Friday, January 31, 2014


Mae J. Smethurst, Dramatic Action in Greek Tragedy and Noh: Reading with and beyond Aristotle. Greek Studies: Interdisciplinary Approaches. Lanham, MD; Plymouth, UK: Lexington Books, 2013. Pp. x, 115. ISBN 9780739172421. $55.00.

Reviewed by Gary Mathews, North Carolina State University (

Version at BMCR home site


Mae Smethurst's new book continues her project of comparing noh and tragedy begun with The Artistry of Aeschylus and Zeami (Princeton UP, 1989). Whereas her earlier book drew on mugen ("phantasm") noh and Zeami's theoretical writings to illuminate Aeschylean dramaturgy, the first half of this one reverses the procedure, using tragedy to shed light on certain plays from the other major category of noh, genzai ("present time") noh. These plays feature living characters engaged in something like an Aristotelian plot; accordingly Smethurst bases her comparison on Aristotle and the two plays he favored for their complex plots, Iphigenia in Tauris and Oedipus Tyrannus. In the book's second half she switches back to using noh to elucidate tragedy, arguing that third person speech by noh actors at emotionally intense moments is comparable to the third actor's intervention at similar moments in tragedy.

The strengths of this book lie in the same area as those of Aeschylus and Zeami. Smethurst has a fine sense of dramatic action, and it is a delight to read her explication of one effective scene or exchange after another. This alone makes both books of great value to theatre practitioners as well as scholars interested in tragedy or noh. However, I remain unconvinced that the parallels she finds between the two forms are as significant as she claims. I also think her zeal for comparison leads her to say things about noh and tragedy that will be misleading to anyone lacking considerable knowledge of one or both, as well as some things that are simply mistaken.

In an introduction Smethurst mentions basic similarities between noh and tragedy that have long been familiar (e.g., chorus, masks, sparing use of props), then offers a comparison of Philoctetes and the noh Shunkan to argue that Aristotle "could serve well as the theoretical basis of a comparison . . . between realistic noh and tragedy" (9). She acknowledges that most scholars downplay the similarities between the two forms, but insists, "they are correct if we look only at the popular 'spirit' (mugen) noh. If one looks instead at the realistic noh with plot . . . similarities abound" (4); indeed, "the plots of realistic noh and later Greek tragedy are directly comparable" (9).

Before considering these claims, I must comment on Smethurst's translation of genzai as "realistic." This implies something about both dramatic form and acting style that is not present in the term either literally or in its use in the noh world. (It means simply that the characters are living in the dramatic present.) Smethurst suggests that plot and living characters are in themselves realistic features of drama that necessarily call for realism in performance. Her point is apparently that if the "noh with plot" were paid more attention, both by scholars appreciating their realism and by actors able to do it justice, the closeness of these plays to tragedy would be more evident. But I suspect the impression of most classicists reading them will be that they bear little formal resemblance to tragedy. (Translations of five are available in Smethurst's Dramatic Representations of Filial Piety, Cornell East Asia Program, 1998.) Not only is their plot development minimal, they would seem flat and uninteresting if performed in realistic style. As for Smethurst's chiding of noh actors for not being willing or able to adopt the realistic technique she thinks these plays need and deserve (3, 38), I must say I found it surprising coming from someone who has devoted so much time to the study of noh. If one understands anything about noh acting, one recognizes that trying to inject realism into its strictly codified movement and vocal patterns does nothing to enhance its expressivity, but quickly robs it of its power. As Matsui Akira, a leading noh actor who has collaborated extensively with artists in other performance styles worldwide, pointedly observes, "That's not noh anymore" (personal communication). If, incidentally, Kanze Hisao excelled at performing genzai noh, it was not because he "was willing to step out of the traditional noh constraints" (38), but because he was one of the greatest noh actors of the postwar generation. Finally, if noh actors find the "noh with plot" lacking interest (and these amount to a handful of plays largely unrepresentative of the modern repertoire), that is surely the actors' prerogative. (In fact, these plays are composed in a way that allows less scope for noh's distinctive resources: its evocation of characters' inner life and slow, deliberate building of tension through the jo-ha-kyū musical and dramatic structure.)

To turn to Smethurst's main comparative claims, her choice of Philoctetes as the leading example from tragedy is curious, since it is not the first play that comes to mind when one thinks about Aristotelian plot structure. Most of the similarities she mentions between it and Shunkan do not concern Aristotelian features at all; for example, that Shunkan's despair is as intense as Philoctetes' (8). Is there, crucially, a change of fortune that meets Aristotle's standards for the complex plot in either play? The decisive change for Philoctetes, all in all a fortunate one, comes about not through the plot but by a deus ex machina. Shunkan's fortunes are drastically worsened when he is left alone in exile, but this is the result of his failing to receive a pardon unexpectedly granted his fellow prisoners (virtually a deus ex machina within the play). At most Shunkan satisfies Aristotle's definition of the simple plot. Beyond the parallels between the condition of exile and the prospect of its end (realized in the one case but not the other), the plots of these plays do not seem closely comparable.

Chapter One surveys the key concepts of the Poetics and shows how they apply to IT and OT. As Smethurst concedes, this chapter is likely to hold few surprises for the professional classicist, but it does set out the criteria for an analysis of drama along Aristotelian lines clearly and concisely. It will be useful to anyone exploring the Poetics and its application to drama for the first time, and it will also be of interest to the seasoned scholar or theatre practitioner. Smethurst's sensitive encounters with the plays are the most convincing part of her book, and will be illuminating even about episodes the reader knows well.

Chapter Two applies Aristotle to noh. I don't have space to consider each play covered, but Aisomegawa can suffice, especially since "it probably fits the Aristotelian mold better than any other noh" (42). We can grant that it presents some features of Aristotelian plot. There are changes of fortune involving close relations brought about by a probable or necessary sequence of actions. There is piteousness aplenty, though probably not much fear. The most Aristotelian feature is a mutual recognition of a father and son, but this does not amount to a reversal inasmuch as it realizes the mother's goal from the outset of bringing them together. Often, the suggested parallels turn out to be not so exact or pertinent on closer examination. For example, Smethurst says of the resurrection promised for the mother (who had drowned herself when she thought she had failed), "we recognize this as a peripety" (48). But while a definite change of fortune, it is not a reversal arising unexpectedly from the plot but an answer to the father's ad hoc prayer. One might nevertheless compare Athena's saving appearance ex machina in IT, also an answer to prayer. But the mother's resurrection, granted for her good deeds in her past life, involves karma (which Smethurst notes) rather than the inherited curse and divine directives at work in IT. Given how different these are as dramatic premises, let alone how different is Athena's speech, as a performance, from the dance of the beneficent god in the noh, it seems somehow beside the point to insist on the slight plot parallel. For an example at the linguistic level, Smethurst suggests the words fushigi and gongo dōdan present "a clear analogue to the Greek words denoting surprise [e.g., to thaumaston]" (48). Perhaps fushigi does so. But the more frequent gongo dōdan means something else. A phrase of Buddhist origin referring literally to what is inexpressible, it passed into popular speech as a term of moral outrage. In the uses Smethurst cites in Aisomegawa and other plays it generally does not mean, "I am amazed (at this turn of events)," but, "I can't believe someone said (or did) that."

The biggest problem with Aisomegawa though is that it is unique among noh plays in the complexity of its plot. However much it conforms to Aristotelian principles, it is not representative even of the other "noh with plot." Indeed, its plot elements are essentially comic: the domestic melodrama involving ordinary (albeit upper class) people, the love triangle, the abandoned child who reunites mother and father, the happy ending ensured by divine providence. In Japan, all this belongs more to kabuki than noh. The remaining plays Smethurst discusses are cut from more tragic—and noh- like—cloth, but I still find their plot and other parallels to tragedy largely superficial. As an example of where I think the classicist would like to hear more about the differences, Smethurst acknowledges that harmartia is generally not a factor in noh. This points to a divergence between Greek and Japanese views of fate and human agency that one suspects is of much greater significance than incidental parallels of plot or language.

Chapters Three and Four (with a short Coda) concern the use of third person speech by actors in noh and of all three actors speaking together in tragedy. I found this the most fascinating part of the book, but also the most questionable. That both devices tend to occur in pivotal or emotional scenes and highlight them is one of the book's more valuable points. But when Smethurst probes further into the dramatic effect of these devices and argues that it is the same in noh and tragedy, difficulties arise. She misrepresents noh acting when she says actors using the third person "step out of" character to observe the character from outside (creating a "distanciation," 63–4). This imposes a Western view of acting on noh, where actors do not "step into" or "out of" character, but carefully follow kata ("prescribed forms"). The sense of character comes not from the actor alone but from the ensemble of actor, chorus and musicians working together (the drummers' vocal calls make a key contribution). Smethurst cites a manuscript reader's observation that the uses of the third person are "attempts to make the performances communal, social experiences shared by the actor with the spectators and to underscore the collaborative relation that holds among the performers" (91 with n. 5). This is correct (and accords with my point about the creation of character by the entire ensemble), but it should be stressed that such communal and collaborative relations pertain throughout the performance. The use of the third person is simply an invitation to all to become more empathetically engaged (it regularly cues the chorus to enter and chant for the actor in a more expansive mode). Thus it might better be called "outreach" than "distanciation."

When Smethurst brings the idea of "distanciation" into her discussion of the third actor in tragedy, it appears even less applicable. In the recognition scene of IT (725–1088), for example, I can appreciate that the three actors attract special attention, increasing the emotional impact. But when Smethurst speaks of the third actor's "distanciation of the other two" that "provides an opportunity for the spectators to reflect on the moment" (90), I must confess I can't see her point. Her observation that the third actor typically interacts with the other two only in pivotal scenes would be well worth developing through a focus on tragic dramaturgy per se.

All in all, I think noh and tragedy are better dealt with on their own terms. To the extent comparison may be useful, the differences rather than the similarities are more revealing.

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Börje Bydén, Katerina Ierodiakonou (ed.), The Many Faces of Byzantine Philosophy. Papers and monographs from the Norwegian Institute at Athens, series 4, 1. Athens: Norwegian Institute at Athens, 2012. Pp. ix, 243. ISBN 9788299912815. €15.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Divna Manolova, Central European University (

Version at BMCR home site

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

The volume under review is a sequel to Byzantine Philosophy and its Ancient Sources.1 It comprises nine essays. The first, by Katerina Ierodiakonou, serves also as the editors' introduction. Ten years after the publication of the 2002 volume, Ierodiakonou reassesses the state of research in the field of Byzantine philosophy and relates the purpose of the present volume to the premises of the previous one. Her analysis is partially motivated by the need to answer a number of criticisms raised by reviewers, especially with respect to the introduction of the 2002 book.2 According to Ierodiakonou (at 1-2), three issues in particular remain controversial within, as well as central to, the study of Byzantine philosophy, namely: (1) "Is there philosophical thinking in Byzantium?" and how does it differ from theological thinking; (2) "When does Byzantine philosophy actually begin?"; and (3) "Who counts as a philosopher in Byzantium?" Ierodiakonou is chiefly concerned with the first question. She states that philosophy in Byzantium was not considered subordinate to theology and that, even when philosophers pursued inquiries similar to those of the theologians, they employed methods particular to the subject.

Dimiter Angelov discusses political and social thought in Byzantium focusing on the period from the eleventh century onwards. The starting point for his investigation are the Byzantine divisions of philosophy and the taxonomical order they grant to political philosophy. In order to investigate their relevance when read against contemporary political preoccupations, Angelov discusses the preface to a twelfth-century commentary on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics by Eustratios of Nicaea and Eustratios' view of the role of the statesman. The good governance of a city or cities, according to this philosopher, consisted in the just and proportionate distribution of shares among its citizens. Angelov points out an underlying criticism of contemporary imperial practices relating to the distribution of offices and dignities, as well as to tax privileges, that one finds in Eustratios' discussion of distributive justice. Angelov also summarizes briefly Theodore Metochites' views on the essence and social functions of political philosophy. According to Metochites, political philosophy is in fact "the greatest and best part of philosophy" (33) and owes its position as such to the fact that it addresses real life issues of importance both to the governors and the governed. Finally, Angelov explores the Platonic concept of a 'royal science' and its reintroduction in Byzantine court literature after the eleventh century, a case in point being the descriptions of royal science by Michael Italikos, Nikephoros Blemmydes, and Theodore II Laskaris. Importantly, Angelov demonstrates that philosophical ideas were expressed in rhetorical texts: that is, Byzantine philosophy was practiced and was relevant beyond the philosophical commentaries on ancient authors or the schoolroom.

George Arabatzis focuses on the twelfth-century Aristotelian commentator Michael of Ephesus and his interpretation of Aristotle's philosophy of biology. According to Arabatzis, in contrast to Aristotle, Michael of Ephesus granted animals the ability to form beliefs. Arabatzis interprets this difference as an indication of the originality of Michael's approach to Aristotle's text. The argument concerning Michael's attribution of beliefs to animals is based on a passage in his commentary that employs the literary device of personification, that is, animals and plants are given a voice to ask mankind to inquire rationally about them and not to despise them, although they cannot truly be compared to the divine and noble nature of the heavenly bodies. The same passage is used to support another central claim of Arabatzis' essay, namely that "[t]here is in the epistemology of Michael of Ephesus, in his commentary on Parts of Animals I (1.3-2.10), a theory or proto-theory of intentionality" (74).

Bydén's contribution focuses on strategies in defense of the creationist position elaborated by fifth- and sixth-century Christian authors approaching the problem of whether the belief that the God-created world had a beginning can be proven by a philosophical argument. In particular, Bydén examines John Philoponos' refutation of Proklos' eternalist position and argues that Philoponos' Christian conviction had a lot to do with the reasons behind his rationalistic defense of creationism. Bydén explores creationist approaches predating Philoponos, such as those in the fifth- and early sixth-century scholars Aeneas of Gaza, Procopius of Gaza, and Zacharias, and focuses on the latter's dialogue Ammonius, which discusses thoroughly the issue of the world's eternity. This dialogue lists altogether four arguments supporting a creationist position and six arguments against it. Bydén examines in detail those arguments involving the thesis that the world and its creator are coeternal. He discusses a number of similarities and differences between Zacharias' procreationist arguments involving the coeternity thesis, Basil's first homily on the Hexaemeron, and Philoponos' arguments against Proklos. Thus, Bydén suggests that Basil's first homily is a likely source for Zacharias' Ammonius with respect to the coeternity thesis. In addition, Bydén argues for some degree of dependence of Philoponos' work on that of Zacharias.

The main purpose of Golitsis' article is to answer the question why the thirteenth-century scholar George Pachymeres was so engaged in practicing philosophy. Golitsis strives to provide a response through a close reading of the poem Pachymeres attached to his commentary on Aristotle's Physics and some parallel texts. The first part of the essay demonstrates how Pachymeres reworked Aristotle's Physics through a Christian perspective. For instance, Pachymeres stressed the affinity between Aristotle's prime unmoved mover and the Christian God. He also portrayed Aristotle as a precursor of Christian truth and suggested that, among other things, Aristotle acknowledged the impossibility of knowing God's essence, thus rendering Aristotle's teaching compatible with Christian doctrine. Golitsis outlines Pachymeres' ideal for a philosophical life as contemplative and detached from worldly preoccupations, aware of God's immutability and of man's instability, and professing devoutness to God, albeit expressed through philosophy. Golitsis claims that Pachymeres was the first Byzantine to attempt to demonstrate that philosophy is compatible with Christian dogma through the complete exegesis of an ancient philosophical text. Moreover, the increased use of exegesis in the early Palaiologan period, as opposed to epitome, should be viewed as an indication of autonomous philosophical study.

Due to its inherent ambiguity and the tensions between philosophy, 'Hellenism', and Orthodoxy, the position of the philosopher in Byzantium was unique. Kaldellis challenges the portrayal of Byzantine philosophers as uniformly compliant with the tenets of Orthodox doctrine. In particular, his paper explores the Byzantine view that philosophy is essentially incompatible with, and even hostile to, the Christian faith, a position attested in the fact that a number of self-defined Byzantine philosophers who worked closely with ancient philosophical texts were accused of heterodoxy precisely because of their philosophical pursuits. Kaldellis' chief contribution is his appeal to the reader to question existing preconceptions about Byzantine society and thought. He portrays Byzantine philosophers as idiosyncratic and eclectic, functioning in a contested cultural environment characterized by the "dynamic of Orthodoxy and dissidence" (133). In concordance with Angelov's piece, although motivated by different concerns, Kaldellis also makes the point that the study of philosophical thought should not be based solely on commentaries on ancient philosophical treatises or technical philosophical works.

O'Meara's essay examines the well-known Chronographia of the eleventh-century polymath Michael Psellos in the context of his philosophical work in order to, first, reconstruct the author's views on political philosophy and, second, assess how he positioned them with respect to the tradition of political philosophy in antiquity. The starting point of O'Meara's inquiry is Psellos' distinction between two conditions of the soul, namely its life by itself and its life together with the body. The latter entails two possible lots for the soul, that is, a life dedicated to pleasure and a moderate life, a prerogative of the so-called 'political' man. This option, in turn, presupposes an ethical disposition one finds scrutinized by Psellos in the context of his discussion of the hierarchy of virtues. Importantly, Psellos views the hierarchy of virtues as a scale of perfection facilitating the soul's ascent to God. Correspondingly, political virtue is qualified as the highest degree of assimilation to God pertaining to a soul living with the body. O'Meara suggests that Psellos' biographies of Byzantine rulers in his Chronographia often represent conceptions of different virtues and vices and not mere rhetorical topoi associated with the ideal ruler. In particular, Psellos emphasizes that the ruler is essentially human and as (s)he rules over other such men and women, what is most needed is that (s)he possesses and employs his or her political virtue, a manifestation of which is the readiness to adapt to circumstances, as well as the will to accept advice and collaborate.

Papaioannou explores Byzantine conceptions of the relationship between philosophy and rhetoric, that is, between discursive content and discursive form, through the prism of the self-representation of philosophers with respect to rhetoric. Papaioannou focuses in particular on Psellos' insistence on mixing philosophy with rhetoric, points to Synesios of Kyrene as Psellos' model, and follows up with the reception of Psellos' views and their appropriation by several twelfth-century writers, such as Michael Italikos and Euthymios Tornikes. Papaioannou's central thesis is that, in Psellos' case, "[f]or the first time in the history of the philosophico-rhetorical debate, the combination of philosophy with rhetoric is imagined as the ideal philosopher's unified and single discursive practice" (183). Psellos' self-representation as a rhetor-philosopher, himself the embodiment of the ideal intellectual figure, establishes rhetoric as an essential and central, rather than secondary and auxiliary, component of the philosopher's persona.

Trizio deals with the late Byzantine reception of Books I and VI of Eustratios of Nicaea's commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics. With the help of three case studies, Trizio establishes the textual dependence of several late Byzantine scholars on Eustratios. The first case is George Pachymeres' paraphrase of the Nicomachean Ethics in his Philosophia, as well as of his fragmented commentary on that work (from book I to the beginning of book VI) preserved in Marcianus gr. 212 (1r-44r), Vaticanus gr. 1429 (1r-79v), and Escorialensis T.I.18 (1r-74v). Secondly, Trizio discusses a paraphrase of the Nicomachean Ethics by Heliodoros of Prusa which incorporated an argument from Eustratios' commentary, thus establishing Heliodoros' dependence on Eustratios. The third case is Nikephoros Gregoras' Solutiones quaestionum I, as well as his Antilogia. Trizio demonstrates Gregoras' dependence on Eustratios' treatment of the fall of mankind and the loss of human perfection. Trizio points out that while the Palaiologan scholar liked Eustratios' emphasis on the epistemological character of the fall, he nevertheless, unlike Eustratios, argued for complete humility of the human condition and was radically pessimistic with regard to the possibility of the restoration, even if partial, of the lost Adamic state.

In sum, the individual essays in the present volume open new and valuable perspectives for the study of Byzantine philosophical thought, providing in addition useful, though specialized, bibliographies. The authors bring forth important issues such as the relation between philosophy and Orthodoxy, rhetoric, and contemporary politics, thus addressing not only the problems explored by Byzantine thinkers but also their often contested status and role in Byzantine society. Undoubtedly, this is a volume addressed to a specialized audience. One of its goals, however, is to "persuad[e] its readership that Byzantine philosophy is worth investigating" (19). Thus, in my opinion, the reader could have been helped by several additions to the editors' introduction, such as: (1) a concise discussion about how the papers included in the volume relate to the three questions, central to the study of Byzantine philosophical thought, listed by Ierodiakonou at the beginning; (2) an outline of the new issues raised by the contributors; and (3) greater emphasis on the implicit dialogues between the contributions.

Table of Contents

Editors' Preface. ix.
1. Byzantine philosophy revisited (a decade after), Katerina Ierodiakonou. 1.
2. Classifications of political philosophy and the concept of royal science in Byzantium, Dimiter G. Angelov. 23.
3. Michael of Ephesus and the philosophy of living things (In De partibus animalium 22.25 – 23.9), George Arabatzis. 51.
4. A case for creationism: Christian cosmology in the 5th and 6th centuries, Börje Bydén. 79.
5. A Byzantine philosopher's devoutness toward God: George Pachymeres' poetic epilogue to his commentary on Aristotle's Physics, Pantelis Golitsis. 109.
6. Byzantine philosophy inside and out: Orthodoxy and dissidence in counterpoint, Anthony Kaldellis. 129.
7. Political philosophy in Michael Psellos: the Chronographia read in relation to his philosophical work, Dominic J. O'Meara. 153.
8. Rhetoric and the philosopher in Byzantium, Stratis Papaioannou. 171.
9. On the Byzantine fortune of Eustratios of Nicaea's commentary on Books I and VI of the Nicomachean Ethics, Michele Trizio. 199.
Index of Passages. 225.
Index of Names. 237.


1.   Ierodiakonou, Katerina, Byzantine Philosophy and Its Ancient Sources, Oxford, New York: Clarendon Press, 2002.
2.   See for instance BMCR 2002.10.37.

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Thursday, January 30, 2014


Jean M. Evans, The Lives of Sumerian Sculpture: An Archaeology of the Early Dynastic Temple. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Pp. xii, 278. ISBN 9781107017399. $99.00.

Reviewed by Lorenzo Verderame, "Sapienza" Università di Roma (

Version at BMCR home site


Il volume pubblicato da Jean M. Evans comprende un ampio studio attorno alla statuaria mesopotamica del periodo proto-dinastico. Contrariamente alle ricerche precedenti, che si sono concentrate sulla raccolta di dati e sull'analisi stilistica, la Evans propone una prospettiva differente e innovativa. La statuaria proto-dinastica è infatti analizzata da due opposti punti di vista. Il primo è relativo alla sua ricezione e interpretazione all'interno del più generale discorso sull'arte e l'evoluzione dello stile. Il secondo è uno studio di taglio antropologico e funzionale sulla statuaria proto-dinastica nel suo contesto d'uso.

Il volume è composto da sei capitoli, cui si aggiunge una chiara e sintetica introduzione e conclusione. A sua volta ogni singolo capitolo è preceduto da un'introduzione e chiuso dalle conclusioni.

I primi tre capitoli, di natura storiografica, sono dedicati alla riscoperta, percezione e interpretazione della più antica statuaria sumerica tra archeologia, antropologia fisica e teorie estetiche. In particolare, centrale risulta l'attenzione nella prospettiva dei primi studiosi del valore etnografico, piuttosto che artistico di questi oggetti, e la loro analisi in termini evoluzionistici.

Il primo capitolo ("Sumerian Origins, 1850-1930 : Making the Body Visible") sicuramente il più interessante, denso e stimolante, analizza in generale il periodo della riscoperta della civiltà dei Sumeri e delle prime ipotesi sulla loro origine. La statuaria più arcaica è funzionale in questa fase alla ricostruzione del "tipo" sumerico alla luce delle teorie dell'antropologia fisica e a sua volta deve trovare una sua collocazione all'interno di una visione evoluzionistica dell'arte.

Nel secondo capitolo ("Art History, Ethnography, and Beautiful Sculpture") l'autrice si concentra sul momento di passaggio da una valutazione delle statue quali rappresentazioni e fonte di informazione sulla "razza sumera" a una loro valutazione dal punto di vista stilistico. La Evans identifica gli anni trenta del ventesimo secolo quale momento cruciale di questa svolta e in Henri Frankfort il personaggio chiave ed esemplificativo del cambiamento. Infatti gli scavi e i ritrovamenti dell'Università di Chicago nella regione del Diyala guidati dallo stesso Frankfort avevano reso più chiara la lacunosa cronologia del periodo. La scoperta sempre negli stessi scavi di numerose statue di questo periodo, in particolare quelle da Tell Asmar, e l'edizione fattane da Frankfort spostò l'analisi di questo materiale su un nuovo piano, quello estetico e storico-artistico.

Il terzo capitolo ("Seeing the Divine : Sanctuary, Sculpture, and Display") si concentra sul contesto di rinvenimento delle statue del proto-dinastico, principalmente templi. La relazione della statua con il tempio è interpretata alla stregua di un oggetto esposto in un museo e, viziato da questa interpretazione, il contesto di rinvenimento, ovvero la disposizione delle statue nel tempio, sarebbe stato ricostruito. Tale visione, secondo la Evans, è evidentemente influenzata dal clima in cui si svilupparono la maggior parte dei primi scavi in Mesopotamia, finanziati da musei e collezionisti alla ricerca di opere da esporre. Secondo la Evans il binomio tempio = museo e museo = tempio si rivela quale chiave di lettura per l'interpretazione espositiva della statuaria arcaica nel loro contesto originario e quello moderno.

Nel quarto capitolo ("The Early Dynastic Life of Sculpture") l'autrice si occupa appunto della "vita" delle statue basandosi principalmente sulla documentazione proveniente da Lagaš e, più specificamente, l'archivio proto-dinastico della "casa delle donne" (e2- mi2) e dal periodo di Gudea. L'autrice passa in rassegna le fonti archeologiche ed epigrafiche, attingendo anche a informazioni da periodi posteriori, per delineare la "vita" della statua, dalla sua creazione —in sumerico letteralmente "generare, partorire" (tu(d)) — alla sua "attivazione" fino alla sua "morte" o disattivazione, passando attraverso i rituali di cui le sculture sono protagoniste o destinatarie. Nelle conclusioni l'autrice avanza alcune considerazioni sull'aspetto visuale della statua in funzione del fedele, in quella che definisce "corporeal aesthetics", con alcuni spunti tratti da paralleli con l'Egitto e l'India (darshan).

L'idea di un'evoluzione stilistica basata sulla tendenza al realismo e la sua elezione quale principio di datazione dei livelli protodinastici — entrambe promosse da Frankfort — sono discusse e criticate nel capitolo quinto ("Becoming Temple Sculpture : The Asmar Hoard"). Partendo dall'analisi del deposito di statue rinvenuto a Tell Asmar, la Evans procede a una differente analisi della statuaria alla luce delle evidenti prove di un riutilizzo nel tempo dell'intera statua o di alcune sue parti. L'autrice propone dunque una diversa evoluzione stilistica basata su principi interni, tra cui l'astrazione, influenzata, quest'ultima, dalle figurine di argilla. Nella parte conclusiva del capitolo, attraverso un'analisi funzionale degli oggetti, è evidenziato il passaggio alla frontalità nelle raffigurazioni, indizio di un diverso rapporto della statua con il fedele e di quest'ultimo con il contesto cultuale.

Nell'ultimo capitolo ("Gender and Identity in Early Dynastic Temple Statues"), un'analisi dell'identità del donatore porta l'autrice a delineare una distinzione di genere che si riflette in differenti pratiche e competenze cultuali. Le principali fonti sono le statue con iscrizioni, che provengono soprattutto da Mari e Nippur. Questo porta a mettere in relazione due realtà coeve, ma geograficamente e culturalmente distanti tra loro.

Nelle brevi conclusioni generali, l'autrice riprende le prospettive attraverso cui ha proceduto all'analisi della statuaria del proto-dinastico: la materialità e l'astrazione.

La statuaria mesopotamica è divenuta oggetto di interessanti studi negli ultimi anni e anche chi scrive vi ha dedicato alcuni lavori.1 L'autrice propone in questo volume una serie di riflessioni sulla statuaria del periodo più arcaico della storia mesopotamica attraverso prospettive innovative. Non vi è una fluida continuità nell'evoluzione interna degli argomenti trattati né un'omogeneità nell'ampiezza di fonti primarie e secondarie citate e discusse, ma non era neppure intenzione dell'autrice proporre un'analisi estesa ed esaustiva dell'argomento. In particolare risulta evidente che a parte il primo capitolo il resto del volume è focalizzato principalmente, se non unicamente, sulla tradizione di studi e di ricerche nordamericane. I siti e i materiali presi in considerazione e analizzati sono quelli scavati da missioni statunitensi (Nippur e Khafaja). Anche se una piccola parte è dedicata alla ricostruzione da parte di Andrae del tempio di Ištar ad Assur e alla disposizione delle collezioni europee, le tendenze e la visione generale su musei e collezioni proposta nel capitolo terzo riguarda gli Stati Uniti.

Le fonti a disposizione sono decisamente limitate e limitanti. Gli scavi, sparsi e difficilmente relazionabili tra loro, hanno prodotto una documentazione eterogenea, spesso mal presentata. La natura delle fonti preclude dunque qualsiasi tipo di analisi teso a proporre una visione generale non solo sulla statuaria, ma su qualsiasi altro aspetto di questo periodo. La Evans analizza queste fonti attraverso moderne teorie estetiche e antropologiche, senza mai forzare l'interpretazione.

Il volume della Evans costituisce un'interessante, innovativo e stimolante studio che integra un attento studio delle fonti primarie con un approccio interpretativo serio e critico. Sebbene limitato alla statuaria proto-dinastica mi auguro che il lavoro della Evans possa influenzare in tal senso le ricerche anche su altri ambiti della cultura mesopotamica.


1.   Un contributo dedicato proprio agli oggetti iscritti dal tempio proto-dinastico (VIIB) di Inanna a Nippur presentato all'ICAANE di Madrid (2005), uno sulle fonti relative alla statuaria nel periodo neo-sumerico presentato alla 57e Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale di Roma (2011), e, infine, un articolo in stampa sulla statuaria neo-assira (in collaborazione con Davide Nadali).

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Beatriz Bossi, Thomas M. Robinson (ed.), Plato's 'Sophist' Revisited. Trends in classics - supplementary volumes, 19. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2013. Pp. x, 304. ISBN 9783110286953. $154.00.

Reviewed by Coyle Neal, Southwest Baptist University (

Version at BMCR home site


This book is a collection of sixteen papers originally presented in May of 2009 at the "International Spring Seminar on Plato's Sophist". It is divided into three broad sections:

I. Defining Sophistry, in which the papers explore the primary subject matter of Plato's Sophist, i.e. the question of what a "sophist" is and what one does;
II. Parricide: Threat or Reality? in which the relationship between Plato and his philosophical predecessors (especially Parmenides, but including other Presocratics as well) is examined through the filter of the Sophist;
III. Mimesis, Image and Logos, in which various other philosophical issues in the dialogue are discussed.

Before briefly surveying each essay, I should point out that this volume as a whole is excellent. The authors not only know their subject matter well, they manage to be articulate, competent, and thoughtful writers without sacrificing depth or complexity. (Since some of these essays have been translated, no doubt praise is due the translators as well.)

I. Defining Sophistry

"Protagoras and the Definition of 'Sophist' in the Sophist" by Thomas M. Robinson provides an introduction to Sophistry itself, including the various ways sophistry is presented in the dialogue under consideration. Robinson also gives a deft explanation of the tricky relationship between the Sophists and Socrates.

"Why is it so Difficult to Catch a Sophist? Pl. Sph. 218d3 and 261a5" by Francesc Casadesús Bordoy is an excellent exploration of Plato's use of images (especially Homeric images) to explain and define the slippery and ever- changing nature of the Sophists.

"Plato's Enquiry concerning the Sophist as a Way towards 'Defining' Philosophy" by Josep Monserrat Molas and Pablo Sandoval Villarroel examines the relationship between the Sophist and ontological being. This paper consequently suggests that there is more to the dialogue than just the definition of a "sophist", and has much to do with the "hiddenness" of the philosopher. Molas and Villarroel employ a non-traditional interpretation in the style of Heidegger, with results that are quite intriguing and bear much more examination than is provided in this short work.

"The Sixth Definition (Sophist 226a-231c): Transposition of Religious Language" by Alberto Bernabé uses a philological analysis of the "sixth definition" of a Sophist to draw a linguistic line between Socrates and the Sophists. Specifically, Bernabé argues that Plato employs religious language and, in context, defines the Sophists as the equivalent of religious charlatans rather than true philosophers.

"Remarks on the First Five Definitions of the Sophist (Soph. 221c-235a)" by Michel Narcy takes up this stream of thought and puts the first five definitions of a "Sophist" in their context within the Platonic corpus and within Greek thought as a whole. The result is a clear contrast between the Sophist and those like Socrates who are true philosophers.

"Socrates and 'Noble' Sophistry (Sophist 226b-231c)" by José Solana argues that the difficulty of the sixth division of the Sophist is neither out of line with the overall theme of that dialogue nor only interpretable in the context of the trilogy of dialogues of which Plato may have intended it to be part. In fact, it is both coherent and consistent in the text of the dialogue itself and in terms of what we know of broader Greek thought.

"The Method of Division in the Sophist: Plato's Second Deuteros Plous" by Kenneth Dorter provides a lucid explanation of the role of the Sophist in developing the theory of forms as a practical, real-world enterprise in the context of Plato's "Eleatic" trilogy.

II. Parricide: Threat or reality?

"Plato's Ionian Muses: Sophist 242 d-e" by Enrique Hülsz begins the second division of the book by suggesting that, pace Aristotle, Plato is much more sympathetic to Heraclitus' true philosophy of universal flux (as opposed to its pop-philosophical caricatures).

"Does Plato refute Parmenides?" by Denis O'Brien is a lengthy defense of an older argument by him (O'Brien) that has been met with some skepticism in the academic literature. O'Brien's argument is that a close examination of the text suggests that, rather than clearly refuting Parmenides, Plato actually advances beyond his system. This essay is especially engagingly written; O'Brien is conversational in tone while still clearly expositing the Platonic text and giving a fair hearing to his opponents.

"Back to the Point: Plato and Parmenides—Genuine Parricide?" by Beatriz Bossi admits that the Plato/Parmenides relationship is a tough one to work out—it may very well be that Plato is attacking a caricature, while simultaneously adopting a modified Parmenidean philosophy that combines change and stability while relying on language to reveal the true nature of being and difference.

"Plato's Eleaticism in the Sophist: The Doctrine of Non-Being" by Antonio Pedro Mesquita is a review by a confessed Aristotelian (a "sin" quickly forgiven) which argues that the Eleatic argument is a necessary foundation for coming to the Platonic one, however at odds the two may be at the end of the day.

"The relativization of 'separation' (khorismos) in the Sophist" by Néstor-Luis Cordero suggests that Platonic dualism in the Sophist is a post-second-trip-to-Sicily purification of Plato's earlier thought (along with Parmenides and Theaetetus) that recognizes the difficulty of the relationship between being-as-such and the forms—both of which ultimately resolve into the existential Form of Being itself that unifies all.

III. Mimesis, Image and Logos

"Theaetetus sits—Theaetetus flies. Ontology, predication and truth in Plato's Sophist (263a-d)" by Francesco Fronterotta is about the relationship between truth and language. Fronterotta focuses, appropriately enough, on the details of Plato's language and how that language is expressive of true and false logos, but only when a great deal of logical subtlety and specific textual contexts are kept in mind. Be sure to read the footnotes.

"Difference and Negation: Plato's Sophist in Proclus" by Jesús de Garay examines how the Neoplatonic thinker Proclus guides us in reading the Sophist, specifically in the context of Plato's unified corpus. As we would expect from a Neoplatonist, the result is a mixture of rational and mystical interpretation that uses the concepts of negation and unity as the means of approaching the One. This paper includes a good overview of the Sophist in general Neoplatonic thought.

"Difference in Kind: Observations on the Distinction of the Megista Gene" by David Ambuel would have, in my opinion, been best placed at the beginning as it provides a good philosophical introduction to a number of the essays in this volume. This paper attempts to resolve the Eleatic-Heraclitean impasse in Plato by eliminating the difference between motion and rest by means of the approach to Being through the dialectic.

"Mimesis in the Sophist" by Lidia Palumbo, the final essay in the volume, examines the relationship between falsity and mimesis (imagery). The danger, Palumbo suggests, is that "all falsity is mimetic", not that "every mimesis is false" (269). Yet even this is a complex issue, since true falsity is "confusing an image for its model", not an image for an image or a model for a model (269). This last paper is an appropriate conclusion since it raises the question of how truth may be discovered when the tools we so regularly use to approach truth are themselves suspect.

Overall, this is an excellent volume and will be of great interest to anyone who wishes to think more carefully about the Platonic search for truth in general, and the Sophist specifically.

One final note: the ghost behind this volume (who only occasionally peeks through) is Heidegger, whose work on the Sophist and Plato is consistently in the background of each of these essays. If there is one thing that would have made an already excellent volume even better, it would be a more thorough treatment (either critical or appreciative, or, ideally, both) of Heidegger's interpretation of Plato. Not that this should have been a book of essays on Heidegger, just that a more direct interaction would have added yet another layer of philosophical richness to an already rich volume.

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Agnès A. Nagy, Francesca Prescendi (ed.), Sacrifices humains: dossiers, discours, comparaisons. Actes du colloque tenu à l'Université de Genève, 19-20 mai 2011. Bibliothèque de l'École des Hautes Études - Sciences religieuses, 160. Turnhout: Brepols, 2013. Pp. 274. ISBN 9782503548098. €50.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Paolo Xella, Università di Pisa; Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche – Istituto di Studi sul Mediterraneo Antico (CNR-ISMA), Rome (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed below.]

Ce volume aborde le problème du « sacrifice humain » selon une approche largement comparative, avec des contributions qui concernent le Proche-Orient ancien (Égypte, Mésopotamie, monde phénicien et punique), l'Inde ancienne, le monde classique (Grèce et Rome), le christianisme, les cultures précolombiennes d'Amérique, les traditions germaniques, en incluant également des essais à caractère anthropologique et historiographique. L'attention scrupuleuse consacrée aux volets terminologiques, et en particulier la remise en question de la définition de sacrifice humain, est sans aucun doute l'aspect le plus important de l'ouvrage, aux côtés de l'espace dûment réservé aux informations fournies par l'archéologie et au problème de leur utilisation.

Il s'agit d'un thème très délicat, en particulier du point de vue de la méthode, qui impose une réflexion approfondie sur le plan términologique avant de se pencher sur les sources documentaires, et qui vient s'ajouter avec profit à d'autres études publiées récemment (voir, entre autres, A. I. Baumgarten, éd., Sacrifice in Religious Experience, Leiden 2002; J. N. Bremmer, éd., The Strange World of Human Sacrifice, Leuven 2002; K. Finsterbusch, A. Lange, K. F. D. Römheld, éds., in association with L. Lazar, Human Sacrifice in Jewish and Christian Tradition, Leiden; Boston 2007).

Il s'agit, pour commencer, d'éviter de projeter nos idéologies et nos valeurs éthiques sur les sociétés qui sont l'objet de l'étude et de bien s'accorder sur une définition opérationnelle qui soit la moins ambiguë possible ; de plus, concernant la documentation textuelle, il faut distinguer le plan du mythe de celui du rite (cf. le cas de la Grèce ancienne ou de l'Inde védique). P. Bonnechere, par exemple, propose la définition suivante : « l'offrande d'une victime humaine à un destinataire suprahumain bien identifié, un dieu au sens large » ; cependant, le problème de la façon de classer les cas d'un destinataire humain (p. ex. un souverain) persiste, de même que celui de la manière d'évaluer les rites sanglants qui n'ont pas de destinataire. De ce point de vue, toute la discussion aurait pu bénéficier des apports théoriques fournis par Angelo Brelich (Presupposti del sacrificio umano, Rome 2006 : voir le compte-rendu par P. Bonnechere dans Kernos 22, 2009 :, et en particulier, de la distinction établie entre « sacrifici umani » et « uccisioni rituali »), ainsi que de l' effort de détecter les dynamiques de transformation historique du rite dans le passage des sociétés pré-polythéistes aux polythéismes pleinement réalisés.

Conformément à l'approche judicieuse des éditrices, il nous faut bien admettre que, malgré les aspects problématiques qu'il comporte à nos yeux en tant que catégorie conceptuelle, le sacrifice humain existe à part entière dans la tradition de nos études : par conséquent, plutôt que la réalité historique de la pratique dans les différents contextes culturels, ce sont surtout les interprétations auxquelles il a été soumis qui devraient se trouver au cœur du débat.

En dépit de la variété des domaines et des sources impliquées, les contributions qui composent le volume sont généralement assez cohérentes et suivent la ligne suggérée par les éditrices (bien que légèrement marginale par rapport à l'enquête, la contribution de M. Kolakowski sur les positions idéologiques de l'érudit J.W. Stucki ne manque pas d'intérêt).

Dans la première section, P. Bonnechere insiste sur la délicatesse à laquelle il faut recourir lorsqu'on interroge les documents, en proposant un parallèle entre la Grèce ancienne et le monde aztèque, tandis que Y. Volokhine, égyptologue, propose d'utiliser le terme anthropoctonie et défend une approche entièrement anthropologique que l'on partage ici avec enthousiasme. L'exigence d'établir des sous-catégories plus précises qui mettent de l'ordre dans le mare magnum des définitions générales, est soutenue à juste titre par À. Nagy, qui suit le fil rouge de l'histoire de l'ordalie, un cas exemplaire du glissement du monde réel vers celui de l'imaginaire. L'hypothèse que tout sacrifice puisse être considéré comme remplacement potentiel du sacrifice humain est formulée par J. Bronkhorst pour l'Inde védique, qui fournit une casuistique très intéressante d'où il ressort que la victime, identifiée au sacrificateur, est considérée en même temps comme son ennemi.

Concernant les dossiers de l'archéologie, G. Kaenel met en évidence les limites de cette discipline, qui n'est pas en mesure, à elle seule, de détecter si une mort violente est due à un sacrificateur ou à un meurtrier ; en dépit de cela, sur la base de toutes les sources disponibles, l'auteur est de l'avis que la pratique a bien existé chez les Gaulois. S. Bourget apporte des preuves substantielles de la pratique des sacrifices humains dans le Pérou ancien, fondées sur les données tirées de certains contextes funéraires. Pour la Mésopotamie ancienne, une mise au point sur le cimetière royal d'Ur est fournie par A.-C. Rendu Loisel, qui se limite à présenter l'historique des recherches, en évitant prudemment de prendre position sur ce sujet.

En ce qui concerne le sacrifice humain et le christianisme, immédiatement avant, pendant ou après sa diffusion, S. C. Mimouni présente un très vaste fresque historique et, entre autres considérations, il fait remarquer que les accusations païennes envers les chrétiens ne se comprennent pas dans la symbolique chrétienne, et que la tradition du dernier repas de Jésus ne doit pas être confondue avec le rituel de l'eucharistie. J. N. Bremmer, pour sa part, s'efforce d'expliquer quand, où, par qui et pourquoi les chrétiens ont été accusés de cannibalisme, analysant également dans quelle mesure les interprétations des savants modernes (Gibbon en premier lieu) ont été conditionnées idéologiquement face à ce phénomène. Le monde germanique (islandais) préchrétien et/ou au seuil de la conversion est abordé par B. Lincoln et N. Meylan dans deux contributions qui suivent à la lettre la suggestion des éditrices de renverser l'optique en transformant l'etic en emic et qui anticipent la section consacrée à l'imagerie cultuelle, dans laquelle ils auraient pu tout aussi bien s'insérer.

Pour la section finale, S. Ribichini reconstruit l'histoire de Moloch dans l'imagerie ancienne et moderne d'une manière suggestive et bien documentée, qui nous apprend beaucoup ; en revanche, son évaluation minimaliste de la réalité des sacrifices d'enfants dans le monde phénicien et punique est moins convaincante, en raison, entre autres, de sa présentation des sources, en partie discutable et incomplète : la réalité historique du rite – qui est autre chose et va au- delà de l' « histoire de Moloch » – est bien documentée par les sources directes (archéologie et épigraphie), tandis que l'ostéologie ne démontre pas qu'il s'agit de foetus ou d'enfants morts-nés ; quant aux sources indirectes, si on veut en tenir compte (mais pourquoi pas ?), les passages bibliques témoignent explicitement de rites sanglants, tandis que les sources classiques (analysées convenablement) sont bien claires à ce sujet (voir dernièrement P. Xella, J. Quinn, V. Melchiorri et P. van Dommelen, Phoenician bones of contention, Antiquity 87, 338 [2013], p. 1199-1207).

F. Prescendi, propose une reconstruction historiographie tout à fait fascinante du rôle joué par le texte des Actes de Saint Dasius et la tradition du sacrifice du roi des Saturnalia dans l'interprétation donnée par J. G. Frazer de la mort de Jésus : un schéma interprétatif déjà attesté dans l'antiquité, que le célèbre savant anglais finit presque par retirer dans la 3ème édition de son Rameau d'or. A. Schwab analyse – dans la perspective de l'histoire des religions – les rapports des Nations Unies concernant les cas de crime d'honneur, une pratique fortement ritualisée mais qui ne peut pas rentrer dans la catégorie des sacrifices humains.

Dans ses réflexions conclusives, G. G. Stroumsa souligne à juste titre la « présence de l'absence » et l' « absence de la présence » du sacrifice humain dans les enquêtes qui précèdent, en remarquant la difficulté, tant au niveau de la terminologie que de la documentation, littéraire et archéologique (mais pourquoi différencier ?), d'identifier un phénomène unique. En général, il est vrai, les données sont maigres et discutables, mais l'affirmation que la documentation archéologique ne recoupe jamais l'évidence littéraire n'est pas acceptable: il suffit de regarder, p. ex., le monde phénicien et punique, ou encore l'Amérique précolombienne… Une autre piste à suivre est celle de l'utilisation métaphorique que les cultures modernes font du sacrifice humain, dans le sens que « tout se passe comme nous étions éloignés, consciemment, du sacrifice humain, mais comme s'il était resté toujours aussi présent dans l'inconscient » (p. 271)… cet état de fait, l' « horreur sacrée » qu'il continue de nous inspirer est vraisemblablement la cause de beaucoup des sains désirs modernes de l'effacer de la documentation… un sentiment bien appréciable chez le commun des mortel, mais dangereux chez l'historien.

C'est un ouvrage est riche et stimulant et les éditrices méritent notre gratitude pour leur effort intelligent et bien réussi.

Authors and titles

Introduction des éditrices
G.G. Stroumsa, Réflexions conclusives
1. Questions de définition
P. Bonnechere, Le sacrifice humain à la croisée des a priori : quelques remarques méthodologiques
Y. Volokhine, Observations sur l'anthropoctonie. Le débat sur les « sacrifices humains » en Égypte ancienne
À. A. Nagy, L'ordalie « primitive » entre sacrifice humain et peine de mort : sur les trace d'un mythe savant
2. Sacrifice humain vs sacrifice animal
M. Kolakowski, Humana, seu potius inhumana sacrificia. Le sacrifice humain à la croisée des discours dans l'œuvre du polyhistor Johann Wilhelm Stucki (1542-1607)
J. Bronkhorst, Des sacrifices humains dans l'Inde ancienne
3. Dossiers archéologiques
G. Kaenel, Gaulois et sacrifices humains : des textes antiques aux observations archéologiques
S. Bourget, Sacrifice, violence rituelle et développement de l'état Mochica dans le Pérou ancien
A.-C. Rendu Loisel, Le cimetière royal d'Ur : état de la question
4. Sacrifice humain et christianisme
S. C. Mimouni, La tradition du dernier repas de Jésus au Ier siècle : de la réalité historique à la réalité liturgique
J. N. Bremmer, Early Christian human sacrifice between fact and fiction
B. Lincoln, King Aun and the Witches
N. Meylan, Sacrifice humain et Islande républicaine, le cas d'Óláfr Tryggvason
5. De l'historiographie à l'imagerie culturelle
S. Ribichini, Histoires de Moloch, le roi effroyable
F. Prescendi, Du sacrifice du roi des Saturnales à l'exécution de Jésus
A. Schwab, La pratique du crime d'honneur : entre mythe et réalité

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Emily Baragwanath, Mathieu de Bakker, Myth, Truth, and Narrative in Herodotus. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. xi, 370. ISBN 9780199693979. $150.00.

Reviewed by Carlo Scardino, Universität Freiburg i.Br. (

Version at BMCR home site


Der um zwei Beiträge erweiterte Band einer Oxforder Tagung von 2007 stellt mit der Fokussierung auf den Mythos in Verbindung mit der Frage nach der Historizität ("truth"), die vor allem Gegenstand der älteren Forschung war, und mit den immer wieder untersuchten Erzählstrategien eine relativ neue Entwicklung in der Herodotforschung dar.

In der Einleitung ("Myth, truth, and narrative in Herodotus", S. 1-56) äußern die beiden Herausgeber die von allen Autoren geteilte These, daß Herodot das mythische Material nicht als "almost accidental remnant of an archaic mode of storytelling that undermined the work's historical value" (S. 9), sondern wegen seines Modellcharakters als wichtigen Schlüssel zur Deutung nicht nur vergangener, sondern auch gegenwärtiger Ereignisse und zur bewußten Lenkung der Rezeption "by enabling readers to contextualize recent history against the background of what is already familiar" verwende (S. 45). Beim Versuch einer Definition von 'Mythos' müssen sie allerdings vom negativen Befund ausgehen, daß Herodot selbst den Begriff μῦθος nur zweimal (Hdt. 2,23; 2,45,1) verwendet, um einen unglaubwürdigen, nicht nachprüfbaren Bericht zu bezeichnen (S. 13). Daher sind sie gezwungen, auf eine moderne Definition zurückzugreifen (S. 17f.), gemäß der ein Mythos vornehmlich von Göttern und Heroen handelt, einen traditionellen, nicht von einem einzelnen Autor geschaffenen Kern und eine kollektive Bedeutung für eine bestimmte soziale Gruppe besitzt.1

Daß aber diese Definition für Herodot problematisch ist, zeigt C. Dewald ("Myth and Legend in Herodotus' First Book", S. 59-85), die zum mythischen Material auch Genealogien, Erzählungen von Wundern und traditionelle Geschichten zählt (S. 60). Trotz Herodots Beschränkung im Einleitungssatz auf den Bereich der Menschen und der in der Frauenraubgeschichte offensichtlich gemachten Unterscheidung "between what we modern readers would call myth and what we would call history" (S. 65), beweisen im ersten Buch z.B. die Gyges-Geschichte, Genealogien und aitiologische Mythen, daß Herodot nicht immer klar bestimmt, "what relation he wants to establish between the world of ancient story —heroic myth and legend—and the genomena ex anthrōpōn, the ordinary human world of politics, sociology and anthropology" (S. 67).

Eine entscheidende Rolle für Herodots Umgang mit dem Mythos spielt in den folgenden vier Aufsätzen die Behandlung des Troia-Mythos: S. Saïd ("Herodotus and the 'Myth' of the Trojan War", S. 87-105) beginnt mit der richtigen Feststellung, daß Herodot diesen weder als Mythos bezeichnet noch kategorisch von der übrigen Geschichte trennt, sondern ihn nur bezüglich der Möglichkeit, die Fakten zu erkennen, von späteren Perioden unterscheidet (S. 88f.). Nicht nur Herodot selbst im Ägyptenlogos (Hdt. 2,112-120), sondern auch andere Figuren (als sekundäre Fokalisatoren) verwenden diesen Mythos in ihrer Argumentation (etwa die griechischen Gesandten in Syrakus [Hdt. 7,159; 7,161] oder die Athener und Tegeaten [Hdt. 9,26f.]). M. de Bakker ("Herodotus' Proteus: Myth, History, Inquiry and Storytelling", S. 107-126) glaubt, daß Herodot beim Porträt des aus der Odyssee bekannten Proteus eine in Ägypten gehörte Tradition überarbeitet habe, um die Vorteile seiner historischen Methode vorzuführen und "to contextualize the stories that the Greeks had so far only inherited in mythological form" (S. 112). Während im übrigen Ägyptenlogos die oratio obliqua "indicates that he presents akoē-based information", diene hier die oratio recta dazu, Herodots Autorität als Erzähler zu untermauern (S. 125), was aber mangels Parallelen nicht ganz einleuchtet, zumal die direkte Rede in der Regel durch ihre dramatische Unmittelbarkeit die Wirkung auf die Rezipienten eher verstärkt.2 Dagegen beruht für I. de Jong ("The Helen logos and Herodotus' Fingerprint", S. 127-142) die Glaubwürdigkeit der Erzählung im Gebrauch des historischen Präsens, das sie als Augenzeugenbericht ausweist (S. 132). Methodologisch macht Herodot die ägyptische Priesterschaft zu seinem alter ego, wobei es die ἱστορίη-Methode möglich macht, auf dieselbe Weise die ferne mythische und die nähere Vergangenheit zu untersuchen (S. 137). E. Vandiver ("'Strangers are from Zeus': Homeric Xenia at the Courts of Proteus and Croesus", S. 143-166) untersucht das Konzept der Gastfreundschaft (ξενία), das sie für homerisch (S. 145) hält, in zwei Episoden. Wie schon Saïd (S. 105) und de Jong (S. 140) glaubt sie, daß der Krieg und die Zerstörung Troias für Herodot ein Paradigma dafür seien, daß das Unrecht, hier der Bruch der Gastfreundschaft, von den Göttern geahndet werde. Das Problem aber, daß nur Paris, nicht aber Menelaos, der mit der Opferung zweier Ägypter ebenso gegen die Gastfreundschaft verstoßen hat, bestraft wird, kann sie nicht befriedigend erklären: "Divine retribution for Greek misdeeds in and after the Trojan War was not his main topic, but a demonstration of the inevitability of divine retribution for the transgressions of non-Greek monarchs" (S. 155). Ebenso macht ihrer Meinung nach das Motiv der Gastfreundschaft die Geschichte von Kroisos, Adrastos und Atys zu einem Paradigma für die Perserkriege (S. 165), doch leuchten nicht alle angeführten Parallelen ein, etwa, daß Paris, Kroisos und Xerxes dasselbe Überlegenheitsgefühl, vor der göttlichen Strafe immun zu sein, besitzen.

Die Tatsache, daß sich bei Herodot die Geschichte des Melampus, mit der als Analogon die Erpressung des Sehers Teisamenos erklärt wird (Hdt. 9,34), grundlegend von derjenigen der Odyssee oder Pindars unterscheidet, ist für V.J. Gray ("Herodotus on Melampus", S. 167-191) ein Indiz dafür, daß Herodot wie ein Dichter diese Figur gemäß seinen schriftstellerischen Absichten geformt hat (S. 178). Zusätzlich wird Melampus als Kulturbringer ("cultural hero") eingeführt, wodurch Herodot den Mythos um neue Elemente bereichert.

R. Vignolo Munson ("Herodotus and the Heroic Age: The Case of Minos", S. 195-212), die glaubt, daß Herodot die Epoche vor dem Troianischen Krieg als teilweise eigengesetzliche Zeit betrachte, analysiert die Figur des Minos, der im 5. Jh. zu rhetorischen und ideologischen Zwecken als Vorläufer des attischen Seereichs gesehen wurde (etwa Thuk. 1,8). Zwar erwähnt ihn Herodot (3,122,2 und 1,171ff.), macht ihn aber im Gegensatz zu Thukydides nicht zum ersten Thalassokrator, sondern wählt dazu Polykrates, der für ihn ein besser dokumentiertes Beispiel ist.

C.C. Chiasson ("Myth and Truth in Herodotus' Cyrus Logos", S. 213-232) untersucht die Kyros-Sage, die Herodot mit Hilfe von vor allem aus der Tragödie bekannten Mustern (die Aussetzung, die Rettung durch den Hirten wie bei Oidipus, die Anagnorisis und das Atreusmahl) für ein griechisches Publikum verständlich gemacht habe (S. 214), wobei er sich nicht entscheiden kann, ob Herodot oder seine Quelle die Geschichte so gestaltet hat (S. 222).

R. Thomas ("Herodotus and Eastern Myths and Logoi: Deioces the Mede and Pythius the Lydian", S. 233-253) glaubt im Einklang mit der altorientalistischen Forschung, daß es sich bei der Tötung von Pythios' Sohn (Hdt. 7,39,3) in Wirklichkeit um ein apotropäisches Reinigungs-Ritual handelt, das von einer griechischen Zwischenquelle falsch interpretiert und von Herodot neu gedeutet worden sei (S. 242f.). Dasselbe gilt für die Geschichte des Deiokes, die einem zeitgenössischen (sophistischen) Lehrstück über die Gründung einer Tyrannis gleicht; doch schließt sie nicht aus, daß Herodot oder seine Quelle eine orientalische Tradition übernommen und gemäß einem griechischen Modell gedeutet habe (S. 251). Ebenso nimmt P. Vannicelli ("The Mythical Origins of the Medes and the Persians", S. 255-268) an, daß Herodot orientalische Traditionen über den Ursprung der Meder und Perser (etwa der Achaimeniden) mit Versionen aus dem griechischen Mythos (z.B. Medea, Perseus) in Einklang zu bringen versucht habe.

Gemäß A.M. Bowie ("Mythology and the Expedition of Xerxes", S. 269-286) betrachtet Herodot in mancherlei Hinsicht den Xerxesfeldzug als "a reprise of the Trojan War and Homer's account of it" (S. 271), was an Hand verschiedener Beispiele illustriert wird: Während Xerxes' Niederlage mit derjenigen der Troianer verglichen wird, sieht Bowie auch im Motiv der wegen der Expedition versiegenden Flüsse wie des Skamandros (Hdt. 7,43,1) eine Parallele zu Il. 21,130ff., wo Achilleus im Kampf diesen zum Stillstand bringt: beide Figuren drohen einer Gottheit bzw. begehen einen Frevel und scheitern später (S. 275f.). Ebenso lasse die kurze Erwähnung der Thetis (Hdt. 7,191,2) beim Sturm bei Sepias wie bei Homer auf einen göttlichen Eingriff schließen (S. 277). Richtig ist die Beobachtung, daß beim Gebrauch mythologischer Exempel durch die griechischen Akteure im Werk (S. 278) nicht einmal der Troia-Mythos panhellenische Einheit, sondern nur Zwietracht stiftet (so untermauern etwa die Athener ihre panhellenische Einstellung nicht mit mythischen Beispielen [Hdt. 8,144]).

E. Baragwanath ("Returning to Troy: Herodotus and the Mythic Discourse of his Own Time", S. 287-312) untersucht schließlich die Verwendung mythischer Diskurse in den letzten Büchern. Für sie wird etwa Mardonios im Xerxesfeldzug durch den Gebrauch mythischer Kategorien und Paradigmen, die sowohl textimmanent als auch intertextuell (Homer, Aischylos) wirksam sind, charakterisiert (S. 288). Es ist sicherlich richtig, daß Mardonios sich bisweilen wie ein epischer Held gebärdet und als solcher in Plataiai fällt. Ob man aber schon in Mardonios' Beschreibung Europas (Hdt. 7,5,3 und 7,9,1) "mythic images" oder in Artabanos' Gebrauch des Nostos-Motivs ein "negative mythic exemplum" (S. 296) erkennen kann, ist fraglich, ebenso, ob mit der Angabe, daß die zweite Eroberung Athens (Hdt. 9,3,2) zehn Monate nach der ersten erfolgte, ein intertextueller Bezug zum 10-jährigen Troianischen Krieg gemacht wird (S. 304). Ebenfalls stellt die mit ἵμερος ausgedrückte irrationale Motivation des Mardonios (Hdt, 9,3,1) kaum einen Bezug zum Mythos dar, sondern ist wohl eher Ausdruck einer zeitgenössischen (sophistischen) Affektenlehre.

Ein Verzeichnis der zitierten Sekundärliteratur, ein Stellen- und ein allgemeiner Sachindex schließen den sehr sorgfältig gestalteten Band, der kaum Druckfehler aufweist, (S. 313-370) ab.3

Der in diesem Buch gewählte Ansatz rückt zu Recht anstelle der bisher oft kontrovers und ergebnislos diskutierten Quellenfrage den Gestaltungswillen Herodots als Erzähler in den Vordergrund, auch wenn die Frage, wie sehr er von seinen Quellen beeinflußt worden ist, dadurch nicht geklärt wird (etwa in Bezug auf Figuren wie Proteus [S. 112], Melampus [S. 178] oder Pythios [S. 242]). Es ist durchaus plausibel, daß mythische patterns dazu dienen, "to weave new and exotic material that might otherwise not have been accessible to Greek understanding into the fabric of traditional Greek ways of looking at the past" (S. 61) und "to make non-Greek events meaningful to a Greek audience, to enhance their importance and emotional impact through association with the primeval age of Greek heroes" (S. 232). Wie im einzelnen gezeigt, überzeugen indessen nicht alle angeführten Beispiele, zumal viele vermeintlich mythische Handlungsmuster auch mit der historischen Realität übereinstimmen können – irrationale Impulse oder das Rachegefühl sind, wie die historische Erfahrung lehrt, wirksame Faktoren menschlichen Handelns. Daß etwa Kyros' Motivation vor dem Massagetenfeldzug (Hdt. 1,204) 'mythisch' sei (als Mythos der eigenen Unbesiegbarkeit, S. 74 und 227ff.), überzeugt nicht, sondern paßt zu dem von Herodot bei allen Mächtigen beobachteten Muster, daß nach dem Höhepunkt unweigerlich durch Hoch- bzw. Übermut der eigene Fall folgt. Baragwanath hat Recht, wenn sie hinweist auf "the elusive nature of intertextuality, which has an ever-amplifying potential to provoke associations in readers. This potential is in large part out of the historian's control" (S. 310); doch müßten dazu die primären Rezipienten des Werks genauer betrachtet werden, was aber im vorliegenden Band nicht geschieht. Die Tatsache sodann, daß sich Herodot meistens von solchen Geschichten (oft ironisch) distanziert, indem er andere Figuren oder Gruppen als Fokalisatoren auftreten läßt, müßte jeweils noch stärker berücksichtigt werden. Schließlich kann die auf den Mythos beschränkte Sicht dazu führen, ein einseitiges Bild Herodots zu entwerfen und Aspekte, die ihn in die Nähe der ionischen Naturwissenschaften und der Philosophie rücken, zu vernachlässigen.

Abgesehen von diesen Kritikpunkten geben die vorliegenden Aufsätze paradigmatisch Einblicke in eine interessante, bisher zu wenig behandelte Thematik und stimulieren den Leser zu weiteren Überlegungen. Auf der Grundlage der hier vorgestellten Ergebnisse wäre eine Monographie, welche die Rolle der mythischen patterns im Zusammen- und Widerspiel mit anderen, vom Historiker eingesetzten (politischen, anthropologischen, philosophischen) Deutungsmustern im Gesamtwerk analysiert und gewichtet, sehr willkommen.


1.   So G.S. Kirk, The Nature Greek Myths, Harmondsworth 1974 und R.G.A. Buxton, Imaginary Greece. The Contexts of Mythology, Cambridge; New York; Melburne 1994. Zu wenig wird jedoch auf die Problematik, daß sich die modernen Ansätze teilweise widersprechen, eingegangen, vgl. dazu den Überblick bei E. Csapo, Theories of Mythology, Malden (MA) 2005.
2.   Vgl. auch C. Scardino, Die Rolle der Reden in Herodots Erzählung des Skythenfeldzugs, in: Dennis Pausch (Hg.): Stimmen der Geschichte. Funktion von Reden in der antiken Historiographie, Berlin; New York 2010, 17-43.
3.   S. 128 'zusammengestellt' statt 'zugestellt' und S. 132, Anm. 20 'vordersten' statt 'vordesten'.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Carl P. E. Springer, Sedulius, The Paschal Song and Hymns. Writings from the Greco-Roman world, 35. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013. Pp. xliii, 279. ISBN 9781589837430. $36.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Roberto Mori, Università degli Studi di Milano​ (

Version at BMCR home site

After an important work about the Paschale Carmen and a book analysing Sedulius's manuscripts,1 both addressed to scholars, Carl Springer has written a new mainstream volume about this Late Latin author. The book begins with an introduction dealing with the poet and his works, some observations on the texts and translation, and a critical analysis of Sedulian poetics. The book comprises the Latin text of Sedulius's Paschale Carmen and two hymns, along with the first complete translation into English, accompanied by notes on items of linguistic, historical and literary interest, very useful for non-specialists. In addition, there are three appendices: a) Sedulius's letters to Macedonius; b) excerpts from the Paschale opus; c) miscellaneous poems connected with Sedulius found in manuscripts and early printed editions, i.e. the song of Turcius Rufus Asterius, verses of Liberatus, and some epigrams. All have been translated into English. An ample and updated bibliography, especially for secondary literature about Sedulius, precedes the index of biblical references and the index of names cited in the notes.

For the Latin text Springer accepts Huemer's critical edition of Sedulius's works,2 with few alterations. He does not intend to present here a new critical edition of Sedulius's works: there is no apparatus, and the revisions to Huemer's text are few in number.3The differences largely concern orthographical regularization and punctuation (more than 180 changes), which often make the text clearer, especially in the definition of direct speeches. The reader will also find the same paragraph divisions (except in Pasch. Carm. III 152 and III 332) and book partitions.

Springer's aim is to offer the first complete English translation of the Paschal song and hymns. The translation, in fluent modern English, is quite faithful to the original, so that it is easy to compare the translation with the original text.4

At the end of each book of the Paschal Song or hymn, Springer includes some notes. In this commentary section, among a substantial amount of information suitable for non-specialists (i.e. the explication of some names, such as Cecrops on p. 25), the author explains his choices in matters of translation, often in comparison with previous solutions. In the same section the reader will find more detailed information about lectiones of the manuscript tradition and conjectural emendations of the text.5 The author always considers the scriptural source followed by Sedulius in paraphrasing each episode and cites precise biblical references which could have influenced the poet. Further, the author ponders in the notes the relationship between the Vulgate and the so-called Vetus Latina as basis of Sedulius's works. For more details he offers specific bibliography.

Springer's also considers some passages of previous pagan and Christian Latin poets that could be formal models for Sedulius. As the author says in the introduction, expressions borrowed from Virgil, Ovid, Lucan, Juvencus and others are quoted only in the case of possible deliberate allusions to these poets. Since Sedulius introduces in his texts biblical interpretations developed by the Fathers, Springer analyses in his notes this feature as well, often by referring to specialised commentaries and studies because of the complexity of the problem. For the most intricate theological issues, he suggests consulting specific works cited in the bibliography.6

The reader will find all these features in a commentary that pays constant attention to stylistic and rhetoric structures and tries to illuminate some poetical images and the historical background, while including commendable references to paintings, mosaic representations, inscriptions, and sculptures going back to early Christian art.

In Appendix A, Springer presents the text and the translation of the two letters to Macedonius that precede the Paschale Carmen in the manuscript tradition. These letters are very important because they help the modern reader understand the historical context and show that Sedulius was completely aware of what he was doing in selecting and paraphrasing the episodes of the Bible, and its import. The footnotes may not be enough to clarify such important aspects: a commentary similar to the notes following the books of the Paschal song might have been more useful, especially for non-specialists. Appendix B is dedicated to two passages of the Paschale opus reported in Springer's translation, the Nativity and the raising of Lazarus. In this case too, some notes would have helped the reader in analysing the differences between the poetry and the difficult style of this prose. Appendix C is a sort of evidence for Sedulius's fortune, even soon after his death.

Springer's book is a rich and valuable work: the clear and concise introduction, the Latin text with a precise translation, the notes that cover almost all the aspects of Sedulius's works, the very complete and useful bibliography, the indices at the end of the volume are all elements suggesting that this work will become the scholarly point of departure in approaching Sedulius and his poems.


1.   Springer, Carl, The Gospel as Epic in Late Antiquity: The Paschale Carmen of Sedulius, Leiden 1988; id., The Manuscripts of Sedulius: A Provisional Handlist, Philadelphia 1995. See also his work about the hymn A solis ortus cardine cited in the bibliography.
2.   Huemer, Johann, Sedulii Opera omnia, Vindobonae 1885.
3.   Revisions include Pasch. carm. I 74 rabida instead of rapida; I 281 tales potius instead of potius tales; I 310 assolet, not adforet; II 284 ducet, not ducit; III ala instead of mala; IV 240 proprio instead of proprie; V 6 ista, not istac.
4.   The author knows the previous translations – into English or other modern languages – of Sedulian passages that appear in more general monographs about this poet or the biblical epos; however, he has not consulted Wójtowicz's translation into Polish, as he notes in the introduction on page xxvii.
5.   Springer's discussion about each point is very interesting. That said, a short list of those lines in which he does not follow Huemer's edition, printed before the Latin text at the end of the introduction, would have offered a useful guide at the outset.
6.   There are several commentaries cited in the notes. Springer refers to them for some peculiar problems or when he does not agree with their authors. Among these, we mention the medieval commentary of Remigius of Auxerre, whose portions are printed in Huemer's edition, and the modern works of Scheps, Mazzega, van der Laan and Deerberg. ​

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Heinz-Günther Nesselrath, Florian Wilk (ed.), Gut und Böse in Mensch und Welt: philosophische und religiöse Konzeptionen vom Alten Orient bis zum frühen Islam. Orientalische Religionen in der Antike, 10. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013. Pp. viii, 340. ISBN 9783161525742. €89.00.

Reviewed by Ilaria L.E. Ramelli, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Milan (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed at the end of the review.]

This interesting volume results from a symposium held at Göttingen University in 2010. Most of the papers presented there have been published in this volume; the Editors in the Vorwort detail that two further chapters, by Therese Fuhrer and Martin Tamcke, were commissioned independently of their presentation at the symposium, in order to bridge the gap between late antiquity and Islam. Beyond this, the scope of the topic is so broad that the Editors, understandably enough, have not really articulated a rationale for bringing these specific papers together, besides their delivery at the symposium and their dealing with the issue of good and evil from the ancient East to early Islam.

Schipper shows how the concepts of good and evil are omnipresent in ancient Egyptian literature, where they have not only an ethical, but also a cosmological significance. Good functions specifically as a principle of order, while evil stands for disorder and chaos. This was symbolised by Seth in late Egyptian theology and mythology. The feminine principle Ma'at, on the contrary, represented the good order in the world. Remarkably, according to Schipper's analysis, in ancient Egyptian texts evil would not disappear, but could only be defeated temporarily. In later times, Egyptian Christians such as Origen of Alexandria would make the utter vanquishing of evil a pillar of their eschatology.

Mittermeyer examines Mesopotamian myths and draws a distinction between Sumerian and Akkadian myths. The former present instances of both good and bad deeds on the part of humans; the latter, especially the most recent ones, tend to feature humans who act badly and entertain a negative relation with the deities.

Good and evil in Zoroastrianism is the topic chosen by Kreyenbroek: in this dualistic religion, good and evil are opposites as antithetical principles on a par with one another. As Kreyenbroek shows, however, the picture is not so straightforward. Absolute dualism is a characteristic of later, not earlier, forms of Zoroastrianism. Here, Good and Evil are eternal principles on an equal footing with one another. Evil must be rendered powerless at the end of time, and humans can contribute to this during history. Kreyenbroek analyses both earlier texts, such as the Gathas, and the later version of the creation myth, which arose in Middle Persian times and is preserved in the Greater Bundahišn. This was written down in the ninth/tenth century CE, but the myth itself is earlier: it was previously transmitted orally and seems to date back to the Sasanian age (third to seventh cent.). This myth bears significant similarities to Bardaisan of Edessa's († 222 CE) creation myth, though Bardaisan was a monist, since he did not deem evil a principle on a par with God,1 while the Zoroastrian myth in question is dualist. At any rate, a possible influence of Bardaisan on this myth is not to be ruled out. According to the Middle Persian Zoroastrian myth, in the beginning Ohrmazd, the good God, was on high, in light, and Ahriman, the evil principle, below, in darkness. Likewise the initial situation depicted by Bardaisan in the "cosmological traditions" is that God was above all, and darkness-evil below, under all. In the Persian myth, Ohrmazd created good creatures, and Ahriman evil creatures; these then got mixed. Bardaisan too spoke of the present state of the world as a state of mixture, though not between good and bad creatures —since all creatures are creatures of God and are all good—but between good creatures and evil, which is now among them, but will be annihilated in the end (Bardaisan seems to have been the first supporter of universal apokatastasis or restoration). The eventual overcoming of Evil is also a feature of the Middle Persian myth, which calls this "Renovation," a notion close to apokatastasis. Bardaisan at the end of the Book of the Laws of Countries spoke of the constitution of a "new world" in which evil will have no part. This, from Bardaisan's Christian viewpoint, will be the result of the work of Christ, the Saviour born from a virgin. Likewise for the Middle Persian myth the Renovation begins with the appearance of a Saviour born from a virgin. The Saviour will bring about the resurrection of the dead, and the Judgment will purify humans from sin: these are further elements of contact with the Christian theory represented by Bardaisan. I believe that the possibility of some influence of Bardaisan's ideas on this phase of Zoroastrianism deserves further investigation.

Blümer deals with ancient Greek poets, Hesiod and Homer, to determine whether the choice between good and evil, as represented by them, depends on human agents or divinities. The human factor in decisions is more prominent in Hesiod's Works and Days than in his Theogony. In Homer, human decision-making is evident in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, especially in the case of Iliadic heroes such as Sarpedon, Agamemnon, and Hector. Odysseus himself could be taken as an example. He is certainly guided by the gods, such as Athena, but his decision-making is no less emphasised than his cleverness and versatility, and is related to them.

Schmid concerns himself with the Old Testament, in particular late wisdom literature and extra-canonical and apocalyptic literature. Texts such as those in which God is said to give humans a new heart may be disconcerting, as they seem to detract from human responsibility; I will just note that later Christian exegetes read in such passages references to God's grace, which most of them, such as Origen and Nyssen, considered fully compatible with human freewill. As one would expect, a strong eschatological orientation is detected by Schmid in apocalyptic texts: the good will overcome in the end. This orientation is also found in the NT Apocalypse of John, which belongs to the same genre.

Dimant studies the opposition between the forces of Light (the realm of Truth) and those of Darkness (the realm of iniquity) in the texts found at Qumran and arguably composed by the sect that inhabited the site. The forces of Light are good, those of Darkness evil, and each "army" is led by an angel, respectively the Archangel of Light and the Angel of Darkness, also named Belial (Treatise of the Two Spirits, a part of the Community Rule). Dimant programmatically considers the sectarian literature "an essentially homogeneous corpus, in which various compositions are mutually explanatory" (106). In this literature, and especially in the Treatise, the world is seen as contaminated by wickedness, but in the end—which the members of the sect, like Saul/Paul, tended to see as imminent —the world will be purified from it (1QS IV 21). The triumph of the forces of Light is assured by God's support. Paul's Letter to the Romans is in the focus of Dochhorn's essay. He provides a detailed analysis of the Greek terms that mean "evil" therein, and highlights that Paul in this epistle attributes a bad behaviour to all humans, Jews and gentiles. However, Paul does so in order to stress that all humans are in need of God's mercy, and will receive it.

In a dense, engaging essay Volp considers the question of good and evil in the creation doctrine in early Christianity. Given his engagement also with "pagan" philosophical literature concerning protology, it might have been advisable to cite and deal at least with Charlotte Köckert, Christliche Kosmologie und kaiserzeitliche Philosophie, Tübingen 2009, which focuses on the doctrine of creation, while Paul Blowers' Drama of the Divine Economy (Oxford 2012) should now also be consulted, although it deals less with "pagan" thinking. Volp begins with the doctrine of creation as expressed in Paul's Areopagus speech, where God appears as the Creator and Judge of the world. Volp treats briefly the emergence of the creatio ex nihilo doctrine in Christianity, embracing May's view that it appeared as an antithesis to the Greek worldview. There were, however, Christians who did not embrace this theory, even as late as Calcidius. Volp then moves on to the Celsus–Origen debate, Macarius' Apocriticus/Monogenes, and Augustine. Celsus supported the eternity of matter and denied any progress in the world, while Origen upheld both the creation of matter by God and a progress that leads to the eventual apokatastasis, when all evil will vanish: God will bring about the διόρθωσις of the world (Cels. 4.69). Interestingly, Macarius too seems to embrace ἀποκατάστασις πάντων. For Augustine, I would just add that the ontological description of malum as privatio boni and the whole metaphysics of evil in his anti-Manichaean phase—when Augustine even adhered to universal apokatastasis— arguably derives from Origen.2

Stein tackles the issue of good and evil in a dualistic religion, Manichaeism—in this respect an offspring of Zoroastrianism. Humanity is seen as a byproduct of the opposition between the Kingdom of Light (Good) and the Kingdom of Darkness (Evil). Every human must assist in liberating particles of light from darkness-evil-matter and thereby contribute to the separation of light from darkness, which will be fully achieved only at the end of times. The eschatological perspective is here ostensibly different from the Christian, where evil is not to be separated from good, but radically eliminated. This view was emphasised by thinkers such as Origen, Nyssen, Maximus the Confessor, and Eriugena.3 Fuhrer concentrates on the notion of sin (peccatum) in Augustine, in what she depicts as a pessimistic anthropology. While in the beginning humanity was still able to avoid sin (posse et peccare et non peccare), after the original sin it cannot (non posse non peccare). Only in heaven, the few who will be worthy of it—Augustine later rejected apokatastasis—will be free from sin: non posse peccare.

Neuwirth passes on to the Islamic world and examines the notion of evil in the Quran. She is rightly attentive to recent text criticism concerning the various stages of this text's development, to which different representations of evil correspond. A substantial essay by Ulrika Mårtensson is particularly relevant to this,4 and in part builds on Neuwirth's own past scholarship.

Finally, Martin Tamcke deals with late Syriac biographies of saints to uncover their representation of the conflict between good and evil. The biography of the Katholikos (Patriarch of Seleucia-Ctesiphon) Isho'yahb III is especially interesting. It stems from the early Islamic times, and its author, a Christian, polemicised with the Islamic description of Jesus as a mere prophet, against the Christian identification of Jesus as God's Son. Isho'yahb is depicted in this Vita as imitating Christ, and all believers are invited to do the same. Thus they will be able to defeat the forces of evil, which tempt people into sin and bodily pleasures.

This is a fascinating—though necessarily far from exhaustive—trip through different ancient cultures following the red thread of good and evil in dualistic or non dualistic worldviews.

Table of Contents

Heinz-Günther Nesselrath – Florian Wilk, "Einleitung"
Berns Schipper, "Gut und Böse im alten Ägypten"
Katherine Mittermayer, "Gut und Böse. Anforderungen an menschliches Handeln im Beziehungsgefüge zwischen Göttern und Menschen in den mesopotamischen Mythen"
Philip Kreyenbroek, "Good and Evil in Zoroastrianism"
Wilhelm Blümer, "Gutes und Böses aus Götterhand? Zum Verhältnis von Selbstbestimmung und Fremdbestimmung des Menschen in der frühgriechischen Dichtung"
Konrad Schmid, "Genealogien der Moral. Prozesse fortschreitender ethischer Qualifizierung von Mensch und Welt im Alten Testament"
Devorah Dimant, "The Demonic Realm in Qumran Sectarian Literature"
Jan Dochhorn, "Das Böse und Gott im Römerbrief—eine Skizze"
Ulrich Volp, "Der Schöpfergott und die Ambivalenzen seiner Welt. Das Bild vom Schöpfergott als ethisches Leitbild im frühen Christentum in seiner Auseinandersetzung mit der philosophischen Kritik"
Markus Stein, "Der Dualismus bei den Manichäern und der freie Wille"
Therese Fuhrer, "Kann der Mensch ohne Fehler sein? Augustin über die 'Sünde'"
Angelica Neuwirth, "Die Entdeckung des Bösen im Koran. Überlegungen zu den koranischen Versionen des Dekalogs"
Martin Tamcke, "'Das reine Leben des Glaubens will ich nach deinem Vorbild erwerben'. Der Kampf um das Gute und wider das Böse nach einer ostsyrischen Heiligenlegende


1.   See I. Ramelli, Bardaisan of Edessa, Piscataway 2009.
2.   Argument in I. Ramelli, "Origen and Augustine," Numen 60 (2013) 280-307.
3.   See I. Ramelli, The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis, Leiden 2013.
4.   U. Mårtensson, "'The persuasive proof': a study of Aristotle's Politics and Rhetoric in the Quran and in al-Tabarı's commentary," Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and the Islam 34 (2008) 363-420. See also S.J. Shoemaker, "Muhammad and the Quran," in S. Johnson (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Late Antiquity, Oxford 2012, 1078- 1108.

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Barbara Demandt, Die Wohltaten der Götter: König Eumenes II. und die Figuren am großen Fries des Pergamonaltars verrätselt - enträtselt. Darmstadt: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 2013. Pp. 144. ISBN 9783805345996. €24.99.

Reviewed by Martin Schwemmer, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

In the small volume under review here, Barbara Demandt, a historian who has previously published in the field of medieval history and co-edited a compilation of Theodor Mommsen's lectures, attempts to decode the supposedly shrewdly encoded figures of the Great Frieze of the Altar of Pergamon – hence the conceptual duality of the subtitle: "verrätselt" (encoded) – "enträtselt" (decoded).1 In 12 consecutive paragraphs that form the core of her book Demandt identifies most of the military adversaries of Eumenes II in one of the beaten figures of the Gigantomachy. In addition, she revives the notion that some of the fallen, naked warriors without weapons are meant to be Gauls.

Chapter I provides a list of six historical events ("historische Stränge", p. 10) that are deemed to be relevant for the construction of the Great Altar (pp. 9–10). Chapter II and III offer a family tree of the Attalids (p. 11) and a list of the Diadochs and their respective territory (pp. 12–13). Chapters IV and V discuss the historical background of the Attalid dynasty (pp. 15–27; pp. 28–74). In Chapter V.6 Demandt formulates her main hypothesis that Eumenes II – with his brother Attalos and the artist Phyromachos – conspired to encode his military opponents into the Gigantomachy. In Chapter VI, accordingly, Demandt decodes the king's military adversaries (pp. 75–129). The book concludes with a very brief discussion on the date of the Great Altar (p. 130), an Epilogue (p. 131), a two-page statement on the status quo of the research on the figures of the Great Frieze (p. 133–134), and a short history of its reception in modern art (pp. 135–137).

In her Preface (p. 7–8) Demandt describes previous approaches (none are mentioned explicitly, however) to be deficient, inasmuch as they paid less attention to historical evidence and the personal motivations of Eumenes II (and Attalos) to commission the Altar (p. 7). The impression, however, that the book is intended to be read in an academic environment (and not primarily by laymen) is somewhat distorted by the absence of footnotes, the slim bibliography (which misses important contributions) and the heavily curtailed treatment of essential aspects such as the date of the commencement of the Altar.

Demandt takes the cue for her study from the fragmentary votive inscription of the Great Altar (p. 7–8). The inscription mentions ..ΣΑΓΑΘ(ΟΙΣ), "benefactions", and she infers that Eumenes II must have decided to commission the Great Altar with the sole purpose of thanking the Gods for the benefactions received in the bellicose years from roughly 197 to 166 BC (Hypothesis 1; pp. 7, 9–10). After 166 BC (Hypothesis 2; p. 130), the Pergamene king recruited the Athenian artist Phyromachos (Hypothesis 3) and with him – and in accord with his brother Attalos – proposed to encode his military adversaries into a Gigantomachy (Hypothesis 4; pp. 62–63). What prompted this decision was that an unmistakable and straightforward depiction might have provoked the anger of the descendants and successors of the beaten and deceased opponents – at least in some cases (Hypothesis 5; p. 63). In addition, the witty trio decided to encode the Gauls into the Frieze, but were eager to cover their tracks here as well (Hypothesis 6; pp. 63–64). Phyromachos did not even hesitate to give names to the Titans and Giants – just to make sure no one would decipher their intentions (Hypothesis 7; p. 64). Only Eumenes, Attalos, and Phyromachos knew about the encoded figures (Hypothesis 8; p. 65).

The following remarks selectively summarize Demandt's decodings, i.e. identifications. To make things more comprehensible to the interested reader of this review I have referenced the appendix of Sebastian Prignitz's Der Pergamonaltar und die pergamenischen Gelehrtenschule. Prignitz conveniently included a fold-out overview of the figures of the Great Frieze.2 Reference to his appendix is given by the numbers N 18, O 20, W 10, S 11, etc. In addition, I included the references to Demandt's figures by indicating their respective page.

Nabis, king of Sparta, is fighting his adversary Alexamenos, strategos of the Aitolians; they are encoded in the figures N 18 and N 16 respectively; N 17 is identified as a dying Gaul (p. 80). Antiochos III is struck down by Zeus with a lighting-bolt: the Seleucid king O 20 pleads for his life, but Zeus O 21 has already shifted his attention to the Giant Porphyrion O 24. Hannibal N 20 tries to defend himself against Klotho/Nyx N 19, but will shortly be hit in the face by a vessel wrapped in snakes: resistance is futile (p. 97). Prusias I, still standing upright, but stripped of his armor N 13, is a close witness to Hannibal's fate (p. 99). Pharnakes I of Pontos W 12 is overpowered by Okeanos W 10 in the West Frieze (p. 109). Antiochos IV Epiphanes O 3 is engaging Artemis O 6 (p. 109). Theia S 11 charges against a helmeted, naked warrior, "who must, thus, be a dead king" – namely Philip V. (p. 112). The Makedonian king Perseus O 16, who was behind the assassination attempt, and his half-brother Demetrios O 17 are run over by Hera in a quadriga O 15 (p. 120).

Demandt's identifications remain conjectural: she does not offer any authoritative evidence for what she tells her reader and erects an edifice of non-corroborated hypotheses that build on each other. In addition, she presents her narrative in the manner of a suggestive eye-witness account. Demandt, to give just one example, conceives multiple conversations between Eumenes II and Phyromachos ("Natürlich wird es viele Gespräche zwischen Eumenes und dem Athener [Phyromachos] gegeben haben.", p. 62.) in which the Pergamene king narrated the events of his life to the artist, who then suggests to adapt everything into the Frieze (p. 62–63). Simply put, Demandt, in the paragraphs that are crucial to her argument, leaves her role as a historian and becomes a narrator of events and circumstances that can not be validated in the historical and archaeological evidence. At the same time, and precisely because of the absence of any substantial evidence, Demandt's main argument is beyond reproach and not falsifiable. Her approach and results are arbitrary, not liable so to say, and one suspects Demandt found (illusive) comfort in the fact that no one will be able to prove to her that it might not have been how she conceived of it. To that effect, it is symptomatic, and a serious matter at that, that Demandt makes no effort to discuss the arguments brought forth by previous scholars against the possibility of identifying historical figures in the Great Frieze.3

Despite this verdict, I shall offer some remarks on Demandt's approach to and use of images. Coins bearing portraits of some of the adversaries identified in the Frieze, except for Hannibal (see below) and Philip V, are shown at the beginning of the respective chapters, but Demandt makes no effort to point out physiognomic similarities (and one wonders why these images are chosen at all). In Phyromachos' scheme, of course, physiognomic likenesses of the adversaries artistically drawn from known portraits would have been damaging to the intention not to offend any descendants and/or successors. Exceptions, however, could be made in some cases: Hannibal, "who had no successor" (p. 98), was slightly less encoded than the others. As referenced above, Hannibal is struck down by Klotho/Nyx and, is, Demandt deduces, fairly easily recognizable because of his helmet and beard (p. 98). To support her belief, Demandt cites a Renaissance (!) bust from Capua, now in Rome, that is identified without substantial evidence as Hannibal. Her argumentation becomes circular when she – having first used the bust identify Hannibal on the Frieze – concludes that, because of the iconographical features of that same figure on the frieze, the portrait bust must unmistakably be Hannibal. The rest of Demandt's identifications are equally tenuous.

Demandt's book will meet with justified criticism for various reasons. An inattentive approach to previous scholarship and a dismissal of art historical method are the main causes for my assumption that classical art historians both established and on graduate level will find it hard to determine the book's place in and contribution to scholarship. To anyone with scholarly interest in the Great Frieze and its mythological content, I recommend Klaus Junker's balanced treatment.4 Even a cursory reading of his thoughts and references to earlier scholarship will suffice to fully reveal Demandt's disappointing treatment of the archaeological evidence and previous scholarship.

Lastly, if someone needed proof for the old-fashioned notion that interdisciplinary orientation within the Classical Studies, and by extension within the Humanities, is not at all desirable, because attempts to cross the methodological borders of the disciplines involved have been unproductive, Demandt's book provides new evidence. Luckily, an opposing trend prevails in current scholarship. John Ma's new book, Statues and Cities, is a case in point. One of Ma's objectives was to "bridge the gap" among epigraphy, classical art history and archaeology – under the premise that these three disciplines have a lot to teach each other, and that "exploding" bibliographies and intellectually challenging methods are no drawbacks to such an attempt.5 In fact, I would argue, the most positive effects of such a dialogue between disciplines – and one may very well generalize here – are the intellectual discussion of established methods in the respective fields, and the head-on assessment of their Forschungsgeschichte. All this requires us to leave our academic comfort zone and to closely collaborate with other scholars on an interdisciplinary level. More, not less, commitment to this course is what our disciplines require.


1.   Demandt, B. 1966. Die mittelalterliche Kirchenorganisation in Hessen südlich des Mains. Marburg: Elvert; Demandt, A. and B. Demandt, ed. 1992. Theodor Mommsen. Römische Kaisergeschichten: nach den Vorlesungsmitschriften von Sebastian und Paul Hensel von 1882/86. München: Verlag C. H. Beck.
2.   Prignitz, S. 2008. Der Pergamonaltar und die pergamenischen Gelehrtenschule. Berlin: Verlag Willmuth Arenhövel.
3.   see, most conveniently, Junker, K. 2003. "Meerwesen in Pergamon. Zur Deutung des Großen Frieses", IstMitt 53, 2003, 428–433.
4.   see footnote #3 above.
5.   Ma, J. 2013. Statues and Cities. Honorific Portraits and Civic Identity in the Hellenistic World. Oxford: Oxford University Press. See the author's Preface for the quotations given here; especially p. vii.

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