Sunday, August 31, 2014


Luis Ballesteros Pastor, Pompeyo Trogo, Justino y Mitrídates: Comentario al Epítome de las Historias Filípicas (37,1,6 - 38,8,1). Spudasmata, Bd 154. Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 2013. Pp. 368. ISBN 9783487150703. €58.00 (pb).

Reviewed by David Braund, University of Exeter

Version at BMCR home site

Mithridates VI Eupator continues to fascinate and to generate publications of differing quality. This book is among the best to appear in recent decades,
as will be no great surprise to those who follow Mithridatic matters closely. For Ballesteros Pastor has already given us a fine biography of the king (Granada, 1996) and a string of valuable articles about aspects of his reign. All that work has been characterized not only by the close attention
to sources that is basic to ancient history, but also by a desire to understand and appreciate the larger concerns of the ancient authors whose works he seeks to use. Now, in the book under review, we have much of the fruit of this sustained attention to ancient writing about Mithridates,
centred upon Justin’s summary version of historical writing about Mithridates and his time that is ascribed to Trogus.

In terms of structure, the book is familiar and conservative. A short preface is followed by an extended introduction, Justin’s Latin text (a large slice of Books 37 and 38) and a detailed commentary (of a broadly historical nature), keyed to that text. The book closes with an enormous
bibliography and useful indices of names and selected subjects.

However, this is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The Introduction in particular is extraordinarily broad in scope and rich in detail. In setting the scene for the commentary, its formidable 102 pages offer a coherent vision of the issues at stake by starting with Trogus and Justin and then
leading the reader through a series of attendant topics. From consideration of Armenian and Cappadocian perspectives, we proceed to a valuable discussion of the “prologues” in our text, to the awkward problem of the text’s attitudes to Rome and particular Romans. We are reminded in detail of the
Roman willingness to engage in self-criticism on imperialism and related matters, albeit without threatening the reality of Roman imperialism and often with an eye to damning particular Romans for their supposed deviance from an acceptable imperialist norm. Further, we are given (in all due
caution) an enticing collation of what might be signs of Pontic propaganda in our text along with Sallust’s famous Letter of Mithridates, which might be taken similarly. Then we have a series of knotty chronological problems in connection with Mithridates’ accession, death and more. And
finally a very valuable discussion of Trogus’ influence, as far as it can be traced, in a series of other major authorities on Mithridates, namely Florus, Valerius Maximus, Frontinus, Orosius and Plutarch.

There is a great deal to absorb in this introduction, which is all but a book in its own right. However, the reader is assisted by a very helpful arrangement of topics and array of sub-headings. Indeed, the introduction closes with its own conclusion, recapitulating the outcome of its
wide-ranging discussion. Here we have in a nutshell the main findings of the book, which form the framework for the commentary to follow. There are bold, large hypotheses here, with which this reviewer has a variety of difficulties. However, these hypotheses are grounded in reasoned argument, so
that, even if readers do not feel able to travel all the way with Ballesteros Pastor, they will learn a great deal en route, not least by revisiting assumptions.

The central claims are: 1) Trogus was the author of our text insofar as he adapted a Universal History which had been composed at the court(s) of the rulers of Armenia and Cappadocia. Particular attention is drawn to Tigranes and Archelaus I. In the course of this adaptation, Trogus added
material, particularly as supplied by his elders. Trogus’ work was in turn especially important to Appian and Memnon of Heraclea Pontica. Moreover, (2) Justin has not only abridged Trogus, but has also reworked his text in more fundamental ways (e.g. in his version of Mithridates famous
“harangue”). Justin’s interest (even pride, it is claimed) in Scythians is explained in terms of what Ballesteros Pastor takes to be Justin’s own Scythian identity. By this he means that Justin should be imagined as a citizen of Olbia or another of the cities of the north Black Sea.

Inevitably questions and doubts abound, but one cannot fail to be impressed by Ballesteros Pastor’s ability to pose challenges, asking, for example why Heraclea Pontica gets quite so much attention in our text. Of course, we might prefer to develop arguments along different lines: the
Mithridatic relationship with Scythians, for example, could be seen as enmity or friendship or part of a larger nexus of ideas about culture, civilization and evidence of Mithridatic success. Meanwhile, the Greeks of the northern Black Sea did not usually relish their Scythian connections, still
less take pride in them. Even if we deem Justin to have been himself a Scythian in some sense (and there is no pressing cause to do so), that would be the beginning of our exploration of his concern with Scythians, not the end of the matter. There is also the larger issue of “ethnographic
material” in the text as a whole, from which Scythians cannot be wholly divorced and with which Ballesteros Pastor does not much engage. However, no matter how we choose to proceed, it is useful to ask the question that arises from Ballesteros Pastor’s observation of Scythian prominence in the
text, not to mention the many oddities in its representation of Scythian history. While Ballesteros Pastor is not one for polemics, the great virtues of his work in general and of this book perhaps most clearly are his unwillingness to accept received wisdom uncritically and his own creative
freedom of thought to good purpose. The subsequent commentary is of great value even if one does not follow the author in his larger arguments of the Introduction. We find throughout the commentary a wealth of learned discussion of matters arising from the text, with detailed ancient sources and
up-to-date modern scholarship. All this is done very concisely.

In sum this bold book sheds a great deal of light, while it will probably also generate a certain amount of heat in debate. In either case, such sustained and well-informed attention to this important and tricky text can only be a very good thing. Meanwhile, the learned commentary makes this
book a must for all who seek to use this text with historical or historiographical intent. It is to be hoped that the fact that this fine book has been published in Spanish will not deter too many readers.

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Johann P. Arnason, Kurt A. Raaflaub, Peter Wagner (ed.), The Greek Polis and the Invention of Democracy: A Politico-Cultural Transformation and its Interpretations. The Ancient World: Comparative Histories. Malden, MA; Oxford; Chichester: Wiley–Blackwell, 2013. Pp. x, 400. ISBN
9781444351064. $139.95.

Reviewed by Alexandra Lianeri, University of Thessaloniki (

Version at BMCR home site


This sophisticated volume engages with a constantly reinvented meaning of democracy by means of a complex return to the walls of Athens. On one level, it re-examines Athens from the viewpoint of the relation between democracy and the wider frame of the polis society. It thus explores
concepts, commitments and practices of the polis that encountered dēmokratia and reshaped it by means of opposition and dissent. On the other hand, it returns to Athens from the broader diachronic scope of modern democracy with the intention of challenging the developmental logic leading
from antiquity to the modern democratic paradigm. As the editors point out, when observers consider ancient Greek democracy as a ‘success’ story, they overlook the fact that democratic practices were contested in the past and stand today as a challenging and problematic project rather than a
triumphant finale to history (2).

This enterprise is organized around four distinct sections. In the first, the authors re-assess the Greek experience of democracy from the broader perspectives of historical-comparative sociology and the history of political thought. Johann Arnason takes on Christian Meier’s question of the
emergence of the political in Greece1 as a distinct version of the Axial breakthrough indicating cultural interaction with Near Eastern centres. Against a background centred on the problems, virtues and possibilities of monarchy, the Greek notion of the political involved the shaping
of a polycentric field of conflicts associated with different patternings in diverse polis-regimes. Peter Wagner also enquires about the Greek concept of the political by exploring the trajectory of ancient and modern democracy in the context of the radical transformation of western political
languages between 1770 and 1830. He argues that our relation to dēmokratia is one of conceptual and institutional transformations manifesting a constant element that sustains the modern return to Athens: a ‘democratic political imaginary’ holding that the people rule themselves, as the
etymology and past usage of the term indicate.

In its second part, the book examines the embeddedness of democracy in the practices of the polis-society through an analysis of genres of expression and interpretation. Egon Flaig explores how tragedy was one of the answers given by Greek intellectuals to the contradiction between collective
will formation and acting on the one hand, and the lack of undisputed normative and moral orientation on the other. The tragic entanglement stating that ‘who acts will suffer’ indicated a connection between ‘doing’ and ‘bearing the consequences’, inviting reflection about the fragility of
normative rules. Comedy is then studied by Lucio Bertelli as a discursive mode of dissent. Unlike other dissenters in Athens, such as Pseudo-Xenophon and Plato, Aristophanes aimed at educating the democratic citizenry and fixing the vices of the people, whose lack of wisdom and learning was not
considered to be an irreparable flaw.

Jonas Grethlein argues against the straightforward relation between historiography and democratic culture by examining the ambiguous attitudes of the first historians towards oratory. He suggests that while Herodotus and Thucydides criticize the speeches both explicitly and implicitly, the
very form of their criticism contains democratic features creating a tension that is parallel to the one between content and form in Plato. Also focusing on rhetoric, Harvey Yunis explores the evolution of its political uses on the basis of two categories: primary political rhetoric composed for
delivery in political or judicial institutions, and literary rhetoric as a written genre that did not aim to affect immediate decision making. The latter genre developed a complex artistic prose deployed by critics of democracy seeking to reshape the readers’ understanding of a historical event
or a domain of knowledge.

The interpretive operation of the Athenian legal system is discussed by Adriaan Lanni as intertwined with democracy through its pervasive ‘amateurism’. It was not only that every player in the system was fundamentally a layman; argumentation in popular courts also reflected democratic
ideology especially as regards the expression of hostility toward expertise. On the grounds of this amateurism, Athenian courts were arguably more successful at maintaining order and promoting political stability than other legal systems. Ryan Balot shifts the discussion to the tension between
ancient Greek political thinking and practice with the aim of exploring within democratic politics certain ideological strands that informed the Socratic, Platonic, and Aristotelian political projects. This enterprise sustains a broader thesis about the dialectical intertwining of political
thought and practice in Athens, which is traced back to Solon and precludes a binary opposition between democratic and anti-democratic discourses. Finally in this section, Elizabeth Meyer focuses on the history of inscriptions in Athens to argue against the easy connection between the epigraphic
habit and the regime of democracy. Inscribing on stone was an act of memorializing and monumentalizing involving diverse cultural habits, such as honor and praise, religious traditions, political institutions and the culture of the city itself.

The third part of the book explores democracy’s impact on the polis society. Sara Forsdyke discusses the uneven ways in which democracy influenced communal life. She suggests that tradition and innovation combined to produce a hybrid society in which the new did not wholly dispel the old and
the existence of sophisticated formal institutions did not preclude the informal participation of women, metics and slaves in the life of the community. Claude Mossé also focuses on democracy’s principle of political participation to highlight the relation between the ambiguity of concepts such
as dēmos, kratos, isonomia, isēgoria, and so on, and the actual historical conditions that framed participatory practice, such as class-divisions and the interdependence between the dēmos and the Athenian political elite.

Robin Osborne examines the relation of democracy and religion. Discussing how religious beliefs and practices made possible a democratic ethos, he contends that “it was in relation to the gods, and not simply in relation to other men, that individuals came to acquire and envisage their
capacities for autonomy.” (292) On the other hand, while religion in Athens cannot be reduced to democracy, its links to certain democratic institutions and practices, such as the number of competitive festivals open to participation by all, made the expression of religion the expression of a
democratic community. Lawrence Tritle shifts attention to the impact of war on democracy and democratic society, discussing the impacts on the Athenian community of changes in military ministry after the Persian wars, the relation between war and democratic decision making, the economy, and the
ways in which the Athenian democracy dealt with the question of casualties and the social consequences of war’s trauma.

The book’s final section examines key concepts of the ancient Greek democratic self-understanding and their transformation between antiquity and the present. Kurt Raaflaub enquires about the historical conditions in the polis that transformed a polis-being into “a truly political being”
(324). Tracing the history of the concepts of equality and the political, he recognizes significant democratizing processes in poleis other than Athens, but contends that the fifth-century Athenian breakthrough was unique as regards the extent and characteristics of political mobilization and
participation of lower class citizens. Tracy Strong explores the interrelation of tyranny, democracy and tragedy via a reading of Nietzsche’s consideration of politics as a form of agōn and of tyranny as the act of considering as accomplished the world that one has made. Tragedy preserved the
agōn by making available the experience of confronting two equally categorical positions and recognizing that disaster comes when one or the other or both insist on being taken as final. In the last essay, Natalie Karagiannis and Peter Wagner discuss the distinction between ancient and modern
liberty. They suggest that a concept of freedom elaborated between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE included an idea of personal freedom which it combined with the democratic idea of collective freedom. This concept can provide important components of a remedy for ‘modern’ freedom both with
regard to the idea of the human being as an atom and the consequences of individual liberty for the sustainability of political society.

The volume is part of the series The Ancient World: Comparative Histories which is intended to pursue the comparative study of ancient or early societies, while occasionally adopting a more diachronic scope (vii). Unlike other volumes in the series, which discuss civilizations from
Asia through the Mediterranean to the Americas, the comparative perspective deployed here is more complex. The frames of comparison utilize the diachronic history of the polis, the long-term history of Athenian democracy, and divisions and differences characterizing Athenian democracy, as well as
the interdisciplinary linking of classics, ancient history, the history of political thought, sociology, and political science. Indeed, with the exception of Arnason’s analysis and the introduction, the book consciously remains within the limits of the European, the Greek, and often the Athenian
world. As the editors explain in the introduction, while they recognize democratic ‘alternatives to Athens’, these do not become the book’s focus (2).

This perspective is not comparative if comparison is understood as a juxtaposition of objects that exist on a global scale, whatever the grandiose adjective ‘global’ may be taken to mean. However, if one accepts that comparison, as Jörn Rüsen notes, presupposes a certain transformation of
historical consciousness that challenges the historian’s own sense of the past in relation to what is ‘other’,2 then this transformation may involve various comparative frames and constellations. The reconstitution of one’s perspective on Athenian democracy by means of a comparative
approach involves replacing the image of Athens as a discrete entity with a complex set of relations. In other words, it involves identifying an entangled set of pathways that are open-ended and move in and out of other geopolitical and cultural topoi, but also in and out of the different topoi
inscribed in the diversity of the Greek poleis, in the juxtaposition of democracy and the polis society, and in the long-term history of ancient and modern democracy.

By grounding its comparative perspective on gaps, tensions and conflicts characterizing the history of democracy and the Greek polis, the book usefully complements works utilizing a broader comparative frame which have challenged the uniqueness of the Greek paradigm by relating Greece to the
Asian and Mediterranean worlds.3 Still, the inclusion of this broader perspective in the book through Arnason’s essay raises significant theoretical questions about the interrelation of the two models. Comparison allows us to reinvent the historical objects it brings together by
enabling their understanding in new terms generated by the comparative frame itself. This means that the image of Athenian democracy changes when historical data are examined, for instance, in comparison with the modern European democratic tradition; within the background of the diverse cultural
and political traditions of the polis; or in comparison with alternatives to Athens manifested within or beyond the Greek world. How is it possible to sustain a dialogue between the different images associated with these distinct comparative frames? When it is seen from a worldly perspective, a
comparative approach limited to the Greek poleis or Athenian democracy can justifiably be criticized as Eurocentric and Athenocentric, on the grounds that it naturalizes the imaginary uniqueness of Greek or Athenian history. Still, a broader frame does not straightforwardly imply a critical
perspective on Eurocentrism, insofar as comparisons may well rely on concepts derived from the European tradition, such as democracy and the polis, and thus prefigure the uniqueness of the Greek paradigm. So the analysis of tensions underpinning these concepts, attempted by this volume, may
serve to highlight paths of critique contained within the European tradition itself.4 Reflection on the different models of comparison as regards ancient history goes beyond the scope of the present review. Yet it attests to the book’s theoretical sophistication that it invites such a
reflection by suggesting that what we call ‘Athenian democracy’ is but a unifying category for a much more diversified, complex and interactive fabric of practices, concepts, historical objects and traditions, whose mutual opposition may grant new frames for comparative historiography in the
ancient world.


1.   Meier, C., Die Entstehung des Politischen bei den Griechen, Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp 1980, Eng. tr. The Greek Discovery of Politics, tr. D. McLintock, Cambridge MA.: Harvard University Press, 1990.

2.   Rüsen, J., “Some Theoretical Approaches to Intercultural Comparative Historiography”, History and Theory 35, 1996: 5–22.

3.   See Horden, P. and Purcell, N., The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History, Oxford: Blackwell, 2000; Lloyd, G. E. R., Ancient Worlds, Modern Reflections: Philosophical Perspectives on Greek and Chinese Science and Culture, Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006, and
Disciplines in the Making: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Elites, Learning and Innovation, Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009; Vlassopoulos, K., Unthinking the Greek Polis: Ancient Greek History beyond Eurocentrism, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007, and Greeks and Barbarians, Cambridge:
Cambridge UP, 2013; Haubold, J., Greece and Mesopotamia: Dialogues in Literature, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013.

4.   On this issue see Chakrabarty, D., Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference, Princeton: Princeton UP, 2000.

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Cédric Brélaz, Sylvian Fachard (ed.), Pratiques militaires et art de la guerre dans le monde grec antique: études offertes à Pierre Ducrey à l'occasion de son 75e anniversaire. Revue des Études Militaires Anciennes, 6 - 2013. Paris: Éditions A. et J. Picard, 2013. Pp. 158. ISBN
9782708409682. €25.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Fernando Echeverría, Complutense University, Madrid (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

This book is a collection of essays addressing different aspects of warfare in the ancient Greek world, presented in honour of Pierre Ducrey on the occasion of his 75th birthday and published as a special issue of the Revue des Études Militaires Anciennes. It aims to represent Ducrey’s
main lines of research and fields of interest, from Homeric Greece to imperial Rome. The eleven papers, written by well-known figures in the study of classical warfare, are only superficially connected to each other, but all employ a sociological approach according to the editors, Cédric Brélaz
and Sylvian Fachard (8). Since they are intended to be read separately, there are no cross-references between them and no integrated analysis by the editors. Written in English (6 papers), French (3 papers), German (1 paper) and Italian (1 paper), the book is clearly addressed to specialists in
the field of Greek warfare, but will also be of interest to graduate students.

Denis Knoepfler opens the volume with some comments on Pierre Ducrey’s approach to ancient warfare, and after a brief introduction by the editors, the eleven papers follow, with the different topics arranged in chronological order. I will offer but a few comments on each of them, to highlight
their main contributions and arguments.

John Ma’s brief paper (“Histoires (militaires) de Suisse et de Grèce”) draws a comparison between classical Greece and modern Switzerland based on the shared experiences of landscape, poverty and emigration. This comparison is just a prelude to his sociological approach to the “affinities”
between Greeks and Swiss, or better to the Swiss vision of ancient Greece: fondness for Greek antiquities, Greek leagues and federations as an inspiration, a sense of territory in a complex geography, and a way of war based on citizen militias. He concludes that Swiss historians (such as Pierre
Ducrey himself) have a natural understanding of certain notions of ancient Greece, since they are similar to their own “historical landscape” (15).

Kurt A. Raaflaub’s piece (“Homer und die Agonie des Hoplitenkampfes”), partially a reply to Lawrence Tritle’s 2009 paper (“Inside the hoplite agony”, AHB 23), further develops his theory (detailed in a number of earlier works cited in his note 6) that Homeric battle descriptions
present a preliminary stage of the classical phalanx, a “proto-phalanx”. Raaflaub summarizes with great precision the complex philological, archaeological and historical problems surrounding the historicity of the military information contained in the epics, and argues that the experience of
combat described by Homer resembles closely that reconstructed for the classical period.

Jean-Nicolas Corvisier presents an interesting essay on failure and incompetence in Greek warfare (“Incompétences militaires et causes de l’échec en Grèce ancienne”), and on the relationship between both elements in the perspective of the ancient Greeks. He rightly points out that political
institutions rarely prosecuted commanders for incompetence and preferred other charges such as misuse of public funds, and argues that failure clearly had an impact on the rise of trials against generals at the end of the fifth and the beginning of the fourth centuries BC. He also suggests that
the emphasis on incompetence depends on the narrative choices of the historian in question, but that a chain of military mistakes from the period between the fifth and the third centuries BC can be drawn from our sources. Corvisier engages in statistical work to illustrate his findings and
offers a set of useful tables illustrating the alleged causes of military failure according to the different historians.

The following contribution, by Philip de Souza (“Xenophon on naval warfare”), deals with Xenophon’s experience in naval campaigns and the reliability of his descriptions of naval warfare compared to Thucydides’ and other classical historians’. De Souza analyzes in detail several aspects of
Xenophon’s approach to the issue, such as his own naval experience, his narrative technique when describing naval encounters, his assessment of Spartan naval power, his presentation of Iphikrates’ campaign in Corcyra in the late 370s, his comments on Athenian and Spartan naval manpower, and
finally his essay on the Athenian resources and strategies for an increasing power and lasting peace (the Poroi). De Souza concludes that Xenophon had a broad and precise understanding of naval warfare, most certainly on account of his own military experience.

Vincent Gabrielsen in his paper (“The navies of classical Athens and Hellenistic Rhodes: an epigraphic comparison”) argues that the epigraphic record reveals considerable differences in the organization of the navies in Athens and Rhodes in their respective periods of naval ascendancy.
Evidence from Athens points at a strongly bureaucratic and entirely public system of naval organization and logistics, while at Rhodes private participation was encouraged in many fields (ships’ ownership, recruitment of crews, distribution of booty). The paper is a concise analysis of a vast
amount of epigraphic information that raises crucial questions regarding the organizational capacities of ancient states.

Sylvian Fachard follows with a contribution on the fortress of Gyphtokastro (“Eleutherai as the gates to Boiotia”), one of the best preserved Greek fortifications and commonly assumed to be part of the Athenian defensive system in the Boeotian frontier. Using a “landscape approach” (82), i.e.
interpreting Eleutherai “in its historical, material and environmental context”, Fachard attempts to achieve a better understanding of the origin and functions of the fort. He claims that, since Eleutherai was in fact redundant with nearby Oinoe, just 6 kilometres away, it must have been built by
the Boeotians by the mid-fourth century BC, with the frontier running between both forts. Fachard’s study effectively draws on landscape, settlement pattern, architecture, and epigraphy, producing a very persuasive explanation for the construction of Eleutherai.

Marco Bettalli (“La kataphronesis di Cabria”) focuses on a minor engagement between Spartans and Athenians during Agesilaos’ expedition against Thebes in 378 BC. The victory of the Athenian contingent, sent to the aid of the Thebans, over the Spartan troops, and especially the role and
reputation of its commander Chabrias, are emphasized by Bettalli as a sign of Athenian contempt for the Spartan military reputation and interpreted as a new Athenian claim to “imperial” identity. This brief piece emphasizes the role of the “psychological sphere” (112) in classical Greek warfare,
in a period in which Athens is trying to rebuild the empire and regain a position as a first-rank power in Greece.

John Ma offers a second contribution to the volume, this time on Alexander’s generalship (“Alexander’s decision-making as historical problem”). Ma addresses a complex and wide-ranging question, why did Alexander win, through the analysis of his decisions in combat, a process described as
rational by the literary sources. He offers interesting insights into the problems and paradoxes of recent studies on Alexander’s generalship, dominated to a considerable extent by didactic approaches that seek to draw lessons from the life of a military “genius”. Ma explores three fields of
research in which Alexander’s decision-making can be of relevance: intellectual history, military history, and historiography. If anything, Ma confirms that military success is much more than optimal decision-making or better troops and weapons: army management, logistics, intelligence,
qualified subordinates, and so on, also play a considerable role.

Robin Lane Fox presents an overview of warfare during the early period of the Successors (“Aspects of warfare: Alexander and the Successors”), which he considers extremely revealing but “not always exploited fully” (127). He emphasizes continuity in a broad range of military patterns and
practices between Alexander and the Successors, specially “heroic” generalship, tactics and battle planning, and preference for cavalry charges and the use of elephants (with fascinating remarks from his personal experience in re-enactment for Oliver Stone’s Alexander). There are
differences as well, such as the relevance of siege warfare, and particularly naval warfare, which developed considerably under the Successors. Lane Fox discusses in some detail questions of logistics and the mobility of armies, and points out that baggage trains “contained the livelihood and
families of armies” (134), which in the end determined loyalties.

The following piece, by Jean-Christophe Couvenhes (“Érétrie, la garnison de Rhamnonte et Dikaiarchos, d’Antigone Gonatas à Démétrios II”), explores the relationship between the town of Eretria and the Athenian fortress of Rhamnous during the third century BC, analyzing several pieces of
epigraphic evidence. A decree in honour of Dikaiarchos, Athenian commander of the Macedonian garrison posted at Eretria by 235 BC, is presented by Couvenhes as especially revealing of this relationship, and particularly of the Macedonian domination of Euboea and the northern regions of Attica
during the third century BC. The inscription, containing a wealth of information about Dikaiarchos’ life and military career, seems to present the region of the Euripus as an integrated strategic area, with the different forts and towns in permanent contact, and playing a considerable role in
the Macedonian effort to control Athens.

Angelos Chaniotis concludes the volume with his contribution “Roman army in Aphrodisias”, in which he presents a funerary inscription from Aphrodisias dated to the first quarter of the third century AD. The inscription illustrates the relationship between the city and Roman imperial
institutions, especially the provincial governor, the army, and several Roman officials. Chaniotis argues that this attests to the process of gradual integration of Aphrodisias into the Roman provincial administration that finally led to its promotion as capital of the province.

Although some of the papers in this volume offer a broader perspective, in general the essays are rather specialized, tending to focus on specific aspects of fairly narrow questions and very concrete issues. At the same time, they all address current problems in the different fields of
scholarship on ancient Greek warfare, making relevant (albeit at times minor) contributions to the general discussion. As a collection of disparate and heterogeneous papers, the present volume must be assessed according to the quality not of the total sum, but of the individual works, and in this
respect I believe that it has a great deal to offer to an interested reader.

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Martin Jehne, Bernhard Linke, Jörg Rüpke (ed.), Religiöse Vielfalt und soziale Integration: die Bedeutung der Religion für die kulturelle Identität und die politische Stabilität im republikanischen Italien. Studien zur Alten Geschichte, Bd 17. Heidelberg: Verlag Antike, 2013. Pp. 333.
ISBN 9783938032589. €64.90.

Reviewed by Saskia T. Roselaar, University of Ghent (

Version at BMCR home site

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

This volume collects the proceedings of a conference held in 2007 as a follow-up to an earlier conference, whose proceedings were published by Jehne and Pfeilschifter, 2006.1 As the previous conference was felt to have neglected the impact of religion on Roman and Italian society,
the second meeting focused especially on the question of how religion contributed to the political stability of the network of allies that supported the Roman Republic, as well as to the development of a common identity within Italy during the Republican period.

In the introduction the three editors explain the close connection between religion and society in general: specific rituals were essential to the functioning of the Greek and Roman state, and citizens were connected to their states through their participation in civic religion. Thus,
participation in religion, or the exclusion of certain people from religious events, was an essential mechanism for integration or separation in the ancient world. Religion also served to emphasize power relations between states and their allies. The editors rightly emphasize, however, that
although religion indeed appears to have been an integrative mechanism, this was not necessarily the result of a conscious Roman policy, nor of a desire for cultural or political integration. Nor should its effects be overestimated; the limits of communication and the lack of an effective
bureaucracy meant that Rome could not influence the Italians in all aspects of their society and culture.

The first article, by John Scheid, discusses how the Romans mobilised some of the most important cult places in Italy for their own purposes. Octavian, for example, reinvented the rituals of the Caeninenses, purportedly an ancient cult from the Latin town of Caenina, although the ritual as
performed in the Augustan period was mostly fabricated by antiquarians. Augustus turned many cult places into colonies or municipia, e.g. Lucus Feroniae and Fanum Fortunae. Some of these had not been active for decades, but Augustus successfully mobilized these Italian cults in his effort
to show his pietas to the old gods and his adherence to the values of the Roman state.

Nicola Terrenato traces the discourse on the Romanization of religion. It has been assumed that Italians and provincials shared a similar outlook on religion as the Romans, which meant that religious ‘Romanization’ did not have the same large impact as the Romanization of other aspects of
life. Nevertheless, religion, e.g. adherence to ancient religious practices, was used by indigenous people as a way of silently resisting Romanization. Terrenato argues that the religious policy of the Roman state was concerned mostly with ritual practice, what he terms ‘metareligion’, rather
than with the actual faith of worshippers. The Romans put in place sanctuaries and priesthoods if these did not exist, but did not disturb local cults that were functioning properly.

A short piece by Neville Morley argues for the importance of religion in the changes that occurred during the late Republic. Religion experienced the same developments as the wider economy and society of Italy, which were all subject to four basic processes: concentration, to wit, of people
and resources in certain locations, mostly urban centres; crystallisation, i.e. the fixation of power and institutions and their connection to specific locations; integration, in the political, social, economic and ideological sense; and differentiation, e.g. a greater dichotomy between town and
countryside and between rich and poor. As other papers in the volume argue, religion became more concentrated in urban centres, especially Rome, and its rituals became crystallized into fixed procedures; it was also essential in the integration of Italy into the Roman state, but at the same time
differentiated those who belonged to the state from those who did not.

Bernhard Linke investigates the legal concept of ager romanus. The amount of ‘Roman’ land had not been expanded since the fourth century, meaning that most of Italy was not ‘Roman’ according to religious law. Most rituals of the Roman state could only take place in ager romanus,
so that many Italians were in practice excluded, even if they were Roman citizens. Rituals that included Italians, such as the Latin festival, served to emphasize the power of Rome: the Lanuvians, for example, were Roman citizens, but had to pray for the wellbeing of the Romans. Religion could
also serve to integrate, however: in the third century several temples for ‘integrating’ gods, e.g. Fides and Fortuna Publica, were inaugurated. Furthermore, the success of the Romans in battle suggested that they enjoyed the gods’ favour, thus binding the allies to Rome.

The religious power relations between Rome and her allies are also investigated by Veit Rosenberger. He firstly discusses the ritual of evocatio, by which the deity of a defeated people was transferred to Rome. The willingness of a foreign god to be worshipped in Rome legitimized the
Roman conquest; the ritual also illustrates the great flexibility of Roman religion. Rosenberger also investigates prodigia, omens reported from Italy, but expiated by Roman priests.2 This religious communication illustrates Roman power over Italian religion; on the other hand,
if cults were venerated in Rome, this increased their chances of (voluntary) worship in other Italian locations, so the religious discourse was not totally one-sided.

Olivier de Cazanove discusses an episode often regarded as an example of Roman abuse of power, namely the confiscation of roof tiles from the temple of Hera at Lacinion by the censor Fulvius Flaccus in 173 BCE. However, de Cazanove argues that, since the temple was located inside the Roman
colony of Croton, a censor had the authority to interfere with its public buildings. Nevertheless, the local population was shocked by Flaccus’ actions, which was what he intended – to demonstrate Rome’s power and ensure the loyalty of the locals, who had recently revolted against Rome with

Tesse Stek re-evaluates a long-held idea about the structure of Italian settlement, namely the pagus-vicus settlement pattern.3 These structures also had religious connotations, since it is assumed that already in the pre-conquest period every vicus and pagus
had its own sanctuary. Stek argues, however, that vici and pagi were essentially Roman creations and that most of the gods attested as deities connected to these settlement structures were introduced after the Roman conquest. When these new settlements were created, the introduction
of new cults played an essential role in their self-definition.

Another long-held assumption relates to the Capitoline cult, i.e. the cults of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, which were assumed to have been essential to Roman religious identity and therefore introduced in all colonies established by Rome. Eva-Maria Lackner argues that temples securely
identified as Capitolia cannot be attested in the period of the foundation of most colonies, but date instead from the early second century onwards. Their purpose may have been the political stabilisation of Italy after the Second Punic War. Only after the Social War did Capitolia become a
general feature of the urban landscape of Italy.

Colonies are also discussed by Daniel Gargola. It is often assumed that colonies were ‘mirror images’ of Rome, with an all-encompassing plan including a pomerium, mundus, Capitolium and other public buildings. However, such a general plan should not be assumed; colonial founders
often incorporated pre-existing local cults in the colony’s pantheon. The law of Urso illustrates that the main focus of local religion was the correct execution of ritual, i.e. ‘metareligion,’ not the actual beliefs of the people; the correct performance of public sacra were essential to
fulfil the obligations of the community to the gods. Belonging to a community was essential for an individual’s identity, and taking part in the rituals of Rome created a larger identity among all the cities that participated.

The relationship between religion and economy is investigated by Marta García Morcillo. There is a great deal of evidence for economic activity near sanctuaries, e.g. at religious festivals. Sanctuaries also possessed lands and other valuables; many temples were involved in the production of
votive gifts. Among the most famous temples were those at Lucus Feroniae and Fanum Voltumnae in Etruria; it likely that there was a connection between them and the role of the Tiber as an economic corridor. Maritime sanctuaries, such as those of Hera at Graviscae and Marica at Minturnae, also
served important economic functions. Others were located on transhumance trails or important roads. These temples were integrated into the local community, but, depending on their location also played a role in regional and even international exchange.

Jörg Rüpke discusses the variation of religious phenomena in Italy and the way the Romans handled this variation. The Romans were often willing to adopt and adapt religious aspects of other people, e.g. through evocatio; Roman religion eventually became strongly Hellenized, which
dramatically changed pre-existing religious beliefs and rituals. Using the religious calendar and the lex Ursonensis as examples, Rüpke investigates the idea of ‘metareligion’, also discussed by other papers. The Romans saw religio not as a static system of beliefs and rituals, but
as ‘the cult of the gods’; this could take many different shapes depending on what deity was venerated. Only public cults required regulation, so that religion – or the wrong way of worshipping – would not interfere with politics. Private religion was mostly unsupervised, so that religious
diversity was no hindrance to the political (as well as economic and social) integration of Italy.

This book offers many new and fascinating insights into the interrelationship between religion and politics in Roman Italy. The idea of ‘metareligion,’ investigated by various authors, is interesting – it has been argued before that the Romans were more interested in the correct forms of
ritual than in religious beliefs, but this book adds some very welcome theoretical background to this idea. Unfortunately, this theoretical background is only discussed in any detail by Rüpke; it would have been interesting to see more discussion of the theory behind the way Romans thought about
their religion and the consequences of this vision for the religious practices of Rome and its allies. The religious philosophy of the Italians is not discussed at all – can we assume that it was similar to the Roman? The book is certainly correct in emphasizing that religion should not be seen
in isolation; it is very clear throughout that the religious and political integration of Republican Italy were closely connected. The interaction of religion with other aspects of society, such as the economic or social history of Italy, receives less attention, unfortunately. This would be a
worthwhile avenue of investigation for further conferences and publications.

The great merit of this book, for the moment, is to bring religion once again to the centre of academic attention in the study of the Roman Republic. Furthermore, the emphasis on Italy is very welcome – although the sources are written from a Roman perspective, the contributors rightly stress
the agency of the Italian peoples in their religious choices, and the role of local and regional religious activity in the relationship between Rome and its allies. This Italian focus fits well with the recent renewed attention that academics have given to the Italian peoples in the study of the
Republican period. The book is well formatted with very few typos, and should be essential reading for anyone interested in the history of the Roman Republic and the Italian allies who were essential for Rome’s political stability.

Table of Contents

Martin Jehne, Bernhard Linke & Jörg Rüpke, Einleitung, 7-24

John Scheid, Rom und die großen Kultorte Italiens, 25-42

Nicola Terrenato, Patterns of cultural change in Roman Italy. Non-elite religion and the defense of cultural self-consistency, 43-60

Neville Morley, Religion, Urbanisation and Social Change, 61-68

Bernhard Linke, Die Einheit nach der Vielfalt. Die religiöse Dimension des römischen Hegemonialanspruches in Latium (5. - 3. Jahrhundert v. Chr.), 69-94

Veit Rosenberger, Rom und Italien: Religiöse Kommunikation und die Aufnahme neuer Gottheiten, 95-110

Olivier de Cazanove, Un sanctuaire de Grande Grèce dans une colonie romaine: l'Héraion du Lacinion après la 2ème Guerre Punique, 111-136

Tesse D. Stek, Questions of cult and continuity in late Republican Roman Italy: ‘Italic’ or ‘Roman’ sanctuaries and the so-called pagus-vicus system, 137-162

Eva-Maria Lackner, Arx und Capitolinischer Kult in den Latinischen und Bürgerkolonien Italiens als Spiegel römischer Religionspolitik, 163-201

Daniel J. Gargola, Rome, its Colonies and the Maintenance of a Larger Identity, 202-235

Marta García Morcillo, Trade and Sacred Places: Fairs, Markets and Exchange in Ancient Italic Sanctuaries, 236-274

Jörg Rüpke, Regulating and Conceptualizing Religious Plurality: Italian Experiences and Roman Solutions, 275-295







1.   Martin Jehne and Rene Pfeilschifter (eds.), 2006, Herrschaft ohne Integration? Rom und Italien in republikanischer Zeit, Frankfurt am Main.

2.   For Rosenberger’s full argument on prodigia, see Veit Rosenberger, 2007, ‘Prodigien aus Italien. Geographische Verteilung und religiöse Kommunikation,’ Cahiers du Centre Gustave Glotz 16, 235-257.

3.   His ideas are more fully set out in Tesse D. Stek, 2009, Cult Places and Cultural Change in Republican Italy. A contextual approach to religious aspects of rural society after the Roman conquest, Amsterdam.

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Saturday, August 30, 2014


Troels Myrup Kristensen, Making and Breaking the Gods: Christian Responses to Pagan Sculpture in Late Antiquity. Aarhus Studies in Mediterranean Antiquity 12. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2013. Pp. 297. ISBN 9788771240894. $56.00.

Reviewed by John Pollini, University of
Southern California (

Version at BMCR home site


Revised from the author’s 2009 dissertation at Aarhus University, this book deals with Christian responses to non-Christian sculpture in particular areas of the Roman Empire during the late antique period, roughly between the 4th and 7th centuries. Troels Myrup
Kristensen seeks to interpret the material evidence in light of the literary and epigraphical record, where available. The particular importance of this book lies in the author’s presentation of select case studies of cities and sacred shrines in Egypt and the Near East and the various and
complex ways Christians came to terms with what had been a dominant polytheistic culture. By drawing upon a wide range of objects from Egypt and the Near East, together with some comparative material from other parts of the empire, Kristensen presents a fuller understanding of the often complex
social and religious dynamics at work in the world of late antiquity.

Discussed in the Introduction, “Driving the Demons Away: The World of Demons,” is an inscribed marble base once topped with a cross that was set up in Ephesos by a Christian who proudly boasts of his destruction of the “deceitful form [eidos] of the demonic Artemis,” formerly the
beloved patron goddess of the city. This example, which Kristensen uses to point out other issues to be discussed in subsequent chapters, testifies to the Christian belief that such images were possessed by demons, for which reason they had to be destroyed, mutilated, or somehow neutralized. A
particular form of defacement was carving a cross or crosses on a work to drive out the perceived demon inhabiting it and to apotropaically keep it from returning. The author does not view Christian assaults on the material culture of polytheists as merely “mindless acts of religious violence by
fanatical mobs,” but as “revelatory of contemporary conceptions of images and the different ways in which the material manifestations of the pagan past could be negotiated in Late Antiquity” (p. 17). Although Christians tended to target cult images, eventually they also attacked non-cultic
statues of the gods, since they were conceived as possible recipients of veneration even in spaces not considered sacred. Moreover, Christians could not always be sure what constituted a cult image, which could be large, impressive, and made of precious materials, or small and made of
non-precious media. And while, as the author points out, early Christians had images of their own at the same time that they were attacking what they considered to be the “idols” of polytheists, it is also true that Christians in time came to destroy even their own images during the so-called
iconoclastic “debate,” in reality an “iconomachy,” which nearly tore the Eastern Orthodox Church apart in the 8th and 9th centuries.

Chapter 1 sets out the author’s methodological approach and terminology. As he stresses, the interpretation and dating of the archaeological evidence for destruction can be particularly difficult when information about the original context is limited or absent, as well as when there is no
associated literary or epigraphic information. Kristensen provides an excellent discussion of the theological nature of divine images in Roman religion, a subject that has commonly been neglected in past scholarship (but see C. Ando, The Matter of the Gods [Berkeley 2008]). Also considered
is the targeting of particular body parts, which gives us some insight into Christian thinking about the body and its function in various social contexts. A particularly important contribution of this book is its discussion of the Abodah Zarah, the part of the Talmud that deals in detail
with prohibitions against what the Jews considered to be “idols,” which in turn influenced Christian thinking on this subject. Among the cult and decorative images of the gods—characterized by the author as “mythological statuary” (p. 68)—that Constantine brought back to Constantinople was
Phidias’ cult image of Zeus from the Temple of that god at Olympia. Though it is the common view that Constantine did so to embellish his city, there was undoubtedly also another and arguably more insidious intent which the author does not suggest, namely, that in the case of cult images
Constantine undoubtedly attempted to deprive pagan sanctuaries of their sacred statuary in the hope of stopping devout polytheists from flocking to these sites to continue their age-old religious practices. It is also worth noting that, from a polytheistic point of view , the subject matter of a
cult figure is not mythological, but religious.

Kristensen suggests that the body of “anti-pagan” legislation in the Codex Theodosianus was against cult worship and sacrifice, not against the images themselves. While that is generally true, there is also the imperial mandate of 407/408 (CTh 16.10.19) that any images in
temples and shrines that have received worship shall be torn from their foundations. In addition, Augustine (City of God, 5.26) praises Theodosius for having ordered (in the late 4th century) that “pagan” statues (simulacra gentilium) be everywhere overthrown.
Notwithstanding imperial pronouncements and other legislation hostile to non-Christian worship, the primary instigators of destructive actions against images of the gods were bishops like Theophilus in the late 4th century and Peter Mongus a century later, though ancient accounts of
the scope of the destruction they inspired may be exaggerated. Kristensen rightly points out the problems in putting too much credence in the iconoclastic deeds preserved in highly rhetorical Christian hagiographies, sometimes of even fictional saints. And while this is especially true in the
case of miraculous occurrences, or reports of an extraordinary number of images destroyed or polytheists converted to Christianity, these accounts nevertheless provide clear evidence for the various forms of intentional Christian destruction and damage that we find in great abundance in the
archaeological record, in part because these hagiographies served to inspire many others to destroy and desecrate images of the gods.

Chapter 2 focuses on material culture, sites, and sanctuaries in Egypt and Christian attempts to destroy or transform them in creating a new Christian identity. As we would expect to find in all such transformative social and religious situations, there will be not only change and continuity
from one culture to another but also a wide range of responses to the old on the part of the new dominant and dominating culture. In his discussion of Christian reactions to bodies (179-80), the author notes the similarities between Christian attacks on the material images of the gods and on
certain living individuals, most notably the brilliant Neoplatonist Hypatia of Alexandria, who was stripped naked, viciously murdered, and dragged through the streets of Alexandria by a Christian mob. Like the cult statue of Serapis from the Serapaeum, her body was also dismembered and burned.
Besides Alexandria, with its separate and also mixed Greek, Roman, and Egyptian cultural traditions, Kristensen looks at other more traditionally Egyptian areas of the Nile Valley (Abydos, Dendera, Luxor, Karnak, and western Thebes) to explore similar and yet somewhat different Christian
responses to images of the gods, especially Christian targeting of select body parts. As the author shows, some of these Christian responses may be unique to Egypt, based in part on old traditional Egyptian beliefs about the human body in the afterlife.

Chapter 3 turns to the Near East in late antiquity, focusing again on several case studies based on the archaeological and literary record. Unlike his discussion of Egypt, which concentrates (with the exception of Alexandria) on religious shrines, most of the author’s discussion in this
chapter looks at urban contexts, most notably the prosperous cities of Palmyra, Scythopolis, Caesarea Maritima, and Caesarea Philippi. One of the drawbacks of case studies in this part of the world is the dearth of archaeological publications of sites and the lack of abundant sculpture, although
in the latter case this in part may be because these areas, lacking good sources of stone used bronze, which unlike stone sculpture was commonly recycled. Kristensen also discusses, on the one hand, some instances of Jewish iconoclasm in these areas in the late antique period and explores, on the
other hand, how over time even Jews under the influence of Hellenism began to adopt non-cultic figural images, notwithstanding the commandment banning such representations. In these locales, the author considers Christian responses to Greco-Roman images found in both religious shrines and civic
buildings. Once again there is a focus on the body and exposing the body (both sculptural as well as human), especially in the context of bathing establishments, which were taken over and used by Christians. Even in public contexts, Greco-Roman sculpture became increasingly problematic for
Christians, though in other settings such images were left unmolested. Figural depictions of Greek stories of the gods were also sometimes left untouched, since these could be regarded as purely fictitious and of a non-religious nature, in that they were not objects of worship.

Caesarea Maritima provided an interesting example of purposeful display in prominent places of fragmented statues, that is, statues lacking heads, arms, and other body parts, as a means of remembering the past and possibly as part of some new late antique “aesthetic.” This interpretation
reflects the author’s interest in discovering more about viewing culture in late antiquity. However, since there is no literary documentation about such usage, the evidence can be explained in different ways, making it difficult to determine the intent of those who created such assemblages. In
Caesarea Philippi the author adduces some instances of Greco-Roman images being given completely new meaning. For example, he suggests that some might have been reinterpreted as figures of Christ, though again without context and documentable written confirmation, that can only be speculation.
In short, we can never fully understand the true motivation for such an action or for other forms of iconoclasm.

Although this book breaks new ground in a number of ways, like many books written about late antiquity, it tends to present the evidence from a positivist Christian point of view. For example, Christian reuse, alteration, or even mutilation of images of the gods is regarded as “appropriation”
(e.g., 94-96), rather than desecration, if looked at from a polytheistic point of view. Also, like many others, the author uses the derogatory term “pagan” as a “short hand” way ( 34) to distinguish between polytheism/polytheistic and Christianity/Christian. Accordingly, he speaks of “pagan
gods.” Therefore, we must ask: is this to differentiate these gods from Christian gods? In short, why use loaded Judeo-Christian terminology like “pagan” and even “idol” when speaking of polytheism/polytheistic or their gods and their images (whether cultic or decorative)? Perhaps it is
time to also look at late antiquity from a polytheistic point of view, especially when considering Christian acts of destruction.

Though limited geographically, this book is well balanced and draws upon comparanda from other than the principal regional areas of focus. It is well edited, with very few typos or other mistakes and with many good quality photos, a number of which are in color and were taken by the author

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Averil Cameron, Byzantine Matters. Princeton; Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2014. Pp. xiv, 164. ISBN 9780691157634. $22.95.

Reviewed by George E. Demacopoulos, Fordham University (

at BMCR home site


Byzantine Matters is an assessment of the current state of Byzantine studies by a well-respected member of the field. Though a slender volume, its goals are ambitious—to understand the reasons for the marginalization of Byzantine studies in the Western academy and to offer a few
prescriptions for its correction. Following a brief introduction, the book progresses as a series of essays on particular themes, close to the author’s personal interest, that she has examined in public lectures in recent years.

Chapter One, aptly named “Absence,” examines why Byzantium is poorly presented in Western historiography. When it is not ignored altogether, she notes, Byzantium is portrayed in a negative light, as a society of decline, driven bmy aristocratic opulence, stifling bureaucracy, and intellectual
stagnation. In part, Byzantium’s negative assessment by Western scholars stems from the fact that key aspects of the Byzantine intellectual tradition (such as its concern for religious orthodoxy and its particular forms of rhetoric and education) have been wrongly interpreted to be lacking in
originality or sophistication. But Cameron’s criticism of Anglophone historiography goes further still by suggesting that it remains trapped in a twin discourse of cultural bias and exoticism that was introduced by colonial-era historians who first narrated the Byzantine world for their British

Chapter Two, “Empire,” explores the question of whether or not Byzantium should be considered an empire and how one’s answer to this question carries additional historiographical implications, particularly for those scholars writing for Eastern European or Balkan audiences. Indeed, the
question is more serious than one might first assume, and her examination of the matter carefully reveals the cultural, political, and theoretical assumptions that lie behind current positions. Recognizing that Byzantium’s multiple political reincarnations do not fit the normative standard for an
empire, Cameron nevertheless argues that the long history of Byzantium adheres to the general parameters of a “centralizing political entity,” which, for her, is sufficient for imperial designation. At the same time, however, she echoes the chorus of recent scholarship that seeks to correct
Obolensky’s thesis of a multi-national “Byzantium Commonwealth” throughout the Balkans in the middle ages.1

Chapter Three examines “Hellenism” in Byzantium as a historiographical category. Acknowledging that the subject is fraught on many levels, much of this chapter reads as a response to Anthony Kaldellis’ work on the same subject.2 Like Kaldellis, Cameron believes that the Byzantines
were not self-consciously multi-ethnic—a position that a previous generous of scholars simply took as a truism. And, like Kaldellis, she believes that cultural studies in general and postcolonial studies specifically have much to offer the question of Byzantine self-identity and the role of
Hellenism within it. But Cameron and Kaldellis remain at odds on some fundamental aspects of the role of Hellenism in Byzantium, including whether the category is stable enough for a narrative spanning the entire millennium and to what extent Christianity served as an overlapping or competing
cultural glue uniting Byzantine society.

Chapter Four addresses some of the reasons that art history is so important to current historiographical treatments of the Byzantine world. Cameron suggests that this, too, is a colonial-era legacy of exotic acquisition—an idealized sense of what Byzantium was, coupled with a desire to
possess its luxury. Nevertheless, she sees great value in supplementing traditional text-based historiography with the resources of art and architecture. Indeed, it is within the intersection of text and material culture, supplemented with the resources of critical theory that she finds access to
so much of the Byzantine mentality. And she resists the tendency among some historians to downplay the significance of iconoclasm. For Cameron, it is precisely because the Byzantines cared so deeply about the broader philosophical issues at stake in those debates that we should continue to pay
attention to the controversy.

Chapter Five is a daring attempt to come to terms with the theoretical and confessional landmines that surround the investigation of religion in Byzantine society. Cameron insists, against arguments to the contrary, that the discourse of orthodoxy was central to Byzantine society and that the
careful examiner of the sources can learn a great deal about the ways in which individuals simultaneously used the concern for orthodoxy to advance themselves but were at the same time bound by that same discourse. Borrowing from the theoretically-rich investigation of religion in late antiquity,
Cameron advocates for a multi-disciplinary approach that is sensitive to ambiguity and change, always keeping in mind the extent to which the leaders of particular theological positions were in a constant state of negotiation, both theologically and professionally.

Although addressed most directly in Chapter Three, the collective work of Anthony Kaldellis seems to lie behind a great part of Cameron’s reflection on the current debates within Byzantine studies. There are some areas in which I find myself largely siding with Cameron’s position (especially
concerning the role of orthodox Christianity as a central discursive element of Byzantine intellectual life). But I was also struck by the extent to which Cameron and Kaldellis appear to sound the same key, if only in a different register. For example, both are far more attuned than most
specialists to the advances in critical theory and to the extent to which scholars of Byzantium, whether from the West or from traditionally Orthodox societies, remain mired in a set of colonial and postcolonial assumptions that prevent balanced and self-critical scholarship.

In sum, Cameron offers us an important state-of-the-field assessment that very keenly identifies the core challenges facing contemporary scholars of Byzantium. Perhaps the real genius of this little volume, however, is the author’s ability to simultaneously stimulate the specialist and the
non-specialist alike. For in presenting these five thematic essays on current debates within Byzantine studies, Cameron provides us with a spirited and compelling narrative of why Byzantium should “matter” to everyone.


1.   Dimitri Obolensky, The Byzantine Commonwealth: Eastern Europe, 500-1453. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1971. Critiqued by Anthony Kaldellis, Hellenism in Byzantium: The Transformations of Greek Identity and the Reception of the Classical Tradition.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

2.   Kaldellis, op. cit.

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Richard Alston, Aspects of Roman History, 31 BC-AD 117. Second edition (revised edition of 'Aspects of Roman History, AD 14-117', published 1998). Aspects of classical civilisation. London; New York: Routledge, 2014. Pp. xxiii, 455. ISBN 9780415611213. $39.95 (pb).

Reviewed by
Peter Keegan, Macquarie University (

Version at BMCR home site


In his preface to the revised edition of Aspects of Roman History (first published in 1998), Richard Alston outlines the volume’s aims: to update and revise a text with a narrower chronological focus (AD 14-117) and older intended readership (those undergraduate students already
committed to studying classics and ancient history) (p. xi); and to move beyond a preoccupation with political and institutional history characteristic of the late twentieth-century history syllabus (p. xii). Driven by a desire to transmit ideas as much as information, and cognizant of the
important role academic writing performs in setting out why knowledge and understanding of the past informs the present, Alston sees his role more than anything else as a social historian, “provok[ing] questions about one of the most revered and imitated institutions of world history, the Roman
Empire” (p. xiii). Encompassing a broader periodization (which takes into account the formative transitional years of the Augustan age) and speaking directly to a digital-savvy, why-should-I-study-the-past audience, Alston’s revised (indeed, substantially rewritten) book hopes to engage actively
and explicitly with those discourses of power, structures of domination, and social processes that underpin the imperial ages of Rome and the modern world.

Many BMCR readers will be familiar with Alston’s original volume. In what follows, I confine my observations to the rewritten elements of the text. In this regard, what is new about Alston’s overview of a century and a half of Roman history is, naturally, what he and his publisher point to in
justifying a second edition; but it is precisely what makes Alston’s book so extremely useful, both as a tool for learning about the Roman empire—its rulers, society, economy, administration and government, army and military policy, family and gender relations, religion, and the process of
Romanization—and as an artefact for reappraising the role of scholarship in formulating how, what, and why we learn about such matters.

As before, Alston introduces his readers to the main events of the period and an outline of the major issues, arranged by emperor. To the list of previously canvassed personalities (from Tiberius to Trajan), he adds two chapters which contextualize all that is to follow: a synthesis of
significant developments in Rome (the city and the broader socio-political entity) prior to the advent of C. Iulius Caesar Octavianus (pp. 1-34) and a detailed examination of what eventually comes to be known as the Augustan principate (pp. 35-92). Constituting in length almost a third again of
the first edition, these chapters establish Alston’s rhetorical rhythm and interpretative cadence—he is consistently as interested in how the historical events (comprising individual choices and community traditions, embedded within a very specific socio-cultural and political landscape) inform
contemporary questions about governance, culture, and identity. If, for example, we live today under the sway of new imperialisms (legal, constitutional, religious, and so on), what do the Gracchi, Marius and Sulla, Cicero and Clodius, Julius Caesar, and, preeminently, Octavian/Augustus tell us
not just about the historical operation of Roman politics and the relationships between republic, triumvirate, and principate, but also about the nature of corruption and good governance, the differences between ideological and personal politics, and the ongoing shifting consensus of scholarly

This collaborative partnership—namely, utilizing the methodology of social history in tandem with a critical awareness of the workings of power across all facets of human experience—plays out both in relation to Alston’s rehearsal of material pertaining to the thirteen principes from
Augustus to Trajan (Ch. 1-10, pp. 1-272), and with respect to human relationships other than the purely political (Ch. 11-17, pp. 273-428). As a result, Alston’s approach accommodates more than simply supplementing the study of original source material, exposing some of the problems in studying
this material, and establishing the political and constitutional background of the principate (though each of these in isolation or taken together should not be undervalued).

Of particular utility to an undergraduate cohort—coming to terms, as they must, with the problems adhering to historical evidence pertaining to the imperial period and the methods of the major sources of evidence—is Alston’s straightforward prose and the ease with which he communicates
inherently complex ideas and concepts without ever losing sight of his academic purpose or the fledgling apprehension of his intended readership. He navigates with clarity the minefield of Augustan scholarship, addressing (and rightly so) the extent to which this plethora of interpretations
obscures as much as illuminates the reality underscoring the transformations of the first princeps. So, too, instead of the brief overview of sources and methods inserted at the beginning of his first edition (pp. 2-11), Alston provides a spectrum of methodological entry-points—integrated
throughout his chapter-length treatments of individual rulers—which afford an opportunity to appreciate the extent to which emphasis on character, attitudes towards social relations, and unstated paradigms of political and cultural power predicated on the elite status of the authors mitigate
reader-response and interpretation: e.g. the origins (and authenticity) of the Tacitean construction of Tiberius; the nexus of family, freed, and politics under Claudius; Nero’s blurring of art, politics, and power; the realities of socio-political and moral ambivalence associated with the
otherwise black-and-white absolutism of the ‘tyrant’ (whether imperial, fascist, or communist); and so on.

In a similar vein, Alston’s adoption of a holistic standpoint admits to and foregrounds the historical importance (and contemporary relevance) of exploring issues arising from Rome’s polyglot experience: social systems (orders, institutions, networks of power) (Ch. 11); economic structures
(agricultural productivity, exploitation of land, the labour force, distribution of wealth, urbanization) (Ch. 12); administrative mechanisms (the emperor, the senate and magistrates, the provinces) (Ch. 13); military organization (soldiers and civilians, strategy and policy, models of empire)
(Ch. 14); constructions of gender and sexuality (the family, men and women, affective and reproductive relations) (Ch. 15); religious expression (civic and private cult, polytheism, shifting traditions of belief and practice) (Ch. 16) and the process of Romanization (how persons, communities, and
states became Roman, and what kinds of cultural exchange this process negotiated over time) (Ch. 17).

Alston has retained the range of maps and figures from his first edition, amending in large part the captions of the tables supplied rather than the detail. In relation to the last category, the author has omitted one of the original tables (Table 1.2: Main powers and titles of Augustus),
developing and incorporating the tabulated information into his Chapter 2. Usefully, Alston has added individual chronological lists of historical events, inserted at a strategic point in the broader narrative of Chapter 1 and otherwise topping each chapter keyed to a particular ruler.
Conversely, I should note that the copy of the book I received for review displays a perplexing diversity of infelicities—in the main, the absence of conjunctions or connectives, affecting adversely not so much the clarity of discussion as undermining the fluidity of Alston’s prose. These
omissions are, sadly, on the order of a word or two per page, but mercifully confined for the most part to the new chapters (1 and 2).

The book concludes with a brief (and basic) glossary of terms, a slim but informed guide to further reading in English, and an index of names and topics (pp. 429-55).

All in all, minor typographical issues aside, I would commend this revised edition of Aspects of Roman History 31 BC—AD 117 to anyone interested in engaging young (or enquiring) minds with the transformative history of the early imperial period, provoking an exchange of views in
relation to the historical and intellectual significance for our age of a range of ideas and issues first promulgated under the aegis of post-republican Roman rule, or in need of arguments speaking to the relevance of studying Roman history in the digital century. There will, I am certain, be any
number of voices raised in dissent over Alston’s choice of topics or to matters of emphasis or omission: but that, of course, is precisely his raison d’être—provocation in service to participation, moderating the ongoing debates that make history present to us all.

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Sarah B. Pomeroy, Pythagorean Women: Their History and Writings. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013. Pp. xxii, 172. ISBN 9781421409566. $49.95.

Reviewed by Kai Brodersen, Universität Erfurt (

Version at BMCR home site


In the midst of the revolutionary events of 1789, the celebrated German author Christoph Martin Wieland (1733-1813), a contemporary of Goethe and Schiller, having just finished his translation of the works of Lucian, published in a Calender für Damen (Calendar for Ladies) an
essay on “Die Pythagoreischen Frauen” (“The Pythagorean Women”). Wieland’s translation was reprinted, with the Greek texts, two years later; it was republished in his Sämmtliche Werke (Complete Works) in 1796, and has been in print ever since.1 For the Greek texts,
Wieland used the collection edited by Johann Christian Wolf in 1735 (not the first Aldine edition published in 1499); they have since been re-edited repeatedly, notably by Rudolf Hercher in 1873, Mario Meunier in 1932, Holger Thesleff in 1965, and Alfons Städele in 1980.2 A collection
of apophthegms attributed to the Pythagorean woman Theano, transmitted in Syrian, was published by Ute Possekel in 1998, and more recent studies include one by Rosa Reuthner (2009).3

A study by Sarah B. Pomeroy, then, whose seminal work on women in the ancient world has been an important influence on more than one generation of scholars, was thus, as it were, overdue, though her claim that “no one had preceded me in writing a comprehensive study” (p. xvi) is perhaps
neither necessary nor fair, especially when some of the old (Wolf, Wieland) and some of the recent studies (Possekel, Reuthner) are simply ignored, and a view “which I adopted in 1977” remains undisputed (p. 44). As for the texts, Pomeroy, against more recent scholarship, follows Thesleff (1965),
“who is the only scholar who demonstrably read all the texts by both women and men” (p. 43; a rather bizarre and at any rate unsubstantiated claim) in dating the texts she discusses to the classical and Hellenistic periods, none later than the 2nd century BC, and thus to what she calls “the
heyday of the Greek bluestocking” (p. 44).

Taking these assumptions as given, Pomeroy presents six chapters, first asking “Who were the Pythagorean women” (ch. 1), and continuing with a survey of women’s roles as “wives, mothers, sisters, daughters” (ch. 2), before focusing on the question “Who were the Pythagorean women authors” (ch.
3). Pomeroy then presents an “introduction to the prose writing of Neopythagorean women” (ch. 4) and continues to present the “letters and treatises” of such authors in the East (ch. 5) and in the West (ch. 6). A final chapter, contributed by Vicky Lynn Harper, discusses the Neopythagorean women
as philosophers (ch. 7). There is no conclusion, but there is an appendix with endnotes (which present the full bibliographical data only once, which makes finding other scholars' research rather awkward) and a very useful index. The book is presented in a readable style, and beautifully

If the present reviewer has some reservations, all the same, these are mainly due to the sometimes slightly dated state of the research presented in it. Given the scarcity of the material, one would expect at least that all of it be used. However, taking Thesleff (1965) as a starting point
has led Pomeroy to ignore some of the evidence not discussed by him: When presenting Theano’s apophthegms (pp. 68-69), for example, she gives only one of those quoted by Clement of Alexandria (Strom. 4,7,44,2-3), while ignoring others quoted by the same (4,19,121,2-4) and other authors,
and three transmitted in the Florilegium Monacense of Stobaeus (268-270), while discussing neither the four other apophthegms transmitted in Stobaeus 4,23 (43, 49a, 53, and 55) and elsewhere, nor the Syrian tradition mentioned above.

On the other hand, Pomeroy deviates from Thesleff (1965, 48-50) by joining some earlier studies in identifying an extra female Pythagorean philosopher. Thesleff had attributed the text preserved in Stobaeus 1,49,27 p. 355 to the (male) Aresas (Ἀρεσᾶ Πυθαγορείου Λευκανοῦ). As Thesleff’s
critical apparatus shows, Codex F reads Αἰσάρας Πυθαγορείου Λευκάνας, while Codex P has Αἰσάρας Πυθαγόρου Λευκάνας. The reading Πυθαγορείου in Stobaeus can only refer to a man, since the author refers to female Pythagoreans in the genitive as Πυθαγορείας (3,1,120 Περικτιόνης Πυθαγορείας; 4,23,61
Φιντύος τᾶς Καλλικράτεος θυγατρὸς Πυθαγορείας; - note that Stobaeus never uses the patronymic Πυθαγόρου -, 4,25,50 and 4,2819 Περικτιόνης Πυθαγορείας). Taken ‘at face value’, then, Stobaeus refers to a male Pythagorean from Lucania named, like a Lucanian mythical figure, and river, Aisaros. Since
such a name is not attested elsewhere for a Pythagorean, Thesleff assumed that this is a scribal error for Aresas, whom Iamblichus refers to in his Vit. Pyth. 266 (χρόνῶ μέντοι γε ὕστερον Ὰρέσαν ἐκ τῶν Λευκανῶν, σωθέντα διά τινων ξένων, ἀφηγήσασθαι τῆς σχολῆς—note the masculine σωθέντα).
To turn this philosopher into a woman, one would have to change the transmitted Πυθαγορείου into Πυθαγορείας (a problem Pomeroy does not address), and to assume that there was a female Pythagorean called Aisara named after one of the daughters of Pythagoras, when such a name is not, as Pomeroy
claims (without giving a reference), attested in “some biographical traditions” (p. 99), but a mere conjecture for the transmitted Σάρα in Photius’ survey of Pythagoras’ life (Bibl. cod. 249) which names καὶ Σάρα καὶ Μυῖα αἱ θυγατέρες. Simply to claim that it “is difficult to follow
Thesleff’s arguments because they are presented in the highly condensed style appropriate to an apparatus criticus” (p. 99) is not really appropriate to a scholarly study, and to claim that Thesleff “seems to base his identification of the author as male on two emendations” (ibid.) is simply
wrong. So the conclusion that one can take Stobaeus “at face value” (ibid.) as referring to a female philosopher ignores the transmitted text, and the plausibility of philological conjectures.

There are some other infelicities as well. We get mixed messages on whether the Pythagorean philosopher Perictione is Plato’s mother (she is introduced as such on p. 43; cf. pp. 51, 56) or perhaps not (pp. 44 and 48 present a caveat); it is at any rate unfair to claim that Thesleff
“believes” that she was Plato’s mother (p. 70), when all Thesleff does is to state “The name of Plato’s mother was Periktione” (1965, 142). Occasionally, the interpretation seems to be rather forced: Diogenes Laërtius (8,43) attributes a witty remark of Theano (which Pomeroy refers to on p. 6,
but does not list among the apophthegms she discusses on pp. 68-69), who is said to have advised a woman going to her husband to take off her modesty with her ἐνδύματα, and when asked, which ones, said “ταῦτα δι’ ἃ γυνὴ κέκλημαι”. Pomeroy translates this as “those which cause you to be a woman”
and continues: “This interesting response suggests that Theano believed women and men were essentially the same and only a particular costume, which could be easily removed, constructed womanhood” (p. 6). The apophthegm does not, however, support such a claim: The Greek does not say that the
clothes “cause you to be a woman”, and the context refers to sexual intercourse. Rather than making a point about women and men as being “essentially the same”, it seems to refer to all garments, not just the woman’s outer ones (vividly compared by Pomeroy p. 34 to “the Japanese women who wear
twelve silk kimonos”), but the specifically female undergarments, which should all be shed before intercourse. Another apophthegm (again not treated by Pomeroy with the others on pp. 68-69, but on p. 21) in Plutarch (mor. 142c) refers to Theano baring her πῆχυς when putting on her
ἱμάτιον, and replying to the compliment καλὸς ὁ πῆχυς with the retort ἀλλ’ οὐ δημόσιος. The apophthegm was quoted by Clement of Alexandria (Strom. 4,19,121,2), Theodoretus of Cyrrhus (Graecarum affectionum curatio 12,72), and Anna Comnena (Alexias 12,3,3) - none of which
feature in Pomeroy—and cannot be reduced to the deduction “that the sight of a wife’s arm can be sexually provocative” (p. 21) or that “Pythagorean women approved of seductive dress and behavior, but only in private and only to enhance their relationship with their husband” (p. 103): It says
nothing about seductive dress, and is specifically referring to the forearm or cubit (πῆχυς) in a witty pun on the standard cubit measure as publicly displayed in a Greek city.

But enough of such quibbles. It is clear that the Pythagorean women (and men) deserve more, and more thorough, research. That a scholar of the eminence, experience, and influence of Sarah Pomeroy has chosen to focus on their history and writings is all to her credit. Her book will be a major
impulse for future scholars to study these texts and their authors, which have fascinated the public, and some scholars, ever since Wieland published his article on the Pythagorean women in the Calendar for Ladies in 1789.


1.   Ch. M. Wieland, “Die Pythagorischen Frauen”, Historischer Calender für Damen für das Jahr 1790, Leipzig 1789 (again in: Id., Sämmtliche Werke, Vol. 24, Leipzig 1796, pp. 245-300; Id., Sämmtliche Werke, Vol. 32, Leipzig 1857, pp. 277-310 and 430-433; Id.,
Gesammelte Schriften, Abt. I, Vol. 15, Berlin 1930, pp. 230-253; Theano, Briefe einer antiken Philosophin (Reclams Universalbibliothek 18787), Stuttgart 2010.

2.   M. Musuros, Epistulae diversorum philosophorum, Venice (Aldus) 1499; J. Ch. Wolf, Graecarum, quae oratione prosa usae sunt, fragmenta et elogi, Hamburg 1735 (repr. Göttingen 1739); R. Hercher, EpistolographiGraeci, Paris 1873; M. Meunier, Femmes
, Paris 1932; H. Thesleff, The Pythagorean texts, Åbo 1965; A. Städele, Die Briefe des Pythagoras und der Pythagoreer, Meisenheim 1980.

3.   U. Possekel, “Der Rat der Theano: Ein pythagoreische Spruchsammlung in syrischer Übersetzung”, Museon 111 (1998), 7-36; R. Reuthner, “Philosophia und Oikonomia .als weibliche Disziplinen in Traktaten und Lehrbriefen neupythagoreischer Philosophinnen”, Historia 58
(2009), 416-437.

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Raoul Mortley, Plotinus, Self and the World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Pp. vii, 153. ISBN 9781107040243. $85.00.

Reviewed by Lloyd Gerson, University of Toronto (

Version at
BMCR home site


I am myself. You are yourself. If these are not formal identity statements, what could they possibly mean? A contemporary philosopher will supply some sort of meaning with a solution to the so-called problem of personal identity. The problem in some form is familiar to Plotinus who asks,
at the end of a long discussion of how ‘we’ are related to our souls and bodies and intellects (I 1 [53], 13), who (or what) is it that has undertaken the present investigation. Are we just souls or do we use our souls? His answer to this question is characteristically nuanced: we have
undertaken the investigation ‘insofar as’ we are souls. This, of course, implies that identification with our souls is only one way that we can refer to ourselves. The single word hēi (‘insofar as’) suggests a multitude of possibilities. The difficulties in sorting out the many senses
of ‘we’ in Plotinus’ Enneads are the starting-point for Raoul Mortley’s fine monograph. Appropriately, Mortley in his title juxtaposes ‘self’ and ‘world’, indicating more than that the ‘search’ for the self is for a self situated within the world. For Plotinus, the first principle of
all, answering to names that are not really names at all, —One, Good, God— is uniquely self-identical or, if we insist on a strictly logical approach, uniquely formally identical. That means that absolutely everything else has a composite identity of some sort. Things with bodies, like
ourselves, are even further removed from absolute self-identity than are things like separate intellects or Forms. But to compound the metaphysical problem of the identity of things that are not unqualifiedly self-identical, we are also subjects, for example, subjects investigating the self.
How is this subjectivity supposed to intersect with a composite soul-body identity? Plotinus’ multifarious account of the self is scattered over many of the treatises, especially in the first four but also in surprising places such as VI 8, a treatise on the free will of the One. Mortley’s
subtle strategy for treating this complex array of material is to focus on a number of extended discussions in the Enneads of memory, ignorance, love, knowledge, art, and beauty, aiming to see as Plotinus sees the conflicted and dispersed embodied self.

Plotinus’ long treatise on memory (IV 3 [27] 25 - IV 4 [28] 12) is the subject of Mortley’s first two chapters. This treatise is a stellar example of Plotinus not merely situating a psychological question within ametaphysical framework, but of him actively adducing metaphysical principles in
the construction of answers to the questions raised. Here, the primary question is what memory has to do with our identity. It is a question lingering from the famous remark in the earlier treatise (V 1 [10]) that the source of human unhappiness and self-alienation is the forgetting that
accompanies embodiment. So, on the one hand, we need to rediscover who we are by remembering where we came from. On the other hand, the memory made possible by embodiment should not be supposed to have anything positive to contribute to our ultimate disembodied destiny. So, we are endowed
with two types of memory, one at least potentially good and one at least potentially bad and an obvious aporia about the self that is achieved via memory. As Mortley points out, in a way the abandonment of ‘bad’ memory and the recovery of the ‘good’ serves to achieve a self radically
reconceived. If we are better off forgetting the things that embodiment has enabled us to remember, who or what exactly is the ‘we’ that is so improved? Mortley enriches this discussion by introducing the concept of consciousness and its intersection with the two sorts of memory and forgetting.
Plotinus argues (V 3 [49] 13, 12-14) that consciousness (sunaisthēsis is essentially self-consciousness. The characteristic activity of self-consciousness is thinking (to noein), something that is peculiarly human. Thinking is a universal or, better, universalizing
activity. So, the chain of reasoning, subtly reconstructed by Mortley, is from the elimination of idiosyncratic embodied memories to the acquisition and the practice of thinking—increasingly purified of the particular—to the recovery of a self transformed, a disembodied self the content
of whose thinking is the entirety of intelligible reality. If that sort of self disappoints and has little appeal as an ideal, Plotinus’ tart response is that alienation from the agent of embodied activities and the practice of philosophy are two sides of the same coin, the process of
maturation. Mortley does not, I think, sufficiently stress Plotinus’ argument—which is epistemological and not psychological—that the disembodied ideal is not merely notional. Rather, as he says, our ideal selves are ‘undescended’. The question is not whether or not we should strive to create
it, but rather whether or not we are going to achieve it. For those who fail to embrace a self which is at once trans- personal and as personal as maximal self-consciousness can be, Plotinus rather offhandedly suggests reincarnation as the inevitable ‘punishment’.

As it turns out, ignorance of intelligible reality is really a sort of self-ignorance. The source of this ignorance, as Mortley shows, is embodied desire (orexis). Such desire is, by definition, of the particular. The degree to which one is or is not alienated from this desire is a
criterion of moral behavior. In fact, the search for the true self is Plotinus’ way of concretizing the Platonic imperative of ‘assimilation to the divine’ (homoiōsis theōi, an emblem for all Platonists of Plato’s moral philosophy. I disagree with Mortley’s contention that the
otherworldliness implicit in the renunciation of embodied desire sets Plotinus apart from Plato. Surely, Phaedo provides strong evidence not only of Plato’s disenchantment with embodiment, but also of his connecting desire and the forgetting of intelligible reality. Mortley’s evidence
for Plotinus’ divergence from Plato is that whereas the Demiurge of Timaeus (37C) is delighted with his product, the image of the eternal paradigm, Plotinus interprets this to mean that he is delighted with the paradigm itself, not the sensible world. But the passage that he adduces (V 8
[31] 8) seems rather to suggest that what is delightful in the image is precisely its being a reflection of the paradigm. Understood thus, Plotinus is deviating hardly at all from what one might say is the whole point of the ‘higher mysteries’ of Symposium.

It is to this dialogue that Mortley turns next, rightly connecting the topic of erōs with that of self-discovery. The chapter contains a complex and subtle discussion of how Plotinus’ account of love differs from Plato’s. I cannot do full justice to it here. But Mortley returns to
the theme of Plotinus’ divergence from Plato, claiming, among other things, that Plotinus’ systematization of Platonism gets in the way of his understanding of the dialogues. He argues that Plotinus’ metaphysics actually prevents him from embracing the Platonism found in Symposium. It is
a sort of disguise for a ‘major innovation’. But the evidence of divergence is, once again, slight. What Plotinus labels as ‘an absence of procreation’ in Plotinus is taken as significantly different from the ‘birth in the presence of the beautiful’ in Symposium. This supposed
difference does not acknowledge the Platonic provenance of the principle that all Platonists unswervingly embrace, namely, bonum est diffusivum sui. The fruitful issue of Symposium is a result of the desire for the Good just as it is for the Demiurge, who produces precisely because
he is good, which just means that he eternally achieves the object of his desire.

The next three chapters, constituting almost a third of the entire work, are focused more narrowly on questions concerning the self and its relations to its ‘possessions’. The starting-point is, appropriately, Plato’s First Alcibiades, a dialogue of considerable importance for all
later Platonists. The dialogue seems to argue that the person or self is that which possesses, among other things, a body. It would seem, then, to be a soul. But as Mortley rightly argues, Plotinus understands this as an oversimplification. We cannot simply be souls possessing bodies since we
are also separated intellects. Moreover, in the former role, our discursive intellects are, as Plato’s partitioning of the soul indicates, related to our bodies other than the way that the subject of emotions and appetites is related to it. Mortley’s claim is that Plotinus effaces the simple
distinction between self qua soul and body qua possession, expanding the ‘we’ to include everything from the disembodied intellect to the animate body. As he elegantly interprets Plotinus, who maintains that intellect is our ‘king’, we too are kings insofar as we identify with intellect. Once
again, it turns out that we ascend to kingship when we eschew the idiosyncratic. The object of our desire is not really a possession but a self transformation in the light of the Good. If the true Socrates is an intellect eternally contemplating all that is intelligible, still there is a direct
and unique link between this paradigm and the embodied particular man, making his ascent to kingship different from that of anyone else.

The status of the unique particular embodied individual is the underlying subject of the remainder of the book, which is devoted to beauty and imagery. Mortley reflections here are full of insights into Plotinus’ ideas about beauty and his metaphysical claims about the line of descent and
ascent between the intellect (and ultimately, the Good) and the particular embodied self. The experience of all beauty, but especially the beauty of the form of another, is in principle an access point for ascent. On this basis, it seems reasonable enough —though Mortley does not go this far—
that even apparent beauty, which Plato says most people are satisfied with, can serve as well as the real thing. Plotinus recognizes a hierarchy of beauty, wherein the human is superior to the non-human and the living is superior to the artificial. Although everything in the sensible world is
an image of the intelligible, we who are really intellects can grasp the Good more surely via the beauty of images of intellect than by any other.

There are many sharp insights in this book that I have no space to mention, including some very brief remarks on the influence of Plotinus’ metaphysics of beauty and the iconography of the Orthodox Churches. This is not a book for those who are new to Plotinus, I think. Too much background
is assumed for that. Works of O’Daly and Remes would be better starting-points for the investigation of Plotinus on the self. Nevertheless, it is a book to be recommended warmly.

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