Sunday, April 30, 2017


Andreas Kropp, Rubina Raja (ed.), The World of Palmyra. Scientia Danica. Series H, Humanistica, 4, vol. 6; Palmyrene studies, 1. Copenhagen: The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, 2016. Pp. 246. ISBN 9788773043974. 220 DKK (pb).

Reviewed by Maria Teresa Grassi, Università degli Studi di Milano​ (

Version at BMCR home site

This book is the first volume of a new series (Palmyrenske Studier/ Palmyrene Studies) published by the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, and includes the proceedings of the conference organized in Copenhagen under the auspices of the Palmyra Portrait Project in December, 2013.

The Palmyra Portrait Project was set up in 2012 by Rubina Raja and Andreas Kropp.1 As Syria has been in a state of war since 2011 and all field investigations have been interrupted, it is now undoubtedly the most interesting ongoing project focused on Palmyra. It consists of the compilation of a database of all known Palmyrene portraits scattered across the world, which is, unbelievably, still missing,2 and of the publication of Harald Ingholt's archive and diaries, which hold important information about his excavation in Palmyra in the 1920s. Ingholt pioneered the study of Palmyrene sculpture in 1928, when he published Studier over palmirensk skultpur, which still stands as a milestone in this field.

Following an introduction by Andreas Kropp and Rubina Raja ("The World of Palmyra at Copenhagen"),3 the volume includes 15 articles relating to and expanding on the purpose of the Palmyra Portrait Project, involving different "methods, approaches and areas of interest." In keeping with the main purpose of the Project, seven articles concern Palmyrene portraiture and give an excellent overview of traditional and new approaches to the subject.

Kiyohide Saito and Takahiro Nakahashi's contribution ("Facial Reconstruction of YRHY and R4-2 Skulls from Tomb C at the Southeast Necropolis in Palmyra") provides additional data to the results produced by the Nara-Palmyra Archaeological Mission, which has worked on the site for over 20 years. Between 1990 and 2005 research was carried out on the Southeast Necropolis, where the excavations of six tombs have clarified some aspects of local burial practices, for instance the use of the loculus, where more than one person could be buried. The excavations of the Syro-Japanese team have also shed light on the generalized lack of grave goods that characterizes most Palmyrene burials.

The excavation of Tomb C gave the opportunity to compare the facial reconstruction of two well-preserved skulls pertaining to skeletons found in two different loculi. Each loculus was sealed by a bust-type sculpture, one bearing the name of the deceased, YRHY, the other named after the position of the loculus in the tomb, R4-2. These reconstructions at last shed light on an enduring question about Palmyrene funerary reliefs: are they really portraits?

The faces, reconstructed with different techniques by a Japanese sculptor and by anthropologists of the Russian Academy of Science, show common characteristics but also some differences in the rendering of the nose and eyes, due to the lack of evidence. Overall, however, the facial features broadly correspond to the sculpted images of YRHY and R4-2, although the deceased are represented as younger than the occupants found in the loculi were at the time of their death. Nonetheless, the results show that these are realistic representations of YRHY and R4-2; this outcome has proved, once more, how careful we must be in using terms like uniformity and standardization when studying Palmyrene sculpture.

Michal Gawlikowski ("The Portraits of the Palmyrene Royalty") addresses the problem of the iconography of Septimius Odainat and his family by discussing the identification of four male heads as Odainat's portraits. He concludes that only two out of these four are real portraits of Odainat. Both are oversized marble heads. One was found in 1940 near the Agora, while the other, whose find spot is unknown, was kept in the Museum of Palmyra; one wears a tiara of west Asian origin, while the other has a Greek royal diadem. The comparison with some lead and clay tesserae that show the same iconographic types, along with the information given by some inscriptions, support the identification. The lack of documentation for the "Royal Family" of Palmyra is remarkable, particularly in terms of the visual evidence. By integrating his visual analysis of the eastern and western Odainat portraits with historical and epigraphic data, Gawlikowski situates them in the complex cultural world of Palmyra.

Tracey Long ("Facing the Evidence: How to approach the portraits") deals with funerary portraits from Palmyra, sketching a brief history of ancient portraiture and exploring the new methods of studying such a large collection using the database created by the Palmyra Portrait Project team. Long presents a broad and somewhat superficial overview of the topic, starting from the classical period, proceeding on through the Renaissance, and arriving finally at feminist gender theory. An important drawback of the article is that crucial works on the topic written in Italian are completely ignored.4 With regard to the database, Long properly emphasizes the revolutionary perspectives that this new technological tool allows us to reach in the study of Palmyrene portraiture and art. Previous studies have focused on selected examples or peculiar iconographical traits. However, the on-line availability of thousands of records now opens new perspectives, such that new questions can be posed and new answers expected. The approach to the Palmyrene portraits will be revolutionized by these new technological tools, thus going beyond the limits of the book format.

The traditional approach to the portraits by Fred C. Albertson ("Typology, Attribution, and Identity in Palmyran Funerary Portraiture") remains, however, fruitful. The accurate comparison of some reliefs, combining the same typology and a peculiar choice of forms, allows the attribution to the same artist (or workshop?), but also enlightens us as to the intentions of the commissioner and his identity. Thus, the portraits of Amri and Malku, carved by the same workshop, differ in hairstyle: the eastern fashion of Malku, with a cluster of snail-shell curls framing his face, defines his role in Palmyrene society and thus his identity, though that identity remains difficult to understand. (Does the coiffure suggest a connection with caravan riders? Does it have a religious connotation?)

When dealing with identity in Palmyra, it is impossible to avoid the family, as shown by the inscriptions that proudly recall parentage. The bonds with past generations, and the identity within the family, are displayed through the choice of styles and forms. The multifaceted world of Palmyra well reflects the complexity of the issue of identity, as proved, for example, by the intriguing difference within the Bar'a family between male and female portraits: the first are retrospective and traditional; the second, non-traditional and receptive to external influences.

Dagmara Wielgosz-Rondolino ("Palmyrene portraits from the temple of Allat. New evidence on artists and workshops") presents some sculptures found during the Polish excavations of the temple of Allat. These include three unpublished female funerary portraits, two male heads from honorific statues and other parts of architectural decoration. In defining the workshop activity in the first century AD, it is worth noting the broad range of sculpture produced, which pertains to architectural decoration, honorific and funerary statues.

Using the database of the Palmyra Portrait Project, but still following the chronologies and typologies of Ingholt and Colledge, Signe Krag ("Females in Group Portraits in Palmyra") analyzes a large number of group portraits in loculi reliefs and sarcophagi and banquet reliefs, focusing on females and exploring their gesture, position, attributes, clothing, and hairstyles, in order to understand their social status and identity. This is not an easy task, due to the broad variety of compositions which do not allow for generalization, even if, undoubtedly, they give cause for reflection.

Maura K. Heyn ("Status and Stasis: Looking at Women in the Palmyrene Tomb") sketches diachronically the changes in female portraiture during the first three centuries AD, relying on Ingholt's classifications. Noteworthy in this article is the continued reference to Roman portraiture, which is sometimes overlooked in studies concerning Palmyrene portraiture. Female portraiture changes drastically in the third century AD with the disappearance of "domestic" items (spindles and distaffs, etc.) and "religious" gestures (palm out), replaced by other gestures (raising the hand to the face) and the impressive display of jewels. The meaning of such changes is connected with the growing importance of the family as a whole in Palmyrene society. In this process, Heyn takes local jewelry production into account, thus adding another original feature to her article.

The second component of the Palmyra Portrait Project is presented in the articles of Annette Højen Sørensen ("Palmyrene Tomb Paintings in Context") and Jean-BaptisteYon ("Inscriptions from the necropolis of Palmyra in the diaries of H. Ingholt"), which focus on the Ingholt archive and excavation diaries, and show the great potential of this unpublished material. Sørensen recovered new data from these diaries and reestablished the context of the tomb of Hairan, giving the exact position of the paintings published by Ingholt in 1932, while Yon points out the advances, but also the continuing difficulties, in the field of epigraphy (for instance, the presence of different copies of the same text, and missing photographs and drawings).

Exceeding the Palmyra Portrait Project's aim, but following the wide scope of the conference, the remaining 6 articles bear witness "to the vibrancy of studies on Palmyra."5 Some of them are of particular interest for their stimulating and up-to-date treatment of historical, religious, and social themes.

The composite and dynamic world of Palmyra stands out in Ted Kaizer's article ("Divine Constellations at Palmyra. Reconsidering the Palmyrene 'Pantheon'"), appearing clearly in the wide analysis of the various divine constellations constructed by the worshippers. Palmyrene deities were often grouped together, as proved by inscriptions and sculptural assemblages. Yet the lack of literary sources frustrates any attempt to understand or reconstruct a logical system or a "Pantheon," as the examples discussed by this major scholar of religious life in the Near East demonstrate.

Tommaso Gnoli ("Banqueting in honour of the gods. Notes on the marzēaḥ of Palmyra") approaches the cultic meals in Palmyra and their social and political role by collecting and connecting a wide range of data. It is of great interest for its analysis of the sacred meals of the Manichean Church and its persuasive comparison with the Palmyrene marzēaḥ.

In its legal language, too, Palmyra reveals a host of different influences, as illustrated by Eleonora Cussini ("Reconstructing Palmyrene Legal Language"). Furthermore, the examined texts record the only surviving data of original documents, written on perishable material and now lost, concerning some aspects of Palmyrene daily life which are still relatively unknown, such as sale contracts, covenant, inheritance and testamentary bequest.

Udo Hartmann ("What was it like to be a Palmyrene in the age of crisis? Changing Palmyrene identities in the third century AD") deals with the difficult task of describing Palmyrene identity in the third century AD. The new status of Roman colonia granted by Caracalla in 212 AD strongly affected it, as is clear for example from honorary inscriptions emphasizing civic offices. The Palmyrene elite exhibit a growing engagement in the imperial aristocracy, portraying themselves as Roman knights or senators and giving up the traditional framework of self-representation. Finally, the core of the latest Palmyrene identity is loyalty to the dynasty of Odaenathus and to the new orientalizing monarchic constitution of the city.

The many "millennial" field projects devoted to the site and its territory are well represented by Jørgen Christian Meyer's article ("Palmyrena. Settlements, Forts and Nomadic Networks"). The Syrian-Norwegian survey project in the area north of Palmyra has expanded on and nuanced the pioneering work by Schlumberger, highlighting the intensive exploitation of the landscape, in ways not related only to the caravan trade or confined to the Roman imperial period. 6 The complex relationship between the city, the villages and the nomadic groups is extensively investigated, with particular attention paid to the water resources, and their management and control, which have been underestimated in past research.7

At the end of the volume, Maurice Sartre ("Zénobie dans l'imaginaire occidental") outlines another multifaceted portrait, that of Palmyra's most famous historical figure, queen Zenobia. Through visual, literary and musical works dating from the 14th century until the present day, artists have created many Zenobias, variously presented as a female hero, a tragic heroine and an oriental queen. Not only in the Arabic world (see, for example, the lavish and successful musical "Zenobia" by Mansour Rahbani), but also in the West, Zenobia continues to fascinate.

The book ends with a somewhat redundant collective bibliography, which repeats the bibliographies presented at the end of each article, and extremely useful indices. ​


1.   Palmyra Portrait Project.
2.   See, e.g., Jean Leslie Howarth, A Palmyrene Head at Bryn Mawr College, in AJA 73.4 (1969), 441-446.
3.   Note that the exhibition Zenobia. Il sogno di una regina d'Oriente, was held in Turin at the Palazzo Bricherasio, not in Milan.
4.   It is recorded only in Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli (not Ranuccio Bandinelli), Rome, The Centre of Power. Roman Art to AD 200, London, 1970.
5.   Compare Ted Kaizer, The future of Palmyrene studies, in JRA 29 (2016), 924-931.
6.   Palmyrena.
7.   See Manar Hammad, Palmyre. Transformations urbaines. Développement d'une ville antique de la marge aride syrienne, Paris, 2010. ​

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Jean-Pierre Aygon, Ut scaena, sic vita: mise en scène et dévoilement dans les oeuvres philosophiques et dramatiques de Sénèque. Chorégie: études, 1. Paris: Éditions de Boccard, 2016. Pp. 395. ISBN 9782701804255. €59.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Erica M. Bexley, Swansea University (

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Like ill-fitting puzzle pieces, Seneca's philosophical and dramatic works have long and stubbornly resisted amalgamation, while Senecan scholarship has returned perennially—and just as stubbornly—to the task of joining them together. Aygon's monograph, the latest contribution to this on-going debate, adopts a fairly conventional stance inasmuch as it measures the tragedies against the Stoic lessons gleaned from Seneca's prose, and maintains that Seneca's dramatic characters represent apotropaic examples of the passions. At the same time, though, Aygon proposes that pervasive themes of revelation and pretence constitute a new and potentially exciting way for readers to bridge the (apparent?) gap between Senecan philosophy and drama.

The book comprises two halves: the first examines what may broadly be defined as the 'theatrical aspects' of Seneca's Stoic writings; the second concentrates on the tragedies: their dramaturgy, visual qualities, and finally, their moral 'message'. Aygon declares in the Introduction his decidedly positivist aim of ascertaining Seneca's personal attitude towards the theatre and consequently, what the author intended to achieve with his dramatic compositions. The volume's arrangement—prose first, poetry second—indicates a common, but in this case likely unconscious, assumption that Seneca's works form a hermeneutical hierarchy, in which philosophical texts are understood to be more rational than, and therefore capable of elucidating their unruly siblings, the plays.1

Chapter 1 collates and evaluates Seneca's explicit judgements on the theatre, which, according to Aygon, divide into three main groups: negative opinions of pantomime, guarded approval of scripted mime (principally, its moral sententiae), and respect for tragedy. There emerges from this survey the simple yet crucial point that Seneca's attitude towards theatrical performance is far from uniform: his verdicts often serve a broader purpose (e.g. to critique people's moral priorities in Ep. 76.4) and so cannot always be taken at face value.

This ambivalence toward theatre is explored further in Chapter 2, "Les images empruntées au théâtre", where Aygon traces the theatrical metaphors appearing in Seneca's prose, and studies their various, occasionally conflicting, application to questions of human ethics and social conduct. Following in the footsteps of Armisen-Marchetti, Aygon concentrates on Seneca's fascination for masks and role-play, which the philosopher uses alternately to symbolize false or assumed behaviour (e.g. Tranq. 17.1) and the genuine performance of one's own part in life (e.g. Ep. 120.22).2 In his attempt to resolve this contradiction, Aygon draws on Cicero De Officiis 1.107-21, and thereby adds his voice to the swelling chorus of scholars currently interested in Stoic persona-theory.3 More intriguing and original, however, is Aygon's suggestion that the face and the mask merge in Seneca's imagery, so that deciphering a person's emotional state or internal disposition is equivalent to interpreting a stage character's persona.

Chapters 3 and 4 are the weakest in the monograph, dealing respectively with the dramatic texture of Seneca's prose, and with self-performance as a medium for moral instruction. The main problem here is that Aygon stretches the concept of "théâtralité" to an unconvincing extreme. He argues in Chapter 3 that Seneca's prose exhibits a polyphonic quality—comprising prosopopoeia; imagined interlocutors; and addressees—that evokes, or even approximates, dramatic dialogue. But the assertion quickly founders, because Seneca's philosophical writings scarcely merit the title of dialogues, especially in contrast to prominent predecessors like Plato. Equally unconvincing is the suggestion that Seneca narrates exemplary anecdotes in quasi-theatrical ways; the vividness of these descriptions does not qualify them as dramatic in any fundamental sense of the term, and Aygon's analysis is sometimes misled by his own application of theatrical metaphors. The strongest part of the chapter deals with personification and portraiture, a topic that expands upon Aygon's earlier discussion of mask/face imagery.

The uneven quality of Aygon's argument extends into Chapter 4, "Le théâtre de la conscience", which covers such diverse topics as: Seneca's employment of first-personal narratives; his penchant for self-analysis and metaphors of spectatorship; and the effect his writings anticipate having on their addressees/audience. Once again, Aygon traverses well-trodden ground when he argues that Seneca's descriptions of self-monitoring (e.g. Ep. 11.8) assimilate individuals to quasi-dramatic spectacles.4 Despite the promising claim that "la matrice théâtrale…fournit le cadre où se dévoile la vérité du sujet" (p.137), discussion in this chapter is decidedly thin and scattered, an outcome that demonstrates the difficulty many scholars encounter when undertaking to define the role of drama in Seneca's prose works. Scouring Senecan philosophy for references to theatre is a substantial scholarly industry, but the undeniable gap between Aygon's aims and his outcomes left this reviewer wondering whether the same amount of scholarly energy would have been devoted to the topic had Seneca never written tragedies. For the unpalatable truth is that Seneca's prose seems no more inherently 'theatrical' than, say, Cicero's; arguably, it is a good deal less so. But the existence of Seneca's plays impels us (and I include myself in this category) to uncover the dramatic properties that, we assume, form the substructure of Seneca's thought. Rarely is the enterprise as successful as we would like it to be.

Part 2 of Aygon's monograph turns to the tragedies themselves. By way of a prelude to the main argument, Chapter 5 reviews the long-standing debate over whether or not Seneca intended his plays for the stage, and whether the tragedies' more extreme dramaturgical features could be accommodated by the technical facilities of first-century A.D. Roman theatres. Aygon replies to both questions with a strong affirmative, and the chapter ends with his describing a selection of visual and aural effects that, he believes, are implicit in Seneca's dramaturgy.

Chapter 6 continues this analysis of stage action by surveying and tabulating the relative frequency of on-stage versus off-stage events in Senecan drama. Aygon reaches the reasonable but far from impressive conclusion that Seneca prefers as much as possible to have his characters enact their moments of psychic and physical distress directly in front of an audience, regardless of the challenges this poses for performance. Discussion is mostly pedestrian here, though Aygon does present an appealing case for the extispicium scene in Seneca's Oedipus (299-402) —one of the most intractable problems of Senecan dramaturgy—taking place in two locations, first before and then partially behind the scaena. Less cogent is his method of categorizing off-stage events as regards their proximity to the story unfolding on stage: it is not clear, for instance, why the report of Hippolytus' death belongs to the category "hors-scène" while Oedipus' blinding is classified "hors-scène mais proche". Surely both characters can be said to return to the stage following these events, even though Hippolytus returns in pieces?

Much of the volume's second half feels like padding. Although Chapters 5-7 are meant to form the groundwork for Aygon's final argument in Chapter 8, they linger too long on topics peripheral to the author's essential focus. Chapter 7, "Renversement tragique de la grandeur épique", is a particularly stark example: Aygon investigates the purpose and effects (especially the visual effects) of those long ecphrastic/narrative monologues that typify Seneca's style. Contesting the label 'epic theatre', which is sometimes applied to Senecan tragedy (e.g. by Tietze Larson5), Aygon claims that Seneca's ecphrastic passages cohere within the plays' overall structure, and that Seneca borrows from Latin epic chiefly in order to show how the world of tragedy subverts or reworks the former genre's heroic ideals. While this approach leads to some subtle—and compelling—intertextual analysis, it is also marred by a confusion of terminology: 'epic theatre' in the Brechtian sense is a technique designed to dispel the audience's passive acquiescence to theatrical illusion; it is about narrative as opposed to dramatic form. But Aygon, while fully aware of this Brechtian definition, applies the idea to content instead, arguing that Seneca's epic borrowings are always subordinated to a fundamentally tragic purpose. The two propositions run on parallel tracks; Aygon never quite succeeds in uniting them.

The final chapter interprets the tragedies in light of Seneca's philosophical views on false behaviour, role-play, and revelation. Aygon contends that the visual qualities of Senecan drama serve to unmask the play's more deceitful characters, stripping away their layers of pretence and self-deception until their true (im)morality is revealed, both to internal and to external audiences. Most of the discussion is devoted to explaining ambiguous or opaque behaviour (e.g. Clytemnestra's much-disputed volte-face in Act 2 of the Agamemnon), and to expounding the methods by which characters in the dramas decode each other's conduct (e.g. Ulysses' tactics for exposing Andromache's lies in Act 3 of the Troades). Aygon redeploys to good effect his earlier claims about indicia corporis, the bodily and facial clues that, according to Seneca's Stoic writings, reveal an individual's inner state. Detailed discussion of gesture is one of this chapter's particular strengths. On the other hand, Aygon's determination to define Seneca's characters as apotropaic moral paradigms leads him to eschew ambiguity in favour of absolute classifications, even in the case of avowedly enigmatic figures such as Phaedra or Jason.

The ultimate point to emerge both from this last chapter and from the monograph overall, is that Seneca invites his audience to witness and thereby comprehend the physical and moral devastation wrought by the passions. It is Seneca's fascination for the visual that, Aygon maintains, binds together the author's philosophical and dramatic works, chiefly by encouraging individuals to display their selfhood correctly, and decipher their own, or others' potentially veiled intentions. The volume is generally well presented, with only a few, minor typographical errors (e.g. 'ultimely' for 'ultimately' on p.38 n.4); bibliography and indices are extensive, and Aygon includes in an appendix (pp.309-29) the text and translation for each of the specific scenes discussed in Chapter 8. The study certainly has its merits, and Aygon must be commended for his formidable effort in culling from Seneca's vast oeuvre such a range of allusions to theatrical activity. But his subsequent treatment of those passages tends to have disappointing results, as Aygon prefers compiling and reviewing information to tackling complex or difficult interpretative issues.


1.   The limitations of this approach have been wisely noted by A. Schiesaro (2009) 'Seneca and the Denial of the Self' in S. Bartsch and D. Wray (eds) Seneca and the Self. Cambridge: 222.
2.   M. Armisen-Marchetti (1989, Sapientiae facies: étude sur les images de Sénèque. Paris) and S. Bartsch (2006), The Mirror of the Self: Sexuality, Self-Knowledge and the Gaze in the Early Roman Empire. Chicago.
3.   Bartsch, The Mirror of the Self, 216-29; R.Gibson, K. (2007) Excess and Restraint. London: 122-6; J. M. Seo, (2013) Exemplary Traits: Reading Characterization in Roman Poetry, Oxford: 13-4; E. M. Bexley, (2016) 'Recognition and the Character of Seneca's Medea' Cambridge Classical Journal 62: 36-45. C. Gill, (1988) 'Personhood and Personality: The Four-Personae Theory in Cicero De Officiis 1' Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 6: 169-99 has been extremely influential in this regard.
4.   S. Bartsch, (2001) 'The Self as Audience: Paradoxes of Identity in Imperial Rome' Pegasus 44: 4-12, and The Mirror of the Self, 191-208.
5.   V. Tietze Larson (1989), "Seneca's Epic Theatre" in C. Deroux (ed.) Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History V. Brussels: 279-304, and (1994) The Role of Description in Senecan Tragedy, Frankfurt am Main.

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Anna Lucille Boozer, A Late Romano-Egyptian House in the Dakhla Oasis: Amheida House B2. Amheida, 2. New York: NYU Press; Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, 2015. Pp. 460. ISBN 9781479880348. $55.00.

Reviewed by Inge Uytterhoeven, Koç University (

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

Until recently, the study of housing in Roman Egypt mainly focused on the Fayum, where the exploration of private architecture started in the late 19th to early 20th century within the context of the search for papyri.1 However, additional investigations of house remains during the last decades in other areas of Egypt, such as Alexandria and the Western Desert, have offered new evidence. The volume under review presents one of these new houses, Amheida House B2 in the northwest of the Dakhla Oasis, which was investigated by Anna Lucille Boozer between 2005 and 2010 as part of her doctoral research at Columbia University. Whereas Boozer provides the general framework of the book, several other scholars contribute with sections on specific material categories. The result is a publication that intends to offer a holistic and contextual approach to a Romano-Egyptian house, and to develop a methodology for investigating the connection between ancient housing remains and social identity (p. 17).

The book opens with a list of figures and plates, an overview of the contributors, and a preface. The main body of the book is divided into five thematic parts. However, this useful thematic organization is only clear in the table of contents and, oddly, not reflected in the main text itself, which instead forms a continuous succession of individual chapters without further subdivision. If the thematic titles had been included at the beginning of each new section, it would have helped the reader to follow the structure of the book. An extensive bibliography and an index are included at the end of the volume.

The book starts with three introductory chapters by Boozer. In chapter one, she places the research on House B2 within the framework of the study of Romano-Egyptian daily life. This brings her to earlier work on houses dating to the 1st to 4th centuries CE in Egypt. Boozer underscores the lack of integrated research that – with few exceptions – characterizes housing studies carried out thus far: the focus has mainly been on architectural features, and artefacts have been separated from their original contexts. Conversely, she stresses the importance of a contextual approach, which allows bringing together architecture, material culture, and the users of the house. Located in an industrial-residential area, Amheida House B2 with its modest dimensions has been selected as a case study to reconstruct the daily life of a family of modest means.

Starting from this general framework, Boozer introduces the Western Desert, the Dakhla Oasis, and Amheida in chapter two, paying attention first to Dakhla. Several aspects, such as the geology and geomorphology of the oasis, its hydrology and climate, had a significant impact on its development in the Roman Period, as revealed by surveys and excavations carried out during the last forty years. Then, the author focuses on Amheida (ancient Trimithis), the largest preserved ancient site within Dakhla, and discusses the main characteristics of the site, including its topographical and architectural features, its chronology, and the history of the Amheida Project.

In chapter three, the methodology applied for the excavations in House B2, as well as for on-site analysis and off-site processing of objects is explained. The detailed descriptions of the workflow, as well as that of archaeological applications that are commonly employed in current scientific excavations (e.g. the Harris matrix), feel superfluous.

In chapter four, which forms a substantial part of the book, Boozer offers a detailed analysis of the excavations of House B2. Accurate descriptions of the stratigraphic depositional units, architectural features, artefacts, and palaeobotanical and archaeozoological remains are presented for each room and illustrated with plan and section drawings, Harris matrixes, and pictures of in-situ features and finds. The author interprets the function of each space, based on its architectural characteristics, decoration and finds. The access to the room and its relation to adjacent spaces are also considered. The combination of all available data allows a general phasing, covering the construction and original use of the house (1), structural alternations (2a-d; 2d erroneously called 2c), abandonment (3a), collapse (3b) and deflation (3c), and present-day Bedouin use (4). The analysis of the house itself is followed by a similarly detailed description of features and finds encountered in the neighboring Street S1 and Courtyard C2. The chapter ends with an absolute chronology based on pottery, ostraca, and a textile fragment, placing the occupation in the 3rd and 4th centuries CE. It should be noted that headings and sub-headings are not always typographically distinguished, which somewhat hinders an easy visual understanding of the structure of the text.

The next two chapters, again by Boozer, form a separate section dedicated to constructional and architectural aspects of House B2. In chapter five, which discusses construction techniques, the house is put in line with local traditions of Egyptian mud brick architecture.2 Since mud bricks can reveal noteworthy (chronological) information, but their characteristics are not always systematically recorded during excavations, the detailed analysis of the mud bricks used for walls, ceilings, and bread ovens included here is certainly important. The construction of floors and that of the street are also discussed.

In chapter six, based on its architectural aspects (e.g. size, orientation, and layout), House B2 is compared with three – culturally defined – types of houses with which its shares characteristics: Egyptian, Romano-Egyptian, and Roman housing. Boozer concludes that houses in Roman Egypt showed a larger regional variety than often thought and did not always resemble known types from the Fayum.

In chapter seven, Boozer introduces section four, in which material culture takes the main place. The small finds recovered from the excavations of House B2 and the surrounding Area 1 are used to interpret the identity of its inhabitants and their place in society, and as a tool to help interpret contexts found elsewhere in the Roman world. The artifacts are grouped according to rather heterogenous themes (e.g. personal appearance, worship and religion, gender, and age) and related to comparative material. Some categories are a bit artificial, such as the heading 'Activities' for small finds attesting to weaving as well as those referring to transportation and management, or the heading 'Diet and entertainment', which strangely seems to consider all domestic food consumption as an indicator of feasting. Consequently, the creation of some additional categories could have resulted in a more logical categorization. Nevertheless, the discussion of the small finds, pointing towards inhabitants belonging to a mid-level economic group, contributes to an understanding of the way the house and its neighborhood were used.

The next twelve chapters are written by different specialists of material culture. These chapters, accompanied by useful catalogues, drawings, and/or photographs, form an important reference for other sites. In chapter eight, Delphine Dixneuf gives a detailed overview of the pottery and offers chronological data for each individual space of House B2. Since this is the only contribution in French, a translation into English would have made the volume more uniform. In chapters nine and ten, Paola Davoli analyses stoppers, loom weights, and miscellaneous unfired clay objects, while Boozer discusses figurines and their use. In chapters eleven to thirteen, Angela Cervi presents small finds related to adornment, glass vessels, and faience vessels. In chapter fourteen, the limited numismatic evidence, three coins dating to the 1st or 2nd century CE, are discussed by David M. Ratzan.

Apart from material data, the excavations in House B2 and the surrounding Area 1 also revealed textual evidence, supplementing and confirming the material remains. Thus, the 3rd- and early-4th-century CE ostraca, analyzed in chapter fifteen by Giovanni R. Ruffini, shed light on people belonging to a lower-middle social echelon, including linen-weavers and camel-drivers.

In the next chapters, the attention shifts to organic material. In chapter sixteen, Pam J. Crabtree and Douglas V. Campana analyze the faunal remains, which are characterized as conventionally Egyptian. This is followed in chapter seventeen by a discussion of the plant remains from House B2, by Ursula Thanheiser and Johannes Walter, who conclude that the paleobotanical material reflects a typical household of the 3rd century CE in the Dakhla Oasis. Finally, in chapters eighteen and nineteen, Cervi examines the rare wooden objects from the excavations and Boozer discusses the woven material.

The volume ends with a concluding chapter by Boozer, forming the fifth and last part of the book. After a summary of the occupational chronology of House B2 in the 3rd and 4th centuries CE, its place within the context of Romano-Egyptian housing is once more defined. Furthermore, Boozer summarizes the activities and practices that took place in the individual spaces of the house and links them with inhabitants of a moderate social status. Lastly, she inserts House B2 in the wider framework of the Roman Mediterranean, before ending with suggestions for future lines of inquiry and an extremely brief conclusion.

With its integrated analysis of the stratigraphic units, architectural features, and small finds of House B2, the Amheida II volume forms a much-appreciated contribution to the study of ancient housing in Roman Egypt, surpassing earlier studies that mainly focused on architectural aspects. Apart from offering crucial information about a modest house in the Dakhla Oasis, it can be considered a most important addition to our knowledge of private housing in Roman Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean, which is still an underinvestigated research field. A major outcome is the understanding that various regional housing types existed in Roman Egypt, making clear that the concept of a 'standard house type' should be abandoned. It is strongly hoped that Boozer and the Amheida Project team will continue their in-depth studies on housing at Dakhla in the future.

Table of Contents

Part I: Introduction, Settings, and Methodologies
Chapter 1. Domestic Archaeology and the Romano-Egyptian House: An Integrated Research Agenda, Anna Lucille Boozer (17–32)
Chapter 2. Situating the Case Study: The Dakhla Oasis and Amheida, Anna Lucille Boozer (33–45)
Chapter 3. Approaching the Romano-Egyptian House: Research Methodologies, Anna Lucille Boozer (47–53)
Part II: The Excavations
Chapter 4. Layers of Building, Living, and Abandonment: Stratigraphies of House B2 and its Surroundings, Anna Lucille Boozer (55–140)
Part III: Building Techniques and Architectural Interpretations
Chapter 5. Building Domestic Space: The Construction Techniques for House B2, Anna Lucille Boozer (141–55)
Chapter 6. Situating Domestic Space: An Architectural Analysis and Reconstruction of House B2, Anna Lucille Boozer (157–81)
Part IV: The Material Culture of Everyday Life
Chapter 7. Artifact and Activity: The Material Culture of Domestic Living, Anna Lucille Boozer (183–99)
Chapter 8. La Céramique de la Maison B2, Delphine Dixneuf (20–80)
Chapter 9. Unfired Clay Objects, Paola Davoli (281–9)
Chapter 10. Figurines, Anna Lucille Boozer (291–307)
Chapter 11. Adornment, Angela Cervi (309–17)
Chapter 12. Glass Vessels, Angela Cervi (319–39)
Chapter 13. Faience Vessels, Angela Cervi (341–47)
Chapter 14. Coins, David M. Ratzan (349–51)
Chapter 15. Transport and Trade in Trimithis: The Texts from Area 1, Giovanni R. Ruffini (353–67)
Chapter 16. Faunal Remains from Amheida, Area 1, Pam J. Crabtree and Douglas V. Campana (369–73)
Chapter 17. Plant Use in a Romano-Egyptian Household in the Third Century CE, Ursula Thanheiser and Johannes Walter (375–92)
Chapter 18. Wood Objects, Angela Cervi (393–5)
Chapter 19. Woven Material, Anna Lucille Boozer (397–404)
Part V: Concluding Thoughts and Discussion
Chapter 20. Towards an Integrated Interpretation of Life in a Romano-Egyptian House, Anna Lucille Boozer (405–27)


1.   P. Davoli, L'archeologia urbana nel Fayyum di età ellenistica e romana, (Bologna, 1998): Generoso Procaccini gives a useful overview of the development of the Fayum settlements and their investigation.
2.   For mudbrick architecture, see A.J. Spencer, Brick Architecture in Ancient Egypt (Warminster, 1979); B. Kemp, "Soil (including mud-brick architecture)," in P.T. Nicholson and I. Shaw (eds.) Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology, (Cambridge, 2000), 78–103.

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Franca Perusino (ed.), Per Bruno Gentili. Filologia e critica, 100. Pisa; Roma: Fabrizio Serra editore, 2016. Pp. 198. ISBN 9788862278713. €58.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Roosevelt Rocha, Universidade Federal do Paraná (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Bruno Gentili is widely considered one of the most important Italian philologists of the second half of the twentieth century. In my opinion, his presence and activity were as influential in Italy as that of Martin West in England and Francisco Rodríguez Adrados in Spain. He started his career studying Byzantine themes, but soon, under the influence of Gennaro Perrotta, became interested in Greek metrics and archaic, especially melic, poetry. In 1942, he began teaching in a high school in Rome. Some years later, he came under the influence of Perrotta, who led him to the study of Greek metrics and archaic poetry. In 1948, the two of them published Polinnia, an anthology of elegiac, iambic and melic poetry, considered important at that time because of the amount of historical, cultural and philological information it contained.1 Gentili then wrote two books on metrics, Metrica Greca Arcaica (Archaic Greek Metrics), published in 1950, and La Metrica dei Greci (The Metrics of the Greeks), published in 1952, using the historical approach that he would apply in his future studies. Gentili did not just describe the meters, but instead tried to explain the way they worked. He also discussed the theories found in the ancient treatises on metrics, comparing the old theories with the modern ones, and often giving more credit to the ancient views. In the 1960s his interpretations started to become more interdisciplinary and he was greatly influenced by — and helped spread — the oral theory, first created by Milman Parry and Albert Lord and later developed by Eric Havelock. In fact, it was after reading Havelock's Preface to Plato that his studies took a turn to encompass the contribution of pragmatics, communication theory, anthropology and historical psychology.2 The outcome of these influences can be seen in his Poesia e pubblico nella Grecia antica, first published in 1984 and later translated into English and Spanish. In this book, Gentili studied the poetry of Archilochus and Sappho as oral poetry produced in a particular cultural and sociological environment, very much affected by religion and the expectations of the public. Making clear his disagreement with the formalist interpretations in vogue in the United States and England from the 1960s to the 1990s, Gentili asserted that ancient Greek poetry should be studied in its historical and cultural context while taking into account the specificities of the oral mode of production and transmission, in which the role of the public was decisive.

All this information and much more can be found in the book under review. Edited by Franca Perusino, Gentili's widow, the book is a collection of texts by 24 authors that pay homage to Gentili's work and memory. It is divided in three parts. After a preface by Perusino, we find a sequence of 22 texts of different lengths, arranged in alphabetical order, some very short (Camilleri's, for example, has 12 lines), some spanning a few pages, which provide information about Gentili's academic career (first in the Sapienza University in Rome, in Lecce between 1955 and 1956, and in Urbino from 1956 until his retirement in 1991), and about his works and theoretical contributions to the field of classical philology in Italy and abroad. The repetitiveness of this section can be explained by the fact that the texts were originally published individually in journals, magazines or on the internet.

The most interesting texts are those by Cerri, Privitera and Ruggiero. Cerri and Privitera not only write about Gentili's work and life, but also offer some interpretation and critiques that contribute to putting Gentili's achievements in perspective. Cerri, for instance, reminds the reader that it was through Gentili's work that Havelock's oral theory gained force in classical studies. Privitera, on the other hand, makes it clear that he disagrees with some interpretations of Gentili and Liana Lomiento in their book Metrica Greca. Storia delle forme poetiche in Grecia Antica (translated in 2008 into English with the title Metrics and Rhythmics: History of Poetic Forms in Ancient Greece). Ruggiero's contribution is interesting, in my view, because it deals with Gentili's activities not only as professor and philologist but also as a translator who tried to harmonize a semantic approach with his poetic sensibility and interest in the formal aspects of the texts. This compromise can be viewed in Gentili's translations of Anacreon in his edition of 1958, and in the editions of Pindar's Pythian Odes (1998) and Olympian Odes (2013).

In the second part of the book, we find a longer article by Benedetto on the role of Gentili in the Italian cultural context of the second half of the twentieth century, in which he interacted and disagreed with Croce's aesthetics and with Salvatore Quasimodo's translations of the Greek archaic poets, which were very popular in Italy at that time. The final text of the book is a tender note written by Gentili's grandson that deals with personal memories of the family. In the final pages there is also a section called 'Memories through photos', with pictures of Gentili with Bruno Snell, for example, and at academic events and the occasions in which he received awards.

This book is a beautiful way to keep Gentili's memory alive as well as being a good source for insight into his multifaceted personality and the Italian cultural environment in which he developed. I do think that the book would have been enriched with a complete bibliography of Gentili's books and articles.3 Nevertheless, the book is very well edited (as is usual with Fabrizio Serra Editore), with few typos, and pleasant to read.


Franca Perusino, Premessa 9
Paola Angeli Bernardini, Ricordo di Bruno Gentili 13
Maurizio Bettini, Addio al grecista Bruno Gentili, l'uomo che ci fece amare i lirici 21
Andrea Camilleri, Segnali di fumo 23
Luciano Canfora, Gentili, una vita per la poesia greca 25
Carlo Carena, Grecista e autore finissimo 27
Lorenzo Carnevali, Frammenti per Bruno Gentili. Ritratto arbitrario di un grande urbinate 29
Carmine Catenacci, Ricordo di Bruno Gentili 33
Giovanni Cerri, Ricordo di Bruno Gentili 43
Federico Condello, La filologia greca come un'arte: Bruno Gentili tra oral theory, metrica, canone lirico e allievi 55
Franco Ferrarotti, In memoriam di Bruno Gentili 57
Michele Galante, La scomparsa di Bruno Gentili, grande innovatore degli studi classici 59
Pietro Giannini, La scomparsa di Bruno Gentili 61
Marco Giuman, Ricordo 65
Antonietta Gostoli, Ricordo di Bruno Gentili 67
E. Christian Kopff, A Guiding Presence 73
Liana Lomiento, Ricordo di Bruno Gentili (Valmontone 20 novembre 1915-Roma 7 gennaio 2014) 77
Carles Miralles, Bruno Gentili, eminencia del belenismo 87
Lara Ottaviani, Addio a Bruno Gentili, fondatore della Facoltà di Lettere 89
G. Aurelio Privitera, Ricordo di Bruno Gentili 91
Fabio Ruggiero, Perché ricordare Gentili 99
Gennaro Tedeschi, Ricordo di Bruno Gentili 103
Angela Urbano, Bruno Gentili, il Maestro della lirica greca 115
Gentili, quel grecista tanto legato a Trieste, a cura della redazione de Il Piccolo di Trieste 117
Giovanni Benedetto, Classicità e contemporaneità: Bruno Gentili negli studi classici italiani del Novecento 119
Luca Blasio, Bruno Gentili, mio nonno 177
Ricordi per immagini 179


1.   Gentili and Perrotta were then very influenced by Benedetto Croce's aesthetics, dominant in Italy back then. The recently reedited version by Gentili and Carmine Catenacci (2007) eliminates Croce's aesthetics.
2.   It is important to remember that in 1966 Gentili founded the Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica, one of the most influential journals in the field of Classical Studies, to help publicize this kind of interpretation.
3.   We can find an early version of his bibliography in Tradizione e innovazione nella cultura greca da Omero all'età  ellenistica, edited by Roberto Pretagostini (1993).

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Friday, April 28, 2017


Ursula Kästner, David Saunders (ed.), Dangerous Perfection: Ancient Funerary Vases from Southern Italy. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2016. Pp. 212. ISBN 9781606064764. $60.00.

Reviewed by Valeria Riedemann Lorca, School of Archaeology, University of Oxford (

Version at BMCR home site

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

This significant publication examines a group of 14 Apulian red-figure vases from Ceglie del Campo near Bari, Italy. Issued on the occasion of the exhibition Gefährliche Perfektion: Antike Grabvasen aus Apulien, currently on view at the Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, the book follows a six-year joint project (2008-2014) between museum staff there and curators and conservators of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.1

The objects in this study are Apulian "display vases", which on account of their large size (about one meter high) are only likely to be found in semi-chamber tombs. Presumably from the same tomb-group, the 14 vessels under investigation span the years 375 to 310 BC, which may imply that they were deposited at different times. Their sizes, elaborate decoration, and holes in their foot render them unsuitable for use as containers, thereby suggesting that they functioned as showpieces during the funeral.

The Ceglie vessels were part of the antiquities collection of Baron Franz Koller, a military ambassador to Naples during the early decades of the nineteenth century. They presented the exhibitors with an opportunity to study Italic funerary customs and interest in Greek myth and, in accordance with the project's aim, to examine them as evidence for the history of vase restoration. The latter objective revealed the work of Raffaele Gargiulo, a leading nineteenth-century restorer. His interventions are a good example of what one concerned antiquarian termed "dangerous perfection", since such effective restorations could be misleading.

Preceded by two detailed essays, the core of the book is the Catalogue (pp. 69-159). This section is followed by a translation of Gargiulo's "Cenni sulla maniera di rinvenire i vasi fittili italo-greci, sulla loro costruzione, sulle loro fabbriche più distinte e sulla progressione e decadimento dell'arte vasaria".

The first essay, by Marie Dufková and Ursula Kästner, narrates the history of the Ceglie vases since their discovery in the early nineteenth century. The authors discuss the geography, history, and archaeology of Ceglie del Campo, as well as Koller's time in Italy, the creation of the collection, and the preparation for an archaeological museum in his native Bohemia. After Koller's death, the vases were kept in Berlin. The second essay, by David Saunders, Marie Svoboda, and Andrea Milanese, outlines the early decades of Gargiulo's career and the contemporary debate about restoration practices. The Ceglie vases, believed to have been restored by Gargiulo and his colleague Onofrio Pacileo between 1800 and 1830, offered the authors an opportunity to study the materials and methods used by the restorers and to place their work within the history of restoration of vases and antiquities in general (p. 43). They include an interesting discussion about the 1818 Neapolitan legislation against restorations, which were considered obstacles to understanding ancient art. This decree seemed to have targeted the deceptive work of well-known restorers, like Gargiulo and his colleagues.

In studying the processes and materials employed in reassembling and repainting the vases, the authors found adhesive that was also sometimes used to level the surface of the vessels. X-ray analysis of some Ceglie vases showed that for more substantial gaps, Gargiulo inserted ceramic blanks assembled in the manner of igloo bricks, as seen in one loutrophoros (Cat. 11). Furthermore, the cleaning of these vessels revealed some cases where the restorer modified aspects of the original design: a male figure on the lower frieze of volute krater Cat. 1 wore a helmet and not a fillet; the box in front of Hera depicted on the hydria Cat. 12 was restored as closed. Some figures, such as Athena and a youth holding a mirror (Cat. 1) were created entirely by the restorer. In short, this essay successfully demonstrates that despite contemporary concerns about deceptive restoration practices, the completeness of ancient artworks continued to be preferred by private collectors whose primary aim was visual integrity.

The Catalogue details the methods and techniques used in Berlin and Los Angeles in the treatment of these vessels: lining removal and disassembly, desalination, reassembly, filling, and inpainting. Each entry includes a description of the vase with iconographic discussion, condition before treatment, analysis, treatment, and in some cases, fabrication of missing sections. The Catalogue is supported by numerous high-quality photographs of the vessels during and after their restoration, archival drawings, and updated bibliography.

The Berlin-Getty collaboration focused on eight vases: three volute kraters (Cat. 1, 2 and 3), three amphorae (Cat. 5, 8 and 9), and two loutrophoroi (Cat. 10 and 11). Two hydriae (Cat. 12 and 13), two amphorae (Cat. 6 and 7), and a dish (Cat. 14) had been previously restored, while the amphora in Moscow (Cat. 4) was treated in Russia. The analytical procedure used was X-ray diffraction (XRD), X-ray fluorescence (XRF), optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), and UV illumination, among others. In some cases, ancient fragments have been reintegrated into a given vase (Cat. 1, 2, 6, and 10). Nineteenth-century restoration pieces were not reinserted into one of the volute kraters (Cat. 1), but they were nonetheless preserved as they are part of its history.2 Furthermore, the study revealed that in two cases (Cat. 9 and the body of Cat. 11), the old restorations dramatically altered their appearance, thus these two vessels were left in their original restored state as examples in the history of vase conservation.

In the Catalogue, some authors pay more attention to iconographic description and interpretations, while others focus on the technical methods used in the treatment of the vessels. The repetition of the Judgement of Paris depicted on two amphorae (Cat. 5 and 8), and one hydria (Cat. 12) is noteworthy, however. Paris is also the subject of amphora Cat. 9, but in this case he is depicted with Helen at Troy. A frequent scene in Attic vase painting, the representation of Herakles' battle with Geryon on one volute krater (Cat. 3) is interesting as it is only occasionally found in Apulian examples. Assuming that all the vases came from the same grave – as suggested by Eduard Gerard 3 – a reader interested in Apulian funerary practices might have expected some discussion about these subjects' implications for the tomb- group, but its absence does not undermine the outstanding research presented in the Catalogue.

The last section of the book is a translation of Gargiulo's Observations, which is preceded by a commentary on his contribution to the understanding of Greek pottery, by Andrea Milanese. The large quantities of archaeological materials available in Naples during Gargiulo's time allowed him and others to shape the history of Greek vases as a discipline for study. Gargiulo's Observations include his remarkable study of ancient techniques of Greek pottery manufacture and his chronological classification of painting styles into six periods. Mark Weir's translation is impeccable, and the original plates of Gargiulo's prospect of vase shapes, ornament, and period are included alongside drawings of a kiln and various tomb types.

In summary, this superb study provides the first full account of the red-figure Apulian vessels in Koller's collection in more than a century. It will prove of great interest to scholars and students of Apulian vase painting, restoration practices, and art history. Lavishly illustrated with high-quality photographs and archival drawings, this book is, undoubtedly, an important contribution for future research and conservation projects.

Table of Contents

Timothy Potts and Andreas Scholl, Director's Foreword 15-16
Ursula Kästner and David Saunders, Acknowledgements 17-18
Marie Dufková and Ursula Kästner, The History of the Ceglie Vases 21-41
David Saunders, Marie Svoboda and Andrea Milanese, Exactitude and Mastery: Raffaele Gargiulo's Work as a Restorer 43-66
Ludmila Akimova, Ursula Kästner, Elena Minina, Sonja Radujkovic, Dunja Rütt, David Saunders, Priska Schilling-Colden, Marie Svoboda and Bernd Zimmermann, Catalogue 69-159
Raffaele Gargiulo (translated by Mark Weir), Observations on How Italo-Greek Ceramic Vases Are Found, on Their Manufacture, on the Most Distinguished Workshops, and on the Development and Decline of the Art of Vase Making (second edition, 1843) 167-194
Bibliography 196-205
About the Authors 206-207
Index 208-212


1.   The exhibition was originally presented as Dangerous Perfection: Funerary Vases from Southern Italy at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu from November 19, 2014 to May 11, 2015. The current exhibition in Berlin will be on display until June 17, 2017: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin: Gefährliche Perfektion: Antike Grabvasen aus Apulien.
2.   See an interactive presentation of this vase restoration at
3.   Gerhard, E. Apulische Vasenbilder des Köninglichen Museums zu Berlin. 1845. p. 4. For a discussion, see the first essay of the book, p. 24.

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C. Kavin Rowe, One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016. Pp. 330. ISBN 9780300180121. $35.00.

Reviewed by Runar M. Thorsteinsson, University of Iceland (

Version at BMCR home site


This monograph is an extension of an earlier volume of the author titled World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age (Oxford University Press, 2009) (pp. ix–x). The present work is divided into three main parts, each including three chapters. The first main part treats Roman Stoicism, the second part Early Christianity, and the final part includes a comparison of the two and discussion of comparative enterprises in general. The Stoics discussed in the first part include Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, whereas the Early Christians in the second part include Paul, Luke, and Justin Martyr, that is to say, exact contemporaries of the Stoics in question. The author writes a text that is philosophically sophisticated, but nevertheless "light" with dialogical style reminiscent of the ancient diatribe applied by Paul, Seneca and Epictetus.

Each chapter in the first two parts follows a thematic structure. In the first chapter, on Seneca, Rowe discusses the topics death, Fortune, God and Nature, the passions, and philosophy. However, he fails to consult other writings of Seneca other than his letters, which is regrettable, considering the stated aim in the work to focus on the primary sources in the first two parts of the study. It means that Rowe misses much of Seneca's teaching. It is like ignoring three of Paul's authentic letters. One may wonder, for instance, if Rowe would have come to a different conclusion regarding the question whether Seneca's God is personal or not if he had consulted Seneca's other writings (cf., e.g., Prov. 1.1; 2.7; 4.7; 5.1–2; Ben. 4.5.1; 4.6.5–6; Vit. beat. 15.4, 7). In the second chapter, on Epictetus, the topics God, right judgments, philosophy, human being, and society are discussed. And in the third chapter, on Marcus Aurelius, Rowe treats the topics of death, God and Nature, human beings and right judgments, human beings and the possibility of right judgments, philosophy, and society. The choices of precisely these topics are not explained. The same goes for the Christian sources. In chapter four, Rowe discusses the following topics relating to the apostle Paul: God, Jesus Christ, humanity: creation and sin, humanity: death and resurrection, and the way of repair: faith and community. In chapter five, on Luke, Rowe divides the discussion into these topics: Israel, Jesus, God, human beings, and church and society. In the chapter on Justin Martyr, chapter six, the topics treated include God, Jesus Christ, philosophy, human being, politics and death: Rome and the Christians, and Judaism. Exactly how these topics fit to the Stoic topics is not altogether clear, for instance, the topics of Israel/Judaism. Also, one may wonder if it would have been a good move, given the discussion of Jesus Christ in the Christian sources, to include a discussion of the Stoic wise man.

While parts one and two focus primarily on the ancient sources, in part three Rowe also engages in dialogue with earlier and current scholarship, starting with chapter seven. He wishes to "reset" the scholarly discussion of the relationship between Stoicism and Early Christianity (p. 175), and to that end he consults the work of Alasdair MacIntyre and his three versions of inquiry that, according to MacIntyre, have most profoundly affected people's understanding of knowledge in modern times, namely, "encyclopedia, genealogy, and tradition" (p. 176). Explaining these categories of MacIntyre's, Rowe joins the former in rejecting the first version of inquiry, i.e. the encyclopedic way of knowing, and argues that it is a "tradition of inquiry" that is most appropriate for his purpose in the study, a tradition that is "a morally grained, historically situated rationality". According to Rowe, "tradition in this sense is the word that best describes the forms of life that were ancient Christianity and Stoicism" (p. 184, italics original). Rowe then discusses the works of Abraham Malherbe and Troels Engberg-Pedersen in this regard, and argues that theirs was the "encyclopedic" version of inquiry. These scholars were guilty of "mistaking traditions for entries in an encyclopedia", that is to say, "studying traditions as if they were something else—treating them more like data in a wider, more comprehensive scheme called scholarly knowledge" (p. 191). According to Rowe, the approach of these scholars is nothing but a "fossil-like thinking" (p. 243). If comparison of Stoicism and Early Christianity is to take place, it is necessary, says Rowe, to see them as traditions of inquiry, and "the most constructive way to conceive their relation is to think them in direct narrative juxtaposition, face to face" (p. 199). By "narrative" Rowe means something inseparable from being Christian or Stoic—"to know the story is to know the thing itself" (ibid.). According to Rowe, the importance of narrative has been making its way into New Testament scholarship, but, once again, this has mostly been done in a wrong way, "in good encyclopedic fashion" (p. 200). But what is the "narrative juxtaposition" Rowe intends to apply in his study? "It is an attempt to reason Christianly about Roman Stoicism as my second first language while acknowledging that because I can do this only as an outsider, the way may in fact be closed" (p. 204). In other words, Rowe reads his Stoic sources as a Christian. His construction of the narrative accounts of these traditions is "an account by a Christian who reads as a Christian" (p. 205). In fact, Rowe acknowledges, "in practice I am unable to understand certain Stoic things—perhaps even central patterns of reasoning" (ibid.). Presumably, then, a Stoic would have difficulties with understanding the Christian narrative, and a person who is neither a Christian nor a Stoic will be quite helpless.

Before he starts comparing the two "rival traditions" in chapter eight, Rowe includes a general discussion of the "stories" of the Stoics and Christians, i.e. selected parts of their theory (excluding ethics). He informs his readers that such a comparison can only lead to one conclusion, namely, that the two traditions are in fact incompatible: the assumption that the Stoics and Christians can be put into mutually intelligible conversation is "false". Their stories are "diverge and conflict in every significant way." Conversation between them is "impossible" (pp. 22324). In other words, in the ancient world, a Stoic and a Christian would not be able to converse with one another. This point of departure colors the entire discussion that follows. According to Rowe, subjects and terms like God, the world, human being, Jesus of Nazareth, death, politics/society/community cannot refer to the same things for the Christian and the Stoic: the two traditions "face each other with different and competing stories about all that is. And no amount of scholarly labor can erase this most basic juxtaposition. They are, permanently and irreducibly, traditions in conflict" (p. 235).

The reader who anticipates in these final chapters a close reading of the ancient sources themselves, with examples and quotations from them, will be disappointed. The discussion continues in chapter nine on the general, surface level, without much explicit support from the ancient sources themselves. After all, Rowe has already stated that a conversation between the two traditions is impossible. In this chapter Rowe forms an inclusio by discussing MacIntyre and his account of an "epistemological crisis" that can help us better to understand the "untranslatability" of traditions like Stoicism and Early Christianity (pp. 25057). Rowe concludes by explaining the crux of his book: "Stoicism and Christianity are claims to the truth of life, and knowing the things they teach requires a life that is true" (p. 257)—hence the main title of the work.

Rowe's argument rests much on the claim that the Stoic and Christian traditions are mutually "untranslatable". But the analogy from language does not apply well to the subject under discussion. Most of the Stoic and Christian authors used the same language to speak about similar and different subjects, and had full potential of understanding each other. I can hardly imagine that many scholars would claim that Paul, Luke and Justin did not have the possibility to understand the Greco-Roman "stories" around them. The claim that "you could not have lived the claims of both traditions at once" (p. 246) is certainly surprising for the reader who knows of Stoic and Early Christian moral teaching. It is not that Rowe is wrong that words can have different meanings in different contexts. Certainly they can. But Rowe forces the case too far by claiming the impossibility of any kind of "translation" between the Stoic and Christian traditions, any kind of conversation between them. The Stoic and Christian frame of reference is more complex and more flexible than Rowe allows, overlapping to a considerable degree, in part because of common human experience, often differing in the way that experience is interpreted, but the common factor is there. For this same reason, Rowe is able to understand and discuss Stoic teaching, even though he is a Christian. Furthermore, in this regard, Rowe does not always do justice to the ancient sources themselves. For instance, he argues that the Stoic God is untranslatable into Christian terms because, for the Stoics, God was the world. This would certainly apply to the cosmology of Marcus Aurelius. But both Seneca and Epictetus appear to have understood the term differently, with more flexibility, sometimes referring to God as a personal being, roughly compatible to the Christian God.1 To claim that everything in these traditions is "untranslatable" is surely to overstate the case.

Moreover, not only is the absence of the primary sources in the final, comparative chapters problematic. So is the absence of ethics. It is precisely in the field of ethics or moral teaching that we see clear similarities between the Stoic and Early Christian traditions, as scholars have pointed out.2 Rowe simply dismisses this field of inquiry where the correspondence between the two traditions is most profound. Simply to explain morality away as non-existent (pp. 19293) is not to deal with the matter. Contrary to what Rowe claims, the ancient did have words for morality and commonly divided philosophy into physics, logic and ethics. Mainly for this reason, if the aim of Rowe's book is to engage scholarship on the relationship between Stoicism and Early Christianity, it misses the mark.


1.   E.g. Seneca, Ep. 10.5; 12.10; 41.2; 83.1; 95.48; 107.9; Ben. 4.5.1; 4.6.56; Prov. 1.1, 56; 2.67; 4.78, 1112; 5.12; Vit. beat. 15.4, 7; Epicetus, Diss. 1.3.1; 1.14.1, 910; 2.7.11; 2.8.1; 2.18.29; 3.21.12; 3.24.3, 15, 19, 113; 3.26.28, 37.
2.   See esp. the number of works by Troels Engberg-Pedersen, e.g. his Paul and the Stoics (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000). See also Runar M. Thorsteinsson, Roman Christianity and Roman Stoicism: A Comparative Study of Ancient Morality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

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Anna Rist, The Mimiambs of Herodas. Translated into an English 'Choliambic' Metre with Literary-Historical Introductions and Notes. London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016. Pp. viii, 143. ISBN 9781350004207. $120.00.

Reviewed by Graham Zanker, University of Adelaide (

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The third-century writer of mimes in choliambic metre, Herodas, has in recent times enjoyed considerable attention in the form of commentaries and translations, notably by I. C. Cunningham with his 1971 Oxford and subsequent Loeb (2002) and Teubner (2004) editions, and by L. Di Gregorio in his two-volume commentary (Milan 1997 and 2004). In 2009 I myself contributed a text, translation, and commentary with lemmata in both Greek and English, aimed at an audience ranging from professional scholars to the interested general laity.1

Rist's new translation offers a 33-page General Introduction (with notes) addressing matters of Herodas' historical and literary milieu, the question of whether or not the Mimiamboiwere staged,2 and Rist's strategies in trying to convey their sense, flavour and metre 'for a wide spectrum of contemporary readers' (p. 1). Each of the nine surviving Mimiambs is given an introduction, with notes for students and interested general readers, followed by the translation, which is not supplied with notes, the introduction apparently having sufficiently explained all the vital problems.

Let us look at a sample of her translation. I take lines 1–20 of Mim. 2 (Rist's lines 1–17), in which the pimp Battaros makes his charge in court against one Thales for allegedly stealing one of his ladies, Myrtale.

Gentlemen of the jury, to be sure you are not judges
of our race or of our standing; nor if this man, Thales,
owns a ship that's worth five talents while I don't have
even bread, will he in law have weight one wit to
prevail to Battaros' hurt; contrariwise, bitter
tears it shall cause him! Like me he's to this city
an immigrant, and we can't live as we might like but
as our lot falls out. He has Mennes to stand sponsor; I have
Aristophon: Mennes is a boxing has-been!
That Aristophon still holds the ring at wrestling's proven,
Gentlemen! Let him come out toward sundown; then from
the cloak he wears shall be known what champion I come armed with!
But perhaps he's going to say 'I've come from Ake, bringing
corn, and put a stop to a feared famine.' Well, so
I brought whores from Tyre: to the populace what difference?
He don't give grist free to grind and nor do I give
her for screwing free!

The translation is accurate enough, where the papyrus' Greek exists; 'a boxing has-been' neatly renders πὺξ [νε]νίκηκεν. On the other hand, some phraseology seems curiously less idiomatic than the Greek, as with 'will he in law have weight one wit to | prevail to Battaros' hurt; contrariwise…', 'Like me he's to this city | an immigrant', 'to the populace what difference?': Herodas certainly parodies Battaros' deployment of forensic clichés, but there is nothing in the Greek text to suggest that he is parodying any attempt by the pimp to ape an orator's elevated diction here, nor that he is interested in the bathos produced by Rist's slangy 'He don't give grist'. On the tonal level, therefore, Rist's rendering adds something which isn't there, all in the name of capturing Herodas' 'liveliness', 'raciness' and 'relevance' for the English reader.

This is a procedure which features throughout Rist's translations. I agree with her assessment of Herodas' diction: '[he] combines an at times decidedly racy realism with a diction which revives… quaint, passé or otherwise striking usages' (p. 20). However, it is the degree of raciness and artificiality that has to be observed. Rist is frank about where she stands on the matter of raciness ('racy' is a word she is fond of: pp. 19, 20, 37, 42 [bis]). She writes (p. 29): 'I have assumed a translator's right to compensate, to an extent and where feasible, for … the 'entropy' implicit in translation — the inevitable loss of the precise and contextual colouring of the original', calling her procedure 'not less but more faithful to the reader.' She gives as an example her translation of Metriche's δὸς πιεῖν (Mim. 1.81, Rist's line 72) 'Give her one for the road!', though the Greek has merely 'Give <wine> to her to drink.' Here, she says, she has 'enlarged' the Greek. Another example of this 'enlargement' can be found in the same Mimiamb at line 54 (Rist's line 48), where Gyllis' decidedly neutral πλουτέων τὸ καλόν in reference to Gryllos' being 'nicely well off' is supercharged into 'all right for the readies'. In the fifth poem Rist makes Bitinna call Gastron 'Gutsy', but the adjective from which the name is taken simply means 'pot-bellied', and 'gutsy' in the sense of 'bold' is not an epithet easily applied to our Gastron (cf. Rist's defense at p. 79). 'Enlargement' too often leads to a false, inflated impression of Herodas' liveliness of diction; he is actually plainer and less sensationalist than he is presented as being. Herodas hyperbolized—who would have thought it?

Moreover, Rist claims (p. 27) that it is 'an obligation, as well as a challenge, to attempt to reproduce the 'limp"' of the final two syllables of the choliamb. Let us examine this claim. Like all ancient Greek verse, the choliamb is based on syllable-length, diverging from straight iambic trimeters by ending the line with a long-short trochee or long-long spondee instead of a short-long iamb, which gave the metre its 'limp'. It is bound by strict laws, even when the laws are 'broken', as when a long is 'resolved' into two shorts. Rist claims to capture this in English stress-accent, by translating into lines with six stresses, allowing herself 'fair latitude' with the first four feet' but 'rigour with the final two feet' (pp. 27–8). As she admits, she is 'on occasion' forced into a compromise even with the last two feet. Already, we can see that the choliamb's impact is likely to be attenuated. In practice, the effect she aims for is scarcely perceivable, because it is, as can be seen from our sample, rarely possible to make out four stresses (let alone iambic stresses) in 'the first four feet', and even in the last four syllables one cannot reliably sense an unstress/stress stress/unstress patterning. To take the passage above as an example, Rist's success-rate with the last four syllables is a mere 6 out of the 17 lines, and this is enough to destroy the intended effect, especially when there is so much contamination of the 'iambic' pattern in the first two and a half metra. These findings are representative for all the translations. I have to conclude that I do not think that Rist's attempt at replicating Herodas' metre is very effective.

A particularly disturbing element in Rist's translation is her smoothing over of all the papyrus' textual problems. She claims (p. 28) that her text is that of Cunningham, but that she has 'on occasion offered what I surmise to be the poet's likely intent, each time drawing attention to this in a note.' However, this programme is not always followed in practice. In our sample, for instance, she makes no mention of the fact that the left-hand side of the papyrus' lines 5–20 (her 5– 17) is severely damaged, and that line 7 is unintelligible (she therefore simply omits it). The aim is to avoid discommoding the reader, but it also allows her to pick among the 'liveliest' supplements or readings, like Papabasileiou's βινεῖν at the end of line 20 (her 17), which provides her with her 'racy' rendition, 'screwing'. Similar criticism can be made of her massaged translations of Mim. 1.35–47 (her lines 31–41) and 82–5 (her 72–6), and Mim. 7.26–42, after her line 20. Perhaps the most irritating example of her methods of supplementation involves her argument that the references to iambs and his 'second skill' in Mim. 8.77 prove that Herodas wrote straight iambs as well as choliambs. This not only depends on an unfounded equation of the two elements, but also on a word for 'skill' (either γνώμη or γνῶσις, optimistic supplements of the letters γν[ by various editors), which is not attested as conveying the sense of 'poetry'. Rist therefore ascribes an uncertain meaning to an uncertain reading, and yet, she expostulates (124), 'He hardly could be plainer!'

Then there is the problem of part-distribution. The papyrus's only indication that there is a change of speaker is the paragraphos in front of the word where the change occurs, and even then the system fails us. This affects every poem, except Mim. 2, from which our sample is taken (the interjection by the clerk at lines 46–8 [Rist's 38–9] is unproblematic), and Mim. 8, where there is only one speaker. In this respect, Rist follows Cunningham's distributions throughout, even with Offerings to Asklepios, poem 4, where the problem is especially acute (see Zanker [2009] 104–5 for a list of the wildly discrepant solutions). All this without a hint about the problem to the unsuspecting target-audience.

The introductions to poems 1, 2 3, 5 and 6 are the most helpful and least dogmatic in their contextualisations, though the expatiations on, for example, buttock-'mooning' in Mim. 3 (n. 4 pp. 60–1) and the connotations of Kerdon the shoemaker's name (from both kerdos, 'gain', and kerkos, 'tail', and therefore 'penis'!) border on the shy- making.3 Rist and I disagree on many issues concerning Mim. 4, its setting, and the seriousness of the two girls' art criticism, and I would have been interested in seeing her engagement with my position; I note here only that her insistence (p. 74 n. 7) that the traditional comic slave-abuse passage is almost at the centre of the poem does not disprove the possibility that ironically serious art-criticism might after all be at the heart of the piece, or its real aim. As for her introduction to Mim. 7, if all parties are in the know that Kerdon is covertly referring to dildoes as well as shoes, why the need to be 'cryptic' (p. 104)? In her discussion of Mim. 8 Rist forces the case for her old theory that Herodas wrote ordinary iambs in his youth, as we have seen.

For a book of this price, the standard of proofreading is very low. I must record the following for the 'general reader': at p. 19 for Askesis read Akesis, p. 76 Panake for Panakea; at p. 84 there are two note 7s, of which the second should be deleted; at p. 94 there is another supernumerary note 7, two lines of surrounding matter being repeated at p. 96 n. 8; in the bibliography the proofing of German titles and the spelling of Dutch names is haphazard.

To conclude. Rist's enthusiasm for her author is to her credit. Unfortunately, the by-product of this is that she will not serve the needs of her intended wide readership. The Greekless general reader will gain the impression that Herodas is far more slangy (and also archaic) than he really is, and that the text of the papyrus that preserves him is far more reliable than it is. The translation is generally accurate as to sense, but over-idiomatic in tone, and, as we have seen, is sometimes willfully forced to support Rist's interpretations. The book is therefore also unsuitable for 'students in that word's narrower usage' (p. 1).


1.   Graham Zanker, Herodas: Mimiambs (Aris & Phillips Classical Texts: Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2009) Pp. x, 252. Rist omits the item in her bibliography, though she refers to it some fourteen times.
2.   Rist seems to incline to the view that 'they are entertainments to be performed by no more than two or at most three actors', but admits the possibility that they were presented by 'one skilled actor' (p. 22; similar equivocation at pp. 108, 113).
3.   Rist parades her command of trendy, predominantly low-life slang. Some examples: 'send-up' (pp. 8, 19, 700), 'slumming' (p. 9), '(at the least) "oversexed"', 'Ms Bitch', 'from the stews', 'moniker', 'Nellie' or 'Fanny' for the alleged innuendo behind Kokkale's name (all p. 68), '"Bumma" (rather than "Stamma")' for the alleged connotations of Batale's name (p. 74), 'Get your ass out of here' (p. 125).

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Malcolm Davies, The Aethiopis: Neo-Neoanalysis Reanalyzed. Hellenic studies, 71. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies, trustees for Harvard University, 2016. Pp. xii, 107. ISBN 9780674088313. $22.50 (pb).

Reviewed by Giampiero Scafoglio, Université de Nice 'Sophia Antipolis'; CNRS - CEPAM UMR 7264 (

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Sul ciclo epico greco ha pesato per secoli il pregiudizio aristotelico e alessandrino che lo ha relegato al margine dei poemi omerici e che ne ha determinato la perdita quasi completa. Il primato omerico, o piuttosto il fenomeno denominato 'panomerismo',1 ha oscurato fin quasi ai nostri giorni un bagaglio culturale di indiscusso valore documentario e non sempre insignificante sul piano narrativo ed estetico. La 'riscoperta' di questa parte importante della poesia arcaica è stata avviata dalle edizioni critiche pubblicate quasi contemporaneamente da Alberto Bernabé (Leipzig, 1987) e da Malcom Davies (Göttingen, 1988), dopo essere stata anticipata con straordinaria lungimiranza dagli studi di Albert Severyns, specialmente dalla sua preziosa edizione dei riassunti di Proclo (Paris, 1963). In questo solco si pone il piccolo e interessante libro di Malcom Davies sull'Aethiopis di Arctino: il poema risalente al VII secolo a.C. o forse addirittura alla fine dell'VIII, dedicato agli eventi successivi a quelli narrati nell'Iliade, segnatamente alle imprese di Achille contro le Amazzoni e gli Etiopi, fino alla sua morte e poco oltre (compreso il "giudizio delle armi" e il suicidio di Aiace) – ma sulla possibilità di delimitare l'esatta estensione della trama di questa e di altre opere arcaiche, basate sulla tradizione orale e passate per la fase aurale, si dovrebbe svolgere una seria discussione, già avviata ma non ancora adeguatamente sviluppata.

In prima istanza Davies si pone il problema di 'giustificare' lo spazio dedicato al poema quasi interamente perduto di Arctino (pp. IX-X); un problema che, a dire il vero, mi sembra inesistente: molti libri inutili sono stati scritti su autori di primo piano e su opere di grande estensione, come l'Iliade o l'Eneide, mentre studi pregevoli sono stati dedicati ai singoli inni omerici o all'Appendix Vergiliana. A chi obiettasse che gli inni omerici e i componimenti pseudovirgiliani sono almeno pervenuti fino a noi come testi leggibili (diversamente dal ciclo epico, di cui non restano che pochi brandelli) si può facilmente rispondere che lo studio di alcune opere è reso necessario, e ancora più interessante, proprio dalle condizioni frammentarie e dalle incertezze di ricostruzione e di interpretazione, che richiedono tutta l'attenzione e forse maggiori sforzi agli studiosi che coraggiosamente vi si cimentano. Dispiace perciò leggere le motivazioni 'eteronome' addotte da Davies (la possibilità che l'Aethiopis abbia influenzato l'Iliade e l'arte figurativa arcaica) per giustificare un libro che invece si giustifica da solo, considerando la portata dell'opera perduta (un poema epico derivante dal sostrato orale, portatore di un mito che è specchio del mondo greco arcaico; ma uno specchio diversamente posizionato, per così dire, rispetto all'epos omerico).

Un'altra premessa posta da Davies (pp. 1-2) è il rifiuto (senza però una vera confutazione) dell'originaria esistenza di due canti distinti, dedicati rispettivamente alla lotta di Achille con le Amazoni e alla guerra con gli Etiopi: "there is simply no ancient evidence for any such multiplicity of sources for our poem", né vale l'argomento dell'analogia con l'Odissea (formata da Telemachia, evocazione dei morti, viaggio di ritorno). Tuttavia Davies sa che una testimonianza antica non priva di credibilità (Suid. 251 Adler, s.v. Ὅμηρος = Aeth. T 2 Davies) attribuisce a Omero un'opera intitolata Amazonia: l'esistenza di un canto originariamente autonomo con questo titolo è accettata perfino da uno studioso eccellente, ma tutt'altro che disponibile alle speculazioni analitiche, come Martin West (The Epic Cycle. A Commentary on the Lost Troy Epics, Oxford, 2013, p. 135); a meno che non si preferisca credere che si tratti di un altro poema, appartenente anch'esso al ciclo epico, ma diverso dall'Aethiopis, con cui avrebbe in comune però una parte della materia, come suggerisce Jonathan Burgess (The Tradition of the Trojan War in Homer and the Epic Cycle, Baltimore, 2001, p. 198). In quest'ultimo caso, si deve pur ammettere la precedente esistenza di un canto orale, o almeno di un tema mitico che è divenuto oggetto di uno o più canti orali, da cui deriverebbero sia l'Amazonia che la prima parte dell'Aethiopis. A mio avviso, è proprio questo il punto: bisogna spostare il discorso dal 'poema' inteso come testo scritto al 'canto' appartenente al sostrato culturale orale, nonché al 'tema' mitico che è oggetto del canto o di diversi canti. In questa prospettiva, mi pare difficile negare che l'Aethiopis potesse derivare da due 'canti' o da due 'temi' distinti: la tesi di un doppio titolo, che piace a Davies, non è inconciliabile con questa duplice origine dell'opera, appare anzi ben più credibile se ricondotta ai 'canti' o semplicemente ai 'temi' tramandati oralmente. L'analogia con l'Odissea è più importante di quanto sembri a Davies per la medesima ragione, cioè perché segnala non un legame tra due opere, ma un fenomeno culturale molto più ampio, che coinvolge anche l'Iliade e tutto il ciclo epico.

Sul problema dei rapporti tra l'Iliade e l'Aethiopis (pp. 3-24) Davies ripercorre lucidamente il dibattito critico, evidenziandone punti deboli e incongruenze, per addivenire infine alla posizione precisamente formulata da E.R. Dodds:

"certain of the motifs do look as if they had been invented for the Memnon story, but others, like the Funeral Games and the avenging of a friend, may well have been drawn by both poets from a dateless traditional stock"; d'altronde "in an oral tradition it is perfectly possible for two poems which belonged to the repertory of the same reciters to have influenced each other reciprocally, and to have continued to influence each other for a long period."2
La stessa posizione è assunta contemporaneamente (pur con un atteggiamento titubante e quasi oscillante, da "work in progress") da Bernard Fenik, (Typical Battle Scenes in the Iliad: Studies in the Narrative Techniques of Homeric Battle Description, Wiesbaden, 1968, pp. 235-236 e passim).3

Per quanto riguarda l'influenza esercitata dall'Aethiopis sull'arte figurativa arcaica (pp. 25-43) Davies riesamina i singoli temi: la "Kerostasia/Psychostasia", il combattimento tra Achille e Memnone, il cadavere di quest'ultimo tra le braccia di Eos, ancora il suo (presunto) cadavere trasportato dal Sonno e dalla Morte. A buon diritto, Davies rifiuta una corrispondenza fedele tra le singole scene dell'opera perduta e le rappresentazioni vascolari, che spesso tendono a concentrare diversi momenti del racconto in un'unica immagine, introducono elementi 'simbolici' (e.g. la presenza di Teti ed Eos al fianco di Achille e Memnone che combattono) o rispondono a esigenze squisitamente visive (colmare lo spazio, armonizzare il numero e la posizione dei personaggi, etc.).

Sull'immagine ricorrente del cadavere trasportato dal Sonno e dalla Morte, Davies smentisce l'identificazione con Memnone, che non gli sembra adeguatamente documentata e che sarebbe incoerente con l'immortalità concessa al guerriero da Zeus per intercessione della madre: il corpo in questione sarebbe quindi quello di Sarpedone (pp. 36-43). Non intendo entrare nel merito del problema; devo però dissentire dalla presunta incoerenza tra le suddette personificazioni e l'immortalità di Memnone. Infatti l'immortalità ottenuta da Eos e Teti per i rispettivi figli, se presa alla lettera o paragonata alla vita eterna delle divinità, sarebbe ugualmente in contrasto con i riti funebri celebrati (presumibilmente nel lutto e nella tristezza collettiva) per il defunto Achille, secondo il riassunto di Proclo (198-199 Severyns). Non bisogna dimenticare che, nella poesia arcaica, si riscontrano tracce evidenti di una riflessione sulla mortalità come caratteristica strutturale della condizione umana e sull'aspirazione all'immortalità: la testimonianza più importante è l'Inno omerico ad Afrodite. Il privilegio accordato a Memnone e ad Achille va probabilmente interpretato come un'immortalità 'relativa', forse non meramente simbolica (al modo del culto eroico devoluto a personaggi defunti, come riconoscimento dei loro speciali meriti), ma neppure pienamente realizzata: un'immortalità che implica comunque una separazione definitiva dal mondo umano e che, per questa ragione, non è molto diversa dalla morte, almeno dal punto di vista degli uomini. D'altra parte, non mi sentirei di escludere nemmeno che i due episodi riferiti da Proclo in merito all'immortalità concessa a Memnone e ad Achille risalgano a una fase successiva nella composizione 'stratificata' dell'Aethiopis (mentre la scena del cadavere trasportato dal Sonno e dalla Morte potrebbe appartenere a una fase precedente): se così fosse, l'incoerenza con i funerali e col compianto non sorprenderebbe. In ogni caso, anche la morte di Sarpedone nell'Iliade risulta alquanto problematica e forse finanche 'contigua' a qualche forma di immortalità (non a caso, si è pensato che sia modellata sulla morte di Memnone nell'Aethiopis).4

Davies svolge poi un commento puntuale e rigoroso ai riassunti di Proclo (pp. 45-81) e ai tre frammenti superstiti del poema (pp. 83-95), uno dei quali egli considera però spurio: segnatamente il finale alternativo dell'Iliade (tramandato dallo scolio T ad Il. XXIV, 804a) che mira a creare un raccordo con l'Aethiopis, annunciando l'arrivo della "Amazzone, figlia di Ares". Davies ricorda giustamente che questo passo non costituisce l'incipit del poema di Arctino, come in passato si è spesso sostenuto, ma solamente una variante testuale dell'Iliade. D'altro canto, non si tratta del finale originale del poema omerico, che non sarebbe arrivato "so close to total disappearance, preserved from oblivion by the slender thread of a uaria lectio". Queste premesse mi sembrano assolutamente corrette; non condivido tuttavia la conclusione tratta da Davies: "if the distich belongs neither to the Iliad nor to the Aethiopis there is litle scope for speculation". Credo piuttosto che, alla luce della 'gradualità' e della 'fluidità' che ha caratterizzato la composizione del ciclo epico e, almeno in una prima fase (la fase cosiddetta di auralità), anche i poemi omerici, si possa sostenere legittimamente che quel frammento non appartenga stricto sensu all'Iliade né all'Aethiopis, eppure appartenga in qualche modo a entrambe le opere.

Il dissenso su questi e su altri punti, che non posso sviscerare qui,5 non mi impedisce di salutare il piccolo libro di Davies come un lavoro pregevole che, proprio come i resti del poema a cui è dedicato, vale molto più della sua estensione. Tanto più dispiace notare un uso troppo selettivo della bibliografia, esclusivamente in lingua inglese e tedesca, con la sola eccezione degli ineludibili contributi di Albert Severyns: sorprende invece di non trovare mai citato uno tra i massimi studiosi del ciclo epico, Alberto Bernabé; a cui molti altri nomi e contributi inspiegabilmente ignorati si potrebbero aggiungere. Credo e spero di poter escludere un atteggiamento pregiudiziale di 'snobbismo' intellettuale, ma penso comunque che uno studioso del calibro di Davies non dovrebbe sottrarsi al confronto.


1.   La definizione è coniata da B. Gentili, Poesia e pubblico nella Grecia antica. Da Omero al V secolo, Milano, 2006, p. 98.
2.   "Homer", in Fifty Years (and twelve) of Classical Scholarship, ed. M. Platnauer, New York, 1968, pp. 1-13, 31-34, in particolare 12.
3.   Cf. I. Holmberg, "The Creation of the Ancient Greek Epic Cycle", Oral Tradition 13, 1998, pp. 456-478; G. Scafoglio, "La questione ciclica", RPh 78, 2004, pp. 289-310. Purtroppo, per motivi cronologici, Davies non ha potuto vedere il volume collettivo "Studies on the Greek Epic Cycle" (Philologia Antiqua 7-8, Pisa; Roma, 2014-2015), dove molto si dice sul ciclo epico in generale e anche sull'Aethiopis in particolare.
4.   Cf. C. Delattre, "Entre mortalité et immortalité : l'exemple de Sarpédon dans l'Iliade", RPh 80, 2006, pp. 259-271.
5.   Sul "giudizio delle armi" e sul suicidio di Aiace nell'Aethiopis, ma anche nell'Ilias parva e negli accenni retrospettivi presenti nell'Odissea, mi limito a richiamare il mio libro Ajax. Un héros qui vient de loin, di prossima pubblicazione nella collana "Classical and Byzantine Monograph" (Hakkert, Amsterdam).

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