Thursday, March 30, 2017


Diego M. Escámez de Vera, Sodales Flaviales Titiales: Culto imperial y legitimación en época Flavia. Collection Latomus 356. Bruxelles: Éditions Latomus, 2016. Pp. 117. ISBN 9789042934146. €25,00.

Reviewed by John Jacobs, Montclair Kimberley Academy (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

The Capitoline played a central role in the legitimation of the Flavians as the location of both the Templum divi Vespasiani (et divi Titi) at the base of the hill and the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus (twice destroyed and twice restored between the civil war of A.D. 69 and the death of Domitian in A.D. 96) at its peak. In this brief study, Escámez de Vera offers the first full treatment of an important facet of the political and religious relationship between the Flavians and Jupiter by assembling and assessing the existing evidence for the college of priests known as the sodales Flaviales (Titiales). In chapter 1, "Introducción" (pp. 3-4), the author explains how Titus created this sodalitas in order to honor his father, divus Vespasianus, in imitation of the sodales Augustales (Claudiales) which Tiberius had instituted in order to honor Augustus. Unfortunately, we know very little about the organization, composition, and function of the sodales Flaviales, apart from the fact that the college served to legitimate Flavian power and prestige by transforming the entire gens Flavia into a family of divi and divae. In a pivotal article which initially appeared in BCAR 63 (1935), Momigliano posited a link between the sodales Flaviales and the flamen Dialis both in light of and in support of the special relationship between the Flavians and Jupiter. Across the two major chapters of the book, Escámez de Vera seeks to buttress the argument in favor of such a link by reviewing the existing evidence, especially the epigraphical data, and by situating that material in its larger historical and cultural context(s).

In chapter 2, "Sodales Flauiales Titiales: creación, estructura y contexto ideológico" (pp. 5-39), Escámez de Vera outlines what we know (and what we think we know) about the sodality. Vespasian's apotheosis played a crucial role in establishing the divine foundations of the Flavian dynasty by cementing the family's connection with Jupiter and the Capitol. Three building projects undertaken by Titus and Domitian both celebrated their father's apotheosis and extended the divinization to the gens Flavia as a whole: the Templum divi Vespasiani (et divi Titi), the Porticus Divorum, and the Templum Gentis Flaviae. The sodales Flaviales were modeled after the sodales Augustales, which were, in turn, modeled after the more ancient sodales Titii, themselves revived by Augustus. Escámez de Vera convincingly argues that Domitian sought to strike a (delicate) balance between the divinization of Vespasian and Titus as individuals (in preparation for his own future apotheosis, of course) and the divinization of the entire family (in part, so that he could justify the apotheosis of his infant son). The author carefully reviews the archaeological, epigraphical, and numismatic evidence and thoughtfully engages with the existing scholarship. Ultimately, "Domiciano crearía así, ..., una suerte de tríada terrenal frente a la tríada Capitolina en la que él, hijo pequeño de Vespasiano, ocuparía el tercer lugar, como había venido haciendo de forma tradicional la diosa que elige como protectora, Minerva" (p. 26, cf. p. 90). Concerning election to the priesthood, Escámez de Vera underscores the religious authority of the princeps as pontifex maximus reflected in his powers of nominatio and commendatio: perhaps not surprisingly, the epigraphical evidence demonstrates that the "founding" members of the sodality were all "personas de extrema confianza de la dinastía imperial" (p. 31). Concerning the acta of the Temple of Jupiter Propugnator (CIL 6.2004-2009), Escámez de Vera confirms their identification as the records of the sodales Flaviales Titiales and uses them to study the organization of the college: perhaps not surprisingly once again, the imperial family exerted control over all aspects of the sodalitas, especially its membership. The chapter ends with the question which inspired Momigliano's article (and which Escámez de Vera tackles in the following chapter): "¿dónde está el teórico flamen diui Vespasiani o diui Titi mencionado por la epigrafía a escala provincial pero desconocido en Roma?" (p. 39).

In chapter 3, "El flamen Dialis y los sodales Flauiales Titiales (pp. 41-87), Escámez de Vera takes up that fundamental question with a fresh examination of the available evidence, including materials which have come to light (and which continue to come to light) in the years since Momigliano first published his piece. While there is no mention of a flamen divi Vespasiani or a flamen divi Titi in Rome, there are abundant references to such flamines in the provinces: see p. 43 n. 281 for the ample list given in J. Suess, Divine justification: Flavian Imperial cult (Oxford, 2011), 118 n. 107; for another recent list, see G. McIntyre, A family of gods: The worship of the Imperial family in the Latin West (Ann Arbor, 2016), 145-147. The notable absence of such flamines in Rome may simply reflect a gap in the epigraphical record, or it may suggest that the position was filled by another of the flamines and, more specifically, the flamen Dialis. In support of this idea, Escámez de Vera cites the famous passage from Suetonius Domitian 4.4 in which we see the flamen Dialis and the sodales Flaviales Titiales seated together in royal garb alongside the emperor at the inauguration of the Agon Capitolinus in A.D. 86: everything about the passage strongly suggests that the flamen Dialis served as the leader of the college. The Lex de flamonio provinciae Narbonensis (CIL 12.6038 = ILS 6964), which Fishwick dates to the time of Vespasian, but which Escámez de Vera ascribes to the reign of Domitian, likewise attests to the intentional modeling of provincial priest(ess)hoods after the flamen and flaminica Dialis back in Rome. Escámez de Vera discovers further evidence for the status of the flamen Dialis as the leader of the sodales Flaviales Titiales in the sculptural program of the three Flavian temples discussed earlier in the book. In particular, the author identifies two iconographical attributes of the flamen Dialis on the Flavian monuments, namely, an albogalerus on the frieze of the Templum divi Vespasiani and a commoetaculum above the head of the flamen in one of the Hartwig-Kelsey Reliefs from the Templum Gentis Flaviae—a key detail which the author himself confirmed through autopsy (pp. 66-67). More broadly speaking, the Flavians, especially Domitian, cultivated the association with the flamen Dialis in order to bolster their claim to rule by divine right and strategically rebuilt the Capitol in order to solidify their hold on that most sacred of Rome's seven hills—with some measure of success, since the sodalitas lived on after the death of Domitian and the end of the dynasty until at least Septimius Severus.

Escámez de Vera offers a succinct distillation of his major claims and arguments in chapter 4, "Conclusiones" (pp. 89-90), followed by "Anexo I: Corpus epigráfico" (pp. 91-99), "Anexo II: Imágenes" (pp. 101-110), and a "Bibliografía" (pp. 111-117): for another recent text (along with a translation) of the Hispellum Rescript included in Anexo I, see N. Lenski, Constantine and the cities: Imperial authority and civic politics (Philadelphia, 2016), 118-119. The book contains the usual smattering of typographical errors, none serious, although the incorrect word divisions can be distracting. While Escámez de Vera certainly pays as much attention to the literary as he does to the archaeological, epigraphical, and numismatic evidence, he still could have done more with literature, especially with Flavian epic, to flesh out his presentation of the larger context for the special relationship between the Flavians and Jupiter. Likewise, the author could have cast his net wider in terms of bibliography; I note the following omissions, although at least some of these works likely appeared too late to be included in the volume: W. Schubert, Jupiter in den Epen der Flavierzeit (Frankfurt am Main, 1984); P. E. Davies, Death and the emperor: Roman Imperial funerary monuments from Augustus to Marcus Aurelius (Austin, 2004); H. Lindsay, "Vespasian and the city of Rome: The centrality of the Capitolium," AClass 53 (2010), 165-180; J. C. Quinn and A. Wilson, "Capitolia," JRS 103 (2013), 117-173; U. Morelli, Domiziano: Fine di una dinastia (Wiesbaden, 2014); and A. Heinemann, "Jupiter, die Flavier und das Kapitol; oder: Wie man einen Bürgerkrieg gewinnt," in H. Börm, M. Mattheis, and J. Wienand (eds.), Civil war in ancient Greece and Rome: Contexs of disintegration and reintegration (Stuttgart, 2016), 187-235.

(read complete article)


Ursula Gärtner, Phaedrus: ein Interpretationskommentar zum ersten Buch der Fabeln. Zetemata, 149. München: Verlag C. H. Beck, 2015. Pp. 298. ISBN 9783406673634. €78.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Johannes Park, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen (

Version at BMCR home site


Dieser Kommentar der fabulae Aesopiae setzt nun endlich auch mit einem wissenschaftlichen Kommentar den Trend der letzten beiden Jahrzehnte fort, den Fabeldichter Phaedrus zunehmend in das Forschungsinteresse zu rücken. Die Verfasserin Ursula Gärtner hat sich bereits durch einige Aufsätze zu unterschiedlichen Themen wie dem römischen Wertesystem bei Phaedrus, den fabulae Aesopiae als Kommunikationsmedium in der Kaiserzeit und v.a. einige Arbeiten zum phaedrianischen Dichtungsprogramm als wichtige Phaedrus-Forscherin etabliert. Mit diesem Buch macht sie nun den Anfang, eine empfindliche Lücke der Forschungsliteratur zu Phaedrus zu schließen. Zwar liegt uns mit dem „Phaedrus-Kommentar" von Eberhard Oberg1 ein moderner Kommentar vor, doch ist dieser nach den Fortschritten der Phaedrusforschung in den vergangenen 15 Jahren im Hinblick auf das Interpretationsspektrum des Textes zumindest teilweise inzwischen unzureichend. Auch die ältere Ausgabe von Luzzatto,2 die (leider nur) zu ausgewählten Fabeln der fünf Bücher eine kurze interpretierende Einleitung, dann einen lemmatisch geordneten Kommentar bietet, ist – ebenso wie Obergs – durchaus hilfreich in Fragen der interpretatorischen Grundrichtung oder in Sachfragen sowie knapp erwähnten intertextuellen Bezügen. Allerdings haben sich gerade in der jüngeren Phaedrusforschung zunehmend die Bedeutung der Intertexte und die Komplexität des phaedrianischen Dichtungsprogrammes herausgestellt, so dass beide Kommentare in dieser Hinsicht als veraltet gelten müssen.

Gärtner kommt also einem Forschungsdesiderat nach, wenn sie ihren Kommentar mit einem dezidiert interpretativen Schwerpunkt versieht. Zugleich soll das Buch, wie Gärtner selbst im Vorwort (S. 10) klarmacht, neben den Interpretationen auch Sachinformationen bieten, wie man sie von einem lemmatischen Kommentar erwarten würde. Diesen Anforderungen eines wissenschaftlichen Kommentars, der von der Verfasserin selbst als „Hybrid zweier wissenschaftlicher Textgattungen" (S. 10) bezeichnet wird, ist vermutlich auch geschuldet, dass sich Gärtner auf die Kommentierung des ersten Fabelbuches beschränkt. Diese Entscheidung ist verständlich und zugleich – gerade angesichts der hohen Qualität – bedauerlich. Bevor der eigentliche Interpretationsteil in den Blick genommen wird, soll zunächst auf die Einleitung eingegangen werden, die mit 45 Seiten (S. 13– 58) rund ein Fünftel des Gesamtumfanges einnimmt.

Die Einleitung ist in zwei Hauptteile gegliedert, deren erster Teil (S. 13–17) knapp einige gattungsgeschichtliche Grundlagen der Fabel darstellt. Hier liefert Gärtner einen Überblick zur antiken Terminologie und Definition der Fabelgattung und bietet einen groben Abriss der Geschichte dieser Gattung, die erst mit Phaedrus, also in der römischen Kaiserzeit, ihre Eigenständigkeit erlangt. Schon dieser erste Teil der Einleitung ist repräsentativ für eine äußerst positive Eigenschaft des Buches: Die Aufarbeitung von und die Auseinandersetzung mit antiken Belegstellen sowie der Sekundärliteratur sind ebenso wie weniger wichtige intertextuelle Hinweise, die nicht unmittelbar zur Argumentation beitragen, konsequent in den Fußnotenapparat ausgelagert. Dieser mag dadurch zwar optisch manchmal überladen wirken, garantiert aber einen hervorragend lesbaren Haupttext.

In der Darstellung der Gattung argumentiert Gärtner zurecht gegen die Tendenz der Forschung des 20. Jhs., die (phaedrianische) Fabel auf eine herrschaftskritische Funktion zu reduzieren (S. 15f.), und stellt stattdessen die Vielseitigkeit der Gattung heraus, die ihr auch schon als nicht-eigenständigem, rhetorischem Exemplum in der griechischen wie römischen Literatur vor Phaedrus zueigen ist. Indem Gärtner hier auf die funktionale Vielfalt der Fabel in den fabulae Aesopiae verweist, bereitet sie auf den umfangreicheren zweiten Teil der Einleitung vor, der ganz Phaedrus' „Leben und Werk" gewidmet ist. Dort stellt die Verfasserin in 13 kleinen Unterkapiteln verschiedene thematisch geordnete Aspekte der fabulae Aesopiae vor.

Noch vor Themen wie den Adressaten des Werkes, der Überlieferungsgeschichte, Makrostruktur, intertextuellen Beobachtungen, der zeitlichen Verortung usw. misst Gärtner der Vita des Autors mit elf Seiten den meisten Raum bei. Der Grund hierfür ist darin zu suchen, dass sich gerade in der Frage, inwieweit die vermeintlich biographischen Informationen der Pro- und Epiloge, insbesondere des Prologs im dritten Buch, zuverlässig Auskunft über den realen Autor Phaedrus geben, die communis opinio in den vergangenen Jahren geändert hat. So übt Gärtner berechtigte Kritik an – auch neueren –  Interpretationen, die auf den zweifelhaften Angaben zum Freigelassenenstatus des Dichters oder auch der Geburt auf dem pierischen Musenberg und anderen biographischen Details um Phaedrus' Leben fußen (S. 21f.). Diese Angaben gehen entweder auf paratextuelle Anmerkungen in den Handschriften (wie im Falle des Freigelassenenstatus) oder auf Aussagen des textinternen Ichs zurück. Die Richtigkeit paratextueller Informationen sei jedoch kaum belegbar (S. 24) und die textinternen Aussagen seien von der Vita des empirischen Autors zu trennen. Gärtner spricht sich überzeugend dafür aus, dass sich die biographische Unzuverlässigkeit dieser Informationen damit erklären lässt, dass es sich um literarische Topoi handelt, die Teil eines komplexen Dichtungsprogrammes sind. Damit zeichnet Gärtner in der Einleitung ihres Kommentars einen Interpretationszugang nach, der sich als eine konzise Kurzfassung ihrer letzten Aufsätze zu Phaedrus, als Deutung der phaedrianischen Poetik in nuce, liest. Eben diese Kürze und Prägnanz sind wichtige Merkmale dieses Kommentars, der schon die Einleitung zu einem Forschungsbeitrag mit Eigenwert macht.

Lediglich die Ordnung der Unterkapitel „2.1.1. Freigelassener als Dichter" (S. 21) und „2.1.2. Dichter als Freigelassener" (S. 23), dem wiederum ein Abschnitt mit der Überschrift „Der Freigelassene" (S. 24) untergeordnet ist, weist zwar anschaulich auf das Problem der Biographisierung hin, wäre aber unter einem einzigen Abschnitt mit aussagekräftigeren Überschriften besser arrangiert gewesen.

Zudem sei darauf hingewiesen, dass besonders dieses erste Kapitel zu Phaedrus' Selbstaussagen von der Deutung Gärtners geprägt ist, Phaedrus verwende gezielt literarische Topoi und übertreibe insbesondere die Selbstaussagen seiner dichterischen Vorgänger. Dass die Ansprüche des Ichs z.T. übertrieben anmuten, ist dabei unstrittig, doch deren Funktion, die die Verfasserin eben im Selbstzweck einer komischen Übertreibung sieht, ist durchaus diskutabel. Solche interpretatorischen Impulse sind allerdings gerade als Ausdruck des Hybridcharakters des Kommentars zu sehen und werden immer nachvollziehbar begründet. Zudem erleichtert Gärtner dem Leser stets die Vertiefung der Themen durch den – auch bibliographisch – umfassenden Anmerkungsapparat, mit dem die saubere Interpretationsarbeit unterfüttert wird.

Auch den folgenden Kapiteln der Einleitung liegt eine nachvollziehbare Interpretation der fabulae Aesopiae zugrunde, die kaum Kritik erlaubt. Lediglich im Kapitel 2.3 zu Phaedrus' Publikum stellt Gärtner fest, dass der Adressat bei Phaedrus immer ein Leser sei (S. 36, insbes. Anm. 127). In der Tat werden die Rezipienten in den fabulae Aesopiae nicht explizit als Hörer bezeichnet, doch Phaedrus deutet an mehreren Stellen die Mündlichkeit seines Werkes an. Als Beispiele seien 2 prol. 6, 2 epil. 12 und 3 prol. 7 angeführt, wo er das Ohr, auris, des Rezipienten erwähnt.

Neben einer Überlieferungs- und einer hervorragend recherchierten und bibliographisch reich kommentierten Forschungsgeschichte sowie einigen Ausführungen zu den Prätexten und Vorbildern der fabulae Aesopiae bleibt Gärtner auch einen Überblick über die Protagonisten der Fabeln, Themen und Aussagen, Versmaß und Stil, eine Verortung im 1. Jh. n. Chr. und einen Ausblick auf die Rezeption des Werkes nicht schuldig. Hervorzuheben sind hier ferner die Ausführungen zur Auseinandersetzung mit den Dichtungsprogrammen der Vorgänger (Kapitel 2.7) und zum Aufbau der Fabelbücher (Kapitel 2.8). Erstgenanntes Kapitel bietet einen übersichtlichen interpretatorischen Zugang zu wichtigen poetologischen Topoi, letztgenanntes enthält einige treffende Beobachtungen zur Werkkonzeption der fabulae, die nach Gärtner in einigen Aspekten über das Maß hinausgeht, was man Phaedrus zugetraut hat. Mit gut gewählten Beispielen deutet Gärtner an, dass Phaedrus' Werk neben kompositorischen Zügen innerhalb der Fabelbücher durchaus auch ein buchübergreifendes Konzept aufweist, das im Zusammenhang der literarischen Vorgänger, insbesondere der augusteischen Dichtung, zu betrachten ist.

Den großen zweiten Teil des Buches bildet der eigentliche Kommentarteil. Zu diesem ist vorweg zu sagen, dass Gärtner hier einen Interpretationskommentar auf hohem Niveau vorlegt, der signifikant zur Erschließung der fabulae Aesopiae beiträgt. Wie die Einleitung versieht sie auch den Kommentarteil mit aufwendigen Anmerkungen, die eine gute Lesbarkeit des Haupttextes und zugleich reiche intertextuelle und bibliographische Hinweise gewährleisten.

Exemplarisch gehe ich im Folgenden etwas genauer auf die Interpretation zu Fabel 1,12 Cervus ad fontem (S. 155–162) ein, um einen Eindruck von Gärtners Arbeitsweise im Kommentarteil zu vermitteln. In Fabel 1,12 geht es um einen Hirsch, der nach Erblicken seines Spiegelbildes in einer Quelle die Schönheit seines Geweihes lobt, während ihm seine dünnen Beine missfallen. Für die anschließende Flucht vor Jagdhunden entpuppen sich jedoch die flinken Beine als sehr hilfreich, bevor er mit dem zuvor gelobten Geweih im Gestrüpp hängen bleibt. Mit dem Ausruf des Hirsches, der seinen Irrtum bemerkt, endet das Gedicht.

Die Interpretation der Fabel entspricht mit einer Länge von sieben Seiten dem Durchschnitt von Gärtners Interpretationen, die sich im Umfang von drei bis 15 Seiten (Fabel 1,2) bewegen. An den Titel der Fabel hängt Gärtner hier wie stets eine bibliographische Anmerkung mit der wichtigsten Literatur zum Gedicht, die weiter unten nach Bedarf ad locum ergänzt wird. Nach einer kurzen Erklärung des Fabelthemas folgt eine schematische Gliederung des Gedichts, bei der sich Gärtner eines modernen, aber in der Fabelforschung bewährten Schemas bedient, das sie im Einleitungsteil erläutert (S. 47f.).

Im anschließenden Hauptteil der Interpretation folgt Gärtner dann zunächst der Textchronologie. Bei der Textarbeit zeigt sich deutlich die Expertise Gärtners: Sie geht zuverlässig auf Wortstellung und Versbau ein, die bei Phaedrus große Bedeutung haben. Grundsätzlich tritt in Gärtners Analysen das hohe Kompositionsniveau der Texte zutage. Während sich Gärtner im Haupttext zunächst auf sprachliche Phänomene und ihre Funktion konzentriert, weist sie in den Fußnoten auf inter- und intratextuelle Bezüge sowie auf motivische Eigenheiten hin, die sie im Falle von Fabel 1,12 v.a. von Ovid beeinflusst sieht, auf den sie später auch im Haupttext ausführlicher eingeht. Zunächst vergleicht Gärtner die phaedrianische Fassung mit anderen Versionen innerhalb der Fabeltradition, sofern es solche gibt. Pointiert stellt sie dabei die wichtigsten Unterschiede heraus und zitiert im Anmerkungsapparat nicht nur die Parallelfassungen, sondern bietet dort auch Übersetzungen sämtlicher griechischer Zitate. Dadurch gestalten sich synoptische Vergleiche phaedrianischer Fabeln mit solchen, die in der Augustana-Sammlung (unter dem Namen Aesops überlieferte Fabeln in griechischer Prosa) oder auch bei Babrios aus dem 1./2. Jh. n. Chr. überliefert sind, erfreulich komfortabel. Durch stete Vergleiche nicht nur mit griechischen Fassungen, sondern auch mit den späteren lateinischen bei Avian oder dem Romulus-Corpus aus dem 4. Jh. kann Gärtner vielfach einen Eindruck von Phaedrus' Originalität und bisweilen eigenwilliger Akzentuierung geben. Diese Erkenntnisse sind gerade mit Blick darauf relevant, dass sich Gärtner auf das erste von fünf Büchern beschränkt, das erst den Anfang eines Werkes von zunehmender stofflicher und poetischer Eigenständigkeit bildet. Vor diesem Hintergrund ist umso bemerkenswerter, wie ergiebig Gärtners Analysen des ersten Fabelbuches sind.

Im Falle von Fabel 1,12 kann sie nachweisen, dass das Gedicht lexikalisch und motivisch einiges mit der Sage von Actaeon sowie der von Narcissus und Echo in Ovids Metamorphosen gemein hat. Auf diese Parallelen wurde zwar schon vor Gärtner hingewiesen, doch Gärtners textnahe Analyse gibt wertvolle neue Impulse. So arbeitet sie neben dem Thema der Selbsterkenntnis und einigen Junkturen, die bei Ovid entlehnt zu sein scheinen, auch die den Texten gemeinsame Thematik der Macht und Ohnmacht von Sprache heraus. Wie Gärtner feststellt, deuten sich im Ausruf des Hirsches, der am Ende sein Unglück beklagt, Parallelen zu Actaeon an, dem allerdings nach der Verwandlung in den Hirsch die Fähigkeit zur Sprache abhanden gekommen ist. Bei diesem „Geflecht von Anspielungen" (S. 161) wagt Gärtner keine dezidierte poetologische Aussage festzumachen. Doch sie leistet akribische Vorarbeit für weitere Überlegungen: Schließlich ist durchaus bemerkenswert, dass Phaedrus mit der Sprachfähigkeit des Hirsches im Gegensatz zum ovidischen Sprachverlust gerade eine zentrale Gattungseigenschaft der Fabel in Szene setzt. In jedem Fall arbeitet Gärtner das anspielungsreiche Gedicht – wie auch die anderen des ersten Buches – interpretatorisch hervorragend auf und bietet damit nicht nur einen hilfreichen Überblick des Forschungsstandes, sondern gibt viele Anregungen für weitere Untersuchungen der Gedichte. Am Ende der Interpretationen zeichnet Gärtner jeweils kurz die Rezeptionsgeschichte nach. Dabei finden sich häufig nicht nur Hinweise auf Fabeln, die auf die phaedrianischen zurückgehen, sondern es werden gezielt Differenzen und Gemeinsamkeiten aufgezeigt. Vielfach zitiert Gärtner den vollständigen Text rezeptionsgeschichtlich wichtiger Fabeln.

Abschließend bleibt festzuhalten, dass man Gärtners Kommentar anmerkt, dass er das Ergebnis eingehender, anspruchsvoller Auseinandersetzung mit dem Text ist. Es sind mir keine nennenswerten Fehler aufgefallen, die über Kleinigkeiten hinausgingen (so muss es z.B. auf S. 54, Anm. 233, Currie (1984) 506ff. statt 508ff. heißen). Das Buch ist daher ohne Einschränkung zu empfehlen, sei es zu Studien- und Forschungszwecken, oder auch für Lehrer, die die fabulae Aesopiae nicht nur für den Einstieg in die Dichtung, sondern als literarisch ernstzunehmenden Text im Unterricht behandeln wollen.


1.   Oberg, E. Phaedrus-Kommentar. Stuttgart 2000.
2.   Luzzatto, M. J. Fedro: Un poeta tra favola e realtà. Torino 1976.

(read complete article)


Simon Hornblower, Lykophron: Alexandra. Greek text, Translation, Commentary, and Introduction. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. xxxii, 618. ISBN 9780199576708. $200.00.

Reviewed by Charles McNelis, Georgetown University (

Version at BMCR home site


Full disclosure: As Alexander Sens and I were in the final stages of editing our monograph (The Alexandra of Lycophron: A Literary Study), Simon Hornblower shared with us the proofs of this commentary. We were pleased to learn that our work was in accord with many of his views (e.g. dating), and though we benefitted tremendously from his generosity, larger conclusions had been arrived at independently.

This commentary will be foundational for all future studies on Lycophron and will also prove useful for readers of all Hellenistic and Greek literature. Each page of the commentary is filled with excellent, clear and lucid insights on central issues, addressing traditional scholarly questions about the poem as well as engaging with current critical trends and interests. Specialists will be prompted to (re)consider central interpretative questions of the Alexandra, and a more general audience will find helpful his exegesis of topics such as authorship, dating, literary style, and so much more. One may quibble about occasional cross-references that do not reward the reader with as much information as one would like (e.g. n. 3–4; the cross reference in n. 45–7 should be to 1444 n.), but the commentary is tightly argued and reflects a deep understanding and mastery of the poem.

The Alexandra is self-consciously challenging. A guard, who had been watching over the imprisoned Kassandra, relates, in 1474 trimeters addressed to her father Priam, the prisoner's prophetic utterances about the impending Trojan War and its outcomes. The guard thus functions as a sort of 'messenger' who relates the utterances of (as Hornblower cogently argues on 1–29) a mad woman who, by this point in the literary tradition, will not be believed anyway (see 1454). Unique words, unusual mythological accounts, oblique references to mythological figures and gods, and deliberate play with time (the poem is a stunning example of the so-called 'future-reflexive' phenomenon) and other features all permeate the Alexandra. That said, however, Hornblower helpfully asserts that the syntax of the poem is not difficult in the same way that Pindaric odes or Thucydidean speeches are (p. 3), and throughout the commentary he impressively sets about the task of elucidating and explaining the poem's difficulties.

Despite the nature of the poem, the commentary is easy to work with: the Greek text is on the left-hand pages, Hornblower's English translation on the right-hand (for an excellent note reflecting the nuance of Hornblower's translation, see on 308, σκύμνε), with the notes conveniently located below the text and translation, so there is no need to flip pages. There is a sizable introduction (114 pages) to the poem covering essential topics such as myth, language, religion, history of the text, dating, and authorship. Perhaps unexpectedly, epigraphy and its relationship to the Alexandra merit nearly 30 pages, but the payoff is worthwhile. Hornblower uses his knowledge of history and epigraphy to shed new light on topics pertaining to Greek religion; he examines cult practices to offer "a contribution to the elucidation of a difficult literary text, and to the history of ancient Greek religion" (p. 64), and his discussion of the gods' cult epithets (pp. 74–77) is particularly useful. For Hornblower, the cult titles refer to real religious practice throughout the Mediterranean at the time the poem was composed, and he plausibly suggests that the poem's treatment of religion may be of great importance for scholars working on network theory in the Hellenistic world.

Against that backdrop, the date of the poem emerges as a huge question. Hornblower argues, in my view decisively, for a second century BC date for the Alexandra, specifically around 190 BC. The argument is mounted from several directions. First, he argues that the Alexandra shows a full awareness of poetry written in Alexandria, Antioch and elsewhere primarily during the 3rd c. BC. Hornblower's brand of Quellenforschung builds a cumulative case, examining, for example, the relationship between Lykophron and a range of works by Kallimachos. He plausibly concludes that the Alexandra was written later than all of Kallimachos' works. A second, historically based argument is also revived and enhanced. The Alexandra contains two hotly contested passages that predict Roman power over the Mediterranean. Hornblower takes the view, held in both old (e.g. Beloch, Ziegler) and recent scholarship (K. Jones), that the poem is a product of the 2nd century BC, and counters the argument, perhaps associated most of all with Momigliano, that the poem belongs to the 3rd century because there is no reference to the First Punic War. Hornblower argues that Diomedes' curse upon the Daunian lands, which will end only when the land is dug by people of Diomedes' race, looks to a particular family, the Dasii, claimed to be descended from Diomedes. This family was important at Arpi, as attested by Livy (21.48.9, 26.38.6) and coins, during the Hannibalic Wars; the family is unknown at any other period. Hornblower reasonably takes this oblique reference to the Dasii as evidence that the Alexandra was written after the Hannibalic Wars, thereby discounting Momigliano's objections (for further problems with Momigliano's thesis, see p. 412 and the note on 1447).

The dating of the poem is significant per se, but it also impinges upon the identity of key figures in the poem. The Alexandra notoriously eschews proper names, instead referring to figures through various periphrases. A famous example occurs at 1435–50, where Kassandra makes a prediction about a descendant who will bring an end to the conflict between Europe and Asia. She indicates that Alexander the Great will temporarily end hostilities and also credits her descendant, whom she designates as a 'unique wrestler'. Hornblower, agreeing with previous scholars such as Beloch and Gruen, argues that Kassandra refers to T. Quinctius Flamininus, who defeated Philip V of Macedon at the battle of Cynoscephalae in 197 BC. Hornblower's account is sensitive to literary dynamics throughout. For example, he notes that the designation of Flamininus as a 'wrestler' makes sense in light of Flamininus' proclamation of freedom for the Greeks at the Isthmian festival of 196 BC. In addition, Hornblower notes that Flamininus was the agonothetes at the Nemean festival in 195. However, he adds that the poem exploits and develops broader ideas—such as the wrestling motif—found in epinician poetry and Pindar. In this sense, historical realities are framed by literary strategies.

All told, Hornblower's account of the poet rightly departs from the Suda entry that correlates the activity of the Alexandrian Lykophron, who lived in the early part of the 3rd c. BC in Alexandria, and who wrote tragedies as well as a treatise called On Comedy , with the author of the so-called 'dark poem' (τὸ σκοτεινὸν ποίημα).1 Hornblower provides a thoroughly consistent account that puts the Alexandra in the period 197–168 BC. Alternative views are generously cited, but hereafter his study of the entire poem, amounting to a comprehensive and synthetic view of the poem's historical details and literary strategies, will be the starting point.

In terms of themes in the poem, Hornblower consistently calls attention to the female voice and, more generally, the role of women (though a discussion on possible female authorship for the poem, pp. 40–1, does not seem to amount to much). Hornblower points out that counting by generations recalls the stylized speech of the female Sibyl (1446 n.), and that learned women, soaked in Homer, are part of the poem's literary background (p. 45). In a more general discussion about the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women and the Alexandra, Hornblower argues that a concern with female suffering at the hands of men as well as the general form of a catalogue create a strong connection between the two poems, though he properly notes, for example, that the dark treatment of Helen in the Alexandra is internally consistent and differs from the Hesiodic work. Hornblower's analysis of form and content come together to make larger points about the Alexandra as a whole. At the local level, the note on 1118, a verse in which Kassandra predicts she will not be heard by Agamemnon as she is killed by Klytaimestra, captures the pathetic nature of the prophecy, noting that while it was Kassandra's fate not to be believed, it is even more moving that at the end of her life she should not even be heard. Against that grim backdrop, however, the ultimate triumph of Kassandra and her descendants (i.e. the Romans) becomes even more impressive, and amounts to a stunning kind of reversal that, as Alexander Sens and I have argued, reflects a deep interest in the central prophecy of Kassandra in Euripides' Troades (427–44).

Literary appreciation of the tone of the Alexandra informs Hornblower's lengthy analysis of the Lokrian Maidens (1141–73). The section has its own introduction that covers bibliography as well as the thematic and structural place of the episode in the poem as a whole. However, Hornblower discusses the rite as described in the Alexandra in light of the 'Lokrian Maidens Inscription', properly noting that the depiction of the rite in the poem is unmatched in terms of expressing the myth in extreme and violent form (p. 406). Moreover, in a subsequent discussion Hornblower offers that 'the Lokrian myth is handled in a distinctive, sombre, and poetic fashion…' (p. 412). Hornblower's respect for the poem's overall design will provide an important model for future work on myth, ritual, and religious practice.

A limited apparatus is provided, with variants reported for approximately 85 lines. Hornblower sees his text as a 'companion' (p. 113) to the commentary and limits the apparatus to issues that relate to the commentary. The choice is sensible, as Hornblower rightly claims that the apparatus in the 2008 edition of Hurst/Kolde is 'excellent' and detailed (p. 111). No need to reinvent the wheel, then, but Hornblower corrects their apparatus in places (see p. 113, n. 322), is fully aware of the extensive textual tradition, and makes meaningful contributions to that tradition (e.g. on 367, where Hornblower adduces epigraphic support for an otherwise rare word). In terms of the text itself, some of Hornblowers' choices exemplify his command of the poem's nuance. For example, in verse 31, for the opening word of Kassandra's speech, Hornblower prints αἰαῖ instead of αἴ αἴ, explaining that the one-word opening offers a programmatic gesture towards the importance of Ajax in her narrative; meter merits excellent attention (the note on 763 ἵκτης is superb) and is used to explain textual choices (see in particular p. 2, n. 7 and n. 263). On 948, Hornblower even offers a worthwhile view on the rare noun βρέτας, which occurs twice in the Alexandra. He argues that the usage of the noun in Lykophron may support the reading at Euripides, Troades 13 given the importance of that play, and its Kassandra, for the Alexandra.

A section on the 'History of the Text' written by P. M. Fraser has been updated by Hornblower The section on MSS is handled in a straightforward manner, and the account of the exegetical tradition, starting with Theon, helpfully unravels the complex scholarly literature that grew up around the Alexandra (in connection with the readership of the poem, it is noteworthy that Hornblower indicates that a new inscription, SEG 51.641 (Chaniotis), marks that the emperor Hadrian surely had access to the poem). Excellent points on lexical issues are found everywhere. On the verb τρήσουσι (665), Hornblower first explains that this unique form of the future comes from τετραίνω, adds that the scholia noted the intertextual connection with Od. 10.124, but then he adds the key points that Lykophron varies every word as well as altering the construction and word order of the Homeric verse. These kinds of notes put the poem's intertextual relationship with Homeric poetry on a fresh footing and open up opportunities for further research (see similarly the tragic backdrop in the note on 1111). Hornblower is also helpful on potential points of linguistic confusion throughout the commentary (e.g. on 204, 317, 624). Lexical items are regularly discussed in light of larger stylistic practices, so the manner in which the Alexandra taps into, for example, historical conventions (see on 164) or hymnic strategies (see on 1474) becomes clear at the micro level, thereby enriching an understanding of the poem's mixing of genres (cf. p. 26).

The Alexandra, as Hornblower notes, has benefitted from much scholarly criticism since around 1990. His work stands out and will go a long way towards stimulating even more interest in an important and brilliant poem.


1.   It would have been useful to consider the description of the poem as 'dark' in light of Statius, Silvae 5.3.157 latebras Lycophronis atri (an opportunity passed over as well in the note on v. 12).

(read complete article)

Wednesday, March 29, 2017


Ilya Kliger, Boris Maslov (ed.), Persistent Forms: Explorations in Historical Poetics. Verbal arts: studies in poetics. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016. Pp. xviii, 477. ISBN 9780823264858. $65.00.

Reviewed by Wang Xianhua, Sichuan University (

Version at BMCR home site

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

The volume under review originated in a conference entitled "Historical Poetics: Past, Present, and Future" held at the University of Chicago in May 2011. In their introduction, the editors, observing that the Russian scholarly tradition of Historical Poetics is under-appreciated in current critical scholarship, particularly in the U.S. (pp. 2-3), make it clear that "one of the ambitions of this volume is to place Historical Poetics more squarely on the intellectual-historical map, thus filling significant gaps in Western engagement with 'Russian Theory'" (p. 1). How this can be achieved on the intellectual-historical map remains to be seen. But the collection, including a selection of early works in Russian here translated for the first time (Chapters 1, 5, 9, 13, 14), makes extremely rewarding reading.

The main body of the volume consists of four parts, each containing four chapters. The arrangement is readily discernible in the table of contents and the titles provided for the parts are meant to serve as thematic threads for the chapters organized under each. In the first part, for instance, "Questioning the Historical, Envisioning a Poetics," the contributions by Victoria Somoff, Leslie Kurke, and Boris Maslov share with the translated classic "From the Introduction to Historical Poetics: Questions and Answers" (pp. 39-64) by Alexander Veselovsky the interest in fundamental questions for the construction of a Historical Poetics as literary theory. Despite some apparent overlap (genre, and Bakhtin, in parts II and IV), thematic consistency largely pertains through the various sections.

Given the fact that the editors have provided a summary for each of the chapters (pp. 21-28), and that literary theory as a research field falls beyond the expertise of this reviewer, I focus only on a selection of chapters that seem to me enlightening. First is the contribution by Nina V. Braginskaya on "Innovation Disguised as Tradition: Commentary and the Genesis of Art Forms" (pp. 172-208). In an "intimidating" (Eric Hayot, Foreword, p. xiii) style with wide-ranging references to Greek, Roman, Jewish, and Chinese ethnographic and literary evidence, Braginskaya successfully argues for the point that in traditional culture, commentary on authoritative texts can turn out to be a mechanism of innovation (p. 177). With her novel definition of commentary as "a coherent (but plotless) verbal text that elucidates another verbal or non-verbal text in a heteroglossic fashion and is lemmatized directly or indirectly" (p. 177, italics original), Braginskaya is able to describe the folk genre of picture storytelling as form of commentary, a "commentary on an image [that] is essentially a universal proto-theatrical form" (p. 190). In different cultural environments, commentary can give rise to "philosophical" inquiry or fictional storytelling (pp. 190-196). This "historical poetics of commentary" undoubtedly will provoke interests well beyond the disciplinary limit of literary theory in the narrow sense.1

Equally of interest to this reviewer is Boris Maslov's chapter on "Metapragmatics, Toposforschung, Marxist Stylistics: Three Extensions of Veselovsky's Historical Poetics" (pp. 128-162). In this chapter, Maslov aims to bring Alexander Veselovsky's insights on the theory of genres, the cross-cultural borrowing of motifs, and the diagnosis of Weltanschauung based on stylistic particulars, into a conversation with later theoretical developments in linguistic anthropology and narrative theory, history of ideas and the study of topoi, and Marxist literary history and stylistics (p. 129). Veselovsky considers the three genera of literature as linguistic givens indifferent to the metaphysics of history, in order to place social and cultural history, rather than humanity's universal progress, in the focus of his Historical Poetics. In Maslov's understanding, this view is in line with Michael Silverstein's theory of metapragmatics that refers to the level of organization of discourse that regiments the meaning of pragmatic markers (pp. 130-139). 2 The recognition that Historical Poetics potentially agrees with a theory that foregrounds universal principles of language use could prompt new, cross-cultural interest in this school of "Russian theory."

My singling out of Braginskaya's and Maslov's contributions is motivated by a pragmatic, even utilitarian purpose. Robert Bird's chapter on "Schematics and Models of Genre: Bakhtin and Soviet Satire" (pp. 429-458) commands attention in a slightly different way. Taking Mikhail Bakhtin's "strangely influential" studies of satire, Bird shows that Bakhtin's theory of satire should be read "neither as empirical generalization based on select data nor as essentializing description of a historical quarry, but as an active intervention in the historical field; that is to say, not as a schema, but as a model"(pp. 431-432). Through illustrative case studies such as the reception of Gulliver's Travels in Soviet society, Bird demonstrates that Bakhtin's interest in satire is part and parcel of a cultural obsession with satirical representation (pp. 436-450). Bakhtinian "satire" was, then, first of all a response to the cultural politics of his day. Historical Poetics, after all, is a model of engaging with reality but not a schema to which a given text may conform or not.

The editors hope to bring the productive insights of Historical Poetics into the context of contemporary humanistic studies (p. 2). Toward this end, there is a special section for "Further Readings in Historical Poetics" following the main text (pp. 459-462), and an extensive index at the end of the book (pp. 467-477). The editorial quality of the volume is excellent.

Table of Contents

Foreword (pp. vii-xvi) by Eric Hayot
Acknowledgements (pp. xvii-xx) by Ilya Kliger and Boris Maslov
Introducing Historical Poetics: History, Experience, Form (pp. 1-36) by Ilya Kliger and Boris Moslav

Part I: Questioning the Historical, Envisioning a Poetics
Chapter 1 From the Introduction to Historical Poetics: Questions and Answers (1894) (pp. 39-64) by Alexander Veselovsky
i 2 Alexander Veselovsky's Historical Poetics vs. Cultural Poetics: Remembering the Future (pp. 65-89) by Victoria Somoff
Chapter 3 Historicist Hermeneutics and Contestatory Ritual Poetics: An Encounter Between Pindaric Epinikion and Attic Tragedy (pp. 90-127) by Leslie Kurke
Chapter 4 Metapragmatics, Toposforschung, Marxist Stylistics: Three Extensions of Veselovsky's Historical Poetics (pp. 128-162) by Boris Maslov

Part II: The Life of Forms: Tradition, Memory, Regeneration
Chapter 5 The Oresteia in the Odyssey (1946) (pp. 165-171) by Olga Freidenberg
Chapter 6 Innovation Disguised as Tradition: Commentary and the Genesis of Art Forms (pp. 172-208) by Nina V. Braginskaya
Chapter 7 A Remnant Poetics: Excavating the Chronotope of the Kurgan (pp. 209-226) by Michael Kunichika
Chapter 8 On "Genre Memory" in Bakhtin (pp. 227-252) by Ilya Kliger

Part III: Comparative Poetics and the Historicity of Experience
Chapter 9 The Age of Sensibility (1904) (pp. 255-273) by Alexander Veselovsky
Chapter 10 Against Ornament: O. M. Freidenberg's Concept of Metaphor in Ancient and Modern Contexts (pp. 274-313) by Richard P. Martin
Chapter 11 Breakfast at Dawn: Alexander Veselovsky and the Poetics of Psychological Biography (pp. 314-339) by Ilya Vinitsky
Chapter 12 From the Prehistory of Russian Novel Theory: Alexander Veselovsky and Fyodor Dostoevsky on the Modern Novel's Roots in Folklore and Legend (pp. 340-366) by Kate Holland

Part IV: Literary Genres in the Longue Durée
Chapter 13 Satire (1940), for the Literary Encyclopedia (pp. 369-391) by Mikhail Bakhtin
Chapter 14 Columbus's Egg, or the Structure of the Novella (1973) (pp. 392-396) by Mikhail Gasparov
Chapter 15 On the Eve of Epic: Did the Chryses Episode in Iliad I Begin Its Life as a Separate Homeric Hymn? (pp. 397-428) by Christopher A. Faraone
Chapter 16 Schematics and Models of Genre: Bakhtin and Soviet Satire (pp. 429-458) by Robert Bird

Further readings in Historical Poetics (pp. 459-462)
List of Contributors (pp. 463-466)
Index (pp. 467-477)


1.   For instance, the cuneiform tradition, which is urgently in need of theoretical reflections in the direction of a Historical Poetics. For a recent philological study in cuneiform commentaries, see Uri Gabbay, The Exegetical Terminology of Akkadian Commentaries. Culture and History of the Ancient Near East 82. Leiden: Brill, 2016.
2.   Michael Silverstein, "Metapragmatic Discourse and Metapragmatic Function," in John A. Lucy ed., Reflexive Language: Reported Speech and Metapragmatics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp. 33-58.

(read complete article)


Olof Brandt, La croce e il capitello. Le chiese paleocristiane e la monumentalità. Sussidi allo studio delle antichità cristiane, 28. Vatican City: Pontificio Istituto di Archeologia Cristiana, 2016. Pp. 148. ISBN 9788885991644. €15.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Barbara Crostini, Uppsala University (

Version at BMCR home site

This short book (81 pages of text) addresses a fundamental 'why' question in the history of early Christian architecture. Its author, Swedish archaeologist Olof Brandt, has chosen to write in Italian about this important topic. Two chapters (the introduction and pp. 65-70 – this would be ch. 7 if the chapters had been numbered) provide some theoretical background as to the context for this scholarly discussion. The preceding sections (ch. 1-5) present a wide-ranging array of plans from late-antique Christian monuments surveyed at 'bird's-eye view' in order to demonstrate the evolution of these buildings towards a greater complexity of structures. The concluding chapters (8-9) turn to the interpretation of internal furnishings as markers of liturgical differences, and to the few texts concerning ancient perceptions of ecclesiastical buildings. 109 figures, both photos and plans, but no maps, follow the text closely (note however that fig. 100 at p. 67 refers to fig. 99 instead). A few pages of bibliography (pp. 125-142) and an index of names complete the book (pp. 143-148). Better proofreading would have avoided a number of mistakes in the Italian.

Brandt's aim is to argue for an aesthetic or 'artistic' criterion as the only valid explanation of the development of early Christian architecture. Brandt champions this view from the work of Alois Riegl (1858-1905), extensively quoted in the section (7) entitled 'Alois Riegl e l'incommensurabile infinito oltre la parete' ('Alois Riegl and the incommensurable infinity beyond the wall'). According to Brandt, Riegl 'must be right' in his aesthetic approach to architectural development because neither the functionalist nor the symbolic explanations of evolution in church design work (p. 69). Since churches with the same design can serve different liturgical purposes, changes in liturgy, whether from one location to another or over time, cannot be held responsible for changes in design. Neither can the symbolic function be documented except in a single case (the cruciform plan of San Nazaro in Milan; pp. 49-51, 68). Even in this case, the symbolic interpretation of the cross shape cannot be securely attributed to the planner or architect, but may have been a retrospective interpretation of later clerics writing about this edifice. Since these explanations can be so effectively countered, Brandt proposes Riegl's framework of analysis as the best explanatory model for the evolution of early Christian architecture. The ancients had a taste for 'increased complexity' through which they yearned after the infinity of God. Thus the addition of side naves and open colonnades, the sprouting of transepts forming a cross shape, the inclusion of perforated arcades and upper registers of interlocking galleries, and multiple pendentives in domed structures, are all phenomena that responded to (and now exemplify for us) this taste for ever-more complex forms. It is remarkable that in this key chapter the word 'monumentality', chosen for the book's title, does not appear; increased complexity is not necessarily synonymous with monumentality. But then a more thorough unpacking of the concept of monumentality, as well as that of increased complexity, could have been of benefit to the reader's understanding of precisely what is at stake in the development Brandt is trying to explain.

Brandt lines up an impressive number of buildings drawn from many different locales across a span of several centuries, all arranged according to their plan (basilica, cross and circle). Each example is presented briefly from the archeological and architectural points of view. Brandt attempts to present all this evidence as forming a coherent, linear evolution, despite the breadth of geographical scope encompassed and the uncertainties of dating that remain for many of the monuments discussed. The scarcity of knowledge concerning the specific situation in which each building was planned, erected and used partly undermines such a neat presentation. Moreover, one wonders whether such complex evidence, even if it could be construed to represent a coherent evolutionary trajectory, could ever yield a single explanatory key.

Rather, it is more likely that a concomitance of different factors contributed to the specific choices in each circumstance. Surely, research on liturgical, symbolic or functionalist explanations, together with socio-historical as well as geo-political factors (including for example notions such as climatic conditions or density of population, as well as technical skill and workmanship), should continue to contribute to our understanding of the individual building projects as well as to their interrelationships. Denying any value to these other types of explanation, or relegating them to specific parts of the building, such as the movable or unmovable furnishings (see ch. 8, oddly entitled 'Gli arredi riflettono la liturgia, la basilica no'), has the dubious effect of fragmenting our understanding of a structure that was presumably conceived in all its parts as a unity. A holistic approach might be preferable where evidence is scarce.

The vogue for cut-and-dried functionalist explanations may well be over, and Brandt's contribution is welcome in reviving other types of outlook that remain sensitive to aesthetic issues and less material functionalities. A problem remains, however, when we try to define whose aesthetics we are talking about. Is it those of the planner of a church (an engineer, an architect), a sponsor (such as an emperor or perhaps a bishop), or the taste of the public, i.e. the mass of Christian worshipers but also of non-Christian passersby and onlookers? Though the final chapter analyses the few available sources explicitly mentioning early Christian building enterprises, the problem is that none of these sources address this issue, as Brandt himself admits (p. 78). One aspect that emerges from Eusebius' account of Constantine's building activity is the competitive spirit with which these monuments were erected. Their size and opulence was intended as a reflection of the greatness of the emperor, who was at all costs trying to outdo his predecessors (p. 75). In this respect, Christian emperors were not very different from pagan ones.

Brandt observes (p. 64) that although the technical solution of building a dome on pendentives was implemented everywhere after Hagia Sophia in Constantinople was built, the church itself was not imitated. Rather, the humbler edifice next to it, that of Hagia Irene, served as model for other central-plan churches, such as Basilica B at Philippi. It would be interesting here to explore why this happened. Although admirable, the monumentality of the most important Christian basilica built under Justinian was perhaps also forbidding of closer emulation; it was built to be extraordinary, and it successfully maintained its status as a unique and special building.

Explaining some unusual features of early (as well as medieval) buildings, such as for example multiple openings in the long sides, or mirror apses, may well be impossible in the current state of knowledge. Variations in local customs may have been greater than what we commonly tend to envisage. The outlook proposed by Brandt involves following Riegl's cue in seeking in these changing forms an expression of aesthetic striving on the part of those for whom these buildings were made. One wonders how much the change in religious outlook could or did determine the need to make immanent the imposing presence of God in his church while still drawing on a classical vocabulary of forms, from the basilica plan to the different orders of ornamental capitals. The argument of this book might have been strengthened by more clearly articulating the characteristics of this new spiritual need, before attempting to read it back into the architectural shape of monuments.

(read complete article)


Albert Schachter, Boiotia in Antiquity: Selected Papers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. Pp. xxi, 440. ISBN 9781107053243. $135.00.

Reviewed by Anne-Charlotte Panissié, Université Paris Nanterre (

Version at BMCR home site


L'aboutissement d'une longue et prolifique carrière de chercheur ; c'est bien cela que l'on a en tête lorsqu'on manipule ce volume de plus de 400 pages ! Albert Schachter, Professeur émérite de Classics à l'Université McGill (Montréal) et auteur d'un ouvrage désormais classique, Cults of Boiotia, n'a cessé de publier et d'œuvrer pour la recherche béotienne, comme en témoigne aujourd'hui encore son rôle d'éditeur de la revue électronique de recensions bibliographiques et historiographiques Teiresias. Accédant à la requête de Hans Beck, A. Schachter livre ici une sélection de 23 articles traitant tous de la Béotie dans l'Antiquité, dans une perspective diachronique qui nous conduit de l'époque mycénienne jusqu'à la période romaine.

Si ce volume ne contient aucun élément inédit (à l'exception des articles 4 et 7), la réunion d'articles rédigés entre 1985 et 2010 en une somme aussi longue est un événement important pour l'histoire de la Béotie. L'auteur ne s'est pas contenté de reproduire les articles dans leur état originel ; il s'est en effet efforcé d'en proposer une vision réactualisée, notamment sur les questions du dialecte ou de la monnaie (no. 3), et tenant compte des remarques qu'ils avaient pu soulever. Ce volume, dont on saluera la cohérence interne et la lecture agréable malgré son épaisseur, facilité par l'usage d'un style clair et dépourvu de tout jargon inutile, permet de remédier au moins partiellement au faible nombre de monographies consacrées à cette région majeure de Grèce.

Les articles sélectionnés par l'auteur s'articulent autour de cinq axes thématiques, assez déséquilibrés et à la catégorisation peu convaincante, tant certains auraient pu être placés dans une autre partie sans que cela ne change en quoi que ce soit le propos de l'ouvrage. Le volume fait ainsi la part belle à l'histoire (parties II et III) ainsi qu'aux cultes de la Béotie (partie VI) – cela n'étonnera guère ! – mais propose également une étude très succincte des institutions béotiennes (partie IV) ainsi que de la littérature régionale (partie V). Une préface, une carte, une abondante bibliographie ainsi que des index reprenant les sources, les noms propres, la toponymie et les thèmes complètent ce volume. L'absence de liste systématique recensant tous les travaux et ouvrages publiés par A. en paraît d'autant plus curieuse. Bien entendu, le choix de publications de cette sélection induit d'inévitables recoupements entre les articles, mais cela n'est guère gênant pour le lecteur qui, loin de déplorer les redondances, saluera tant le travail du maître qui établit de fréquents rappels que la cohérence interne à l'ouvrage permise par ces renvois. Signalons un regret d'emblée : l'unique carte présentée au début de l'ouvrage – non datée - ne permet pas toujours de se représenter clairement les espaces et sanctuaires étudiés ; on aurait ainsi souhaité pouvoir mesurer l'évolution de la géographie politique béotienne aux époques examinées. Le thème de la création de l'ethnos des Béotiens, qui forme l'unique article de la partie introductive, permet à l'auteur de présenter les deux thèmes de prédilection de l'ouvrage : la religion – le système cultuel béotien étant frappé de particularités auxquelles l'auteur aura dévolu une bonne partie de sa vie – et les institutions béotiennes. Pour l'auteur, c'est la conjonction de ces deux éléments qui, avec un dialecte commun, a permis la constitution de l'ethnos béotien au cours de l'époque archaïque. Si Schachter insiste tout particulièrement sur l'activité cultuelle – soulignons à ce point qu'il a été l'un des premiers à s'intéresser au rôle majeur joué par la religion dans la formation du koinon – il délaisse volontairement les mythes locaux, pourtant facteurs d'unité fédérale (no. 1, 1996).1

La deuxième partie comprend sept articles qui viennent illustrer toutes les périodes de l'histoire de la Béotie. Après avoir tenté de montrer qu'il existait des fondements historiques à la légende de Kadmos comme fondateur de Thèbes dès l'âge du Bronze (no. 2, 1985), l'auteur s'attache à décrire le paysage civique de la Béotie archaïque (no. 3, 1989), avant de proposer un examen très stimulant de l'existence d'une forme de gouvernement pambéotien archaïque - fragile union sans doute soumise à la coercition thébaine, ne reposant sur aucun fondement ethnique et qui aurait préexisté à l'institution fédérale d'époque classique connue grâce à un papyrus d'Oxyrhynchos (no. 4, 2010). Cette source permet de faire le lien avec l'article suivant, centré sur la vie politique de la Cité aux Sept Portes à l'époque classique, en proie aux luttes de pouvoir entre la faction d'Eurymachos et Léontiadès et celle d'Isménias (no. 5, 2004). L'auteur prend soin cependant de ne pas laisser Thèbes monopoliser toute l'attention ; ainsi la cité de Tanagra bénéficie-t-elle également d'un traitement privilégié. L'auteur présente en effet dans l'article no. 6 (2004) le contexte géographique et historique de la cité grâce à une analyse méticuleuse de sources variées, qui a permis d'établir un support d'étude et de comparaison pour les résultats des prospections de Leiden-Ljubljana récemment menées à Tanagra. Le tropisme thébain est de nouveau perceptible dans l'article suivant qui évoque le sort mouvementé de Thèbes entre la bataille de Mantinée en 362 avant J.-C. et sa destruction par Alexandre le Grand en 335 avant notre ère (no. 7, 2005). Cette partie historique s'achève avec l'étude de l'œuvre et du parcours du Périégète, qui donne à l'auteur l'occasion de proposer une description de la Béotie d'époque impériale. Loin de l'image déclinante d'un ethnos sous domination romaine, on assiste au contraire à un regain d'intérêt pour le passé glorieux de cette région, où s'est même reformé un nouveau koinon, sans prétention politique néanmoins (no. 8, 2008).2

La troisième partie, très courte puisqu'elle ne comprend que deux articles, rompt l'isolat propre au genre monographique en resituant la Béotie au cœur d'un réseau cultuel plus vaste, transcendant les frontières régionales. Ainsi, les dédicaces des Athéniens Alcméonidès et Hipparque au sanctuaire oraculaire du Ptoion (Akraiphia) au VIe siècle avant J.-C. donnent à l'auteur l'occasion d'affirmer que l'ethnique dans les inscriptions d'époques archaïque et classique ne saurait permettre d'identifier la cité à laquelle appartient un sanctuaire (no. 9, 1994). L'article suivant pose l'hypothèse (contestée par Flower et Marincola) selon laquelle les Klytiadai, famille de devins d'Olympie, n'auraient guère commencé à exercer cette charge avant le renouveau de l'activité cultuelle à Olympie, encouragée par Auguste (no. 10, 2000).

La quatrième partie s'ouvre avec un article bien plus ambitieux que le titre ne le laisse présager puisqu'il vise à montrer le rôle de la religion comme moyen d'élaboration de l'identité fédérale béotienne, voire comme instrument de domination politique à certaines époques, de l'Age du Bronze jusqu'à la période romaine (no. 11, 1994). Les articles suivants permettent à l'auteur de montrer toute l'ampleur de son savoir-faire et de son érudition, en proposant une étude diachronique des corps d'élite militaire béotiens, qui ne sauraient se résumer au seul bataillon sacré thébain (no. 12, 2007), ainsi qu'une étude prosopographique de magistrats de la cité d'Akraiphia, donnant lieu à une nouvelle chronologie des charges exercées par ceux-ci au IIe siècle avant J.-C. (no. 13, 2007).

Avec la cinquième partie, qui ne nécessitait pas de faire l'objet d'un découpage particulier, l'auteur souhaite redonner un nouveau souffle à ses hypothèses concernant l'élégie de Simonide sur Platées, qu'il interprète comme un élément de propagande pro-spartiate destiné à être joué devant la tombe d'Achille, à l'entrée de l'Hellespont, vers 478 avant J.-C. (no. 14, 1998). L'article suivant lui donne l'occasion d'exposer ses arguments pour une nouvelle datation des œuvres de la poétesse béotienne Corinne ainsi qu'une relecture du fragment 654, appréhendé comme un poème à la gloire de Thèbes et s'élevant contre Platées, au moment de l'hégémonie thébaine. Cette datation haute ne fait néanmoins plus l'unanimité (no. 15, 2005). Plus intéressant peut-être car moins connu : l'auteur livre enfin une étude de l'influence exercée par la Béotie dans les œuvres d'Ovide et des liens entretenus entre les amis du poète et cette région (no. 16, 1990).

La sixième partie constitue l'élément le plus attendu de l'ouvrage, et sûrement le plus abouti. L'auteur y renoue avec son intérêt pour les cultes grâce à sept études qui balayent tout le territoire béotien. Après avoir cherché à montrer l'évolution et l'adaptation de la fête des Daphnephoria à Thèbes au fil des siècles grâce à un examen minutieux des sources littéraires à disposition (no. 17, 2000), l'auteur livre ses réflexions sur une liste d'offrandes (SEG 43. 212) gravée sur la même stèle que deux décrets de réponse d'un oracle ordonnant de déplacer le sanctuaire dit de Déméter et Koré dans la cité de Tanagra, qu'il attribue en définitive à Artémis au regard des nombreuses similarités avec des listes trouvées à Brauron – et non aux deux déesses, comme le veut l'opinio communis (no. 18, 1996). Si la façon dont les cultes égyptiens ont été intégrés aux cultes béotiens, dans un processus syncrétique qui semble réservé à une certaine élite, fait l'objet d'une étude cité par cité (no. 19, 2007), le sanctuaire thébain des Cabires bénéficie d'une attention particulière qui permet d'observer son évolution (no. 20, 2003). L'auteur propose ensuite, au regard des publications des Inscriptions de Thespies qui ont permis de revoir la datation de certains documents, un nouvel examen du dossier des Mouseia de Thespies, concours thymélique et triétérique devenu stéphanite puis pentétérique (no. 21, 2011). A l'étude d'un culte typiquement béotien laissé un peu en marge, celui de Tilphossa (no. 22, 1990), succède pour clore la réflexion un article sur ce qui constitue sans nul doute l'oracle béotien le plus intrigant : Trophonios de Lébadée. L'identité du Locrien Kalliklidas, consultant de l'oracle trophoniaque vers 230-225 avant J.-C. mentionné dans IGVII 4136, est analysée par A. Schachter comme celle d'un agent cultuel de la Confédération béotienne, autrement dit d'un magistrat du culte, et non d'un simple particulier (no. 23, 1984).

Malgré tout l'intérêt de ce volume, il aurait été souhaitable que l'auteur, conformément à son souhait initial de mise à jour des articles et des idées, rafraichisse de façon plus systématique ses propos grâce à une rapide mise au point historiographique et bibliographique au moyen de quelques phrases additives en fin d'article, comme il le fait pour les no. 15 ou 19. Il aurait été souhaitable, en outre, que l'auteur insiste davantage dans ses articles les plus récents sur les renouveaux historiographiques concernant les questions d'ethnicité, d'ethnogenèse et d'identité des Béotiens, dont la région a non seulement largement bénéficié depuis les années 1990, mais pour lesquels elle a également fait figure de précurseur. On aurait également aimé que la religion - thème pourtant majeur de ce volume et spécialité d'A. Schachter- soit davantage appréhendée comme un élément primordial du processus d'élaboration du koinon béotien. Des ouvrages désormais essentiels pour quiconque travaille sur cette région, à l'instar de celui de B. Kowalzig pour la Béotie archaïque ou d'E. Mackil pour la création du régime fédéral béotien,3 qui insistent tous deux sur le rôle des rites comme des mythes, auraient enfin pu faire l'objet d'une exploitation plus intensive, comme c'était attendu en introduction. Ces quelques points ne doivent pas cacher les qualités de cet ouvrage, qui montre bien l'ampleur du travail réalisé par A. Schachter tout au long de sa carrière universitaire et met en avant la vitalité même des études béotiennes, lesquelles lui doivent décidément beaucoup.


1.   Ce point a été notamment travaillé par B. Kowalzig (2007) : Singing for the Gods : Performances of Myth and Ritual in Archaic and Classical Greece, Oxford, selon qui les mythes et les rites fonctionnent ensemble et ont interagi dans la constitution de l'ethnos béotien.
2.   Cet article évoque l'ouvrage de S. Alcock, J. Cherry et J. Elsner (2001) : Pausanias : Travel and Memory in Roman Greece, New York, qui n'apparaît étonnamment pas dans la bibliographie, et qui insiste sur la définition forgée par le Périégète d'une identité grecque à la fois passée et présente.
3.   E. Mackil (2013) : Creating a Common Polity. Religion, Economy, and Politics in the Making of the Greek Koinon, Berkeley.

(read complete article)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


Paul Marius Martin, Les hommes illustres de la ville de Rome. Collection des universités de France. Série latine, 410. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2016. Pp. xc, 197. ISBN 9782251014708. €45.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Justin A. Stover, University of Edinburgh (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

Perhaps a new edition of the De viris illustribus Urbis Romae (DVI) is not likely to set the world afire. It is, nonetheless, a mildly important text, a late-antique summary of Republican history arranged in a biographical fashion, from Proca, king of the Albans, to Cleopatra. It is also a text that has been very poorly served by its editors. The present edition by Martin has been long awaited, first announced to my knowledge more than twenty years ago. With this volume, the Budé edition of the Corpus Aurelianum, which began with Dufraigne's 1975 edition of Victor's De Caesaribus and continued with Richard's 1993 Origo gentis Romanae, reaches its third and final volume.

The current edition of record of the DVI is F. Pichlmayr's Teubner of 1911, despite the fact that its value is patchy at best. The other twentieth-century edition, by W. K. Sherwin (Lincoln, NE 1973), failed to gain much traction due to the fact that its idiosyncratic editorial rationale diminished the text's general utility. Major problems in the text and transmission remain to be worked out, such as the relationship of the two extant versions (one, called A, in 86 chapters transmitted with Victor, the other, called B, in 77 chapters, circulating independently in scores of manuscripts). For these reasons, a new edition is very much an event to be celebrated.

The structure follows the familiar Budé pattern of extensive introduction, followed by text and facing French translation, with notes keyed to the latter, and placed both at the bottom of the page and in almost hundred pages of small print at the end. Much of the introduction is devoted to proving the authenticity of the long version (contra Sherwin), and Martin demonstrates as cogently as possible that the extra chapters in A are an integral part of the original work (see particularly the arguments drawn from continued parallels with Ampelius, p. xxxvi, and the lexical demonstration, on pp. xlv-xlix.). This entails the important consequence, as Martin emphasizes, that the author of the DVI considered the end of the Republican period as coming with the grant of the title Augustus to Octavian in 27 BC. The translation is serviceable, although it does have the curious quirk of translating deletions in the text in square brackets. The notes are extensive and the product of painstaking research into both primary and secondary materials. Indeed, at times they seem to serve as a compendium of ancient sources for various bits of lore; the vast array of parallels from other ancient historians marshaled may indeed well be prove useful to a wide range of scholars, not only those interested in ancient school summaries of Roman history

Unfortunately, the volume displays some weaknesses in its handling of manuscript material and constitution of the text. Martin usefully adds three manuscripts (two others do not seem to offer much), but he misdates one of them, Pavia 68, to the fifteenth century when it is actually dated to before 1376, and does not mention that this manuscript was uncovered and collated a century ago by G. Ferrara. His use of San Daniele del Friuli 71 is a genuine advance, but he misclassifies it as a D manuscript due to its marginal contamination.1 He does not provide a number or even a library for his Leovardiensis (ζ), following Pichlmayr; but Leeuwarden codices (in the Provinsjale Biblioteek fan Fryslân) have been catalogued since 2007, and this manuscript is presumably ms. 53.2 He lists another manuscript, again following Pichlmayr, as Oxoniensis 147. But Oxford has a dozen libraries that could contain it, and one of those libraries has a dozen plausible fondi: it should be Oxford, Bodl. Can. class. lat. 147. He lists the date of Vat. lat. 1917 as 1328, making it by far the earliest codex and close to the archetype; unfortunately, it was actually written in 1392.3

The stemma on p. lxxv is misleading: it makes w a source of the D tradition, despite the fact that it was written in 1442 while the earliest D manuscript was written before 1367. It tentatively adds a third branch to the tradition called E, which consists solely of the Naples manuscript, Biblioteca oratoriana dei Girolamini XL pil. VI 13 (z) and Matoci's lost text; that is consistent with Martin's account of z in the introduction, but not consistent with either his classification, where he lists it as a D manuscript, or his actual text, where he does not accord preference to Bz over A, which a tripartite stemma would demand. He provides no indication whatsoever of the relationship of the D manuscripts to one another, which is an area that sorely needs attention in the tradition of the DVI.

The apparatus criticus is vastly more substantial than in any previous edition, and readers interested in the textual history of the DVI will be very grateful to have so much more material at their disposal. So, for example, compare Pichlmayr with Martin at 7.1, where the latter is not only much fuller but also much more accurate:

Spuri Cornicularii A θ Publii ω pur C pueri ζ cett. codd.

Spurii θ x : spuri A pur C puer w pueri ζ puri μ f s V y pirri v publii ω Arn. cett.

But the apparatus's usefulness is marred by not infrequent carelessness. At II.3 (p.4) – iteretur] uteretur Ƒιvwz uocaretur θκρvS – manuscript v is cited for two different readings. One should clearly be V, but which? The answer to that might have some stemmatic relevance. The same thing happens at xxxiii.7 (p. 39) where κ is assigned two different readings; perhaps one of them ought to be ζ? Even worse, at iv.1 (p. 8), he lists a reading of ρfRv. But R is nowhere to be found in his list of manuscripts; instead it is one of Sherwin's sigla for a manuscript Martin did not use. I have not generally checked his readings against the manuscripts, but I have looked at κ for iv.4 and found that the main text clearly reads edilitio, and not delicio as Martin reports, a significant difference since the correct reading is elicio.

Another area of weakness is the treatment of the early editions before Schott's 1577 Douai text. In the introduction (p. lxi), for example, Martin lists the editio princeps as Rome 1470, without attribution, followed by Naples 1471, attributed to Aurelius Victor. These two editions are one and the same, printed without any indication of location or date by Sixtus Reisinger either just before he left Rome for Naples in 1470 or just after. Different owners and different libraries would then catalogue the edition with different dates and places of printing. No edition before Schott is attributed to Victor. Editors have not yet made much use of the pre-Schott editions, and Martin has made no advance on this front. Occasionally this produces misunderstanding, such as at iv.4 mentioned above where Martin writes elicio edd. a Schott when in fact that reading is found a century earlier in the editio princeps (with the trivial orthographic variant elitio).

The most unfortunate mistake in the apparatus, however, comes from z. Martin is correct that z shares some readings with A and is therefore a significant textual witness. (It is, incidentally, a pity that he ignored Baltimore, Walters 388, another D manuscript contaminated from A, signalled by Sherwin in 1972).4 But z also contains masses of additional material: new sentences, new anecdotes, new whole lives. Martin suggests (xxxviii) that it may have once contained as many as 98 chapters, and be closely connected with the archetype of the whole B tradition, a possibly ancient manuscript discovered by Giovanni de Matociis at Verona around 1330. He muses on Barriera's century-old suggestion that the Naples manuscript may represent a third ancient version of the DVI (p. xxxix). Nonetheless, in the text itself, he is much more cautious, and consigns z's many additions to the apparatus. The problem is that these are Renaissance supplements, closely related to an easily identifiable fifteenth-century source—a fact which only a few minutes with a search engine can turn up.5 They have no business cluttering up an already full apparatus.

The text itself is nonetheless a useful contribution to DVI scholarship, and represents an improvement on Pichlmayr. Its principle virtues consist of its much fuller apparatus—not faultless, to be sure, but vastly more accurate and ample than that of the Teubner—and its explanatory notes, which are informative and at times lively. Martin also makes a real advance over Sherwin by demonstrating the authenticity of the A version. For these reasons, Martin's edition is probably the best since Wijga's (Groningen 1890), but still contains too many problems to become the standard edition of the DVI. 6


1.   Martin does not mention that this manuscript was already discovered by N. Zorzetti, 'Il Codex Danielensis del De viris illustribus,' Atti dell' Accademia delle Scienze di Torino. II. Classe di scienze morali, storiche e filologiche 105 (1971), 109-122.
2.   J. van Sluis, Handshriften Provinsjale Biblioteek fan Fryslân (Leeuwarden 2007), 13.
3.   Martin cites Billanovich for this point, when in fact Billanovich demonstrates the opposite: G. Billonavich, 'Petrarca e gli storici latini', in Tra latino e volgare. Per Carlo Dionisotti, vol. 1 (Padua 1974), pp. 67-145.
4.   W. K. Sherwin, 'De Viris Illustribus: Two Unexamined Mss in the Walters Art Gallery', Classical World 65 (1972): 145-6.
5.   That source is the Supplementum chronicarum of Giacomo Filippo Foresti (first printed in 1483), which is also the source for the other texts in z, and which is based upon earlier Renaissance sources. The passage on Lucullus' dining habits (printed in Martin, p. 80), to give just one example of many, is clearly derived from the 1416 translation of Plutarch's Lucullus by Leonardo Giustinian:

uolumus inquit o luculle apud te coenare hodie hac condicione ut nihil noui nostra causa parari iubeas quod lucullus recusauit sed in posterum diem parari conuiuium postulauit (as printed by Martin)
Volumus, inquit, apud te coenare hodie, sed ea conditione, ut nil noui nostri causa parari iubeas. Subrecusabat id Lucullus, & in posterum diem differri conuiuium postulabat (Plutarch, Lucullus 41, trans. Giustinian, from ed. Basel 1535, f. 213v)

6.   There are typographical errors in the Latin of the apparatus criticus, for example, on p. 80, salulato for salutato, familiars for familiares, and quail for quali. There are also a number of problems in the bibliography: Sweeny in Rheinisches Museum 1968 is cited without a title, as is Billanovich in the Festshrift for Carlo Dionisotti, with strange page numbers, and no volume listed; Barriera in Athenaeum 1916 is given the wrong volume number (it should be 4, not 30); Merrill in Classical Philology 1910 is given the wrong pagination (it should be 175-188). There are spelling and typographical errors in both English and German.

(read complete article)


Mary Lefkowitz, Euripides and the Gods. Onassis series in Hellenic culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. xviii, 294. ISBN 9780199752058. $45.00.

Reviewed by Tyler Smith, University of Ottawa (

Version at BMCR home site


In 1981, Mary Lefkowitz published an important work on The Lives of the Greek Poets (2nd ed. 2012), arguing that these anonymous works contain virtually no useful information for the historical study of the poets in question. The biographical tradition consists mainly of dubious anecdotes and comic stereotypes and from decontextualized lines of the poems. Euripides is a case in point. Thanks largely to Aristophanes, Euripides's motives are constructed in the biographical tradition over and against those of his supposedly nobler counterpart Sophocles, and his intellectual inclinations are aligned with Socrates as a radical critic of divine injustice and with Anaxagoras as having radically non-Homeric ideas about the nature of divinity. The comic sendups send biographers into the Euripidean corpus looking for proof texts, which they find in apparently impious remarks on the lips of Euripidean characters. These decontextualized one-liners are then read as if indicative of the poet's own philosophical position instead of something said by a character in a particular dramatic context. The net result is that Euripides appears in the ancient biographical tradition as a countercultural critic of traditional, Homeric gods. While the general thrust of Lefkowitz's work in The Lives of the Greek Poets has been well received, the implications for how we talk about Euripides have not taken hold. Euripides and the Gods offers a corrective. Where readers of Euripides have assumed uncritically that the poet must have shared the revolutionary ideas of contemporaries like Socrates and Anaxagoras, Lefkowitz shows that those associations are grounded only in the unreliable biographical tradition. Where Euripides portrays traditional gods acting in ways that modern audiences find objectionable, leading to hypotheses that these must be ironic portraits of the gods, Lefkowitz argues that readers ought to take Euripides's portrayals at face value. Euripides's gods, like Homer's, are individuals who exist to please themselves. Such a view of divinity, Lefkowitz suggests, is difficult for moderns to appreciate, especially monotheists whose notion of divinity involves commitments to universality, omnipotence, and benevolence.

Euripides and the Gods is written chiefly for non-specialists, although its nearly fifty pages of endnotes make it a potentially useful resource for scholars and advanced students (xvii). Professional scholars of Greek drama will appreciate Lefkowitz's efforts to popularize work of leading classicists: from Hugh Lloyd-Jones, the idea that late nineteenth-century scholars unconsciously identified with Euripides and portrayed him as spokesperson of an imagined Greek Enlightenment; from David Kovacs, the critique of uncritical assent to the Aristophanic portrait of Euripides; from William Allan, Donald Mastronarde, and others, careful readings of particular gods' actions and behavior in individual plays, especially their unpredictability from the human perspective. Lefkowitz's signature contribution is the negative point that we would not see religious iconoclasm in Euripides's plays were it not for his extra-textual reputation as a religious radical and the monotheistic sympathies of later interpreters that led them to imagine and value a Euripidean critique of Homeric divine misbehavior.

In the Introduction, subtitled "Greek Drama without the Gods?" Lefkowitz reflects on the ambivalence or discomfort of modern audiences towards the gods in Greek drama, as suggested by the common omission of gods from modern productions (9–10). While Euripides frequently uses a god to deliver a scene-setting prologue and/or resolves his plots with a deus ex machina, modern directors tend to use narrators or human characters to convey any necessary introductory information and tend to prefer ambiguous endings over closure from a deus ex machina, a device now roundly regarded as tackily artificial. The modern discomfort with Euripidean gods is at least partially attributable to incompatible ideas that modern monotheists have about the "nature of divinity" compared to their ancient Greek counterparts. Euripidean gods strike us as materialistic, self-serving, and indifferent to human suffering. Ancient and modern views of divine justice seem to differ too: in the ancient context, justice is violent, disproportionate, unrelenting, and unforgiving (13–14).

Chapter 1, "Euripides, Socrates, and Other Sophists," wades into the biographical tradition. The ancient comic tradition associated Euripides with Socrates, Anaxagoras, Prodicus, and Protagoras as intellectual partners, dubious connections which were then perpetuated in the biographical tradition. Lines from Euripidean characters were decontextualized and read as straightforward reflections of Euripides's own views. Although the connections were originally disparaging, the ascendance of the Socratic star transformed them into badges of honor.

Chapter 2, "Piety and Impiety in Euripides' Heracles," takes up the Euripidean play in which the gods' behavior is shown in the most negative light. Lefkowitz argues that the gods' inaction in the face of human suffering here is a reflection of how ancient Greeks typically expected gods to behave, not a veiled critique of Greek religion. When Heracles refuses to believe that gods seek out illicit unions and bind each other with chains, maintaining that real gods ought to have no needs (1341–4), scholars have seen influence from philosophers like Xenophanes of Colophon and Socrates. According to Lefkowitz, however, the original audience would have recognized this as Heracles attempting to deny an obvious reality "in his guilt and grief," not an instance of Euripides philosophizing via Heracles. The same logic can be extended to other passages where doubts about the gods are expressed. These are the product of "despair and isolation," not philosophical musing (54). The crucial point for Lefkowitz is that "no one in the fifth century BC would have accused Euripides of impiety for writing the Heracles, except in the context of a comedy" (55).

Chapters 3, ("Athena"), 4 ("Apollo") and 5 ("Other Gods") deal with the roles played by individual gods in Euripides's dramas. In the Suppliants, the Erechtheus, and the Iphigenia among the Taurians, Athena acts to preserve Athens and her own cultic honors. The Alcestis, the Ion, and the Orestes have Apollo as the principal deity driving the action. Scholars troubled by Apollo's apparent cruelty, callousness, and the suddenness of his interventions and brevity of his interactions have described his portrayal as "ironic" and criticized his ultimate solutions as too tidy. Ancient audiences, however, would not have seen the deus ex machina with our jaded eyes, since they understood that the gods could and did step in decisively to advance their own interests. This was especially true of Apollo who, from Homer to fifth-century Athens, surpassed most of his Olympian peers in indifference to the human condition.

Chapter 6, "Gods behind the Scenes," looks at dramas in which the gods do not have speaking roles but nevertheless control the action. After a few pages on the Medea, the chapter is mainly concerned with gods and the problem of human sacrifice in the Iphigenia at Aulis, the Children of Heracles, the Phoenician Women, the Hecuba, and the lost Erechtheus. The focus is on the invisible divine hand calling for the sacrifices through human intermediaries, and the point is that even in these dramas Euripides is keen to explore the disruptive effects of divine action on the unpredictable and terrifying human experience.

The book's conclusion revisits the challenge modern monotheistic readers confront in ancient Greek theology, and underscores the distance between conventional Greek religion and modern, monotheistic religion.

Lefkowitz presents a potent account for how Euripides's persona of "philosopher on the stage" came about, and describes how it then affected reception of his poetic corpus. If one were only interested in Euripides's original intentions and the likely responses of original audiences, her corrective offers serious food for thought. It is doubtful, however, that this is a question which can ever be fully settled. What we can be certain of is that some among Euripides's early audiences found it worthwhile (even if only for comic purposes) to portray him as in league with theological mavericks and that those associations have had remarkable staying power because of language he crafted for some of his most tragic and sympathetic protagonists. This last point makes it difficult for me to be fully persuaded by Lefkowitz. Certainly I would hesitate to say that Euripides's views about the gods must have been entirely conventional, since I continue to find it plausible that Euripides, as an elite Athenian contemporary of figures like Socrates and Anaxagoras, would have been intellectually and theologically affected by the questions they raised.

The central problem posed in this book changes substantially, perhaps even dissipates, if we begin to press back on the historical viability of categories it assumes. Lefkowitz rightly points out that the "conception of divinity" held by most moderns is itself largely incompatible with that of ancient Greeks. And yet it is possible that she does not go far enough. She sometimes writes as if ancient Greeks shared a common "theology" that was inimical to the modern "monotheistic" theologies we are more familiar with (e.g., on p. xv). Even if we take "theology" in the loosest possible sense, many of Lefkowitz's non-specialist readers may still be misled. The language suggests that ancient Greeks divided the world into a divine, supernatural sphere on the one hand and a natural, human sphere on the other. Lefkowitz lists gods, shades, prophetic dreams, and divine physical transformations as "supernatural" (171), without commenting on why ancient Greeks would see these as separate from a "natural" order. Critical religious studies scholarship has shown that categories like "theology," the "supernatural," and even "religion" (as in "ancient Greek religion," cf. p. 204) are not universals but categories produced in a Christian discourse and used retrospectively and redescriptively (i.e., not descriptively) to make sense of the kinds of talk and behavior in other cultures that we would label religious.1 A consequence for talking about Euripides is that we will be hard-pressed to come up with a "doctrine" or a set of beliefs about the gods which comprised his theology. Theology in that sense is comprehensible when there are humans in a "natural" world speaking of gods in a "supernatural" world, but human theology about the gods is more complicated where humans and gods overlap. Many of Euripides's human protagonists (Hippolytus, Medea, Ion, and others) are children or grandchildren of gods. In some cases, as with Heracles and possibly Medea, they take on divine qualities at death. While ancient Greeks did speak of theoi and anthropoi, these categories were neither mutually exclusive nor were they the only two possible categories of being for the figures who populate the dramas. Gods, as Lefkowitz rightly emphasizes, were not all on an equal footing; they varied in age, venerability, power, and temperament. All of this combines to make "Euripides and the gods" a promising site for further work on the history of human manipulation of the categories by which we organize experience.

The book includes five grayscale images, endnotes, bibliography, subject index, and index locorum. The non-specialist may be hampered by the fact that works are sometimes referred to by Latin titles and sometimes by an English title. For example, one finds Heraclidae on p. 96 but Children of Heracles on p. 175 and in the index. There are more typographical errors and inconsistencies in formatting than one would expect in a book from Oxford University Press, but none that I noted which would impede the sense.


1.   See e.g. Brent Nongbri, Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013). On the absence in antiquity of a concept corresponding to our "supernatural," see chapter two of Dale B. Martin, Inventing Superstition: From the Hippocratics to the Christians (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004).

(read complete article)


Alex Dressler, Personification and the Feminine in Roman Philosophy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016. Pp. xiii, 312. ISBN 9781107105966. $99.99.

Reviewed by Sean McConnell, University of Otago (

Version at BMCR home site

It is a common conception that Roman philosophical writers routinely champion masculine values and virtues, in accordance with the male-dominated and patriarchal nature of Roman society in general. This book boldly problematizes such a view. Its core thesis is that feminine values and virtues play a much larger role in Roman philosophy than has been appreciated, in particular in (male) Roman thinking about 'self', 'identity', 'personhood', 'the nature of oneself both as individual and member of community', and all such related topics.

The book's complicated and multi-faceted line of argument is structured around a few compelling core premises: (1) Roman men from youth onwards to some degree discerned themselves as both subjects and objects, as both active (associated with the masculine) and passive (associated with the feminine) beings, whose identity as a person is not only self-fashioned and in their control but also imposed on them by external forces (the love of their mothers, the opinions of other men, cultural norms, etc.) or by parts of themselves that are discovered rather than created; (2) Roman men not only were aware of their own vulnerability and recognized 'the feminine other' in themselves, they also reflected deeply about themselves and, in characteristic dominating male fashion, sought to objectify and deal with 'the feminine other' through a variety of strategies that turn out to be more inclusive and subtle than simple denial or excision – there is a fitting place for 'the feminine other' in the Roman male conception of 'self'; (3) Roman philosophers 'express that experience in the figure of feminine personifications' (p. 3), in their sophisticated literary and philosophical use of gendered language and metaphor and so forth. By filling in many of the details via close examination of key texts and concepts, the book offers a substantial contribution to our appreciation of the distinctive features and anxieties of Roman masculinity and philosophical thought more generally.

In the first chapter the notion of 'ownness' – the feeling of being one's own self – is presented in such a way that it is ubiquitous in Roman philosophy of all stripes. More or less in keeping with the Stoic notion of oikeiosis, the feeling of 'ownness' defines the limits of one's self, which might encompass others too, in so far as one can locate 'the other in the self' (p. 40) through some distinctive feeling (such as a mother's bond with her child). Conversely, one can also see 'the self in the other', as vulnerable, dependent, needing love and affection, and so forth. The chapter usefully shows Roman interest in unpacking, if not resolving, binary oppositions such as 'self/other' and 'active/passive', and as a result space is opened up for reflection on feminine elements in the male self.

In the second chapter ancient and modern theories of personification are discussed. Plenty of examples show how the literary trope of personification operates. There is also an engaging exploration of vexing philosophical issues that arise in the act of personifying oneself – for instance, what implications for personhood arise from the ability to adopt a second- or third-person subjective or reflexive standpoint on oneself?

The third chapter returns to the Stoic notion of oikeiosis and explores how Cicero and Seneca treat our development of a sense of self, emphasizing the role played by external agents such as personified (feminized) nature and women (our mothers, our nurses) in our infancy.

The fourth chapter introduces Lucretius to the discussion, with particular attention given to the animus / anima distinction that neatly indicates the masculine/feminine binary in the conception of personhood and self. Through careful analysis of Lucretius' use of personification and metaphor in key passages fromDe rerum natura, the dominance of feminine forces or agency is made clear.

The fifth chapter focuses once again on Stoic thinking about the self and personhood. In particular, it offers an interesting discussion of philosophical questions concerning the basis of self-identification (for example, how do we attach to or become or feel 'I'?) and our experience of ourselves (for example, how do we understand ourselves internally as subjects ('I') as well as externally as objects ('me')? What are the respective roles of feeling and understanding? And how does language figure in all this?). A number of modern philosophers such as Descartes, Husserl, and Derrida figure in the discussion, and it is suggested persuasively that the ancients Seneca, Cicero, and Saint Augustine already were entertaining positions on personal identity that are usually deemed distinctive of modernity.

The sixth chapter introduces property and ownership into the equation through an examination of Cicero's De officiis. The notion of private property is associated with masculine individualism and acts of exclusion ('this is mine, not yours') while shared property – such as the family and the home – is associated with feminine communalism and acts of inclusion ('this is ours'). The cardinal virtue of decorum is shown to involve both the masculine and feminine aspects – we are by nature our own property and we should have regard to what we own by nature, but we also by nature belong to others and so we should have regard for our outward appearance and our impact on them too. On the whole the chapter offers a stimulating discussion of gendered aspects in Cicero's treatment of the self as something 'owned', and as something both private and public.

The basic aims and approach of the book are enticing, and for the most part the chapters offer detailed literary and philosophical analysis that is insightful. There is, however, a lot of dense methodological groundwork in the introduction that perhaps goes beyond what is required and certainly makes the book hard to get into after an absorbing first few pages. The author is at pains to orientate the book in (to name a few) contemporary feminist theory (an explicitly feminist line is adopted, with some agonizing about the validity and implications of being a male feminist), Marxist thought, deconstruction, and debates about the nature of and relationship between 'philosophy' and 'literature'. As a result, the book as a whole delves into a huge range of topics (at times in a somewhat haphazard fashion) and is laced with loaded quotations from various theorists, with fuzzy technical terms, with emphatic italicized words (lest you miss the key bits or fail to grasp the profundity of the argument), and with the sort of English sentences that seem intended to stymie rather than aid comprehension. To be sure, the book is a very challenging read and the author's style takes some getting used to (it will no doubt excite some and repel others), but the effort is worth it in the end.

In sum, Personification and the Feminine in Roman Philosophy sheds new light on how Roman philosophers grappled with the nature of subjectivity, gender identity, and a host of other issues. In the conclusion the author defends and emphasizes the significance of the book's overarching critical approach, but most value is to be found in the details of particular readings of the ancient sources (some are more persuasive and compelling than others; for those who wish to delve into the book, there is a good Index Locorum). All those interested in ancient philosophy, Latin literature, Roman social history, and gender studies will find much to ponder and argue over in this book.

(read complete article)