Sunday, June 21, 2015


Kate Gilhuly, Nancy Worman (ed.), Space, Place, and Landscape in Ancient Greek Literature and Culture. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Pp. ix, 283. ISBN 9781107042124. $95.00.

Reviewed by Christina A. Salowey, Hollins University (

Version at BMCR home site


Kate Gilhuly and Nancy Worman have gathered together the work of seven scholars, including their own, to produce a primer on the concepts of cultural geography and landscape studies and their application to a wide array of classical literature from Pindaric odes to forensic oratory, history to drama. There are eight chapters in the book, the first being an introduction to the terminology—place, space, and landscape—intertwined with a clear review of relevant scholarly literature, and the other seven individual studies that demonstrate the application of spatial analysis on a wide variety of texts. The essays gathered here are linked by "the critical potential that a consideration of space, place, and landscape brings to the study of Greek literature and culture" (p. 1), but each author defines, applies, and adapts these terms and associated methodologies for his or her specific arguments. This results in the challenge of reading the book as a whole. The common theme threaded throughout the book is both obvious, i.e. each exploration is clearly influenced by a 'spatial turn', and elusive, as the reader is forced to engage critically with a variety of literary genres, to switch gears from imagined landscapes or urban infrastructures to the poetic mapping of space or ritual creation of forensic venues. It is a dizzying array of approaches and insights, with some important new readings of well-known texts. A brief overview of the various contributions will demonstrate.

Chris Eckerman's "Pindar's Delphi" engages "the holy trinity of contemporary spatial thinking" (p. 21), place, space, and landscape to think through Pindar's evocation of Delphi in Pythian 6, Pythian 7, Pythian 8, Paean 8, and Pythian 5. By applying Tuan's emphasis on the importance of bodies and their senses in the analysis of Pythian 6, Eckerman gives new life to Felson's idea that Pindar "vicariously transports" his listeners through space.1 Eckerman's close reading of the ode points out the ways in which Pindar's language engages the senses, like hearing and touch, or encourages kinesthesia, to create a sense of space in the ode. This is an eye-opening exercise and makes sense of Pindar's often bewildering array of images. In other sections of his chapter, Eckerman explores various readings of the Kastalian spring as a landscape element in Paean 6, and ends with a discussion of Delphi as a place, developed both through its built environment and in the narrative and human experience connected to it. This wide-ranging and thought-provoking excursus allows a deeper understanding of Pindar's sense of place and his patrons' insistence on their elevation and importance within that space.

Tim Rood's "Space and Landscape in Xenophon's Anabasis" and Alex Purves' "In the Bedroom: Interior Space in Herodotus' Histories are deliberately placed next to each other in the volume to encourage observation of their "diametrically opposed visual perspectives on space and/or landscape in historical texts" (p. 14). Rood's chapter treats outdoor spaces and the construction of power and leadership while Purves moves the reader indoors to an analysis of interior spaces in Herodotus.

Rood distinguishes Xenophon the narrator from Xenophon the character and discusses how this distinction brings representations of space and landscape into sharper focus. Organizing instances of ἀπορία and verbal repetition of the πόρος-root, Rood demonstrates that Xenophon presents the Greeks' engagement with the foreign landscape of the Persian Empire to emphasize their desperate straits. He also provides an insightful reading of Xenophon's oft-repeated statement of his superior ability to draw lessons from geography and thus to utilize the landscape strategically in ways that other miss.

Purves focuses on closed rooms and interior spaces in Herodotus' Histories, a marked contrast to the geographical expanse the work covers. Purves presents numerous case studies ('Candaules' Bedroom,' 'Rhampsinitus' Rooms', 'Croesus' Rooms', 'Nitocris' Room', 'Xerxes', Deioces', and Smerdis' Rooms', and 'Cypselus' Rooms') to demonstrate that the stories of entering/exiting small and bounded spaces in Herodotus are significant, highlighting not only themes of hiding and/or revealing but illustrating issues of privacy, access, power, and desire. Persian kings might be masters of all they surveyed, but not of these small interior spaces which can only be viewed by coming in, and often are construed as traps.

Carol Dougherty's "Ships, Walls, Men: Classical Athens and the Poetics of Infrastructure," and Kate Gilhuly's "Corinth, Courtesans, and the Politics of Place" are juxtaposed as they both "engage with Athens' civic imaginary," (p. 14). Dougherty looks at an Athens defined by its walls and ships while Gilhuly focuses on Athenian opinions about Corinth and its licentiousness as an expression of their own anxiety about becoming a port town.

Dougherty's study of 'infrastructure' metaphors in tragedy and history as an expression of Athenian civic identity is restricted to the 50 years following the Persian destruction of the city of Athens. The three texts examined are Herodotus' Histories, Sophocles' Oedipus the King,, and Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War. In Herodotus' text, Dougherty first analyzes the two Athenian consultations of the Delphic oracle. Dougherty oddly uses a translation of Herodotus that does not well capture her interpretation of the imagery in the first oracle, i.e. that language 'embodies' the city that is about to be decapitated and dismembered. A translation tailored to that interpretation would have been more effective. Adhering to a date of 420 BCE for Herodotus' text, Dougherty concludes that Herodotus' Delphic narrative constructs a composite Athens with elements of the past and present, shifting configurations of walls, ships, and men, in order to guide the Athenians not only in what to do about their current situation, but how to think about their newly configured city, a naval empire. Dougherty argues that Sophocles uses the character of Oedipus to help the Athenians think about the challenges of their city, now composed of both walls and ships. In my opinion, the references to walled cities and ships in the play seem minimal, but may have been noticed by an Athenian audience worried about their own naval infrastructure. And finally Dougherty teases out poetics rather than the realia of walls and ships in Thucydides' second archaeological section, in Book 6, before the Sicilian narrative. The thrust of this chapter is towards a realization that the major literary and historical texts of these 50 years of Athenian history sustain an "engagement with the conceptual potential of ships and walls as defining components of the city's infrastructure," (p. 163). The ubiquity of ships and walls in the experience of Athenians in the fifth century make them powerful symbols in the textual record.

Gilhuly poses the question: How does a place get a reputation? And, if Athens repeatedly construes Corinth as a place of prostitution, what does that tell us about Athens? (see p. 173). Gilhuly uses an idea from cultural geography that "place is a social construct," (p. 173)2 and the observation that language can transform "imaginative narration into a vivid presence," (p. 174)3 to reveal that Athenian language shaped a perception of Corinth for centuries. The presentation of Corinthian courtesans tends to cluster around themes like tourism, hospitality, maritime commerce, and oligarchy, all of which are significant anxieties in the Athenian mind as the city becomes a maritime empire. Athens constructs its own identity in the branding of Corinth and this resonates down into later literary sources that use the same discourse to talk about Corinth and Athens.

The last two chapters, Nancy Worman's "Mapping Literary Styles in Aristophanes' Frogs" and Alastair Blanshard's "The Permeable Spaces of the Athenian Law-Court" are not thematically connected by the editors in the introduction as are some of the previous chapters, but they share a similar emphasis on the way text and/or language map real spaces. Both essays contextualize literary texts in archaeologically discovered spaces, but another parallelism is a demonstration of how comic plays "perform" Athenian social spaces into being (a phrase borrowed from Blanshard's chapter, p. 245): in Worman's text the ritual buildings and spaces of the Ilissos river area, (pp. 222–5) and in Blanshard's the dikasterion, (pp. 245–255).

Worman charts the progress of Dionysos' path to Hades in the Frogs and notes how the journey out of the city through marshes and then meadowlands parallels differences in choral modes and thus the styles of the two poets, Euripides and Aeschylus, in contention for the best tragedian award. Through this analysis, Euripides' style is convincingly connected with the light, bubbly song of the marsh frogs, and Aeschylus' with the elevated modes of the initiates in the meadowlands. Worman eschews the identification of their path as the road to Eleusis and more believably associates it with known cultic elements of the Ilissos river region, an area that audience members in the highest tier of the theater would see just over the city walls. She also connects the double nature of rivers—gentle and fluid as well as rough and roiling—with poetic style: Euripides as an agile babbling brook and Aeschylus a full and weighty river. This chapter successfully situates poetic inspiration and stylistic difference firmly in the natural world and identifies a crucial element in understanding the Frogs, that proper critical judgement necessitates a retreat from urban into rural settings, where literary styles have their origins.

Blanshard's essay investigates how the peculiarities of forensic rhetoric were established in public space and how much effort was required to adapt the physical environment of the law-court to the rules of debate. Blanshard makes an important observation that the monumentality of law-courts in the present-day reality of contemporary scholars has hindered the identification of law-courts in the archaeological record of Athens. He reminds us that "…monumentality is a poor criterion for the identification of forensic space…" and that courthouses in Athens "were often makeshift, temporary structures," (pp. 247–8). What follows is a close reading of two passages from the comic poet, Euboulos (Ath. 10.450b4–8 = Euboulos [PCG V] F 106.21–25 and Ath. 10.640b = Euboulos [PCG V] F 74). The reading of the famed fragment from the Olbia ("You will find everything sold together in the same place in Athens…") is most illuminating and raises new questions about the proximity of marketplace and law-court in Athens. In other sections, Blanshard references the very real topography of the city and the associations that jurors would have made, and orators profited from, as they sat in roofless courthouses. He points out that drama and forensic rhetoric have the same context; both are aristocratic agons conducted in civic space, (p. 267). He concludes that the spaces for rhetorical performance stood apart from the city but were still wholly integrated: "Place bled into space,"(p. 271).

At the end of the book, one is left wondering just who its audience is. Graduate students and scholars seeking a broad introduction to the application of the concepts of place, space, and landscape to various literary genres will find this an unparalleled resource, although slow going because of changes in focus and genre and the necessity for tracking down theoretical models, followed by re-reading. The literary corpus examined in the various chapters will make this important reading for scholars vested in those genres. The Worman and Blanshard chapters would make fine reading for advanced undergraduates in "City of Athens" courses as they demonstrate the role literary texts have in further defining the archaeological spaces of the ancient urban setting.

The book itself is elegantly produced with wide margins for scholia (you will want to add these), excellent sub-headers in each chapter useful in following the progress of the complex arguments, and individual bibliographies. The slim index points one to ancient authors, modern scholars, some topographical markers, and a limited number of terms. The errors in editing are few and restricted to footnotes or bibliographical mishaps (the author is Y. Marshall, not M. Yvonne on p. 55, fn. 101 and p. 60; Benedict Anderson 2006, Imagined Communities is missing in Gilhuly's bibliography; Tuan is cited as Tuan, Y.-F. in the index and on p. 62 but Tuan, Y. on p. 199).


1.   Felson, N. 1999. "Vicarious Transport: Fictive Deixis in Pindar's Pythian Four." HSCP 99: 1–31. Tuan, Y.-F. 1975. "Space and Place: Humanistic Perspective." Progress in Geography 6: 211–252.
2.   From Harvey, D. 1996. Justice, Nature, and the Geography of Difference. Cambridge, MA. p. 294.
3.   From Tuan, Y.-F. 1991. "Language and the Making of Place: A Narrative-Description Approach." Annals of the Association of American Geographers 81.4: 648—96.

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