Sunday, May 21, 2017


Han Lamers, Bettina Reitz-Joosse, The Codex Fori Mussolini: A Latin Text of Italian Fascism. Bloomsbury studies in classical reception. London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016. Pp. x, 139. ISBN 9781474226950. $104.00.

Reviewed by Genevieve S. Gessert, The American University of Rome (

Version at BMCR home site


The last fifteen years have seen a proliferation of scholarship in English on the relationship between Italian Fascist ideology and Roman antiquity, focusing largely on the relationship between modernity and Romanità (often inadequately translated as "Roman-ness") in the official formation of Fascist identity. The recent volumes by modern historians Paul Baxa, Joshua Arthurs, and Aristotle Kallis, to name but a few, explore the ways in which notions of Romanità influenced policy in infrastructure, education, and urban planning respectively. These works take as their primary goal a fuller understanding of the parallel development of material propaganda and official institutions during the ventennio (1922–1942), with a goal of "integrat[ing] romanità into current discussions about Fascist culture and its relationship to modernity."1 Volumes such as these are of interest to classicists because they reveal the ways in which Roman material culture (and its scholarship, in the case of Arthurs) is impacted by deliberate modern intervention, from the selective sventramenti and excavations in the city of Rome to the use of "Roman" images and styles in official visual culture. Concurrently, Roman archaeologists and social historians have increasingly been re-examining the excavations and reconstructions that were conducted under Mussolini, to get a better understanding of the ways in which Fascist interpretations continue to inform our view of Roman architecture, urban planning, and society.2 Yet little attention has been paid to the position of classical philology and neo-Latin composition in the Fascist construction of culture.

In The Codex Fori Mussolini: A Latin Text of Italian Fascism, Han Lamers and Bettina Reitz-Joosse seek to remedy this oversight with the "first detailed study of a Fascist Latin text" (p.1) that is also one of the first monographs on the Fascist period by classical scholars. Written in 1932 by the classical scholar Aurelio Giuseppe Amatucci to celebrate the construction of the complex of the Foro Mussolini (now known as the Foro Italico), the Codex also sought to provide a laudatory history of the creation of the Opera Nazionale Balilla (the Fascist Youth organization), and to extol the virtues of both Fascism and its leader Benito Mussolini. The original document was an illuminated parchment manuscript, likely several pages bound together to form a small book, which was installed in a metal box along with some commemorative medallions as the foundation deposit for the Foro complex. This deposit remains encased in the base of the obelisk standing at the entrance to the Foro Italico today, inscribed in Fascist-era Latin MVSSOLINI DVX. Thus like an ancient Latin text that survives only in later manuscript form, the Codex Fori Mussolini is known only from copies of the text published after its deposit; no photographs or prints of the original work exist.

Lamers and Reitz-Joosse structure their volume to relate the Codex to works of classical Latin, by combining the introduction and commentary format common to Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics (and others) with the facing-page original text and English translation layout found in a Loeb edition. The extensive introductory materials, entitled "The Codex Fori Mussolini in Context," provide significant information at both the macro and micro level, placing the Codex in its historical context as a representative of contemporary Latin composition and scholarship. Following brief descriptions of the basic structure and content and the three surviving editions of the Codex (pp.6–9), Lamers and Reitz-Joosse turn to the biography of Amatucci and to the role of Latin under Fascism, the latter being a subject on which the two scholars have published previously.3 Though "not generally regarded as one of the foremost Italian Latinists" (p.12), Amatucci was already a fixture of the Italian educational establishment before 1922 and became actively involved in the Fascistization of secondary education. Their detailed analysis of Amatucci's biography illuminates the possible motivations behind his composition of the Codex (the exact conditions are obscure), but rather more significant is their recognition of the active role that scholars played in regime-building during this period. Amatucci and other contemporary scholars found common ground with the Fascist regime in its interest in Romanità, which facilitated the promotion of Latin as a universal and immortal language. For Amatucci, the fact that Fascism was able to revive the Latin language for use in education and official documents was proof of its capabilities and justification for its policies, and the fact that Latin had survived since antiquity made it the ideal language for communicating with the equally distant future.

The remainder of the introduction deals with the Codex as object and artifact, since the foundation deposit document was intended in part as an explanatory text to "shap[e] the prospective memory of the [Foro Mussolini] complex for future readers" (p.28). Lamers and Reitz-Joosse chart the history of the Foro Mussolini, illustrating their analysis with numerous contemporary photographs and urban development plans which describe in detail the modifications made to the Foro complex both during the Fascist era and subsequently. Like other Fascist mini-cities, such as the Città Universitaria and EUR, the Foro Mussolini sought to combine ideal form with bureaucratic function, in this case to provide a "monumental spiritual centre" (p.45) for the sport and pre-military activities of the Opera Nazionale Balilla. The authors next turn to the construction of the monolite, as the Mussolini obelisk was dubbed in the numerous press reports and newsreels that covered its erection, situating it in reference to ancient obelisk construction, Roman engineering, and Renaissance reuse. The narrative of the raising of the obelisk (and the concomitant installation of the Codex beneath it) forms the conclusion of Amatucci's text, underscoring its self-reflective nature and its inherent paradox: the monolite would have to be destroyed in order to make the reading of the original Codex possible (p.61).

The second half of the volume is devoted to the Latin text of the Codex itself, accompanied by the authors' English translation and followed by an extensive, almost line-by-line commentary. One notable theme throughout the commentary, which is also described in the introductory section, is Amatucci's constant use of allusions to or brief quotations from classical Latin texts, particularly from authors of the Augustan period. The Codex takes as its epigraph Vergil, Eclogues 4.5 (Magnus ab integro saeclorum nascitur ordo), a well-used quotation since the time of Constantine (p.99), which imbues the text overall with an Augustan/messianic tone. But as Lamers and Reitz-Joosse observe, Amatucci also drew frequently from other authors, particularly Cicero and Livy, and perhaps for solely stylistic purposes (pp.103, 109 et al.). The Codex and the surrounding Foro were thus constructed to display their classical origins and to demonstrate Fascism's fulfillment of ancient prophecy by preserving yet improving upon the representative masterpieces of Roman culture. These disiecta membra from Roman authors are also used in the service of a panegyric history of Fascism; these modern allusions are analyzed with equal detail by Lamers and Reitz-Joosse. The commentary is accompanied by a list of textual variants among the three published version of the Codex, as well as a useful timeline of the Fascist period and an extensive bibliography.

"It cannot be said too often that reception studies, if they are to be taken seriously, require skills in the practitioner at least as great as those needed for more traditional studies, perhaps greater in view of their cross-disciplinary character and the consequent need for credibility within all the disciplines involved."4 Lamers and Reitz-Joosse demonstrate throughout their thorough mastery of both Latin literature and modern Italian history, and thus the volume should prove useful to scholars and students in both disciplines. The commentary skillfully interweaves contextual historical information, both ancient Roman and modern Italian, with detailed analysis of the classical grammar, syntax, and literary allusions that Amatucci employed. In the introductory narrative their conclusions are perhaps more debatable, particularly in reference to the aesthetic connections between ancient and modern works. For example, the analysis of the "Models of the Foro Mussolini" contends that "the only link between the ancient fora and their modern counterpart is that both served as spaces of political representation" (p.39) discounting the agonistic function of ancient fora and the pseudo-religious function of most Fascist spaces.5 Others may find dispute with the idea that the obelisk at the Foro Mussolini "completely excluded… such monuments' earlier Egyptian heritage" (p.52), given the presence of Egyptian obelisks throughout the city and Luigi Moretti's broadly Egyptianizing colossus of Fascism/Mussolini planned for the complex (Fig. 8.6). Yet these matters of differing interpretation do not diminish the overall high value of Lamers and Reitz-Joosse's work for classical reception studies in general and analysis of neo-Latin literature and Fascist culture in particular.

Equally significant are the ethical concerns that the scholarly analysis of Amatucci's pro-Fascist text engenders, which Lamers and Reitz-Joosse acknowledge from the outset: "By republishing the Codex and making it widely available, are we not helping its Fascist creators to achieve exactly the kind of reception they were craving?" (pp. 4–5). The publication of the volume even created a certain stir within the mainstream press, which largely sensationalized the authors' contribution as the discovery of "Mussolini's Secret Message" beneath the obelisk, as though Lamers and Reitz-Joosse were revealing the next Da Vinci Code.6 While these tactics perhaps reify an object that is better left hidden, the work of Lamers and Reitz-Joosse seeks to ensure that the Codex Fori Mussolini be read contextually and without sensational glorification as an important source for the history of Fascism, but more importantly to the field of Classics, as an artifact in the history of our discipline.


1.   J. Arthurs Excavating Modernity: The Roman Past in Fascist Italy (Cornell University Press, 2012) 5. See also P. Baxa, Roads and Ruins: The Symbolic Landscape of Fascist Rome (University of Toronto Press 2010) and A. Kallis, The Third Rome, 1922–43: The Making of the Fascist Capital (Palgrave Macmillan 2014).
2.   Two recent dissertations are notable in this area: J. Samuels, Reclamation: An Archaeology of Agricultural Reform in Fascist Italy (Stanford University Press 2012) and V. Follo, The Power of Images in the Age of Mussolini (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), as well as J.S. Perry, The Roman Collegia: The Modern Evolution of an Ancient Concept. (Brill 2006).
3.   Most notably H. Lamers and B. Reitz-Joosse, "Lingua Lictoria: The Latin Literature of Italian Fascism." Classical Receptions Journal 8.2 (2016) 216–252.
4.   C. Martindale, "Reception — a new humanism? Receptivity, pedagogy, the transhistorical." Classical Receptions Journal 5.2 (2013) 170.
5.   E. Gentile, The Sacralization of Politics in Fascist Italy. Trans. K. Botsford. (Harvard University Press 1996) 102ff.
6.   E. Blakemore, "Scholars Uncover Secret Message from Mussolini,", September 1, 2016.

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Kurt A. Raaflaub (ed.), The Adventure of the Human Intellect: Self, Society, and the Divine in Ancient World Cultures. The ancient world: comparative histories. Malden, MA; Oxford; Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2016. Pp. xiii, 266. ISBN 9781119162551. $149.95.

Reviewed by Daryn Lehoux, Queen's University (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed below.]

In 1946, Henri Frankfort, H. A. Groenewegen-Frankfort, John A. Wilson, Thorkild Jacobsen, and William A. Irwin published The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man: An Essay of Speculative Thought in the Ancient Near East.1 The book was a smash success and became, to quote Rochberg and Raaflaub's introduction to the present volume, "a staple in Western Civilization and other introductory courses taken by generations of college students." (p. 1) The book took a broad-brush cognitive-historical approach to Near-Eastern societies, and tried to reconstruct the—as they put it—"mythopoeic" worldview of those cultures in contrast to the abstract and rationalistic worldview supposedly pioneered in ancient Greece. Hugely influential, the book is also, seventy years later, highly problematic and quite outdated both in evidence and approach, as Rochberg shows so clearly (pp. 16-28). And so, we are told, (p. xiii) both she and Raaflaub independently hit on the idea to come up with a modern remake of the classic. Given the status and exceptionally long life of The Intellectual Adventure, this is an ambitious aim. Raaflaub has further raised the bar for the present volume, including chapters not just on ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Israel, but also on Greece, Rome, China, India, the Mayans, the Aztecs, and Native North Americans (for full list of chapters and authors, see the end of this review). This is a truly global work that will be a welcome addition to a range of intellectual history and World-Civ courses.

Like any and every edited collection, this book has its ups and its downs, although (especially given my general allergy to broad-brush intellectual history) it is notable that this book was significantly more up than down. To see the magnitude of the task set before the book's authors, consider what they have to say of its scope. Olivier sums up the mission thus: to consider "fundamental questions such as the place of humankind in the cosmos, its ties with the gods, and the place of the individual in the framework of a specific vision of the world." (p. 234) Each author then had twenty-or-so pages to try and say something on this for one or more cultures ("China" is hardly a monolith in antiquity for example, but it makes up a single chapter in this volume), and a time span of anywhere from half a millennium to two or more. Several authors in the volume thoughtfully reflect on what Nabokov in his chapter calls the 'domain' of the investigation: in looking at the intellectual adventure of a society, do we examine "economic subsistence, social organization, moral order, political activity, or scientific investigation?" (p. 242)—he does not mention myth, religion, cosmology, or cosmogony in his list, but one assumes that for him they would fall under some combination of his other categories.

Different chapters handle the challenge differently. Some limit their discussion to single topics, more or less. Kaster and Konstan's excellent chapter on Rome, for instance, looks at Roman thinking on virtue and Rome's moral and legal values as a window into at least one part of that culture's worldview. Nabokov and Jamison likewise offer topic-limited (and coincidentally enthralling) investigations of Native North America and India, respectively. Other chapters take broader approaches, but do so thoughtfully and skillfully. If I had to summarize, I would say that the book is in general an excellent resource, well put together and comprehensive in all the right ways.

But three of the chapters brought out the critic in me for one reason or another, two for more trivial reasons, the third because an important part of it struck me as wrong-footed. To begin at the trivial end, I note that, of the chapters that actually discuss the different ancient cultures—which is the real substance of the book and the part that will be assigned course reading—these only begin on page 73 of the volume. The previous 72 pages consist of an introduction to the volume as a whole (including a brief discussion of Frankfort et al.), a chapter by Rochberg that critiques Frankfort et al., and then a long chapter by Machinist that is a discussion of, tribute to, and contextualizing of Frankfort et al. Coming in at fully twice the page count of the next-longest chapter in the volume and following as it does the thorough discussion in Rochberg's chapter, Machinist's chapter comes across as both too long and too repetitive of much of the earlier material. I can see the point of the tribute and context aspects of it, but it would have been profitable to have shortened it considerably.

My second criticism concerns Houston's chapter on the Maya. Most authors of the volume, conscious that many readers will be coming to their material for the first time, take some pains to outline what the sources are for their culture, what its limitations may be, and discuss what their approach will be. Houston never sufficiently does this (the fact that we only have four surviving codices in the language would seem to me to be a significant point to have remarked on, for example). Moreover, Houston alludes to, but never quite states, the fact that the Mayan writing system was only very recently deciphered and that this decipherment, while substantial, remains in progress to some extent. The biggest problem, though, was that it was frequently difficult to follow what he was talking about, which makes this chapter an outlier from the rest of the book. Although I have no degrees on the Maya, I do write as someone who has done more than his fair share of amateur reading about their culture and language, who has spent thoughtful time at a dozen or more of their archaeological sites, and who (now in a professional context) has done a fair bit of work on calendars and naked-eye astronomy. If I had trouble following a chapter on calendars and (partly) on stars, I can't think that it's suitably written for the book's target audience.

I hinted above that I had initially approached the book with some scepticism just because of my worry about the kinds of essentializing overgeneralizations one still too often finds in books that attempt to do too much. I was pleasantly surprised by this volume, but one chapter, I thought, did fall into the trap to some extent. This is Allen's chapter on the Egyptians, which argues that the Egyptians had a fundamentally different way of thinking, of actually reasoning, than we do now. To be sure, this is not the entire substance of Allen's chapter, and there is in fact much of interest in it, but let me try and explain my objection to this particular conclusion.

Allen presents to us four distinct Egyptian cosmogonies, telling us that "early Egyptologists understood [these] as competing theological systems . . . but the four systems should be seen less as rival theologies than as complementary views of a remarkably coherent understanding of the creation." If his point were simply that there is a way of reading the four competing cosmogonies such that they can be understood as complementary or synergistic rather than as mutually exclusive, that would have been one thing. But instead—and here is what I see as the contentious part—he makes sweeping generalizations about how whole cultures (theirs and ours) use reason. To my mind, this kind of methodology is a large part of what makes the original Frankfort volume feel so dated, and it seems wrong to resurrect it here. Indeed, Allen even finds an ally in Frankfort himself, citing his 1948 Kingship and the Gods as having anticipated Allen's conclusion. That conclusion? Allen claims that the Egyptians use a "multivalent logic of inclusion" that stands in stark contrast to "the modern . . . univalent [by which Allen surely means bivalent] logic of exclusion." (p. 73)

The simple objection here is twofold: the first is to point out that we know that the Egyptians were in fact perfectly capable of using bivalent logic in all kinds of contexts (law and mathematics spring to mind, but there are many others), and these are many of the same contexts where we today use bivalent logic. Similarly—and this is particularly true when it comes to matters of religion and cosmogony —many of us today are patently multivalent. It is not just that some people in my town believe in science and some different people in my town believe in religion; it is that the vast majority of them believe in science and religion simultaneously. According to a Gallup poll from June 2016, 89% of Americans believe in "God or a universal spirit."2 Let me acknowledge here that the bivalent logic of science does not argue for a belief in God. Scientists, however—as people—often do. And that is precisely the point where these people become multivalent logicians: one cosmogony says big bang; one cosmogony says God. Similarly, every modern hospital that I have ever been in has, somewhere in its halls, an interfaith chapel. Amidst all the machines and medicines and other scientific wonders of the modern age, there is prayer. Multivalent logic flourishes and is a basic characteristic of human—ancient and modern—nature. As with the bivalent legal logic of the Egyptians, context is everything. By making Egyptians then one kind of logician and we moderns now another, Allen risks essentializing something that is more interesting and more accurate when left more nuanced, more complicated. Instead of "the Egyptian view" (79, emphasis mine), I prefer the more nuanced "to some thinkers..." (Foster in the present volume, 96) coupled with explicit reflection on context.

Finally, a note on periodization. Until we reach the section on the new world, the book stays firmly rooted in ancient cultures and sources as traditionally understood. But when we come to the new world, where sixteenth-century Spanish raiders and missionaries came into contact with the actual peoples who had (in some cases recently) composed the primary sources, we have to be more flexible with our notion of what counts as 'ancient,' for better or for worse. Thus Olivier in the chapter on Aztecs includes myths recounted to informants as late as the sixteenth and, indeed, even the twentieth century. Nabokov, in his chapter on Native North Americans comes to tackle the question of intellectual adventure by looking at the shamanic experiences of a handful of Native individuals from various places. Again, in this instance we are not going very far back in time at all. Nabokov's sources are none earlier than the 19th century and some are even contemporary—which is to say fully modern—Native Americans. Nabokov is conscious of the dangers of projecting backwards from such sources, to be sure, but part of his argument is that shamanism as a practice is very old indeed and that how it stands in a society, how it produces knowledge and guidance for that society, as well as the kinds of knowledge and guidance it produces, are in some ways time- and culture-independent. Maybe. But something here bothers me, something I find difficult to articulate, about talking to a modern person about a modern-day practice in order to reconstruct something ancient about that person's culture. Nabokov knows this—he says so explicitly—so perhaps I should let it go and simply leave it for what it is. His chapter is, in any case, an absolutely engrossing read and tells its story in the most delightfully—I want to say lateral—way. It's a most impressive piece of writing.

So: a few nits to pick here and there, but all in all a very good volume that will serve its intended audience well. I cannot judge the scholarship across the board—no single reader could—but where I was qualified to do so it was certainly solid, and where I was not I can at least say that the reading was often good, and occasionally fantastic.

Authors and titles

Francesca Rochberg and Kurt A. Raaflaub, Introduction
1. Francesca Rochberg, A Critique of the Cognitive-historical Thesis of The Intellectual Adventure
2. Peter Machinist, The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man: Revisiting a Classic
3. James P. Allen, The World of Ancient Egyptian Thought
4. Benjamin R. Foster, On Speculative Thought in Ancient Mesopotamia
5. Ryan Byrne, Self, Substance, and Social Metaphysics: The Intellectual Adventures of Ancient Israel and Judah
6. Kurt A. Raaflaub, Ancient Greece: Man the Measure of All Things
7. Robert A. Kaster and David Konstan, The Thought-World of Ancient Rome: A Delicate Balancing Act
8. Lisa Raphals, Self, Cosmos, and Agency in Early China
9. Stephanie W. Jamison, Vedic India: Thinking and Doing
10. Stephen Houston, "Chronosophy" in Classic Maya Thought
11. Guilhelm Olivier, The Word, Sacrifice, and Divination: Aztec Man in the Realm of the Gods
12. Peter Nabokov, Night Thoughts and Spiritual Adventures: Native North America


1.   Frankfort, Henry, H. A. Groenewegen-Frankfort, John A. Wilson, Thorkild Jacobsen, and William A. Irwin published The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man: An Essay in Speculative Thought in the Ancient Near East (Chicago, 1946).
2. Accessed May 2, 2017.

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Catherine M. Chin, Caroline T. Schroeder (ed.), Melania: Early Christianity through the Life of One Family. Christianity in late antiquity, 2. Oakland: University of California Press, 2017. Pp. 328. ISBN 9780520292086. $95.00.

Reviewed by Robin Whelan, Balliol College, Oxford (

Version at BMCR home site

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

This book stems from a symposium in honour of Elizabeth Clark, held at Duke University in April 2013. A short Afterword from Randall Styers provides a signal reminder—if one were needed—of Clark's contribution within the discipline of early Christian studies and far beyond it. The rest of the book sees her students and colleagues pursuing many lines of inquiry from her work, and—in the same spirit—seeking to forge onwards. Their studies are framed around Melania the Elder (c. 341-410) and Younger (c. 385-439), two of the most famous Christian aristocrats in late antiquity, renowned (then and now) for life stories which took them from senatorial households in Rome to monastic communities in Jerusalem. Of course, placing this grandmother- granddaughter pair at the centre of scholarly inquiry is not without problems. In their Introduction, the editors directly engage the problems of writing biography after the linguistic turn, justifying their choice of material as a means of understanding the interactions between individuals and the wider systems and network of the late Roman (Christian) world (3-12). This approach is pursued throughout: the two Melanias are used as case studies for the application of specific (and sometimes previously unemployed) theoretical approaches to late-antique contexts. What this means in practice are a series of overlapping readings of a set of core texts which discuss the protagonists: in particular, Palladius' Lausaic History and Gerontius' Life of Melania the Younger.

The papers in Part I consider how expectations carried over from Roman aristocratic culture continued to shape the lives of the two Melanias. Catherine Chin uses the Life of Melania the Younger (paired with the Liber Pontificalis) to consider the 'demands and agencies of late-antique buildings' (20). For Chin, Melania and Pinian's difficulties in extricating themselves from a traditional Roman aristocratic lifestyle stemmed principally from their ties to specific properties and the cluster of ideas about genealogy, inheritance and status which clung to them (20-24); Melania's foundations in Jerusalem demanded that their custodians looked even further beyond their own lifespan—that is, to the end-times (29-30). Christine Luckritz Marquis reconstructs the Elder's influence on the Younger as refracted through the competing textual depictions of (in particular) Palladius and Gerontius. Her astute readings of both texts lead to a startling conjecture: that the granddaughter did not build her own monasteries in Jerusalem, but simply renovated those of her grandmother (44-45). Caroline Schroeder explores the 'expansive emotional world' (51) afforded to Melania the Younger in the Life. As Schroeder rightly stresses, Gerontius supplied Melania a repertoire of both stereotypically 'masculine' and 'feminine' emotional performances (51-55). Gerontius' Melania emerges as a Christian philosophical exemplar (60-61), whose specific life course was inextricably linked to her membership of the late Roman 'one percent' (61), but could nonetheless inspire imitation among a wider (if somewhat fuzzily defined) audience of ascetic women.

The essays in Part II expose the relationship of early Christian texts and metaphors to late-antique embodied experiences and medical realia (insofar as they can be reconstructed). Maria Doerfler shows how ascetic writers used the rhetorical construction of spiritual motherhood both to create fictive kinship ties and to overlay biological ones. Likewise, Kristi Upson-Saia takes the titular description of Melania the Younger ('wounded by divine love') as a jumping-off point for a wide-ranging discussion of early Christian engagement with medical thought and praxis. Upson-Saia convincingly demonstrates sophisticated use of contemporary approaches to the healing of wounds in discussions of how Christians should deal with heresy and sin.

Part III pursues problems of gender and asceticism as viewed through the lens of individual and collective memory. At the core of Stephanie Cobb's paper is a reinterpretation of the Acta Perpetuae et Felicitatis. Where earlier historians saw in the two fourth-century recensions the imposition of a male framework of understanding over the words of Perpetua, Cobb instead construes the texts' 'social logic' as the modelling of exemplary female asceticism and Christian community formation in the post-Constantinian era. Rebecca Krawiec, meanwhile, presents a fascinating genderqueer reading of Melania the Elder in Palladius' Lausiac History. Due to her roles as an interlocutor, spiritual counselor and commemorator of both male and female ascetics, Melania eludes any attempt to impose gender boundaries, binaries or hierarchies (cf. 138). Krawiec contrasts this depiction to Jerome's presentation of Marcella and Paula (and Palladius' hostile reception of it)—both more clearly gendered as female despite their similar agency (136-40). Krawiec hints (with Elizabeth Clark) that Palladius' distinctive 'Origenism' may play a role in his recognition of fluidity (e.g. 130); nevertheless, many other late-antique texts seem ripe for such a reading.

The papers in Part IV approach problems of ecclesiastical politics and heresy. Robin Darling Young considers the relationship between Melania the Elder and Evagrius of Pontus as seen through the Lausiac History and Evagrius' Letters. The latter present Melania in yet another exemplary guise, as gnostic teacher (with no scare quotes in sight). Susanna Drake explores the influence of the Pelagian controversy on Gerontius' Life, highlighting tensions between nobility and humility, and perfection and sinfulness. Perhaps unsurprisingly, heresiological categories and doctrinal factions do not map neatly onto the Life or Melania's activities; Melania and her family were instead (a neat phrase) 'late ancient bipartisans' (181). Christine Shepardson draws the same conclusion: Melania the Younger in the Life was 'unassailably (because imprecisely) orthodox' (190). Nevertheless, as Shepardson persuasively argues, the portrayal of Melania as staunchly anti-Nestorian would have acted as a dog whistle for readers in the early 450s who, like Gerontius, opposed the recent Chalcedonian formula in those terms. Ironically, it was the very subtlety of this appropriation for contemporary Christological controversy which allowed the Life to be preserved as one of an 'orthodox' (i.e., Chalcedonian) saint.

Part V discusses the Holy Land, the adopted home of the two Melanias. Andrew Jacobs compares the pilgrims and ascetics of the age of the Melanias to another group of culturally influential émigrés: 'the lost generation' of Americans in Paris in the 1920s. Jacobs uses this parallel to identify the 'spatial tension' in which these Christian elites found themselves: 'at home when abroad but always the most fully realized examples of a Roman Christian virtue' (213). His definition of the whole period c. 360-430 CE as a generation (defended at 215) might have warranted further exploration—when did this ascetic mythmaking go mainstream? Or, to put it another way: which saint's life is Midnight in Paris? Stephen Shoemaker provides a helpful introduction to the Jerusalem Georgian Chantbook, a little-studied text containing hymns sung as part of the public liturgies of late-antique and early medieval Jerusalem, including a number of strikingly early hymns in praise of the Virgin.

Part VI ('Modernities')—perhaps the most intriguing section of the book—considers modern receptions of the Melanias. Michael Penn narrates the startling international response to Cardinal Rampolla's edition of the Vita Melaniae, published in 1905. Penn shrewdly traces the basis of this Melania-mania to the same sense of 'immediacy' and 'authenticity' which fascinated second-wave feminist readers (253, 256). Melania once again appears as the subject of widely divergent appropriation: the Washington Post called her the 'Richest Woman That Ever Lived' (249); the Manchester Guardian had her as a proto-suffragette on hunger strike (255). Stephen J. Davis charts similar appropriation in the twentieth-century Coptic Orthodox Church, as Pope Shenouda III and Matthew the Poor used the Melanias as models for modern would-be nuns. Finally, Elizabeth A. Castelli looks through the other end of the telescope, considering the specific moment in feminist historiography which inspired the reclamation of texts like the Life of Melania, the problems posed by late-antique hagiography for such projects, and the Life's potential contribution to early twenty-first century left-wing political theory and cultural critique.

The decision to zero in on the two Melanias produces obvious benefits: the interlocking papers build to a sort of 'thick description' of late fourth- and early fifth-century Christianity, and recent analytical approaches to its study. Close and repeated reading of Jerome, Paulinus, Palladius and Gerontius permits us to see their specific location within the wider debates and constellations of Christian thought. I could see how this book would make an excellent companion for a special subject or graduate course on asceticism in late antiquity. At the same time, that focus—and the intentional dialectic between biography and cultural history which accompanies it—brings some frustrations. A few papers do not really seem to be about either Melania (e.g. Upson-Saia, Cobb, Shoemaker). More fundamentally, if the analytical thrust of the volume is to use the Melanias to inform critical work in early Christian studies (and not simply the other way around), the very specificity of the papers can present something of an obstacle. Did the need to relate broader themes to the Melanias held authors back from more telling contributions which drew out the implications of this careful theoretical work and fine- grained textual analysis for a wider set of late-antique people, places and texts? Of course, such criticisms are a tribute to the quality of the papers in the book. If these contributions act as 'proof of concept' for various novel approaches to the study of late-antique Christianity, I look forward to their more systematic take-up.

Authors and Titles

Catherine M. Chin and Caroline T. Schroeder, 'Introduction'
Catherine M. Chin, 'Apostles and aristocrats'
Christine Luckritz Marquis, 'Namesake and inheritance'
Caroline T. Schroeder, 'Exemplary women'
Maria Doerfler, 'Holy households'
Kristi Upson-Saia, 'Wounded by divine love'
L. Stephanie Cobb, 'Memories of the martyrs'
Rebecca Krawiec, 'The memory of Melania'
Robin Darling Young, 'A life in letters'
Susanna Drake, 'Friends and heretics'
Christine Shepardson, 'Posthumous orthodoxy'
Andrew S. Jacobs, 'The lost generation'
Stephen J. Shoemaker, 'Sing, O daughter(s) of Zion'
Michael Penn, 'Afterlives'
Stephen J. Davis, 'Monastic revivals'
Elizabeth A. Castelli, 'The future of sainthood'
Randall Styers, 'Afterword'
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Friday, May 19, 2017


Benjamin Anderson, Cosmos and Community in Early Medieval Art. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2017. Pp. vii, 204. ISBN 9780300219166. $65.00.

Reviewed by Steven H. Wander, University of Connecticut, Stamford (

Version at BMCR home site


Cosmos and Community in Early Medieval Art, which revisits the subject matter of the author's 2012 Bryn Mawr dissertation,1 addresses the question of how the Mediterranean societies of Byzantium, the kingdom of the Franks, and Islam "roughly from A.D. 700 to 1000" (p. 5) made use of cosmological imagery. After the brief "Preface and Acknowledgments" which addresses the thorny question of transliteration, the "Introduction," entitled "Solitude and Community," presents the author's dichotomy between the shared understanding of cosmology by the "universal community . . . experienced by all in contemplation of the stars" and that of the "solitary individual" with a particular point of view (p. 9). The intellectual underpinning for this relationship, as noted in a review of the exhibition "Time and Cosmos in Greco-Roman Antiquity," curated by Alexander Jones at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (October 19, 2016 - April 23, 2017), existed "Because the heavens and the earth were thought to be connected in so many ways, the destinies of nations as well as individuals presumably could be read by someone with expertise in the arrangements of the sun, the moon, the known planets and constellations in the zodiac."2 The author's opening anecdote regarding Septimius Severus (193-211) illustrates this. The emperor had two zodiacs with different ascendants painted in his reception halls so that astrologically knowledgeable visitors would not "share Severus's own knowledge regarding the time of his death!" (p. 2; exclamation point added).

For the purposes of his study, Anderson distinguishes between the "psychological" approach of Aby Warburg (Denkraum) and fellow iconographers Fritz Saxl and Erwin Panofsky, which "in the study of images of the cosmos focuses on psychology, book illumination, the transmission of knowledge, and the solitary scribe" (p. 15), and the approach by archaeologists such as Ernst Herzfeld, Karl Lehmann and Hans Peter L'Orange, who, from reconstructions of specific monuments, establish the theme "of the 'ruler in the cosmic setting,' . . . in its immediate spatial contexts" (p. 13) and "focuses on politics, monumental architecture and ceremonial display, and the communal spectacle" (p. 15).

The author deemphasizes the idea of direct links in the transmission of images of the cosmos among Islam, Byzantium, and the West, aware of "no account of such images circulating via trade or diplomacy in the early Middle Ages" (p. 8). One example of such exchange, however, may involve the Christian Topography of Kosmas Indikopleustes with its images of the zodiac and diagrams of the cosmos (pp. 114 and 127-132), where God's primordial design for the universe manifested itself in the model of the tabernacle of Moses at Sinai. Illustrations there connect with the diagram in Coelfrith's Codex Amiatinus, produced in Northumbria at Wearmouth-Jarrow. Knowledge of the Greek text may have come to Anglo-Saxon England directly through the mission of Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury (668-690), or indirectly through the intermediary of works in Latin by Cassiodorus (ca. 485-ca. 585).3

The first chapter, "Tyranny and Splendor," analyzes from that perspective three discrete objects of distinctly different character: the Throne of Khosrow, known only from literary accounts both in Arabic and Persian, on the one hand, and in Greek and Latin on the other, the much restored Umayyad mosque of Damascus, and the Cathedra Petri, an ivory throne with diverse imagery, including representations of the constellations along with a Frankish emperor, usually identified as Charles the Bald. All three present difficulties of interpretation. Anderson offers sensible and appropriate assessments based on the available information about how these works might have functioned to underscore the multivalent character of universal rulership.

Chapter 2, "Declaration and Transaction," focuses on another three objects: the Star Mantle of Henry II in Bamberg, a Carolingian silver table, now known only from literary accounts, and the frescoed dome of the caldarium of the princely bath of Qusayr 'Amra, which is linked by inscription to the Caliph al-Walid ibn Yazid who reigned between 743-744 (pp. 65-66), all very different but each associated with royalty. For the Star Mantle and related textiles, "the cosmic garment served not to declare the dominion of an individual, but to mediate between distinct sources of power—aristocratic, imperial, episcopal, and monastic" (p. 54). The table also is seen through the lens of "transactions, between a ruler and his advisors on the one hand, and between generations of rulers on the other" (p. 63). Likewise, Qusayr 'Amra turns "The transactional use of explicit cosmological imagery to political ends" (p. 63). So Anderson concludes his discussion of the bathhouse with the truism that, "Like the star mantle and the silver table, the celestial dome of Qusayr 'Amra was appropriate to political ends" (p. 69). In an oversight, Charlemagne is identified as the son and not the grandson of Charles Martel (p. 55).

Chapter 3, "Carolingian Consensus," begins with a discussion of astronomical imagery on the Cloth of the Ewaldi, Cologne, and then declares: "In this chapter we will be concerned with the first proliferation of astronomical images (rings of the zodiac, cycles of constellation images, and celestial maps) in European manuscripts" (p. 77). They are divided, somewhat arbitrarily, into four "clusters" since "Each cluster is linked to the next by substantial shared elements: the first to the second by a shared series of diagrams, and the second to the third by the adoption of the Aratean cycle. The selection of texts in the fourth cluster depends directly on that of the third" (p. 79).

Chapter 4, "Byzantine Dissensus," suggests that "the Byzantine reception of the ancient constellations was different in kind from the European and the Islamic…later Byzantine astronomical iconography is characterized by sporadic and isolated revivals from deep antiquity and borrowings from abroad—or, in Athens, by a literal spolium" (i.e., the Panagia Gorgoepikoos) (p. 114). Here Anderson's focus is on two very different manuscripts, the Handy Tables of Ptolemy (BAV, gr. 1291) and the surviving copies of the sixth-century Christian Topography of Kosmas Indikopleustes (the earliest BAV, gr. 699 from the ninth century along with two related eleventh-century codices), where he stresses the pair's contrasting visions of the universe, the one spherical and the other vaulted.

Next is a brief "Conclusion" affirming that "early medieval sources represent the political position of astronomical knowledge in Byzantium in different fashion than in the Frankish and Islamic states. Byzantine courtiers cultivated the image of the emperor as sage, the figure who alone has mastered the knowledge necessary to rule the empire. Frankish and early Islamic authors, on the other hand, cultivated the image of the ruler as a clever and willing pupil, who recognizes the value of astronomical knowledge and encourages its cultivation, but leaves the finer points to the experts" (p. 146). Last are sections containing "Notes," "Bibliography," "Illustration Credits," and the "Index."

How the cosmography of the ancient and medieval worlds should be understood remains an open question, but Anderson demonstrates that there is still much to be discussed and that the evidence of the sources, both visual and literary, can be understood in new and intriguing ways. The work is well-written and thoroughly researched, but one can wonder at times what prompted the author's selection of these particular objects, among the many possible choices, or how their juxtaposition, coming as they often do from different times and cultures, sheds light on one another. The book might be compared to an arranged marriage between three sets of in-laws—Byzantium, Islam, and the Franks—which all shared the inheritance of Greco-Roman antiquity. As Anderson points out, the result was a rich and diverse progeny of cosmological imagery.

Cosmos and Community is a welcome and thought-provoking study, a significant addition to the vast literature on the subject.


1.   Benjamin Anderson, "World Image after World Empire: The Ptolemaic Cosmos in the Early Middle Ages, ca. 700-900." PhD diss., Bryn Mawr College, 2012.
2.   John Noble Wilford, "A Manhattan Exhibit With Antiquity on the Clock," New York Times (Oct. 24, 2016). See also Alexander Jones, Time and Cosmos in Greco-Roman Antiquity (The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, October 19, 2016 - April 23, 2017), p. 29: "The basic principle of astrology was that the configuration of the heavenly bodies at any time influenced or even determined subsequent developments in the terrestrial environment according to patterns that could be interpreted by someone with the suitable expertise. In particular, the state of the heavens at the moment of an individual's conception or birth, constituting the person's horoscope, was held to contain information from which his or her character and life story could be predicted."
3.   For the possible presence of the Christian Topography of Kosmas Indikopleustes in Anglo-Saxon England, see Bernhard Bischoff and Michael Lapidge, Biblical Commentaries from the Canterbury School of Theodore and Hadrian, Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England 10 (Cambridge, 1994), esp. pp. 208-211, 320-321, and 451-452; and the review by Michael Gorman, "Theodore of Canterbury, Hadrian of Nisida and Michael Lapidge," Scriptorium (1996): 184-192, esp. 191.

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Sophia Xenophontos, Ethical Education in Plutarch: Moralising Agents and Contexts. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde, 349. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2016. Pp. ix, 266. ISBN 9783110350364. $140.00. ISBN 9783110350463. eBook.

Reviewed by James Uden, Boston University (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

Plutarch made the world into a classroom. Sophia Xenophontos demonstrates in this good new book that education was a primary preoccupation of the philosopher, and that it formed the conceptual basis for works beyond those directly concerned with the ethical teaching of the young. She regards the De liberis educandis as spurious, and its explicit instructions about childhood education play little role in her analysis. Rather, as she demonstrates, throughout his corpus Plutarch is constantly translating the social and cultural institutions around him into opportunities for ethical instruction. Marriage, politics, the symposium, and even the Roman military are viewed through a pedagogical lens, and expected roles and hierarchies are incessantly recast as variations of the teacher-student relationship. Honor is given to those who either instruct others benevolently or listen in silence as attentive pupils. Xenophontos' book, which builds on a series of articles on similar themes, 1 examines both the Moralia and the Parallel Lives, staying sensitive to the ambiguous interconnections in Plutarch's corpus and the generic differences between biography and philosophy. There are limitations in the book's scope; the usual interlocutor for Plutarch in the argument is Plutarch, and so it is often hard to gauge from Xenophontos' treatment how challenging or provocative his insistence on pedagogical order might have been in the 'highly competitive world of the Roman Empire' (p. 185). But this is a well-researched, clearly written, and convincing book, which certainly bears out its author's claim for her philosopher as a serious and persistent ethical teacher.

Xenophontos' first chapter sets the theoretical stage by examining the effect of ethical education on the soul in the Moralia and the Lives. Plutarch follows Aristotle in presenting the rational part of the soul gaining mastery over the irrational part through a process of habituation. Nature alone cannot guarantee virtuous behavior. The soul, which is further subdivided into dunamis ('capacity'), pathos ('passion') and hexis ('acquired state') (p. 26, citing De virt. mor. 443D), must be the object of rigorous and sustained attention in order to direct the individual's natural propensities towards virtue. Xenophontos refers to Christopher Gill's work in articulating the generic difference in ancient views on natural character: in moral philosophy, a person's character is presented as more pliable and susceptible to education and change, whereas in biography it is more fixed ('nature dresses up and then unmasks, but it does not change', p. 33).2 Nonetheless, Xenophontos demonstrates that Plutarch consistently ranks the importance of nurture above that of nature. In the Lives, the mental condition and behavior of certain characters—if not their essential nature—does undergo 'change' ( metabolē, typically for the worse) and 'correction' (epanorthōsis). The latter term is present in Aristotle but of greatly expanded importance in Plutarch, who seems inspired by Hellenistic literary criticism (souls are corrected just like the text of Homer, p. 89: a bold idea). One never gets the sense that Xenophontos is forcing concepts into artificial categories. The survey is careful, well documented, and frank in pointing out areas of uncertainty or contradiction.

The argument really gets underway in Chapters Two and Three, in which the author explores the ethical education of sons and daughters by parents and teachers. In the Moralia and the Lives, she argues, Plutarch is less interested in the realities of childhood instruction than in deriving ethical lessons for adults from depictions of children. The unguarded frankness of children who express dislike for the politician Timesias of Clazomenae on the street, for example, represents a sort of parrhēsia that is tempting, 'strangely admirable' and yet 'unsuitable' to contemporary conditions (pp. 52-3, Praec. ger. reip. 812A-B). As for parents, their influence is uneven. Although mothers can be depicted as virtuous in the Moralia, Plutarch seems to think that 'giving the child an intellectual and moral grounding' is the proper task of the father, not the mother (p. 59). While women like Volumnia and Cornelia in the Lives of Coriolanus and the Gracchi offer high-profile examples of maternal virtue, they are far from typical cases. The most powerful mothers in Plutarch are 'either widows or financially better off than their husbands', and therefore become 'surrogates of the paternal model' (p. 70). Xenophontos then convincingly demonstrates strategic continuities between two of Plutarch's more explicit pedagogical treatises, De audiendis poetis and the somewhat neglected De audiendo (On Listening to Lectures). The ideas of these works can also be detected in the De profectibus in virtute (On Progress in Virtue), which helps to demonstrate one of Xenophontos' major arguments in the book, that ethical training is expected not only to apply to children, but to persist into and permeate adult life.

These chapters regularly refer to the 'Greco-Roman' context of Plutarch's work, the 'fusion' of cultures 'endemic to his milieu', which allows him to blend Greek virtues with Roman historical characters without much strain ('Plutarch does not usually find it problematic to transpose the peculiarities of Roman reality to the Greek domain', says Xenophontos at p. 58). There was certainly a proliferation of works about pedagogy in the late first and early second centuries, although judgments about what should be taught—and by whom—differ sharply among Roman and Greek writers. Yet aside from some reference to Roman historians in the analysis of the Lives (the epitomist Justin becomes Justine at pp. 77 and 262), this book's examination of the Roman half of the Greco-Roman context is sparse. Tacitus' Dialogus is cited in footnotes but not discussed. Also cited but not discussed is Pliny's encomium of the 13-year-old daughter of Fundanus, a useful comparandum for Plutarch's account of his daughter Philoxena in the Consolatio ad uxorem (p. 48; the letter is Ep. 5.16, not 5.15). The writer most missed is Quintilian, whose monumental Institutio oratoria is described in trivial terms as 'a handbook devoted to school questions' (p. 90). The comparison with Quintilian suggests that there is likely more tension in Plutarch's projection of Greek educational models on to Imperial-era reality than Xenophontos allows. She may be right to argue that the resolute endurance of suffering by mothers in the Moralia reflects a Roman ideal (p. 58), for example, but Plutarch's approving picture of silent women 'restricted to the physical supervision' of their children (p. 61) does not strike me as particularly Roman; Quintilian envisages a very active role for Roman mothers in shaping the eloquence of their children (1.1.6-7). Without some sense of competing models of pedagogy in the period, the cultural stakes involved in Plutarch's didactic models and ethical judgments remain mostly unexplored.

The fourth chapter examines Plutarch's vision of the marriage chamber as a space for education. While the opening of the Coniugalia praecepta inclines readers to expect 'a sort of parity' between married couples, in fact Plutarch consistently applies pedagogical paradigms to present the husband as a teacher and the wife as a student listening 'in obedient silence' (pp. 109, 111). This silence can have its own power, as Xenophontos argues, offering moral lessons to male readers in the Consolatio ad uxorem and the Mulierum virtutes (pp. 114-18). The Parallel Lives also include a number of wives (Porcia, Chilonis, Agiatis) who break type and become teachers to their husbands in speech as well as action, although this role reversal is not necessarily an example to be imitated, since it is enabled in moments of male crisis or weakness. Xenophontos' balanced vision of the possibility for women to be moral teachers in Plutarch's thought contrasts—at one point explicitly (p. 110)—with the reading of Victoria Wohl, for whom Plutarch's message of marital harmony is a mere subterfuge for the husband's hegemony.3 Xenophontos typically sees the best in her author. She always emphasizes his philanthropia and his optimistic attitude to his students' ethical capabilities. Still, her opening claim in this chapter that he was 'always respectful to women' (p. 108) rings somewhat false when, as she shows, his texts so often teach them not to speak.

Chapters Five and Six demonstrate the pervasive influence of pedagogical ideas in Plutarch's descriptions of political and military life. Echoes of the De audiendis in the Praecepta gerendae reipublicae show that the philosopher's ideal political leader must also embody the characteristics of the good student, becoming familiar with and adaptable to the nature of the people he governs. Then he must in turn become a teacher, directing the character of his citizens towards virtue (pp. 132-5). Even the Roman army is reconfigured so that it is no longer 'a setting for displaying physical or political strength . . . but another moralizing space in which his heroes and then his audience can reflect on their own virtue and character' (p. 152). Aemilius Paulus in his Life is extolled for educating his soldiers and displaying imitable self-control, and Sertorius in his Life is seen instructing foreigners in Greek virtue. Xenophontos is more explicit in these chapters about the potential clash between these idealized ethical models and the realities of Roman power. She helpfully contrasts Plutarch with Tacitus' cynical vision in the Agricola of imperial expansion as civilizing pedagogy (p. 166), and observes that the limits of Greek political autonomy shape the values that he can recommend to contemporary leaders (pp. 147-9). But in the argument of this book, Plutarch's ethical vision simply exists on a different plane from the un-philosophical morass of (mostly Roman) politics. Plutarch's ethics 'transcend any political restrictions', she says (p. 148). He adheres to 'a different code of public distinction' (p. 169).

Xenophontos' final chapter examines the institution of the symposium in the Quaestiones conviviales (Table Talk) and Plutarch's self-depiction as an educator in the sympotic context. Again, aspects of the ideal didactic experience make themselves felt in the dining room. The character of Plutarch in that work is alternately tactful and aggressive, controlling and moderating moments of competition, and the dinner guests also at times reflect the attentive silence of conscientious students. Here the book distinguishes itself from the recent study of Lieve Van Hoof,4 which puts more emphasis on the jostling for cultural authority and political prestige in Plutarch's adoption of the philosopher's mantle. Xenophontos maintains that Plutarch is not crassly promoting himself as the sophists did: he is interested above all in the education of his audience, and therefore undue cynicism 'does not do justice' to his 'moralising endeavour' (p. 202; also at pp. 185-6). Surely it is not a case of one motivation or the other. The implication of making the world into a classroom is not simply that people should be taught but that Plutarch is their teacher, and his texts thereby become a means of conjuring authority for their writer. Nonetheless, this final chapter offers a sensitive reading of the pedagogical dynamics of the Table Talk, and also includes a short but instructive comparison to Galen, who is more brazen in his competitive self-definition (pp. 185-6).

In the opening of Ethical Education in Plutarch, Xenophontos distinguishes her study from two previous approaches. Scholars such as Schmitz and Whitmarsh sought to examine Plutarch's work within the social and cultural pressures of the Imperial period, while Plutarchan specialists like Babut and Becchi traced the lineage in his thought from the long tradition of Classical and Hellenistic philosophy. Xenophontos pursues a third path, a focus on Plutarch's depictions of pedagogy as a theme 'in its own right' (p. 12; the same phrase at p. 195). Education in Plutarch becomes its own world of cross-references, aims, and ideas. While that strikes me more as a narrowing of the scholarly conversation than as a real advance, in other ways the book impresses by its breadth. Its analysis is not limited to any one part of Plutarch's daunting corpus. It ranges widely and thoughtfully over treatises both familiar and comparatively unfamiliar, is attuned to the focalization of ideas through different characters, and displays a sure command of the bibliography in the field. Xenophontos ends with the conviction that Plutarch can —and should—work some of his pedagogical influence over readers today. Opinions will differ on that point. But she has certainly spent a productive time in the Plutarchan classroom, and Ethical Education in Plutarch is a clear and interesting account of a lifelong teacher's consuming didactic passions.


1.   See especially S. Xenophontos, 'Imagery and Education in Plutarch', Classical Philology 108 (2013), 126-38; 'Plutarch' in M. Bloomer (ed.), A Companion to Ancient Education (Chichester, 2015), 335-46.
2.   C. Gill, 'The Question of Character-Development: Plutarch and Tacitus', Classical Quarterly 33 (1983), 469-87.
3.   V. Wohl, 'Scenes from a Marriage: Love and Logos in Plutarch's Coniugalia praecepta, Helios 24 (1997), 170-92.
4.   L. Van Hoof, Plutarch's Practical Ethics: The Social Dynamics of Philosophy (Oxford, 2010).

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Hélène​ Collard, Montrer l'invisible: rituel et présentification du divin dans l'imagerie attique. Kernos. Supplément, 30​. Liège​: Presses Universitaires de Liège​, 2016. Pp. 362. ISBN 9782875620965. €40.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Valérie​ Toillon, Perseus Digital Library (

Version at BMCR home site

L'ouvrage d'H. Collard est la publication de sa thèse de doctorat soutenue en mars 2014 à l'EHESS de Paris.1 Il s'agit d'un texte plutôt court (187p.) accompagné d'un riche dossier iconographique (164 photographies en couleur et en noir et blanc, soit toutes les entrées du catalogue figurant à la fin du livre, ce qui est très appréciable), d'un index (dont un index des peintres et potiers, et un index muséographique) et d'une bibliographie très complète.

L'étude proposée par H. Collard a pour objet "l'analyse des diverses stratégies de mise en image(s) de la présence divine au sein d'une production artistique précise : la peinture de vases attique" (p. 11). Autrement dit, ce qu'elle nomme "la présentification du divin" au sein du rituel, telle que les peintres de vases l'on figurée. Bien sûr, comme le rappelle l'auteur dans son introduction (pp. 9-12), l'intérêt pour les images divines dans les représentations artistiques n'est pas nouveau, pas plus que ne l'est l'intérêt pour la place de l'image (sous-entendue de la divinité) au sein de l'histoire des religions. En effet, le sujet bénéficie d'une bibliographie abondante autant en histoire de l'art et des représentations, qu'en histoire des religions et ce, notamment, depuis les travaux de J.-P. Vernant sur le sujet dès le milieu des années 1970. Mais peu d'études, jusqu'à récemment, se sont intéressés à la figuration de la présence divine selon une approche pluridisciplinaire (histoire des religions, du visuel et anthropologie) comme se le propose H. Collard. Son ouvrage se veut donc, pour reprendre ses termes, être "une étude d'iconographie appliquée à l'histoire religieuse" et s'inscrit dans la lignée des études d'iconographie proposées par F. Lissarrague, mais aussi J. Mylonopoulos et les travaux du groupe de recherche FIGVRA. La représentation du divin dans les mondes grecs et romains (p. 10 et p. 12).

L'auteur propose [dans cet ouvrage] l'analyse de 11 thèmes distincts, répartis dans quatre chapitres qui abordent chacun un aspect concernant la figuration de "la présence divine au rituel" soit : 1) la visibilité du dieu dans le rituel ; 2) la façon dont l'efficacité de ce rituel est dite ; 3) la construction de la présence divine; 4) le passage entre le visible et l'invisible. C'est une même idée qui tient tout l'ouvrage : comment les peintres de vases ont-ils, visuellement, rendu compte de la présence divine (et plus largement de l'invisible), mais aussi de la réussite (ou pas) du rituel en questionqu'il s'agisse d'un sacrifice sanglant, d'une libation, d'offrandes, d'une supplication ou d'une prière.

Le premier chapitre a pour sujet principal la visibilité du dieu abordée selon les trois thèmes suivant : les représentations de la statue dans les scènes de rituel ; les scènes de supplications à la statue (rapt de Cassandre ; retrouvailles d'Hélène et Ménélas) ; les figurations d'actes rituels autour du pilier hermaïque. Dans l'ensemble, le chapitre insiste sur l'ambiguïté qui caractérise les figurations de statues divines, en particulier dans la peinture de vases à figures noires des années 540-500 av. J.-C. Cette ambiguïté permet de signifier la présence divine, en tant que force active et agissante. En revanche, le pilier hermaïque placé en contexte rituel (scènes dites de « sacrifice » ou de « prière ») fait plutôt office d'intermédiaire entre les deux sphères, humaine et divine. Ce sont les qualités de messager d'Hermès qui sont évoquées et invoquées dans ce type de scènes, plus que le dieu en personne.

Le chapitre 2 se penche sur la manière dont les peintres de vases ont signifié l'efficacité du rituel avec trois thèmes : les figurations du dieu présent en personne dans les scènes de rituel (« Apollon au sacrifice » ; « la fuite d'Hélène ») ; les représentations des dieux munis des instruments de la libation (phiale et oenochoé) ; les images de divinités participant de façon active aux actes rituels (Eros et Nikè). Ici l'auteur montre bien que la présence du dieu en personne et/ou muni des instruments de la libation est directement liée à l'acte rituel mené par les officiants, il s'agit d'un signe qui s'adresse directement au lecteur du vase et qui permet de dire que le rituel est efficace. Une nuance est néanmoins apportée à propos d'Éros et de Nikè qui, plutôt que de exprimer l'efficacité du rituel, se conçoivent comme les « garants » et/ou les « activateurs » du rituel.

Le troisième chapitre a pour thème central la construction de la présence divine, par l'étude des figurations du « mannequin dionysiaque », autrement dit, le fameux corpus des « vases des Lénéennes ». L'auteur rend compte de la manière dont la présence divine est évoquée dans l'image lorsque l'effigie divine s'avère être une construction éphémère. Le corpus des « vases des Lénéennes » bénéficie d'une abondante littérature, ce que l'auteur ne manque pas de rappeler (pp. 125-136). Le point fort de la démonstration est de considérer celles images comme un type figuratif, se référant à un type de rituel en lien avec le monde dionysiaque, sans se référer à une fête spécifique liée à Dionysos et son culte (pp. 135-136, p. 142). Cette approche a le mérite de déplacer le problème que pose l'étude de telles représentations, pour ne s'intéresser qu'aux images elles-mêmes en s'éloignant du contexte spécifiquement dionysiaque. L'auteur peut de ce fait mettre en avant le lien qui unit la présence divine à l'espace rituel : c'est par la mise en place de l'effigie divine que se construit l'espace rituel, ce qui permet dans un même temps de rendre le lieu propice au rituel et « d'activer » la présence divine (p. 144-151).

Enfin le dernier chapitre traite de trois thèmes liés à la représentation du passage du visible vers l'invisible. Ces thèmes concernent en premier lieu, les figurations de l'invisible dans l'imagerie funéraire attique (représentations de la stèle funéraire puis des figures d'Hermès et de Charon sur les lécythes à fond blanc), puis les scènes dans lesquelles apparaît la divinité à côté de sa propre statue, et enfin les représentations de la théoxénie des Dioscures. Le chapitre insiste encore une fois sur les différents niveaux de lectures suggérés par la construction des images : un niveau interne à l'image et l'autre, externe à l'image, qui s'adresse au « lecteur » du vase. Ces divers niveaux de lecture permettent de rendre compte de manière efficace de la présence de l'invisible (qu'il s'agisse du défunt ou d'une divinité), et en particulier aux yeux de celui qui regarde le vase, premier destinataire de l'image.

L'étude proposée par Collard est riche sans être exhaustive. L'analyse est menée avec une grande rigueur méthodologique. Les vases soumis à l'examen sont très bien commentés et une attention particulière est portée à la composition des scènes. L'auteur s'en tient strictement à son sujet, se permettant très peu de digressions, ce qui a le mérite de livrer une analyse concise et efficace. En revanche, cette rigueur enferme par moment la réflexion sur elle- même et certains points soulevés auraient (peut-être) mérité un développement plus complet, pour ouvrir un peu la discussion. La conclusion du chapitre 3 est, par exemple, un peu rapide et aurait sans doute nécessité une discussion plus approfondie concernant la personnalité de Dionysos plutôt qu'une seule référence à M. Detienne (pp.144-145 et p.149-151).2 De même, à propos du lion présent sur le bras de la divinité féminine figurée sur le cratère à volutes de Ferrare .3 L'auteur souligne, à juste titre, l'importance de la polysémie des attributs, sans pousser plus loin la réflexion, laissant finalement la question en suspens (p.37). Ce lion est-il lui aussi une manifestation de la présence divine ? Il en va de même concernant les figurations des retrouvailles d'Hélène et Ménélas. L'auteur passe rapidement sur le geste effectué par Hélène, celui du dévoilement, sans en discuter plus avant.4

Ces quelques remarques n'enlèvent en rien l'intérêt de cet ouvrage. L'auteur soulève un certain nombre de points intéressants, repris régulièrement tout au long de la démonstration. Ainsi Collard insiste-t-elle sur l'ambiguïté qui réside entre la divinité et son image, l'une et l'autre pouvant se confondre (chapitre 1 et 2) ou même être figurées côte à côte dans une même scène (chapitre 4). Ce qui nous dirige vers l'idée principale qui tient l'argumentation de l'auteur : les images, par leur composition, obéissent à plusieurs niveaux de lecture, l'un interne à l'image, qui exprime l'action, et l'autre, externe à l'image, qui se place au niveau du lecteur. La présence invisible (des dieux ou des morts) devient alors tangible aux yeux du « lecteur » du vase par la construction et la composition de l'image. Ce n'est pas une idée nouvelle en soit (puisqu'elle est régulièrement défendue par F. Lissarrague dans ses travaux), mais dans le cas de la « présentification de l'invisible » cela permet à l'auteur de démontrer à quel point les scènes figurées sur les vases visant à « présentifier le divin » sont le fruit d'une construction et d'une réflexion figurative tout à fait volontaire qui s'intègre parfaitement à la pensée religieuse antique.

En conclusion : c'est une étude stimulante qui vaut la peine d'être lue. ​


1.   Hélène Collard, Montrer l'invisible : recherche sur la mise en image de la présence divine au sein de l'espace rituel sur les vases attiques, Thèse de doctorat, Paris EHESS, 2014.
2.   L'ouvrage publié par A. Bernabé, M. Herrero de Jáuregui, A. I, Jiménez San Cristóbal, R. Martin-Hernández (eds.), Redefining Dionysos, Berlin; Boston, 2013 (BMCR 2014.07.44 et celui édité par R. Schlesier, A different God ? Dionysos and Ancient Polytheism, Berlin; Boston 2011 (BMCR 2013.07.38) auraient été utiles à bien des niveaux.
3.   Cratère à volutes à figures rouges. Groupe de Polygnotos, vers 440-420 av. J.-C. Ferrare, Museo Archeologico Nazionale 2897 (n. 19 dans le catalogue).
4.   Par exemple, dans le catalogue les n. 41, 73, 74, 78 et 107. Voir sur le voile et le dévoilement : Llewellyn-Jones, L., Aphrodite's Tortoise : The Veiled Women of Ancient Greece , Swansea; Oakville, 2003. BMCR2004.06.09. ​

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Liz Gloyn, The Ethics of the Family in Seneca. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017. Pp. xi, 249. ISBN 9781107145474. $99.99.

Reviewed by Brad Inwood, Yale University (

Version at BMCR home site


The philosopher Seneca says a lot about families and family members in his prose works. Until now there hasn't been a study devoted exclusively to the theme, although it plays a significant role in more general studies (for example, The Roman Stoics: Self, Responsibility, and Affection by Gretchen Reydams-Schils [BMCR 2005.07.54]). In the book now under review, a development of her Rutgers PhD dissertation, Gloyn gives us a wide-ranging and deeply researched survey of the theme of family relations in Seneca's prose corpus. She engages predominantly with the three consolations, the fragmentary De Matrimonio, De Beneficiis, some of the dialogi, notably De Brevitate Vitae and De Ira, and the Epistulae Morales); the tragedies are set aside on the sensible grounds that understanding the theme in the philosophical works is prior to any attempt to analyse it in the tragedies (p. 7). In the case of the De Matrimonio Gloyn also provides an up-to-date treatment of the challenge of detaching Senecan material from Jerome's Adversus Jovianum. In an appendix (pp. 207-223) she prints a text and translation of the fragments identified by Delarue, to whose judgement she defers, along with the additional and less certain passages accepted by Vottero.

Throughout Gloyn presents her analysis in the framework of Roman social and legal history, which provides an essential context for the analysis of Seneca's own thought about the various family relations he focusses on. Similarly, she makes good use of the rich information we have about Seneca's own immediate family (his father, the Elder Seneca, his mother, to whom a consolation is dedicated, and his two brothers). A well contextualized analysis of these texts and themes is of great value in itself; when it comes to Seneca's own relationship with his family members, we get more discussion of relations with his mother than with his father, and perhaps less than we might have wanted about his brothers. Readers of Seneca and students of Roman social history and Julio-Claudian life will benefit greatly from the perspicacity and good judgement that Gloyn shows throughout.

The book is organized thus. Chapter 1 'Model Mothers' focusses on the consolations dedicated to Marcia, daughter of Cremutius Cordus, for the death of her son Metilius, and to Helvia, Seneca's own mother, for his own exile. Chapter 2 'A Band of Brothers' looks at fraternal relations through the lens of the consolation dedicated to Polybius, Claudius' freedman, for the death of his brother. In chapter 3 the marital relationship is studied through a close analysis of the De Matrimonio, while in chapter 4 the father-son relationship is studied in the De Beneficiis, where it is the topic of a lengthy discussion in book 3. Chapter 5's study of Seneca's treatment of the 'Imperfect Imperial Family' ranges more widely over various works as Gloyn explores the gap that Seneca opens up between the regime's ambition to present itself as a norm for family relations and the unsurprising fact that the Julio-Claudians are as imperfect as any family, in fact much more so. Chapter 6 'Rewriting the Family' tackles the Epistulae Morales, where the epistolary format and the dyadic relationship between Lucilius and Seneca rather complicate the way various family relations can be studied.

In addition to the analysis of these works and their significance for Roman social history, Gloyn argues for important claims about the role of Stoic philosophy in Seneca's thought about the family. And this raises a question about the title of the book. What, in fact, is an 'ethics of the family'? One thing it could mean would be a normative ethics governing family relations, dealing with questions such as how a family ought to be structured (patriarchal, matriarchal, nuclear, extended, etc.) Early Stoics did have some quite revisionist things to say along these lines, having followed the Cynics in exploring the Platonic notion that in an ideal state wives should be held in common and children educated by the state, at least in a utopian setting. Stoic theories about appropriate actions (kathēkonta) and general advice for behaviour (praecepta) provide guidelines for some family relations; in Ep. Mor. 94.1 Seneca mentions precepts for husbands on quomodo se gerat adversus uxorem and for fathers quomodo educet liberos. Gloyn briefly discusses the debate about precepts in letters 94 and 95, but we are not given an extensive discussion of how his 'ethics of the family' relate to this traditional feature of Stoic thought.

In general, Seneca didn't go very far down the revisionist road of the early school, nor did he go so far out on a limb as Musonius did, who argued that daughters and sons should be educated in the same way and that procreation is the only proper purpose of marital relations. Seneca did, however, express disappointment that his father hadn't cared enough about the education of his wife and advocated for symmetrical obligations for men and women in the area of chastity and marital fidelity. Gloyn shows how Seneca's mildly revisionist normative claims about family have a philosophical basis and provides a sensitive discussion of the role played by changing legal and social norms governing upper-class marriages in the Julio-Claudian period. In both of these areas there are clearly influences from philosophy, not always specifically Stoic, as well as from the wider cultural context. Seneca's exploration of father-son relations in the De Beneficiis is more revisionist and more distinctively Stoic in its basis, with its focus on the priority of virtuous behaviour and motivation over mere social and familial relationships.

Elsewhere Gloyn's focus in less on normative ethical positions that press for changes in the way family life is lived. In chapter 2, for example, she analyses the persuasive rhetoric of the consolation to Polybius, and shows how Seneca exploits Stoic ideas about cosmopolitanism to reinforce the argument he makes for being recalled from exile. In Stoicism we are all 'brothers in philosophy' since we are all of equal standing as rational beings, children of Zeus, in a way, and so worthy of equal consideration. But throughout the book, as its unifying theme, Gloyn focusses on a different sense of 'ethics of the family'. In light of the Stoic doctrine of oikeiōsis (a term which she sensibly chooses not to translate) she argues that Seneca takes a strong position on the way a proper family life contributes to ethics, by being an indispensable aspect of moral education. Other philosophers recognized the importance of family life to moral education – Aristotle in particular took a strong line on the importance to moral education of good early upbringing in a proper family, and in the Republic Plato held that his guardians needed to be removed from normal family life and raised by a philosophical elite if they were to have any chance of developing good values. Earlier Stoics are perhaps a little too close to Platonic thinking for Seneca's comfort. Though all humans are born with a natural inclination to virtue, we are corrupted almost immediately by the exposure to the distorted values of our family and our society. Whatever the value of ordinary family life, substantive philosophical values are not typically learned in that setting but rather from the disruptive experience of philosophical education. Loving parents who keep their children warm and well fed are at the same time teaching them that comfort is good and discomfort is bad – value claims anathema to a strict Stoic.

So we should expect Seneca to have views on this question: what is the contribution of family relationships to a proper ethical education? Gloyn argues that the doctrine of oikeiōsis, with its emphasis on the parent-child connection, plays a critical role in Seneca's thinking about this question, and it is here that I found myself wondering if her argument is fully successful. Gloyn rightly recognizes the complexity of oikeiōsis in Stoic thought. Stoics claimed that natural human sociability is rooted in a recognition that we are all akin and that the affection of parents for their children is the basis for this – we see our children as belonging to us (they are oikeioi) and we can and should generalize that to the rest of mankind. But at the same time the term oikeiōsis is also used to describe the initial attachment that every newborn animals has for its own personal survival and thriving – and this kind of oikeiōsis, when full rationality is attained, underpins our attachment to virtue. These two applications of the term oikeiōsis are clearly meant to converge, with the initial self-orientation leading to a commitment to virtue while the generalization from attachment to our children leads to a commitment to the interests of others. It isn't particularly clear how this convergence actually works, but Cicero's account of Stoic ethics in De Finibus 3 seems to reflect a deep Stoic commitment to the convergence (something we also see in Hierocles).

On the basis of this theory Gloyn holds that Seneca has a developed view about the critical role played by good family relationships in creating a Stoic commitment to virtuous living. The case for this is made first in chapter 1 ('Model Mothers') and it recurs in varying strengths throughout the book, though Seneca seldom uses the terminology of the Stoic theory (except in Letter 121, where in fact the familial aspect is quite submerged). One might wonder, then, whether Seneca's commitment to the idea that good family relations of various sorts are essential to developing virtue is tied as closely to technical Stoic thinking about moral development as Gloyn proposes. Aristotle, after all, managed to hold views of this general sort without being committed to something quite so precise as the Stoic theory, and it wouldn't be a surprise if Seneca's commitment to this view came as much from his own reflection and experience as it did from his reading of Stoic books. (If that proved to be the case, it would perhaps parallel another issue that comes up from time to time in the book. While recognizing that Seneca himself allows that the passion of grief has a legitimate role in life, providing one doesn't let it get out of control, Gloyn seems to think that this sensible acceptance of limited passions is something Seneca got from conventional Stoic theory. It may, perhaps, be more a sign of his independent-mindedness and openness to the influence of common sense and other philosophical theories.)

It would take a lengthy discussion to explore fully the question of how much Seneca's views on the contributions to ethics of family relationships flow from Stoic theory as he understood it and how much influence other factors had; this is not the place for that kind of enquiry. But in any case this is not a critical issue; Seneca prided himself on his own freedom of enquiry, not being tied to specific school doctrines and showing consistent interest in the variety of often divergent positions taken by various of his Stoic predecessors. It may be open to question whether Gloyn is right about the central role played by oikeiōsis in Seneca's thinking about ethics and family relations, but she is certainly right that there is a strong connection between the two. In this thorough and thought-provoking study, Gloyn reveals for us a Seneca whose thinking about important aspects of life, virtue and happiness was shaped profoundly by his philosophical engagement with the nature of family relationships in his social context. This is a significant achievement and will be warmly appreciated by students of Seneca's thought and of Roman social history alike.

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Thursday, May 18, 2017


David J. Riesbeck, Aristotle on Political Community. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. Pp. xii, 322. ISBN 9781107107021. $120.00.

Reviewed by Demetra Kasimis, University of Chicago (

Version at BMCR home site


At the core of David Riesbeck's careful and persuasive book is a desire to solve a puzzle that has long preoccupied close readers of the Politics: the "so-called paradox of monarchy" in the Politics, that the best political arrangement appears at once to enable and to dissolve political relations.

Political relations, says Riesbeck, do not hold for Aristotle in conditions of slavery, marriage, or parenting because political communities enable persons—the free native men at least—to share authority (1).1 As citizens, they rule and are ruled in turn, and this ruling aims at what is good for all. This celebrated and potentially egalitarian account of what makes the political distinctive for Aristotle suggests that a citizen is nothing if not also a ruler (at some point in his life) and so it jars with those moments in the Politics that seem to allow for, if not to require, barring citizens from rule.

Riesbeck presents his book as a study concerned with exclusion, but Aristotle on Political Community is not about membership criteria, which is to say, it is not about Aristotle's interest in the "prior" question of who is or is not counted as a citizen. Riesbeck has some things to say about this matter, but his focus is on figuring out whether in the Politics citizenship and the power to rule are coterminous. As the introduction makes clear, Riesbeck sees hierarchical impulses behind Aristotle's sanguine depiction of monarchy, a form of political community that ensures "large numbers of otherwise able and willing individuals" will be "excluded from participation, and in the name of their own common good, at that" (8). How, Riesbeck asks, can we understand this arrangement to be just or even political for Aristotle when it "evidently denies to everyone but the king the participation in citizenship that was, we thought, essential to a fully good human life" (8)? When Aristotle applies his "merit-based conception of justice to his core conception of political community" and recommends monarchy in what would have to be exceptional circumstances, he seems to undermine his own basic commitments (9).

Over six chapters and a short conclusion, Riesbeck makes, though he sometimes plods, his way toward an explanation that is well supported, plausible, and in a striking way deflating for what it implies for our understanding of Aristotelian citizenship. Riesbeck's Aristotle ends up loosening the relationship between, though not quite decoupling, citizenship and rule. He says there is citizenship for the non-kings living under kingship—just because a king has supreme authority in a monarchy does not mean he is the only citizen—but what this citizenship involves is what we might call the non-creative work of politics, like implementing policy or consenting to a king's reign. Citizens of a monarchy on Riesbeck's reading may not make "the most general decisions of law and policy," but they have responsibilities and so they are not disenfranchised (239). As a way of accounting for various inconsistencies in the Politics, this argument is clever. I worry, however, that Riesbeck wants to have it both ways—to meaningfully disentangle citizenship and rule while holding onto their constitutive relation, which is to say, the sense in which rule is required for citizenship. Riesbeck might say this is what Aristotle wants too, but the question remains: if sharing in rule admits of degrees, as the author says, what happens to the "setting in motion" that is so crucial to the meaning of archein? Though there are Athenian precedents for maintaining that different groups possess different shares in initiating (Solon's division of the citizenry is one example), might Riesbeck's language of degrees threaten to recast some and therefore potentially all citizenship as rule following?

To make his case, Riesbeck takes on an impressive number of competing interpretations—he argues primarily against the scholarly tendency to argue that "either political participation is not an intrinsic good necessary for living a good life or political rule is not necessarily shared and reciprocal" (11). The book anticipates obstacles to its own readings, and it offers new takes on well-known passages, which Riesbeck reads both alongside and against each other. Chapter 1 sets the stage for the rest of the book by reconstructing in detail Aristotle's defense of kingship and by arguing against the dominant strategies philosophers use to reconcile how monarchy is, on the one hand, a correct constitution and, on the other, destructive of what for Aristotle seems to think constitutes political relationships. One of Riesbeck's most important moves in this chapter is to remind readers that the problems that plague Aristotle's theory of monarchy are not confined to that constitution but apply to aristocracy as well. To make sense of Aristotle's views on monarchy, in other words, we need to look beyond the sections on kingship and "reexamine the central tenets of Aristotle's account of the nature and value of political community" (42).

It is in this spirit that Chapters 2 and 3 re-consider Aristotle's "vision of politics" in general (45), first by reconstructing Aristotle's conception of political community (and the bonds of friendship and cooperation that make it up) and then by looking carefully at how a city is different from a household or a village. A city, Riesbeck explains, "is characterized by a distinctive political form of rule or authority and distinctively political standards of justice" aimed at the common good (132). Chapter 4 argues against established accounts that see Aristotle claiming either the intrinsic or the instrumental value of political participation and suggests instead that political participation is simply a requirement of justice. Here Riesbeck reminds his reader that political community and justice demand "naturally free adult males not be ruled despotically" (179), a point that sets the reader up for Chapter 5, where Riesbeck re-introduces the conflict with which the book begins: "the principle that all free adult males should share in rule seems to entail that neither kingship nor aristocracy could conceivably be just, or at least not ideally just" (180).

The "correct" constitutions that seem to call for the exclusion of a majority of citizens from rule must at the same time enable a practice of citizenship for these persons. The burden of the fifth chapter, then, is to show that the supposed contradiction between Aristotle's theory of constitutions and his account of citizenship has depended for its credibility on a persistent interpretive oversight. Riesbeck thinks readers have failed to appreciate that Aristotle distinguishes between sharing in rule (being a citizen) "and the varying degrees and levels of authority possessed by citizens" (236). He submits that Aristotle's account "does not entail that the citizen body and the ruling class are coextensive" (181)—there are more and less authoritative positions a citizen can hold in a just constitution—because Aristotelian citizenship "is compatible with hierarchical distributions of authority" (228). Aristotle's correct constitutions are both more inclusive and more hierarchical than we typically take them to be.

Having addressed the conflict over monarchy in this way, the book's last chapter, "Kingship as Political Rule and Political Community," fixes its gaze once again on the monarchical arrangement, but this time Riesbeck's task is to draw out what makes kingly rule distinct from the non-political relations of mastery and tyranny. On this matter, Riesbeck grants citizen "consent" to the king a surprisingly pivotal role (248) and it would have been helpful to understand more clearly the ancient Greek analog to the modern concept of consent. Without further argumentation, I found it hard to believe that Aristotle holds the peculiarly liberal (and modern) view that the justness of law depends (partly) on a subject's relation to it rather than on the law's relation to the public good.2

Aristotle on Political Community ultimately resolves the paradox of monarchy at its center into a problem of reading: if Aristotle's text seems blind to conflicts it produces, that is because we have interpreted the Politics incorrectly and not because this compressed and fragmentary text produces meanings over which the author, like any theorist, lacks complete control. "[O]nce rightly understood," Riesbeck asserts, Aristotle's theories of political community, authority, and justice do not (have to) generate the problems that appear "inescapable on many standard interpretations of the main lines of Aristotle's political philosophy" (9).

But in his effort to preserve the political character of kingship, I wonder whether Riesbeck's preoccupation with tidying up the "mess" (181) others make of Aristotle's theory may lead him to clean up too much—to police the boundaries of political categories, like king or tyrant, that may depend for their instructive power on some messiness, which is to say, on the untidy symbolic work that only analogies can do. Consider a section in Chapter 6, where Riesbeck finds the comparison between the monarchical rule of a city (many cities, really) and the rule of a household perplexing (272-3). To point out their resemblance, as Aristotle does, is to threaten to unsettle the very distinction Riesbeck has been attempting to fix (for Aristotle) so as to maintain the coherence of Aristotle's typologies and to explain kingship as a regulatory ideal. Riesbeck concludes that the confusing analogy between what we might identify as imperial kingship and its antipode (household) serves a formal and therefore banal point: in kingship and household a single individual holds the highest position of authority. Moments like these indicate that Riesbeck may not be working under the same notion of theory that Aristotle is. To draw our eye, however fleetingly, to the similarities between household and kingship, as Aristotle does, is not simply to muddy or re-entrench a categorical distinction. It is to bring us face to face with the vulnerability of a polis and its susceptibility to change.3 The comparison of a relation of politics and a relation of domination reminds the reader, as do many passages in Aristotle's thought, that theorizing abstractly about politics means accounting for the dynamism in politics. As important as it is to get a handle on what Riesbeck calls Aristotle's "ideal theory," it may be impossible to separate that theory from the allusions, comparisons, examples, empirical observations, not to mention the particular political realities of Aristotle's present, that produce meaning in his texts. These are the figures through which Aristotle's Politics manifests its political alertness—its profound sense of the precariousness of a political order.

Toward the end of the book, Riesbeck reflects on an important question: "if kingship is so unlikely outside the special conditions of political communities in an early stage of development," why should Aristotle "devote so much space" to its "defense"? "Unlike the best constitution of books 7 and 8," he continues, "kingship is apparently not an ideal that legislators should strive to approximate" (274). What is it doing in the Politics then? The possibility that Aristotle offers a narrow definition of kingship in order to assign it a "negative critical" (275) function—to help readers see the importance of its un-realizability—is not lost on Riesbeck, and yet he is curiously reluctant to pursue its meanings in the dynamic context of Macedonian expansion in which Aristotle was writing. Right off the bat the book dismisses historically situated work as "biographical speculation" (43). This may be a question of methodological approach, but it is a missed opportunity with serious political theoretical stakes. The decision closes down one of the exciting and timely interpretive possibilities that Riesbeck's impressive study helps license: taking seriously Aristotle on kingship means seeing the theorist's concern not simply with a regulatory ideal but also with the de-politicizing dangers that are posed by an individual who acts with supreme authority. Once in charge, a monarchical figure is likely to arrogate to himself all forms of ruling—including those that rightfully belong to citizens in office and administration.


1.   Riesbeck mentions later that in Pol. 1259b1 Aristotle holds that"[a] husband rules his wife in a political way" but stresses that what makes a relation political is the "reciprocity of ruling and being ruled" (154), something that does not pertain between husbands and wives. The absence of alternating rule would seem to make the relationship only potentially political for Riesbeck.
2.   I thank Jared Holley for discussing this idea with me.
3.   For an argument that foregrounds Aristotle's interest in fluctuation and change, see Mary G. Dietz, "Between Polis and Empire: Aristotle's Politics," American Political Science Review 106 (2012), 275-293.

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