Thursday, December 21, 2017


Harm Pinkster, The Oxford Latin Syntax. Volume 1. The Simple Clause. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. xxiv, 1430. ISBN 9780199283613. $210.00 (hb).

Reviewed by James Clackson, Jesus College, Cambridge (

Version at BMCR home site

Pinkster reveals in his preface that the publication of his new Syntax of Latin (hereafter OLS) was originally intended to be published in 2014, a century after the publication of the second volume of Kühner-Stegmann's Satzlehre.1 Volume 1 of OLS was published in 2015, and we await news of Volume 2. The comparison with Kühner-Stegmann reveals the ambition of the project, and it is undoubtedly true that this book will become the point of reference for the next century of Latin scholarship as Kühner-Stegmann has been for the last. For those who think that we already knew enough about Latin grammar, think again. This work is the culmination of decades of research on Latin, enriched by the discovery and publication of new texts and a century's advances in linguistics. Furthermore, the Latin grammarian of the twenty-first century has resources that outstrip anything available to Kühner and Stegmann: not only digitised texts, but also the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae (and the Oxford Latin Dictionary), and Pinkster has made excellent use of all of these (see, for example, the discussion of medius, pp. 1048-1050, which relies heavily on the Thesaurus article).

Some parts of OLS parade the grammarian's fancy new clothes and the benefits of research on digitised corpora. For example, one pie-chart shows the frequencies of Latin cases and prepositional phrases based on a survey of over six thousand nouns and pronouns occurring in a selection of five prose and five poetic texts (p. 1180); another on the next page gives the figures for the occurrences of different types of syntactic constituent in the same texts (i.e. subjects and objects of the verb and suchlike), and a bar-chart on p. 1182 cleverly combines the two. At other times the presentation seems reassuringly familiar. The subtitle of this volume of OLS recalls that of the first volume of Kühner-Stegmann, Syntax des einfachen Satzen. Like its predecessor, OLS is structured as a series of chapters with numbered sections, each of which is devoted to a specific aspect of syntax, bearing its own title. Each section is illustrated by the presentation of a series of well-chosen examples with English translations; further untranslated examples and problematic passages are sometimes included in a supplement. All examples in the main text (but not those of the supplements) are listed in an Index locorum (pp. 1361-1390). Another index combines the subject and Latin word indexes of Kühner- Stegmann, allowing the reader quick access to relevant discussions.

For many Classicists OLS will serve only as a fall-back in times of need and the superficial similarity between the two works may lead to the impression that OLS is an updated translation of Kühner-Stegmann, with some new terminology, pie-charts and tables thrown in for spice. Such users may not even notice that OLS has chapters with unfamiliar titles such as Verb frames or Sentence type and illocutionary force , but instead they may lament the absence of a self-contained section devoted to the grammatical category of number or the reduction in space given to prepositions, from a hundred and seven pages in Kühner-Stegmann to just over seven (pp. 1227-1235). In order to get the most out of OLS it is important, however, to appreciate its profound methodological and structural differences from its predecessor. OLS sets out to give a description of Latin within a framework which can be broadly described as functional, an approach which takes the primary purpose of language to be a communicative tool. 'An adequate grammar must take this communicative aspect into account and pay due attention to the contexts and situations in which utterances are produced.' (p. 7). The aim of OLS is to describe and explain language in use, rather than to lay down sets of formal rules. Consequently, OLS allows space to show how phrases and sentences fit into larger units of discourse and often relies on sampling of texts of different genres to reveal overarching patterns of use. Furthermore, although this does not aim to be a historical work, there are discussions of some of the major changes in Latin syntax throughout the language's history (see for example pp. 473-481 on some of the changes in the verb system, or pp. 1236-1242 on the rise of prepositional phrases in competition with bare case forms).

Since Pinkster is interested in the communicative function of language, texts which he terms 'interactional' have primacy in his description of Latin. The impact of this can be shown by a rough calculation of a sample of authors featured in the Index locorum (citations were counted to the nearest half-column, and the figures given express this as a percentage of the total; for comparison a similar calculation is given in brackets from the much larger Index locorum to both volumes of Kühner-Stegmann):2 Augustine 0.6% (0.025%); Caesar 3.3% (4.3%); Cicero 27.8% (33.8%); Horace 0.6% (1.8%); Livy 4.4% (9.2%); Ovid 1.1% (1.9%); Plautus 32.3% (9.4%); Tacitus 1.1% (3.6%); Terence 5% (3%); Tertullian 1.1% (0.1%); Vergil 1.6% (2.6%); epigraphic and documentary texts 2.2% (0.25%). These figures reveal the major part played in OLS by our best source of interactional Latin, comedy; passages from Plautus feature in almost a third of all translated citations. This comparison also shows the greater attention to non-literary and later Latin texts, and the consequent demotion of historians and poets. On the above figures, the Augustan poets and Livy occupy proportionately half the space they did in Kühner-Stegmann.

The framework of functional grammar brings with it new terminology and concepts. Some of this may be initially off- putting, but the explanations are usually clearly written for the neophyte. For example, section 6.24 has the foreboding title Interrogative sentences with an indirect directive illocutionary force (p. 345). The opening sentence immediately explains what this means in a clear and approachable manner: 'Interrogative sentences can be used to order or invite someone to do something, or to stop doing something.' Despite the subtitle of this volume, OLS also pays greater attention to passages of text longer than the clause or sentence in order to present how a grammatical feature functions in a wider context. Thus Chapter 7, on tenses and moods, (pp. 379-671) and the section of Chapter 11 on pronouns (pp. 1118- 1176) contain citations of twenty lines or more in order to illustrate how tenses and pronouns contribute towards the structuring of discourse. In another departure from the general practice of his predecessors, Pinkster is not afraid to leave some matters open, and to present the reader with some of the scholarly discussion. There is a generous but discerning citation of relevant books and articles, and some users of OLS might be surprised to learn just how much has been written about even quite obscure points of grammar. Sometimes, however, this practice may lead the reader into the dark about what Pinkster himself thinks, or needing to make a further trip to the library to seek the full explanation of a passage (see, for example, the discussion of subjunctive tense forms in result clauses on p. 574, or the discussion of Example (d) on p. 646).

The new approach to Latin syntax in OLS brings with it many benefits. The emphasis throughout is on explanation, rather than simple categorisation and labelling. This can be seen clearly in the treatment of the Latin cases and prepositions. Where Kühner-Stegmann lists functions sequentially according to each case or preposition, in OLS the discussion of case and prepositions after verbs is mostly encompassed in a wide-ranging chapter entitled Verb frames (pp. 71-229), which is organised around the number of arguments occurring with various verbs. Arguments are here understood to mean the elements which are obligatory to fill out the meaning of a verb, and which may be expressed by case or by prepositional phrases. Latin do 'I give' and pono 'I put' both have three arguments: the first two are subject and object for both verbs, but for do the third argument, the recipient, is in the dative, and for pono the third argument, the location, is expressed by a prepositional phrase or adverb. This chapter also includes revealing discussions of the difference between different constructions such as the choice between the accusative and dative or the accusative and ablative after the verb dono (p. 152). The reader sometimes will have to work harder, and usually will not be aided by a handy but meaningless grammatical label, but perhaps the gain in understanding will be worth the effort.

Chapter 7, The semantic values of the Latin tenses and moods, marks a number of departures from Kühner- Stegmann, most notably in the section on the indicative tenses. As Pinkster states explicitly on pp. 391-392, other grammars build up their theories of tense and aspect by close attention to narrative texts, principally Roman historians, but the consideration of a wider body of texts enables Pinkster to put forward different conclusions, bolstered by frequency counts on select genres, which are presented in tabular form on p. 406. One striking claim is that the historic present, rather than being specifically marked as a stylistic device, is 'the narrative tense par excellence in Latin stories' (p. 405). Elsewhere in this chapter, he casts doubt on the view that there are two distinct values of the Latin perfect, one like a Greek perfect or English have past, expressing the resulting state of an action, the other like a Greek aorist or English simple past, referring to actions in the past. For Pinkster a speaker using the perfect 'asserts that an event has taken place before the moment he is uttering the assertion' (p. 442). This may lead to the special interpretation of the perfect that it describes a resulting state, but this interpretation is rarely found with active perfects, and then only with certain verbs, although this meaning is widespread with the perfect passive. As a concomitant to this, Pinkster does not see the examples of primary sequence with a perfect main verb as indications that the perfect here has its 'resulting state' meaning, but rather as evidence that 'adhering to the sequence of tenses is basically an optional strategy' (p. 559).

The disadvantage of the functional approach is that of any new paradigm: those brought up using a different terminology have to go back to the classroom. The copious index attempts to steer the reader familiar with the old set of terms to the right places to learn what is new, but this is not entirely successful. Take, for example, the term accusativus Graecus. A reader of Virgil might find a reference to this term in a commentary, and want to look it up. The index refers to three pages, p. 244, p. 267 and p. 1076; the first two passages address the topic of accusatives with passives, the third accusatives with adjectives. The index does not give any indication of where to find the best general discussion of the topic, in the section entitled 'Respect adjuncts', in Chapter 10, Satellites, pp. 915-917, a location that will not be obvious to most classicists (although there is a cross-reference to this passage at p. 244). Pinkster's argumentation shows clearly that several completely different phenomena are sometimes lumped together as accusativus Graecus, and he separates accusatives after the passive of verbs of dressing, such as induo (which he terms an 'autocausative'), from those after verbs of hitting or wounding. It is a shame that many readers will not have the patience to find out these insights. Perhaps a comprehensive index to the whole grammar, once it is completed, might take special care to highlight the best entry points to the discussion of those topics that appear at several different places across the work. Similarly, OLS is not recommended as a recourse to those who want to remind themselves quickly of Roman dating formulae, which feature variously at p. 835, p. 841 and p. 1229, even though there is useful information at all of these places.

The proofreading and cross-checking of this volume is generally of a high standard, and few readers will be troubled for long by any of the remaining slips (which are largely, as far as I could see, on the level of the choice of type face, such as p. 17 example (b) where Ostium should be Ostium and angiporto should be angiporto, or p. 74 example (d) where facere should be in bold). Any grammatical work of this size and scope will inevitably contain some minor errors and places where it is possible to disagree with the explanation or interpretation of a particular passage. These should not detract from the massive achievement that OLS represents. English is possibly the only other language for which there is a comparable modern description of syntax in scale and insight to match OLS (Quirk et al. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language,3 a work cited by Pinkster as an inspiration, p. xxxi). OLS will undoubtedly and deservedly be a source of pleasure and pride for Latinists for years to come.


1.   Raphael Kühner and Carl Stegmann, Ausfürliche Grammatik der lateinischen Sprache. Satzlehre. Revised by Andreas Thierfelder, 3rd ed. (Hannover, 1955).
2.   Gary S. Schwarz and Richard L. Wertis, Index locorum zu Kühner-Stegmann "Satzlehre". (Darmstadt, 1980).
3.   Randolph Quirk, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech and Jan Svartvik A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. (London, 1985).

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Rana Saadi Liebert, Tragic Pleasure from Homer to Plato. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. Pp. ix, 218. ISBN 9781107184442. $99.99.

Reviewed by Clément Bertau-Courbières, Université de Toulouse (

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This is one of a growing number of studies on Greek aesthetics published in the last decade. The aim of Liebert's book is to resolve a classic paradox in the field of ancient aesthetics, namely the pleasure taken in tragedy, and more widely the mimetics of painful emotions. This issue was significant enough in ancient Greece for Plato and Aristotle to address it at length. It has since been a standard problem in Europe that many philosophers and thinkers have tried to resolve. Being human and rational, how is it possible for us to feel pleasure at others' misfortunes? Is this ethical, acceptable or even beneficial? In Plato's Republic, the Muse is finally exiled from the ideal city, and in Aristotle's Poetics the mimesis theory partly relies on the famous but equally arcane notion of catharsis. However, the argument presented here refutes this traditional (and mainly Aristotelian) response and at the same time gets away from Kant's legacy. According to Liebert, there are no differences in archaic poetry between real and mimetic experiences of tragic pleasure. So then, to understand this "tragic pleasure", the author goes back to the Homeric epic and mostly follows Plato's philosophy to stress a "psychosomatic model of aesthetic engagement".

In the introduction, the author presents her central argument as follows. The tragic pleasure at stake is a "satisfaction of a subrational appetite for grief", a satisfaction that, according Liebert, the hero Odysseus, for example, seeks to obtain while listening to Demodocos on the Phaeacian island – a reading first made in Peponi's book.1 But, as we shall remember, Odysseus is secretly crying like a woman when listening to the bard. How can we explain his behaviour? Here, Liebert's objective is ambitious: she wants to refute a large part of contemporary aesthetic theory based on Aristotle. There is neither "aesthetic transformation" nor edifying dimension, the author argues, to explain the appeal of tragedy. Painful objects are pleasurable because "the pain itself, in art as in life, satisfies an unregulated appetite for affective intensity". At this point, Charles Altieri's conception of an aesthetic experience eluding any cognitive control – and therefore ethically neutral2 – serves as a keystone in Liebert's argument.

In chapter I, the author focuses on poetic pleasure as it appears in archaic poetry – mainly Homer, Archilochus, and Pindar. In her reading of the sources, she underlines the peculiar sweetness of this poetic pleasure and the gustatory dimension that accompanies it. The purpose of song is to provide pleasure, and many poems use a comparison with honey, desire, and love to evoke that function. But this irresistible pleasure is at the same time deceptive as it arouses an insatiable desire. For that reason, Liebert explains how a poet like Pindar has to perpetuate a "painful state of arousal" so as to maximize the pleasure and avoid its satiety (koros) in the audience. Thus, in underlining the somatic features of poetic pleasure, the author basically regards it in a platonic way as a mixed or impure pleasure. Any experience of pleasure involves pain, and the good poet has to deal with it to reach his goal and enchant the listeners.

In chapter II, the author proposes to unveil the source of pleasure in the mimetic context. To this end, two emotions (grief and anger) that affect Homeric heroes are analyzed. In Liebert's view, modern cognitivists have neglected the body, which is indeed central to the comprehension of the mimetic context. She goes on to demonstrate that anger and grief are a kind of addictions: they flourish even at the expense of well-being. Homeric poetry mentions more than once the "pleasure of tears". In the case of anger, Achilles' well-known comparison with honey helps to show the appetitive nature of the emotion. Given the nature of these "pathological" emotions, the author explains that pleasure in the mimetic context derives from the sympathetic identification of the audience. There is no transformation at all, but only persuasion and identification. Gorgias may have been the first to recognize this in ancient Greece, as the author argues. Starting from this point, Liebert employs Altieri's affective theory to explain this nonrational desire of painful emotions. Affective experiences are not ethically motivated: the emotions are desired for themselves, as a "mode of participation in the world".

In chapter III, the author goes back to Plato's Republic. The philosopher's view, she says, is precisely that mimesis offers a way of vicariously experiencing tragic emotions. Socrates claims in the Republic that poetry satisfies our "hunger for tears". That is one of the reasons Plato decided on the expulsion of the Muses. Mimetic poetry can promote painful affective states that become addictive. Few can see it, but the poet's work has absolutely no ethical utility and is therefore harmful to the body and the city. Moreover, poetry takes advantage of the seductive quality of poikilia (variety), the same poikilia that Pindar used to enchant his audience, and that Socrates knows to be suspect as a way towards lawless desires. In that sense, wanting to satisfy one's desire for pathological emotions is nothing else than threatening one's psychological harmony and its social conditions. In an Epilogue, Liebert recalls that Plato would offer an attentive ear to any defence of the Muse's utility in the city, and that Aristotle's defence of poetry could be found in the Poetics, and even more in the Politics. But in her discussion of this defence the author concludes that Aristotle fails to address Plato's most compelling charges against poetry, those based on psychological and social grounds.

Liebert's book is a thought-provoking study. Many poetic passages and fragments are given welcome new interpretations. Her argument is demanding and ultimately persuasive. Many ideas are well elaborated. Claiming that the appeal of painful emotions stands at the core of "aesthetic experiences" (and of human psychology) is quite bold but interesting. Nonetheless, one could ask for more details in the description and presentation of the problem addressed. What is "poetic pleasure" in an anthropological, historical, or psychological perspective? "Tragic pleasure" could have been defined in comparison with other kinds of pleasures – those evoked by Sappho, Mimnermus, or Theognis for example. There are a number of Greek words that refer to different positive affects, helping us to understand the Greek point of view. Another question is about the methodological choices that are made at the beginning. The author seems to think that most of modern cognitive psychology – a quickly developing field of study – goes in a wrong direction, because it does not recognize the reason/passion dichotomy any more: a statement of this kind appears a little schematic. We may feel sometimes that Liebert has, against this modern view, an overwhelming confidence in Plato's reading. We should not forget the historical gap between Homeric epic and the Athenian thinker. Plato condemns the Iliad and Odyssey for moral reasons, but the Homeric poems have an ethical basis that may have something to do with the "poetic pleasure" felt by the internal and external audiences. If Homeric epic had nothing to do with pedagogy, how do we explain Telemachus' decisive place in the Odyssey narrative? Most of the theoretical tools employed here come from literary criticism, philosophy and aesthetics, and the study at times lacks a historical perspective. For example, there are very few mentions of religion or of the religious dimension of poetry, and of Homeric poetry in particular, although this is certainly not an irrelevant issue when we try to understand the "mimetic context".

These comments do not diminish the high value of the work proposed here. Anyone interested in Greek aesthetics should read it and think about it. The volume is completed by a bibliography and a general index.


1.   Anastasia-Erasmia Peponi, Frontiers of Pleasure : Models of Aesthetic Response in Archaic and Classical Greek Thought, (Oxford; New York, 2012).
2.   Charles Altieri, The Particulars of Rapture: An Aesthetics of the Affects, (Ithaca, 2003).

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017


Eva Brann, Peter Kalkavage, Eric Salem, Plato. 'Symposium', or, 'Drinking Party'. Translated with Introduction, Glossary, Essay, and Appendices. Focus philosophical library. Indianapolis; Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 2017. Pp. xv, 122. ISBN 9781585105977. $12.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Chara Kokkiou, University of Crete (

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Plato's Symposium is among his most translated and popular dialogues. There are more than ten translations of the Symposium in the English language, the majority of which have been published in the previous two decades.1 Having previously published new translations of the Sophist (1996) and the Phaedo (1998), Brann, Kalkavage and Salem now offer a new translation of the Symposium, like them published in the Focus Philosophical Library. The choice of this specific Platonic dialogue undeniably raises certain questions: "Why do we need another translation of the Symposium?" for example, and, of course, "What does this translation offer compared to the previous ones?" Hence, this new translation of Plato's Symposium has to overcome significant challenges in order to prove that it deserves a position in the rich existing Platonic bibliography.

This new edition contains a very short introduction, the English translation (which is annotated with 170 footnotes), an interpretive essay, a glossary, two appendices and a select bibliography. The authors᾽ goal was to provide "a translation that was as faithful as possible to the Greek original in vocabulary and syntax, and that captured the playfulness of the interchanges and the varying tones of the formal speeches" (xv).

The five-page introduction addresses only the fundamental topics that may prove useful to the first-time reader of the Symposium, focusing mainly on the subject of the dialogue, Eros. It sketches the poetic tradition concerning the god Eros, briefly discusses the narrative framework, the characters and the structure of the dialogue and provides a list of basic points intended to promote a better understanding of the dialogue.

Brann, Kalkavage and Salem᾽s translation is literal, but reads naturally in English. The translators succeed in two important respects: first, they use clear and simple language; second, they avoid under-translating words, which is relatively common in literal translations. Therefore, the translation is accessible and easy to read and achieves the ultimate purposes of the translators, which are to reflect on the dialogue's principal themes and to ensure that it is pleasurable to read. As the manner in which some difficult words (such as deinos, thaumazein, phronêsis, sôphrosynê, mousikê, synousia) are translated shows, the authors are flexible and aware of the different meanings and connotations of particular words; for instance, they recognize that mousikê does not always denote "music." In addition, despite the high degree of linguistic accuracy that the authors maintain, they also convey the playful tone of the dialogue: they are alert to the humor and irony that pervade the text and they effectively handle the literary (mostly poetical) passages when they occur. In general, they do not provide restrictive interpretation; rather they open the text up to alternative readings. More importantly, the translation is accompanied by useful notes that either focus on the text itself (e.g. on the etymology and meaning of words) or go beyond it (e.g. they offer additional information about the characters of the dialogue and its intertexts).

However, in rare cases, I do not agree with the translators' choices. For example, the word phronêsis at 202a is considered a synonym of sophia, and it is, thus, translated as "wisdom." It seems, however, that, in this specific context phronêsis is closer to epistêmê than to sophia; therefore the translation "understanding" favored by the majority of previous translators is more suitable. In addition, the absence of the original text may make the life of a student or scholar who needs to focus on the Greek language or compare the two texts somewhat challenging. Of course, including the Greek text would increase the length, and thus the cost, of the book, which may lead to certain publishing issues. However, the authors could have included the most important and hard-to-translate Greek words in brackets and provided more extensive explanatory notes regarding their word choices (although they partly address this issue with the inclusion of the glossary towards the end of the book). Furthermore, the translators have not identified the primary edition and the variant readings that they employed (or at least the most important among them).

The 47-page essay that follows offers useful details that emphasize the dramatic aspects of the dialogue. The essay is principally aimed at undergraduate students of the Symposium or a general audience. Beyond providing a description of the dramatic framework, it pays close attention to the form and content of every speech on Eros, examining the arguments used by each speaker and providing valuable insights into love (Love) and beauty (Beauty). The notes that accompany the essay provide additional detail concerning the speakers, the cultural and historical context of the dialogue and references to other Platonic dialogues (namely the Republic, Theaetetus, Apology, Phaedrus and Protagoras), which enable various comparisons between the Symposium and these other Platonic works. In general, the essay, like the translation itself, is written in a less formal style. It clarifies many challenging aspects of the discussion featured in the text and raises some important questions concerning the general structure of the dialogue and the Socratic way of thinking. It is true that it does not provide a profound interpretation of the dialogue and fails to open up new possibilities for research, but doing so might exceed the scope of this edition.

The glossary is extremely helpful and illuminates the various meanings of certain Greek words. Glossary entries are arranged not alphabetically but thematically ("according to associated meanings," 108). Under every entry, detailed information is provided concerning the uses of the words, and their common roots or synonyms used through the course of the dialogue. The glossary explores interesting relationships between these, and expands on the concepts they refer to, as, for example, the association between epistêmê (knowledge), sophia (wisdom) and philosophia (philosophy).

Two appendices consist of a conjectural depiction of the spatial layout of the symposium and the positioning of the participants (A), and a chart that depicts the relationships between the first six speeches, focusing on their shared characteristics: the number of gods, the age of speaker, the parentage of Eros and the function of Eros (B). The book ends with a concise bibliography.

Overall, this book is well balanced: it addresses significant issues and provides the reader with a high-quality translation that is faithful to the original text and yet versatile and undogmatic. It also offers valuable and reliable interpretive tools for approaching this widely read Platonic work. I also did not detect any misprints. On the whole, this is a well-produced edition, with a logical structure, clear objectives and a reasonable price. It is lucid and accessible and it should be counted among the best English translations of the Symposium. It may perhaps not satisfy the demands of an advanced student or scholar, but it could certainly be included in introductory philosophy and ancient Greek literature courses.


1.   B. Jowett, The Dialogues of Plato vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1889) (this still remains the standard English translation); W. R. M. Lamb, Lysis, Symposium, Gorgias (Cambridge ΜΑ: Harvard University Press, 2915); A. Nehamas and P. Woodruff, Symposium (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1989); T. Griffith, Symposium of Plato (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1989); S. Benardete, Plato᾽s Symposium (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1993); W. S. Cobb, The Symposium and the Phaedrus: Plato᾽s Erotic Dialogues (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993); R. Waterfield, Plato: Symposium (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994); C. J. Rowe, Plato: Symposium (Warminster: Aris and Phillips, 1998); A. Sharon, Plato's Symposium (Newburyport: Focus Press, 1998); C. Gill, Plato: The Symposium (London; New York: Penguin Books, 1999); D. O᾽Connor, The Symposium of Plato. The Shelley Translation (South Bend, Indiana: St. Augustin᾽s Press, 2002); M. C. Howatson and F. C. C. Sheffield, Plato. The Symposium (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
2.   Plato ̓s Sophist (1996) and Phaedo (1998) are also published by the Focus Philosophical Library.

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Pierre Briant, Alexandre: exégèse des lieux communs. Folio Histoire, 259. Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 2016. Pp. 660; 8 p. of plates. ISBN 9782070793761. €11.90 (pb).

Reviewed by Jeremy Trevett, York University, Canada (

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This remarkable volume, inexpensively published in a series directed towards the general reader, offers a survey of the rich 'afterlife' of Alexander III of Macedon (Briant rightly rejects the traditional question-begging soubriquet 'the Great'). It covers some of the same ground as his 2012 book Alexandre des lumières, of which a revised English translation, re-titled The First European: A History of Alexander in the Age of Empire, appeared earlier this year.1 But this accessibly-written book ranges much more widely, from antiquity to the present day, and from popular culture to academic debates. In addition, it advances an important thesis. As his subtitle suggests, Briant is concerned above all with the persistence and pervasiveness of a number of topoi about Alexander, many of which, he argues, have a very long history indeed. These are not restricted to the depiction of Alexander in popular culture, since it and 'l'Alexandrologie savante' are cut from the same cloth (p. 18).

The first chapter ('Les images du prince') considers different views of Alexander as ruler. It ranges from Hellenistic Greece and Rome, via various medieval and early modern ducal, royal and papal courts, to the early 19th century. Over more than two millennia Alexander has proved 'good to think with' both for rulers and for those who advised them. Divergent assessments of Alexander's kingship existed in antiquity and continued into the medieval period and beyond. For example, at the Burgundian court of Philip the Good Jehen Wauquelin depicted Alexander as a model ruler, whereas the Portuguese writer Vasque de Lucène, translator of Curtius Rufus, saw his example as one to be avoided. By the early modern period Alexander's dealings with the Persians came to be seen as relevant to the policies of European rulers towards the Ottoman empire. Various kings and princes, regarding him as an exemplary role-model, created Alexander-themed rooms in their palaces. Paintings, such as those by Charles Le Brun for Louis XIV, were commissioned and later copied into other media: tapestries, engravings, cameos, as well as pottery (a majolica platter depicting Alexander nobly covering the body of his defeated enemy Darius is illustrated in one of the volume's colour plates). Napoleon, on the other hand, whilst certainly interested in Alexander, judged that he took too many risks and therefore should not be considered—unlike himself—a great general.

The second chapter ('D'Orient et d'Occident') surveys the different ways in which Alexander was viewed, from late antiquity onwards, in the context of relations between 'the west' and 'the east'. In Europe, Alexander's conquest of the Persian empire made him a straightforward role model for dealing with the Muslim Other. Thus Walter of Châtillon in his 12th-century poem 'Alexandreis' depicted him as a proto-crusader; Michael the Brave of Romania in his wars with the Ottomans saw himself as a second Alexander; and 18th-century Greek nationalists invoked Alexander in their struggle for liberation from Ottoman rule. Views of Alexander in Iran and in the Ottoman empire were more complex, since he was not only the impious destroyer of the Persian empire, but also (as Iskender) the hero of local versions of the Alexander Romance, in which he is commonly represented as Muslim. Thus Mehmed II, successful besieger of Byzantium, is depicted in Ottoman sources as a second Iskender. In British-ruled India, by contrast, Alexander's opponent Porus was viewed as a victorious national hero.

In the third chapter ('Le héros colonial') Briant examines Alexander as conqueror and colonizer. As late as the first half of the 20th century his example was used to justify French imperialism in North Africa, his policies towards the Persians being regarded as a model for France's ostensibly paternalistic system of protectorates. Briant pays particular attention to the long-lasting — and wholly misleading — influence of Plutarch's claim, in his On the Fortune of Alexander, that Alexander brought civilization to Asia. He rejects outright the picture of Alexander as liberator from Persian oppression: local elites, in Babylonia and elsewhere, naturally sought accommodation with the new regime, but Alexander 'était comme ses prédécesseurs perses un roi étrangère' (p. 243). He also casts a skeptical eye over such claims as that Alexander sought to bring economic improvements to the lives of the peoples he conquered; that he opened up or was the first to survey the Persian empire (he used existing roads; the Persians also measured distances); that he was motivated to any significant degree by scientific curiosity; or that he aimed to stimulate the economy of his new empire by putting Persian royal gold and silver reserves into circulation (weighed silver was already important as a means of exchange; the main result of his looting of the Persian treasuries was short-term inflation).

The fourth chapter ('Médias et médiatisation') examines four aspects of the representation of Alexander in popular culture. Somewhat unexpectedly, Briant starts with a well-informed analysis of the lyrics of a number of songs about Alexander by heavy metal bands, including Iron Maiden ('Alexander the Great') and Greece's Sacred Blood, whose 2012 album 'Alexandros' glories in Alexander as a proudly Greek conqueror.2 From there he turns to the French Arabist — and former Vichy minister — Jacques Benoist-Méchin, whose 1976 work of popular history Alexandre le grand: le rêve dépassé offered an influential vision (it is still in print in France) of Alexander as idealistic dreamer. A third section on Hollywood films compares Robert Rossen's swords-and-sandals era Alexander the Great (1956) with Oliver Stone's Alexander (2004). The former is faulted for its complete lack of interest in the Persian side, the latter for the clichéd orientalism of its depiction of Darius. Lastly, Briant considers the plethora of recent Alexander-themed exhibitions, which he sees as serving the interests both of museum directors, who wish to put on blockbuster shows, and of the Greek government. In many cases, Alexander is included in the exhibition's title to add glamour to material that has little if any direct connection with him.

In his fifth chapter ('Galerie d'experts') Briant surveys in chronological order eight historians of Alexander, from the 18th century to the present day. As in his Alexandre des lumières, he argues that serious study of Alexander did not start with Droysen; consequently, his group of historians includes both Montesquieu and the Baron de Sainte-Croix. His assessment of the two most recent of the eight, Ernst Badian and Brian Bosworth, is broadly positive, though he faults the former for his failure to engage adequately with Achaemenid material, and points out that several of the main arguments of the latter's explicitly postcolonial Alexander and the East (1996) had been anticipated by much earlier writers. This chapter, selective as it is, offers a very useful account of the main trends in the historiography of Alexander.

The next chapter ('Juger Alexandre?') also ranges widely, from the sub-genre of counterfactual history (what would have happened if Alexander had lived?) to the age-old debate, started by the Romans and still going strong, about how Alexander should be evaluated. A section on Alexander and Nazism discusses two important historians not covered in the previous chapter: Fritz Schachermeyr and Helmut Berve, the latter of whom argued that Alexander sought to create a joint Macedonian and Persian Aryan elite. Meanwhile the English classicist Adela M. Adam delivered a paper to the Cambridge Philological Society in 1940 entitled 'Philip alias Hitler'. After the Second World War the favourable picture of Alexander advanced by Droysen and later Tarn was demolished by the revisionist scholarship of Badian, himself a refugee from Nazi Austria, whose much darker Alexander was surely influenced by his experiences of totalitarianism and dictatorship. At the same time, growing criticism of the legacy of European colonialism has led to a markedly more critical view of Alexander's conquests.

Briant's seventh chapter ('Au péril de l'histoire immédiate') looks at how the example of Alexander continues to be invoked for political ends. His first case study is the use of Alexander's campaign in Bactria in connection with the US-led invasion of Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom) in 2001. He regards those who would see parallels between the two as misguided. Books such as Frank Holt's Into the Valley of Bones, anachronistically subtitled Alexander the Great in Afghanistan, do not in his view escape the trap of presentism. His second topic is the rival claims of Greece and the Republic of Macedonia to 'ownership' of Alexander. Ever since the late 18th century Alexander has been seen in Greece, with few exceptions, as a national hero. But the star of Vergina (i.e., the star or sun-burst on the gold casket from Tomb II at Vergina in northern Greece) is also claimed as a national emblem by the Republic of Macedonia. Against the massive equestrian statue of Alexander in Thessaloniki now stands the even larger statue of a mounted ancient warrior—officially unnamed but clearly intended to evoke Alexander— erected in the main square of Skopje, depicted on the cover of the book.

In his final chapter ('Que faire?') Briant turns to the problem of finding anything new to say about Alexander, when from antiquity to the present day the same stock of words, images and judgments has been endlessly recycled. As he puts it — and it is hard to disagree — 'plus on lit d'ouvrages intitulés Alexandre le Grand, plus on a le sentiment de lire le même livre' (p. 557). His solution to this impasse is that the study of Alexander needs not new arguments but new evidence. Such evidence, he insists, exists in the form both of Macedonian epigraphic and archaeological material and, above all, of material from the Achaemenid empire. Failure to use the latter continues to result in a one-sided and defective historiography of Alexander. Briant demands that historians do more than take the views of the conquered into account; what is needed is a new history of the transition from Achaemenid to Macedonian rule, conceived of as global history, whose focus should extend beyond the thirteen-year reign of Alexander to cover the entire second half of the 4th century, and in which the Persians and their subjects are 'acteurs de plein droit' (p. 567).

In its chronological, geographic and thematic range, its mastery of a vast amount of information, the lively curiosity with which it investigates so many aspects of Alexander's reception, and its combination of sharp argumentation and accessible presentation, this book is a tour de force.3 It is, quite simply, one of the most important and interesting works on Alexander to have appeared in recent years. Briant not only suggests (not for the first time) a more productive approach to the study of Alexander's reign, but also builds on his own earlier Alexandre des lumières to open up the reception of Alexander as a subject of vast scholarly potential. It is a book that deserves to be very widely read. To that end it is to be hoped that, as with Briant's other recent books, an English translation will in due course appear.


1.   It is unclear (to me) how this book relates to the similar-sounding work of synthesis announced as forthcoming in the preface of The First European (p. viii n. 6) under the title Alexandre le Grand au passé et au présent.
2.   My thanks to Oliver Trevett for his knowledgeable advice on this section.
3.   The few errors I have noticed are trivial. The legend on the 3rd-century AD coins of the Macedonian koinon is Alexandrou not Alexandrous (p. 40); 'Georges Boas' (p. 202) should be Georges Bohas (correctly in the bibliography); and, as far as I can see, in Tajikistan it is not 'la ville de Khodjend' but the district of Nau that was renamed Spitamen, after the Sogdian noble Spitamenes who led a campaign of military resistance to Alexander (p. 505).

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Nicholas Richardson, Prudentius' Hymns for Hours and Seasons: 'Liber Cathemerinon'. Routledge Later Latin poetry. London; New York: Routledge, 2016. Pp. xvi, 181. ISBN 9780415716642. $54.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Aaron Pelttari, University of Edinburgh (

Version at BMCR home site


The lyrical hymns of Prudentius combine the language of Vergil and Horace with a Psalmist's laser-sharp focus on the praise of God. They are no less poetry for being a learned Christian's expression of pious devotion. Not surprisingly, they have attracted the attention of modern and post-modern readers inclined to view their own religious and cultural transformations through the lens of late antique Christianity.

Richardson offers a useful introduction, translation, and commentary that is aimed at undergraduate survey courses but may also appeal to non-academic readers with some Latin. The introduction covers the life of Prudentius, his works, the Liber Cathemerinon, context, language, metre, reception, and transmission. Richardson helpfully provides details on the singing of Prudentius's hymns in the Middle Ages and on versions in modern hymnals. The section on metre is especially useful for students with some Latin. In a note on the translation, Richardson explains that "out of respect for the variety and skill with which Prudentius uses his metrical schemata" he has been strict with metre and sometimes adapted the classical schemes. The notes take up half of the book, and they provide a very nice mix of summary, observation, and references. Richardson is tuned in to intertexts in earlier Roman poetry, in the Christian scriptures, and among contemporary texts from late antiquity. Because a variety of texts including Horace, Ambrose, Claudian, and the scriptures are all cited, the notes give a good idea of the range of Prudentius's language. The volume concludes with a four-page bibliography of the most relevant secondary literature, and there is a reasonable amount of reference to it throughout. Notes on the wording and construction of the Latin original are not uncommon. On a more specific note, Richardson somewhat downplays the anti-Jewish polemics of Cathemerinon 11.

The series Routledge later Latin poetry was launched by Joseph Pucci in 2012, and volumes of Juvencus (BMCR 2017.03.25), Rutilius Namatianus (BMCR 2017.01.11), and Ausonius have already been published; Ennodius is advertised as forthcoming (full disclosure: Pucci was a reader for my PhD). According to the publisher's blurb, the series "is devoted to publishing creative, accessible translations," and it "responds to the increasing interest in later Latin authors and especially the growth in courses devoted to late antiquity." All of us who teach later Latin poetry in translation are glad to have these books available. They make a real difference when you are planning a course syllabus.

The high price of the hardback version is offset somewhat by the less-expensive paperbacks, but most students will probably read Richardson's translation in an electronic edition. My university library offers access to the text via ProQuest, and electronic copies can currently be purchased individually for use with apps by Amazon and VitalSource. I did not notice any inaccuracies in the ProQuest version, and it does offer a search tool. But the paper copy responded more quickly, was better formatted, and was more pleasant to read.

This book is ideal for undergraduate courses that include the Liber Cathemerinon. Advanced students should be directed to Gerard O'Daly's Days Linked by Song: Prudentius' Cathemerinon (Oxford, 2012), which Richardson cites as an important resource (ix). Those who want a translation of the poet's entire corpus can still use Sister M. Clement Eagan's version: The Poems of Prudentius (Washington, DC, 1962–1965). And there is also H. J. Thomson's two-volume Loeb translation (Cambridge, MA, 1949–1953), with the Latin on facing pages. These previous translations do not make a new version with a different focus any less welcome.

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Vanessa Cazzato, Dirk Obbink, Enrico Emanuele Prodi (ed.), The Cup of Song: Studies on Poetry and the Symposion. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. xvii, 329. ISBN 9780199687688. $125.00.

Reviewed by Max Leventhal, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (

Version at BMCR home site


[The reviewer apologises for the lateness of this review.]

Communal dining informs the makeup of many cultures. In Ancient Greece—at least, in the elite sources—the close-knit all-male institution of the symposion has for over 30 years been seen as a central concept informing everything from politics to philosophy and cosmology, thanks to Oswyn Murray's foundational 1990 Sympotica. The present volume, conscious of its epigonal status, focuses more specifically on poetry in relation to the symposion. The Introduction addresses 'the sweep of the continuous development of sympotic poetic discourse' (p. 2) rather than articulating a set of research questions. Yet the editors do frame the volume's contribution to scholarship: 'it illuminates the symposion's unique significance to Greek poetic history in its dual role as formative context for the production, reception, and criticism of poetry on the one hand, and on the other hand as a place of the imagination and a determinant for modes of discourse which continues to be reworked even after the symposion has ceased to be a significant social institution' (p. 2). The volume's twelve contributions live up to that remit.

The first three contributions tackle broad issues about the nature of poetic performance at the symposion. Oswyn Murray summarises a lifetime of scholarship, sketching out the evidence for, and debate surrounding, sympotic entertainment originating in the 'East'. Ewen Bowie addresses the substantive but elusive question of how long on average poetic pieces at the symposion would have been. Gauthier Liberman addresses an equally thorny issue: the rituals and habits governing the order and form of poetic performance.

The subsequent two chapters form a complementary pair, with Giovan Battista D'Alessio discussing what we can glean from Bacchylides' banquet songs and Lucia Athanassaki considering Pindar's political deployment of sympotic imagery. Likewise, Guy Hedreen's analysis of so-called self-portraits on Attic pottery and Ralph M. Rosen's discussion of the symposion described in Aristophanes' Wasps consider from two diverse angles the nature of satiric and iambic performance and self-presentation at the symposion.

The following four chapters explore the presence of sympotic imagery in a range of poetic genres and schemes: Deborah T. Steiner considers Aeschylus' Agamemnon and its echoing of sympotic protocol; Vanessa Cazzato discusses how sympotic poetry evokes other contexts beyond the symposion; Renaud Gagné studies closely characterisations of cups as the indexical gateway through which sympotic themes bleed into other contexts; Alexander Sens traces the complex generic interactions between the sepulchral and the sympotic in Hellenistic epigram. The volume concludes with a tabulation of themes indicating hierarchy at symposia by Gregory Hutchinson.

Here, I select a number of contributions for discussion. Lucia Athanassaki's chapter considers Pindar's epinicians, building on recent scholarship that has attempted to discern their probable performance context as well as the context the poems themselves describe. The critical advance she makes is to compare the metaphors and similes in the epinicians with the political and social characterisations of banquets and symposia within the texts. Her case-studies of both metaphors and depicted contexts are drawn from all four books of odes. What her analysis reveals is the extent of Pindar's strategic deployment of sympotic themes and in particular of imagined sympotic contexts. Regardless of one's commitments to actual performance contexts for the epinicians, Athanassaki shows how Pindar tailors his image of the symposion for individual honorands based on their local political context, including whether they were tyrants or aristocrats. This is an important reminder of just how much rhetoric stands behind representation.

Guy Hedreen returns to a fascinating paradox in Athenian vase-painting: there supposedly survive depictions of the vase- painter Smikros on pottery. Is this a 'working class' inserting itself into the aristocratic sphere? On Hedreen's account, something more remarkable is at work: the figure of Smikros is no self-portrait, but a fiction that exposes a complex discourse of identity and performance at the symposion. He ties together speaking names and playful inscriptions on vases and sympotic poetry's array of fictional narrators, in revealing how both participate in a culture of iambic exchange at the symposion, and a culture which derides especially artists.

Deborah T. Steiner's chapter, by comparison, traces out the sympotic resonances in Aeschylus' Agamemnon. She explores in detail the pivotal moment at which Clytemnestra strikes down Agamemnon: its evocation of libations that traditionally opened symposia, Clytemnestra's mention of a 'mixing-bowl of evils', and the drops of blood compared to wine-lees thrown in a game of kottabos. This close analysis leads onto a broader vista of just how politically unsettling it might have been for the contemporary audience to conceptualise and to visualise the sympotic, but also markedly aristocratic, nature of this gruesome slaughter.

Together, these two studies provide an important lesson on modern scholarship and disciplinary divides: the one draws from Archaic poetry in explaining Greek pottery, the other draws on Greek pottery in explaining a central text of Classical poetry. They put into practice what is usually only theorised, namely, that the Ancient Greek experience was inherently multimedia, and so multiple methods and disciplines are required to explain it. Nowhere is this putting of theory into practice more pressing than in the study of the symposion, and these two chapters exemplify the interpretative pay-off of reaching across media.

Alexander Sens' contribution deals with sympotic epigrams. It declines to study these epigrams within the re-constructed context of Hellenistic sympotic performance culture—a project which has hampered their full appreciation—and instead chooses to contrast epigrams on sympotic themes with sepulchral epigrams. He draws out the several manifestations of 'finality' and a focus on the brevity of life which informs both sympotic and sepulchral poetry. Since Hellenistic epigram inherits aspects of its form from sympotic elegy and inscribed epitaph, the central contribution of Sens' chapter is to show how epigrammatists variously respond to and critique the two-pronged literary history of their genre, and its polarising focus on life and death.

A number of other contributions, while providing ample interesting ideas, present certain issues. Gauthier Liberman addresses three topics in his chapter: the myrtle branch held during sympotic performance; the etymology of the sympotic song, the skolion; and the nature of chains or series of sympotic songs. He races through primary material and subordinates scholarly discussions to lengthy footnotes. To the mind of this reviewer, the evidence for these sympotic habits—notoriously problematic, spanning multiple centuries in texts with a variety of interests and commitments—requires deeper reflection and discussion, something quite possibly unachievable within the bounds of a volume chapter. What makes the contribution frustrating is that each section ends in a non liquet.

Giovan Battista D'Alessio, in his chapter, takes his impetus from recent interest in Pindar's relation to the symposion, but opts instead to open up the discussion of Bacchylides' banquet songs. Recovering some of Bacchylides' sympotic songs and their images, however, requires much text-critical spadework. This amounts to a number of forays into papyrology. Yet this obscures the more interesting aspects of Bacchylides' songs. What he succeeds in showing is just how cognizant Bacchylides was of earlier sympotic poetry and themes, and of Anacreon in particular. D'Alessio impressively produces two papers in one, a papyrological and poetic, but to my mind, it is the latter which is the chapter's major contribution, and it could have been more clearly flagged as such.

Vanessa Cazzato focusses on sympotic jeux d'esprit. What is a sympotic jeu d'esprit? Cazzato poses the question, but offers no answer, and I do not think it can be the OED's 'playful display of wit or cleverness, esp. in a work of literature; a witty or humorous trifle.' She starts not with a definition, but an example, the 'symposion at sea', describing the various configurations between vessel, liquid, and andrōn in poetry which could evoke sailing, with all its threats and camaraderie. This leads to another case of sympotic jeu d'esprit that is the focus of the chapter: the symposion en plein air, the notion of 'drinking outdoors among nature, reclining on the ground instead of on klinai' (p. 190). This is, Cazzato claims, a 'hitherto unrecognised' (p. 190) jeu d'esprit, and she proceeds to explore examples from the Second Sophistic back to Alcaeus.

The issue with this argument is two-fold. First, the importance of this newly-discovered jeu d'esprit is obscure since the nature of a jeu d'esprit is left undefined. If, as it seems, it is a new term, then that explains its being 'hitherto unrecognised'. Second, if the analogy with the 'symposion at sea' is that a jeu d'esprit is a poetic strategy which characterises the 'here and now' of the symposion through another frame of reference—e.g. andrōn as ship—then the symposion en plein air presents an intractable problem. Unlike evocations of the 'symposion at sea', in which poetry refers both to the symposion and the imagined 'other' scenario, overlaying one on the other, the passages provided regarding the the symposion en plein air do not evidence the same conception of the symposion overlaid with an imagined outdoors. This is not to say that sympotic poetry was not interested in the symposion en plein air; Cazzato's chapter amply proves that. Yet, and this is why I emphasise the point, the imaginative process looks entirely different: Alcaeus introduces outdoor drinking in a gnomic context and Polyphemus' symposion in the Cyclops really is rustic and primitive. There is no sense of here and now overlaid with another context. Nonetheless, Cazzato's discussion does raise two interesting points: the 'symposion at sea' may well, in fact, be a unique imagined 'other' scenario; and to judge by their poetry Greeks were sensitive to seasonal variations and their effect on the experience of dining.

So where is the study of the symposion now, 30 years after Sympotica? A major development has been a more sensitive integration of material and literary evidence; the analyses of Hedreen and Steiner demonstrate just what is possible and should spur on further juxtapositions across media. More crucially, however, the volume makes clear something which is often forgotten when studying the symposion: that, like any social practice, it is a mirage. There is no guarantee that Pindar, Euphronios, Aristophanes and Asclepiades are talking about the same institution. This is not to say that scholars working on the symposion are wasting their energy. In fact, quite the opposite. This volume reminds us of just how many angles there are to studying the symposion, just how many methodologies, just how many media, and just how many time periods. It will undoubtedly galvanise more nuanced future research which will takes up the challenge of working across disciplines.

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Andy Hinds, with Martine Cuypers, Aeschylus' 'The Oresteia', in a Translation. London: Oberon Books Ltd, 2017. Pp. 172. ISBN 9781786821331. £14.99 (pb).

Reviewed by Matthew Keil, City University of New York, Queens College (

Version at BMCR home site


Aeschylus' sole surviving trilogy has never been wanting for English translators, and the distinctive quality sought after in the present work seems to be a focus on the plays' performability. A longtime theatre director and prolific playwright, Hinds has also published a work on Shakespearean performance (Acting Shakespeare's Language, 2015), and even a companion volume to the present translation (Euripides' Iphigenia in Aulis, 2017). This focus on performability takes several forms in the present volume. There are, for instance, three appendices to the translation that are designed to help potential students use this text in performances: an "Author's Note on the Verse," an "Author's Note on Directing Agamemnon," and an "Index of Name Pronunciations." There is also an introductory "Author's Note on the Translation" that describes Hinds' process in creating this text. Lacking any background in Greek, Hinds describes this process as one of collating and adapting various translations of the Oresteia (with particular focus on Alan H. Sommerstein's 2009 Loeb edition), and then working together with Trinity College, Dublin, classicist Martine Cuypers in making sure that his rendering of the lines retained fidelity to the sense of the original. Despite this somewhat dubious approach of adapting the translations of others, albeit under scholarly guidance, Hinds insists that the present work is indeed a "'translation' of the original, as opposed to a 'version', 'interpretation', 'response', or 're-setting'" (12).

Hinds intends to create an "actable and stage-worthy" version (11) and to make his text a "clear, energetic, and relatively 'easy read'—one allowing the plays to be appreciated by academics, students, and general reader alike" (12). It is very questionable, however, how much profit each of these three categories of readers would reap from the present work in comparison with previous translations.

One immediate manifestation of this is the total avoidance of any nod in the direction of scholarship that might have informed the translation, even insofar as the performability of the plays is concerned. We hear no mention, for instance, of anything from the seminal work of Oliver Taplin regarding the stagecraft of Aeschylus, or, indeed, any indication at all of further reading that someone interested might pursue. This absence was no doubt designed so as to be less intimidating for the general reader, but it makes the book less attractive for undergraduate, pedagogical uses. Likewise, there is no mention of which critical editions of the Greek text were used other than to say that the translation did not adhere to any single one (12). This is much to be regretted, since the manuscripts of the Agamemnon alone poses so many problems, and so much of interpretation depends on the particular decisions of textual editors. There are no endnotes or explanations of any kind, so debated passages such as, for instance, the number of jurors at the end of the Eumenides (205), are presented unproblematically and without nuance, although Cuypers does provide a minimal note dealing with some of the themes of the plays and some of their connections to other Greek works. Line numbers are also lacking.

The looseness of the translation, too, has clear drawbacks. For instance, the opening line of the Agamemnon (θεοὺς μὲν αἰτῶ τῶνδ' ἀπαλλαγὴν πόνων – I ask the gods for deliverance from these toils) is clearly programmatic for the entire trilogy in that it foreshadows the essential theme of divine deliverance from the curse of the House of Atreus, and, in a larger sense, from the inescapable pattern of inter-generational bloodshed that inevitably follows from a system of vendetta justice, obviated only by Athena's institution of a system of state-sanctioned justice in the trilogy's final play. Yet the present translation skips these words entirely, and begins merely with the bald exclamation: "A year it's been! A year!" (19) Even when four lines later we read the closest approximation to the first line of the original, it still misses the crucial point about divine deliverance: "Gods spare me from another night of it!" Furthermore, when twenty lines later in the same speech, the watchman reiterates the same phrase ἀπαλλαγὴν πόνων ("deliverance from toils") none of the connection to the first line can be perceived in the present translation, even though this time Hinds comes much closer to the original ("may we soon be freed from this affliction" [19]). The repetition deliberately underscoring this central theme is thus lost.

One could list other such defects as these that lie not so much on the level of translational infelicity, since Hinds' lines are, taken on their own terms, always direct, lively, and readable (in a way quite reminiscent of Stanley Lombardo's translations), but that speak rather to an understanding of the play's themes and language often imperfectly grasped.

Nevertheless, some of the translation reveals larger thematic resonances. For instance, in the opening choral ode, again of Agamemnon, when Agamemnon ἀνάγκας ἔδυ λέπαδνον (line 218), we here read that "the king took up the harness of necessity." (27) Though ἔδυ does not mean "took up," this rendering shows a fidelity to the text greater than that of even, say, Richmond Lattimore who incorrectly rendered the same phrase as "when necessity's yoke was put upon him"— an accurate recognition of the yoke metaphor, to be sure, but a use of the passive voice that does violence to the Aeschylean preoccupation with personal responsibility, and with the impossible ethical dilemmas to which a vendetta system of justice inevitably gives rise. Such correct translation of crucial lines that others have often gotten wrong before is also found in the so-called "carpet scene," wherein not carpets but fine textiles are placed upon the ground for Agamemnon "so that Justice may conduct him to a home that he did not expect to see." (60) Hinds gets it right and renders Aeschylus' εἵματα as "cloths."

Despite the general genus medium of Hinds' tone, there are moments of sublime and austere beauty. "My heart, like yours, is overrun with dread. I stand transfixed, as stricken with a spear. Now I have seen this sprig of hair, a storm of tears beyond consoling breaks relentlessly upon me. How can I believe this hair belongs to any other citizen? And it was not the murderess cut this from her head – she whose godless feelings towards her children mock the name of mother." (115) But more often the tone is rather flat, such as found in the turning of Pylades' famous sententia and only line ἅπαντας ἐχθροὺς τῶν θεῶν ἡγοῦ πλέον (better to reckon all men enemies than the gods. 901), with the slightly anemic "provoke the wrath of all mankind before you do a god's" (147).

In sum, the present translation seems best suited for high school students. This is in no sense meant as a criticism, but stands rather as a unique strength, making Hinds' Oresteia distinct among so many other, illustrious competitors. In my almost two decades as a high school teacher, I have often found that Aeschylus' language, even in the more standard translations, can be a stumbling block if not to flat-out comprehension, then at least to appreciation, since scenes of great pith and moment need to be parsed and dissected. On the other hand, millennial audiences that would otherwise be overwhelmed by a more literal/literary translation, particularly of the tougher passages like the choruses, could by such an unintimidating version be turned on to what is without question one of the greatest, and most important literary monuments of the western canon. This would be particularly true for the facilitating of performances, Hinds' stated goal, as I have directed a number of student performances of Aeschylus, and have always found it necessary to adapt and simplify the language of the plays, a need which the present version would totally do away with.

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Luca Bettarini, Lingua e testo di Ipponatte. Syncrisis, 3. Pisa; Roma: Fabrizio Serra editore, 2017. Pp. 160. ISBN 9788862279383. €52.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Shane Hawkins, Carleton University (

Version at BMCR home site

This is an excellent slim volume on Hipponax divided into five chapters that focus on connections between the language of the poet and the literature of archaic epic and lyric. The unifying thread throughout is Bettarini's desire to support some of the more remarkable Hipponactean forms attested in our sources by appealing to the poet's use of parodic or burlesque archaisms derived from the formal or poetic register. On the whole, the book is well-researched and judicious, and it will be a valuable resource for anyone working on Hipponax or interested more broadly in archaic lyric.

Chapter 1 looks at a set of compound words, for which Bettarini adopts the Norse term kenningar. Such words function as substitutive periphrases for common nouns, often requiring some exegetical effort in order to be appreciated. Working with a very broad definition of this term, Bettarini includes examples from Hipponax such as the small animal, perhaps the centipede, called χιλιάγρα (181D) 'having a thousand hooks/claws', which can be taken literally or as a metaphor for a greedy person, and χειρόχωλος (180D), in which an impairment of the hand alludes metaphorically to a person's avarice (compare English 'tight-fisted').

The chapter commences with a lengthy discussion of the word κρεκύδειλος 'crocodile' (40D, 135D), which is usually emended metri causa. Following earlier scholars, Bettarini understands this as a compound word meaning 'who has a worm (δρῖλος) for a tail (κέρκος)' and supports an emended reading κερκύδιλος. The evidence for a stem κέρκυ- is slight and comes from names that are possibly non-Greek: ΚΕΡΚΥΣ on an inscription from Phrygia in the imperial era, Κερκυών of Eleusis the mythical foe of Theseus, and the otherwise unknown ΚΕΡΚΥΝΟΣ on an Apulian pelike of the 4th century BCE (LIMC VI, 1992 s.v. Kerkynos). Hesychius' κέρκυ, I suggest, is actually a distortion of the neighboring entry Κερκυραία μάστιξ, which is explained using similar language (διπλῆ αὕτη / διπλᾶς αὐτὰς). Perhaps most relevant for Hipponax, but not mentioned by Bettarini, is the supposed name of Sappho's husband, Kerkylas of Andros ('Dick from the Isle of Man'), an obscene joke with origins possibly in late Attic comedy, but possibly also a real name (cf. Κερκύλος of Euboia (LGPN 1:254, also not mentioned).

There follows a long section on κυνάγχα and the much-discussed fragment 2D. Bettarini briefly touches on σκαπερδεῦσαι, unfortunately accepting the explanation offered by Tzetzes (συμμαχῆσαι), which is clearly autoschediastic, while largely ignoring solid recent proposals that explain it as a Lydian loanword. On the name Candaules he prefers Felix Solmsen's etymology 'dog- strangler', ignoring again more recent work connecting it to Anatolian words for 'king'.1 And, in spite of the evidence for Hermes' early association with dogs, Bettarini goes to great lengths to argue that κυνάγχα is merely a kenning, no more than a comic replacement for φιλήτης, with no specific reference to Hermes throttling dogs.2

Bettarini considers ὀμφαλητόμος 'navel-snipper' (33D) a kenning for μαῖα, and possibly a burlesque creation of Hipponax or a colloquialism taken from quotidian language. But it is difficult to believe that this is a kenning in a meaningful sense of that word, and not simply a colorful compound. The same could be said for the four words examined here that probably describe prostitutes: ἀνασεισίφαλλος 'cock-shaker' (151D), ἀνασυρτόλις 'skirt-raiser' (152D), βορβορόπη 'smut-hole' (158D), and κασωρῖτις 'brothel girl' (165D). It is difficult, I think, to imagine any of these as kenningar rather than simply as epithets of a prostitute or some other object of abuse.

Chapter 2 is devoted to seven cases of Homeric or solemn forms in Hipponax that derive their comic strength from the contrast between their high formal style and the triviality of the context. Among the more interesting examples there is the verbal suffix -σκ-, which appears in iambic/elegy only here in Hipponax (twice) and once in Mimnermus. In non-Ionic authors it is typically considered an epicism, while in Ionic authors it is usually considered an Ionicism. Bettarini suggests that given its rare occurrence it is a very studied morphological form that belonged to a high register. This is fitting for θύεσκε and the parodic tenor of fragment 107D,3 but such an interpretation seems unlikely for the fragment in which one finds φοίτε[σκε (78.11D), besides which the epic form is φοιτάω.

The triple-compound μεσσηγυδορποχέστης (171D) 'mid-supper-shitter' is a sort of Hipponactean joke in miniature. The geminate form μεσσηγυ-, an Aeolism from epic language, and the solemn δορπο- are comically deflated by –χέστης, producing a travesty of formal diction. The 3rd singular accusative reflexive pronoun ἑ appears nowhere in iambic or elegy except in an emendation in Solon (13.27W) and in West's emended text of Hipponax 34D; Bettarini nevertheless maintains it is possibly used as a comic bit of intentionally misplaced high style.

In Chapter 3 Bettarini marshals support from literary sources to argue in favor of certain forms found in our text of the poet. Hipponax's ἅδηκε (137D), perfect of ἁνδάνω, only appears here and once, with reduplication, in a Locrian inscription. The fact that Hipponax's form is a relatively recent kappa formation but unreduplicated is noteworthy, and Bettarini takes it as a poetic form inspired by the Homeric phrase ἥνδανε βουλή, where the imperfect is often thought to be an (Attic) replacement of the augmentless ἅνδανε. This augmentless imperfect, he reasons, induced Hipponax to extemporize an unreduplicated perfect. Ionic ληός (140D) is taken as an archaism of poetic diction, borrowed from an older non-Homeric, but probably epic, Ionic poetic tradition, which Hipponax knew and used here for reasons unknown. As Bettarini himself shows, however, forms in λᾱο-, ληο-, and λεω- are all known to epic bards and lyric poets, and ληός also appears in Herodotus (5.42), so recourse to a lost poetic tradition seems unnecessary. It might be simpler to suppose that Hipponax chose, from the possibilities available to him, the metrically expedient form that was markedly Ionic.

The apparent locative Πυγέλησι[ is attested in a patchy papyrus (95.15D). Bettarini, however, has seen a correction that has passed unnoticed by editors, in which the eta is crossed out and ΛΟΙ is written superscript, giving Πυγέλλοισι. The resulting form is unmetrical and taken as a slip for Πυγέλοισι. As Bettarini notes, the correction is in line with double-lambda forms attested for Pygela elsewhere and it eliminates "the uncomfortable locative".4 I do not think, however, that the lectio difficilior can be so easily removed. In line eleven the papyrus gives the Attic form ὀσμήν (rightly corrected by editors to ὀδμήν), suggesting a normalizing hand at work on the papyrus.

Bettarini next discusses two cases of distraction explained as artificial poetic forms created by the rhythmical necessity of the performance and admitted in the production of lyric as a stylistic choice. He would connect ]επλοωσεν[ (77.3D) to some form of πλώω and explain the unusual distraction with reference to similar cases in archaic poetry where long vowels which are not the result of previous contractions are nevertheless distracted. The few parallels he adduces, however, are problematic and admit solutions without appeal to this process of distraction. More straightforward is an explanation of ἀνοιίη (79.3D; cf. ἀνοιία in Alcaeus 112.1W, 199.5W) for ἀνοίη as a kind of metrical lengthening seen elsewhere in words like ὁμοίιος, γελοίιος, and ὀλοίιος. Given the context of this fragment, B. thinks ἀνοιίη is used parodically here.

Finally, Bettarini explains the unexpected aspirate in ν]ενυχμένωι (107.32D), from νύσσω, as either an expressive form or an intentional archaism put to burlesque ends. Outside of μεμορυχμένος and ἀκαχμένος, the aspiration is not common in epic. Archilochus' much-discussed ἐσμυριχμένας (48.5W) is certainly neither archaic nor expressive. Similar forms in Alcman and Sappho are sometimes explained as reanalyzes of the infinitive (-χθαι) or second plural of perfect middle passive (-χθε), which suggests that Hipponax's forms may be neither expressive nor archaizing, but rather a simple by-form in the language.5

Chapter 4 handles select characteristics of the Ionic dialect that have repercussions for Hipponax's text. Psilosis is attested across the board with the exception of two examples in the manuscripts, both regularly corrected by editors (121D, 122D) and two examples from a single papyrus (81.3D, 86.5D). Bettarini would emend ἔννεφ' ὅπως (126.3D), while he views κατευδούσης (69.7D) as an intrusive hyperionism and ὑφέλξων (20.3D) as a comic archaism. There are two instances of metathesis of aspiration: κύθρος for χύτρος (118D) and θεῦτις for τευθίς (162D). In both cases the lack of context is a problem, but Bettarini suggests these may be colloquialisms used to characterize someone's speech. There is an interesting section on the writing and prosody of <εο>, <εου> and <εω> and endings in –εος and –εως. With three exceptions, Hipponax has -ευ: θεόσυλιν (129a.1D), and the Atticisms μου (121D) and φρονοῦσι (119D). West, Degani, and Gerber generalize the correction to contracted forms in –εο- (and φρονέουσι), but against this generalization Bettarini argues that if -ευ- was already used in 6th century and in the Homeric text (whatever that means at this time), it must also have been available for Hipponax. He prefers to read the problematic ἔτνεος (118D) as a bisyllable, taking the line as an iambic trimeter catalectic, otherwise unattested in Hipponax but identified as one of his meters by Servius.

The final chapter is an interesting study of onomastics as a source of iambic wit. Both Archilochus and Hipponax play on names and confer patronymics on squalid characters, but there are indications that Hipponax develops this in ways unfamiliar to Archilochus. One of these is Hipponax's predilection for geographical names used in malam partem, such as Σινδικὸν διάσφαγμα (4bD), which is atypical of Archilochus but common in later comedy. Also unknown to Archilochus but present in Hipponax are names 'parodicamente storpiati' (e.g., Κυψώ, an obscene pun on Καλυψώ), which, of course, are also well-attested in comedy. Also unlike Archilochus, Hipponax seems to have relished mythological names. He heaps scorn on three individuals with dubious mythological namesakes: Arete 'desired/cursed', the incestuous wife-sister of Alcinoos, Pandora (here, perhaps, the name of a prostitute), and Eurymedon (126D). Bettarini suspects the poet linked the last of these to his Odyssean eponym, progenitor of the royal house of Phaeacia and king of Giants who was destroyed by the gods (Od. 7.58–60). He sees here genuine political involvement by the poet in the affairs of the city; the demos is the object of the poet's darts while the descendant of Eurymedon, a competing fellow aristocrat, is attacked for his unrestrained gluttony and marked for elimination by expulsion from the city and stoning as a pharmakos.6


1.   Shane Hawkins, Studies in the Language of Hipponax (Bremen: Hempen Verlag, 2013), 167–82 on Candaules, 190–94 on σκαπερδεῦσαι.
2.   See Diether Schurr, Kadmos 39 (2000) 165–76 and 40 (2001) 65–6, Hawkins op. cit., p. 167–82, and now Alexander Dale's (forthcoming) paper arguing for a rich association of themes among Hermes the dog-throttler, Candaules the semi-mythical king with voyeuristic sexual appetites, and the rich and exotic Greco-Lydian delicacy known as kandaulos.
3.   On the epicizing vocabulary in this fragment see the forthcoming treatment by Alexander Dale in ZPE.
4.   And therefore renders my suggested supplement Πυγελησί[ου (op. cit., p. 135) very unlikely. A digitized image of the papyrus is available at PSIonline. See further Rafaelle Luiselli, Analecta Papyrologica 28 (2016) 235–38.
5.   I suggested (op. cit., p. 61) the aspiration arose by a process of analogy; pace Bettarini, I did not mean to suggest that the analogy worked directly on the perfect form.
6.   Missing from this discussion is the sexual innuendo associated with the name Eurymedon; see James Davidson, Courtesans and Fishcakes (London: Harper Collins, 1997), 167–82.

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Sunday, December 17, 2017


Kai Brodersen, Aetheria/Egeria, Reise ins heilige Land: Lateinisch-deutsch. Sammlung Tusculum. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2016. Pp. 256. ISBN 9783110516159. €39,95.

Reviewed by Görge K. Hasselhoff, Technische Universität Dortmund (

Version at BMCR home site

Seit dem 2. Jahrhundert pilgerten Christinnen und Christen nach Palästina; der erste bekannte Pilger war Melito von Sardis. Mit der Kirchbaupolitik unter Kaiser Konstantin wurden bestehende Pilgerstätten modernisiert und neue eingerichtet. Spätestens jetzt entstand ein literarisches Genre, das den einsetzenden Massentourismus begleitete und unterstützte: der christliche Reiseführer. Zu den ältesten erhaltenen Werken dieser Art gehören der Routenplaner des Anonymus aus Bordeaux sowie der Bericht der anonymen Pilgerin vermutlich von der Iberischen Halbinsel, die heute als „Egeria" bzw. „Aetheria" (so vom Übersetzer bevorzugt) bekannt ist. Der Pilger von Bordeaux beschränkt sich dabei weitgehend auf die Präsentation technischer Angaben zum Weg und seiner Länge, nur gelegentlich unterbrochen von Hinweisen auf lokale Besonderheiten, wohingegen Egeria / Aetheria das Modell eines Reisetagebuchs auf den Spuren der Bibel liefert. Die Lektüre des einen Textes ist anstrengend, die des anderen bisweilen kurzweilig und nicht zuletzt liturgiewissenschaftlich bedeutsam. Die Überlieferung beider Texte ist sehr schmal (Anonymus: eine vollständige und drei fragmentarische Handschriften, Egeria: zwei unterschiedlich umfangreiche Fragmente sowie zwei mittelalterliche Exzerpte), dennoch existieren zahlreiche—kritische und andere—Ausgaben und Übertragungen.

Kai Brodersen, der in Erfurt Antike Kultur lehrt, hat nun eine weitere zweisprachige Ausgabe beider Texte vorgelegt (warum der Verlag den Anonymus im Buchtitel verschweigt, erschließt sich nicht). Es ließe sich fragen, worin nun der Mehrwert gegenüber den deutschen Übertragungen von Herbert Donner (beide Texte)1 oder Georg Röwekamp und Dietmar Thönnes (Egeria)2 liegt, aber diese Frage geht möglicherweise ins Leere, denn Donners wegweisende Sammlung mit Übertragungen ist einsprachig und zu Egeria wartet Brodersen mit einer verdienstvollen Neuerung auf: Er legt erstmals eine Übertragung eines Fragments vor, das erst seit 2005 veröffentlicht ist, und eine Lücke in dem 16. Kapitel des Berichts minimiert.

Der Aufbau der Brodersenschen Ausgabe ist—den Gepflogenheiten der Reihe folgend—eher spartanisch. Auf eine knappe Einführung in die insgesamt drei übertragenen Texte—der dritte ist der Brief des Mönchs Valerius von Bierzo, der den Bericht der Aetheria / Egeria zuerst erwähnt hat—folgen diese in der Reihefolge Anonymus von Bordeaux, Brief des Valerius und Reisebericht der Egeria / Aetheria; abgeschlossen wird der Band mit einem knappen Literaturverzeichnis und einem Register. Den Vorgaben der Reihe folgend, entfallen erläuternde Anmerkungen ebenso wie eine Diskussion der Forschungsliteratur. Die Übersetzungen lesen sich sehr flüssig und stimmig, sie sind fraglos ein Gewinn, auch wenn vereinzelt Rückfragen zu stellen wären: Zu fragen ist beispielsweise, ob der Terminus religio mit „Religion" (S. 76) adäquat übersetzt ist (sachgemäßer erscheint: „Glaube"); im gleichen Absatz scheint sich im Deutschen ein Fehler eingeschlichen zu haben: „mithilfe der Das macht göttlicher Majestät mit allen Kräften" klingt sinnlos. Mit sexta feria (S. 140) scheint eher der Freitag als der S. 141 übersetzte „Samstag" gemeint zu sein (auch wenn S. 174 die septima dies mit dem Sonntag gleichgesetzt wird; hier scheint jedoch die Verbindung zu den im Satz zuvor genannten dies sex hergestellt zu sein); darüber, ob communicare (S. 92; 142) gut mit „an der Kommunion teilnehmen" übersetzt ist, lässt sich streiten, da die Form der „Kommunion" im 4. Jahrhundert noch nicht festgelegt war (also eher: „Abendmahlsgemeinschaft haben"). Druckfehler sind außerordentlich wenige aufgefallen (z.B. S. 147). Ob sich insbesondere die Übertragung von Egerias / Aetherias Itinerarium jedoch im akademischen Unterricht gegenüber der Röwekampschen Ausgabe wird durchsetzen können, ist angesichts deren erläuternden Fußnotenapparats jedoch fraglich.

Auch erscheint es spekulativ, wenn der Herausgeber eher behauptet denn belegt, es sei „aber doch recht plausibel, dass auch der Bericht von Bordeaux von einer Frau stammt" (S. 8); eine Position für die weitere Forschung ist das allemal.

Der Übertragung sind viele Leserinnen und Leser zu wünschen.


1.   Herbert Donner (tr.), Pilgerfahrt ins Heilige Land. Die ältesten Berichte christlicher Palästinapilger (4.-7. Jahrhundert). 2nd edition. Stuttgart: Verlag Katholisches Bibelwerk, 2002.
2.   Georg Röwekamp / Dietmar Thönnes (tr., intr.), Egeria Itinerarium Reisebericht. Mit Auszügen aus Petrus Diaconus De locis sanctis Die heiligen Stätten. Fontes Christiani 20. Freiburg et al.: Herder, 1995.

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Richard Sorabji (ed.), Aristotle Re-Interpreted: New Findings on Seven Hundred Years of the Ancient Commentators. Ancient commentators on Aristotle. London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016. Pp. ix, 673. ISBN 9781472596567. $206.00.

Reviewed by Irini-Fotini Viltanioti, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is given at the end.]

It would be superfluous to reiterate the services that Richard Sorabji's project on the Ancient Commentators on Aristotle has offered to scholarship and the extent to which it has changed the landscape in the study of the history of philosophy, and beyond. Since 1987, more than one hundred annotated translations of large portions of the Berlin edition of the Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca (Reimer, 1882-1909) and of several related texts and fragments preserved either in the original Greek or in Latin, Arabic, and Syriac translations, have seen the light, thanks to the contribution of over 280 academics worldwide.1

In 1990, Sorabji's edited volume, Aristotle Transformed: The Ancient Commentators and Their Influence (hereafter AT), launched the project, by bringing together twenty seminal articles which set the background to the work done. A second edition, supplemented with an up-to-date introduction, appeared in 2016. Aristotle Re-interpreted (hereafter AR) is a sequel to that classic companion. It aims at tracing the progress done in the twenty-five years that have followed the publication of AT, by offering a collection of twenty-three key papers in the field. The two books are to be read together, as is also shown by the frequent references to AT. However, while AT focuses chiefly on the Greek commentators ca. 200-600 CE, AR expands the timespan, covering a period of nearly seven hundred years, and investigates also the spread of the philosophy of the Commentators into other cultures. This is indicative of the scholarly achievement the project represents and of the growth in the field to which it has given rise.

The twenty-three chapters of [AR] are preceded by an eighty-page Introduction and usefully supplemented with a list of the translations published in the Ancient Commentators on Aristotle series (1987-2015), a rich bibliography, an index locorum, and a general index. The collection is elegantly presented by Bloomsbury Academic, which has hosted the series since 2011. It is only unfortunate that a few typos have escaped the proofreader's attention: for example, Porphyry (c. 234-305 CE) goes to Sicily in "368", while Plotinus (204-270 CE) dies in "370" (p. 30); Hypatia is a "Christian mathematician" on p. 40; highlighted footnote numbers throughout chapter 21 (pp. 531-40); "late antiquity" (e.g. p. 532) versus "Late Antiquity" (e.g. p. 569).

The Introduction, which summarises and comments on the chapters, can also be read on its own, as a concise but instructive synopsis of the philosophy of the Commentators, from its Middle Platonist origins to its Medieval aftermath in Byzantium and the Arabic world. Sorabji engages with the latest scholarly discussions, often juxtaposing views expressed in AT with the new developments of AR. One will especially appreciate his mastery of details, the new insights on controversial matters, and the reassessment of received ideas. Such examples, which open the floor to further debates, include: the discussion about the meaning of ἐπιγίγνεσθαι ("supervene") in the psychology of Alexander of Aphrodisias, where the editor consolidates the non-materialistic interpretation of Alexander's account of the soul (p. 16);2 the view that Themistius was neither an Aristotelian, as proposed in AT,3 nor a Neoplatonist (pp. 19-20); the reappraisal of Porphyry's place in the Neoplatonic tradition, which does justice to his "monumental achievements" (p. 26) while, most interestingly, raising doubts as to whether he "can have been the rabid enemy of Christians that many Christians believed him to be" (p. 32); the portrait of Ammonius (p. 47), which converges with the most recent depiction of the Alexandrian School.4

The twenty-three chapters of the volume – some brand new, others already published elsewhere – cover questions of textual edition and transmission, logic, metaphysics, physics, ethics, and epistemology. Some of them present newly discovered fragments, others put forward groundbreaking interpretations or propose new identifications of authorship. They are generally organized according to chronology, except for the two essays on Themistius, which are situated before Porphyry, since Themistius' identity as a Neoplatonist is disputed. A scan of the contents (listed at the end of the review) reveals the remarkably broad thematic and chronological scope of AR. Given the richness of the material, it is impossible to discuss here all contributions one by one; it is, however, possible to briefly present some key ideas.

Let us first draw attention to the volume's contribution to Porphyrian studies, through the presentation and annotated translation of a new fragment of a previously unknown commentary on Aristotle's Categories, recovered from the Archimedes Palimpsest and attributed to Porphyry's Πρὸς Γεδάλειον (chapter 8). In addition, chapter 9 proposes a new interpretation of De abstinentia, which throws new light on Neoplatonic ethics as a whole.

The chapters on Themistius show how both Platonists and Aristotelians could be accommodated within the discussion of spontaneous generation. A more general account, which sees the Neoplatonic theory as anticipating in some respects Louis Pasteur's conclusions, is offered in chapter 7. In some cases, stimulating developments are found in the footnotes (chapter 6).

An entirely new portrait of Stephanus the Philosopher emerges in chapters 15, 22, and 23: Stephanus is no longer the author of the Commentary on Book 3 of Aristotle's De anima, now re-attributed to Philoponus, nor the polymath appointed by the emperor Heraclius (610-641) to teach philosophy in Constantinople. Rather, he is related to the school of Olympiodorus in late sixth-century Alexandria. In ch. 22, Roueché argues that Stephanus' expansion of Plato definition of philosophy to read "the practice of death – while the living being is still preserved" is due to the influence of his Christian faith; but any pagan Platonist could have endorsed such an amendment.

The figures of Alexander of Aphrodisias and John Philoponus have a prominent place in the collection. Five chapters deal (wholly or partly) with Alexander, focusing, among others, on his denial of a certain principle of Stoic ethics (chapter 3) and on his criticism of Stoic eternal recurrence (chapter 4). Chapter 23 makes a significant contribution not only to the study of Alexander and Stephanus but also to that of (Aristotelian) commentaries in Late Antiquity and of their Byzantine reception.

Nine chapters deal (wholly or partly) with Philoponus, of which three concern his legacy into the Arabic world: chapter 19 recovers fragments of Philoponus' On the Eternity of the World Against Proclus in Arabic, while chapter 20 investigates Arabic theological speculations on the eternity of the world traced back to Middle Platonism via Philoponus.6 The dispute over the eternity of the world is also discussed in chapter 18 - which concerns Arabic reception more generally – although one wonders how clear-cut the distinction between physics and theology is within the Greek tradition itself. Chapter 14 proposes a possible chronological order of Philoponus' commentaries on Aristotle. Chapter 16 goes as late as Latin medieval and Renaissance theories of mixture, while chapter 17 situates Philoponus' approach to Aristotle's theories of sense-perception with respect to contemporary interpretations. Chapter 12 interestingly uses Philoponus' and Simplicius' evidence to reconstruct Proclus' lost defence of Plato's Timaeus against Aristotle.

Chapters 13 and 21 tackle issues of (epistemic) authority, on which there is currently a rise of scholarly interest.7 The former explains the differences between the linguistic philosophy of Proclus and his pupil Ammonius on the basis of different ways of reading Plato in connection to Aristotle in the Alexandrian and Athenian Schools. Chapter 21 exemplifies the attitude of a philosopher of Late Antiquity towards those who, in his eyes, count as authorities, while chapter 11 also shows how Iamblichus' "intellective theory" harmonizes Aristotle's Categories with Plato's theory of Ideas.

A number of papers deal with Aristotle's Categories (chapters 2, 8, 10, 11), while universals and particulars are the focus of chapters 10 and 4 respectively. Chapter 10 traces the transformations of the idea of universals in the Commentators, from Boethus to Eustratius of Nicaea, while chapter 2 studies in depth Boethus' reading of the Categories which amounts to a peculiar Aristotelianism that was criticized by Alexander (in Arabic) and stands at the background of later developments.

Finally, chapter 1 usefully sets the general background by discussing the organization of the canonic Aristotelian corpus, which was seminal for the Neoplatonic commentary tradition as much as it is for us.

In conclusion, building on the extraordinary achievements of the Ancient Commentators on Aristotle project, AR is a valuable collection of groundbreaking studies, which, together with AT, constitutes a must-read for any scholar and student of philosophy and Classics as well as an indispensable acquisition of any library in these fields.

Authors and Titles

1. The Texts of Plato and Aristotle in the First Century BCE: Andronicus' Canon, Myrto Hatzimichali
2. Boethus Aristotelian Ontology, Marwan Rashed
3. The Inadvertent Conception and Late Birth of the Free Will Problem and the Role of Alexander, Susanne Bobzien
4. Alexander of Aphrodisias on Particulars and the Stoic Criterion of Identity, Marwan Rashed
5. Themistius and the Problem of Spontaneous Generation, Devin Henry
6. Spontaneous Generation and its Metaphysics in Themistius' Paraphrase of Aristotle's Metaphysics 12, Yoav Meyrav
7. The Neoplatonic Commentators on 'Spontaneous' Generation, James Wilberding
8. A Rediscovered Categories Commentary: Porphyry (?) with Fragments of Boethus, Riccardo Chiaradonna, Marwan Rashed, and David Sedley
9. The Purpose of Porphyry's Rational Animals: A Dialectical Attack on the Stoics in On Abstinence from Animal Food, G. Fay Edwards
10. Universals Transformed in the Commentators on Aristotle, Richard Sorabji
11. Iamblichus' [Noera Theôria] of Aristotle's Categories, John Dillon
12. Proclus' Defence of the Timaeus Against Aristotle: A Reconstruction of a Lost Polemical Treatise, Carlos Steel
13. Smoothing over the Differences: Proclus and Ammonius on Plato's Cratylus and Aristotle's De Interpretatione, R. M. van den Berg
14. Dating of Philoponus' Commentaries on Aristotle and of his Divergence from his Teacher Ammonius, Richard Sorabji
15. John Philoponus' Commentary on the Third Book of Aristotle's De Anima, Wrongly Attributed to Stephanus, Pantelis Golitsis
16. Mixture in Philoponus: An Encounter with a Third Kind of Potentiality, Frans A. J. de Haas
17. Gnôstikôs and/or hulikôs: Philoponus' Account of the Material Aspects of Sense-Perception, Peter Lautner
18. The Last Philosophers of Late Antiquity in the Arabic Tradition, Peter Adamson
19. Alexander of Aphrodisias versus John Philoponus in Arabic: A Case of Mistaken Identity, Ahmad Hasnawi
20. New Arabic Fragments of Philoponus and their Reinterpretation: Does the World Lack a Beginning in Time or Take no Time to Begin? Marwan Rashed
21. Simplicius' Corollary on Place: Method of Philosophising and Doctrines, Philippe Hoffmann and Pantelis Golitsis
22. A Philosophical Portrait of Stephanus the Philosopher, Mossman Roueché
23. Who were the Real Authors of the Metaphysics Commentary Ascribed to Alexander and Ps.-Alexander? Pantelis Golitsis


1.   For a sourcebook, see R. Sorabji, The Philosophy of the Commentators 200-600 AD: A Sourcebook, 3 vols, London, Duckworth, 2004; repr. Bloomsbury 2013.
2.   See also R. Sorabji, Emotion and Peace of Mind, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 252-72.
3.   Chapter 5, by H. J. Blumenthal: "Themistius: The Last Peripatetic Commentator on Aristotle?"
4.   E. Watts, City and School in Late Antique Athens and Alexandria, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2006; Hypatia. The Life and Legend of an Ancient Philosopher, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2017. See also R. Sorabji, "Divine Names and Sordid Deals in Ammonius' Alexandria" in A. Smith, ed., The Philosopher and Society in Late Antiquity, Swansea, The Classical Press of Wales, 2005, 203-13.
5.   Full Greek text in Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 44, 2013, pp. 129-94.
6.   Despite being the actual ruler of the Byzantine Empire, Bardas was not an "emperor" (p. 504) but a chief minister awarded the title of Καῖσαρ.
7.   See e.g. J. Opsomer and A. Ulacco, "Epistemic Authority in Textual Traditions. A Model and Some Examples from Ancient Philosophy" in J. Leemans et al., ed., Shaping Authority, Brepols, Turnhout, 2016, pp. 21-46; J. Opsomer, "Jamblique et l'autorité des mythes" in J.-B. Gourinat and F. Baghdassarian, eds., L'interprétation philosophique des mythes religieux, Paris, forthcoming.

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