Wednesday, January 27, 2016


María Pilar García Ruiz, Alberto J. Quiroga Puertas, Praising the Otherness. Linguistic and Cultural Alterity in the Roman Empire: Historiography and Panegyrics. TALANTA: Proceedings of the Dutch Archaeological and Historical Society, 45 (2013). Amsterdam: Dutch Archaeological and Historical Society, 2015. Pp. 175. ISBN 9789072067173.

Reviewed by Alan J. Ross, University College Dublin (

Version at BMCR home site

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

A few preliminary remarks are required regarding the tripartite title of this valuable collection of essays: the 'Roman empire' under discussion is specifically the late Roman empire of fourth century CE; the 'panegyrics' are imperial panegyrics; and 'linguistic and cultural alterity' is almost exclusively confined to East-West, Greek-Latin dichotomies. Accordingly, the collection of eight essays provides a more focused study than the cover may suggest.

Historiography and imperial panegyric were both burgeoning genres in the fourth century, and this volume makes a welcome contribution to a trend in scholarship that studies them together as closely related literatures.1 Equally, the application of the concept of alterity provides a fruitful framework for their joint analysis, although cross-generic comparison largely occurs across the volume as a whole rather than within a single chapter. The study of identity, self-image, and depictions of 'the other' is not new to classical scholarship,2 and yet the volume could have benefitted from a more robust theoretical introduction to 'alterity' than is provided by a couple of short paragraphs by Gualandri (pp.9-10), not least because the 'otherness' under discussion here is largely confined to groups within the empire, and not across its borders.

That said, a major success of the volume is that it demonstrates how these two prominent 'political' genres of literature can be harnessed together to investigate a major aspect of cultural discourse. Below I make some brief remarks about each chapter, followed by some general observations about the volume as a whole.

Torres Guerra addresses Eusebius' depiction of the linguistic skills of Constantine (a first-language speaker of Latin) within his Greek panegyrical biography, the Vita Constantini (VC). A close reading of the text reveals that Eusebius presents a Constantine who was competent in spoken Greek but required the help of a translator to read written texts. Attention to Constantius' bilingualism, especially its role in allowing the emperor to intervene positively in Greek deliberations at the Council of Nicaea (and thus, in some senses, overcoming alterity), forms part of Eusebius' encomiastic programme.

Burgersdijk's contribution also deals with Constantine, but the focus shifts to the generic relationships between 'panegyrical' biography in different languages. Like Torres Guerra, however, Burgersdijk argues for the imitation of Eusebius' literary practices in the VC in a later Latin text, in this instance the Historia Augusta (HA). After arguing for a Constantinian and panegyrical flavour throughout the HA, Burgersdijk adopts a statistical approach to survey the inclusion of quoted documents within both texts. He identifies a similar distribution and ratio of such documents between the books of the VC, and across the lives of the HA, as well as a similarity in the way they are introduced and deployed within the text. The chapter ends curiously, however, with the author stepping back from the possibility of the HA's direct imitation of Eusebius, by highlighting the barriers to such a relationship: could a Latin author in the late fourth or early fifth centuries (possible dates for the HA entertained by Burgersdijk) have had sufficient command of Greek, and indeed access to Eusebius' text? This conclusion would have benefitted from some engagement with Alan Cameron's recent arguments for the HA's earlier dating to c.380 and the observation that the scriptor frequently shows off his ability to access Greek texts.3 The chapter, however, makes some valuable observations, particularly on the rhetorical objectives of embedding documents within literary texts.

Rees offers an analysis of cultural alterity in Pacatus' panegyric to Theodosius, delivered in Rome in 389. Pacatus had travelled from his native Gaul in the aftermath of Magnus Maximus' usurpation, which had recently been put down by Theodosius and had had its epicentre in Pacatus' homeland. Rees identifies a complex development in Pacatus' depiction of Gaul over the course of the speech, from un-Roman and 'other', to the victim of Maximus' usurpation, and finally in the wake of Theodosius' success to an urban, Romanized space. Pacatus' aim is to underline Gaul's political loyalty to the new regime, and exculpate it for its association with the usurper. Rees presents us with a form of alterity that is fluid and malleable: Pacatus' and Gaul's 'otherness' is ultimately inverted over the course of the text for political gain.

Quiroga studies the definition and application of barbarism in the imperial panegyrics of Libanius addressed to Constans, Constantius, Julian, and Theodosius. Libanius' depiction of barbarians is largely drawn from the stereotyped ethnographic images found in historiography (particularly Herodotus). Such clearly-defined cultural alterity, Quiroga argues, is also applied by Libanius to inhabitants within the empire in order to criticise their lack of Hellenic paideia. Quiroga and Rees, then, both address a form of alterity that is not predicated on an East-West, Greek-Latin dichotomy.

Gavin Kelly has done much in recent years to rehabilitate Ammianus (a self-proclaimed Graecus who wrote a history of the empire in Latin) as an author firmly rooted within Latin literary culture.4 This chapter, however, stands in counterpoint to his 2008 book, in which he had studied Ammianus' complex system of allusion to earlier Latin literature.5 Instead Kelly here focuses on the fabric rather than the content of Ammianus' text and, in short, reveals how Ammianus' regular system of accentual clausulation allows the reader to observe the retention of the Greek accent in transcribed Greek loan words. In other words, 'Ammianus wanted to speak Latin with a Greek accent' (p.79). En route to this conclusion, Kelly provides the best and most detailed overview of Ammianus' system of accentual clausulation since Harmon's essay of 1910, superseding the appendix in Barnes' 1998 book.6 In terms of alterity, Kelly's chapter raises the possibility (though he does not articulate it directly) that Greek identity, perhaps curiously, acted as a form of authority for Ammianus' composition of a history in Latin.

García continues the theme of Ammianus' relationship with Greek. After offering a historical reconstruction of Julian's relationship with his magister equitum Marcellus when the former was Caesar in Gaul (an episode that is manipulated by Ammianus to downplay Julian's military recklessness, as can be pieced together by comparison with the panegyrics and other works of Julian and Libanius), García turns her attention to the way in which Julian and Ammianus articulate Julian's loyalty to his Augustus, Constantius II, in their respective accounts of this episode. She suggests that Ammianus adapts Julian's Greek philosophical terminology (πιστός) to fit a far more recognizably Roman framework (apparitor fidus). Alterity is addressed from the perspective of the incompatibility (and thus adaptation) of Julian's Hellenized discourse within Ammianus' Latin history: Ammianus thus consciously 'Romanizes' Julian. This article adds another example to the growing number of studies that address Ammianus' depiction of the Hellenized Julian within a work of Latin and western historiography.7

The final two chapters focus on the other prominent Greek author of the late fourth century to write in Latin, Claudian. Sánchez-Ostiz surveys patterns of allusion to Lucretius and Cicero in Claudian's panegyric to Mallius Theodorus in 399. According to Sánchez-Ostiz's reading, Theodorus surpasses the example of Cicero, which is evoked by allusion, in bridging the divide between Greek and Roman philosophical learning. Claudian's praise of Theodorus' biculturalism creates an important message of East-West harmony, as was also promoted by Theodorus' contemporary Stilicho.

Gualandri also studies Claudian's use of allusion but does so in order to reach a conclusion about Claudian's cultural identity, rather than that of his addressees. She argues that several commonplace images found in the elegiac prefaces of Claudian's panegyrics are ultimately derived from Pindar, even though there may be parallels in extant Latin literature. Gualandri's subtle reading of Claudian and the conclusions it bears – that Claudian ultimately attempts to 'hide' his Greek identity under Roman acculturation – could have been pressed into greater service in addressing the theme of the volume. Is this phenomenon deliberate, and if so, why then do traces of Claudian's Greek heritage remain (in other words, is Claudian's cultural alterity ultimately unsuppressible?); or on the contrary should we identify a pose similar to that adopted by Kelly's Ammianus, that Claudian wanted to sound Greek to his Roman audience? Gualandri also notes that Greek authors such as Pindar were little known in the West at this time, complicating further the identification of the purpose of such allusions within the context of late-fourth-century Rome.

Quiroga provides a brief concluding essay in which he suggests some useful further avenues for exploration. He sets cultural alterity in Late Antiquity within the context of religious change, particularly the appearance of 'new cultural canons, the creation of Christian scholarship, and the reaction of pagan cultural elites' (p. 131). He is undoubtedly right to do so, and the absence of direct discussion of this context in the preceding chapters is a reminder that historiography and panegyric were largely 'secular' genres, which avoided direct confrontation with debates about religious identity.

In sum, these essays all provide a well-executed demonstration of the value of close and nuanced readings of late antique texts (a shared approach that perhaps comes naturally to a group of contributors, almost all of whom have recently been or are currently engaged in editing, translating, or commentating on the texts under discussion here). Their results collectively assemble an argument that 'alterity', particularly in terms of the East-West, Greek-Latin divisions that are the starting point of most of these essays, is not concerned with fixed binary opposites. A single author can advance different approaches to 'otherness' (e.g. Pacatus constructs and then deconstructs his Gallic alterity; Ammianus tries to sound Greek, and yet Romanizes aspects of existing discourse by de-Hellenizing it). Greek and Latin, East and West, are important markers of identity that create a framework for discussion of belonging and otherness by these authors, but their discussions exclude other distinctions (it is worth remembering that Ammianus probably knew Syriac, and Claudian was specifically an Egyptian, for example). Belonging to one or both of the two primary cultural groups in the empire was what really mattered.

One final word about a different form of linguistic alterity: all the essays are in English, and thus a great achievement of the volume is that several of the authors have written in their second language (a boon to many monoglot Anglophones, for whom linguistic alterity is often viewed as an insurmountable form of otherness). As is often the case, however, in volumes edited by non-native speakers, there is a significant amount of unidiomatic English, most – but by no means all – of which does not interfere with the clarity of argument. Several of the chapters, however, do require some effort and patience on the part of the reader.

Nonetheless, each chapter makes a significant individual contribution to the study of these prominent fourth-century authors, and together the volume provides a welcome demonstration of the application of a new approach to late-antique texts.

Table of Contents

García Ruiz, Maria Pilar and Alberto J. Quiroga Puertas, 'Preface'. 7-8.
Gualandri, Isabella, 'Introduction: Linguistic and Cultural Alterity in the Roman Empire: Historiography and Panegyrics'. 9-12.
Torres, José B., 'The bilingual emperor: Eusebius of Caesarea, Vita Constantini'. 13-24.
Burgersdijk, Diederik, 'Praise through letters: Panegyrical Strategies in Eusebius' Life of Constantine and the Historia Augusta'. 25-40.
Rees, Roger, 'From alterity to unity in Pacatus Drepanius' panegyric to Theodosius'. 41-53.
Quiroga Puertas, Alberto J., 'The Others: cultural monotheism and the rhetorical construction of 'Cultural Alterity' in Libanius' Panegyrics'. 55-66.
Kelly, Gavin, 'Ammianus' Greek accent'. 67-79.
García Ruiz, Maria Pilar, 'The 'Marcellus case' and the loyalty of Julian: 'latent arguments' and cultural Otherness in Ammianus' Res Gestae'. 81-96.
Sánchez-Ostiz, Álvaro, 'Lucretius, Cicero, Theodorus: Greek philosophy and Latin eloquence in Claudian's encomiastic imagination'. 97-114.
Gualandri, Isabella, 'Claudian, from Easterner to Westerner'. 115-29.
Quiroga Puertas, Alberto J., 'Final Remarks: Rhetorizing Cultural Alterity in Late Antique Historiography and Panegyrics'. 131-35.


1.   Cf. the remarks of one of the contributors in an earlier publication: 'both [history and imperial panegyric] were essentially ethical; both dedicated much time to political leaders, their qualities, habits and achievements in theatres such as war, domestic politics and their own homes', R. Rees, 'Form and Function of Narrative in Roman Panegyrical Oratory', in Form and Function in Roman Oratory, eds., D.H. Berry and A. Erskine. (Cambridge, 2010) 105–21 at p.107.
2.   F. Hartog, The Mirror of Herodotus: the Representation of the Other in the Writing of History (Berkeley, CA., 1988); E. Hall, Inventing the Barbarian (Oxford, 1989); E.S. Gruen, Rethinking the Other in Antiquity (Princeton, NJ., 2011).
3.   A. Cameron, The Last Pagans of Rome (Oxford, 2011), pp.743-82.
4.   Especially in the wake of Barnes' promotion of Ammianus the Graecus in his Ammianus Marcellinus and the Representation of Historical Reality (Ithaca, NY., 1998).
5.   Ammianus Marcellinus, the Allusive Historian (Cambridge, 2008).
6.   A. M. Harmon, The Clausula in Ammianus Marcellinus (New Haven, 1910).
7.   E.g. J. Fontaine, 'Le Julien d'Ammien', in L'Empereur Julien. De l'histoire à la légende (Paris, 1978), 31-65. D. den Hengst, 'The Romanization of Julian', in Emperors and Historiography, edd. D. W. P. Burgersdijk and J. A. van Waarden (Leiden, 2010) 219-29.

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