Thursday, June 27, 2013


John Briscoe, A Commentary on Livy, Books 41-45. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. xx, 823. ISBN 9780199216642. $299.00.

Reviewed by Timothy J. Moore, Washington University in St. Louis (

Version at BMCR home site

With this volume Briscoe completes his series of commentaries on the last 15 books of Livy's Ab urbe condita, the first volume of which appeared forty years ago.1 This last installment is especially welcome because of the unique nature of Livy's final pentad.

That books 41-45 have been among the most neglected portions of Livy's history is not surprising. The text here is the most intractable of all Livy's surviving pentads. Aside from one small fragment in Priscian, it is derived entirely from one fifth-century manuscript, V. V is, to put it mildly, in terrible shape. Among its many lacunae, some are enormous, others come at the most exasperating places (three, for example, during the Battle of Pydna). The text that remains contains errors so frequent and so arbitrary that Briscoe acknowledges, "it is not always possible to use normal palaeographical arguments in evaluating conjectures (one is tempted to say that anything can be corrupted to anything)" (4). Compounding the difficulties of the text is the virtual disappearance of V from shortly after its discovery by Simon Grynaeus in 1527 until the nineteenth century. Many of those who sought to emend the text thus relied not on V but on Grynaeus' unreliable editions of the pentad.

The text, then, is hard to work with, and for some it has not appeared worth the effort. Books 41-45 are, after all, well into the portion of Livy's work where he has started to show fatigue, as he himself admits in his preface to book 31. Though there are some wonderful moments, fewer sections of this pentad are "worked up" to the same degree that many passages in the earlier books are. We are now far removed from the enchanting legends of the first decade or the extreme vicissitudes and greater-than-life military leaders of the third.

Yet the ninth pentad is of great importance for anyone interested in Republican history or in Livy. The years described here (178-167 BCE) mark the moment when Rome, now the unquestioned superpower of the Mediterranean, moved from its standard reactions to real or alleged threats to an attempt at regime change in response to dubious accusations against Perseus of Macedon. Though ultimately successful, this attempt led to a military campaign considerably more difficult than the Roman senate had hoped. As Briscoe points out, analogies between the Third Macedonian War and recent events in Iraq are striking. Books 41-45 also give us early reports on issues that would dominate the history of the late Republic: distribution of public land (42.1.6), debt crises (42.5.7-12), publicani (45.18.4), and quaestiones de repetundis (43.2).

The ninth pentad becomes especially interesting when one considers Livy's belief that Rome's virtues led to her successes, her vices to the troubles of his own times (praef.9). Unlike Sallust and others, Livy did not consider the fall of Carthage in 146 the moral turning point for Rome. He offers instead a much more nuanced view of how moral decline set in, noting at several points incipient new sources of that decline. Still, to Livy a critical moment in Rome's degeneration was the campaign of Cn. Manlius Vulso against the Galatians in 189: Manlius' troops, solute ac negeglenter habiti (39.1.4), began to open up the floodgates to luxuria. To a great extent we are still in the "good old days" in books 41-45. Livy comments on the superiority of this period to his own day (e.g., 43.13, 44.9.4). Yet the pentad also offers a distressing amount of activity of questionable morality on the part of Romans, including M. Popilius' brutal and unjustified slaughter and enslavement of the Statellates (42.8), the trickery of Q. Marcius Philippus and A. Atilius in their dealings with both Perseus and the Boeotian League (42.38.8-44.6), the efforts to persuade Attalus to betray his brother (45.19), and the attempt by Aemilius Paullus' soldiers to deny him his triumph because they resented his discipline (45.35.5-39.20). Livy not only acknowledges these moral failings, he draws attention to them. Misbehavior by Romans is not, of course, unique to this section of Livy's work. Yet there is a clear sense in the ninth pentad that something is not right in Rome: the moral decay Livy so lamented in his preface has set in. These books thus offer clues as to how Livy handled the darker years he described in the lost books.2

Briscoe's commentary will prove invaluable for anyone wishing to pursue these and other questions. He begins with a concise introduction that includes sections on sources (with a list of Polybian parallels), the text, issues surrounding the outbreak of the Third Macedonian War, chronology, and Roman legions. Departing from his practice in the previous volumes, Briscoe does not include a section on "language and style" in the introduction but instead relies on an index to linguistic and stylistic observations made in the notes and an appendix on tenses of the subjunctive in oratio obliqua. This is a reasonable decision: those interested in these matters can easily find the relevant discussions. There are also appendices on the terminology Livy uses for proconsuls and propraetors and on the role of the praetor peregrinus, and addenda and corrigenda to both Briscoe's commentary on 38-40 and the current commentary.

Briscoe dedicates an exceptionally large amount of the commentary to textual criticism. Occasionally the relish he seems to take in pointing out his predecessors' errors becomes wearisome, and he relies a few times on unjustified ipse dixits, but all in all the textual notes are excellent. Particularly welcome is Briscoe's continual willingness to acknowledge that he has changed his mind since his 1986 edition of books 41-45,3 a valuable reminder that textual criticism is always a work in progress. I would recommend perusal of Briscoe's textual notes not only to those interested in Livy, but also to students and teachers desiring an introduction to how textual criticism works.

As one would expect given Briscoe's previous commentaries, the historical and prosopographical notes are consistently sound and thorough. Briscoe's guide through the maddening world of intercalation and the Roman calendar is particularly useful. A few times Briscoe left unanswered questions I wish he had addressed. At 42.7.2, for example, Livy reports that defeated rebels in Corsica were forced to pay an indemnity in wax. Briscoe dismisses as "absurd" the proposal of J. Triantaphyllopoulos that the wax was intended for candles to be used at the Saturnalia (176). Fair enough, but what was the wax for?

Briscoe is also on sure footing when he deals with Livy's use of his sources. He is a little close to the traditional "one source at a time" approach to Livian Quellenforschung for my taste (though he does suggest that in several passages Livy has mixed Polybian and annalistic material), and I am less confident than Briscoe that rebuttal of a source's (especially Valerius Antias') facts or figures means Livy has used that source throughout his description of an event. I also think sometimes Briscoe is too hard on Livy. There can be no doubt that, as Briscoe points out several times, Livy is inclined to make Rome look better as he adapts Polybius. I wonder, though, if Livy really "may well not have appreciated" the damning content of a speech he took over from Polybius, in which Perseus "effectively demolishes the Roman justification for war" (288, on 42.41-2). In fact, the speech contributes to the ironies of Livy's own account of events leading up to the Third Macedonian War.

Briscoe is explicitly unsympathetic to many of the literary-critical approaches to Livy that have developed in the last decades. One can nevertheless learn a great deal about Livy as an author from Briscoe's commentary. He offers excellent observations on style, especially word use, throughout, and his comments on broader literary questions, though rare, are often insightful, as when he notes that repetition of the word insidiatores links Livy's accounts of the quarrels between Demetrius and Perseus and the assassination attempt on Eumenes (204, on 42.15.4). Briscoe is especially good on Livy's speeches: he provides an astute analysis, for example, of the dubious reasoning in the apology of the Rhodian ambassador Astymedes (672-81, on 45.22-4). Perhaps to his own chagrin, the commentary will be an important tool for those approaching these books from a more "literary" approach than Briscoe.

On a number of occasions Briscoe provides lists of passages where other authors discuss events described by Livy (e.g., 638, on C. Popilius' mandate to Antiochus IV). Briscoe's reasons for when he chooses to include or omit these lists are not clear. They are immensely helpful, and it would have been good to see more of them.

Several of Briscoe's notes are worth pointing out as areas that deserve further exploration. It is fascinating, given Livy's obsession in the first decade with plebeians' gradual acquisition of access to the highest magistracies, that the historian fails to comment on the first time two plebeians held the consulship together in 172 (182, on 42.9.8). Briscoe's suggestion that Livy's audirive at 44.14.13 "envisages the recitation of L.'s work" (510) raises interesting questions about how historical works were presented in Augustan Rome. His observation that 44.16.4 provides evidence for the wearing of togas by Romans in military camps (513) is similarly promising as grounds for further investigation.

A few remarks on some individual notes:

45 (on 41.3.5-4.8): Where is Florus likely to have gotten his variant account of the recapture of the Roman camp at Lake Timavus?

428 (on 43.13): One of the pentad's most famous passages is Livy's defense of his inclusion of prodigy lists: they are in his work, Livy says, both because his own mind becomes "nescio quo pacto antiquus" when he writes of ancient events and because what the prudentissimi viri of older times thought worthy of public concern is surely also worthy of inclusion in a history. Briscoe suggests that Livy chose to comment on prodigies here rather than earlier in the work because someone challenged Livy's inclusion of prodigies, or Livy read another work of history in which prodigy lists were absent, at the time he was writing this section of his work. Perhaps, but we might also consider the position of book 43 in the work as a whole. Livy may have chosen to draw attention to this example of traditional Roman values in the middle of this pentad because these books show those values encountering unprecedented challenges. The same kind of thinking may have helped to inspire Livy's unusual description of the traditional consular procession out of Rome shortly before this passage (42.49).

458-9 (on 43.21.3): a reference to the importance of Epidamnus in Plautus' Menaechmi would be useful in this discussion of the history of the Latin name for the city.

665 (on 45.8-17): It is not clear to me why the story of Stratius' advice to Attalus, which is found in both Polybius and Livy, is "implausible."

Typos are inevitable in a work of this length and complexity: I found about 23, mostly misspellings of English words.

The high price of this volume will keep it off the shelves of most libraries and individuals. It is very much to be hoped that the commentary will soon appear in paperback.


1.   John Briscoe, A Commentary on Livy Books 31-33 (Oxford, 1973). See also ibid., A Commentary on Livy Books 34-37 (Oxford, 1981), and A commentary on Livy Books 38-40 (Oxford, 2008).
2.   Cf. T.J. Luce, Livy: The Composition of his History (Princeton, 1977) 255-75.
3.   John Briscoe (ed.), Titi Livi Ab urbe condita Libri XLI-XLV (Stuttgart, 1986).

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Marine Bretin-Chabrol, L'arbre et la lignée: métaphores végétales de la filiation et de l'alliance en latin classique. Horos. Grenoble: Éditions Jérôme Millon, 2012. Pp. 466. ISBN 9782841372850. €34.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Ailsa Hunt, Fitzwilliam College; University of Cambridge (

Version at BMCR home site

Bretin-Chabrol opens this book, an offshoot of her doctoral dissertation, by evoking the familiar image of a family tree. Although, as she immediately admits, this image was not formalised iconographically until the Medieval period, it represents a mode of thinking about family lineage which in fact has a far longer history and which made its presence strongly felt in Roman culture. Bretin-Chabrol sets out to show how, and why, Roman thinkers privileged terms and images from the world of arboriculture when imagining their genealogy and familial relationships. This is to be a semantic study conducted within an anthropological framework (p. 14).

Part I (pp. 17-31) is methodological and establishes what Bretin-Chabrol means by referring to these terms and images as 'métaphores végétales' (p. 17). Having emphasised the pervasiveness of such metaphors, Bretin-Chabrol worries over the point at which a metaphor becomes 'lexicalisée' (p. 21) and thus loses all its impact: 'comment déterminer si le mot, devenu banal, possède encore pour les locateurs une dimension imagée?' (p. 17). For Bretin- Chabrol the solution is to be found in the fact that together these images form a system or network (she values Taillardat's concept of a 'matrice métaphorique'): it is as a cohesive system that these metaphors 'traduisent quelque chose de la conception du monde qui a autorisé leur production' (p. 17).

Part II (pp. 33-231) offers a detailed study of 'le sens propre' of the words which will constitute the meat of Bretin- Chabrol's semantic study (p. 33). This necessary rooting in arboricultural detail, she argues, will allow us to grasp fully the intended effect when Roman authors apply words designating tree parts or arboricultural techniques to familial relationships (p. 33). After introducing her favoured authors for this task, namely Theophrastus, Cato, Varro, Virgil, Columella and Pliny the Elder (chapter 1, pp. 35-46), Bretin-Chabrol comes to the chosen words themselves. This discussion is split into a further two chapters. In chapter 2 she first examines stirps, suboles, pullus, semen and satus (section A, pp. 48-74), before turning to consider how Roman authors might conceptualise trees either as an organic whole or as a complex multi-part organism (section B, pp. 74- 114). Chapter 3 tackles the arboricultural techniques of propagation through layering (section A, pp. 116-143), grafting (section B, pp. 143-190) and the 'marriage' of vines to trees (section C, pp. 190-228); the latter section begins with discussion of a debate as to whether the family of words deriving from maritus originated in agricultural or social discourse. Bretin-Chabrol tends to approach her chosen words by means of a short linguistic history, often on the lookout for the most ancient attestation of the word, before analysing the uses of that word with copious examples from various 'technical' texts. For the arboriculturally challenged, the discussions in this section are clarified by two useful appendices illustrating different methods of layering and grafting.

Part III (pp. 233-397), entitled 'dire la filiation en termes végétaux', constitutes the main argument of the book. It begins with a survey of how Greek literature uses 'métaphores végétales' to articulate ideas about family lineage (chapter 1, pp. 235-245); this is to allow us to grasp better the specificity of these metaphors in Latin literature (p. 235). The mammoth chapter 2 (pp. 247-363) is focused around the idea of a stirps and its role in the social construction of family groups, especially Republican gentes, as collective patrilineal entities. Situating her discussion within the context of Roman inheritance laws and the meaning of the word stirps in juridical texts (pp. 247-273), Bretin-Chabrol discusses the importance of stirps as a symbolic tool for the nobilitas and how it facilitates the creation of a convenient fiction, namely that of the family group as a natural and eternal entity (section A, pp. 274-293). Bretin-Chabrol informatively shows how stirps can refer both to the early stages of and duration of a family line, both to individual parts of the tree and the tree as a whole; as such it is a privileged metaphor for thinking about family groups as a collectivity of homogeneous individuals, which looks both to the past and the future of that family group (p. 233 and p. 322). Arboricultural imagery also colours Roman reflection on the process of prolonging a stirps (section B, pp. 294-322) and interestingly can be used to smooth over moments in a family's history (e.g. that of the Caesars) when the idea of familial continuity is a social construction rather than biological fact (p. 300). Bretin-Chabrol then turns to consider the moral connotations bound up in terms like stirps, propago and suboles (section C, pp. 323-363). She also discusses the image of the familial 'graft', a term used of those seen as external to, yet also part of, the family, such as adopted children or usurpers; emphasising the negative connotations of such grafting imagery, she links its use to a Roman fear of change, attributing the success of terms like propago and suboles to their role as 'véhicules du discours de la ressemblance' (p. 363). In chapter 3 (pp. 365-397) Bretin-Chabrol considers the rare uses of stirps with relation to female members of a line (pp. 365-385). Finally she turns to cases where arboreal metaphors are used to subvert traditional Roman insistence on the link between social status and a biological relationship to a noble gens (pp. 385-397): Cicero, the novus homo, emphasises his radices rather than his stirps (Sest. 50); Statius praises Melior's adoption of Glaucias by undermining the value of the natural propago, leaning instead on the image of a successful graft (Silv. 2.1.82-102).

Bretin-Chabrol's conclusion (pp. 399-407) begins unexpectedly, with a brief critique of Eliade leading into a re- emphasis on the specificity of the roles played by 'métaphores végétales' in Latin literature; she also revisits the relationship between Greek and Roman 'métaphores végétales' to underline again the significance of the concept of a stirps in Roman culture. Finally she turns to drawing out ways in which her analysis valuably nuances our understanding of élite Roman identity construction. The metaphor of the stirps provided Romans with a model for thinking about their own identity in relation to a linear continuity of ancestors, whilst the more cyclical temporal models provided by arboreal methods of reproduction allowed this linear model to be felt in terms of continual fresh starts (p. 404). Arboreal metaphors also open a window onto ways in which élite Romans manipulated models provided by natura to reinforce traditional Roman social ideals (p. 407).

Bretin-Chabrol has drawn to the fore a relatively overlooked intersection between arboricultural and familial discourse in élite Roman constructions of their position within society; as such the book is a worthy contribution to our knowledge of Roman culture. Its impact will be hindered, however, by its excessive length. The build-up to Bretin-Chabrol's main argument (which we do not properly reach until p. 256) might leave one disappointed by the conclusions. The exhaustive semantic analysis in part II is not well integrated into the arguments of part III (despite promise of this at p. 33); in particular her discussion of the trope of 'marrying' vines to trees (pp. 190-228) does not have an obvious role to play in part III. The desire to be comprehensive in exemplifying her argument also means that Bretin-Chabrol's analysis of why these 'métaphores végétales' mattered to Roman thinkers is almost squeezed out of the book (the intriguing suggestion, for example, that arboricultural metaphors presented familial relationships as something dictated by nature yet also susceptible to human intervention (p. 115) is passed over all too quickly).

Bretin-Chabrol's book may well have taken its final form by the time Gowers, E. (2011) 'Trees and Family Trees in the Aeneid' (Cl.Ant. 30:1, pp. 87-118) appeared. Unfortunately though, Gowers' article pre-empts Bretin-Chabrol to some degree, offering a detailed reading of the Aeneid which illustrates how arboreal images provide a model for thinking about family lineage. Gowers argues that arboreal images in the Aeneid articulate the unsettling way in which Aeneas eliminates contenders to his position, 'uprooting' surviving members of his familial stirps. Her discussion of how grafting imagery comments on the tension in imperial politics between 'the ideal of natural succession and the pragmatics of adoption' (p. 114) is of particular pertinence to Bretin-Chabrol's arguments.

The book has a number of oddities and weaknesses. Bretin-Chabrol insists that the arboricultural terms she is discussing, extracted from sophisticated literary texts, must have been familiar to the average agricultural labourer as well (p. 46 and p. 142); she even imagines Roman masters reading passages of Columella and the like to their workers to secure this (p. 46). Considering that Bretin-Chabrol is analysing how the Roman nobilitas used arboricultural discourse to articulate their ideas about élite familial relationships, it is unclear why it matters to her argument if we understand this discourse also to be a construction of the Roman élite, distanced from the practicalities of life in a Campanian vineyard. Bretin-Chabrol also emphasises that there is something distinctively Roman about the 'matrice métaphorique' which she explores, articulating distinctively Roman conceptions of the family (p. 14 and p. 116). This, however, sits uneasily with a heavy and insufficiently justified reliance on the botanical works of Theophrastus and Aristotle in part II. The weight given to particular scholarly debates within the book is also at times baffling: why such concern as to whether agricultural discourse borrowed the word maritus from social discourse or vice versa, considering her emphasis elsewhere on the 'réversabilité' of such images (p. 63). Finally, Bretin-Chabrol's own picture of the Roman culture into which she is embedding her 'matrice métaphorique' is rather thinly painted: élite Romans are unquestioningly assumed to be 'anti change' (p. 363 and p. 406) and early imperial Rome just as morally debauched as Augustan propaganda would have you believe (p. 219).

I found very few errors in the text. The third chapter of part III is unfortunately titled 'Chapitre II' (p. 365). From the semi-significant to the very insignificant, the reference in footnote 494 (p. 221) should be to Colum. Rust. 5, 6, 18.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Robin Osborne, Athens and Athenian Democracy. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Pp. xix, 462. ISBN 9780521605700. $39.99 (pb).

Reviewed by Joseph Wilson, University of Scranton (

Version at BMCR home site


This is a dense and difficult book, closely reasoned and meticulously documented. The chapters saw life first in some other contexts, so there is a certain discontinuity in the narrative flow. While the work's title suggests an overall discussion of the Athenian democracy, in fact the book focuses on the fourth-century B.C.E. evidence for the democracy, while paying less attention to the 5th and 6th centuries.

Osborne divides the work into 5 sections, with a prefatory first chapter consisting of his inaugural lecture as Professor of Ancient History at Cambridge. In the opening chapter, Osborne makes clear his indebtedness to, as well as his independence from, two of the prior holders of the Cambridge chair, A.H.M. Jones and Moses Finley. Osborne offers his selection of 18 articles now collected in book form as his own effort at "joined up writing" to encompass the totality of the Athenians' democratic experience, in the process making good some deficiencies of his predecessors, including the role of women, religion, law, and the visual arts, all areas in which Jones and Finley had shown rather less interest.

The first of the five actual parts of the text deals with democracy per se, and its workings – yet this is to some extent misleading, as it is not a technical manual on the processes of the workings of the boule and ekklesia. Rather, Osborne looks closely at the inscriptional evidence, especially that from demes, to determine and reveal the manner in which a diverse population of citizens and metics, often including members of other demes who coincidentally find themselves, from business or military service, temporarily in residence in demes not their own conducted government and participated in political life. These divisions, spread throughout Attica, are instructive on how the Athenians managed to conduct their affairs, usually without sliding into chaos and mob rule. Of particular interest is Osborne's analysis of the decrees from Rhamnous, which demonstrate the manner in which people of various backgrounds formed themselves to create a more or less solid corporate entity.

The second section deals with the relationship between Athenian political practice and economics, including a discussion of the vexed question of slavery in Athens. Osborne does well to avoid permanently unanswerable questions regarding the pure number of slaves in Athens – given that there was never a census taken of slaves, and the estimates of "myriads" of slaves who might be enfranchised to strengthen the Athenians military (Hypereides), or the loss of which weakened the Athenians during the Dekeleian war (Thucydides), are liable to claims of hyperbole and the instability inherent in the definition of "myriades", Osborne's approach of determining the prevalence of slaves in Athenians life is surely the more sound approach. On the whole, however, Osborne reaches essentially a familiar conclusion, that the utilization of a slave economy was necessary to maintain the ideology of the radical democracy, that there was an inherent level of equality among all free men made possible by the fact that men did not generally employ other citizens as laborers.

In one of Osborne's best and most persuasive chapters, "Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Subsistence," he breaks down [Dem.] 42, a challenge against one Phainippos for an antidosis, to demonstrate brilliantly the need to revise the picture promoted by Finley, that the countryside primarily responsible for meeting the subsistence needs of the polis did so by a fairly unsophisticated process of supporting the city directly by merely selling off excess production. By a painstaking breakdown of the finances of Phainippos as a test-case, and by analyzing the extent of the liturgy and taxation system applicable to the wealthiest Athenians, Osborne demonstrates that the liturgic class needed considerable amounts of cash merely to maintain its position, one that, even allowing for the silver of Laurium, could only be met by developing fairly significant financial instruments and by engaging in profitable manufacturing as well as farming. The countryside, to put it succinctly, needed cash as much as the city needed food. Osborne's demonstration of the yield of profit from the distribution of barley (a crop concerning the value of which we are comparatively well informed) is an excellent example of the good use to which basic math can be put by the historian.

Also within this section is the chapter "Is it a Farm?", one of Osborne's familiar hobby-horses dating back to his book Demos; the question of what constitutes a farm and whether, in consequence, we can consider the Athenians to have a significant rural population remains a matter of intense interest to him. Langdon, CJ 86 (1991), 209- 213, seems to have disposed of this matter well, but Osborne rightly calls attention to the fact that one cannot automatically assume that a collection of buildings in a field constitutes a farm, in the sense commonly understood. Moreover, an attendant chapter on the mobility of land and populations is by far the least successful and convincing of all his efforts in the book. A small army of comparative evidence is amassed from England, Russia, and France, only to be answered rather weakly by the acknowledgment that insufficient evidence is available from ancient Athens to make calculations of anywhere near the same value. On the whole, the exercise, while entertaining, offers little of value: comparative evidence cannot realistically be applied when there is nothing to which it might be compared.

Part 3 deals with the Athenian legal system. Osborne remarked in his prefatory chapter that "Athenian law has become one of the liveliest topics within Greek and Roman history," and his own contributions have served very much to make it so. Primarily, the section focuses on the relationship of the court system to the democracy, and on the role of voluntary prosecutions in Athens, those conducted by sycophants and, by the process of menusis, by slaves. On sycophancy, another problem emerges: Osborne takes a decidedly the minimalist position, and this may be the correct approach, that there is no overwhelming evidence that the courts were clogged with sycophantic prosecutions. Two caveats, however. One, that the comic poets could not have made fun of something that did not really exist, and two, as Athens declined laboriously in the latter days of its existence as an independent democracy, sycophancy, which guaranteed a certain amount of public employ, may have been tolerated and popular simply as a potential source of income. Aristophanes' portrait of the greedy dikast in the Wasps likely became more accurate, rather than less so, in the litigious hotbed of the middle and late 4th century B.C.E. than in the late 5th.

Osborne shows particular interest in the role that the courts play in establishing and maintaining the status of citizens; effectively, he posits that the courts are a mechanism for controlling the relationships between citizens, usually of roughly equal status, rather than a mechanism for general control over the population. It is in this light he examines the evidence that can be proffered by women and slaves. Since women can only serve as witnesses by giving depositions under oath, any potential challenge to the status of the male citizen is coming, effectively, not from the woman, but from the gods who serve as guarantors of the oath. Similarly, the evidence of slaves, wrung by torture, is confirmed by the slaves' bodies. In neither case does the actual witness, of diminished status, serve as a threat to the citizen hierarchy.

Another question that emerges from the section on law is the notion of an "open texture" to Athenian law. Osborne has been criticized for suggesting that the variety of available legal procedures in Athenian law, apographe, dikai, graphe, and phasis, each with their own inherent risks to the prosecutor and the defendant, constitute the sort of open texture of law defended by Hart and dismissed by, inter alios, Dworkin; open texture should properly refer to substantive, rather than procedural, law. In fact, Osborne does nothing of the sort, as he makes clear in his endnote to Ch. 9, where he maintains his actual position, that the open texture of Athenian substantive law made possible, or perhaps desirable, the different procedures available to an Athenian prosecutor. Osborne misses an opportunity that greater familiarity with American law might have afforded him: the possible relationship between open texture and substantive due process and its potential for analyzing the procedural options available in Athens. It is an area that might merit study.

The section on law concludes with the chapter, "Changing the Discourse," in which Osborne discusses the Thirty and the relationship between democracy, oligarchy, and tyranny in the Athenian mind. Osborne makes the point that while tyranny is never completely apart from the Greek consciousness (the rapidity with which tyranny came back to Syracuse after its departure in 463, and at different outposts throughout the mainland, guarantee that), it served for the most part as a straw man for Athens – the real danger to the radical democracy was always from oligarchy, which in fact the Athenian system, on the ground, seemed most clearly designed to combat. Osborne emphasizes the role played by the defeat of the expedition to Syracuse in changing the politics of the Athenians and causing them to call into question their democracy for the first time, thus creating the conditions for an oligarchic revolution with a modified democracy in 411, and the rule of the Thirty subsequent to and consequent upon the Athenian defeat in the Peloponnesian War. Osborne takes seriously the claim that, from the outset, at least, the Thirty were attempting serious constitutional and legal reforms, while acknowledging that, by the end of their efflorescence, they had degenerated into a tyranny in the conventional sense.

The final two sections of the book are the most disappointing, as Osborne moves his discussion from history, epigraphy, and law to the plastic arts and religion. He offers two chapters (14-15) of analysis on the Parthenon frieze. His most valuable insight in Ch. 14 is his insistence on the role of the viewer, forced to create a procession by the act of viewing while s/he is in motion, until s/he arrives at the chryselephantine statue of Athena. Osborne's essential point is that the frieze becomes, in effect, diachronic, and the viewer of the frieze contemplates, in manufacturing his/her own Panathenaic procession, all the processions that have ever taken place and will ever take place. This interesting perspective, however, smacks somewhat of assertion, rather than proof. Joan Connelly's reading of the central scene of the east frieze as the sacrifice of the daughters of Erechtheus, AJA 100 (1996), 53-80, dismissed out of hand by Osborne, offers a better mythological reading and one more consistent with the program of the rest of the Parthenon, and is in no way diminished by the "context" of the presence of the statue of Athena; rather, the presence of the goddess Athena opposite the central scene of the frieze may just as easily be a reminder that, for mortals, the cost of anything may be everything (Athena is a notoriously ruthless divinity – just ask Arachne, Ajax, the Trojans, or Tiresias, inter alios). In the next chapter, Osborne's elaboration of the frieze's relationship to the pediments and metopes in the Parthenon in an attempt to create a unified program, or at least a unified viewing experience for the worshipper, has, by his own admission, failed to persuade scholars.

The final part of the work, composed of three chapters on Athenian religion, is on the whole more successful, but still not up to the standard set in the first three sections, where one suspects that Osborne is on more comfortable ground. Osborne's analysis of the competitive festivals in which the Athenians engaged emphasizes the role that those festivals served in promoting the democratic ideology and minimizing personal ambition (especially in the case of those organized by tribe, like the dithyrambs of the City Dionysia), diffusing the glory of victory while defusing the potential embarrassment of defeat. His discussion of the mutilation of the herms prior to the Syracusan expedition in 415 B.C. attempts to put into context not merely the act of destruction of the religious icons, but also their manufacture in the first place. While this chapter is valuable, in the end Osborne falls back on the position he maintained in his chapters on the Parthenon frieze, that the herms were a way for Athenians to look at themselves – somehow, one rather doubts that, given what a herm actually looked like. Of course, following his own somewhat idiosyncratic logic, the mutilation of the herms becomes a form of self-mutilation. Finally, in the chapter "The Ecstasy and the Tragedy," Osborne looks at artistic and literary examples of Maenads to determine the nature of Athenian religious practice. The approach is interesting – rather than attempting to determine if there were historical Maenads and what, particularly, the practice of historical Maenadism may have entailed, he seeks from the use of the Maenad in vase-painting and literature to determine how the Athenian women actually experienced religious devotion, and how the Athenians came to normalize that devotion. A final coda discusses the relationship between ritual and political behavior, and how an individual Athenian's involvement in all the ritual activities of his/her life strengthened political identity and unity.

This is a substantial book by a great scholar; it will test the acumen of readers on account of the range of subjects attempted, the extensive documentation, the novelty of thought and the easy command Osborne demonstrates over a wide range of evidence, both inscriptional and literary. It will be of particular value to scholars and teachers focusing on fourth-century practices and institutions, although the author does provide valuable insight into earlier periods of Athenian democracy. Although, like any collection, it can be difficult to follow, the utility of having the articles collected in one place on the whole outweighs any narrative deficiencies, and the book should remain a standard work for some time.

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Aurélie Damet, La septième porte : les conflits familiaux dans l'Athènes classique. Histoire ancienne et médiévale, 115. Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 2012. Pp. 507. ISBN 9782859447038. €35.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Nicolas Boulic, Université Stendhal-Grenoble 3 (

Version at BMCR home site

« Les violences familiales sont au cœur de l'éducation, de la culture et du quotidien des Athéniens de l'époque classique » : c'est par ce constat qu'Aurélie Damet amorce la conclusion de son livre remarquable (p. 433). Et, de fait, au terme de la lecture de cet ouvrage, on peut dire que l'auteur est parvenue à livrer une vision très fine et nuancée du problème complexe des conflits dans la famille aux Ve et IVe siècles athéniens, tout comme elle est parvenue – et c'est encore plus intéressant sans doute – à montrer que ce problème se pose sur plusieurs registres : éthique, sociologique, littéraire et politique pour ne citer que les plus centraux. Pour ce faire, elle a suivi une démarche toujours rigoureuse et visant à l'exhaustivité, en montrant une maîtrise appréciable des sources grecques comme de la bibliographie moderne. L'argumentation que propose ce livre riche et dense est articulée en cinq chapitres d'inégale longueur, encadrés par une copieuse introduction et une conclusion assez brève.

Dans une solide introduction, qui présente l'historique des notions qui sont en jeu et à signaler les grands travaux antérieurs sur la question, sont soulignées les deux particularités de ce travail : d'une part, il a pour ambition de « présenter l'ensemble des violences et des querelles surgissant entre parents, différends patrimoniaux et économiques, agressions, meurtres, abandon d'enfants, malédictions, injures, reniement, divorce et inceste » (p. 22) et, d'autre part, il « repose sur l'analyse et le croisement de trois types de sources écrites : la dramaturgie, comédie et tragédie, la philosophie platonicienne et aristotélicienne, et les plaidoyers des orateurs du IVe siècle » (p.25). C'est cette optique comparatiste, entre des genres ordinairement traités séparément, et la volonté de traiter de toutes les formes de conflits qui ébranlent la famille athénienne qui guideront la pensée de l'auteur durant les 440 pages de son analyse.

Le premier chapitre, intitulé « Fragile parenté : pour définir les contours flous de la famille », fait office de précieuse mise au point. Selon A. Damet, c'est avant tout parce que la famille est « structurellement fragile, aux contours fluctuants et aux liens incertains » (p. 32) que les dramaturges ou les philosophes grecs ont pu la remettre en cause. Ainsi après avoir engagé une étude des différents mots grecs servant à désigner la famille : oikos, oikia, anchisteia, genos et syngeneia, l'auteur passe à la difficile question de la philia dans la famille, d'après Aristote, mais surtout d'après Socrate et Platon. D'une certaine manière, ce sont eux qui, en doutant de l'innéité du sentiment familial et en pensant la famille sur le mode de l'utile, ont en quelque sorte initié le processus de déconstruction des liens familiaux qui intéresse le livre. A. Damet relève, à juste titre, un autre élément qui peut y concourir, à savoir les concurrences internes à la famille : entre amour paternel et amour maternel, entre enfants biologiques et enfants adoptés, mais surtout entre la famille consanguine, dont les membres sont, par définition, irremplaçables, et la famille par alliance, aux membres « remplaçables et renouvelables » (p. 68).

Portant un titre parfaitement explicite, le deuxième chapitre, « Typologie du conflit familial », est le plus long du livre et aussi sans doute le plus problématique. D'emblée, l'auteur le reconnaît : « Chaque source, dramatique, juridique et philosophique, privilégie la mise en lumière de certains types de violence » (p. 77). Et, de fait, se pose la question de l'homogénéité du corpus retenu. Si l'auteur parvient à mettre en lumière un certain nombre d'échos entre la philosophie, celle de Platon notamment, et les pièces du corpus dramatique, qui se concentrent toutes deux sur les problèmes de l'oikos (voir p. 205 par exemple), en revanche, les plaidoyers judiciaires semblent constituer un genre à part, parce qu'ils ne traitent, au fond, que de problèmes économiques survenant majoritairement dans l'anchisteia. Certes, A. Damet convoque Aristote pour expliquer ce grand écart entre les sources,1 mais l'organisation même du chapitre, par genre plutôt que par manifestation des conflits internes à la famille, renforce la fâcheuse impression d'isolement des corpus les uns des autres. L'auteur essaie de cerner la grande variété des conflits familiaux, en envisageant d'abord le théâtre, la comédie, avec la figure marquante du patraloias d'abord, puis, plus longuement, la tragédie, y compris les fragments. Ce dernier genre est plus fécond pour les conflits familiaux et A. Damet montre bien qu'y figurent toutes les horreurs familiales : de l'exposition au matricide, des brouilles entre époux à la tecnophagie. Au fil de l'étude, certains points forts se dégagent de cette typologie systématique, qui méritent d'être soulignés, comme par exemple cette remarque : « le vrai meurtre d'un enfant pour un Grec, c'est- à-dire commis avec raison, est le fait de femmes : Médée et Althée. Les autres mises à mort minimisent le rôle paternel » (p.112). Avouons toutefois que, si la démarche est impressionnante par sa quasi-exhaustivité et par sa rigueur érudite, le lecteur se demande parfois ce qu'il est censé faire de toutes ces informations, qui se présentent, dans certains cas, sous la forme d'un relevé ou d'un catalogue. Heureusement, ce second chapitre prend tout son sens à la lecture de la suite de l'ouvrage. C'est alors au tour des plaidoyers d'être scrutés avec, là aussi, l'établissement de constats très fructueux, par exemple la propension des discours judiciaires à faire naître rumeurs et de mauvaises réputations à des fins successorales. Enfin, l'étude des différends familiaux selon Platon montre surtout comment le philosophe théorise la toute-puissance des géniteurs et entend encadrer les violences intrafamiliales en mettant en place des sanctions dissuasives.

Le troisième chapitre se concentre sur le règlement judiciaire des violences familiales. Détaillant, avec toute la précision requise, l'arsenal législatif mis en place dans la polis, l'auteur démasque les idéologies qui se cachent derrière les punitions prévues par la loi athénienne. Elle montre aussi et surtout à quel point l'esprit en fonction duquel les sanctions sont proposées diffère : si la logique archaïque de la tragédie privilégie la vendetta comme seule réponse envisageable au meurtre et se dispense de la médiation d'une décision de justice, ce genre n'est pas pour autant étanche aux échos de la réalité judiciaire, comme en attestent les mentions d'exil, qui se trouve être la peine imposée par la justice en cas d'homicide prémédité, ou le soin apporté aux purifications de meurtriers. Enfin, puisant aux deux sources ‒ la loi réelle d'Athènes qui ne considère pas différemment le parricide et le meurtre mais aussi la terrible vengeance cyclique illustrée dans la tragédie ‒ Platon élabore dans les Lois un code pénal d'une précision extrême, dont A. Damet ne passe sous silence aucune disposition, tout en lui donnant cohérence et continuité. De manière très convaincante, elle parle à son propos d'un « syncrétisme complexe entre loi athénienne et talion archaïque » (p. 315).

La censure sévit, et l'autocensure davantage, dès que l'on vient à parler des différends familiaux. C'est ce que montre brillamment le quatrième chapitre intitulé « L'infamille : occulter et dévoiler les conflits familiaux dans l'Athènes classique ». Car à la honte du conflit, à son infamie, répond aussi sa gravité et les risques qu'il fait courir aux délicats équilibres de la famille et à la cité. C'est pourquoi elle a multiplié les façons de se prémunir du scandale que représente ce type de violences : arbitrages privés et mots tabous par exemple, tout en n'hésitant pas, quand son intérêt est en jeu, à exhiber les conduites déviantes pour que leur indécence même discrédite leurs auteurs. Même la tragédie, genre de la monstration des horreurs par excellence, peut être amenée à user d'une certaine prudence, voire d'euphémisation pour évoquer les violences intrafamiliales, par le biais de figures conciliatrices ou de techniques linguistiques finement analysées. Les pages les plus riches de ce chapitre, à notre sens, touchent aux dénonciations formulées par Xénophane et Platon contre l'étalage indécent des querelles familiales chez Homère et Hésiode. Sans vraiment sortir du cadre qu'elle s'est fixé au départ, A. Damet propose ici une mise en perspective du problème étudié et tire tout le parti possible des textes qu'elle convoque ; elle commente, sans rien simplifier, l'évolution théorique de Platon sur l'utilité des poètes dans la cité.

Le cinquième chapitre, enfin, le plus court, traite des échos politiques que peuvent avoir les conflits familiaux. Posant le principe que le bon citoyen est aussi un bon fils et/ou un bon père, on retrouve dans les conditions exigées pour l'accès aux magistratures ou aux charges politiques de la cité la nécessité pour le candidat de prouver son intégration harmonieuse dans la famille. Les repoussoirs absolus sont alors le tyrannos qui assume et assouvit ses fantasmes contre-nature d'inceste, de parricide et de cannibalisme par la faute d'un thumos déréglé, et la stasis qui naît de la famille ou s'étend à la famille dans une forme de confusion aggravée encore par l'idée que le meilleur moyen d'apaiser la stasis est de rappeler aux citoyens qu'ils sont frères.

Nous voudrions signaler que le livre, bien écrit, élégant, de présentation irréprochable, ne comporte que de très rares coquilles et inconséquences. 2 Le grec est toujours impeccablement reproduit ou translittéré. Pour une consultation pratique, l'auteur a pris la peine d'établir deux indices étoffés et fiables : un index des notions et un index des sources. Quelques textes mentionnés en notes de bas de page sont toutefois absents du second index, comme la Samienne de Ménandre (cité p. 239). De la même façon, dans les 40 pages que compte la bibliographie, très peu de références bibliographiques manquent ou sont erronées.3 On s'étonnera quand même de deux oublis qui semblent préjudiciables : A. Damet ne semble connaître ni le livre de Patricia Watson, Ancient Stepmothers: Myth, Misogyny and Reality, Leiden : E.J. Brill, 1995 (compte rendu en ligne BMCR 1995.04.17) ni, surtout, celui de Michel Menu, Jeunes et vieux chez Lysias : l'akolasia de la jeunesse au IVe siècle av. J.-C., Rennes : Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2000.

En conclusion, le livre d'A. Damet est précieux et important. Précieux parce qu'il recense avec minutie toutes les sources utiles à l'étude des conflits familiaux dans l'Athènes classique et important parce que, malgré les quelques critiques que ce compte rendu a pu émettre et qui tiennent surtout à l'ambition du projet, la famille est présentée en tension, dans ses dynamiques et ses contradictions insolubles. Or, c'est sans doute ainsi que l'on en dresse le tableau le plus authentique et le plus éloquent. Comme l'auteur le rappelle elle-même en conclusion : « Hommes/femmes, alliance/consanguinité, occultation/publicité, philia naturelle/construite, la famille athénienne se nourrit de toutes ces tensions » (p. 438).


1.   « La poésie est plus noble et plus philosophique que la chronique : la poésie traite plutôt du général, le chroniqueur du particulier » Poétique 1451a.
2.   J'en signale quelques-unes dont le petit nombre semble désavouer l'entreprise de relevé elle-même : p. 98, l. 1 : « Ion » ne devrait pas être en italiques; p. 103, n. 137 il manque une référence précise : v. 885-899 par exemple; p. 122, l. 6 du nouveau paragraphe « L'Oenée » devrait être en italiques; p. 179, dernière ligne, lire « la véracité de ce discours »; p. 275, l. 8 la référence de la réplique d'Electre manque : v. 120; p. 307, l. 31, il manque la référence précise : Oiseaux, v. 1351-1352; p. 310, l. 13, lire nékyia; p. 315, l. 28, « Euménides » devrait être en italiques; p. 355, l. 1-2, la citation, en langue étrangère, devrait figurer en italiques; p. 407, l. 4 de la deuxième citation, lire « orateurs ».
3.   On peut corriger les références de certains titres :J.B. Bonnard, « Phèdre sans inceste. À propos de la théorie de l'inceste du deuxième type et de ses applications en histoire grecque », Revue historique, 621, 2002, p. 77-107; J. Wilgaux, « Entre inceste et échange. Réflexions sur le modèle matrimonial athénien », L'Homme, 154-155, 2000, p. 659-676.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Danuta Okoń, Septimius Severus et senatores: Septimius Severus' Personal Policy towards Senators in the Light of Prosopographic Research (193-211 A.D.) Uniwersytet Szczeciński. Rozprawy i studia, 828. Szczecin: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Uniwersytetu Szczecińskiego, 2012. Pp. 147. ISBN 9788372418753. Contributors: Translated by Beata Zawadka.

Reviewed by Danielle Slootjes, Radboud University Nijmegen (

Version at BMCR home site

In the book under review, Danuta Okoń analyzes the ways in which Septimius Severus (AD 193-211) dealt with the members of the senate, who held many of the offices in the imperial government. This is the first volume of a planned series that will cover all the members of the Severan dynasty. By basing the study on epigraphic materials and the prosopography of Roman officials of the first few centuries AD, Okoń builds on the work of scholars such as Werner Eck, Geza Alföldy and Paul Leunissen, who have offered us extensive prosopographic analyses of inscriptions and other ancient sources. Okoń promises her readers a 'fuller profile' of the careers of senators under the Severan dynasty (p. 10).

In six chapters, Okoń presents various groups of senators whose careers were influenced by the decisions of the emperor himself. Whereas the first chapter sets the historical stage for Severus' reign and discusses the men who ended up in his close circle of trusted advisors, chapter two concentrates on those senators who made the wrong choice in the period of civil wars that eventually led to Severus' rise to power and ended up being killed or condemned to death in the early years of Severus' reign. Chapters three, four and five focus on members of the senate at different stages of their careers, holding offices such as provincial governors, when they were promising candidati and adlecti, or eventually, at the highest level, as consul (the chapter on consuls is surprisingly short). The final chapter deals with the emperor and his relationship with the senate in general and is based mostly on literary sources (Herodian, Cassius Dio and the Historia Augusta). Okoń's attempt to show a pattern of gentes senatoriae would have profited greatly from Inge Mennen's book Power and Status in the Roman Empire, AD 193-284 (2011), in which Mennen carefully examines many of the families mentioned by Okoń in this chapter, but this book was probably too recent for her to have consulted it.

The author's short conclusion demonstrates in two graphs (pp. 105 and 106) some of the patterns that have emerged throughout the book from her prosopographical study, although the reader need not be surprised by these patterns since they have emerged from previous scholarship as well. Even though extensive prosopographies of individuals are necessary for an understanding of the lives and careers of Roman officials, the analyses tend to remain at a merely descriptive level. It would have been more helpful for Okoń to have placed the patterns that emerge from these prosopographical studies into the broader, analytical context of the workings of imperial power and the overall functioning of his empire, especially as Septimius Severus stood at the beginning of a century that we tend to treat as full of crises.

Furthermore, the book is marked by the omission of some modern scholarship that would have been expected, and from which Okoń would have profited, in a discussion of a Roman emperor and his policy towards senators, such as Fergus Millar's The Emperor in the Roman World (1992), Andreas Krieckhaus' Senatorische Familien und ihren Patriae (2006) or the above mentioned work by Mennen.

It is obvious that Okoń has much experience in the field of epigraphy and prosopography, although in the end both the argumentation and clarity of the book are hindered by the fact that it was written in Polish and then translated into English. Many sentences appear to be a too-close translation of the original, which unfortunately does not result in clear English.

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Andreas Markantonatos (ed.), Brill's Companion to Sophocles. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2012. Pp. xxii, 737. ISBN 9789004184923. €180.00.

Reviewed by Lyndsay Coo, Trinity College, Cambridge (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

2012 was a good year for Sophocles: he gained not one but two Companions, published by Blackwell1 and Brill; five scholars contributed to both volumes. In this ambitious and hefty collection, Andreas Markantonatos has brought together a distinguished international team of thirty-two contributors to address a vast range of topics, covering Sophocles' life, works, interpretation and reception from antiquity to the present day.

In his introduction Markantonatos briefly sketches the history of Sophoclean criticism, starting from Aristotle's Poetics and ending with modern developments in deconstruction, psychoanalytic and feminist criticism, narratology and performance history. Part I then opens with William Blake Tyrrell on 'Biography' and Guido Avezzù on 'Text and Transmission'. The latter is a particularly detailed and useful account which traces the history of Sophocles' text from antiquity onwards. This is followed by individual discussions of each of the seven extant tragedies. Some focus on a single interpretative issue or critical approach (Patrick Finglass on the coherence of Ajax, Josh Beer on the significance of the mask in Oedipus Tyrannus, David Carter on the dichotomies of Antigone, Bruce Heiden on Trachiniae as a 'provocation to philosophy'), while others present surveys of a wider range of topics (E. M. Griffiths on Electra, Poulcheria Kyriakou on Philoctetes, Jon Hesk on Oedipus at Colonus). The more successful of these find the right balance between summarising the critical state of play and suggesting new avenues for further research. I found some of these — such as Griffiths' suggestion that the character of Orestes in Electra is to be understood through the paradigm of the reborn phoenix — unconvincing, but nonetheless students and scholars alike should find many stimulating perspectives in these essays. There follow chapters on the fragmentary and lost plays (Alan H. Sommerstein) and satyr-drama (Berndt Seidensticker). Sommerstein includes a particularly helpful table of those plays for which we have enough evidence to make reasonable guesses at their content, although he is sometimes overly optimistic in his confidence in his plot-reconstructions. He concludes with the salutary reminder that what we conceive of as 'Sophoclean' is based on a very small sample of his work, a warning that more scholars would do well to heed. Equally useful is Seidensticker's summary of the basic components of satyr-drama (typical plots, themes, the nature of the chorus, dance, diction, function etc). There is particular focus on Ichneutae, the best preserved of Sophocles' satyr-dramas, but he draws on a wide range of evidence from other plays to set this in context.

Part II ('Sophoclean Intertextuality') contains only two items. John Davidson explores the much-discussed relationship between Sophocles and the Homeric epics. Starting from Polemon's well-known formulation that Homer was the 'epic Sophocles', and Sophocles the 'tragic Homer' (Diogenes Laertius 4.20), Davidson shows how the playwright repeatedly drew on Homeric language and models to develop his own complex poetics. Francis M. Dunn presents a reading of four plays characterised by what he terms 'dynamic allusion', a model of intertextuality based on 'a set of allusions that actively and progressively shapes expectations" (p. 263) as the plot develops. His four discussions are necessarily brief, but they open up paths for further fruitful investigation.

Part III, on 'Sophocles the Innovator', includes two of the book's strongest chapters: Timothy Power on 'Sophocles and Music' and Luigi Battezzato on 'The Language of Sophocles', both of which engage with current developments in scholarship to offer thoroughly up-to-date analyses. Power brings out the complexity and sophistication of Sophocles' engagement with mid-fifth century developments in aulos and kithara music, culminating in a compelling reading of a scene in Ichneutae as evoking the culture of the New Music. Battezzato is similarly successful in tackling a daunting topic, taking the reader on a learned whistle-stop tour of approaches to Sophoclean language encompassing the study of phonology, morphology, syntax, vocabulary, pragmatics, rhetoric, politeness theory and the language of Homer. This section is rounded off by Nancy Worman's discussion of rhetorical persuasion in Sophocles, with particular focus on the characters of Oedipus and Odysseus, and by Andreas Markantonatos' analysis of the manipulation of narrative technique in Ajax. Part IV, 'Image and Performance' has just two chapters. By insisting that ancient art and text are 'parallel worlds',2 Jocelyn Penny Small stands at one extreme of the 'iconocentrists' vs 'philodramatists' debate that has characterised recent scholarship on the relationship between Greek drama and art. This stance is evident in her contribution, '(Mis)representations of Sophocles' Plays?'. After an introduction in which she rightly argues that the notion of image as 'illustration' of text is a modern concept, she considers a number of vases which have been thought to bear some relation to Sophoclean tragedy. Small's concern is simply to establish whether correspondence exists rather than to consider its implications, and she does not acknowledge recent scholarship which has called for a move away from seeing verbatim details as the only positive marker of art–text influence.3 Small offers no discussion of how Sophocles' plays might inflect interpretation of the vase-paintings, even in those cases for which she admits a plausible connection between pot and play. As Oliver Taplin has recently argued, this extreme iconocentric approach can lead to 'throwing the baby out with the bathwater'.4 Rachel Kitzinger completes this section with an overview of choral language, identity and performance. She focuses on the tragedies which were not discussed in her recent study of the choruses in Antigone and Philoctetes, and as such this chapter forms a useful supplement to her monograph.5

Part V seeks to locate Sophocles' work within wider religious, historical and political contexts. Rush Rehm on ritual and Jon D. Mikalson on gods and heroes provide concise overviews, while Sarah Ferrario and Kurt A. Raaflaub offer more expansive political readings. All are useful discussions of vast topics. Incidentally, Raaflaub is the only contributor who seems to have engaged with the other chapters, or at least who systematically provides helpful cross-references within the Companion itself.

Part VI, enticingly entitled 'Sophoclean Anthropology: Status and Gender', again contains just two contributions. Judith Mossman's chapter on 'Women's Voices in Sophocles' is an incisive discussion demonstrating how Sophocles used speech to characterise and individualise his female characters. By contrast, at just six pages long and with only very cursory analysis of any examples, Bernhard Zimmermann's chapter on minor characters seems a missed opportunity. We are unfortunately left with the impression that minor characters (a category in which Zimmermann includes messengers) are only of minor interest.

Part VII deals with 'Instructing the Polis: Education, Philosophy, Irony'. Justina Gregory's chapter on education is especially judicious and interesting, exploring how Sophocles' depiction of different types of ethical and cultural development fit into wider fifth-century intellectual trends; this work finds many resonances in Emily Wilson's ambitiously titled 'Sophocles and Philosophy', which is in fact focussed solely on Electra. Michael Lloyd explores the playwright's use of different kinds of irony ('stable' and 'unstable'), and the exploitation of these forms to unsettle the audience's confidence in their own knowledge of events.

In Part VIII, 'Ancients and Moderns: The Reception of Sophocles', Matthew Wright offers a particularly lucid and engaging analysis of the poet's reception in antiquity, while Michael J. Anderson traces the afterlife of Sophoclean models in a huge range of modern artistic works, from Hofmannstahl and Strauss to Seamus Heaney and Martin Scorsese. Next, J. Michael Walton reflects on issues of translation, comparing examples ranging from Christopher Wase's 1649 Electra to the translations of academics such as Richard Jebb and Hugh Lloyd-Jones, to modern poetic versions, in order to illustrate the challenges and complexities of rendering Sophocles' Greek into English. A less successful contribution is Marianne McDonald's 'Sophocles Made New: Modern Performances', which consists of a descriptive list of various modern performances of retellings of Sophocles, but offers little by way of a critical framework within which to situate this material. Both her chapter and Anderson's would have benefited from a tighter focus by selecting fewer examples but analysing them in greater depth.

The volume ends with a huge 54-page bibliography, 'Index of Subjects', and 'Index of Principal Sophoclean Passages'. The last contains references only to the seven extant tragedies, despite the fact that several chapters (Sommerstein, Seidensticker, Power, Mossman) include significant quotations from — or even focus mainly or exclusively on — the fragments.

I noted few errors. One series of mistakes is particularly confusing: in Avezzù's chapter, 'Λ' (i.e. the Leiden palimpsest) has been turned into 'L' (i.e. the Laurentianus) on three occasions (p. 51 'The two most ancient Byzantine MSS of Sophocles L and L'; p. 52 'The palimpsest L'; p. 53 'in a slightly different order from L and L'). Other slips and infelicities include: for 'Socrates',read 'Sophocles' (p. 19, n.1); for 'there' read 'this'; (p. 80, n. 27) fr. 199 is not the only fragment of Eris (p. 219, n. 49); for 'bart', read 'part' (p. 228); accents and breathings have gone astray on the satyrs' cries (p. 235, section a); Sophocles wrote a second Athamas, not a Second Athamas (p. 415, n. 11); current scholarly thinking is that the Theatre of Dionysus held far fewer than 'upwards of 20,000 people' (p. 329);6 Philoctetes was produced in 409, not 408 BC (pp. 330, 344). It is unfortunate that Seidensticker's footnotes contain a great number of mistakes, which have necessitated an ungainly Erratum slip.

Markantonatos ambitiously declares that he aimed to assemble 'the most comprehensive and authoritative treatments of the subject and of the key debates ever attempted' (p. 15), while the blurb promises 'state-of-the-art' surveys of current research and 'compelling fresh perspectives'. The result is certainly impressive in its breadth of learning and richness of detail. As with most Companions of this size, it is also uneven — not only in the selection and balancing of topics and emphasis, but also in quality and approach. A few of the contributions struck me as being conservative rather than cutting-edge, and surveying well-worn arguments rather than striving to break new ground or establish fresh critical frameworks; often this was as a consequence of tackling too large a topic. I found Part VIII particularly frustrating. The corresponding section in the Blackwell Companion to Sophocles covers several of the same works — e.g. Jean Anouilh's Antigone, Tony Harrison's The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus — but devotes a chapter to each, resulting in focussed, detailed and stimulating discussions. By comparison, the Brill Companion comes across as somewhat staid, providing hand-lists of Sophoclean retellings rather than developing original and incisive methods of analysing modern criticisms and receptions. But it is perhaps unfair to compare this volume to its Blackwell competitor, since the two have clearly been put together for slightly different audiences, and under different editorial visions and intellectual aims. Whereas the stated Brill objective is to provide authoritative overviews of central areas of Sophoclean scholarship, Blackwell focuses on more manageable topics, under the explicit directive of looking forward as much as backward. As a result the Companions are in many ways complementary, and Sophocleans are lucky to have two such volumes available. Markantonatos' book is a significant achievement: it contains a wealth of information, and many of its chapters are outstandingly good. Nonetheless, in the tighter focus of its contributions, and in setting as its central principle the development of genuinely new critical directions, Blackwell emerges with the edge in the 2012 Battle of the Sophoclean Companions.


1.   Recently reviewed for BMCR by Rosa Andújar (BMCR 2013.01.24).
2.   Jocelyn Penny Small, The Parallel Worlds of Art and Text (Cambridge, 2003).
3.   See especially Michael Squire, Image and Text in Graeco-Roman Antiquity, (Cambridge and New York, 2009).
4.   Oliver Taplin, Pots and Plays: Interactions between Tragedy and Greek Vase-Painting of the Fourth Century B.C. (Los Angeles, 2007), p. 24.
5.   Margaret Rachel Kitzinger, The Choruses of Sophokles' Antigone and Philoctetes: A Dance of Words (Leiden and Boston, 2008).
6.   See e.g. David Kawalko Roselli, Theater of the People: Spectators and Society in Ancient Athens (Austin, 2011), p. 65: 'Revised estimates for the capacity of the early Classical Theater of Dionysus range from about 3,700 to 6,000 spectators, a far cry from the traditional estimates.'

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Ioanna Patera, Offrir en Grèce ancienne: gestes et contextes. Potsdamer Altertumswissenschaftliche Beiträge, Bd 41. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2012. Pp. 292. ISBN 9783515101882. €57.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Catherine Saint-Pierre Hoffmann, Anhima, Paris (

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Table of Contents

Ioanna Patera's work derives from her dissertation, defended in the École pratique des hautes études (France) in 2006. The book has five chapters. The first two explore the sense and function of the offering (chapter 1: "Les noms de l'offrande" and chapter 2: "La relation établie au moyen de l'offrande"). In the following chapters she analyzes concrete case studies, mostly from Demeter sanctuaries (chapter 3: "Les objets dans leur contexte de trouvaille," chapter 4: "Les offrandes et l'autel," chapter 5: "Dépôts d'offrandes et dépôts sacrificiels"). The book contains an index of Greek terms and a general index after the bibliography and the list of plates.

The topic of offerings in ancient Greece is problematic in many ways. Since the last synthesis on offerings from W.H.D. Rouse published in 1902, no one has undertaken this task despite the massive quantity of new evidence that is now available. Patera reasonably doesn't not intend to do such an encyclopedic work. Her goal is first to reconsider the established ideas of historians of religion and archaeologists concerning offerings and then to understand the mechanisms and interactions of offerings through concrete examples.

In the first chapter Patera explores the Greek vocabulary used in literature and epigraphic sources that can be associated with the notion of offering. The terms are presented one by one, within the diverse contexts of their use. It should not be understood as a philological analysis but more as a warning against the problematic translation of some words that can cause misunderstanding. The use of a word to designate quite different things makes the author wonder what can be considered to be an offering. In this perspective, after a short list of the well-known words anathêma, dôron, dekatê, akrothinion, and agalma, she reappraises the question of perishable and consumable offerings, particularly vegetal offerings. These offerings, under the form of aparchê or dékatê, shed light on the links created between the divinity and the dedicant. Then she considers the question of the respective places of the offering and the sacrifice of perishable and consumable goods (vegetal and animal). She argues that the term thusia in our documentation not only is used for animal sacrifice but can also designate some vegetal deposits. This chapter also reassesses the contested notion of "desacralisation" as allowing the post-ritual consummation of the sacrificed food. She rejects the traditional interpretation that considers the consecration of premises or parts of animals as a "desacralisation" gesture permitting their consumption by humans. Based on examples from ancient literature, the author objects to the traditional opposition between hiera and hosion, sacred and profane. The word hosion is employed in some cases to qualify what we would consider the sacred, whereas in Hesiod's works, hiera is used to designate parts that are intended for human consumption. To the author, hosiè is instead the affirmation of rights and respective prerogatives from humans or divinities.

In the second chapter, after reminding the readers of the main occasions for offering to the gods—thanking, asking a favor, or accomplishing a wish—Patera contests the traditional interpretation of the motivations for the gift. The idea of a contract initiating the exchange and the gift should be nuanced. A contract implies obligations for the contractors, but such obligations do not exist in a relationship with the gods, who are not always imagined to answer the demand favorably. Moreover, the traditional interpretation denies that the spirit of the contract is based on the asymmetry of the relationship between humans and gods. To the author, the famous formula do ut des is not always pertinent. In some of the cases analyzed in the book, this formula could not be used instead of contract or vow notions. The formula supposes that only the gods may establish a kind of contract. Humans can only attempt to initiate it without any guarantee of success. Another theory borrowed from anthropology by some historians does not convince Patera either. She contests the idea that the practice of potlatch, in which humans competed against each other rather than against the gods, could be used to explain the loss of valuable items through their consecration in sanctuaries. She argues that the main reason for gifts is not to "obtenir des privilèges sociaux et matériels mais d'établir de bonnes relations avec les dieux" (p. 96). Thereby, the author rejects the presence of an agonistic element in the gesture of offering after the model of potlatch. The traditional interpretation that gravitates around the triple obligation (give/receive/give back), then, which founds social relations, must not be reduced solely to its utilitarian aspect; furthermore, it does not explain the link between humans and gods. The relationship with the gods established through the offerings is complex and ambiguous, and this complexity brings Patera to include the notions of timê and geras. Timê would also represent the sacrifices and gifts that humans have to make to the gods. The use of the word charis would imply reciprocity, to remind the gods that gifts and sacrifices require a fair compensation. Prayers and sacrifices generally suggest an expectation of material goods. The difficulty for the dedicant is to respect the rite and maintain equity in the procedure. The goal is to find the right offering that will please the gods. Offering is firstly an obligation. To not offer is to expose oneself to the anger of the gods. But offering according to your abilities, as attested in ancient literary sources, is a sign of devotion.

The following chapters explore specific cases by confronting written and archaeological sources. In the third chapter Patera first tries to distinguish between "votive" objects and objects used in another ritual (which can be also be offered). The difficulty of grasping the functions of objects discovered in sanctuaries brings the author to provide a short historiography of the archaeological scholarship. She then lists the different areas where offerings could be placed (seats, offering tables, wells, foundation deposits) and the dedicants' tactics to place their presents strategically (to be seen by the visitors during their progression in the sanctuary or nearest to the statue of the gods). To strengthen her argument, the author uses concrete archaeological cases, her choices necessarily limited by the conditions of the excavations and the quality of the publications. The case of the well of the Acrocorinth sanctuary for Demeter is rich in precise details. She interprets this structure not as a deposit made during cleaning but as part of a "circuit" along which the visitor should place some types of offerings on the way toward the divinity. The chapter ends with the question of the foundation deposits and the status of the objects placed during that ritual. Patera argues that the contents of foundation deposits (in sanctuaries as well as in other buildings) can be considered offerings, but are used in a ritual whose function differs.

In the fourth chapter, Patera nuances the traditional view of the altar. She suggests that it might not only be used for sacrifices through flames, including durable offerings, but can also be a depository for the offerings. The archaeologist's first challenge is to determine whether the burned object was destined for the sacrificial fire or simply placed as close as possible to the altar and burned because of its proximity. The offerings could have been just placed, or intentionally burned. The author reinterprets a few cases where offerings and altars are associated. Concerning the inscription of the rules of the sanctuary of Despoina at Lykosoura, she interprets the word agalma as designating offerings in general that could be placed on the altar, therefore suggesting that they may have had a ritual role not yet explored. In the second example, she rejects the idea that the structure usually designated as an altar for Apollon at Dreros is actually an altar because of the missing traces of fire. Instead, she believes that it was a polyvalent structure, destined to receive offerings and some of the remainders of sacrifices (e.g., the goat's horns). In a third example she raises the difficulty of interpreting the different structures of the chthonian sanctuary of Agrigento. Some wells could be simple pits for offerings, while others suggest an igneous ritual with associated offerings. The well- known and complex case of the Heracles pyre in Oeta, in which animal and vegetal offerings as well as durable objects were burned, leads Patera to believe that it was not just destruction, but a "complete transmission" to the gods. She ends this overview with the delicate question of the pyres of Eleusis, whose function—altars or pyres—is still debated. The author interprets these structures as pyres on which objects were destroyed. Fire is seen less as a part of a chthonian ritual of destruction and more as an element of a complex consecration ritual in which the topography of the site plays an essential part.

In the last chapter, Patera addresses the distinction between offering deposits and sacrificial deposits. It is indeed hard to differentiate intentional sacrificial deposits from remainders left in place after a ritual or from a meal. A similar ambiguity can be found between singular and progressive deposits of offerings in a specific place, and disposal of rubbish after cleaning or reorganizing the sanctuary. In some cases, the disposal of rubbish, recognized by the distinctive treatment received by the objects, is discovered just outside the temenos. We should reflect on the status of these objects: are they votive deposits managed by the priests or simple piles of objects which had not been offered? This last chapter gives Patera the occasion for a discussion of the too-often misused opposition between the gods and rituals qualified as chthonian and Olympian. Without going into details, we note that the author prefers to keep the meaning of "link to the earth" for chthonian rituals. From there, she underlines the difficulties brought by the inconsistent use of the word bothros in the historical and archaeological literature. Her work ends with the question of the structures too often called megara in the sanctuaries where thesmophorical rites could be practiced—here too, caution should remain the rule.

Patera's work participates in a wide renewal of the scholarship on offerings. No longer are they seen as simple signs of the ancients' devotion, of which the most beautiful samples are destined for museum collections, but elements of a complex religious system, in which the most modest offerings played an equally important role. The historical research about votive offerings takes many paths. Some studies focus on the significance of the objects in their spatial and historical contexts, both at the moment of the gift and in the long-term. Others analyze offerings as the epicenter of a triangle between the dedicant, divinity, and witnesses in their own territory, for example, Clarisse Prêtre's work (ed.), Le donateur, l'offrande et la déesse. Systèmes votifs des sanctuaires de déesses dans le monde grec (Kernos supp 23, 2009). Patera's book belongs to religious history, rather than cultural and anthropological history. She tries to identify the diversity of gestures associated with a gift to a god. She focuses on the exclusive relationship established by the gift between the divinity and the dedicant. She does not neglect the significance of space and infrastructure for the ritual. Indeed, one appreciates the interdisciplinary approach of this work, which favors no particular source. All sources participate in a broader reflection—although it seems sometimes a juxtaposition of examples, and does not result in a more comprehensive conclusion. This approach relegates to the background the historical and social context within which the offerings took place. One does appreciate a stronger analysis of the nature of the divinities in the case studies. In sum, one should not expect from this book a synthesis of offerings, but a work that usefully reframes some concepts and redefines an often-misused vocabulary. Patera's choice to develop some specific examples highlights the diversity of the offerings, the different gestures behind offering, and the challenges they represent.

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Wiebke Friese, Die Kunst vom Wahn- und Wahrsagen. Orakelheiligtümer in der antiken Welt. Darmstadt: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 2013. Pp. 150. ISBN 9783805345972. €24.99.

Reviewed by Kim Beerden, Leiden University (

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Wiebke Friese has previously written a dissertation on the topic of oracular sites, which has been published as Den Göttern so nah: Architektur und Topographie griechischer Orakelheiligtümer (Franz Steiner Verlag 2010). In this 2010 book she has systematically discussed the archaeological evidence available for Greek oracular sites, making her more than suitable to write a popularizing volume such as the one under review here. It is obviously meant for the German market, where Philipp von Zabern is doing extremely well: this is another example of how a well-illustrated and well-edited hardcover book can be produced for an accessible price.

Friese's style is lucid and accessible; laudable are her consistent explanations of ancient vocabulary and jargon. Footnotes/endnotes are lacking and references to the secondary literature are very incidental. To provide something of a background, the volume offers a very short introductory reading list on ancient oracles at the back (of thirty-three titles mentioned there, thirteen are in English and another nineteen in German, and lastly one in French). The German market demands references to the primary sources, which are duly provided in the main text. An index is lacking but as the contents of the book are more than clear from the table of contents, this is not a vital problem.

The scope of the book is clarified in a very brief introduction: the concepts of divination and oracle are related to one another, where Friese argues that oracles are connected to a particular site – they have a spatial component. These Orakelheiligtümer in the ancient world are said to be discussed in what follows. As we shall see, however, the author does not (and cannot) consistently adhere to her own definitions. In the narrative that ensues, Friese shares her extensive knowledge of especially the archaeological materials, combining these with literary sources and providing a (sometimes very brief) synthesis of modern discussions. A first chapter of nineteen pages about divination (including many examples of practices not bound to a particular place) in the Near East and Egypt is a brief prelude to the main focus of the author: Greek and Roman oracles, which are discussed in respectively fifty-nine and sixty-three pages – a good balance.

Divination in Mycenae is the point of departure, after which Delphi is the first oracle site to be discussed in more detail as an illustration of an oracle provided through the perceived voice of the supernatural. The literary and the archeological sources are combined and Friese brings Delphi to life – the biggest compliment that can be given to the author of a popularizing book. The idea that the Pythia inhaled vapours which caused her trance is forwarded as the most acceptable theory (pp. 30-32) on the basis of the articles by De Boer et al.1 Some more discussion, taking into account the counterarguments of Lehoux, would have been appropriate, especially because this theme has tickled the popular imagination.2 The same can be argued about the perceived ambiguity of Delphic pronouncements. Next inspiration by means of 'holy waters' leading to oracular pronouncements at sites where Apollo was in charge is discussed by taking Ptoion, Didyma and Klaros (and 'other' sites of Apollo) into account. Dodona is the subsequent point of focus, after which underground necromantic sites receive plenty of attention. Oneiromantic sites are discussed: the Amphiareion of Oropos, Asclepieia (especially Epidauros) and Sarapieia It should, however, be noted that therapeutic dreaming is not necessarily oneiromantic – if the client is thought to have been healed during the night, something other than divination is going on: this distinction is not made (p. 74). Sarapis (pp. 75-78) is discussed in his Alexandrian mode and is considered especially popular in Roman times. Oracles for regular use complete our guided tour of ancient Greek oracle sites: dice, lots and a few special cases are taken into account. Note that these were not all practiced at oracle sites only.

The divisions made on the basis of oracular methods are risky because of the many discussions surrounding the way in which these oracles functioned. Just to provide one example: it has been argued that the voice of the supernatural could also be heard in the tree at Dodona – so would it not have to be discussed together with Delphi? Some argue that 'holy water' was the cause of the Pythia's sayings – which would take Delphi into the 'holy water' category.

The Roman part of the overview does not continue in the 'Greek categorization' according to method. It also includes divination that is not tied to a particular place (and I suppose it would be impossible to write about Roman divination otherwise). It is first concerned with augures, haruspices, keepers of the Sibylline Books and the influence Etruscan divination had on Roman practices. Oracles such as Praeneste, the oracle of Heracles in Ostia, and the goddess of Antium are discussed. Cicero and De divinatione receive attention in the sense that the problems of Cicero's belief or disbelief in divination are put in the limelight. Much attention is given to the oracle of Alexander at Abonuteichos and the seats of the Sibylline Oracles – distinguishing between the Books and Oracles and their different functions in Graeco-Roman and Christian religious practices. The 'silence of the oracles' and Christian ideas about oracular practices form the last twenty pages of the book.

An underlying problem is the division into 'Roman' and 'Greek' oracles or divinatory practices. Friese takes this division to be based on the time in which the divinatory practices occurred, but she does not take the language of the sources or physical areas into account. This leads to some difficulties. For example, the author considers Alexander of Abonuteichos as Roman, while this figure could at least be considered as Graeco-Roman. Why is Klaros, which reached the peak of its fame during the Empire, discussed in the Greek part while Abonuteichos is not? Why is the oracle of Sarapis not deemed Graeco-Roman, Egyptian or Roman? This problematic distinction is unnecessary: Friese could have glossed over this problem and could instead have taken her readers along on a geographical, chronological or even alphabetical trip.

The target audience of the volume is the layman – it is in my opinion not meant for the undergraduate student. For the latter target audience Die Kunst has to compete with Veit Rosenberger's Griechischer Orakels,3 while if the author would be considering a translation into English, it would need to contend with Sarah Iles Johnston's Ancient Greek Divination.4 I do not think this book beats these two heavyweights on the undergraduate market: although written more than ten years ago the quality of Rosenberger's book is still uncontested. It provides rather more attention to the academic discussions and backgrounds of divination than Die Kunst. Johnston's narrative and scope of divinatory practices (both at oracular sites and by free-lance experts) in Greece are unparalleled. Friese considers many aspects of the oracles, but it is clear that her focus is the architecture and archaeology of the sites.

The methodological hesitations above may be of little concern to the layman who will not only learn much about ancient oracles but will also enjoy a good read and gain an idea of how divination worked and in which conditions it took place at oracular sites. For them, this book is certainly recommended and the author should be praised for her efforts to make ancient divination accessible to a wide audience. The methodological issues should, however, be taken into account by those who would consider assigning this book to undergraduates.


1.   H.A. Spiller, J.R. Hale and J.Z. de Boer, 'The Delphic oracle: a multidisciplinary defense of the gaseous vent theory', Clinical Toxicology 40(2) (2002) 189-196; J.Z. de Boer, J.R. Hale and J. Chanton, 'New evidence for the geological origins of the ancient Delphic oracle (Greece)', Geology 29(8) (2001) 707-710.
2.   D. Lehoux, 'Drugs and the Delphic oracle', CW 101 (2007) 41-55; J. Foster and D. Lehoux, 'The Delphic oracle and the ethylene-intoxication hypothesis', Clinical Toxicology 45 (2007) 85-89.
3.   Veit Rosenberger, Griechischer Orakels: eine Kulturgeschichte (Darmstadt 2001).
4.   Sarah Iles Johnston, Ancient Greek divination (Malden, MA 2008).

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Monday, June 24, 2013


Foteini Kolovou (ed.), Byzanzrezeption in Europa. Spurensuche über das Mittelalter und die Renaissance bis in die Gegenwart. Byzantinisches Archiv Band 24. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 2012. Pp. vi, 354; 13 plates. ISBN 9783110272062. €129.95.

Reviewed by Hrvoje Gračanin, University of Zagreb (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

The present collection of studies offers a search for traces of Byzantine cultural influence on (western) Europe from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and the Enlightenment to the modern times. Undoubtedly, Byzantium and its millennium-long history have inspired conflicting feelings over centuries, but it has remained a point of attraction for European intellectual and cultural elites since the sixteenth century.

The fifteen studies are grouped in five sections that are sorted chronologically. The majority deal with the Middle Ages and the modern age; there are only two studies dedicated to the Renaissance, one dedicated to the Reformation, and one to the Enlightenment. The focus is mostly on the literary image of Byzantium in various narratives.

Thomas Pratsch (pp. 15-26) examines the process of estrangement between the West and the East as seen in the heated theological disputes and ecclesiastical differences between the churches of Rome and Constantinople from the ninth to the eleventh centuries. He stresses that the increasing estrangement had political and ecclesiastical-political as well as ideological and cultural-historical elements but, despite all of the criticism and prejudices, Byzantium always remained the measure of things in the West. These conflicts never led to a definite breach and were regularly pushed to the background by higher political causes. However, the Crusades gave rise to new developments and ever greater resentment. This finally caused the final breach after the crusaders conquered and plundered Constantinople in 1204.

Walter Berschin's contribution (pp. 27-40) is a slightly revised version of his article published in the Literaturwissenschaftlichen Jahrbuch in 1988. It deals with the 12th-century Premonstratensian monk and theological writer Anselm of Havelberg, his diplomatic missions to Byzantium concerning theological disputes, and his theory of Christian history that was inspired by Greek patristic thought.

Nina-Maria Wanek (pp. 41-74) surveys the state of research on the Missa graeca and concludes that the various problems and aspects of this phenomenon have thus far been primarily viewed from the western perspective. She calls for a systematic comparison between the Latin and Byzantine codices that can clarify the question of Byzantine influence.

Ulrike Koenen (pp. 75-86) offers a case study on the four Byzantine ivory reliefs depicting Christ, Mary, Peter and Paul, known as the Bamberger Tafeln. These were refashioned at the request of Emperor Henry II into codex covers for two cantatories. She also describes their influence on Henry II's dedicatory image in an evangeliary from Bamberg (Staatsbibliothek, Bamberg, Msc. Bibl. 95, fol. 7v–8r in which Henry is shown together with the Mother of God. Koenen not only believes that the four ivory reliefs were kept at the scriptorium of the monastery of Seeon for a time but also argues that Henry II's dedicatory image originated from the same scriptorium.

Hartmut Wulfram (pp. 89-116) elucidates the process of de-individualization of the renowned Byzantine scholar Manuel Chrysolaras through six case studies of texts by his former students and acquaintances, Coluccio Salutati, Pier Paulo Vergerio, Poggio Bracciolini, Leonardo Bruni, Cencio de' Rustici, and Guarino Veronese. Chrysolaras was made into a celebrated initiator of the studia humanitas in Italy, but his real personality remained of little or no interest both to his contemporaries and to the next generation of humanists. This advanced to the point that his appearance was re-invented by some to match that of the famous ancient philosopher Aristotle.

Michiel Op de Coul (pp. 117-133) explores the scholarly activities of Ambrogio Traversari, an outstanding translator of Byzantine literature in 15th-century Italy. Most celebrated among his translations into Latin were Ps.-Dionysius the Areopagite and the Pratum Spirituale of John Moschus, the works which established Traversari's fame. He was also prominent as interpreter and advocate of the Union at the Council of Ferrara-Florence, where his expertise was held in high esteem by Pope Eugene IV. The pope charged Traversari with the preparations for the transfer of the Council from Ferrara to Florence and with editing in collaboration with Bessarion the bilingual final decree of the Union Laetentur caeli et exultet terra.

Klaus-Peter Matschke (pp. 137-166) discusses an unexpected Byzantine contribution to the European cultural depository, the name of the wine Malvasia. This was used by German Protestants as a fighting slogan in their disputes with their religious opponents and even as an auxiliary construct for the formation of a new Protestant ethic. The history of Malvasia in connection with the 16th-century religious quarrels began with an attack on the personality of Martin Luther, his moral integrity and the seriousness of his religious concerns: Malvasia became a metaphorical symbol of Luther's and his close associates' inability to form clear judgement and to act in a sober manner due to their alleged dedication to this wine.

Sebastian Kolditz (pp. 169-193) investigates how various 18th-century narratives (Gibbon, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Meletios of Ioannina, Johann Daniel Ritter, lexicon articles in Johann Heinrich Zedler's Grosses vollständiges Universal-Lexicon aller Wissenschafften und Künste) treat the political and ecclesiastical history of the late Palaiologan period. Special attention is paid to a curious document published in Regensburg in 1721, which dealt with privileges that (real or fictitious) descendants of the Palaiologean dynasty received from the Holy Roman Emperors. Kolditz concludes that the reception of the late Palaiologan period in the 18th century was not confined to scholarly discourse between enlightenment intention and factual explanation (auf wissenschaftliche Diskurse zwischen aufklärerischer Absicht und Faktenerklärung beschränkte). This could also be used by a resourceful claimant to establish a social prestige for himself.

Angelika Corbineau-Hoffmann (pp. 197-218) takes for the starting point of her study Racine's tragedy Bajazet and its paradigmatic role in shaping the image of Byzantium as the stage of power struggle and bloody revenge. She then explores how it influenced the perception of Constantinople/Istanbul by the French travellers who visited the city in the 19th century.

Charlotte Schubert (pp. 219-241) examines the motif of a wise nomad (the Scythian Anacharsis from the fourth book of Herodotus' Histories) in the Byzantine tradition and western European literature. Her main emphasis is on Wilhelm Walter's history novel Der Anarchasis des 13. Jahrhunderts. Ein Sittengemälde der Vorzeit published in Aachen in 1845.

Helena Bodin (pp. 243-257) focuses on the Byzantine patterns of thought in the work of Swedish physician and postmodernist writer Lars Gyllensten. She treats this on three levels: hagiological, iconographic and theological. Bodin concludes that Gyllensten's literary work points to a fundamental change in function of Byzantine theology through which its original confessional and didactic purpose within the Eastern Orthodox liturgy is semantically remodelled to suit the existential and aesthetic functions within modern and postmodern literature and epistemological debates.

Gerhard Emrich (pp. 259-272) analyzes modern Greek lyric of the 19th and 20th centuries in search for Byzantium as a poetical motif or a metaphorical theme. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Byzantium is rarely mentioned and, when touched upon, it is often passed over with just one word or one sentence. This is especially notable in comparison with classical antiquity and, in the context of the 19th century, with the still recent freedom fight against the Ottomans, which both provided almost inexhaustible sources of poetic inspiration. The exception to the rule are Kostis Palamas, Konstantinos Kavafis and Odysseas Elytis who are singled out by Emrich as poets with a tendency to use the Byzantine material to address issues of their contemporary moment.

Spyros N. Troianos (pp. 273-295) explains the stages of formation of the modern Greek legal system in the 19th century, which experienced a shift from the one based on Byzantine legal texts to one based on Roman law. This development was particularly facilitated by the establishment of the monarchy in 1833 under the Bavarian Wittelsbach dynasty.

Thomas Fuchs and Christoph Mackert (pp. 297-312) examine the three collections of Greek manuscripts in the holdings of the Leipzig University Library: the Codices graeci in the possesion of the University; the Greek manuscripts of the Leipzig City Library that were entrusted as a deposit to the Leipzig University Library in 1962; and modern Greek manuscripts, primarily from the bequest by Biblical scholar Konstantin von Tischendorf and philologist Karl Friedrich August Nobbe.

Philipp Dörler and Johannes Preiser-Kapeller (pp. 313-345) focus on how Austrian schoolbooks dating from the late 18th to the early 21st centuries deal with Byzantium and its history. The study is divided in three parts: the first treats the schoolbooks from the Habsburg Monarchy (1771-1918); the second covers schoolbooks from the time of the First Republic and the Corporative State (1918-1938); and the third addresses schoolbooks in the Second Republic (1945- present day). In its results and conclusions this analysis is congruent with the study by Stefan Albrecht, "Byzanz in deutschen, französischen und englischen Schulbücher", in A. Helme-Dach (ed.), Pulverfass, Powder Keg, Baril de poudre? Südosteuropa im europäischen Geschichtsschulbuch/South Eastern Europe in European History Textbooks, Hannover 2007, pp. 11-40, and shows many parallels with the study by Georgios Dimitrakos, Die Behandlung der byzantinischen Geschichte und Kultur in den deutschen Schulgeschichtsbüchern, Athens 1975.

The book ends with the list of contributors, an index, and thirteen plates. All in all, the studies represented in this collection give interesting perspectives on the perception and reception of Byzantium in the European context, and they indicate the true richness of potential research topics and research directions. This said, it has to be pointed out that the collection lacks conceptual cohesion and is more of a conglomeration of only loosely related studies. Furthermore, the absence of any treatment of the Eastern Europe and the elements of its cultural, religious and ideological heritage that are still rooted in the Byzantine tradition is conspicuous.1 This is even more surprising when one bears in mind that Kolovou opens her introductory essay (pp. 1-12) with several lines from Joseph Brodsky's Flight from Byzantium.


1.   For instance, Kolovou is not entirely right when stating that the scholarly attention given to the study of Byzantium as a cultural phenomenon in the European context is as recent as 2003. The Romanian historian Nicolae Iorga had already opened this field of study with his groundbreaking Byzance après Byzance: continuation de l'"Histoire de la vie byzantine" in 1935.

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