Petropoulos does not dwell on well- known oral features of the poem itself but rather Homer's own idea of how an oral culture functions, and makes good use of comparative evidence to show how historically true the poet's depiction is.

A few general criticisms: Petropoulos is sometimes overzealous in seeking historical bedrock in the fictional world of the poem; he does not seem to consider that in matters such as heroic education Homer's vagueness may not necessarily conceal a social reality. Although Petropoulos's use of comparative evidence on oral societies is welcome, some of his other anthropological comparanda seem less well chosen and at times rather strained, for example when Odysseus's wounding in the boar hunt is compared to "ritual wounding" such as circumcision (119). Perhaps reflecting the book's origin in the classroom (xiii), there is an over-reliance on commentaries, which are sometimes put to good use but sometimes seem only to provide a banal or even trivializing foil for discussion. Finally, one cannot help but notice that although much is predicated of Telemachus's voyage in Books 3-4, this portion of the Telemachy does not receive the same sustained analysis that is offered for Books 1-2, leaving the reader with a feeling of having packed bags for a journey that never takes place. But it is, after all, the mark of a good book to leave the reader wishing for more, and the mark of a good scholarly book to show the path forward. The latter service in particular is one for which the author is to be heartily thanked.4


1.   J. Vansina, Oral Tradition as History. Madison, 1985.
2.   Od. 24.376-79 (adduced on p. 123) is not a convincing case because it describes a full-fledged heroic exploit; since Petropoulos seems to make much of the word ἐξεσίη, I missed a discussion of Il. 24.235, its only other occurrence aside from Od. 21.20.
3.   Some analyses deserve to join the standard references; see especially 19-29 on the exchange of Athena and Telemachus at 1.178-251 and 69-83 on Telemachus's speech at 2.40-79.
4.   The full text can be found in the online publications section at the Center for Hellenic Studies.

(read complete article)


Jean Lallot, Albert Rijksbaron, Bernard Jacquinod, Michel Buijs (ed.), The Historical Present in Thucydides: Semantics and Narrative Function/ Le présent historique chez Thucydide: Sémantique et fonction narrative. Amsterdam Studies in Classical Philology, 18. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2011. Pp. viii, 327. ISBN 9789004201187. $148.00.

Reviewed by Vasileios Liotsakis, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

After publishing the Études sur l' aspect verbal chez Platon in 2000, Bernard Jacquinod and the Groupe de recherche sur l' aspect verbal en grec now focus on the function of the historical present in Thucydides' Historiae and offer us an outstanding volume.

In his introduction (pp. 1-17), Rijksbaron notes that the narratological scholarship on Thucydides has not paid much attention to the role of syntax. Thus, the purpose of the present volume is to elucidate Thucydides' modus narrandi through a purely syntactic approach that focuses specifically on Thucydides' use of the historical present tense. Basing his argument on his earlier studies of other writers, Rijksbaron outlines the eight fundamental characteristics of the historical present (the most important being its capacity for signaling decisive events).1 These eight characteristics of the historical present are the basis for all the following articles, summaries of which Rijksbaron provides in the last part of his introduction (pp. 10-17).

Jean Lallot divides chapter 1 (pp. 19-35) into two parts: In the first part (pp. 20-27) Lallot undertakes a meticulous survey of all occurrences of the historical present in Thucydides and confirms many of the characteristics of the historical present outlined by Rijksbaron (for example, the scarcity of the historical present in the passive voice and its regular occurrence in the third person). Unsurprisingly, he also reveals that the verbs appearing with the greatest frequency in historical present are of military content. Lallot's research is of great importance, since it is based on all of the historical presents in Thucydides and is supported by calculations of exemplary accuracy. In the second part of his article (pp. 27-34) Lallot elaborates on the presence of the historical present in the first book of the Historiae, rightly concluding that the significantly less frequent occurrence of the historical present is due to the fact that the author recounts events of a distant past.

In ch. 2 (pp. 37-63) Rutger J. Allan argues initially (37-45) that the historical present offers the reader 'epistemic immediacy': it helps the author both to narrate the events as if they were taking place in the present and also to make his own presence as imperceptible as possible. I am not sure, however, that the narrator actually intended to do this. For, as Allan himself correctly states, the historical present is also the author's indirect comment, so that he emerges into the foreground rather than remaining 'covert' when he uses the historical present. In the second part of his paper (45-59), Allan deals with two verbs, αἱρεῖν and λαμβάνειν. He examines narratives of the capture of 'unmovable entities' as well as those of land or naval battles. His conclusion is that Thucydides uses the historical present mainly to mark decisive events, at the beginning and at the peak of an episode.

The next two chapters also treat the use of specific verbs in the historical present tense. Odile Mortier-Waldschmidt examines the eleven occurrences of the battle verb τρέπειν in the historical present, comparing them with its aorist forms (pp. 65-87). Her conclusion is that the historical present, in contrast to the aorist, is used both to signal the decisive stages of a battle, as well as to verify the plans of a military leader. The strength of Waldschmidt's methodology is the emphasis she places on interpreting the wider context of the historical present. The same observation is pertinent to the essay of Bernard Jacquinod in ch. 4 (pp. 89-113). His subject is the historical present of the verb πείθειν, which, in his opinion, indicates the contract leading to a new situation.

Ch. 5 (pp. 115-157) is very interesting, since it contains the only essay whose authors try to draw conclusions beyond merely relating the historical present to the organization and the structure of the narrative. Adriaan Rademaker and Michel Buijs propose that the historical present may also be one of Thucydides' basic argumentative tools, and may therefore help him to influence the reader toward his personal historical interpretations. In particular, they focus on two events which Thucydides presents as very important – although superficial—causes of the Peloponnesian War, the sea battle at Sybota (1.45-51) and the revolt of Potidaia (1.56-66). According to the authors, in both cases Thucydides shaped his narrative in such a way as to suggest that the Athenians were not responsible for these conflicts with the Corinthians, but rather that all their movements were defensive, and were undertaken in order to confront the aggressiveness of their opponents. Besides the historical present, Radermaker and Buijs pay attention to several other elements indicative of their conclusion. However, one should also remember that the verbs found in the historical present in these narratives are the verbs most commonly found in the historical present in Thucydides. This fact may show that the general linguistic characteristics of the historical present also played an equally important role in determining the presence of the historical present forms in these two narratives.

In ch. 6 (159-175) Louis Basset examines the four naval battles at Syracuse in the seventh book (7.22-23, 37.1-41.3, 50.3-54 and 69.1-72.1) of the Historiae. Basset elaborates on three tenses, the imperfect, the aorist and the historical present. The imperfect connects the main events of the plot and shows that these four military events were a continuum in Thucydides' mind. The aorist closes the narrative (with some exceptions), while the historical present is used by the historian for unexpected events, as well as for strong dramatization.

The next two papers display a comparative approach. In the first one (pp. 177-194), Rijksbaron compares Thucydides' account of Alcibiades' involvement in the religious scandal just before the expedition to Sicily (6.27-29, 60.4, 61 and 74) with the closely related account of Andocides in De mysteriis (§§ 11-33 and 34-69). Rijksbaron rightly observes that both writers use the historical present in verbs of denunciation, in order to show that Alcibiades and the revelation of the truth are the two central themes in their narratives.

In ch. 8 (pp. 195-221) Frédéric Lambert examines the interaction of the historical present with participles in Thucydides and Polybius. According to Lambert, the narrator chooses to explain the action described by the historical present through a participle indicative of the state of mind of the characters in his narration, in order to express his empathy. However, when the narrator combines such participles with the aorist, he 'remains outside the events'.

Coulter George's main theory in the last paper (pp. 223-240) is that the historical present has a 'non-durative' function. He very interestingly observes that it is mostly construed with singular subjects and objects and is rarely accompanied by durative temporal adverbs (or adverbial phrases). George differentiates himself from the most of the other contributors of this volume in that he—rightly, in my opinion—believes that linguistic features of the historical present mostly led Thucydides to its use, rather than his own objectives.

The strong belief of the contributors of this volume is that a precise knowledge of verb tenses and generally of linguistics is necessary for the interpretation not only of the Thucydidean text, but also of any work of ancient Greek literature, and the communis opinio agrees that such a philological approach is highly beneficial for every classicist. The ancient Greek language, being so rich in particles, moods, and alternative syntaxes of the same elements, has an enormous semantic potential, which cannot be noticed if we do not take into account Toolan's 'meaningful syntax'2 of the classical texts. A number of Thucydidean studies in the past have failed to do this, with the result that they led to incomplete—if not false—conclusions. Nevertheless, we must not forget that a comprehensive view of the Thucydidean text cannot rely on the examination of a single syntactic phenomenon, such as the historical present and its syntactic interactions; this is the only complaint one could make about this volume. While the book confirms traditional and recent theories on the historical present with great success , I have the sense that the contributors do not always manage to integrate within their theories the broader purposes and the general thematic axes of the Thucydidean text, which of course cannot be sought anywhere else than in a much wider context. For example, Rijksbaron's view that a stage of the plot cannot be considered crucial if it is not marked by an occurrence of the historical present (p. 3) might be quite unnecessarily restrictive, as there are many – more complex— narrative techniques (e.g. retardation, climax, recantation of individuals' expectations) that Thucydides frequently employs and which certainly indicate decisive events of the plot without necessarily requiring the use of the historical present.

For the same reason Lallot, Allan, and Rijksbaron do not give a satisfactory answer to the problem of the historical present in 1.13.4. In the last part of the volume (Annexe I) George, Mortier-Waldschmidt, Allan, and Rijksbaron elaborate on the limited presence of the historical present in the first book of the Historiae. Allan and Rijksbaron re-examine the issue of the two historical presents of γίγνεται in 1.13.4 and 1.13.6, introduced earlier by Lallot. . Particularly on the γίνεται of 1.13.4, they both point out that this occurrence is a special case of historical present, given that it appears in an argumentative, and not a narrative context. Such an approach does not solve the problem, as it does not answer why Thucydides chose the particular tense – whether it is a historical present or not. A much more 'Thucydidean' and less linguistic approach might explain why Thucydides chose historical present in this case: The sea-battle of Corinthians and Corcyraeans is highlighted by Thucydides through the historical present in order to signal that it is a benchmark for the sea-battles of his own war and is part of the proof that the sea-battles of the Peloponnesian War were much greater than any other event of the past, including this sea-battle between the Corinthians and the Corcyraeans, This point can be understood if we take into account Thucydides' permanent concern for characterizing the battles narrated by him as the most significant and special ones (1.50.2; 3.113.6; 4.12.3, 14.3, 40.1; 5.60.3, 74.1; 6.31.1-2; 7.29.5, 30.3, 44.1, 71.7, 75.7).

Beyond these points, I feel that the present volume is an important contribution to Thucydidean scholarship: with its full inventory of all the historical presents of the Historiae in Annexe II – about which I can assure readers that it is absolutely complete – the contributors to this volume have succeeded in their purpose, i.e. to give us the opportunity to examine the historical present and its narrative functions in the Thucydidean text. Personally, I have been using it since its publication and I fearlessly recommend it to everyone.

Table of Contents

Albert Rijksbaron, Introduction. 1
Jean Lallot. Chapter One. Vue cavalière sur les emplois du présent historique dans les Histoires. 19
Rutger J. Allan. Chapter Two. The Historical Present in Thucydides: Capturing the Case of αἱρεῖ and λαμβάνει. 37
Odile Mortier-Waldschmidt. Chapter Three. Τρέπειν au présent historique chez Thucydide. 65
Bernard Jacquinod. Chapter Four. Πείθω et le présent historique chez Thucydide. 89
Adriaan Rademaker and Michel Buijs. Chapter Five. A Tale of Two Involuntary Encounters: Linguistics and the Persuasive Function of the Historical Present in Two Thucydidean Battle Scenes (1.45-51 and 1.56-66). 115
Louis Basset. Chapter Six. Imparfait, aoriste et présent historique dans les récits des quatre batailles navales de Syracuse (Guerre du Peloponnèse, livre 7). 159
Albert Rijksbaron. Chapter Seven. The Profanation of the Mysteries and the Mutilation of the Hermae. Two Variations on Two Themes. 177
Frédéric Lambert. Chapter Eight. Présent historique et subjectivité: sur quelques exemples de Polybe et de Thucydide. 195
Coulter H. George. Chapter Nine. The Temporal Characteristics of the Historical Present in Thucydides. 223
Rutger J. Allan, Coulter H. George, Odile Mortier-Waldschmidt, Albert Rijksbaron. Annexe I: Quatre exercices. 243
Jean Lallot, Odile Moriter-Waldschmidt, Sophie Vassilaki. Annexe II: Trois répertoires (sur les Histoires de Thucydide). 263
Verbes attestés au présent historique (PH). 263
Principaux verbes non attestés au présent historique. 286
Répertoire des présents historiques en contexte. 300
Bibliography 319
Index locorum potiorum 325
Index of Technical Terms 329


1.   Rijksbaron, Albert, 'On False Historic Presents in Sophocles (and Euripides)', in Irene J.F. de Jong and Albert Rijksbaron (edd.), Sophocles and the Greek Language: Aspects of Diction, Syntax and Pragmatics, Leiden 2006, 127-149. I would have expected him to mention Wilhelm Klug's study Erzählstruktur als Kunstform: Studien zum Künstlerischen Funktion der Erzähltempora im Lateinischen und im Griechischen, Heidelberg 1992, especially pp. 46-55, where Klug discusses some of the functions of the historical present in Thucydides that are also discussed in Rijksbaron's introduction to this volume, such as opening a new plot.
2.   Toolan, M.L., The Stylistics of Fiction. A Literary-Linguistic Approach, London and New York 1990.

(read complete article)

Saturday, April 28, 2012


Khaled Anatolios, Retrieving Nicaea: the Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011. Pp. xviii, 322. ISBN 9780801031328. $39.99.

Reviewed by Benjamin de Lee, University of California, Los Angeles (

Version at BMCR home site


Khaled Anatolios's historical study of Nicaea is a thorough overview of Trinitarian debates from the fourth to fifth centuries. Anatolios considers Augustine alongside two major Greek thinkers, Athanasius and Gregory of Nyssa, as well as providing a thorough background to the theological controversy which supposedly began with Arius and Alexander of Alexandria. With its careful and clear explanations, helpful chapter divisions and headings, and detailed footnotes, Retrieving Nicaea is a historical overview, an erudite scholarly study, and a useful work for both students and advanced scholars.

In the foreword, Brian Daley, after briefly surveying Trinitarian theology of the past few decades, somewhat misleadingly declares Anatolios's work to be not mere "intellectual history," but "a work of profound theology." However, theology was the intellectual history of this period, so such a statement sets up a false dichotomy. Anatolios himself in his Preface states that his aim is "to engage both historical and systematic theologians in a conversation about the enduring value of the historical development of trinitarian doctrine for its systematic exposition." In his helpful introduction he gives a detailed plan of the book with a criticism of modern "trajectories" (conveniently reduced to three) in Trinitarian theology. Anatolios finds all three lacking, and aims to understand Christian Trinitarian doctrine in the sense that the original proponents understood it. With this approach, he follows similar recent works, like that of John Behr and Lewis Ayres, both of whom he mentions in footnotes and regards as having complementary approaches. Anatolios's apology that the book is not a history is somewhat over-stated: while he does not carefully trace and analyze political and historical events in the vein of David Brakke's or Harold Drake's work, he does provide an intellectual history of the foundational doctrine of the Trinity.

The first chapter is a short background to "fourth-century Trinitarian Theology, History and Interpretation," where he explains how he will analyze these theologians who are so far from us in time and thought: "My proposal is to distinguish between theologies that spoke of the unity of the Trinity as a unity of being and those that spoke of a unity of will." (p. 30) This chapter is really a preface to chapter two, "Development of Trinitarian Doctrine," which can become somewhat abstruse, if for no other reason than the topic itself. It is a thorough description of the immediate background to and the early stages of the Arian controversy. Those who have not read the major works on the subject may find themselves a bit lost, since Anatolios does not give a great deal of attention to figures like Origen or Theodore of Mopsuestia. He does to Asterius, a figure who is not usually given such a prominent position by other scholars, mainly because his work survives only in fragments.

The third chapter is devoted exclusively to Athanasius. While the chapter is at times repetitive, Athanasius is Anatolios's particular strength.1 The development of Athanasius's thought is clearly presented in stages, so the repetitions are inevitable for the sake of clarity. Those interested can follow Anatolios's summaries without reading Athanasius's laborious prose. Still, at this stage, one wonders if anything new can be said about Athanasius, although Anatolios is not afraid to critique Athanasius's own reasoning and to attempt a fresh analysis that allows Athanasius to speak for himself. Anatolios provides more detailed studies of Athanasius in his earlier works.

The fourth chapter is devoted to Gregory of Nyssa. In many ways, this chapter is the most satisfying, perhaps because as Anatolios points out, Gregory of Nyssa has such an appeal to the modern/post-modern mindset. Anatolios's treatment of Against Eunomius is thorough (perhaps too thorough). Although Retrieving Nicaea is a solid introduction to a difficult subject, the frequent references to Basil of Caesarea in this chapter may leave the beginner who is not familiar with Basil somewhat at a loss and demonstrate the difficulty of analyzing any of the Cappadocians in isolation. Anatolios's description of Gregory's doctrine of God, as "Three-personed Goodness" is especially clear. It is at this stage that Nicene Trinitarian theology comes together, and Anatolios's work reflects this synthesis.

Still, Gregory cannot be entirely saved by Anatolios's study. At times, Anatolios's efforts to rescue Gregory from being a Christian Platonist are not entirely convincing, and the defense that three persons in one nature (three hypostases sharing one ousia) remains open to criticism from strict monotheists (and needs a clear explanation in inter-faith dialogue, a contemporary context where this topic could arise). To the outsider or non- believer, Gregory's theology does appear as three gods, and complaining that "the dialectic of apophatic and cataphatic elements . . . is so easy to distort, partly because the modern reception of them has been bedeviled by imprecise and sometimes misleading interpretive categories" (p. 229) gives the impression that Anatolios is floating up into the philosophical ether of abstraction, like Gregory himself. Gregory was and remains the philosopher's theologian. I am not convinced Anatolios has saved him from that fate.

It is an interesting juxtaposition that the next chapter is on Augustine, who happily embraced the concreteness of his native Latin after rejecting neo-Platonism with its difficult Greek abstractions. Augustine does not usually get serious consideration in studies of Nicaea. Anatolios makes a convincing case that one should consider Augustine in this context, as he made a real effort to consider Nicene Trinitarian theology in a Latin context and with somewhat different concerns, in particular, the practical implications for the believer. This chapter stands as a particularly nice essay, and anyone teaching De Trinitate will be tempted to mine it for lecture notes or to have students read it.

The conclusion comes back to the title: retrieving Nicaea. Here Anatolios offers his vision of every aspect of modern theology which Nicaea should touch today, and it is here that he seems to most approach theology and to offer a case of relevance in modern theology for his study.

Anatolios's presentation is unusual, as most scholars would consider all the Cappadocians, not just Gregory of Nyssa (although Basil of Caesarea is frequently mentioned in the chapters on Athanasius and Gregory). The major figures are covered in detail while much of the intervening narrative of Trinitarian theology is not included. This method creates a paradoxical problem: it is a great introduction for the student new to the topic, since major figures, many of whose works are available in recent English translations, are adequately covered. At the same time, one must have sufficient knowledge to fill in all the gaps, because the more minor figures and the historical narrative are not thoroughly covered. It is tempting for the historian to find Anatolios's study not sufficiently historical, but Anatolios warns in his introduction that he will not be offering a detailed historical background. Anatolios's approach, despite its shortcomings, is a way to condense a very difficult and broad topic. Anatolios's clear and systematic presentation does so admirably well.


1.   Cf. Anatolios's earlier publications Athanasius, Routledge, 2004, and Athanasius: The Coherence of his Thought, Routledge, 2008

(read complete article)


Vinciane Pirenne-Delforge, Francesca Prescendi (ed.), "Nourrir les dieux?": sacrifice et représentation du divin. Actes de la VIe rencontre du Groupe de recherche européen "Figura, représentation du divin dans les sociétés grecque et romaine" (Université de Liège, 23-24 octobre 2009). Kernos. Supplément, 26.. Liège: Centre International d'Étude de la Religion Grecque Antique, 2011. Pp. 214. ISBN 9782960071795. €30.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Benedikt Eckhardt, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster (

Version at BMCR home site

[List of contributions at the end of this review]

The study of Greek and Roman sacrifice has received so much attention since roughly the 1970s, and has been treated from so many different angles, that one may ask what can be expected from yet another edited volume on the subject, even if the editors are known capacities in the field. But such skepticism is unwarranted: this is an excellent volume on Graeco-Roman sacrificial ritual and an important contribution, as well as, in some regards, a correction to the large body of literature published in this area.

A great advantage of this book is the thematic coherence of the contributions. Some papers are directly complementary to each other, but all of them are concerned with the same general question, which is—at least to the degree achieved here—unusual for an edited volume. This question is not, however, the one posed in the volume's title, namely, whether or not the gods had to be nourished (only Ekroth and Estienne really touch on this issue). Rather, this "question lapidaire" (p. 14) seems to be a substitute for the real central problem addressed in the volume, which might be posed somewhat differently, namely (by an ancient observer), "What kind of ritual offering is appropriate for a specific divine being in a specific context," and (by a modern observer) "How can considerations on the appropriateness of offerings be used to interpret Greek and Roman sacrificial ritual."

The first contribution by G. Ekroth discusses the origins and significance of theoxenia and trapezomata—rites where meat was offered that could also have been eaten by men, in contrast to normal sacrifice, where the gods only receive the portions men would not eat. Unimportant in the Archaic period (note p. 20 on the Eumaios-episode in the Odyssey), both rites are well- known in the classical period. Ekroth offers some explanations, the most interesting of which is the proposal to reverse the common theory that men in Homer were honored like gods, to the effect that honors for gods (and priests as their representatives) were in fact modeled on honors for humans (choice portions of meat). The gods were incorporated into a chain of honor known from human social relations, to some extent bridging the gap between humans and gods. The important differentiation between the treatment of meat in thysia-sacrifice and other rites is highlighted well, although the different genealogical explanations for theoxenia and trapezomata are, of course, hypothetical.

As Ekroth does for theoxenia, S. Estienne singles out the differences between lectisternium and normal sacrifice (vegetarian offerings, invitations, duration, visibility, although the last point may be debated). In line with traditional opinion, she sees a banalization of lectisternia in late Republican and Imperial times, but insists that although pulvinaria were now on long-term display in sanctuaries and used for different rites, the special character of hospitality towards the gods was still present. Hospitality and the unusual temporal and spatial dimensions of the ritual would make the presence of the divine different from normal sacrifice, even if the gods were not represented in a special way (against the view that they were represented as statues).

A. Tsingarida studies monumental vases, which are too big for daily use and were therefore probably used in ritual contexts. Tsingarida thinks of theoxenia as a possible context and points to some inscriptions, none of which is really decisive evidence (pp. 71-72). Vase paintings presumably show preparations for theoxenia (p. 73), but this is also insecure. While the theory is certainly plausible, it is very difficult to argue, and it is wise that Tsingarida includes other festivals as a possible context for these vases. The μέγα ποτήριον mentioned in Athen. 11.494f is used at the Apaturia (p. 71); the ephebes use it for offering wine to Heracles. The general conclusion that these vases are attributes of the divine is plausible especially if the theoxenia-context is accepted, but should be phrased more carefully. It is possible that in a good number of cases, they were used for representing the human side of ritual ceremonies (at the Apaturia, it seems to be important that the ephebes offer wine together, using the same—large—vessel), or simply as visible attractions.

W. van Andringa gives a valuable report on archaeological insights into Roman sacrificial rituals, based on findings from Pompeii. He notes the variety of findings: while the kind of offerings (both animals and meatless offerings) remains stable in different locales, the composition varies considerably—presumably because different gods and rituals made different demands (pp. 84-85). Official sacrifices are more splendid than sacrifices in private houses, as may be expected; thus, while fruits are omnipresent, bones of cattle are found mainly in sanctuaries. Private sacrifices were mainly to the Lares, who received pork. Van Andringa's call for diligent publication of this evidently important material from other sites is justified, although one may hardly expect this evidence to be as complete as in Pompeii.

E. Kearns' study on sacrificial cakes opens a series of three contributions concerned with seemingly deviant forms of sacrifice, namely, meatless or wineless offerings. After the valuable introduction on ancient cakes, Kearns convincingly argues that the advantage of cakes in cultic usage is that they can be formed in almost infinite ways; they can therefore be made to conform to a specific ritual, but they can also make a ritual specific. The rest of her paper tackles the different dimensions of cake-communication: cakes may say something about a god, about a god's relationship to other gods, and about the sacrificer's relationship to a god. Especially the first argument can only be made on the basis of ancient rationalizations, and not every reader will agree with all of her conclusions. The second (translated into a hierarchical order, pp. 97-98) and third point are easier to make. This is a fine study combining epigraphic and literary data. But the probability that meatless offerings were often chosen with a view to personal finances (p. 102) shows that many questions which appear essential to us may not have bothered the average Greek sacrificer.

While Kearns sets cake-offerings apart from meat-offerings, J. Scheid argues against this distinction, at least for a Roman context. His point that bloodless offerings are treated in no different manner than animal sacrifice is generally plausible, but debatable in the details. Some of the characteristics of "normal" sacrificial rites only find parallels in bloodless offerings if wine is included among the latter (as Scheid explicitly requires, p. 108). On the grounds that wine is not meat, Scheid evidently has logic on his side, but other categories could be employed; on the face of it, the comparison of the treatment of meat and cakes would seem more promising than comparing any of these with the treatment of a liquid. Scheid's final question is whether or not Romans could regard a meatless offering as a killing, which would complete the parallel. The only testimony adduced (Plut. Quaest. Rom. 109) states that flour is grain that has been killed. There is no relationship to sacrifice, thus I would doubt that the passage can be used to this end.

V. Pirenne-Delforge gives a detailed evaluation of the evidence on wineless libations, often combined with meatless sacrifice. Her approach explicitly focuses on the question of appropriateness: the correct identification and treatment of the addressee are central to ritual performance. In a reconsideration of the known evidence, she isolates three main thematic fields where wineless libations are prominent, all related to the most basic needs of a human community: food-supply, fecundity of women, and cohesion of its members (p. 140). These categories are perhaps too broad for straightforward conclusions, but this shows well that wineless offerings could be used in a variety of contexts. Pirenne-Delforge does what is possible to bring order into the material, which is difficult enough. She thereby creates a system which is less stringent than the olympian/chthonian-dichotomy, but more suitable for the evidence (although some of her classifications are unavoidably more plausible than others).

A. Zografou studies a fourth century magical recipe. Her text demands the killing of birds in a three-staged ritual, the aim of which is making Eros one's personal assistant. A number of connections to the popular tale of Eros and Psyche are highlighted, most of which are plausible (I am not sure about the supposed direct influence of Apuleius, pp. 155-156). The birds function as a double of winged Psyche, given to Eros. As Zografou points out, the text contains some unique elements unparalleled in the other magical papyri, but the concluding observations on the intimate relationship with the divine, made possible by the informed choice of the correct sacrificial animals, should be valuable for the study of other rites as well.

The final contribution by N. Belayche proposes to read Lucian's De sacrificiis "seriously," i.e. not as a mere parody, but as testimony to its author's peculiar and radical conception of the divine. Lucian's originality is seen in his rejection of any form of offerings, not just blood-sacrifice, without any philosophical compromise (like hypostatization). Sacrifice is the vehicle for a general critique of a ritualistic system that does not take into account the total alterity of the divine, but resorts to anthropomorphism. Belayche is certainly correct in her evaluation of how a conceptualization of the divine that takes Lucian's hints seriously might look. However, as she notes, he has nowhere systematically stated this position. It may therefore be asked if her choice of philosophical tradition as the point of reference (and not, say, the comic tradition of Aristophanes or Menander) does not lead to a petitio principii concerning Lucian's seriousness.

The cover of the book states that the contributions permit the reconstruction of a "théologie," and this is certainly true, given their quality and the tight framework of the volume, but also the due attention paid to private and meatless offerings, the importance of which was sometimes overlooked in earlier research. However, such a reconstruction would have to pull the strings together and make methodological decisions.

Two areas may be highlighted at the end of this review. One concerns the relevance of ancient interpretations of rituals to modern analysis, namely the question of what belongs to a ritual, and what does not. Thus, Scheid denies that there existed any difference between meatless offerings and animal sacrifice "sur le plan des rites" (p. 114), by which he means the technical procedure and the position of the offerings in larger ritual complexes. He therefore attaches no significance to ancient interpretations. Pirenne-Delforge, in contrast, uses ancient interpretations— historically accurate or not—to establish the basis of ritual codification. Thus ancient interpretation is in this case seen as an integral part of the ritual process (because codification is a necessary part of sacrificial ritual), while Scheid focuses solely on the technical aspects of ritual. Maybe the different types of sources facilitate the differentiation of approaches to Greek and Roman rituals, but a reconstruction of the "theology of sacrifice" would certainly have to make a decision here.

The other area is terminology. What a "sacrifice" is on ancient terms is discussed in the introduction (p. 8 on the words θυσία and sacrificium). But it seems that ancient, especially Greek, terminology was more varied, so the modern word "sacrifice" is, in part, a unifying construct. While for the Roman context, Scheid can point to the use of sacrificium fecerunt for both bloody and meatless offerings at the ludi saeculares (p. 113), θυσία seems to have a more narrow meaning. Calling θυσία and all other offerings "sacrifice" may therefore lead to linguistic oddities not reflected upon. Thus, Zografou discusses "neuf sacrifices" of birds in a text that demands μὴ θύε, "ne les sacrifie pas" according to her translation immediately following (p. 157; instead, they are strangled, so the difference is between two different ways of killing). It is of course legitimate to consider all kind of offerings as part of the same ritualistic system, but a comparative theory on Greek and Roman sacrifice might take terminological differences into account.

But this standardization of methods could only be achieved in a monograph. For the present, this volume, provided with a detailed index of subjects, is essential reading both for a first approach (because almost all contributions interact with traditional theories) and for further study on the way to a "theology of sacrifice" in Greece and Rome.


G. Ekroth: Meat for the Gods
S. Estienne: Les dieux à table: lectisternes romains et représentation divine
A. Tsingarida: Qu'importe le flacon pourvu qu'on ait l'ivresse! Vases à boire monumentaux et célébrations divines
W. van Andringa: À la table des dieux: offrandes alimentaires et constructions rituelles des cultes de Pompéi
E. Kearns: Ὁ λιβανωτὸς εὐσεβές καὶ τὸ πόπανον: the rationale of cakes and bloodless offerings in Greek sacrifice
J. Scheid: Les offrandes végétales dans les rites sacrificiels des Romains
V. Pirenne-Delforge: Les codes de l'adresse rituelle en Grèce: le cas des libations sans vin
A. Zografou: Des sacrifices qui donnent des ailes: PGM XII, 15-95
N. Belayche: Entre deux éclats de rire. Sacrifice et représentation du divin dans le De sacrificiis de Lucien
(read complete article)

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Jesús María Nieto Ibáñez, Cristianismo y profecías de Apolo: los oráculos paganos en la Patrística griega (siglos II-V). Colleción Estructuras y procesos. Serie Religión. Madrid: Editorial Trotta, 2010. Pp. 224. ISBN 9788498791532. €22.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Frederick Naerebout, Leiden University (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Jesús Maria Nieto Ibáñez, of the University of León, offers a succinct, but neat and precise discussion of pagan oracles in patristic literature, in a mere 150 pages, fully referenced in the footnotes to the primary sources and to the very full 17-page bibliography at the end of the volume. In addition, bold figures in the main text refer to an appendix with translated texts, to which we will return below. The volume is concluded by a chronological table of all authors mentioned in the book, an index of proper names, and an index locorum. It is all of a very high standard, as one might expect of an author who has been publishing about the Christian-pagan polemic concerning divination, oracles in particular, since at least 2005, and who has published widely on Greek-language Jewish texts of the Second Temple period (including the Sibylline Oracles and the Chaldean Oracles) and early Christian texts, and has translated Flavius Josephus, besides all the other things he has been working on, in Greek philology, early modern reception of patristic texts, epigraphy…

Nieto argues that oracles and oracular texts were a central concern of Christian authors, not as an antiquarian interest, but because these pagan practices (together with astrology) maintained their attractiveness for a long time, well into the 5th century, as can be concluded from the critique by Augustine of Hippo (354-430) and Theodoret of Cyrus (5th century). Also, oracles are the crucial ingredients of a wider debate about Fate. In the first stage of the Christian reception of the pagan oracular tradition, from the Apostolic Fathers to Irenaeus of Lyon (2nd century), there is formulated a distinction between profeteia, which comes from God, and mantike, which is demonic – which of course fits in with the general demonization of ancient polytheism. Demons produce obscure and contradictory oracles, which lead the credulous pagans astray. From this derive disaster and death, or pointless and vain undertakings which make people appear ridiculous. In a second stage, with Origen (3rd century) and Clement of Alexandria (2nd half 2nd century) we see a slightly more positive view of divination arising. In the 4th century any oracular material that can be integrated into a Christian context (often after considerable editing) is accepted, but everything else is still firmly rejected. What we end up with is "a more or less ambiguous stance towards the oracles of Apollo" (153), where we see the reinterpretation of Apollonian oracles in a Christian theological manner, seemingly contradicting the demonic origin of all kinds of non-Judeo-Christian prophecy. In the course of either condemning the oracles, or enlisting them for the Christian cause, many oracular pronouncements are quoted by Christian authors, deriving from a wide range of oracular sanctuaries, and taken from many different sources.

The only work that stands comparison with the present volume is the study by Aude Busine, Paroles d'Apollon. Pratiques et traditions oraculaires dans l'Antiquité tardive (iie-vie siècles), Leiden 2005. That is, however, a 500-page book ranging across a much wider field than Nieto, taking in both late-antique divination in its pagan setting and its Christian reception. Within this wider context, in her Christian chapters Busine addresses much the same issues as Nieto, in exactly the same systematic fashion – addressing themes rather than authors – that characterizes Nieto's work (albeit with a somewhat different categorisation of the material, and Nieto does have a separate second chapter outlining the authors). Neither Nieto nor Busine mention H.C. Weiland, Het oordeel der Kerkvaders over het Orakel [The patristic judgement on oracles], Amsterdam 1935, a Utrecht dissertation, which even more succintly than Nieto discusses patristic texts concerning oracles (again in the systematic thematic arrangement that apparently is deemed appropriate for this subject). It is of course rather unsurprising that Weiland's contribution, being in Dutch and 75 years old, remained unknown to both authors. But if they had seen his text, it might very well have led the way to some more relevant sources and literature. As it is, for those primarily interested in the Christian side of the argument, one could consider the book by Nieto to be an excellent introduction to the subject, with Busine filling in the larger contextual picture. In that way, the two books could be considered to be complementary.

This also holds good for the anthology in Nieto and the catalogue in Busine. From a wide range of Greek early Christian literature, from the Pastor of Hermas to Theodoret of Cyrus and Cyril of Alexandria, Nieto has culled 124 pagan oracular pronouncements, and 10 longer texts discussing pagan divinatory practice. An appendix to the volume under discussion presents all of these texts, most of them taken from Eusebius, in a Spanish (Castilian) translation, and with full references to parallel passages in early Christian and in pagan sources. This collection is most useful, for those who read Spanish, and would in itself make this a valuable volume (even though it is a pity the Greek texts were not included as well). The only odd thing is that an introduction to and analysis of the anthology is hidden away in the general conclusion that closes the main text. The catalogue in Busine's study covers more or less the same ground, but does not provide any texts in extenso, and has rather less to offer, because she limits herself to Apollo. However, the 77 texts in Busine's catalogue (not counting 63 inscriptions of oracles by the Didymean and Clarian Apollo which Busine also lists), include some pagan authors and passages from the Theosophia (i.e., the so-called Theosophia of Tübingen, a Christian collection of pagan oracles, late 5th or early 6th century) which Nieto excludes from his anthology (though not from his discussion), together with the Sybilline Oracles and the interpolated passages in the Corpus Hermeticum. So again Nieto and Busine can be said to be complementary.

As already stated, Nieto's book has much to offer that is worthwhile. My concern is with the question who will actually read it. Just as Nieto missed the relevant publication by the Dutch scholar Weiland, I am afraid that of the present generation of Dutch scholars very few will read Nieto, and of the oncoming generations probably none. Which all goes to show how sad our linguistic isolation from one another is – and it only increases. So should we hope that this excellent and helpful introductory book will be translated into English, or should we hope that those who stand to gain from it will make the effort to read the Spanish text?

Table of Contents

Prólogo: Emilio Suárez de la Torre 9
Abreviaturas más frecuentes 13
Introducción 17
I. Mántica pagana y profecía cristiana 23
1. La profecía en el judaísmo helenístico 23
2. La profecía en el cristianismo 24
3. Oráculos y adivinación en los siglos i y ii 27
4. La reflexión sobre la mántica en la filosofía del siglo iii 30
5. Porfirio de Tiro 32
II. Los protagonistas de la polémica. La mántica pagana en la patrística griega 35
1. La literatura apostólica 35
2. La apologética del siglo ii 35
3. La profecía pagana y la herejía. Ireneo de Lyon e Hipólito de Roma 37
4. Clemente de Alejandría 38
5. Orígenes de Alejandría 40
6. Atanasio de Alejandría 40
7. Eusebio de Cesarea 42
7.1. Las fuentes de la polémica antioracular en Eusebio 44
7.2. Eusebio y la profecía bíblica. La Demonstratio evangelica 46
7.3. Eusebio y la profecía pagana. La Praeparatio evangelica 47
8. La reflexión sobre la auténtica profecía después de Eusebio 53
9. Las últimas apologías: Teodoreto de Ciro y Cirilo de Alejandría 56
III. Apolo y sus oráculos en la literatura cristiana 59
1. Aceptación y reutilización de los oráculos paganos 59
1.1. Apolo y los judíos 59
1.2. Oráculos teológicos. Apolo cristianizado 63
2. Crítica a los oráculos paganos 71
2.1. Apolo, falso adivino 71
2.1.1. El concepto de profecía cristiana. La auténtica profecía 71
2.1.2. Los falsos profetas 74
2.2. Los oráculos y los démones 84
2.2.1. Demonología y profecía 84
2.2.2. Apolo es un demon 94
2.2.3. Adivinación y magia. Sacrificios y coacciones 96
2.2.4. La inspiración demónica de la Pitia 101
2.3. Los oráculos y la idolatría. El culto a las estatuas 103
2.4. Los oráculos y la astrología 107
2.5. Los oráculos son causa de muerte 118
2.6. Apolo es incapaz de ayudarse a sí mismo 119
2.7. Ambigüedad de los oráculos: causa de males 121
2.8. Los oráculos se burlan de los consultantes 127
2.9. Los oráculos no dan respuestas sobre hechos importantes 127
2.10. Los oráculos divinizan a poetas, atletas y tiranos 130
3. El final de la mántica pagana 138
3.1. El silencio de los démones 138
3.2. El argumento cronológico. Los cristianos y el final del paganismo 142
3.3. San Babilas y Apolo 144
3.4. Apolo y la victoria del cristianismo 146
Conclusiones 151
Antología 157
I. Antología de oráculos contenidos en la Patrística griega 157
II. Antología de textos sobre la profecía pagana en la Patrística griega 178
Bibliografía 187
Tabla cronológica 205
Índice de nombres propios 207
Índice de pasajes citados 213
(read complete article)