Wednesday, November 30, 2016


Stephen E. Kidd, Nonsense and Meaning in Ancient Greek Comedy. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Pp. vi, 208. ISBN 9781107050150. $103.00.

Reviewed by Sarah Nooter, University of Chicago (

Version at BMCR home site


[This review appears after the initial reviewer was unable to complete the task.  BMCR is grateful to the present author for undertaking the work.]

Where is the comic? Stephen Kidd's excellent and elegant book on ancient Greek comedy is rooted in the generative notion that comedy is located where meaning is most strenuously resisted: in nonsense. In Nonsense and Meaning in Ancient Greek Comedy, Kidd pushes back against the scholarly trend of hunting for political and literary allusion, metapoetic gestures, and other forms of serious intent in comedy. Lyric poetry gives us obscure language, suggests Kidd, inviting ever more strenuous attempts to unravel it, but comedy "often suggests a different interpretative gesture, which is not to interpret at all" (3). Kidd leaps into this interpretive void, carefully mapping out its coordinates in puns, allegories, metaphors, coinages, and repetitions that veer away from coherence.

Kidd starts from the proposition that nonsense is not simply inarticulate noise or speech but "certain phenomena (utterances, gestures, data, etc.) that present themselves as being interpretable, but turn out not to be" (4). He offers a plethora of illustrations to help pick apart the obscure from the truly indecipherable, such as, "[o]ne would never call the stars 'nonsense,' but might call the read-outs from machines charting the pulses of the stars 'nonsense'" (4). But Kidd also points to trouble in these interpretative waters when he asks from what perspective an utterance is meaningless. What if someone disagrees? He turns to Chomsky, Lecercle, and Deleuze—with a light touch—to puzzle through sentences that are grammatical but (arguably) nonsensical, as opposed to those that are gibberish yet still (arguably) informative. So do nonsensical lines deliver no meaning or an excess of it? If language actually accumulates "delirious significance" as it travels from "some gravitational, unifying sense" (7) that limits meaning, then perhaps there is no such thing as nonsense? But, wait, Kidd bids us: all languages have a notion of nonsense, and ancient Greek had several ("phluaria, lēros, phlēnaphia, and hythlos" [7]). Nonsense may not be an objective category but it is still alive and well as an "intersubjective … label" (8) that refers intelligibly to language perceived as having no serious meaning. It is most often pronounced as an aspersion, Kidd suggests, yet it is also the category that encompasses the ever-just-ungraspable pleasure of comedy. Just as Frost described poetry as what gets lost in translation, so Kidd implies that nonsense is what gets lost in interpretation.

I have taken some care to explain these first pages because so much of the intrinsic gesture and nature of Kidd's book are to be found here. At a moment when we are told that Reception Studies is the next/present/passing wave of scholarship, Kidd's book shows that a fine-grained study of the ways that comedy is received by other scholars can reveal the very core of comedy itself, and many of his insights reside in analysis of the work of his forebears—the Newigers and the Silks. His book also includes plenty of textual analysis of Old Comedy, but embedded within this analysis is the application of the idea that our own scholarly touch affects the objects we encounter—the very interpretative uncertainty principle that Charles Martindale and others have unfurled for classicists over the last several decades. This acute scholarly self-consciousness puts Kidd in a bit of a bind, since, as he notes, there is no particular line or passage of text that can be definitely understood as nonsensical, since someone may find meaning in it. Thus there are no formal features to nonsense and no firm markers to hold it in place while we interpret it, since our interpretation of it is precisely the act that will make nonsense vanish. So what is an author of a book on nonsense in ancient comedy to do?

What Kidd does is to roll back this declaration a bit in Chapter 1 ("Greek notions of nonsense"), in which he looks to classical rhetoric to provide a context to help define two of the most common Greek words for nonsense: φλυαρεῖν and ληρεῖν. Here he shows that the accusation that someone is speaking nonsense is often meant to signal that the speaker-of-nonsense is not dangerous (as someone who speaks lies is) but mentally impaired or just foolish. Kidd walks a line here between suggesting that it is merely the state of mind of the speaker that is implicated—that the same statement can be nonsense or not, depending on the manner in which it is spoken—and arguing that there are in fact rhetorical elements that make some statements more given to the accusation of being nonsense than others. These include "excessive repetition" and "excessively rambling speech" (35). Here, as Kidd points out, the units of language under discussion are not words or phrases but entire ideas, not instances of anaphora but of redundant periodic statements. Kidd then moves on to a different kind of nonsense, the kind that resides in the world of play, which he defines through a variety of classical examples as a kind of talk or activity that is willingly entered upon in the service of joy that "gets nowhere" and "says nothing" (48). Speakers of nonsense, then, may be compared to people who are mentally ill on one hand, or to children on the other, as Kidd unfolds at greater length in Chapter 4.

In Chapter 2 ("Nonsense as 'no reference': riddles, allegories, metaphors"), Kidd turns to close readings of comedy by way of "language without reference," that is, language that is intelligible in its own right but that refers to nonexistent objects, as opposed to language that is internally indecipherable. Kidd's argument is that devices that usually have references hidden away—riddles, allegories, and metaphors—pointedly lose them in Old Comedy and that this loss is made explicit for the audience's benefit. But what is the point of this referential bait-and-switch? Kidd suggests that a strategic gear-shift into "meaningless language … causes more irrational reactions in lieu of the cerebral interpretative response—discomfort, frustration, rage, laughter, and others" (54). To illustrate this point, he turns to a passage that takes on insolubility in riddles in Antiphanes' Gut and also to his play that is actually called Riddle. In both cases, Kidd suggests that the "more physical or emotional response" (62) of aggravated characters onstage might offer a clue as to how the audience was meant to perceive these riddles. The audience's irritation at the lack of reference in riddles would have given way, suggests Kidd, to the "surrender of the interpretative urge" (65); this surrender, or submission, would allow nonsense to reign. As Kidd moves into the more familiar territory of Aristophanic comedy, he turns to elements of "broken signification" (71) within allegorical frameworks and features that burst abstractions apart, like the all-too-literal jokes about sex with Reconciliation in Peace. He ends the chapter by considering metaphors that don't cash out, as in another moment of sexual innuendo gone wild in Peace, in which images of wrestling and horse-racing standing in for sex suddenly seem to lose their footing and skitter off into absurdity.

Kidd steps back to look at "broader stretches of comic action" (87) in Chapter 3 ("Nonsense as 'no-serious sense': the case of Cinesias"), framing his question around the phenomenon of "onomasti komoidein ("mocking by name"), by way of Aristophanes' onslaughts on the character, poetry, constitution, and digestive state of Cinesias. Didn't Cinesias and other mocked figures take such comic aggression and insult seriously? If so, why do we have no evidence for outrage and lawsuits? (Kidd glosses curiously over the case of the possibly more litigious Cleon in just a non-descriptive footnote.) Kidd poses and then works his way through this problem deliberately, trying out different solutions and sifting through a handful of passages before coming to his punchline: this is play-aggression, not aggression-aggression. This line turns out to be critical for Kidd's overall argument. He acknowledges that Old Comedy contains meaningful content and reference, but seeks to delineate the ways that the genre uses content and reference as decoys for something far less (literally) significant, yet far more intrinsic to human life—play. If Cinesias didn't sue or commit suicide, it is (argues Kidd) because he understood the joke; he perceived the "play signal" that scholars do not often recognize.

In Chapter 4 ("Nonsense as 'no-sense': jokes, puns, and language play'), Kidd reverses the order of argument: whereas he previously uses play to explain how aggression on stage was excused, here he uses aggression and contemporary political references to explain how play to the point of delirium was made palatable. Toward this end, he examines instances of wordplay—short and extended, new words and nonwords, puns and repetitions. Kidd turns to anthropology to draw on the phenomenon of play-fighting (all mammals do it) and to suggest that the thrill that arises as play-fighting comes close to the boundary of the real (but does not cross it) is a useful comparandum for the pleasure we find in aggressive, punchy comedy. Kidd is not so much interested in suggesting an evolutionary model for comedy (along the lines of "we enjoy it because it helps us survive") as with dislodging the place of formalism from the interpretation of jokes and wordplay. Thus he discusses and dismisses Aristotle's valiant attempt to explain that jokes are fun because we learn something (but no one ever accused Aristotle of being too fun), merely by looking at a few Aristophanic puns and asking what the audience might have learned; not much, it appears.

Kidd finds much more to work with in Freud, who suggests that children take great pleasure in aspects of language that make adults recoil, like strings of syllables that rhyme or alliterate. Thus adults feel desire for the pleasure derived from soundplay and nonsense but are stymied by their own learned disgust. In order to enjoy the nonsensically delirious, they must cloak it in mature meaning: political jokes and gestures of aggression. This explanation may seem a long way around to come to why Old Comedy works the way it does and certainly it raises as many questions as it answers: Why do children like strings of sounds? Why do adults recoil from it but still like it? Do we really all react the same way, ahistorically and forever, to stimuli of this kind? But I do not see these interpretative tangles as a drawback to Kidd's argument. His process of thinking-through—always on display as he moves through interpretative possibilities—invites an endless array of further thoughts. Even if his theory is not completely correct (and who knows?), it is certainly rich and generative.

Kidd's fifth chapter ("Playing it straight: comedy's 'nonsense!' accusations") adds support to his overall thesis by looking at the reception of "nonsense" by characters in comedies that act as "straight men." Kidd suggests that this character is an "on-stage element…that is rebuking the comedy itself" (163). When on-stage characters scold one another for their deployment of nonsense, Kidd argues, the audience is relieved of this function and can simply enjoy the fun. This model is perhaps itself a rebuke to other moments in Kidd's text, where it appears that characters' responses to nonsense are typifying audience's reactions (as in some examples from Chapter 2), but this more complex dynamic nonetheless bears fruit. By seemingly pushing back the tide of nonsense, the straight man allows for what Kidd sees as the illusion of comedy's "forward movement," an illusion that lets adults give their time to the seeking of comic climaxes. For Kidd, all this staging of meaning merely allows for a setting in which pleasurable nonsense can flourish, if ever so briefly.

This slim book rather extraordinarily proposes a theory for the whole "wild cognitive storm" (189) of Old Comedy, and indeed for humor itself. To do so, it draws on-stage action, audience reaction, far-flung theoretical models, and scholarly reception resolutely into its orbit. I am sure I will never teach Old Comedy again without reference to Kidd's ideas, whether in agreement or otherwise. He writes very well, making liberal use of the figurative in a sprightly and inviting way (e.g., "regarding allegories, some feverish readers discover them everywhere" [54], "leaving λίθῳ to hang flaccidly at the end of the line" [138]) and allowing his own authorial voice to guide the proceedings, so that we readers may feel that we are fellow-travelers along for the ride of his own explorations. It is a good book for reading in order and in its entirety. I would suggest that anyone interested in Old Comedy, and in comedy fullstop, do just this.

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Honora Howell Chapman, Zuleika Rodgers (ed.), A Companion to Josephus. Blackwell companions to the ancient world. Malden, MA; Oxford; Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2016. Pp. xvi, 466. ISBN 9781444335330. $195.00.

Reviewed by Matthew Kraus, University of Cincinnati (

Version at BMCR home site


The publication of this "first introductory companion, or scholarly guide" (p.1) to Josephus marks the seismic change in Josephan scholarship over recent decades. In addition to the Brill Josephus Project, whose translations and detailed commentaries on the Josephan corpus are already replacing the Loeb editions for serious scholars, innovative approaches to traditional topics and new areas of research now permeate the Josephan landscape.1 No longer reduced to being the cherry-picked companion to the Jewish and Christian experience of the Greek and Roman worlds, he properly merits his own handbook considering him an author in his own right. The volume, ably edited by Honora Chapman and Zuleika Rodgers, draws on an international team of Josephan experts, including several contributors to the Brill translation and commentary. It updates the current status of research and provides a foundation for future advancements.

While we find the expected articles on traditional topics such as individual works (The Jewish War, The Jewish Antiquities,2 The Life, and Against Apion), New Testament, Hasmoneans, Herod the Great, Bible, Testimonium Flavianum and Jewish sects, we are also introduced to untraveled avenues of investigation, including "Josephus and Greek Imperial Literature," "Josephus as a Military Historian," "Josephus on Women," "Josephus and the Priesthood," and "Josephus and Halacha." Especially unique and useful are the eleven pieces in the final section on "Transmission and Reception History" that treat the Greek manuscript tradition, the Latin, Hebrew, Slavonic and English translations of Josephus, Christian reception in Patristic Literature, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance and "Josephus in Twentieth-Century Hebrew Scholarship." Many of these essays provide background that is often inaccessible because the information may be limited to the Latin prefaces of critical editions or buried in obscure articles or collections.

The Companion consists of thirty essays grouped into four sections: "Writings," "Josephus's Literary Context," "Themes", and "Transmission and Reception History." The division aptly reflects the various approaches and applications of the Josephan corpus. Each of his works has singular features that impact the assessment of Josephus as an historian and historical figure. The recent reevaluation of Josephan rhetoric and his Flavian environment are particularly responsible for transforming Josephus from simply an historical source for Jewish life in the Greek and Roman periods to a Greek author of literary interest. The final section not only contributes to a usually neglected aspect of Josephan studies, it underscores the impact of reception history on the other three topics. The essays are relatively brief, most about ten to twenty pages and most include a helpful bibliography of works cited as well as recommendations for further reading. Space prohibits commenting on every essay, so I will focus on a few that illustrate both the strengths and weaknesses of this collection.

The contributions of Steve Mason, Eran Almagor, Jonathan Roth, Erich Gruen, James McClaren and Daniel Schwartz ably demonstrate contemporary trends in the study of Josephus. Mason, in his chapters on Josephus's The Judean War," The Life, and "Josephus as a Roman Historian," highlights the Greek and Roman character of Josephus's work. Rejecting the view that The Judean War is merely Flavian propaganda or a defense of the Judean people, he argues that the atticizing style, classical allusions, and Hellenistic framework and political logic derived from a Josephus facile in Greek culture and capable of shaping his sources. For example, while the speeches represent a Greek historiographical technique, they need not represent Josephus's own view. Not only does he include opposing speeches, he also is suspicious of demagoguery and considers speeches a tool of last resort. Since oratory is a Greek, not a Judean skill, argues Mason, Josephus employs this Thucydidean technique without endorsing it. In his introduction to The Life, Mason likewise shows how both Josephus's own concern to explain himself and a rhetorical structure similar to Tacitus's Agricola account for the unique character of his so-called biography. These assessments correlate with Mason's conclusion to his final contribution "Josephus as Roman Historian": Josephus "chose his material and language first of all as a communicative bridge between his Judean values and those of his Greek-educated public in Flavian Rome" (p.103). This explains why he appealed to Flavian Roman elites by incorporating annalistic features, Greek rhetoric, and a moralizing history through biography while advocating the Judean preference for aristocracy instead of hereditary monarchy. Almagor, in "Josephus and Greek Imperial Literature" extends the implication of situating Josephus in a Flavian context and considers him part of the Greek Renaissance from which he had been excluded by previous scholars. Both the sophistic character of his oratorical elements and his mimesis, in the Greek sense, of Dionysius's Roman Antiquities mark him as a Greek insider. By also representing himself as a partially Hellenized outsider, however, Josephus may be counted among the Second Sophistic Greek intellectuals who were "mediators between the imperial center and the periphery" (p.108).

While the new insights of Mason and Almagor correlate with the old issue of Josephus between Jerusalem and Rome, the contributions of Roth, Gruen, McClaren, and Schwartz introduce new techniques and consider neglected topics. Roth, in "Josephus as a Military Historian" not only examines the Jewish general's eyewitness accounts of warfare, he innovatively subjects the biblical paraphrase of Jewish Antiquities to military analysis. Roth also convincingly argues that repeated topoi such as suicides and starvation are not necessarily inventions of the author, but typical of military histories because they reflect the reality of long sieges. In a particularly fine chapter, Erich Gruen, in "The Hasmoneans in Josephus," wisely notes that Josephus has very little interest in two primary issues that concern scholars of Hasmoneans: their role in the interaction between "Hellenism" and "Judaism" and what motivated their "expansionism, imperialism, and forced assimilation of neighboring peoples" (p.223). Josephus avoids analyzing political and military events deeply or glorifying the Hasmoneans even though they are "his professed ancestors" (p.223). Therefore, the contradictory presentation of the Hasmoneans may reflect their actual complexity as well as Josephan ambivalence. In "Josephus and the Priesthood," McClaren addresses an oft-neglected topic despite the significance of the priesthood in 1st century CE Judea and his own frequent claims to authority based on his priestly status. This connection to the priesthood accounts for his prophetic and dream-interpretation skills, his knowledge of the Bible, his theology of divine providence, and the portrayal of priests as almost always opposed to the war against the Romans. Finally, Daniel Schwartz's "From Masada to Jotapata: Josephus in Twentieth-Century Hebrew Scholarship," a translation of an article originally published in Hebrew,3 brilliantly shows that the changing assessment of Josephus the Jew and historian corresponds to developments in Israeli history and culture and the piecemeal appearance of his works in Hebrew translation. For example, in the 1930s, despite the defense of Josephus's character in the translation of The Jewish War in 1923 by Jacob Naphtali Simchoni, the dominating ideology of heroic bravery articulated in Isaac Lamdan's poem "Masada" produced a hostile contrast to Josephus and his surrender at Jotapata. Translations of the first half of the Jewish Antiquities in 1940-1946 combined with the realities of the British Mandate led to reevaluating the prevailing Zealot position in favor of a moderate political stance toward the ruling power. The focus on Antiquities drew more attention to his relationship to midrashic traditions and his Jewish bonafides rather than the more complex considerations of his behavior during his own times. One of the fascinating tidbits provided by Schwartz to illustrate this sea-change is his discovery in the Hebrew University archives that Abraham Schalit omitted from his application for a position at the University a Hebrew article that he had published that referred to Josephus's "degenerate character" (p.421).

While as a whole, the articles more than admirably fulfill their purpose "to present the latest approaches to the study of Josephus in his original context as well as the uses of his texts in later ages" (p.8), a few contributions were disappointing. While "Josephus and the Archaeology of Galilee" by Zeev Weiss offers a very impressive survey of recent archaeological evidence from the Galilee, it addresses the relationship to Josephus only in passing. It would have been helpful to explain how the material record complements, counters, or clarifies Josephus rather than give the impression that the Josephan corpus and archaeology having little to say to each other. In this regard, Tal Ilan in "Josephus on Women" does a much better job dealing with the relative insignificance of Josephus for understanding Jewish attitudes toward women and their social history by showing how an analysis of women in his work contributes to our understanding of Josephus himself. In "Josephus and the Halacha" David Nakman convincingly identifies several examples of comparable legal content. However, claims such as "Josephus's halakha matches that of the rabbis" (p.284) give the erroneous impression that rabbinic law influenced Josephus. I do not think that this is Nakman's position, but his early dating of rabbinic halakha can be problematic. For example, he cites a passage from Ant. 3.261-269 as possibly sectarian because it parallels the Temple Scroll (48:14-17), but not rabbinic tradition. It is a matter of debate, however, whether the Temple Scroll represents "the sectarian halakha of the Qumran community" (p.287) and it more likely reflects Sadducean, not sectarian law.4 Therefore, Nakman's claim that a rabbinic-pharisaic/Josephan parallel represents normative law and a Temple Scroll/Josephan parallel indicates sectarian legislation is questionable.

I did notice a number of significant typographical errors, including: p.199, 2.34-405 should be 2.345-405; p.230, 1.57-19 should be 1.57-60; p. 366, JTS 5:539-624 should be JTS 52:539-624. Also, p.206 "Numbers 14-16" referring to Ant. 4:11 should be Numbers 16-18. One would hope for fewer errors of this sort in a handbook.

These criticisms are minor. More to the point, by itself, "Part IV: Transmission and Reception History" makes this companion essential. The manuscript discussions are excellent and up to date. Especially noteworthy is the survey of ancient Latin translations by David B. Levenson and Thomas R. Martin. Scholars no longer have to turn to Franz Blatt's The Latin Josephus. I. Introduction and Text. The Jewish Antiquities: Books I-V (1958) and will be aided by the list of manuscripts including those available online. Saskia Dönitz "Sefer Yosippon (Josippon)" offers a superior English introduction to this oft-ignored Hebrew Josephus and the chapters by Sabrina Inowlocki on "Josephus and Patristic Literature" and Karen Kletter on "The Christian Reception of Josephus in Late Antiquity in the Middle Ages" are particularly insightful.

Josephus attracts attention from many directions—biblical interpretation, Jewish history, New Testament Studies, archaeology, Greek and Roman history, the Dead Sea Scrolls—all of which require a general, accessible overview. This companion fills a much-needed lacuna for Josephan scholars and scholars relying on Josephus. The editors are to be commended for their fine efforts organizing this work, which, along with the Brill commentary, belongs to any twenty-first collection of Josephan scholarship.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Honora Howell Chapman and Zuleika Rodgers
Part I Writings 11
1 Josephus's Judean War, Steve Mason
2 Many Sources but a Single Author: Josephus's Jewish Antiquities, Daniel R. Schwartz
3 Josephus's Autobiography (Life of Josephus), Steve Mason
4 Against Apion, John Barclay
Part II Josephus's Literary Context
5 Josephus as a Roman Historian, Steve Mason
6 Josephus and Greek Imperial Literature, Eran Almagor
7 Josephus and the Bible, Paul Spilsbury
8 Josephus and Philo in Rome, Maren R. Niehoff
9 Josephus and the New Testament, Helen K. Bond
Part III Themes
10 Josephus and the Archaeology of Galilee, Zeev Weiss
11 Josephus as a Military Historian, Jonathan P. Roth
12 Josephus on Women, Tal Ilan
13 The Hasmoneans in Josephus, Erich S. Gruen
14 Herod the Great in Josephus, Jan Willem van Henten
15 The Herodian Temple in Josephus, David A. Kaden
16 Josephus and the Jewish Sects, Albert I. Baumgarten
17 Josephus and the Priesthood, James S. McLaren
18 Josephus and Halacha, David Nakman
19 Josephus and Rabbinic Literature, Richard Kalmin
Part IV Transmission and Reception History
20 The Text of the Josephan Corpus: Principal Greek Manuscripts, Ancient Latin Translations, and the Indirect Tradition, Tommaso Leoni
21 The Ancient Latin Translations of Josephus, David B. Levenson and Thomas R. Martin
22 The Testimonium Flavianum, Alice Whealey
23 Josephus and Patristic Literature, Sabrina Inowlocki
24 The Christian Reception of Josephus in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, Karen M. Kletter
25 Sefer Yosippon (Josippon), Saskia Dönitz
26 The Slavonic Version of Josephus's Jewish War, Kate Leeming
27 Josephus in Renaissance Italy, Silvia Castelli
28 A Note on English Translations of Josephus from Thomas Lodge to D. S. Margoliouth, Gohei Hata
29 From Masada to Jotapata: On Josephus in Twentieth-Century Hebrew Scholarship, Daniel R. Schwartz
30 Josephus Comicus in Monty Python's Life of Brian and History of the World, Part 1, Honora Howell Chapman


1.   Brill Josephus Project, 2000-2014. Steve Mason edits the entire project and to date seven volumes of the translation and commentary have been published: Judean Antiquities 1-4 (Louis Feldman, 2000), Life of Josephus (Steve Mason, 2001), Judean Antiquities 5-7 (Christopher Begg, 2005), Judean Antiquities 8-10 (Christopher Begg and Paul Spilsbury, 2005), Against Apion (John Barclay, 2007), Judean War 2 (Steve Mason and Honora Chapman, 2008), and Judean Antiquities 15 (Jan Willem van Henten, 2014). Judean Antiquities 11 (Paul Spilsbury and Chris Seeman) is scheduled to appear in November, 2016.
2.   There is a vigorous debate whether to render Greek Ioudaios as Jewish or Judean. See the forum in Marginalia. Chapman and Rodgers gave discretion to the authors which explains why Steve Mason uses The Judean War and Daniel Schwartz uses The Jewish Antiquities.
3.   Daniel Schwartz, 2009, "War and Antiquities between Masada and Jotapata: Josephus in Hebrew Scholarship from the 1930s to the 1990s," in Remembering and Forgetting: Israeli Historians Look at the Jewish Past, Albert Baumgarten, Jeremy Cohen, and Ezra Mendelsohn, eds. (Jerusalem: Historical Society of Israel = Zion 74), 45-63 (in Hebrew).
4.   Lawrence Schiffman, 1994, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society), 257-271.

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Christian Krötzl​, Katariina Mustakallio, Jenni Kuuliala (ed.), Infirmity in Antiquity and the Middle Ages: Social and Cultural Approaches to Health, Weakness and Care. Farnham; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2015. Pp. xiii, 319. ISBN 9781472438348. $134.95.

Reviewed by Jane Draycott, University of Glasgow (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Since the turn of the twenty-first century, the discipline of Classics has seen a deluge of scholarship taking a leaf out of the book of the discipline of Disability Studies and focusing on aspects of impairment and disability in the ancient world. 1 While the remit and the terminology utilised with regard to impairment, disability, deformity, disfigurement, etc. has varied somewhat according to author, certain subjects, issues and individuals have a tendency to recur. The volume under review takes a slightly different approach, casting its net far wider than has so far been typical by focusing on infirmity rather than impairment, which means that in addition to mental and physical problems, it also discusses political, social and spiritual ones at specific moments and locations in time over the course of almost two thousand years. It had its origins in the conference Passages from Antiquity to the Middle Ages V: Infirmitas: Social Approaches to Cure, Caring and Health held at the University of Tampere in 2012. The fifteen papers, of which seven focus on the ancient world (one Greek, six Roman) and nine on the medieval, are divided into three sections: Defining Infirmity and Disability, Societal and Cultural Infirmitas, and Infirmity, Healing and Community.

The editors' 'Introduction' seeks to explain and justify their approach while situating their work within the context of scholarship on marginalised groups in antiquity and the Middle Ages. In it, they take issue with the use of terms such as 'impairment' and 'disability' on the grounds that they are modern conceptions, preferring instead 'infirmity' due to its breadth and fluidity. Thus the term 'infirmity', originating from the Latin infirmitas, is referred to throughout, although it is of questionable relevance to at least one chapter (Dasen's, on short stature in Classical Athens).

The first section (Defining Infirmity and Disability) opens with Mary Harlow and Ray Laurence's 'Age, Agency and Disability: Suetonius and the Emperors of the First Century CE', which draws on the authors' previous research into the ancient Roman life cycle but focuses on the ways in which Suetonius presented age, whether too young or too old, as disabling the early Roman emperors, before offering an intriguing new interpretation of the emperor Claudius, who has been much discussed in studies of disability in the Roman world. Véronique Dasen's 'Infirmitas or Not? Short-statured Persons in Ancient Greece' likewise draws on the author's earlier work into dwarfism in antiquity and argues that dwarves played an important role in Athenian social and religious life, standing between the human and divine worlds. Bianca Frohne's 'Performing Dis/ability? Constructions of 'Infirmity' in Late Medieval and Early Modern Life Writing' observes a pattern in this genre and presents it by using the autobiographies of Johann von Soest and Gottfried von Berlichingen as case studies. She demonstrates that in these autobiographies, the writers' infirmities are overcome and they both achieve greatness, the result of which is that their infirmities subsequently disappear from the narrative and seem to play no further part in their social identities. Jenni Kuuliala's 'Nobility, Community and Physical Impairment in Later Medieval Canonization Processes' highlights the role that one's position in the social hierarchy played in how one's body was viewed, with members of the social elite being held to different and higher standards than the peasantry. She argues that this accounts for differences in how their miraculous healings were recorded, but does, however, admit that since recorded instances of members of the nobility experiencing infirmities are relatively rare, it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions. Donatella Puliga's 'Towards a Glossary of Depression and Psychological Distress in Ancient Roman Culture' comes the closest to offering some sort of definition in her discussion of the Latin term veternus, a sort of 'death in life' that is typical of old age but also occurs when one experiences existential anxiety.

The second section (Societal and Cultural Infirmitas) opens with two chapters that explore the phenomenon of stigmata, albeit from almost diametrically opposed perspectives. Miikka Tamminen's 'The Crusader's Stigmata: True Crusading and the Wounds of Christ in the Crusade Ideology of the Thirteenth Century' argues that crusaders were actively encouraged to put themselves in Christ's position and so adopted stigmata and related disfigurements to demonstrate their piety. This enabled them to develop a special relationship with Him and so made physical infirmity a desirable rather than undesirable condition. Gábor Klaniczay's 'Illness, Self-inflicted Body Pain and Supernatural Stigmata: three Ways of Identification with the Suffering Body of Christ' utilises more recent and consequently better recorded cases of stigmata as a means of exploring the relationship between chronic physical infirmity and the subsequent development of stigmata, suggesting that illnesses can be heavily invested with religious significance. Reima Välimäki's 'Imagery of Disease, Poison and Healing in the Late Fourteenth-century Polemics against Waldensian Heresy' surveys the metaphors used in works of literature that recount heresy and discusses why particular authors use certain metaphors. He argues that authors purposely develop specific rhetorical strategies when dealing with individual outbreaks of heresy. Katariina Mustakallio and Elina Pyy's 'Infirmitas Romana and its Cure – Livy's History Therapy in the Ad urbe condita' likewise discusses the way in which particular circumstances are recounted in a work of literature using the metaphor of sickness, treatment and cure.

The third section (Infirmity, Healing and Community) opens with Svetlana Hautala's survey 'From Mithridatium to Potio Sancti Pauli: The Idea of a Medicine from Antiquity to the Middle Ages', which focuses on pharmaceutical knowledge and the ways in which this has been applied over time. Then follow two chapters that explore different aspects of bathing in the Roman period. Alison Griffith's 'Alternative Medicine in Pre-Roman and Republican Italy: Sacred Springs, Curative Baths and 'Votive Religion'' suggests that despite the Romans acknowledging the centrality of the role of water in healing, bathhouses were devoid of religious activity. Ria Berg's 'Bathing the Infirm: Water Basins in Roman Iconography and Household Contexts' investigates the central role that the seemingly humble basin could have played in domestic medical practice. Susanna Niiranen's 'Sexual Incapacity in Medieval Materia Medica' argues that there was no single attitude towards sexuality in the medieval period and moreover sexuality was not isolated but rather related and connected to all other aspects of life before describing a wide range of possible treatments for sexual problems. Jonas Van Mulder's 'Miracles and the Body Social: Infirmi in the Middle Dutch Miracle Collection of Our Lady of Amersfoort' argues that miracles were deeply embedded in society and served as a means of offering instruction and conveying appropriate attitudes to the extent that they functioned as a sort of social glue. Christian Krötzl's 'Saints, Healing and Communities in the Later Middle Ages: On Roles and Perceptions' offers a succinct general summary of healing practitioners and their practices in the literature of this period.

Finally, there is an extensive bibliography containing sections on manuscript sources, primary sources, scholarship and online resources, and a serviceable index.

As stated at the outset of this review, the volume casts a deliberately wide net and in the process reveals how important context is when considering impairment and disability in the past. It also offers an entry point into the diversity of foreign language scholarship on impairment and disability in antiquity and the Middle Ages. Due to the breadth of chronological and geographical coverage, very few of the individual chapters explicitly and deliberately complement each other. They use diverse methodologies and bodies of evidence, and are not really arranged in a way that lends itself to utilising their contents in conjunction with each other. Consequently, it is the type of volume that one might dip into for one paper while dismissing the rest. Conversely, this means it has a potentially wide appeal to historians from a range of periods and scholars from a range of academic disciplines beyond history. It also offers an opportunity for classicists and historians to build on the important work so recently done, turn their attention in different directions and start to think about the possibility and potential of studying impairment and disability in the past in alternative ways.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Infirmitas in Antiquity and the Middle Ages, Kuuliala, Mustakallio and Krötzl
Part I Defining Infirmity and Disability
Age, agency and disability: Suetonius and the emperors of the 1st century CE, Harlow and Laurence
Infirmitas or not? Short-statured persons in ancient Greece, Dasen
Performing dis/ability? Constructions of 'infirmity' in late medieval and early modern life writing, Frohne
Nobility, community and physical impairment in later medieval canonization processes, Kuuliala
Towards a glossary of depression and psychological distress in ancient Roman culture, Puliga
Part II Societal and Cultural Infirmitas
The crusader's stigmata: true crusading and the wounds of Christ in the crusade ideology of the 13th century, Tamminen
Illness, self-inflicted body pain and supernatural stigmata: three ways of identification with the suffering body of Christ, Klaniczay
Imagery of disease, poison and healing in the late 14th-century polemics against Waldensian heresy, Välimäki
Infirmitas Romana and its cure - Livy's history therapy in the Ab urbe condita, Mustakallio and Pyy
Part III Infirmity, Healing and Community
From Mithridatium to Potio sancti Pauli: the idea of a medicine from Antiquity to the Middle Ages, Hautala
Alternative medicine in pre-Roman and republican Italy: sacred springs, curative baths and 'votive religion', Griffith
Bathing the infirm: water basins in Roman iconography and household contexts, Berg
Sexual incapacity in medieval materia medica, Niiranen
Miracles and the body social: Infirmi in the middle Dutch miracle collection of Our Lady of Amersfoort, Van Mulder
Saints, healing and communities in the later Middle Ages: on roles and perceptions, Krötzl


1.   R. Garland, The Eye of the Beholder. Deformity and Disability in the Graeco-Roman World (first published 1995 and reviewed in BMCR 97.9.04; reissued 2010, reviewed in BMCR 2011.04.47); M. L. Rose, The Staff of Oedipus. Transforming Disability in Ancient Greece (first published 2003, reissued 2013); R. Breitwieser (ed.), Behinderungen und Beeinträchtigungen/Disability and Impairment in Antiquity (2012); C. Laes, C. F. Goodey and M. L. Rose (eds.), Disabilities in Roman Antiquity. Disparate Bodies a Capite ad Calcem (2013), reviewed BMCR 2014.04.20; C. Laes, Bepurkt? Gehandicapten in het Romeinse rijk (2014); C. Laes (ed.) Disability in Antiquity (2016). A useful resource is the Disability History and the Ancient World research network, which includes a comprehensive and regularly updated subject bibliography, available at Disability History and the Ancient World.

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Étienne Wolff (ed.), Littérature, politique et religion en Afrique vandale. Collection des Études Augustiniennes. Série Antiquité, 200. Paris: Institut d'Études Augustiniennes, 2015. Pp. 378. ISBN 9782851212764. €48.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Éric Fournier, West Chester University of Pennsylvania (

Version at BMCR home site

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

This volume, from the prestigious "Collection des Études Augustiniennes", publishes the papers presented by an impressive roster of scholars at the international conference that gave its title to the book, at Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense, October 6–7, 2014. True to its international origins, the volume includes mostly papers in French, as well as several in Italian, one in German, and another in English. Dedicated to the memory of Yves Modéran, the French specialist of the Vandals who passed away prematurely in 2010, the book joins a flurry of recent publications on late antique North Africa, the Vandals, and late North African literature in particular. The Carthaginian poet Dracontius is particularly well represented in this collection of essays, which should be no surprise given that the editor, Étienne Wolff, is one of the most renowned specialists working on this North African author. Most of the chapters tackle extremely specific subjects that are, in a number of cases, relevant only to experts in the field. The lack of an overall introduction and conclusion to present each author's argument, explain its significance to the wider field and our broader understanding of the period, and indicate how they relate to one another, will unfortunately prevent non-expert readers from grasping the importance of some of these detailed demonstrations. For this reason, the book fails to meet the expectations raised by the jacket's claim that "it provides a synthesis on Vandal Africa (439–533) that was missing." To the contrary, the lack of synthesis precisely constitutes the main weakness of this book.

The volume is divided in five, uneven, parts. The first, on the political history of Vandal Africa, presents six contributions. But readers expecting what the title of this section promises will be disappointed: two focus on Procopius and the Byzantine period, one is historiographical, and another mainly literary (about Latin chroniclers' depiction of Vandal Africa). The second part, on the religious situation of Vandal Africa, includes three chapters. Part three, literature of Vandal Africa, presents four studies, including one on Dracontius. Dracontius also constitutes the focus of the last two parts. Part four presents two chapters on "Dracontius chrétien" while the last part of the book includes seven studies of Dracontius' "pagan" poetry ("Dracontius profane"). With ten studies dedicated to Dracontius out of the twenty-two chapters in the volume, this collection has a decidedly literary emphasis, which should fascinate anyone interested in the so-called "Vandal renaissance." The book lacks index and bibliography.

In part one, Konrad Vössing argues that the "difficult relationships" between the kingdoms of Vandals and Goths have been underappreciated. He divides their relationships into six periods, and argues that competition over land and resources explains the hostility between both groups despite their shared language and religion. For him, the traditional view that the Goths converted the Vandals to Christianity, which would explain their "Arian" faith, needs revision. Instead, he argues, the religious evolution of the Vandals occurred in stages during which Christian and "pagan" Vandals coexisted side by side (cf. Sabine Fialon, at 144). Through a detailed study of Latin chronicles' apparent factual descriptions of the Vandal kingdom, Bertrand Lançon astutely presents how these texts amounted to a Catholic depiction of events, conditioned by biblical texts. This explains why the dominant picture, shared by all of these authors (Hydatius, Prosper, Chronica gallica, Marcellinus Comes, Cassiodorus, Victor of Tunnuna and Marius of Avenches), is one of oppression, piracy, and anti-Catholic violence (51). Charles Guittard investigates the appearance of the Aurès Mountains in Procopius' account of the Vandalic war, which constituted a novelty in ancient literature. He argues that the picture of the massif as a locus of "resistance and dissidence" comes from later sources such as Procopius and Corippus (63). Aurélie Delattre and Vincent Zarini argue that, in the Iohannis, Corippus reflects official Byzantine views on the Vandals while also nodding to the belief of his African readership that the Moors were much more dangerous than the Vandals. In one of the most interesting papers of the book, and the only one to use archaeological material, Richard Miles sets his revision of Byzantine construction projects after their conquest of Africa within the current wider historiographical revision of the Vandal period as one of "neglect and destruction" (73). To the contrary, Miles shows that Byzantine buildings concentrated on areas previously important to the Vandals, with particular emphasis on the kingdom's royal capital of Carthage. Anis Mkacher completes this "political history" section with tracing the historiography of Vandal Africa from the early modern period to the early twenty-first century, and with emphasis on the "Catholic school," the "Germanic school," and Christian Courtois. While she presents a useful survey of earlier literature, it is unfortunate that almost none of the numerous important recent titles found their way into this chapter. There is very little discussion of any title beyond 2003. For example, Modéran, Merrills (but omitting co-author Miles), Vössing, and Jacobsen are mentioned, but only in passing in the conclusion. Important recent books by Guido Berndt, Ralf Bockman, Jonathan Conant, Leslie Dossey, Tankred Howe, Anna Leone, Philip von Rummel, and Roland Steinacher are all left out of this historiographical overview. As a result, this chapter will remain of limited use.1

In the second part of the book, on religion in Vandal Africa, Bruno Pottier responds to a recent debate (to which the present reviewer contributed) regarding the fate of "Donatists" during the Vandal period and beyond. Pottier's nuanced argument, that we should not imagine that all Donatists became either Nicene or 'Homoian' and that some probably ended up in both groups, rests on a detailed examination of sources on this complex question. It should now be read along Jonathan Conant's argument along the same lines.2 Hervé Inglebert studies divine interventions in Catholic texts, mainly comparing Victor of Vita's account with contemporary passions. It seems, however, that Inglebert exaggerates the importance of the literary genre to interpret Victor's text, especially in light of other studies in this volume that underline the hybridity of late antique literature.3 In her learned chapter, Sabine Fialon analyzes what the Disputatio Cerealis contra Maximinum can tell us about the Vandal faith. She shows that the text imitates Augustine's Contra Maximinum, responds to Vandal proselytizing, and therefore demonstrates that confessional debates continued unabated during the Vandal period.

In part three, Chiara Tommasi supports the thesis dating Martianus Capella to the Vandal period, which in her opinion illustrates the dynamic cultural life that persisted in the fifth century. Martina Venuti investigates the prologue of Fulgentius' Mythologiae to support the now dominant "separatist" thesis—the argument that Fulgentius the Mythographer and Fulgentius of Ruspe (the bishop), were two distinct individuals. Massimo Manca pursues this inquiry by emphasizing the African (and Vandalic) aspects of Fulgentius' mythographic texts, in support of the hypothesis of his "African-ness." In the last contribution of this section, Étienne Wolff reviews, in the form of an (extensively) annotated bibliography, recent scholarship relevant to Dracontius' biography. One of the most interesting debates he highlights concerns the interpretation of the poet's "profana," which he sees as a way to tackle moral and political issues through now irrelevant myths.

Sylvie Labarre pursues this specific topic in her intertextual investigation of Dracontius' take on the crimes of pagan heroes. This opens part four of the book, which focuses on the Christian Dracontius. She argues that he displays more poetic and psychological interpretations of passages found in earlier Christian writers in order to express his apologetic view that pagan heroes erred in dying for Rome rather than for God. Benjamin Goldlust analyzes Dracontius' self-presentation in the Satisfactio and concludes that he relied on ethics over pathos to support his case to be freed from prison.

Annick Stoehr-Monjou opens part five with an interesting analysis of Dracontius' epithalamia (bridal poetry) that argues that the poet subverted the traditional genre in order to present subtle criticisms of the Vandals who are responsible for his imprisonment. Angelo Luceri looks at Dracontius' alleged friends in the De laudibus Dei and concludes that intertexts from Cicero and Ovid and other literary elements obscure rather than illuminate our knowledge of the role of Dracontius's friends in his sojourn in prison, the most famous episode of his life. Bruno Bureau investigates the openings (propositiones) of four "miniature epics" of Dracontius, in order to show the poet's moral understanding of the myths. Contesting the traditional interpretation that Dracontius' ekphrasis of Cupid in his Medea is purely ornamental, Laurence Gosserez argues that it in fact expresses specific religious and political points of view. But literary analysis can suffer without sound historical grounding. For example, Gosserez deduces, from parallels to Nonnos of Panopolis' depiction of the Scythes, that Dracontius was alluding to the Vandals, and from there argues that the poet was "implicitly pleading for the innocent victims of the Vandals" (318). She adds that the foreign princess of the play must be an allusion to Eudocia. Not only is this an extremely tenuous basis upon which to construct such a wide-ranging interpretation, but the author also relies on Victor of Vita's vitriolic account as an accurate representation of the historical context from which to infer parallels with Dracontius' text. It is, furthermore, highly unlikely that Dracontius was referring to current practice when he condemned human sacrifice, as the author claims, "they [human sacrifices] were likely still practiced in Africa and in the East at the end of Antiquity" (317)!4 Returning to the safer ground of textual analysis, Lavinia Galli Milic investigates Dracontius' Romuleon 10 for its intertextual borrowings from Valerius Flaccus and Statius, concluding that the Vandal poet refashioned the traditional stories according to his "disenchanted" worldview (340). Amedeo Raschieri offers the results of his use of the open software Pede certo ( to analyze the meters of Dracontius' hexametric poetry. Finally, in the last chapter of the book, Étienne Wolff presents a Retractatio to update his treatment of the Romulea 6–10 of Dracontius from his Budé edition of these works from 1996 (vol. IV).

Such detailed, meticulous, and sophisticated analyses of poetic texts from the Vandal era immediately prompts one obvious, yet fundamental, question: what was the audience for these texts? Only Lavinia Galli Milic briefly addresses this question (326). Similarly, one wonders what the targeted audience for this book might have been. Neglecting to explain the relevance and significance of one's material to non-specialists, or to scholars from other disciplines, often limits access to such scholarship to a restricted circle of experts. Scholars of late Latin poetry will undoubtedly find much of interest in this book. Historians interested in religion, politics, or other aspects of Vandal society will find fewer items of use in this book, but what they find will be of high quality. The title and jacket lead one to expect altogether different content from what the volume actually delivers. Consequently, a more accurate title, such as "Dracontius in Context," would have been less misleading and more representative of the book as a whole.

Table of Contents

I. Politique et histoire de l'Afrique vandale
Konrad Vössing, "Vandalen und Goten. Die schwierigen Beziehungen ihrer Königreiche" (11–38)
Bertrand Lançon, "L'Afrique vandale comme objet de chronique (429–534) : la tertia pars orbis terrarum chez les chroniqueurs latins des Ve et VIe siècles" (39–52)
Charles Guittard, "L'Aurès de Procope dans l'Afrique vandale : définition, délimitation, résistance (à propos de la bataille de Baghaï)" (53–64)
Vincent Zarini and Aurélie Delattre, "Un souvenir ambigu des Vandales après la reconquête byzantine : le témoignage de Corippe" (65–72)
Richard Miles, "Byzantine Carthage and its Vandal Legacy" (73–92);
Anis Mkacher, "L'historiographie de l'Afrique vandale" (93–106).
II. La situation religieuse de l'Afrique vandale
Bruno Pottier, "Les donatistes, l'arianisme et le royaume vandale" (109–126)
Hervé Inglebert, "Les interventions divines dans les textes narratifs catholiques à l'époque vandale" (127–136)
Sabine Fialon, "Arianisme 'vandale' et controverse religieuse : le cas de la Disputatio Cerealis contra Maximinum" (137–155).
III. La littérature de l'Afrique vandale
Chiara O. Tommasi, "Martianus Capella à l'époque vandale ? Notes sur une chronologie discutée" (159–178)
Martina Venuti, "Alla ricerca di indizi 'storici' nel prologo delle Mythologiae di Fulgenzio…?" (179–196)
Massimo Manca, "Fulgence l'Africain. Aspects vandales de la littérature mythographique" (197–210)
Étienne Wolff, "Dracontius: bilan et aperçus sur quelques problèmes de sa vie et de son œuvre" (211–227).
IV. Dracontius chrétien
Sylvie Labarre, "Dracontius et les 'crimes' des héros païens : historiographie, quête du salut et drames humains" (229–242)
Benjamin Goldlust, "La persona de Dracontius dans la Satisfactio: quelques réflexions sur la posture discursive du poète" (243–257).
V. Dracontius profane
Annick Stoehr–Monjou, "Le rôle du poète dans la Carthage vandale d'après les épithalames de Dracontius (Romulea 7–6)" (259–274
Angelo Luceri, "'Notus et ignotus desunt': Draconzio e i suoi (presunti) amici" (275–286)
Bruno Bureau, "L'annonce du sujet dans les épopées profanes de Dracontius, inflexions du genre épique?" (287–302)
Laurence Gosserez, "L'ekphrasis de Cupidon dans la Médée de Dracontius" (303–322)
Lavinia Galli Milic, "Valérius Flaccus et Stace à Carthage : la matrice flavienne du Romul. 10 de Dracontius" (323–340)
Amedeo A. Raschieri, "L'utilisiation de Pede certo pour l'étude des caractéristiques métriques et prosodiques des hexamètres de Dracontius (341–354)
Étienne Wolff, "Retour sur les pièces 6 à 10 des Romulea de Dracontius" (355–376).


1.   Guido M. Berndt, Konflikt und Anpassung. Studien zu Migration und Ethnogenese der Vandalen (Husum: Matthiesen, 2007); Ralf Bockman, Capital Continuous. A Study of Vandal Carthage and Central North Africa from an Archaeological Perspective (Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2013); Jonathan Conant, Staying Roman: Conquest and Identity in Africa and the Mediterranean, 439–700 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012); Leslie Dossey, Peasant and Empire in Christian North Africa (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010); Tankred Howe, Vandalen, Barbaren und Arianer bei Victor von Vita (Frankfurt am Main: Verlag Antike, 2007); Anna Leone, Changing Townscapes in North Africa from Late Antiquity to the Arab Conquest (Bari: Edipuglia, 2007); Philip von Rummel, Habitus barbarus: Kleidung und Repräsentation spätantiker Eliten im 4. und 5. Jahrhundert (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2007); Roland Steinacher, Die Vandalen: Aufstieg und Fall eines Barbarenreichs (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 2016); Guido M. Berndt and Roland Steinacher (eds.), Das Reich der Vandalen und seine (Vor-)Geschichten (Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wisssenschaften, 2008); Guido M. Berndt and Roland Steinacher (eds.), Arianism: Roman Heresy and Barbarian Creed (Burlington: Ashgate, 2014).
2.   Jonathan Conant, "Donatism in the Fifth and Sixth Centuries," in R. Miles (ed.), The Donatist Schism. Controversy and Contexts (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2016), 345–361.
3.   Cf. É. Fournier, "Éléments apologétiques chez Victor de Vita : exemple d'un genre littéraire en transition," in G. Greatrex and H. Elton (eds.), Shifting Literary and Material Genres in Late Antiquity (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2015), 105–117.
4.   See P. Bonnechère, Le sacrifice humain en Grèce ancienne (Liège: Presses universitaires de Liège, 1994), for a clear exposition of this notion as a mythic exaggeration already in ancient Greece.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Wolfgang Havener, Imperator Augustus: die diskursive Konstituierung der militärischen persona des ersten römischen Princeps. Studies in ancient monarchies, 4​. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2016. Pp. 424. ISBN 9783515112208. €69.00.

Reviewed by John Rich, University of Nottingham (

Version at BMCR home site

Publisher's Preview.

In this erudite and densely argued monograph, Havener seeks to show how Augustus' 'military persona', his presentation in the role of commander and victor, was constructed. In Havener's view, his military persona was of central importance for Augustus, since his power was based on control of the military apparatus and the prestige arising from military success (33). Havener's concern, however, is not with Augustus' relationship with the army itself, but with his military persona at Rome, and he argues that this was not simply developed by Augustus, but constructed through complex interaction between him and the senatorial elite.

After his introduction and a brief chapter on Caesar's military persona, Havener passes to a lengthy chapter on Octavian's role as 'commander, leader, war-ender' during the triumviral years and in his final civil victories (51-150). Attention is paid here both to the poets' responses to civil war and its ending by Octavian and to Octavian's own presentation of his achievement through the triple triumph of 29 BC and associated commemorations. Havener focuses especially on the celebration of the Actium victory, rightly rebutting Gurval's attempt to minimize the significance attached to it, but he has surprisingly little to say about the no less important commemorations of the final victory at Alexandria.1

Havener draws a distinction between the poets' view of the ending of the civil wars and that of Octavian himself: for the poets his victory was merely the means to the end of restoring internal peace, whereas for Octavian it was an end in itself and the resulting establishment of internal peace was of value simply as securing the acceptance of his supremacy by the inhabitants of the empire (147-8). However, Havener's interpretation of Octavian's stance rests heavily on two questionable claims about the triple triumph.2 (i) Dio (51.21.9) tells us that the magistrates, who normally led triumphal processions, instead took their place behind Octavian along with the other senators who had served under him. Havener takes this as symbolic of Octavian's military supremacy (118-21). However, a simpler explanation (rejected by Havener on insufficient grounds) seems preferable: they took this place simply because they had been among the more than 700 senators who had displayed their loyalty to Octavian's cause by serving with him at Actium (RG 25.2).3 (ii) Dio also tells us that an effigy of Cleopatra on her deathbed was carried in the final triumph, for the victory in Egypt. Havener (107-9, 114-6) concludes that this triumph was over Cleopatra and so, although the taboo on civil war triumphs was respected by not naming him, it was implicitly understood that it was Antony whose defeat was commemorated in the second triumph, for the Actium victory. However, it seems unlikely that contemporaries would have interpreted the triumphs in this way, since both campaigns were evidently against the same enemy, namely the foreign queen Cleopatra and her Roman associate, both of whom were finally defeated only at Alexandria. Dio in fact speaks of the Actium triumph as voted 'as against Cleopatra' (51.19.1, misinterpreted at 135 n.413). Havener seeks support from the Amiternum Fasti, where the Actium war is listed as cum M. Antonio, but similar entries, naming his successive Roman opponents, survive from these Fasti for most of Octavian's civil wars from Mutina on, and so can tell us nothing about how his triumphs were perceived.4

The fourth chapter deals with another aspect of the civil war period, namely how Augustus presented and justified his conduct in his own public statements (151-192). Havener argues for a shift from his Autobiography, where Augustus emphasized the avenging of Caesar and his youthful leadership of the soldiers, to the Res Gestae, where he stressed instead his defence of the republic. Unfortunately, this analysis depends on the consensus established by Jacoby that the Autobiography was the main source for Nicolaus of Damascus' Bios Kaisaros and can be reconstructed from that work. Havener's interpretation presses even Nicolaus' text too hard, since what survives of his work breaks off as early as the raising of the private army in late 44. In any case, as Mark Toher has shown, there is no good reason to suppose that Nicolaus used the Autobiography as his main source, and so the remnants of the Bios Kaisaros cannot be used as evidence for reconstructing that work.5

The remaining three chapters deal with the period of Augustus' sole rule. Chapter 5 (193-252) is devoted to the formula parta victoriis pax, which Havener regards, in the wording of the chapter title, as a '"Grundbegriff" Augusteischer Herrschaftssemantik': this perhaps puts excessive weight on a phrase which in fact occurs only once, in Augustus' reference to the closures of Janus (RG 13). The chapter examines the part played by this peace/victories complex both in the Res Gestae itself and in various earlier manifestations. For Havener, the Res Gestae celebrates both internal peace through the ending of civil war and external pacification through victories, and this balance had evolved as a result of extended exchanges between the Augustus and the senatorial elite, in which public outputs showing greater stress on peace can be attributed to senatorial initiatives (as with the PAX cistophori or the Ara Pacis), while Augustus himself tended to lay more exclusive stress on his victories (as in his Forum). There is much to agree with here. Thus Havener is certainly right to stress the greater overall prominence of victory rather than peace in Augustan ideology, a point already made by earlier scholars such as Gruen, in a paper which he frequently cites.6 On the Ara Pacis he could have strengthened his case further by considering an apparent change of plan, perhaps prompted by Augustus: according to Dio (54.25.3), the senate in 13 BC decreed an altar in the Curia; if this location had been retained, the senators at their meetings would thereafter have paid cult to Peace as well as Victory, but in the event Victory remained the sole recipient. Nonetheless, Havener's analysis does seem somewhat one-sided. He does not, for instance, acknowledge that, in the section of the Res Gestae dealing with external successes, Augustus gives as much prominence to his diplomatic as to his military achievements, and he makes only brief reference (198, 206) to the programme of pacification which Augustus adopted as the justification for the division of the provinces and which, in my view, served as one of the principal drivers of his external policies.7

In Chapter 6 Havener turns to the Parthian settlement of 20 BC. Augustus' choice of a diplomatic solution instead of the expected war of conquest might seem at odds with his persona as a great victor, but Havener argues that Augustus responded by having his success celebrated in terms of military victory, as by the cuirassed Prima Porta statue, the Parthian arch, on which he was shown riding in a triumphal chariot, and the temple of Mars Ultor, built to house the recovered standards just as Romulus had founded the temple of Jupiter Feretrius to hold his spolia opima. There is much truth in this, but Augustus could not simply pretend that the settlement had been achieved by force of arms, and the commemorations were in fact rather more nuanced than Havener allows. Horace, who had earlier repeatedly called for a Parthian war, now turned to celebrating Augustus' success in diplomacy and war alike, claiming that he had extended the Romans' rule to the ends of the earth, with the likes of the Parthians, Scythians and Indians all ready to do their bidding (Carm. Saec. 53-60, etc.). Havener holds that the arches decreed at Rome in honour of Augustus' Actium and Parthian successes were both built, and interprets them as expressions of his military persona. However, his various treatments (135-9, 266-9, 343) never fully engage with the much discussed problem that only one such arch can be identified, next to the temple of Divus Julius. In my view, the most attractive solution remains that only the Actium arch was actually erected and Augustus declined the proffered Parthian arch, but agreed that some modifications should be made to the Actium arch to commemorate the Parthian settlement.8 These changes will not have included the triumphal chariot, an integral part of the original Actium monument.

The long seventh chapter (277-362) is devoted to Augustus' 'Triumphpolitik'. Topics discussed include Augustus' refusal of further triumphs after 29, his concerns about exceptional conduct by commanders like Crassus and Gallus, and the ending of senatorial triumphs and their replacement by ornamenta triumphalia. Havener makes a convincing case that the cessation of senatorial triumphs after Balbus' in 19 BC was not imposed by a direct prohibition, but a protracted development, to which he regards both Augustus and the senators themselves as contributing.

The final chapter summarizes Havener's conclusions and briefly compares Augustus' military stance with those of his successors.

Havener has produced a remarkably thorough and subtly argued study of an important subject, and his work will be a valuable resource on numerous aspects of Augustus' reign. However, at times he tends to press his argument too hard, and his overall conception is thus in some respects too one-sided. The presentation of Augustus as a great commander and conqueror was certainly important for both the emperor himself and his subjects. However, Havener's interpretation tends to underplay other dynamics which were no less important, for example Augustus' continuing need to show himself as a civilis princeps and so a restrained recipient of honours, and to justify his exceptional provincial command by implementing his promised programme of pacification.

The book has been well produced but has no illustrations, a regrettable omission in view of the extensive discussion of monuments, coins and artworks.


1.   R. A. Gurval, Actium and Augustus: The Politics and Emotions of Civil War (Ann Arbor, 1995) passim
2.   See also Havener's earlier statement at C. H. Lange and F. J. Vervaet (eds), The Roman Republican Triumph beyond the Spectacle (Rome, 2014), 172-5.
3.   C. H. Lange, Res Publica Constituta: Actium, Apollo and the Accomplishment of the Triumviral Assignment (Leiden/Boston, 2009), 155; F. J. Vervaet, 'On the order of appearance in Imperator Caesar's third triumph (15 August 29 CE)', Latomus 70 (2011), 96-102.
4.   On the civil war entries in the Fasti Amiternini see now C. H. Lange, Triumphs in the Age of Civil War: The Late Republic and the Adaptability of Triumphal Tradition (London, 2016), 133-8.
5.   M. Toher, 'Divining a lost text: Augustus' autobiography and the Βίος Καίσαρος of Nicolaus of Damascus', in C.J. Smith and A. Powell (eds), The Lost Memoirs of Augustus and the Development of Roman Autobiography (Swansea, 2009), 125-44; C.J. Smith, in T. J. Cornell et al., The Fragments of the Roman Historians (Oxford, 2013), 1.460. Havener notes Toher's paper (154 n. 19), but does not acknowledge its full implications for his argument.
6.   E. S. Gruen, 'Augustus and the ideology of war and peace', in R. Winkes (ed.), The Age of Augustus (Providence, 1985), 51-72.
7.   See further 'Augustus, war and peace', in J. Edmondson (ed.), Augustus (Edinburgh, 2009), 137-64.
8.   'Augustus's Parthian honours, the temple of Mars Ultor and the arch in the Forum Romanum', PBSR 66 (1998), 71-128, at 97-115. ​

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Jennifer L. Ferriss-Hill, Roman Satire and the Old Comic Tradition. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Pp. x, 302. ISBN 9781107081543. $95.00.

Reviewed by Andreas Gavrielatos, University of Edinburgh (

Version at BMCR home site


The devoted reader of Aristophanes experiences a sense of familiarity in reading Roman satire, and vice versa. The two genres, despite having thrived in different periods, share an involvement in the vices of contemporary literature and society. As a result, the reader with a critical 'eye' on the modern world relates to the sensitive voices of these authors. The pertinence of the two genres however, goes beyond that. Both Horace (Sat. 1.4.6) and Persius (1.123-5) acknowledge the significance of Old Comedy in the emergence and development of their genre, while Diomedes (4th cen.) describes Roman satire as a genre written in the manner of the Old Comedy.1 This has not gone unnoticed.2 But this is the first time that a study has been dedicated entirely to how the Old Comic tradition influenced the writings of the Roman satirists.

There are basic differences between the two genres that naturally affect their development, and this is a caveat explicitly and often pointed out by Ferriss-Hill. In particular, she stresses how the appropriation of many literary forms by satire and the different socio-political circumstanceshave distinguished the two genres (pg. 242). An element also stressed throughout is the relationship between society and literature, and its embodiment in the criticism both receive from the poets.3 Whereas Horace and Persius acknowledge the influence of the Old Comedy and aspire to write something equivalent, Ferriss-Hill recognises how Juvenal differs from this and rather relies on his predecessors. It is a well argued thesis that—along with satire's differences from Old Comedy and the link between society and literature—constitutes the conditions of the book's methodology. As expected, these are set out in the book's introduction. In this first part, Ferriss-Hill outlines the theoretical framework of her research, and simultaneously epitomizes of what we know so far about the relationship between the two genres. The overall approach enriches the characteristics attributed to satire today.

The next chapter engages with the theory of the persona. After all, it is the poets who need to criticise their society:

difficile est saturam non scriber. nam quis iniquae
tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se? (Juv. 1.30-1).

Six features are attributed to the poets of Old Comedy and Roman satire. The format of treatment is as simple as examining how each one of the features applies firstly to Old Comedy and next, to Roman satire, but the discussion itself is a sophisticated and innovative application of established theories. The common features of the comic and the satirical personae—perhaps inherited from the former by the latter—result in analogous attitudes reflected in their poetics and criticism, the subject of which make up the rest of the book.

The poet's self-presentation as "abject" (Ch. 1) paves the way for the next chapter, on "Defensive Poetics". What the reader will find most interesting here—and partially where the book's contribution lies—is the introduction of the term "literary response" for the poetics under discussion, standing as an equivalent to the previously used "disclaimer of malice", differing only in an emphasis on its poetic side. Of course, Callimachus' Τελχῖνες have a prominent role in this discussion. The "literary response" is elaborated through a discussion of the development of "defensive poetics" from the Old Comedy and its reception by the satirists. Thus, for example Horace and Persius adapt "abject poetics" to their times in order to form their own "literary response" and present the audiences they reject (?).

The development of poetics from Aristophanes to the satirists has an immediate effect on the latter's "Literary Criticism", which is the subject of Chapter 3. Literary criticism once again accords with moral/social criticism, and is divided into two sections: criticism "of the poet's own genre" and "of other genres". Although the former would be expected to have a more prominent place in Old Comedy in contrast to Roman Satire, Ferriss-Hills helps to overcome the problem by suggesting that what the satirists lack in contemporary rivals, they achieve in a diachronic criticism of their genre. And where the satirists' comments on their predecessors are ostensibly positive, they hide morsels of criticism. It is however in the second section of the book ("criticism of other genres") where attacks become more explicit, the connection with the Old Comic tradition is strengthened, and the criticism of other genres becomes revealing for the character of both comedy and satire. Ferriss-Hill proves that the parallelism of personal and literary criticism and its consequent humorous effects are the means of this attack.

Unavoidably, as Ferriss-Hill admits, the focus must be on the 'victims' of the criticism in both genres, who thus claim their rightful place in the book, completing the whole picture. Once again, it is important to stress that Ferriss-Hill understands the two genres as situated on a continuum, which is effective for the ongoing development of the satiric elements and the role of the "Old Comic tradition" in it. This chapter, being the last of the main thesis, presents exactly that: how comedy's "mockable personae" (p. 217) have been inherited, Romanised, and eventually developed by the satirists. Not surprisingly, ὀνομαστί κωμῳδεῖν is found in the core of the section. Other personae included here are those based on occupations, e.g. the actor or the gladiator. Finally, this chapter also addresses "language criticism". Speech patterns and Graecisms among many transgressions become reasons for criticism and offer opportunities for such criticism.

By drawing on examples of—often abject—poetic personae, aspects of criticism, satirical models, concepts, poetics and practices, 'literary responses', characters, and finally, laughter from Aristophanes to the Roman satirists, Ferriss-Hill guides the reader through parallel readings and intertexts, to finally arrive at her conclusion. This last part of the book aims not only to put in a nutshell the main points of the thesis, but to expand on them. Ferriss-Hill leaves the reader with the conclusion that the Old Comic tradition is evident not only in programmatic manifestations of Roman satire, but "in its fabric throughout". The reader is left with a stimulus; Ferriss-Hill's thesis encourages a second reading of Roman satire as a Latin parabasis and agon with fresh perspectives and new directions.

Each one of the arguments that are put forward in this book, apart from being effective overall, has merits in its own right, because they are based on the author's close reading of a plethora of passages with appropriate commentary. The catalogue of the discussed passages is long, and in most cases the comments offer an insight shaped within the theoretical framework that the book proposes. Only in a few cases might the reader feel that these comments are speculative, or that they go beyond their relevance to Old Comedy. But these cases only prove the inevitable effect of reading Roman Satire: thorough engagement with the text evokes numerous searches for a hidden truth. The conclusions that follow each chapter are helpful for the reader, as they recapitulate the basic argument each time and in their aggregate form the whole thesis. The editing and presentation of the book is excellent, with a couple of minor slips, which do not reduce its overall quality.4

It is in satire's nature to make us question the true character of the genre. The self-presentation of the satirist, filtered through a careful collection of intertwined poetic references, contemporary mockery, and caricatures, results in a challenging genre. This book equips its reader with the tools for approaching the genuine character of the genre. It does not only benefit the student of Roman satire. The reader of Old Attic Comedy is offered new insight into the genre's reception in antiquity.5 At the same time, the influence of Old Comedy on the understanding of Roman satire, as influenced at its core by elements inextricable from its function, promises a fruitful investigation of the development of the genre beyond antiquity. Overall, it is a thought-provoking work and a valuable contribution to current studies of both Roman satire and of Old Comedy.


1.   Diomedes, Ars Grammatica III, p. 485, in Keil, H. (ed.), Grammatici Latini, vol. I (rep. in Cambridge Library Collection), Cambridge 2009.
2.   Van Rooy only 'partially' addresses the relationship between the two genres: Van Rooy, C.A., Studies in Classical Satire and related Literary Theory, Leiden 1966, 144ff.
3.   The author's previous discussion on the matter: J. Ferriss-Hill, 'Talis Oratio Qualis Vita: Literary Judgments as Personal Critiques in Roman Satire,' in R. Rosen, and I. Sluiter (eds.), Aesthetic Value in Classical Antiquity, Leiden 2012, 365-91.
4.   I have only picked out a problematic font for the Greek characters on p. 136 and a lack of punctuation on p. 145.
5.   With a recent volume on its reception in Rome: C. Marshall, and T. Hawkins (ed.), Athenian Comedy in the Roman Empire, London; New York 2015.

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Arnaud Zucker, Jacqueline Fabre-Serris, Jean-Yves Tilliette, Gisèle Besson (ed.), Lire les mythes. Formes, usages et visées des pratiques mythographiques de l'Antiquité à la Renaissance. Mythographes. Villeneuve d'Ascq: Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 2016. Pp. 336. ISBN 9782757411544. €27.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Jacques Elfassi, Université de Lorraine (

Version at BMCR home site


En 1999, deux universitaires françaises, Jacqueline Fabre-Serris et Françoise Graziani, ont créé le réseau de recherche international Polymnia, qui a pour objet l'étude de la tradition mythographique en Europe de l'Antiquité au XVIIe siècle. Ce réseau organise des colloques et publie la collection « Mythographes », qui propose principalement des traductions annotées de textes mythographiques. Le livre recensé ici est issu de trois colloques qui ont eu lieu à Lille, Lyon et Genève, en 20111 : sur les 39 communications présentées, 9 ont été publiées dans le premier numéro de la revue électronique Polymnia, et 12 sont reprises dans ce volume.

L'histoire éditoriale de ce volume explique certaines de ses anomalies apparentes, comme la présence de deux articles écrits par le même auteur, Arnaud Zucker : ils sont en fait issus de deux colloques différents. Mais la comparaison des différents programmes des colloques et de la table des matières du livre permet surtout de comprendre les choix des éditeurs : lorsque plusieurs communications portaient sur un même auteur, ils en ont sélectionné une seule, et ils ont ordonné les chapitres par ordre chronologique. Ainsi composé, le livre apparaît comme un ouvrage cohérent, qui peut se lire d'un seul bloc, et non comme une collection de contributions isolées.

Il peut se lire, en particulier, comme une histoire de la tradition mythographique de l'Antiquité à la Renaissance, dont il présente plusieurs jalons importants, ordonnés chronologiquement : les premiers mythographes, Hécatée de Milet, Phérécyde, Hellanicos (contribution de Robert Fowler), Palaiphatos (Arnaud Zucker), Parthénios de Nicée (Dominique Voisin), Hygin (Marcos Martinho), Cornutus (Arnaud Zucker), le Sur les fleuves du Pseudo-Plutarque (Charles Delattre), Servius (Alain Deremetz), le Troisième Mythographe du Vatican (Gisèle Besson), le commentaire « Vulgate » aux Métamorphoses d'Ovide (Frank T. Coulson), Conrad de Mure (Jean-Yves Tilliette), Boccace (María Consuelo Alvárez Morán et Rosa María Iglesias Montiel) et Natale Conti (Françoise Graziani). Chaque contribution, même lorsqu'elle se concentre sur une problématique précise, commence par présenter l'auteur ou l'œuvre étudiés, en les replaçant dans leur contexte historique et culturel. Il est important de signaler que presque tous les contributeurs sont des spécialistes des œuvres qu'ils présentent, qu'ils ont généralement éditées ou traduites. Plusieurs travaux comportent même des informations inédites, issus de travaux philologiques non encore parus : ainsi, Gisèle Besson présente les premiers résultats de son édition critique, encore inachevée, du Troisième Mythographe du Vatican, et Frank T. Coulson propose même l'édition princeps de certains extraits du commentaire « Vulgate » aux Métamorphoses d'Ovide.

Toutefois, ce livre n'est pas un manuel d'histoire littéraire. Les éditeurs précisent bien, dans l'introduction (p. 9), qu'ils n'ont pas cherché à être exhaustifs et que certaines œuvres importantes, voire « canoniques », de cette tradition ne sont pas directement étudiés ici : la Bibliothèque d'Apollodore, la Bibliothèque historique de Diodore ou l'Ovide moralisé. L'ambition de l'ouvrage est plutôt méthodologique : comment analyser les différentes pratiques mythographiques dans leur contexte et par rapport à leur public ? Une des principales questions est celle de l'autorité et de la vérité. Comment choisir entre plusieurs versions d'un mythe la version plus autorisée ? Ou au contraire, comment ne pas choisir et mettre en scène cette absence de choix ? Car la version qui a le plus d'autorité n'est pas nécessairement la plus « vraie » : mais précisément, sur quels critères fonder cet argument de vérité ? Avec la christianisation du monde latin, cette question de la vérité a pris un autre sens : comment intégrer les mythes païens à la « vérité » chrétienne ? De manière schématique, deux solutions ont été apportées à cette délicate question : soit réduire les mythes à un savoir mort, destiné uniquement à usage scolaire, soit en proposer une interprétation allégorique, découvrant derrière le voile de la fiction païenne des vérités chrétiennes plus profondes. Loin d'être de simples compilateurs, les mythographes n'ont donc cessé d'analyser, d'interpréter et, d'une certaine façon, de réinventer les mythes : ils ont ainsi profondément marqué la culture occidentale.

On peut regretter que la limite chronologique du XVIIe siècle ne soit pas expliquée : tout au plus les éditeurs écrivent- ils, dans l'introduction (p. 23), que les humanistes ont pris le parti de ne pas codifier des figures et des fonctions univoques, et ils ajoutent alors une parenthèse : « ce que fera la "mythologie" inventée au XVIIIe siècle ». Même si ce n'était pas l'objet du livre et même si cette question a sûrement été développée ailleurs, le lecteur aurait aimé en savoir un peu plus sur cette « invention » de la « mythologie » (le mot est mis entre guillemets par les éditeurs eux-mêmes) au XVIIIe siècle. Cette petite réserve n'enlève rien à l'intérêt de ce livre, qui montre tout l'intérêt que comporte la tradition mythographique et éclaire avec science et clarté des textes souvent peu connus.


1.   On peut trouver le programme précis de ces colloques sur le site de Polymnia.

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Richard Tarrant, Texts, Editors, and Readers: Methods and Problems in Latin Textual Criticism. Roman Literature and its Contexts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. Pp. xii, 192. ISBN 9780521158992. $28.99.

Reviewed by Franz Dolveck, École française de Rome (

Version at BMCR home site


There are not many books on textual criticism that are actually rooted in the practice of experienced editors—and Tarrant's is one of the finest among them. Since it is neither voluminous nor expensive, I expect it will be widely read and equally widely reread, not only by philologists but also, as Tarrant wishes, by 'classicists who do not specialize in the subject and [by] scholars in related disciplines' (xi). Having said that, I am far from convinced that non-editors are the best audience for such a book, because, to my mind, it is much more an editorum in usum companion to manuals of textual criticism than an introduction to the field. It should be stressed that it is not a manual, i.e. not a work intended for untrained students: it requires at least a good knowledge of the bibliography, and ideally experience in editing.

Judging from the summary, Tarrant's book may look indeed like a manual. The introduction deals with some general problems. Chapter 1 sketches a panorama of contemporary textual criticism as the heir to what Tarrant calls, using an expression coined by Derek Pearsall (21 n.9), a heroic age. Chapter 2 deals with the status of evidence in textual criticism. What remains is more technical: chapters 3-5 discuss respectively recension (reconstructing the oldest text available), conjecture (correcting it to go beyond the transmitted evidence), and alterations affecting the text on a larger scale ('Interpolation, collaboration, and intertextuality'). Chapter 6, devoted to Propertius, is a practical implementation of chapter 5.1 Chapter 7 deals with the constitution and layout of the apparatus (complemented by the appendix, 'Reading a critical apparatus'). Finally, chapter 8 is an open-ended conclusion.2

There are two leitmotifs that run throughout the book: the nature and value of evidence in textual criticism, and the subjective depreciation of the accidental (in its philosophical sense) nature of the transmission of texts.

First. Tarrant holds the view (advanced mainly in chapter 2) that evidence in textual criticism is non-existent and is only a matter of persuasion, that is, of rhetoric. A careful reader will soon catch from various explicit (41 above all) or implicit (or so I take the mundane wordplay in the title of chapter 2, 'The rhetoric of textual criticism/textual criticism as rhetoric') elements that Tarrant does not intend to be taken too literally. But this view is still generally irrelevant. It should be stressed first that textual criticism is a two-step process; the first part of the editorial work, that is the reconstruction of the archetype, has nothing to do with rhetorical play. It is a matter of pure logic, and as such is indeed the most 'scientific' part of the Humanities.3 Except in a few cases, stemmatics is a legitimate construction from the available evidence.4 Therefore, Tarrant actually criticizes not textual criticism, but only a part of it: the correction of the archetype ex ingenio (however he never says so, except 64). To be frank, classical textual criticism is full indeed of nonsensical arguments, of gratuitous textual parallels, and of frivolous claims made by people who do not know enough Latin or Greek and nothing of the history and the tradition of the texts they claim to correct. But the discipline should not be held responsible for the incompetence of those—even if they were a majority, which they are not—who wildly claim to illustrate it. And they are still probably not Tarrant's target. In fact, he aims at the many places in classical texts where two or more possibilities cannot be definitively sorted out, but have nonetheless been the object of many assertive statements for over half a millennium. Let us hope that this criticism will be heard, for indeed it is all too relevant: there is no shame in stating that no firmly-grounded choice is possible. However, we should value carefully the alternatives. Tarrant praises Heinsius' dealing with such cases, that is by leaving them open (46-47, 57-58, etc.). It should certainly not be inferred from this praise (and this is certainly not what Tarrant thinks) that relativism should reign over philology. Times have changed, and readers too; doing nowadays what Heinsius did in any series of Latin classics would be at best irresponsible (Housman would certainly have written 'criminal'), because the average contemporary reader does not have the knowledge of Latin that his/her peers had in Heinsius' times. The role of an editor will always be to make choices: the good editor is not the one who makes only good choices, but the one who justifies them and expresses their degree of authority.

Second. Tarrant makes a strong plea against neglect of, and more generally prejudice about, alterations to the classical texts throughout their history. This ranges from a condemnation of the traditional vocabulary of philology, which tends to consider texts as ailing bodies, to the defence of the intentions of 'interpolators'. The former may be slightly overrated: many philologists use terms such as 'corruption' or 'contamination' because these have become technical terms, not because they dream of 'crime and disease' (31). The latter is not new from Tarrant, and has been quite unfairly criticized. The point is not to claim that any interpolation or variant is due (within the scope of classical editorship) the credit normally reserved for what is believed to be the authentic text: truth be told, this is nonsense. The vast majority of medieval scribes and scholars did exactly what we do: try to restore the text in front of them. Maybe they were wrong, maybe some even thought that they could challenge the greatest poets and prose-writers of ancient Rome, but they did not intend to deceive us and do not deserve our contempt.

In this context, I do not understand why Tarrant uses the outdated concept of error when dealing with stemmatic evidence. What is it that we name 'error'? The fact that in some instances the text we have cannot, for whatever reason, stem back to the author. It may be an omission, an addition, or a change. Therefore it is no error, but an innovation recognizable as such. The use of 'innovation' instead of 'error' is not just a matter of language, or even of impartial objectivity towards the variants we have collected: it is a far more precise concept that lets us deal with such complicated cases as authorial errors or agreements in (non-traditional) truth at lower stages of the stemma.

A few remarks on the introduction. (13-14) The definition of 'archetype' could be narrowed by the correction Reeve made to himself (see n. 33), now in Manuscripts and Methods 94 n. 85: 'In a set of witnesses to a text, the archetype is the latest but for which none that survives would survive'. (15) In the sentence 'If the archetype did contain numerous variants, contamination in its descendants is almost inevitable', the end seems to be mistaken for something like 'contamination in its descendants is almost inevitably supposed'. (16-17) Though the stemma obviously dictates the correct text of Caes., Civ. 1.9.2, the definitive evidence lies in the parallel occurrences (e.g. 1.7.7).

Chapter 1 could be contextualized better, for its perspective does not really take into account the situation in Continental Europe, where the figure of Housman impresses much less. Something like a philological school is now almost specific to the Anglo-Saxon world. In France things are the exact opposite, and it partly explains why the Budé series is so badly received by Anglo-Saxon scholars: did it occur to them that the editions they review are, with few exceptions, made by people who were never trained in editing, even if they are very good historical or literary specialists in one particular author? Neither are, in general, their French-speaking reviewers so trained.

(50-52) The examples chosen by Tarrant are curious. The 'errors' of Cat. 49.7 and 101.7 are polygenetic, and so demonstrate nothing (by the way, has any advocatus diaboli tried to defend the authenticity of patronum as plural genitive in 49.7?).

(85-86) I agree with Tarrant against the authenticity of Ov. Met. 11.600-01. But it cannot be denied that Ausonius clearly has this verse in mind when writing Epist. 21.66 Green, both textually and symbolically (Juno asks Sleep to intervene because she is bored by Alcyone's prayers for the return of her husband, who is actually dead), and Paulinus, in his answer to Ausonius, is clearly aware of it: Ult. 1[=Hartel 10].296 and Ov. Met. 11.601 are the only two occurrences of the phrase convicia humanae linguae. So the interpolation was already accepted in the 390s.

The appendix is arguably the most useful part of the book for non-specialists. However they should be extremely careful with the list of Latin adjectives (166-69), because it mixes without distinction places and former or actual collections (e.g. every Bononiensis is in Bologna but not every manuscript in the British Library is a Harleianus, and there never was any formal collection of Thuanei in the BNF). 'nomen om. M, add. M2' (164) though correct can be sometimes misunderstood: instead, use 'nomen om. Mac', or possibly 'nomen om. M, exh. M2'. I take this opportunity to point out that the usual way of using 'corr. <quidam>' after a colon is erroneous: it does not mean corrigendo efficit but correxit (my thanks to Michael Reeve who pointed this to me, though it took me two years to eventually grasp it), and so it refers not to the lemma but to a rejected lesson. So e.g. in Mynors' Catullus, the apparatus at 1.8 (habe tibi) should be 'tibi habe V, corr. η' (meaning 'the archetype has tibi habe, which was corrected into habe tibi by "η"'), not 'tibi habe V : corr. η (which should mean, but cannot, 'the archetype has tibi habe, and the text printed is the result of a correction by "η"').

In summary, this is an excellent book both in itself and because it puts so many things into question. It paves the way for a huge improvement in the editing of classical texts.


1.   From where comes (117) the version of Prop. 4.7.4 which transposes murmur and nuper (contrary to what is written at 116)?
2.   It concerns notably the use of new technologies, which convey the worst and the best. Among the latter I am surprised that the database Musisque Deoque, a wonderful achievement, is not mentioned. It is still in progress but, contrary to the Digital Latin Library (151), we can access and use it.
3.   However the constitution of the stemma cannot be said to be 'mechanical' (14); what is mechanical is the use of it (when or where it has more than two branches) only.
4.   Evidence may be scarce, but this is common to all classical, or even historical, studies; one can be blamed for using it unscientifically or not entirely, but not for having just what survived from the ancient world (on this regard, 15 n.37, what West actually demonstrates is that a well-constructed stemma can be used to reconstruct the archetype even if it is historically false). True enough, since all 'originals' are irremediably lost, we will never know for sure if the hypothesis (for indeed an edition is nothing but an hypothesis as a whole) is correct or not (particularly p.39??), and, worse, we do not even know if anything could really be called an 'original' ever. Nevertheless, it is equally true that the classical texts are far more accurate now than they were in the Middle Ages, and maybe even in Antiquity. So, it is not that vain to look for unrecoverable originals. Incidentally, the epigraph of chapter 3, from Guglielmo Gorni, is particularly unfair, since what he is speaking of is not recension but the orthographical layout of editions (a problem not really relevant for Latin texts), and since, furthermore, the first point of his essay is actually to demonstrate the original structure of Dante's Vita nuova.

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