Monday, April 24, 2017


Ilona Zsolnay (ed.), Being a Man: Negotiating Ancient Constructs of Masculinity. Studies in the history of the Ancient Near East. London; New York: Routledge, 2017. Pp. x, 289. ISBN 9781138189362. $140.00.

Reviewed by Agnès Garcia-Ventura, IPOA – Universitat de Barcelona (

Version at BMCR home site

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

Gender studies perspectives applied to the scrutiny of the past are in very good health: in recent decades they have grown in quality as well as in quantity. One symptom of this is the increasing presence of "studies of masculinities" or "men's studies," headings under which the book under review here might be classified. Indeed, in a historiographical tradition that has often equated women with gender, the acknowledgement that women's studies are just one among many possible branches of gender studies is always a good sign. Therefore, Ilona Zsolnay, the editor of the book, and all the authors who took part in it deserve our congratulations for producing this welcome addition to gender studies and to ancient Near Eastern studies in a broad sense.

The kernel of this book was the workshop Mapping Ancient Near Eastern Masculinities, organized by Zsolnay and held at the Penn Museum (Philadelphia, USA) in March 2011. This meeting was a pioneer of its kind, since the study of masculinities is still a rarity in the framework of ancient Near Eastern studies – in stark contrast to other disciplines in antiquity, such as Classical studies, in which it has been present at least since the 1990s. Luckily, the situation is now changing, as witnessed by projects such as the Penn Museum workshop and this publication, the workshop The Construction of Masculinities in Ancient Mesopotamia, which was co-organized by Lorenzo Verderame and the author of this review and held at the "Sapienza" Università degli Studi di Roma (Italy) in February 2015,1 and another recent publication, the monograph Masculinities and Third Gender: The Origins and Nature of an Institutionalized Gender Otherness in the Ancient Near East by Ilan Peled (2016).

Regarding the time span covered by the book under review, the contributions deal with sources as diverse as the cuneiform signs attested in the fourth millennium BCE and a selection of poems and illustrations from the nineteenth century CE. This vast range makes the volume a particularly rich one, even though the level of detail and specialization of some of the papers may prove quite challenging for some readers and perhaps even confusing.

The diversity relates not just to the chronologies but also to the geographies and cultural environments considered. The present volume includes contributions which deal with ancient Mesopotamia and ancient Anatolia, but also Indian literary traditions, the Hebrew Bible and the reception of antiquity in modern times. To quote the editor in her introduction to the volume, it covers the "greater ancient Near Eastern realm" (p. 1). In this framework, it is a pity that the only paper read at the workshop on the subject of ancient Egypt does not appear in article form in the present volume; the cooperation among ancient Near Eastern scholars and Egyptologists remains extremely limited and, in the opinion of this reviewer, is in need of encouragement.

From the thematic point of view, it is worth highlighting that all contributions insist on the complexity of the construction and performance of masculinities. After reading the volume it is clear that the experience of being a man in antiquity could take many forms and was not related only to sex or gender, but also to age, hierarchy, and even social class. Therefore, we should talk about "masculinities" rather than "masculinity," or about "men" rather than "man," along the lines of long-standing claims in feminist research and in gender studies when dealing with women's history: that is, the refusal to consider "woman" as a singular, monolithic category of analysis. In other words, although the term "intersectionality" does not appear explicitly in the current volume, all the contributions apply an intersectional approach.

"Intersectionality," a term coined by the African-American scholar Kimberlé W. Crenshaw,2 has been defined as a perspective which "emphasizes the interlocking effects of race, class, gender and sexuality, highlighting the ways in which categories of identity and structures of inequality are mutually constituted and defy separation into discrete categories of analysis". 3 When applying intersectionality to our analyses, as the contributions of this volume do, the aim is not to privilege one of the above mentioned features over the alternatives, but to approach them and all their mutual influences at the same level. As a consequence, a volume on masculinities is not just a volume on sex or gender, but a volume on identity in all its complexity.

Moving now to the individual chapters, we find that some use similar starting points or reach parallel conclusions. In what follows I will outline some of the chapters and highlight some selected topics and perspectives of study. Due to the limitations of space I am afraid that I will not be able to deal with all the chapters in the same degree of detail.

Four out of the ten chapters in the volume (chapters 1, 2, 4, and 6) discuss case studies related to the study of ancient Mesopotamia, showing the huge diversity of both the sources and the possible approaches to them. The first of these chapters derives from the communication given by Joan Goodnick Westenholz at the workshop (pp. 12-41). Sadly, Westenholz died in 2013 and was unable to work on the edition of her paper. The contribution would have benefited from further work from its first author, but we must thank Zsolnay, who appears as co-author, for taking up the challenge of putting the manuscript in its final form and thus bringing it to the attention of other scholars.

Chapter 2, by Julia Assante (pp. 42-82), and chapter 6, co-authored by Ann K. Guinan and Peter Morris (pp. 150-175), are flagship proposals for the study of the construction of masculinities in relationship to sexual identities and sex between men in ancient Mesopotamia. They are, without any doubt, among the outstanding contributions of the volume. Both papers explicitly apply certain theoretical approaches and use carefully chosen terms in an attempt to discuss the ways in which the relationship between men is shaped, negotiated, and portrayed in images and texts. To do so, both articles place the emphasis on the position of the parties involved, to highlight that it is power, and not just sex, that shapes diverse masculinities. In this direction, if Assante describes the social order of the Neo-Assyrian period as "powerfully homosocial and hierarchical" (p. 42), Guinan and Morris emphasize the usefulness of the term "sodomy" rather than "homosexuality" when dealing with Middle Assyrian laws and some first millennium BCE omens to highlight the relevance of hierarchy as well (especially pp. 155-158). Thus, both papers consider pairs such as active/passive, up/down, rear/front, dominant/dominated, in their analysis of the ways in which several possible masculinities were constructed.

Chapters 3 and 4, by Mary R. Bachvarova (pp. 83-111) and Jerrold S. Cooper (pp. 112-124), work in a different but complementary direction. Both take as their sources a selection of texts, mainly literary ones, to analyze how the masculinity of some characters, kings, and members of the royal family is described and achieved. Interestingly enough, both authors discuss how, in some contexts, the ideal masculinity is portrayed as that of "man versus child" (Bachvarova, p. 84) or "mature vs. immature" (Cooper, p. 119), highlighting how important it is to consider age together with sex to build up an ideal of masculinity. In addition, the crossing of the two factors is decisive to be able to sire offspring, another constitutive element of this ideal masculinity that is often presented with the metaphor of the bow.

Besides age, another factor that potentially intersects with sex is social class. This is the main focus of the argument presented by Simon Brodbeck in chapter 5 (pp. 125-149), in which he deals with masculinities as constructed in the Sanskrit versions of the Mahābhārata and Rāmāyaṇa. If Brodbeck concentrates on social class, Marc Brettler, author of chapter 8 (pp. 198- 220), concentrates on the distinction between "sex" and "gender" in its classical form – the former linked to biology and the latter to the social construction – to articulate his analysis of masculinities in the Psalms.

Brettler's chapter, together with chapters 7 and 9 authored by Hilary Lipka and Martti Nissinen, respectively, is part of the block devoted to Biblical studies. The chapters by Lipka (pp. 176-197) and Nissinen (pp. 221-247), as in the case of the chapters by Assante and Guinan and Morris, constitute an illuminating pair, complementing each other and discussing masculinities, from explicit and well-informed theoretical standpoints, in this case taking as sources the Biblical texts. For this reason, they also figure among the outstanding contributions of the volume, as they help the reader to navigate through a range of well-informed theoretical proposals through their careful analysis of well-chosen case studies. Both authors, Lipka and Nissinen, take some of the terms and concepts coined or discussed by Raewyn W. Connell in his pioneer monograph Masculinities (1995, second edition 2005) as an inspiration and a framework for their scrutiny of the Biblical texts: Lipka concentrates on hegemonic masculinities while Nissinen, one of the pioneers of the study of masculinities in the framework of Biblical studies, concentrates on relative masculinities.

Finally, the volume concludes with a wonderful paper (chapter 10) written by Steven H. Holloway (pp. 248-281), a well-known scholar in the field of reception studies. Holloway concentrates on the construction of the masculinity of angels from the Biblical tradition in pre-Victorian poems and illustrations, paying attention to the way they mirrored or counterbalanced nineteenth-century masculinities in England.

To sum up, with its intrinsic diversity, Zsolnay's volume of the study of masculinities constitutes a welcome addition to a field that is still largely unexplored. I agree with her diagnosis of why this is so: "the negotiation and maintenance of certain constructions of masculinities, as they are today, form a, if not the, keystone of societal organization" (p. 5). In this scenario, then, there is no doubt that approaching ancient masculinities as a research topic may help us to assess (or re-assess) some of our current views on masculinities and femininities.

Table of Contents

List of contributors
Introduction, Ilona Zsolnay
1. Categorizing Men and Masculinity in Sumer, Joan Goodnick-Westenholz† and Ilona Zsolnay
2. Men Looking At Men: The Homoerotics of Power in the State Arts of Assyria, Julia Assante
3. Wisdom of Former Days: The Manly Hittite King and Foolish Kumarbi, Father of the Gods, Mary R. Bachvarova
4. Female trouble and troubled males: Roiled Seas, Decadent Royals, and Mesopotamian Masculinities in Myth and Practice, Jerrold S. Cooper
5. Mapping Masculinities in the Sanskrit Mahābhārata and Rāmāyaṇa, Simon Brodbeck
6. Mesopotamia Before and After Sodom: Colleagues, Crack Troops, Comrades-in-Arms, Ann K. Guinan and Peter Morris
7. Shaved Beards and Bared Buttocks: Shame and the Undermining of Masculine Performance in Biblical Texts, Hilary Lipka
8. Happy is the Man who Fills His Quiver with Them (Ps. 127:5): Constructions of Masculinities in the Psalms, Marc Brettler
9. Relative Masculinities in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Martti Nissinen 10. The Masculinity of Male Angels on the Make: Genesis 6:1-4 in Early Nineteenth Century Gothic Imagination, Steven W. Holloway
General index
Terms index
Texts index


1.   The workshop included communications by two PhD candidates which should be mentioned among the ones on the study of masculinities: Omar N'Shea (University of Malta) and Gioele Zisa (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München).
2.   Crenshaw, Kimberlé W. 1989. "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics". The University of Chicago Legal Forum 1: 139-167.
3.   Thornton Dill, Bonnie – Marla H. Kohlman. 2012. "Intersectionality. A Transformative Paradigm in Feminist Theory and Social Justice", in Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber (ed.), Handbook of Feminist Research: Theory and Praxis. Los Angeles; London: SAGE: 154-174. For this definition see p. 154.

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Douglas Cairns, Sophocles: Antigone. Bloomsbury Companions to Greek and Roman Tragedy. London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016. Pp. ix, 240. ISBN 9781472505095. $29.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Ruth Scodel, The University of Michigan (

Version at BMCR home site


Cairns' little book on Antigone is a very fine example of a very difficult genre. "An accessible introduction," the goal of this series, requires the author not to diverge too far from common views of the play, if such exist, but if the author does not have ideas of his/her own, the book is probably going to be dull and lifeless. It is also tricky to read historically while maintaining the relevance of the work; Cairns distinguishes the ancient Athenian from the modern spectator, but is probably wise not to emphasize cultural distance at the expense of engagement. I have learned from this book, but I would also recommend it without hesitation to students.

The opening chapter, "From Myth to Plot," briefly surveys the evidence about the date and the legend before Sophocles and summarizes the play. This information is succinct and well presented, although, being of vulgar mind, I missed any mention of the circumstances of Tydeus' murder of Ismene. The summary, however, is exceptionally good, because it pays close attention to staging, particularly noting that Creon is onstage during the second stasimon and probably remains there until 1114.

The second chapter, "Tragedy and Sympathy," is a lucid presentation of a nuanced discussion of how members of the original audience are likely to have reacted to the characters, and how we should. Cairns first argues that there is no single "tragic hero," but that the play is about both Antigone and Creon, with sympathies that shift from one to the other. He then addresses how members of an Athenian audience could have responded to the issue of burial, and shows that the play demands that the audience recognize that Creon was wrong, whatever their beliefs about the treatment of dead traitors in actual Athenian practice. Then the discussion turns to the way in which Antigone is a difficult character. Here, and elsewhere, Cairns draws attention to issues of gender, again in a judicious and nuanced way, neither ignoring Antigone's transgressiveness nor overemphasizing it. I especially enjoyed a comment (p. 45) about how sympathy with literary and dramatic characters is relatively easy, since it carries none of the costs that such sympathy could bring in "real life."

"Progress and Pessimism" considers the first and second stasima in relation to each other. Cairns has a long-standing interest in atê, and offers a rich treatment of the importance of atê for both Antigone and Creon, and of the different levels of explanation that the play offers. 1 "Love and Death" addresses the internal contradictions in both the main characters' assertions about their own beliefs and feelings. Antigone stands for the natal family but rejects Ismene (Cairns acknowledges that there are signs of a less hostile attitude in their final scene, but in my view gives these slightly less weight than they deserve.) Creon, similarly, is destroyed by the ties of family that he has undervalued. That comparison is familiar, but Cairns makes a fine comparison between Creon's insistence on the mere functionality of women (569: Haemon can plow a different furrow) and Antigone's argument that husbands and children can be replaced (904–15; Cairns briefly but firmly argues that the passage is genuine). Finally, the chapter considers the marriage-to-death theme, and Antigone's intense attachment to Polynices in particular. Cairns seems to waffle a bit on this point, seeing Antigone's feelings about her brother as somehow erotic, although he does not agree with those who attribute incestuous desire to her. The chapter brings out how Antigone and Creon are both failures in their social roles, Creon as a ruler and father, Antigone as a potential wife and mother.

The final chapter deals with reception. Here, again, even the experienced scholar of Sophocles may win some new clarity. Wisely, the discussion makes no attempt at being comprehensive. Instead, after a brief look at ancient and early modern adaptations, where Statius is more influential than Sophocles, Cairns turns to "Our Antigone." This section has a very clear and useful overall structure, with a section on Hölderlin, Hegel, Heidegger and postmodernism, a treatment of some the most important adaptations. The play was surprisingly popular in Nazi Germany. Cairns points to the complexity of Anouilh's version, and to Brecht's importance in making Antigone a heroine of resistance to oppression (although in Brecht's version, Antigone has been complicit for too long). Finally, there are sections on Irish and African versions. Cairns' own responses emerge most clearly in his treatment of Paulin's The Riot Act, which he evidently likes very much on its own terms although its reading of Sophocles is reductive. He seems to agree with those who admire the poetry of The Burial at Thebes but think that it does not quite work as a play.

The treatment of the philosophical Antigone is the one part of the book that I fear is too difficult and compressed for its intended audience. There is a rare slip on p.123, when Cairns quotes Hölderlin's "Du scheinst ein rotes Wort zu färben" and does not adequately explain to the reader without German or Greek what is strange in the line. On Hegel, he usefully explains why the common ascription to him of an interpretation that simply sets family and state in opposition is oversimplified. But as he moves past Hegel to Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Lacan, Derrida, Irigaray, and Butler, while the student will certainly appreciate how important the play has been, the reader who lacks earlier acquaintance with this territory may feel lost. High theory, no matter how clearly presented, is not easy to understand in brief summary. The conclusion to this section, though, is clear and significant: the philosophical Antigone, however abstract and remote from the text it may be, is based on the tragedy of Sophocles, not a later ancient, medieval, or early modern composite. And the later parts of this chapter beautifully point out how the Antigone so accessible and familiar to us, the emblematic fighter against oppression and injustice, is a very modern reading. I was strongly reminded of a conversation I was lucky enough to have with Athol Fugard following a performance of "The Island" in Ann Arbor; he said that he would like to direct a performance of the play with a more complex and sympathetic Creon, and to play the role himself.

The book does not really discuss the fourth and fifth stasima, apart from passing references to Lycurgus and Danae and the need to purify Thebes of the Labdacids. Cairns does not consider the possibility that Antigone changes her mind about the advantages of death compared to marriage, although I think that such an interpretation of her lament would support his comparison of Antigone to Creon. No short introduction can do everything, however, and this one is remarkably informative and stimulating for so small a package.


1.   Compare his introduction to his edited volume, Tragedy and Archaic Greek Thought. Swansea and London: The Classical Press of Wales, 2013.

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Steve Reece, Paul's Large Letters: Paul's Autographic Subscriptions in the Light of Ancient Epistolary Conventions. Library of New Testament studies, 561. London; New York: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2017. Pp. x, 317. ISBN 9780567669063. $108.00.

Reviewed by Paul Robertson, Colby-Sawyer College (

Version at BMCR home site


The field of Pauline studies has long desired a book that situates Paul's autobiographic subscriptions in their wider manuscript context. Steve Reece's work does just that, and it does not disappoint. It is learned but approachable, technical but readable, and combines a careful examination of the Pauline data with a wide variety of other ancient pieces of literary evidence. Reece, a classicist who has worked on Homer, also links his conclusions to relevant issues in Pauline studies, commendably touching on several centuries of commentary with differing levels of certainty and support.

The book is laid out in two major sections, each detailing one notable feature in Paul's letters. The first section investigates Paul's autobiographic subscriptions, specifically in 1 Corinthians, Galatians, and Philemon, as well as Colossians and 2 Thessalonians. This first section details the broader context for autographic subscriptions in ancient writing, proceeding from the process of letter writing (Ch. 2) to comparative evidence from Greek (Ch. 3), Latin (Ch. 4), and Jewish (Ch. 5) sources, to Paul's letters by comparison (Ch. 6), with conclusions (Ch. 7).

The second section investigates Paul's so-called 'large letters' in Galatians 6:11. This part takes the opposite form of the first, starting from the specific Pauline data (Galatians 6:11 in Ch. 8) and moving to the wider comparanda (Eastern Judaea, Northern England, Egypt, and conclusions in Chs. 9-12). Five useful appendices are also included: translations of Galatians 6:11, commentaries on Galatians 6:11, basic statistics concerning published ancient letters, necessarily limited demographics of those writing subscriptions in large script, and evidence for shorthand writing.

Reece's core argument is that Paul's use of autobiographic subscriptions and large letters is typical in light of the ancient evidence, and that we should therefore interpret these two literary features as unremarkable. More specifically on the first feature, Paul writes autobiographic subscriptions for several reasons that are widely attested in other ancient subscriptions: to add weight to his message, to boost the formality and official status of the document, to verify that it is in fact Paul writing (contra forgery, implying the phenomenon was widespread and a point of concern to Paul), and to introduce a personal touch to his letters, which could function as a proxy for individual presence.

On the second feature, Paul's large letters in his own hand are even more simply explained. Like many ancient authors, Reece concludes that Paul used a scribe, and in the extant evidence there is usually a difference in size between the hand of the scribe and that of the author(izer). There is no special significance attached to this difference in letter size, which can be larger or smaller.

Reece's evidence, argument, and conclusions are compelling for both of these Pauline features. His organization and clarity of prose are well matched by his lucid and fair handling of the evidence. His comparanda come from a wide range of places, times, and types of authors, and his careful comparison between Paul's letters and other ancient literary evidence not only comprises the vast majority of the book but is also its chief strength.

These careful and seemingly humdrum conclusions of Pauline typicality stand apart from decades, and even centuries, of biblical commentaries, which have suggested a host of different explanations for these two features in Paul, ranging from the theological to the sociological and beyond. Such explanations are, in Reece's words, eisegetical, which is to say they import the commentator's own ideological and lived experiences into conclusions about Paul and lack internal evidential support from ancient literary comparanda. Indeed, this is one place where Reece, typically even-handed and sometimes equivocal about different proposed explanations, comes down strongly on an interpretive issue: Paul suffered from no physical or psychological malady, nor did his choice of lettering reflect any of the theological or social issues inhering in the letter. It was all simply standard practice in Paul's world.

Notable, though, is Paul's explicit mention of his large letters, which Reece concludes is essentially unique in the extant evidence. In other words, while Reece's ancient evidence provides clear parallels for the form of writing subscriptions in large letters, the same evidence cannot explain the content of Paul's comment in Galatians 6:11. Reece's conclusion is thus no less suppositional than some of the commentators he critiques, as he concludes that Paul's words arise from "a very human act of self-deprecation" which also "served to authenticate the document" (215). The same goes for explaining Paul's "thorn in the side" comment in 2 Corinthians 12:17: Reece persuasively rejects previous explanations but offers no new interpretation on the apostle's statement.

Reece also runs into something of a conundrum as he follows his data and evidence to their logical conclusion. The comparative evidence shows that autobiographic subscriptions served to authenticate and verify a letter's author and its content. This is all well and good for 1 Corinthians, Galatians, and Philemon. However, it raises a question as to its function in Colosssians and 2 Thessalonians, whose authenticity many scholars question. Much to his credit, Reece follows his evidence with consistency and suggests that perhaps Colossians and 2 Thessalonians deserve another look as potentially authentic.

Reece also uses his comparative conclusions to wade into a few other interpretive matters that will be of interest, and likely dispute, among New Testament scholars. Galatians, for example, is deemed a legalistic document due to an analysis of its form (lacking typical epistolary features we see in other data) and content which Reece dubs "legal challenges that had arisen between the emerging Christian movement and Judaism" (214). The evidence based on the letter's form is here more compelling than this understanding of its content. While Reece does not delve extensively into the interpretive morass of Galatians, his comments here and elsewhere seem to have in mind a sort of 'legalistic Judaism' in Paul's letters, a traditional position that has been increasingly rejected by historians and theologians alike. 1

In a plausible if not definitive account, Reece also speaks to the probable composition and transmission of Paul's letters: the apostle dictated his letters to a scribe who may also have been a faithful companion; the scribe took down his words syllable-by-syllable, or was given a basic overview of the content and was entrusted with the bulk of the composition, or something in between; then Paul reviewed the letter and possibly made corrections or additions; finally, he wrote a post-script and autobiographic subscription. Additionally, the fact that the extant Pauline letter copies do retain their epistolary features (greetings, conclusions, etc.) suggests that it wasn't Paul and his inner circle who collected them (such internal collections typically lacked epistolary trappings) but rather that the apostle's sent and received letters were the ones collected and copied by others as time progressed.

The role of the scribe raises two other issues that create opportunities for me to expand and, with due gratitude, apply Reece's work. First, the author's agnosticism on the exact details of Paul's compositional process does not do much to address the extent to which the ideas in the letters are those of the apostle himself. Admittedly, this is outside of the book's purview, and probably impossible to answer. But Reece's hints throughout of a strong role for the scribe in composition, together with scholarly work done on other authors, to try to separate the voice of the scribe from the voice of the author(izer),2 point to the potential further to pry open Paul's conceptual world. Did his scribe/companion understand the apostle's view of pneuma such that it did not merit much comment, or was the scribe simply relaying this complex concept without gloss, trusting with Paul that his audience would understand it? The formal issues raised in this book thus provide some tools for thinking about related conceptual matters. Indeed, Colossians and 2 Thessalonians (to pick up from above) are often judged non-authentic on conceptual grounds, e.g., eschatology, rather than stylistic and formal ones.3 However one assesses such criteria for authenticity, the point remains that the formal and the conceptual are often inseparable.

Second, the role of the scribe can also speak to Paul's social status, wealth, and education. It must be noted that the points in this paragraph are not Reece's explicit argument, but rather my own inferences derived from his conclusions, which he may or may not hold. Reece notes that ancient authors with means rarely performed the physical task of writing due to its tediousness and unpleasantness. Rather, those with sufficient status, wealth, and education had others write for them. This seems to imply that Paul's status was quite high: he had a fairly advanced education, he had the means to hire one or more scribes and to pay them to deliver his letters, he probably had what were essentially clients in different cities, and so forth.4 In short, Paul was no lower-class, sparingly educated labourer. It is a general view I am inclined to accept, but Paul's status, wealth, and education are widely disputed.

These issues aside, and despite Reece's own self-deprecation as a classicist outsider writing on New Testament literature, the book is a major and definitive step forward. Indeed, Reece's specialties in palaeographical and comparative issues have here contributed greatly to Pauline and New Testament studies. It is a necessary read for Pauline scholars and even readers at the advanced undergraduate level will find it both accessible and beneficial.

Finally, commendable editing has resulted in a volume free from errors of spelling, grammar, or punctuation. The images are smartly displayed and of appropriate size for easy reference, and while their captions are repetitive, such a layout will be useful to scholars who later skim the main literary comparanda images.


1.   An incomplete list of different types of scholars could include the theologically interested 'New Perspective' on Paul (J.G. Dunn, E.P. Sanders, N.T. Wright) as well as the more historically inclined (K. Stendahl, S.K. Stowers).
2.   See discussion on 205, e.g. J.A. Eschlimann (1946) for Paul; Reece also discusses intriguing scholarship on Trajan, Cicero, and some of the documentary papyri attempting this very separation of scribe and author.
3.   A useful summary of the arguments can be found in Philip F. Esler, "2 Thessalonians", in J. Muddiman and J. Barton, eds. The Pauline Epistles, The Oxford Bible Commentary (Oxford University Press, 2010), 235-37.
4.   An important caveat: Reece discusses examples of even (only relatively?) poor people employing scribes for business deals such as clearing land, taking out a loan, or employment. And we could easily suggest that someone else gave a scribe to Paul or the means to hire one; perhaps too scribes might have offered their services as they accompanied Paul in his travels.

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Friday, April 21, 2017


James R. Harrison, L. L. Welborn (ed.), The First Urban Churches 1: Methodological Foundations. Writings from the Greco-Roman world Supplement series, 7. Atlanta: SBL Press, 2015. Pp. xiii, 345. ISBN 9781628371024. $34.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Ulrike Roth, The University of Edinburgh (

Version at BMCR home site

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

The volume under review is the first in a new series that investigates 'the expansion of early Christianity as an urban phenomenon from Jerusalem to Rome' (p. 1). The need for this endeavour, as described by J.R. Harrison in his introduction, arises from 'two blind spots (that) have traditionally vitiated the scholarly study of the corporate and civic life of the first urban believers in the eastern and western Mediterranean basin'—i.e. the dominance of the literary evidence in scholarly analyses, and a widely shared understanding of the first Christians as belonging to a 'lower class'. To set the scene, Harrison offers a brief overview of the study of the ancient city (or: polis, as he insists), followed by short summaries of modern knowledge of cities that have played a key role in early Christianity, such as Jerusalem in Palestine, Ephesus in Asia Minor, and Rome in the West, with a particular eye on the range of available evidence for study. Following the Introduction, eight thematic chapters explore different methodological issues that the source material throws up: most do not, however, provide either in-depth or sustained answers to the problems of method.

The first thematic chapter, by A. Cadwallader, deals with 'the potential of archaeological discoveries for the interpretation of New Testament texts', taking as a case study a recently found marble fragment from (unexcavated) Colossae showing scenes involving gladiators. Copious description of the small fragment is followed by discussion of gladiatorial games and gladiatorial themes in both a Roman and a Greek setting, complemented by a short section that explores the reception of Paul's letter to the Colossians in a world familiar with gladiatorial games. Although the fragment has no provenance, Cadwallader concludes that '(g)iven that Colossae can now be shown, albeit incompletely, to have an array of festivities and games (including gladiator contests) like many Asian cities, then the assumption is warranted that this is part of the cultural atmosphere of those who live there' (p. 61). This, he contends, provides the basis for a new reading of Colossians.

M. Choat's chapter, 'The City in Roman Egypt: The Evidence of the Papyri', offers a patchwork of evidence and discussion relating to cities in general—or, rather, to the city as a concept, and to particular undertakings as documented in one or another Egyptian document. Choat works with a 'strong' notion of 'the Roman city' (pp. 67 and 85), also referred to as 'the early imperial city' (p. 68) or 'a Greco-Roman city' (p. 69). The question as to whether the Egyptian material can form the basis for generalisation is answered in the affirmative: the discussion of some papyri that mention urban spaces shows, according to Choat, that 'Egypt was not some "wild west" that followed its own rules, and (that) what we see there will provide us with a good basis for understanding how the cities that feature in this series articulated themselves in their public life'(p. 85).

In 'Epigraphy and the Study of Polis and Ekklēsia in the Greco-Roman World', P. Trebilco aims to explore the advantages and disadvantages of the use of epigraphy for the study of early Christianity. A basic introduction is followed by discussion of epigraphic examples that have attracted attention from scholars of early Christianity. The discussion is restricted to brief summaries of modern studies that explore the featured texts. The focus on the polis (again) and ekklēsia is blurred. The chapter ends with a list of topics for future epigraphic analysis of quite diverse types and scope. Later in the volume, J. Ogereau revisits in essence the same question(s) in his 'Methodological Considerations in Using Epigraphic Evidence to Determine the Socioeconomic Context of the Early Christians'. After a brief introductory summary of the role of epigraphy in the study of early Christianity, including comments on epigraphic corpora and collections, Ogereau seeks to provide an 'overview of the range and quality of the epigraphic evidence currently available and discuss how we may want to approach it'. In particular, Ogereau aims to highlight '(t)he significance of such material in ascertaining the socioeconomic environment of the first Christians' through a focus on 'Nero's revised customs law of Asia, the lex portorii Asiae' (p. 250), combined with discussion of the nature of Roman imperialism. The concluding remarks 'return to matters of greater relevance to New Testament and early Christianity scholars' (p. 264), offering thoughts on how the kind of information gleaned from the lex portorii Asiae may help to understand Ephesians. Ogereau contends that 'rather than conducting a broad and superficial survey of a wider corpus', the choice of a single epigraphic example helps to 'illustrate more precisely how inscriptions might be employed in studies of early Christianity' (p. 256).

Concerned with the 'visual turn' in NT studies, B. Kahl juxtaposes '(t)he "imperial imagination"' in two imperial statues associated with the Miletus Market Gate and 'the role of Gaia, polis, and ekklēsia in the verbal text-image of Rev 12:16', i.e. 'John's "apocalyptic counterimagination"' (p. 116). In that story, Gaia saves a woman, understood to represent the ekklēsia and pursued by a serpent, from drowning. Kahl concludes that unlike in the Milesian sculptures, where a lush cornucopia and a captive woman support the representation of Roman power, the helping Earth and the woman unyielding to the serpent's power in Revelation undermine the Roman claim to eternal power, as a symbol for the symbioses and collaboration between earth and its natural equilibrium on the one hand, and the Christian ekklēsia on the other.

In the next chapter, B.J. Bitner draws on 'the Julio-Claudian colonial coinage of Roman Corinth to illustrate possibilities and problems with regard to the use of provincial numismatics in New Testament exegesis and social history'. Beginning with 'a selective survey of the uses to which Corinthian scholars have put numismatic evidence'—for which three studies are chosen—the chapter proceeds with generic methodological considerations, before concluding with what Bitner terms 'a series of case studies […] to exemplify the potential the colonial coinage offers for sharpening our understanding of various aspects of Corinthian identity' (all on p. 152). The latter section is limited to brief discussion of how to improve on the three studies that featured in Bitner's first section. Although Bitner states that the final section turns to 'the application of the [aforementioned] methodological principles', what he in fact offers is not application but a 'sketch [of the] potential avenues for further research' (p. 176).

The focus on the poor in L.L. Welborn's chapter is located in the broader debate on the socio-economic standing of early Christians. Welborn opens with discussion of the definition and identification of poverty. The core of the chapter provides brief overviews of different bodies of evidence to ascertain their usefulness in the study of poverty. The repeated reference to the polis (!) and the intention to understand better the socio-economic location of the early Christ-groups sits uncomfortably with the focus on Roman contexts, including discussion of mainly Roman evidence—such as Cicero or Martial. A differentiation is made between 'nonelite writers' (e.g. Aesop) and elite writers such as the aforementioned two. The short section on epigraphy ranges from an edict from Ephesus issued by Paullus Fabius Persicus in 44 BC to graffiti at Pompeii. The section on archaeology considers osteological evidence, insulae, burial pits, and sculpture. The chapter concludes with a longer overview of modern understanding of the situation amongst the Christians in Corinth gleaned from Paul's correspondence with them.

In the final chapter, Harrison focuses attention on 'Urban Portraits of the "Barbarian" on the Fringes of the Roman Empire: The Archaeological, Numismatic, Epigraphic, and Iconographic Evidence'. The reach and impact of Rome on conquered peoples—as articulated on Roman monuments—is explored through a series of case studies: Sebasteion and Res Gestae at Pisidian Antioch, the Triple Arch of Augustus at Rome, La Turbie, the Augustan Arch at Susa, and some inscriptions from Gaul and Spain. Harrison seeks 'to explore the rendering of barbarians' (p. 282) on these monuments and inscriptions 'to see what light they throw on relations between barbarians and Rome', with a view to understanding better 'the Augustan propaganda and how this might relate to the apostle's understanding of his indebtedness to Greek and barbarian (Rom 1:14; cf. Col 3:11)' (p. 283). No images accompany the discussion, which is torn between rushed description and bold interpretation regarding the meaning of rather difficult passages in Paul's correspondence. There is thus a distinct gap between the handling of the Roman monumental and inscriptional evidence and the notion that 'Paul is inverting to some extent the rituals of obligation and indebtedness in the Latin West' (p. 308).

Exciting as the topic is, this is a messy volume whose target audience is not clear. As the brief overview of the individual contributions suggests, description is key in many of the chapters. Some of the claims that are advanced are not actually demonstrated, including methodological ones. An exception to this is the chapter by Kahl, which takes the reader along the author's thought process, and explains and justifies with due reference to the sources the proposed argument. There are moreover unexplained overlaps between the chapters, especially regarding the study of epigraphy —most notably affecting the contributions by Trebilco and Ogereau. Some chapters apply uncritically modern, i.e. anachronistic concepts and perspectives on the ancient evidence: Choat's ideas of what the lack of street names may tell us about ancient cities, for instance, would benefit from confrontation with the reasons for and consequences of the lack of street names in many modern contexts, including in the 21st century and in the western part of the hemisphere. Others lack due engagement with the modern scholarly debate: the study of poverty in Roman social and economic history, for instance, which Welborn cites, goes beyond discussion of authors such as Cicero and Martial, and has produced a vast array of approaches and specialist contributions that are likely to benefit NT studies. And there are missed opportunities for improving our understanding of the NT texts themselves (even if we accept that this is not the primary aim of this volume): could Cadwallader's claim that the archaeology helps improve our reading of Colossians been demonstrated? If so, that would have constituted an intriguing contribution and a demonstration of methological application. Overall, however, the concentration on methodology has led to an unfocussed assemblage of under-researched chapters. The volume reminds one why methodological considerations and advances are more persuasive in their successful application—by way of thorough and skilful creation of new knowledge on the basis of the available (and relevant) evidence. The proof of the pudding lies, as ever, in the eating. There is scope for improvement in the subsequent volumes.1

Table of Contents

The First Urban Churches: Introduction. James R. Harrison
Assessing the Potential of Archaeological Discoveries for the Interpretation of New Testament Texts: The Case of a Gladiator Fragment from Colossae and the Letter to the Colossians. Alan Cadwallader
The City in Roman Egypt: The Evidence of the Papyri. Malcolm Choat
Epigraphy and the Study of Polis and Ekklēsia in the Greco-Roman World. Paul Trebilco
Gaia, Polis, and Ekklēsia at the Miletus Market Gate: An Ecocritical Reimagination of Revelation 12:16. Brigitte Kahl
Coinage and Colonial Identity: Corinthian Numismatics and the Corinthian Correspondence. Bradley J. Bitner
The Polis and the Poor: Reconstructing Social Relations from Different Genres of Evidence. L. L. Welborn
Methodological Considerations in Using Epigraphic Evidence to Determine the Socioeconomic Context of the Early Christians. Julien M. Ogereau
Urban Portraits of the "Barbarians" on the Fringes of the Roman Empire: The Archaeological, Numismatic, Epigraphic, and Iconographic Evidence. James R. Harrison


1.   The second volume in the series has recently appeared: J.R. Harrison and L.L. Welborn (edd.), The First Urban Churches 2: Roman Corinth. Atlanta: SBL Press, 2016.

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John Sallis, The Figure of Nature: On Greek Origins. Studies in Continental thought. Bloomington; Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2016. Pp. ix, 254. ISBN 9780253023124. $85.00.

Reviewed by Samuel Ortencio Flores, College of Charleston (

Version at BMCR home site


In this contribution to the Studies in Continental Thought series, John Sallis endeavors to recover the meaning of the term φύσις in ancient philosophical thought as a concept separate from its typical translation as natura in Latin and 'nature' in English.1 He thus leaves φύσις untranslated for much of his discussion, although he begins to use the term "nature" nearly synonymously with it in his last two chapters. To accomplish his task, Sallis undertakes a reinterpretation of the fragments of Anaximenes, Heraclitus, and Empedocles, as well as close readings of Plato's Theaetetus and Phaedo. The chapter on Theaetetus also includes a digression on the fragments of Parmenides.

Chapter 1 ('The Reign of Artemis') examines the prevalence of the goddess Artemis through the archaic and classical Greek world. Sallis focuses on Artemis' relationship with the world outside the Greek polis and the cultivated fields that surround it. He suggests that the goddess has a dual force as huntress and protector: she demands the sacrifice of Iphigenia but also offers her escape; she is a lion among women, but also a comforter to those in childbirth. Sallis claims that Artemis' dual nature reflects the ambivalent force of φύσις, which both threatens and nurtures, imposes deprivation and grants abundance. He links the prevalence of Artemis with the multitude of early philosophers who wrote texts entitled Περὶ Φύσεως (the three pre-Socratic writers Sallis discusses at length each fall into this category). Sallis provides a general outline of the similarities between depictions of Artemis and φύσις, but he relies too heavily on the evidence of Homer and Euripides. His argument would benefit from a more systematic study of Artemis within the context of Greek religion and thought more generally.2

Chapter 2 ('Open Air: On Philosophy before Philosophy') focuses on Anaximenes' fragments on ἀήρ as an ἀρχή. The chapter opens with a discussion of the subject-matter of philosophy before it was called "philosophy" Sallis notes that the first to be called "philosophers" had an orientation towards the study of φύσις, but he attempts to read the earliest philosophers (particularly the Milesian school of Thales, Anaximenes, and Anaximander) outside the context of Aristotle's materialist narrative of them in Metaphysics 1. He suggests that ἀρχή is not a material principle for the earliest philosophers, but that Aristotle retrojects his own materialist understanding onto the earlier immaterial concept. Sallis emphasizes that ἀρχή can mean both "beginning" and "sovereignty," and he suggests that the Milesians understood this double meaning whenever they used the term. As an immaterial ἀρχή, the ἀήρ of Anaximenes is conceptually different from the 'element' (στοιχεῖον or elementum) air: it is the space and context in which all things appear.

Chapter 3 ("Enshrouded Nature and the Fire of Heaven") examines the four fragments of Heraclitus that use the term φύσις (B1, B112, B123, and the disputed B106). Sallis offers a new reading of fragment B112: "Sound thinking is the greatest virtue and wisdom: it is to speak and act the truth, apprehending things according to φύσις" (30). Sallis' reading suggests that fragment B112 complements B1 ("I distinguish each thing according to φύσις and declare how it is," 29) and the two fragments together define φύσις as that which provides the space for illumination. Sallis then uses fragments B123 and B106 to demonstrate that φύσις is analogous to day (ἡμέρα) (or more generally "light") and to define φύσις as "that from and through which things are brought to light as they are" (33). By this account, fire (πῦρ), especially the "fire of heaven" (the sun and thunderbolt), holds a preeminent place in Heraclitus' thought because it brings other things to light (i.e. it is through fire that other things appear).

Chapter 4 ("Radical Gatherings: The Imperative of Philosophy") uses a section of Empedocles᾽ fragment B3, an exhortation to "consider by all means how each thing is manifest" (43), as a basis for understanding φύσις in Empedocles' thought. Sallis reads Empedocles' fourfold ἀρχαί of earth, sea, air, and aither as that through which everything becomes manifest. These four "roots" (ῥιζώματα), as Empedocles calls them, are not things in themselves, but through them all things become manifest, and the roots are not separate from the things which they make manifest. Sallis concludes by defining φύσις in Empedocles as the processes of Love and Strife, the two forces that bring together and separate the roots.

The final two chapters, which consider the concept of φύσις in Plato, take up the majority of Sallis' study. Chapter 5 ("Monstrous Wonder: The Advance of Nature"), divided into five sections, is a close reading of the Theaetetus. Sallis briefly prefaces the chapter by defining the "monstrous" as that which exceeds nature (ὑπερ-φυῶς) while at the same time belonging to nature.3 The first section ("Openings, Chronology, Topology") examines the complex dramatic frame of the dialogue, which connects the Theaetetus not only with the subsequent conversations of the Sophist and Statesman, but also with the dialogues set in 399 that lead up to and end at Socrates' death (Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo). The second section ("Appearings") examines the initial appearances of characters in the dialogue. Theaetetus looks like Socrates, that is, he is a double of the philosopher in appearance; the young Socrates is a double of the philosopher in name; and Socrates himself, as midwife of knowledge, is an imitator of Artemis. In the final three sections ("Ventriloquy, the Protagorean Λόγος, and the Scene of Φύσις," "The Scene of Philosophy," and "Parerga"), Sallis illustrates how Theaetetus imitates the philosopher in deed, beginning with his "monstrous" wonder (ὑπερφυῶς ὡς θαυμάζω, 155c), which acts as the beginning of philosophic investigation, and further developing through the course of his conversation with Socrates, in which the two try to define knowledge, and by which Theaetetus enacts a philosophic ascent in an attempt to exceed nature and become like god. Although Theaetetus and Socrates ultimately fail to define knowledge, Sallis suggests that they make advances in this ascent before being "drawn back toward the mundane, which ultimately means toward φύσις, toward the earthly—and toward the limit of all limits, death" (157).

In Chapter 6 ("Earthbound: The Return of Nature"), divided into seven sections, Sallis gives a close reading of Plato's Phaedo. The first section ("Theseus") begins with an examination of the dramatic frame of the dialogue and how it distances the speakers Phaedo and Echecrates from Phaedo's narration in both time and space, before giving an in- depth analysis of the role of the Theseus myth that pervades the dialogue. The second section ("Down to Earth") highlights the prevalent role of Pythagoreanism in Socrates' depiction of the body as a prison for the soul in order to preface the next three sections ("Mythologizing," "Remembrance," "Ascent"), which closely examine Socrates' first three arguments for the immortality of the soul. The sixth section ("Second Sailing"), which considers Socrates' intellectual autobiography (99c-d) as the "philosophical center of the Phaedo" (227), Sallis suggests that Socrates' inquiry into φύσις allows him to understand his own φύσις and, further, that his retreat into λόγοι is in fact a return to the study of φύσις as it is manifest through λόγοι. The closing section ("Song of the Earth") focuses on Socrates' closing myth of the soul and its abrupt turn towards discussing the earth.

Sallis' book provides an innovative look at the development of natural philosophy and its reception in Plato outside the typical context of Aristotelian metaphysics and "first philosophy." His reframing of φύσις as not just an abstract entity but a place or context within which understanding is possible provides an important contribution to the study of natural philosophy and further illuminates the connections between Plato's philosophic project and that of his predecessors. Each chapter can be read in its own right as a careful and thoughtful study of an ancient thinker on nature.

All this being said, it is difficult to ascertain his intended audience. His discursive writing style guides the reader along the flow of his logical method, but it may prove difficult for a novice to pre-Socratic and Platonic philosophy. His brief introductions to each chapter do not always provide an indication of what is to come, nor do his conclusions always signify clearly the overarching themes of the chapter.

The book also neglects to situate itself within current scholarly contexts. The prologue introduces the book's initial problem, but there is no final conclusion to suggest any resolution. Most of the scholarship referenced in his footnotes predates the last two decades, and there is no final bibliography or list of works cited. These factors limit the text's utility as a resource for those who desire to study further the many scholarly issues at play. For example, Sallis dismisses Plato's Forms as mere "theory" (218), and in fact never uses the term "Form:" he translates εἶδος and ἰδέα throughout as "look" because of their etymological connection with "seeing." However, he only gestures at the debate on this issue without offering further discussion or bibliography.4 Therefore, a reader hoping to benefit from Sallis' many provocative interpretations and insights would be well-advised to review the major scholarly debates surrounding the pre-Socratic fragments and Plato's Theaetetus and Phaedo in advance.5


1.   This book may serve as a complement to Sallis' The Return of Nature (Bloomington: Indiana University Press 2016), a study of the concept of "nature" in Emerson, Hegel, and Schelling, published in the same year in the same series; but he makes no mention of the latter book in his discussion.
2.   For example, Stephanie Lynn Budin, Artemis (Abingdon / New York: Routledge 2015).
3.   This chapter seems to be a further development of Sallis' article "The Flow of Φύσις and the Beginning of Philosophy: on Plato's Theaetetus," Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy 20 (2004), 177-93.
4.   For example, R.M. Dancy, Plato's Introduction of Forms (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) (BMCR 2006.08.29).
5.   For example, Gerard Naddaf, The Greek Concept of Nature (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2005) (BMCR 2005.09.49); David Sedley, Creationism and its Critics in Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007) (BMCR 2009.05.16).

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Thursday, April 20, 2017


Melissa Mueller, Objects as Actors: Props and the Poetics of Performance in Greek Tragedy. Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press, 2016. Pp. x, 272. ISBN 9780226312958. $55.00.

Reviewed by David Kawalko Roselli, Scripps College (

Version at BMCR home site


Concern with the performative continues to loom large in the study of Greek tragedy. While this is perhaps a good reason to start contemplating the limits of such an approach, how stage objects could, in effect, act has received relatively little attention.1 As Mueller demonstrates, however, careful attention to the use of props in tragedy—much like the importance of gesture, acting styles, and delivery—can fundamentally reorient what and how we think about tragic poetics and tragic productions. Mueller's methodology is eclectic (5–6), often proceeds through close readings, and generally hews to New Historicism. The overall result is a thoughtful and well written book about tragic props and their metapoetics.

Mueller highlights in the Introduction how props can be entangled with or even drive stage action, signify "conceptual updating" (4) from earlier poetic treatments and tragic performances, transport spectators both back in time and towards a future recognizable as the present of the performance, and invoke sensory experiences. Mueller posits "experienced theatergoers" (2), whose grounded knowledge of theater enabled a performance's complex reanimation of past works and whose existence supports Mueller's readings of tragic props in terms of their nuanced agency and residual meanings derived from past performances; Marvin Carlson's work on the recycling of dramatic material and the resultant "haunting" and "ghosting" effects provides conceptual orientation throughout.2 Acknowledgment of the "uncanny power" (6) of props, most clearly called into being onstage through the use of deictics, is essential to deciphering their intertheatrical role in generating tragic action.

Chapter 1 unravels the mysterious agency of Hector's sword in Sophocles' Ajax. Indeed, the particular emphasis placed on Ajax's sword as an antagonist was rather anomalous and, as in Exekias' earlier painting of Ajax' suicide, marked a dramatic innovation. Elaborating Alfred Gell's notion of "distributed personhood," in which objects exhibit a certain social agency and embody human behaviors, Mueller shows that the exchange of weapons between Hector and Ajax in Iliad 7 marked a cessation of fighting that is nonetheless continued through the sword's mysterious power, which simultaneously marks Ajax's loss of autonomy in Sophocles; Hector's haunting of the sword ultimately destroys Ajax.3 Mueller argues (23–29) that verbal clues in the play transport spectators back to the Homeric exchange, which now—as Ajax comes to realize—reaches its conclusion by undoing him. This provides a valuable updating of Ajax's "deception speech" and his "decision" to commit suicide: close analysis of the theatrical valence of the sword resolves the riddle of Ajax's performance. Finally, the traditional merging of the warrior's "autonomous self" (35) with his armor, as expressed on Geometric vases, is briefly contrasted with Euripides' Heracles, whose eponymous hero consciously decides to keep his tainted weapons to mark his tragic dilemma, and Sophocles' Philoctetes, where the bow's historical ability to forge affective relations converts Neoptolemus to Philoctetes' side. The antagonistic agency of Ajax's sword similarly marks Sophocles' departure from previous tragic treatments and entangles the hero in conflicting temporalities.

The role of the fabrics in the carpet scene in Aeschylus' Agamemnon and its reception in Sophocles' and Euripides' Electra is the focus of Chapter 2. Mueller's mode of intertheatricality explains subsequent interest in the "signifying potential of cloth and clothes" (48) as a critical response to Aeschylus' play. For example, the skillful manipulation of props by the Euripidean Electra, her self-imposed austerity, and disdain for her mother's luxuries provide a "sort of meta-commentary" (68) on Clytemnestra's (ab)use of wealth in Aeschylus; a similar recycling of the sartorial imagery surfaces in Sophocles with Aegisthus' appropriation of Agamemnon's clothing. The Aeschylean fabrics themselves embody labor that is nonetheless occluded in the fetishization of what Agamemnon calls the "silver-bought weavings" (52) and for Clytemnestra problematically represent the household's infinite wealth. Mueller demonstrates how these characters' interpretations are insufficient in light of the uncanny agency of the fabrics, which appear to overload the senses of Agamemnon (and perhaps even smelled of the putrefying sea creatures used to make the dye) and rebound on Clytemnestra in Choephoroi. Attention to the materiality of performance underscores how props —similar to the way in which costume can create characters (67–68; cf. 58–60)—act as onstage interlocutors.

Chapter 3 explores the recognition scenes in Euripides' Ion and Electra with a focus on the material objects subtending the poetics of identity that interweave personal and political narratives. Starting from the premise that objects can "interpellate" (Althusser) a subject, Mueller suggests that when Ion examines the recognition tokens in the basket the audience sees them too (82), thereby transforming a private moment of recognition into a public display/replay of Athens' legendary past—a process of interpellation in which Ion and the "Athenians" recognize who they are. It is unclear, however, how this process relates to the play's simultaneous critique of Athenian values.4 In Electra the family's recognition tokens are sidelined in favor of criteria approved by the city; indeed, Mueller notes that these tokens were not visible (91, 107). Not determined purely by culture or nature and not linked to an exclusive social identity (as with the other tokens), Orestes' scar provides an "acquired" sign that emerges as the "perfect token of recognition for the democratic age" (98). Mueller links the Old Man's inspection of Orestes to the dokimasia, the civic ritual of vetting a man's right to citizenship and public office, while noting the ritual's disregard for qualitative distinctions among citizens. Rather than reflecting Orestes' questionable heroism or juvenility, the scar in this reading foregrounds grafting the democratic city's forms of legitimacy on heroic narratives.

In Chapter 4 we turn to Sophocles' Electra and the urn, a prop that metonymically recalls past dramatic treatments and metaphorically addresses the illusions of the theatrical event. Mueller shows how Sophocles' urn exploits audience familiarity with Aeschylus' Choephoroi while also complicating it by having the urn "hidden somewhere in the bushes," as Orestes tells the Tutor: the urn thus emerges as a "material actor" (119) whose potential was not previously realized. Here the urn becomes a vehicle for Electra's working through of her sorrows: emphasis on her hands and frequent deictics underwrite the physicality of the prop, which triggers comparisons with mourning maternal figures (e.g., Niobe) and unleashes autobiographical memories spanning past and present. And yet the emptiness of the urn encourages us to attend to the object's "self-reflexivity qua signifier," potentially revealing the "fictionality…at the very core of the tragic recognition scene" (128). Props can also influence the future, as subsequent performances (e.g., Polus' famous version: 112–13) and theater-related vase-paintings marshal the prop's affective associations to accentuate Sophocles' innovations (e.g., Electra as mourning maternal figure) and to tease out the emotional complexity of this character. With this "overlooked object" now transformed into a "character-defining prop" (132), Sophocles' play encourages us to reflect on the process of creating tragic poetry through the innovative use of this object.

Whereas the discussion of the sword in Sophocles' Ajax in Chapter 1 evoked its problematic epic lineage, Mueller considers his shield in Chapter 5 in terms of the reception of the hero in democratic Athens as one of the eponymous tribal heroes. As a "second skin" (135) the shield merges with Ajax in epic poetry, thus blending "human and material actors" (139); but in the play, once separated from his body, the shield becomes a symbol entangled with Athens' cultic and political realities. Pointing to the relationship between father and son and that between the "shield-bearing men" of the chorus (Ajax 565) and Ajax, Mueller suggests the shield becomes a "metaphor for political cohesion" and the staging of these relations proleptically signals the "cult of the Aiantids" (144). This metaphor can be traced back already to Solon and his invocation of the sakos (fr. 5 West) as a means to reconcile opposed classes; details of the shield's manufacture in the play further contribute to its (hybrid) status as a "heroic-hoplite weapon" (146), bridging epic past and civic present through the transformation of Ajax into a cult hero through the transmission of the shield via Eurysakes. The play's final tableau finds a striking parallel in the iconography on a fourth-century documentary decree, thus extending the play and Ajax's shield into the lived experiences of the Athenian audience. Mueller's attention to civic discourse and identity does, however, downplay the social tensions inherent in the tragic construction of such ideals.

The last chapter makes a case for writing tablets (deltoi) as props with which to reflect on the process of plotting and composing tragic poetry. Whereas in Sophocles' Trachiniae the deltos)—a "hidden prop" that prescribes tragic events unfolding onstage in tandem with the centaur Nessus' instructions enacted by Deianeira— serves as a metaphor for an "oracular script" (157) and synchs human and divine temporalities, Euripidean deltoi symbolize the plays' contested outcomes. Rather than underscoring the scripted and thus preordained nature of tragedy, Phaedra's tablet works pre-emptively to undercut Hippolytus' potential slander and to teach him to practice sophrosune (Hippolytus 731)—not simply to punish him. Mueller emphasizes the tablet's "animacy" (169) by delineating Phaedra's agency from the tablet's legibility to Theseus: through this gap embodied in the prop (unreadable to the audience) Phaedra's self-defense is transfigured into Hippolytus' destruction. In a detailed analysis Mueller argues that the deltos is capable of such animacy through its close resemblance to a curse tablet; viewed as a form of "pre-emptive judicial strike" (177), the tablet underwrites the tension between Phaedra's self- defense and Aphrodite's retributive punishment of Hippolytus.5 Through its verbal echoes with Iphigenia's prologue, the deltos from which the eponymous heroine later reads in Iphigenia among the Taurians serves as a mise en abîme of the play, thus calling attention to the usually invisible creation of dramatic dialogue. The struggle over Agamemnon's tablet in Iphigenia in Aulis signifies a contest over the maiden's sacrificial body and thus a metapoetic struggle over the play's outcome; the prop embodies the overdetermination of possible scenarios.

The Epilogue briefly notes the interest in the agency of props and their (potentially dangerous) personhood in Athens. Given this emerging consciousness of objects, tragic props acquired more complex roles including their performance of metapoetic work.

Although Mueller's analysis is cogent as far as it goes, I was at times curious about the relationship between tragic props and additional aspects of the plays. For example, despite the democratic vetting of the somewhat shabby Orestes and his identification by means of the scar (not the tokens), he is nonetheless hailed as an elite hero in Euripides' Electra (e.g., 850–77); does this trajectory complicate the disavowal of distinctions between citizens in the dokimasia (cf. 97)? And perhaps despite the generally New Historicist approach (e.g., 5), discussion of the political is rather narrow.6 For example, recourse to the "city" as an abstract political entity elides social tensions amply documented in extant sources; thus the idea that Ajax's shield serves as a metaphor of "political cohesion" (144) overlooks the structure of (class) dependency between the Salaminian sailors and their leader (cf. 143). Symptomatic is the invocation of Althusser (73–74) untethered from his reflections on ideology and the role of interpellation in (re)producing consent to the status quo.7 The idea of objects "hailing" a subject is a helpful addition to our understanding of tragic performance, but the erasure of class struggle (in Althusser's case) or other forms of social conflict renders illegible the contested social conditions to which these objects respond through their intervention onstage as props; what is at stake with this particular construction of the subject?8 This erasure also affects the book's invocation of spectators (i.e., the "interpellated"), who are often defined as "Athenian" (e.g., 79, 84, 140) in order to isolate the meaning of particular props. And if props can collaborate in the construction of a collective identity, I was left wondering about the role of fantasy in shaping subject-object relations. Mueller's thought-provoking discussion helpfully teases out such questions about the connections between props and the political.

This is a refreshing addition to our understanding of tragic objects. Mueller's attentive readings (leavened with discussion of particles or verbal aspects) of familiar objects at times dazzle, while ably demonstrating the value of coming to terms with the life of tragic props.


1.   C. Chaston (2010), Tragic Props and Cognitive Function: Aspects of the Function of Images in Thinking (Leiden); BMCR 2010.07.41. See also G. Harrison and V. Liapis, Performance in Greek and Roman Theatre (Leiden, 2013); BMCR 2013.11.27.
2.   For a related approach to tragic poetics see I. Torrance (2013), Metapoetry in Euripides (Oxford); BMCR 2014.07.03. "Haunting" effect: M. Carlson (2001), The Haunted Stage: The Theatre as Memory Machine (Ann Arbor).
3.   A. Gell (1998), Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory (Oxford).
4.   See e.g. K. Lee (1997), Euripides Ion (Warminster), 35–36. Discussion of Ion adapted from Mueller (2010), "Athens in a Basket: Naming, Objects, and Identity in Euripides' Ion," Arethusa 43: 365–402.
5.   Discussion adapted from Mueller (2011), "Phaedra's Defixio: Scripting Sophrosune in Euripides' Hippolytus," Classical Antiquity 30: 148–177.
6.   Mueller mostly (cf. Chapter 2) eschews economic considerations (e.g., exchange value or production), which could help unpack the "uncanny" nature of tragic objects; cf. J. Harris and N. Korda, Staged Properties in Early Modern English Drama (Cambridge 2002).
7.   See e.g. P. Rose (2006), "Divorcing Ideology from Marxism and Marxism from Ideology: Some Problems," Arethusa 39: 101-136.
8.   Interpellation draws on pre-existing historical conditions, and resistance to it, however fleeting, can undermine the state's internal coherence; see e.g., K. Silverman (1992), Male Subjectivity at the Margins (New York, 1992).

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Letizia Poli Palladini, A Cloud of Dust: 'Mimesis' and Mystification in Aeschylus' 'Seven against Thebes'. Hellenica, 59. Alessandria: Edizioni dell'Orso, 2016. Pp. xi, 347. ISBN 9788862746656. €40.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Antonis K. Petrides, Open University of Cyprus (

Version at BMCR home site

This is a book of strong self-confidence and grand claims. Poli Palladini aspires to offer a novel interpretation of Aeschylus' Seven against Thebes with "so-far unheard arguments" (sic, p. 3)an interpretation of the kind that, in her opinion, earlier scholars, who had either examined only aspects of the play or indulged in nebulous theorising, failed to produce. To the perceived theoretical meanderings and practical deficiencies of these scholars Poli Palladini juxtaposes "a common-sense approach" (pp. 5, 8) privileging rigorous attention to textual and exegetical matters (p. 6) and the pursuit of verisimilitude (p. 9), as opposed to her peers' berated penchant for ambiguity.

As one suspects, this boldness evokes the book's origins as a PhD thesis (Oxford 2000). In fact, despite the sixteen-year gap between dissertation and publication, thesis-like features are pervasive in the book: a dogged and occasionally disorienting focus on minutiae, excessive footnoting and bibliographical documentation at least in some of the chapters, frequent long digressions (see, e.g., pp. 78–80 on the timidity of women), and above all a forceful polemic, which sometimes treats other people's work very unjustly: it may well be that the chapter on the Seven is "the least felicitous" in Taplin 1977; but surely, Zeitlin 1982 offers more to Aeschylean bibliography than an "optional theoretical coating"; Torrance 2007 is not a mere "guide for undergraduates"; and Hutchinson 1985 did not by any means "lull" discussion on the Seven "by giving the fallacious impression that nothing in the play still awaited interpretation" (p. 4).

The book retains much of the philological-exegetical nature of the original dissertation, titled Studies on Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes. As such, it re-examines carefully and often convincingly many particular problems of the play, from textual matters to reconstructions of the two preceding instalments in the trilogy, and from the exegesis of specific references and passages to important questions of staging. These discussions invariably useful, if not always cogent show the author at her best: a scholar with a keen eye for detail, broad background in Greek history, religion and material culture, as well as an enviable command of the Greek language. The objective behind the reworking of this material was to transform it into something more "organic" (p. 3), providing a comprehensive interpretation of the play under two unifying principles: mimesis and "mystification" (p. 1). In a nutshell, Poli Palladini argues that the playwright resorted to a representation of war, relations with women, family feud and mourning by combining material from epic, contemporary experience and his own creative imagination. More importantly, the author adds, Aeschylus pursues a mimesis of the invisible action of superhuman forces. This action is made credible by the playwright's "mystifying hermeneutics"; that is, the compilation of varied, conflicting and often puzzling interpretations of the disaster that has befallen the city and the royal family by different voices. This plethora of outlooks likened to a rising "cloud of dust" conveys the sense of divine involvement in the only way it can be reduced to mimesis.

Although the notion of mystification is eloquently advanced, the idea itself that Aeschylus evokes multiple, simultaneous causality, because his is a universe where human and superhuman agencies work in tandem, is of course not new. That he intends to confound the spectator in this manner, and that this is how he intends to represent the divine, is, I suspect, not an idea to which everybody will relate. Moreover, Poli Palladini hurts her case by overstretching it, when she speaks, for example, in Chapter 7 of "unintentional mystification" to refer to the confusion caused mostly to the scholar by the loss of the trilogy's first plays. The apparent purpose of this stretch is to force upon the reader the impression that the book is structurally cohesive. In reality, "mystifying hermeneutics" is the focus of only two of the book's ten chapters (chs. 8 and 9). To put it another way, not only is "mystification" literally an afterthought, insomuch as it did not belong to the original thesis, but it also fails to coalesce smoothly with the earlier material.

The book comprises a methodological introduction, ten chapters, conclusions and two appendices, the second of which, unusually, offers a new translation of the Seven intended as a companion for the general reader (not a bad idea!). Chapters 1 and 2 deal with traditional philological matters in the way an introduction to a commentary would. Both chapters are exhaustively researched, brimming with interesting ideas and food for thought. In Chapter 1, Poli Palladini argues against the idea that any incident in Athens' recent history or contemporary politics is allegorised in the Seven. However, she does not rule out the possibility that the strife between Sicilian princes Hieron and Polyzalus over the succession of their deceased older brother might have influenced Aeschylus' choice of mythic material, especially since the two brothers had Theban origins. She also discusses Pindar F 75, which is sometimes taken as evidence that the Seven was performed in the agora. Rejecting this, she dates the fragment persuasively in 495–92 BC, and opines that the reference to the altar of the Twelve Gods may be intended to honour Peisistratus the Younger, who had dedicated it.

Chapter 2 broaches the question whether the Seven used the skēnē building, arguing that it did not. It also examines the number of statues present on stage (Poli Palladini believes there were eight rather than seven), the play's costumes, and Aeschylus' poetic use of the topography of Thebes. The latter section is especially illuminating: Aeschylus' deviations from topographical realism, the author shows, such as positioning Thebes in the middle of the plain, are meant to represent the final Argive attack as the most formidable ever. Poli Palladini has interesting things to say also about the diegetic space of the play, especially concerning the narrative representation of the gates. Using archaeological evidence, she argues reasonably that πυλῶν ἐπ᾽ ἐξόδοις (l. 33) suggests a kind of gate-court possibly encircled by a further wall. This interpretation has consequences for the way one is to envision the dispatch of the Theban champions (Chapter 5). The largest part of Chapter 2 is dedicated to refuting Taplin's suggestion that the mute extras in the prologue appear on stage in full armour. Poli Palladini's arguments here are uneven and sometimes display a kind of dry logic that is unhelpful: σοῦσθε σὺν παντευχίᾳ, she believes, need not necessarily mean "rush out wearing your armour", but carrying it; the citizens have not been summoned in order to go and fight right away, but in order to be apprised of the military situation; hoplites, and heroic warriors, don their armour at the last minute, not beforehand; and finally, presenting panoplies on stage would be undesirable, as it would increase the cost of the chorēgia. Inasmuch as these are reservists, not active-duty soldiers, Poli Palladini finds it more likely that they appear in their everyday dress. What she disregards, however, is the powerful effect of a fully-armoured group of people appearing solemnly on stage even before the arrival of the king, and the stark contrast between the armed, disciplined men of the prologue and the unarmed, frantic young women of the parodos. Chapters 3 and 4 turn to mimesis, examining the representation of Eteocles' character and the war itself. Poli Palladini's considerable knack for distilling primary and secondary sources is displayed here once again, albeit with the thesis-like shortcomings mentioned above. The general tenor of these chapters is that Aeschylean mimesis employs elements from real life (contemporary military leaders and wars), epic and other literary or mythical models, and the poet's own imagination. A wealth of material illustrates this, enriching our appreciation of the play. Much of Chapter 4 is again an aggressive response to Taplin's view that in the Seven "strategical and chronological considerations are distorted beyond any realism" (Taplin 1977: 140). For all the epic and other elements interspersed in the representation of war, Poli Palladini counters, there is no major discrepancy between the play and contemporary military practice. The same consistency, in her view, applies to the treatment of time in representing the final day of the war, which is logical and realistic despite some dramatic licenses.

Chapters 5 and 6 examine the pivotal second episode mostly from the point of view of stagecraft. In Chapter 5, Poli Palladini refutes the old idea, recently revived by Wiles, that during the second episode the champions are with Eteocles on stage, departing promptly as their missions are announced. Poli Palladini returns to Wolff's (1958) original understanding, that the postings had already been completed before the Redepaare. The polemic here is especially fierce: Taplin's staging is deemed "a surrealistic scenario" that involves the audience developing telepathic skills (p. 120), whereas Wiles is accused of an "impressionistic attempt" to explain away the difficulties of the text (p. 121, n. 35), even of "sheer fantasy with no textual support" (p. 123, n. 42).

Chapter 6 investigates the staging of Eteocles' final exit to the battle (and his doom). Poli Palladini believes that a single attendant accompanies Eteocles on stage carrying his armour. She leans towards the possibility of an onstage arming scene, although, perhaps too cautiously, she refrains from taking an absolute position on the matter.

The notion of "mystification" is introduced, belatedly, in Chapter 7. With a title that is slightly mystifying itself ("Unintentional mystification"), the chapter discusses various difficulties in understanding the Seven that are created by the loss of the plays that preceded it. The "unintentional" part of the title thus refers to obscurities not intended by the poet but caused by the accidents of transmission. That said, the chapter analyses mainly Oedipus' curse (its wording and content) and Eteocles' dreams, reaching the rather surprising conclusion that at least as regards the former Aeschylus was after all intentionally vague in the first two instalments of the trilogy. This contradiction seems to be the unfortunate upshot of Poli Palladini's attempt to force what I assume was another semi-independent "Study" in the thesis into the newfangled mystification framework of the book. Still, the arguments in support of a vague wording for the curse are worth taking seriously.

Chapters 8 and 9 expound on Aeschylus' "mystifying poetics", focusing mostly on the "decision scene" (ll. 653–719). The general concept is that the audience's oscillation between external and internal causality, created by the complexity of the dramatic situation, the depth of Eteocles' character, and the ambivalent language of Aeschylus, is a deliberate strategy on the playwright's part aiming to produce a sense of puzzlement in the spectator. This mystification is a means of exploring, on the emotional and the moral rather than on the theological level, the impact of divine action on man. Mystifying hermeneutics, writes Poli Palladini, is "a process of interpretation which confounds its addressees so that they will not notice the logical fallacies in the interpretation, [thus helping them] go beyond the rigour of logic and […] accept a discourse about deep truths, here the unity of the Labdacids' misdeeds as links in a chain" (p. 201). All this makes for an engaging and lively read, but the impression of this reviewer is that its originality is more terminological than essential.

Chapter 10 explores "mimesis in the exodos", examining mostly the identity of the chorus. Poli Palladini puts forth the attractive suggestion that, instead of two semi-choruses of maidens (that is, instead of dividing the primary chorus in two), the exodos employs a secondary chorus consisting of Theban menmost probably the same extras used in the prologue, this time representing not the reservists of the beginning, but citizen-soldiers returning from the battlefield with the corpses of the two sons of Oedipus.

Appendix I returns to the beginning of the play examining "the timing of Eteocles' first exit" (p. 229), which Poli Palladini places not at line 77, as most scholars agree, but at line 281, thus leaving the king on stage during the parodos. The discussion is strong in parallels and logical argumentation, although, as the author herself admits, no definitive answer can be given.

All in all, there is a lot to learn from this book. Its stronger points seem to be deriving from the original thesis, which comprised studies on matters of philology and stagecraft. The notion of mystifying hermeneutics constitutes a post-thesis attempt to provide a unifying framework, which, however, does not add significantly to the book's value.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017


Marina Coray, Homer's Iliad: The Basel Commentary, Book XIX. (Translated by Benjamin W. Millis and Sara Strack and edited by S. Douglas Olson). Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2016. Pp. xv, 218. ISBN 9781501512247. $182.00.

Reviewed by Rachel H. Lesser, Gettysburg College (

Version at BMCR home site


Marina Coray's commentary on Iliad 19, originally published in German in 2009, is part of the ongoing Basel commentary series on Homer's Iliad, edited by Anton Bierl and Joachim Latacz. So far thirteen volumes of the series have been published in German, and five in English translation.1 Coray's commentary is a work of great erudition and will be an indispensable resource for scholars of Homer. Here I focus on the utility of this slightly revised new English edition for anglophone readers at various levels, and consider how this commentary relates to and supplements Mark W. Edwards' outstanding commentary on Iliad 17-20, which is Volume V (1991) of the Cambridge series edited by G. S. Kirk, and represents the current English-language scholarly standard.

To begin with, Millis and Strack's translation itself is excellent, very accurately rendering the German while transforming it into an English idiom that is always readable and often graceful and sophisticated. Examples of the latter include the following phrases: "die Notwendigkeit des Essens vor dem Kampf" becomes "the necessity of taking nourishment before battle" (ad 145-235), and "endlosen Aneinanderreihung von Katastrophen" becomes "an endless concatenation of catastrophes" (ad 290b). Occasionally, the translation loses some smoothness because it keeps so close to the German syntax (e.g. ad 266-276). The only real infelicity is the choice to translate the German "Lanze" in reference to Achilleus' Pelian ash-spear by its English cognate "lance," which, unfortunately, conjures up the image of medieval knights jousting. The book seems to be well produced and free of errors, except for a metrical typo in the English edition ad 279 with an extra breve added to the scansion of 17.199.

After two brief prefaces, Coray's volume begins with crucial "Notes for the Reader" that introduce the commentary's typography, structure, and some abbreviations. In accordance with the convention of the Basel series, Coray provides four levels of commentary distinguished by different type sizes and placements and meant for different audiences: 1) "the most important explanations" intended for all kinds of users in regular type, with lemmata taken from Richmond Lattimore's English translation of the Iliad and requiring no knowledge of Greek; 2) more detailed and philological explanations of the Greek text itself (M. L. West's Teubner) in smaller type; 3) specialized discussion relating to sub- fields of Homeric scholarship in the smallest type; and 4) "elementary" explanations of Homeric word forms, prosody, and meter designed for school and university students located below a dividing line at the bottom of each page. There is also a second introductory section, "24 Rules Relating to Homeric Language," which provides a concise overview of Homeric prosody, morphology, and syntax. Coray constantly refers readers to the "24 Rules" in the fourth level of the commentary.

The Basel commentary series is clearly envisaged as a multipurpose tool suitable for everyone from the amateur reader of Homer in translation and the student learning Homeric Greek to the Homer specialist. But despite these admirable intentions (which the prohibitive price tag already undermines), I am not sure that this commentary is accessible to this whole range of users. First, while the "24 Rules" offer a helpful review of Homeric meter and language, it does not in itself constitute a beginner's guide, as it provides limited explanation (it summarizes "so-called tmesis" in a parenthetical half-sentence aside on p. 7) and sometimes assumes specialized knowledge of linguistics (e.g. it references the "Ionic-Attic sound change" on p. 1). The reader who would like a fuller discussion must consult the "Grammar of Homeric Greek" essay in the Prolegomena volume, which is cross-referenced throughout the "24 Rules." That said, the inclusion of even a schematic overview of this subject is a welcome addition to any Homer commentary, and an advance on the Cambridge series.

I found the commentary's format to be formidable and unwieldly at first. For the reader who wants to digest all the levels of the commentary, the different type sizes are distracting and the multiple registers are occasionally repetitious. On the other hand, the amateur reader may find it difficult to distinguish and absorb the desired register amid each densely packed page of explanation and bibliography. The commentary is chock full of abbreviations and other sigla, which reference, inter alia, each separate chapter of the Prolegomena volume, ancient works and authors, modern scholarship, and analytic vocabulary (e.g. VB = verse-beginning). The challenge of deciphering the abbreviations is increased by the fact that the keys are located in two separate places, the opening "Notes for the Reader" and the closing "Bibliographic Abbreviations." Overall, the user must surmount a steep learning curve to access the commentary comfortably, making it less than ideal for the casual reader or undergraduate student. In addition, Coray's frequent references to other volumes in the Basel series require the reader to have ready access to multiple volumes to make full use of the commentary. While there is a one-page "Overview of the Action in Book 19" that precedes the commentary, there is no introductory interpretive essay covering the whole book. By contrast, Edwards' Cambridge commentary has a single type size, provides full in-text citations, and begins book 19 with a few paragraphs of interpretive overview on top of the thematic essays introducing the volume as a whole. I would recommend Coray's text to Homer students as a tool for approaching specific passages, but not as an introductory companion to the entire book.

Coray's commentary does become easier to navigate with experience and rewards the Homeric scholar with a wider range of information and analysis than Edwards' commentary. It reflects advances in the field in the twenty-five years since the publication of Edwards' commentary, integrating the latest approaches and recent bibliography, and representing a new philological standard. While Edwards' work is elegantly concise, confidently learned, and particularly brilliant on Homer's poetics and literary purpose, Coray's is more systematic, comprehensive, and multivocal.

First of all, her commentary is linguistically authoritative, and draws heavily on the recently completed Lexikon des frühgriechischen Epos, although this is by no means Coray's only source. Coray far surpasses Edwards in her discussions of meaning, etymology (including Mycenaean origins), word formation, grammar, syntax, hapax legomena, etc. The parsings of verbs and other grammatical and prosodic explanations in the lowest register can be enlightening for advanced scholars as well as students.

Second, this commentary is a wonderful resource for understanding Homer's narrative strategies and formulaic art. Coray integrates into her commentary the narratological analysis and vocabulary introduced by Irene de Jong.2 This inclusion draws welcome attention to the narrative's shifting focalization and techniques of foreshadowing and flashback. Even more helpful is the way that Coray methodically identifies and explains type-scenes, motifs, and formulas. She also extensively cross-references similar or identical themes, actions, and formulaic elements that appear elsewhere in the Iliad, the Odyssey, and other early Greek hexameter poetry, explicitly noting repeated verses and verse-halves. Coray often makes good interpretive use of such parallels,3 although I noticed two instances when she does not observe or discuss potentially significant repetitions of individual words elsewhere in the epic.4 Another innovation is Coray's citation of Near Eastern and Indic parallels to Homer, for which she relies primarily on the relatively recent work of M. L. West.5

In the area of literary-critical interpretation, Coray frequently cites Edwards and there is a fair amount of overlap in their textual analyses. However, in many instances, she greatly expands on Edwards,6 and sometimes gives an independent reading.7 I appreciate how Coray tends to offer several different ways of understanding a phrase or passage (with relevant bibliography), empowering the reader to decide on the best solution. She employs the same method in her treatment of textual problems, presenting a variety of arguments for inclusion or athetization (e.g. ad 326-337 on Achilleus' mention of Neoptolemos). Coray is particularly good on Achilleus' aggression, grief, and fasting, and on lament and the "motif of satiety." She cites a more extensive bibliography than Edwards and her commentary provides an excellent entry point into German scholarship for the Anglophone reader, while also showing impressive familiarity with English-language scholarship.8

In sum, Coray's achievement is exceptional, and this admirable translation of her volume will allow Anglophone Homeric scholars and advanced students to consult her work more easily.


1.   In the original German edition, we now have a Prolegomena volume and volumes covering Iliad 1, 2, 3, 6, 9, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 22, and 24. Aside from the Prolegomena, each German volume features two separate fascicles, the first containing a Greek text edited by Martin L. West based on his Teubner edition and a translation into German verse by Latacz, and the second a commentary. In English translation, we have the Prolegomena volume and commentaries (without the text) on Iliad 3, 6, 19, and 24. There is a recent BMCR review of the Prolegomena volume in English translation by Evert van Emde Boas, BMCR 2016.08.22, and previous reviews of the original German editions of Iliad 1 by Johannes Haubold, BMCR 2001.09.01 and Iliad 2 by J. B. Lethbridge, BMCR 2005.08.16. I echo some of the general comments from these previous reviews.
2.   I. J. F. de Jong, Narrators and Focalizers: The Presentation of the Story in the Iliad (Amsterdam 1987).
3.   For example, ad 238-276 Coray helpfully analyzes the similarities and differences between the close of the assembly in book 19 and the return of Chryseis and Greek reconciliation with Apollo in book 1, although she does not cite the recent discussion of this narrative echo offered by Bruce Louden, The Iliad: Structure, Myth, and Meaning (Baltimore 2006), 123-125.
4.   In her excellent discussion of the meaning of ἰανθῇς (ad 173-174), which Odysseus uses to predict the effect of Agamemnon's compensatory gifts on Achilleus, Coray fails to refer the reader to the later reappearance of this word in a repeated formula (24.147 = 24.176 = 24.196) that describes the desired effect of Priam's ransom gifts on Achilleus. Similarly, when drawing attention to the word λώβην (ad 208), which Achilleus here uses to describe Hektor's insult, Coray does not observe or analyze the fact that Achilleus uses the word in the same line-end position in 9.387 to decry Agamemnon's prior abuse. Both these repetitions (also neglected by Edwards) contribute to a narrative parallelism between Achilleus' anger towards Agamemnon, and then towards Hektor.
5.   M. L. West, The East Face of Helicon: West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth (Oxford 1997). Coray notes parallels to the Hebrew Bible (ad 95-133, ad 347-354), the Rig Veda (ad 121), Assyrian poetry (ad 128-130), and the Epic of Gilgamesh (ad 314).
6.   Coray expands on Edwards' treatments of, e.g. the Erinyes invoked in Agamemnon's oath (ad 259), Achilleus' speech in response to Agamemnon (ad 270-275), the multiple functions of Briseis' lament (ad 282-302), and Achilleus' divine nourishment (ad 347-354).
7.   Coray offers new commentary on Agamemnon's reasons for not sleeping with Briseis (ad 262), on Achilleus' failure to mention his part in Zeus' plan to kill Achaians (ad 273b-274), and on the gleaming of Achilleus' armor (ad 374-383).
8.   However, I noticed these few bibliographic omissions: on the relationship of Achilleus and Patroklos (ad 4-6a), David M. Halperin, "Heroes and their Pals," in One Hundred Years of Homosexuality: And Other Essays on Greek Love (New York; London 1990) and Marco Fantuzzi, Achilles in Love: Intertextual Studies (Oxford 2012), 187-214; on χόλος (ad 67), Thomas R. Walsh, Fighting Words and Feuding Words (Lanham 2005), 113-116; on Achilleus' fasting (ad 155-183), Michael Nagler, Spontaneity and Tradition: A Study in the Oral Art of Homer (Berkeley 1974) 174-180; on Zeus' control of plot (ad 223b-224), Bruce Heiden, Homer's Cosmic Fabrication (Oxford 2008), 29-34; on satiety (ad 307 and ad 402), Thomas R. MacCary, Childlike Achilles: Ontogeny and Phylogeny in the Iliad (New York 1982), 143-148.

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