Sunday, July 10, 2016


Valérie Naas, Mathilde Simon, De Samos à Rome: personnalité et influence de Douris. Modernité classique. Nanterre: Presses universitaires de Paris Ouest, 2015. Pp. 372. ISBN 9782840162070. €23.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Christopher Smith, British School at Rome (

Version at BMCR home site

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

This is a welcome collection of essays on an author whose works survive in only 96 fragments, but who continues to fascinate for his political life (he was tyrant at Samos), his aesthetic views and his association with 'tragic history.'

The work is full of speculation, and that begins with Douris' own life. As Knoepfler shows, Douris must have reflected on his homeland and its vicissitudes; an inscribed list of bouleutai and magistrates of the Athenian cleruchy (SEG XLV 1162, 340s BCE) may imply that his family spent the early part of his life in exile. Samos and Oropos suffered continuous changes of overlordship in the fourth century, which we may assume Douris reported. Knoepfler explores, and resolves, a small problem in the text of Pausanias (1.34.1) by showing that he telescoped Philip's liberation in 338 and Alexander's grant of Oropos to the Athenians in 335, but could still have based his account on Douris.

Gattinoni uses Douris' interest in Demetrios Poliorcetes, and the absence of evident interest in the successor kings, to suggest that Douris' focus on Greece explains his absence from a recently discovered list of Hellenistic historians (P.Oxy 71.4808), all of whom show a more international approach. If the author of the papyrus came from Egypt, as the editors suggest, this might reflect a limited circulation of Douris' work, although subsequent essays in this volume suggest that ties between Douris' intellectual circle and Alexandria were strong.

Cozzoli also uses Douris' relationship with Samos to explain his literary choices. Starting from the rivalry between Samos and Cos, she tries to extract from the philosophical choices of the proponents of various disciplines the debate which led Douris to his choice of mimetic history. This picture of a world of intellectual ideas in motion is given added poignancy by Falivene's speculative location of meetings between Phoinix of Colophon the poet, Posidippos the comedian, and Lynceus the brother of Douris, at some of the great dinners which occurred at Hellenistic courts such as Athens and Alexandria. Prioux compares Posidippos of Pella's recently discovered epigrams on statuary to Douris' account of Greek art, which we glimpse via Pliny the Elder's Natural History, Book 34. Prioux is surely right to say that the purposes of each writer are distinct, but they shared a fascination with imitation, illusion and progress.

This section concentrates therefore on Douris in his own time and has the merit of focusing attention on the intense discussions and competing conceptions of art and imitation. It may be somewhat optimistic as to the recoverability of these debates, for although each author is explicitly cautious, there is an underlying assumption that the disputes were clear and well defined. I thought that a comparison with how well we would be able to understand the shifting and often deeply personal choices revealed in the writings of Delacroix, Baudelaire and the Goncourt brothers, assuming we had the tiny fraction of them which our surviving Hellenistic literature represents (and practically none of the art to which they refer), might give a sense of proportion to how far we can reconstruct these arguments.

The next section is more focused on the use of Douris' history in the Greek world. Douris' biography of Agathocles is a particularly sad loss. As Giovannelli-Jouanna shows, the gap between the fragments, not one of which mentions Agathocles, and any traditional view of a biography is significant. The fact that Diodorus cites three other biographies, and not this one, makes matters worse. As a consequence, we end up resorting to some complex reconstructions. For instance Landucci Gattinoni proposed that a larger work of Douris was excerpted at various stages—so in fact there was no biography, but rather a narrative of his times. This would then explain the rather disparate nature of the fragments (which includes Douris' famous claim that Penelope slept with all the suitors). The consequence of her argument is that we may use Diodorus, who probably knew a summary of Douris' work, to reconstruct the content of that work. However, we can no longer say whether Diodorus created his portrait by combining different elements from different sources, or through his own imagination. Giovannelli-Jouanna tries to take us back to tragic history, but the most significant outcome of her essay is to destabilise the narrative of the rise of biography.

Dan focuses on F38 in Jacoby's collection, which discusses the location of a river called Thermodon, or for Douris, a statuette of Thermodon near Chaeronea, and connected with the oracles predicting the disaster which would befall Greece there in 338 BC. This rather complicated essay operates on at least two levels. First there is a claim that symbolically the Greeks had exported their myths to the areas which they had colonized (hence Amazons are found in the Black Sea area), and then reimported the enemy to the heart of Greece when the battle for survival had moved there at the time of Philip of Macedon. Then there is a claim that Douris had found a way to resolve the problem of the absence of a river Thermodon in Boeotia in a manner which would please the reader. The absence of any ancient example of a statue depicting a wounded Amazon, held by a male figure, is yet a further complication.

Veloso tackles the problem of what mimesis meant and suggests that there may have been shifts in its meaning over time, but he expresses such doubt over his own conclusions, and explains them so obscurely, that this reader at any rate was left none the wiser. Ottone also attempts to solve the problems raised by Douris' first fragment on mimesis, but her version is rather different. Starting from the likelihood that the citing source Photius has used an intermediary, she picks out Caecilius of Calatte, who was writing about orators as a potential intermediary. The emphasis on orators leads us to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and his stylistic works; from there to the dispute over the flatness of the style of Isocrates and his successors. The conclusion is that Douris attacked his predecessors in much the same way as others attacked the school of Isocrates. Ottone focuses on phrasis more than mimesis here. The significance of this essay is the focus it places on the context of citations, and she is surely correct to note that we need to understand Photius' practices better.

Naas is also interested in effect in Quellenforschung and tries to track Douris down through Pliny the Elder. Here the absence of cross-reference to Prioux's essay is unfortunate, because the problem here is knowing what Douris may have wanted to achieve. It seems that Pliny did actually know his work, and there is qualitative difference between the way Douris is cited elsewhere and how he is cited in Book 34. Naas is rightly cautious and sceptical, but it is striking that one of the most significant contributions which Douris appears to have made remains so obscure.

The last section of the book considers Douris and Roman history. Baier sets Douris fragment 1 alongside other complaints about the vividness of Roman historiography. As he notes, this is a case of ignotum per ignotius and whilst the comparison with Sempronius Asellio is obvious, it is not clear that it is justified, or at any rate any more justified than a comparison with other annalists (e.g. Claudius Quadrigarius, with his account of Torquatus' duel with the Gaul).

Simon finds in Livy's account of Alexander the Molossian, and his reference to oracles, and the moralising and unusual style, at least a reflection of Douris' style—the implication is that in adopting Greek style to recount a Greek death, Livy signifies doubly the fact that the Romans cannot be defeated, but will assimilate the Hellenistic world under their own terms. Simon's argument is about symbolic import, and Briquel reinforces this by his neat demonstration of how little Douris may have reported about the battle of Sentinum—perhaps no more than who fought and how many died. Douris was in this sense of symbolic value more than a critical—or perhaps informed—source. This would then support Gattinoni's view that Douris was very Greek-centred. The only question would be why Douris looked to the Italic world at all, and here Briquel makes a sensible suggestion that this may have been germane to the account of Agathocles, who was involved with neighbouring peoples. This works even better with Giovannelli-Jouanna's version of the history of Agathocles as less biographical and more straightforwardly historical. Guittard comes close to arguing the complete opposite, that the devotio of Decius in 295 BC was part of Douris' narrative and that we can use a fragment (which does not exist, as Briquel shows) to support the contribution of Greek sources to Roman historical records. A much stronger essay by de Franchis demolishes various supposed sources for Livy's account of Sophonisba, and suggests that, as with the story of Alexander the Molossian, Livy is adopting a style to suit a specific sort of story.

The volume concludes with a barnstorming essay, laying to rest the unwanted ghost of tragic history. Kebric shows that if one chooses to, one can make Caesar a tragic historian; that Cicero praised Caesar and Douris alike; and that lively history was really what everyone sought to produce. More attention to the nature of the subsequent critique of tragic history in the sources might have strengthened the argument.

This is a somewhat uneven volume and it would have benefitted from some more interventionist editing or a comprehensive introduction which included how the essays fit into contemporary scholarship. Taken together, however, the essays demolish a lot of what we thought we knew about Douris and open the way to a reassessment. The major tension seems to be between those who look for deeply consistent philosophical views underpinning the work, and those who focus on Douris' qualities as a writer and his symbolic significance. Continuing to resolve this tension in the context of broader Hellenistic culture will be an exciting task.

Table of Contents

Agnès Rouveret, Introduction
Denis Knoepfler, Douris et l'histoire d'Athènes: les connexions oropo-samienne
Franca Landucci Gattinoni, Duride, Samo e i Diadochi: uno storiografo nella storia
Adele Cozzoli, Duride di Samo e i circoli letterari contemporanei
Maria Rosaria Falivene, At the table of kings. Lynceus, the brother of Douris, and his friends
Évelyne Prioux, Douris et Posidippe: similitudes et dissemblances de quelques éléments de critique d'art et de critique littéraire
Pascale Giovannelli-Jouanna, Douris et l'historiographie d'Agathocle
Anca Dan, Le Thermodon, fleuve des Amazones, du Pont-Euxin et de la Béotie: un cas d'homonymie géographique qui fait histoire
Claudio William Veloso, Mimèsis et historiographie chez Aristote et chez les historiens des époques hellénistique et impériale: quelques réflexions
Gabriella Ottone, La critica a Eforo e Teopompo. Nuove prospettive ermeneutiche a proposito del F 1 di Duride di Samo
Valérie Naas, Douris de Samos chez Pline l'Ancien
Thomas Baier, Douris et l'historiographie romaine
Mathilde Simon, Douris et le récit livien de la mort d'Alexandre le Molosse
Dominique Briquel, Un événement capital de l'histoire de Rome, la bataille de Sentinum: le témoignage de Douris et ses limites
Marielle de Franchis, L'épisode de Sophonisbe chez Tite-Live, 30,12-15: un morceau d'histoire tragique?
Charles Guittard, Douris et la tradition de la devotio des Decii
Robert B. Kebric, Caesar, Duris of Samos, and the Death of "Tragic History"

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