Wednesday, May 24, 2017


Todd S. Berzon, Classifying Christians: Ethnography, Heresiology, and the Limits of Knowledge in Late Antiquity. Oakland: University of California Press, 2016. Pp. xiv, 302. ISBN 9780520284265. $95.00.

Reviewed by Eduard Iricinschi, Ruhr University Bochum (

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Classifying Christians is a detailed study of six heresiological texts, stretching from the second to the fifth century CE: Irenaeus of Lyon's Against the Heresies (written around 180 CE), Tertullian of Carthage's De praescriptione haereticorum (203 CE), the Refutation of All Heresies (225 CE), Epiphanius of Cyprus' Panarion (after 375), Augustine of Hippo's Heresies (De haeresibus ad Quodvultdeum, 428 CE), and Theodoret of Cyrrhus' Haereticarum fabularum compendium (452 or 453 CE). Treating the above texts as a literary collection, unified by thematic and stylistic features, Classifying Christians approaches them as illustrations of an ancient ethnography of theological expression. Its major innovation is to set up a four-dimensional critical method that brings together ancient heresiology, ancient ethnography, Victorian ethnography, and modern religious studies. In Berzon's approach, each set of normative surveys helps understanding the others. Instead of evaluating heresiology as a theological discourse of asserting and contesting power, Berzon stresses that early Christian heresiologists employed the language and concepts of ancient ethnographic authors to "depict and organize the world and its people in distinctly Christian terms" (p. 6). This ethnographic turn in the study of ancient heresiology enables the author to pursue a Foucauldian theoretical agenda.1 The major questions asked throughout the volume regard the Christian production of knowledge in heresiological ethnography, its limits, and its failure.

Chapter 1, "Heresiology as Ethnography: The Ethnographic Disposition," introduces the method and the conceptual tools of analysis. Berzon defines ethnographic disposition as the "process and effects of writing people and defining cultural systems" (p. 24). Faced with a wide array of sources, genres, and styles of ancient ethnographic texts, the author privileges fuzzier definitions for "writing peoples" in antiquity, such as "the ethnographic impulse," "ethnographic curiosity," and "ethnographic imagination" (p. 35). Microscopic ethnography ("descriptions of the customs and habits of peoples") and macroscopic ethnography ("the use of grand paradigms such as genealogy, typology, and astrology to explain habits, customs, phenotypes and behaviors"; p. 24) are two other major concepts that enable the author to envisage ancient heresiologists as ethnographers.

Chapter 2, "Comparing Theologies and Comparing Peoples: The Customs, Doctrines, and Dispositions of the Heretics," investigates how ancient heresiologists played the ethnographical game, by engaging in detailed descriptions of the heretics' ways of life. The author replaces the theological focus with the analysis of how heresiologists described the customs, rituals, commensality, texts, and habits of the heretics. He first places heresiological discussions about ways of life in the context of ancient debates on the ancient categories of religio and superstitio. Next, he connects these discussions with "Christian ethnographic idealism." Finally, he shows them as having direct connection with the literary process of presenting certain Christian groups as communities identifiable both by distinctive ways of life and by misguided heretical dispositions (p. 61). In the analysis of Epiphanius' description of the Messalians (Pan. 80), Berzon reads Epiphanius' double accusation of asceticism and libertinism as a blueprint for the construction of an object of inquiry ("the Messalians") through its defining features (p. 87).

Chapter 3, "Contesting Ethnography: Heretical Models of Human and Cosmic Plurality," delves more into the "contested ethnographic ground of heresiology" (p. 103) by reflecting on how the heresiological discourse of the third-century Refutation of All the Heresies takes on theories of "human diversification" postulated by astrological theories. It is not merely astral determinism that is at stake here, Berzon argues, but the organization of Christian fields of knowledge. Taking Ptolemy's astrological treatise Tetrabiblos into consideration, the author illustrates how the connections between astrology, ethnography, cosmology, and climatology become parts of a unified field of knowledge. These precise classificatory inflexibilities of astrology imperiled the development of a Christian theory about communicating with the divine.

Chapter 4, "Christianized Ethnography: Paradigms of Heresiological Knowledge," investigates Epiphanius' incorporation of previously local heresiological attempts into a history of the world, read as a history of heresy. Berzon complements Epiphanius' historical ambitions with Theodoret of Cyrrhus' adoption of doctrinal genealogy in his Compendium of Heretical Fables. Epiphanius' two-pronged attempt at mapping heresy while charting the world employs ethnographic models in a more salient way than previous heresiologists did, and allows Berzon to analyze "the heresiological periodization of ethnographic knowledge" (p. 129) and the transformation of the Christian heresies into the "new nations of the world" (p. 139).

Chapter 5, "Knowledge Fair and Foul: The Rhetoric of Heresiological Inquiry," focuses on Tertullian's Rules against the Heretics. It brings an unexpected twist to the plot of the book, with its analysis of the tension between epistemological humility and heretical curiosity, and with its meditation on the dangers and tensions of writing heresiology. Berzon reads Tertullian's geographical and cultural divide between Jerusalem and Athens as a rejection of Greek philosophical culture. In the latter case, the pursuit of knowledge, independent of gospels, not only falls under the heading of damaging curiosity; it also opens an endless and uncontrollable process of producing an unnecessary body of expertise (p. 165). Tertullian's fears and anxieties, in Berzon's reading of De praescriptione haereticorum, translate into efforts of limiting heretical curiosity. After Tertullian, the field of Christian knowledge was shaped by "epistemological humility" and "the rule of faith" (p. 168), while its overseers, the heresiologists, emerged as a "protective class of inquirers" (p. 170).

Chapter 6, "The Infinity of Continuity: Epiphanius of Salamis and the Limits of the Ethnographic Disposition," further probes the inevitable cracks that appear in the universalizing epistemological ambitions of ancient heresiology, or, in Berzon's precise formulation, "the tension between modeling heresy and knowing heresy" (p. 187). The author proposes a very fine shift of focus in these pages, one that opens the way for further elaborations, from reading early Christian heresiology "as a site of ecclesiastical or theological authority and imperial control" to evaluating it as a failed process of manufacturing "totalizing knowledge" about the new Christian world (p. 197). By comparing Pomponius Mela's first-century CE ethnographic Description of the World and Epiphanius' fourth-century Panarion, Berzon unravels the ways in which the "epistemological paradox" of ancient ethnography – the unlimited human variety ultimately renders the world untranslatable to the ethnographic gaze – drives the heresiological project into a dead-end. Previously, chapter 5 probed into the emotional and cognitive conflicts of the heresiologists, as they might have found themselves, not unlike later ethnographers, exposed to the hazards of going native and encountering "the dangers of intimacy, proximity, and understanding" (p. 180). Tensions increase further in Chapter 6, as Berzon describes the heresiologist Epiphanius toiling under the pains of creating a field of knowledge as a "repository of quantification," while discovering himself pulled into the emotional vortex of not being able to exhaust the "infinitude of heresy" (p. 210).

The final chapter, "From Ethnography to List: Transcribing and Traversing Heresy," turns to Augustine's De haeresibus, to explore the move from ethnical description and classification into mere creation of heretical lists. The turn to lists in heresiological discourse signals for Berzon both the peak of a "culture of classification" and the limits of heresiological ethnography to represent and translate heretical Christians (p. 225). By eliminating parts of the heresiological collection of topoi, privileged by previous writers of heresy, such as theological positions, ethnicity, and odd customs, the author argues that Augustine restructured the "taxonomy of identification" (p. 231). At the same time, the author brings to an end the story of growing ambitions and collapse of ancient heresiology, but notes that Augustine acknowledges the impossibility of ever knowing all heretical groups. Berzon calls this stage the heresiology's moment of self-reflection, one that denotes "not control and mastery but rather imperfection, fragility, and incompleteness" (p. 235).

There is much to welcome in Classifying Christians. In a polyphonic approach, the book surveys ancient ethnography and ancient heresiology as connected territories. Berzon is at his best in establishing connections and linking interpretive strategies across disciplines and fields of inquiry. As such, one of the major contributions of his volume is to forge a nuanced vocabulary for the study of ancient texts on heresy through its treatment of heresiology and ethnography as cognate fields for the production of knowledge about ancient peoples. This approach demotes theology from being the main measuring gauge of heresiology into a conceptual tool whose classificatory ambitions were similar to those of ethnography, historiography, and literature. Aligning two facets of ancient literary production of Greek and Latin expression, heresiology and ethnography, the author produces a wealth of new insights into the process of generating classificatory knowledge about peoples, and casts new light on the formation of ancient religious identities.

This might be the strength and the weakness of Classifying Christians, however. It produces its own jargon, yet it remains mired in it. In Berzon's analysis, ethnography becomes a cipher for understanding the production of ancient heresiological literature, its mutations from the second to the fourth centuries, and finally its metamorphoses into lists. Yet Berzon presents heresiology as a mere literary routine, and the purpose of his book is to unravel the rules of this exercise as it was codified through ethnographic description. As such, the reader might perceive Berzon's "heresiologists" as a literary coterie, a like-minded community with a clear agenda, opposed to the murky camp of the heretics. The focus on treating heresiology as a homogeneous field of literary production and the disregard for historical and contextual details lead, on occasion, to generalizing statements such as the following: "The heresiologists theorized with the heretics about the relationship between human difference, knowledge […] and the epistemological limits governing the textualization of an ever-diversifying world" (p. 53). Without historical, social, and political contextualization, the analysis of the ancient heresiological discourses risks presenting a dichotomous view of "heresiologists" versus "heretics."

There survived plenty of "heretical" positions, available in the Sethian and Valentinian Coptic texts uncovered at Nag Hammadi. This leads to what amounts to the major limitation of this monograph: the programmatic absence of the Nag Hammadi texts, most of which were produced, in their original Greek, at the same time as the first heresiologists were active, and circulated, in Coptic, around the time Epiphanius wrote his own heresiological treatise. One of the major Nag Hammadi texts, The Tripartite Tractate, even includes two heresy lists, whose analysis under the "ethnographic gaze" would have only enriched the present monograph.2

In spite of the clear Foucauldian methodological agenda of Classifying Christians, Berzon only refers to, but does not substantially engage with, two major French analyses of ancient heresiology, which also derive their methodological ground from Foucault's thinking: Alain Le Boulluec's two volumes of La notion d'hérésie dans la literature grecque IIe-IIIe siècles, and Hervé Inglebert's Interpretatio Christiana.3 One would have especially welcome a comparison between Berzon's discussion of ethnographic heresiology and Inglebert's parallel argument about the role of ancient heresiology in shaping Christian chronology and historiography and in the formation of specific Christian fields of knowledge.

Adopting the category of heresiological ethnography as its major context, Berzon's book offers a potent epistemological reflection on the production, organization, and limits of knowledge in late antiquity. While still battling the hazards of reifying the reifiers themselves, the heresiologists, the book transplants the conceptual and historical vocabulary of ethnography into debates on ancient heresiology. Classifying Christians remains a finely articulated meditation on the effects of theological and ethnographic ancient list-making. It theorizes not only the limits of heresiological knowledge in antiquity, but also the fragility of heresiology as a project that carries within itself the premises of its own demise.


1.   The author derives most of the theoretical mileage from Foucault's pre-1970 works: The Order of Things (1966) and The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969).
2.   TricTrac 108.13–114.30; see also Geoffrey S. Smith, Guilt by Association: Heresy Catalogues in Early Christianity, New York: Oxford University Press, 2015, 108–21.
3.   Alain Le Boulluec, La notion d'hérésie dans la literature grecque IIe-IIIe siècles, Paris: Études Augustiniennes, 1985; Hervé Inglebert, Interpretatio Christiana: Les mutations des saviors (cosmographie, géographie, ethnographie, histoire) dans l'Antiquité chrétienne, Paris: Institut d'Études Augustiniennes, 2001. For Inglebert's discussion of ancient heresiology, see chapter 5, "L'histoire des heresies," pp. 393-461.

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Madalina Dana, Franck Prêteux (ed.), Identité régionale, identités civiques autour des Détroits des Dardanelles et du Bosphore (Ve siècle av. J.-C.—IIe siècle apr. J.-C.). Dialogues d'histoire ancienne. Supplément, 15. Besançon: Presses universitaires de Franche-Comté, 2016. Pp. 311. ISBN 9782848675435. €28.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Claudia Antonetti, Università Ca' Foscari Venezia (

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Table of Contents

Il volume che qui si recensisce è la pubblicazione degli atti di una giornata di studio organizzata da Madalina Dana e Franck Prêteux e finalizzata a indagare la plausibilità di una definizione identitaria regionale dello spazio gravitante sugli Stretti così come dell'individuazione di identità civiche al suo interno. Gli organizzatori, che sono anche i curatori del volume, nell'introduzione presentano in una chiara prospettiva storiografica il lavoro a più mani, moderando gli eccessi delle posizioni di segno post-coloniale, oggi dominanti, attraverso un forte richiamo ai contesti storico-geografico- culturali e indicando negli studi in diacronia sulla percezione e rappresentazione dello spazio e nella funzione insieme distintiva e integratrice di alcuni marker culturali locali la possibile risposta a un quesito di difficile soluzione: la "regione degli Stretti" (qui intesa in senso lato, non solo come Dardanelli e Bosforo, ma anche nelle propaggini a nord e a sud degli stessi) non è chiaramente delimitabile dal punto di vista geografico ed è politicamente frammentata; possono dunque i rapporti fra città e fra individui, le interconnessioni e gli scambi commerciali, economici e culturali darle visibilità tale da renderla distinguibile e apprezzabile sul piano identitario? Il "millenario sovrapporsi in area propontica di epicrazie e di mappe etnografiche diverse"—per adottare la bella definizione di Giuseppe Ragone1—aveva impressionato già Strabone (12 4.6), certamente un esperto della regione.

Le conclusioni di Alexandru Avram offrono una risposta articolata a questo interrogativo di fondo, focalizzando l'apporto dei singoli contributi secondo le prospettive dell'identità regionale e delle identità civiche, delle rappresentazioni e degli spunti nuovi che si profilano alla ricerca a partire da questo volume: egli sottolinea le diversità, più che le omologie, che scaturiscono dalla documentazione indagata dagli autori, e le 'microzone' identitarie che grazie ad esse emergono con chiarezza dal lavoro collettivo, il Bosforo (con Bisanzio in netta prevalenza), la Bitinia, la Propontide (con Cizico in grande evidenza), la Troade. Avram raccomanda anche di non privilegiare, nelle convenzioni geografiche e nelle mappe mentali che le ispirano, l'asse est-ovest della rappresentazione degli Stretti, ma di ricordarsi dell'importanza del collegamento nord-sud che essi garantiscono. Difficile dare una sintesi migliore della sua di un lavoro ben condotto, edito in modo ineccepibile, corredato di utili indici (dei luoghi, dei personaggi e delle cose notevoli) e dei riassunti in francese e inglese, ma ogni libro può essere attraversato secondo itinerari diversi e molteplici: i curatori hanno scelto di presentare i contributi secondo le scansioni dei 'popoli e territori', delle 'produzioni artigianali e specificità regionali' e delle 'identità civiche e culturali' ma tutto il volume in realtà è un percorso tra le identità e verso l'identità.

Non sono estranei a questa prospettiva di fondo nemmeno gli articoli di più stretto carattere archeologico o iconografico come quelli di Pierre Dupont e Michel Sève: il primo perché arriva, grazie ad indagini archeometriche, a identificare l'area di produzione della famosa classe ceramica arcaica della 'Ionia del sud 3' con un centro degli Stretti che dovrebbe essere Sesto e non più Mileto, aprendo dunque una prospettiva totalmente inedita sul regime degli scambi; il secondo perché stabilisce una chiara distinzione, all'interno delle numerose stele funerarie di epoca ellenistica e romana rinvenute nell'area degli Stretti, fra quelle della riva asiatica del tipo 'Stockwerkstele', ancora derivanti dai modelli greco-persiani di Daskyleion, e quelle della parte europea che si estende fino a Filippi, assai probabilmente influenzate da altri modelli culturali quali quelli importati dai coloni romani attraverso la Via Egnazia. È questo, delle stele funerarie, un terreno d'indagine particolarmente fruttuoso per studiare i transfert culturali, come dimostra il lavoro esemplare, e per certi versi affine, di Athanasios Rizakis e Iannis Touratsoglou sulla documentazione della Macedonia.2 Quanto complesso sia ancora oggi identificare i protagonisti, i circuiti, le ricadute degli scambi commerciali nell'area, in assenza di un'omogenea documentazione epigrafica e archeologica, è dimostrato con maestria da Franck Prêteux che trae profitto da ogni possibile indizio per tracciare un quadro economico dal quale emerge una diffusa ricchezza di risorse, gestite piuttosto 'passivamente'—a causa delle oggettive difficoltà geo-politiche—dalle città costiere, mediante una diffusa attività di tassazione e di agevolazioni ai commercianti stranieri, mentre in epoca tardo-ellenistica e romana i traffici e i profitti vengono drenati con forza soprattutto dalla Bitinia, da Cizico e ovviamente da Bisanzio.

Alcune poleis ricorrono come protagoniste negli approcci pur diversi degli autori del volume; fra queste senz'altro Bisanzio, la cui ricca documentazione epigrafica di epoca imperiale sulle associazioni civiche e cultuali è oggetto di uno studio accurato sui mystai e i thiasitai di Dioniso da parte di Adrian Robu che non trascura di estendere la sua ricerca, molto opportunamente, alle comunità della chora, dove il richiamo identitario è duplice, epicorio (misio in un bell'esempio portato dall'A.) e cittadino. Il rapporto di Bisanzio con la sua chora e con tutta la regione deve essere immaginato oggi in modo assai meno meccanico che in passato. È quanto emerge dalle sofisticate indagini onomastiche di Dan Dana che offrono risultati di tutto rilievo: la componente di origine bitinica è molto forte, superiore a quella trace, un quadro radicalmente diverso da quello di Cizico, l'altra grande protagonista di questi studi, dove la presenza dell'elemento epicorio è più varia e più complessa, con nomi di origine misia, bitinica, trace, frigia.

L'invito fatto dagli organizzatori a seguire i processi in diacronia è stato raccolto da tutti i partecipanti all'iniziativa e ha portato, in alcune occasioni, a risultati nuovi: è il caso dello studio di Stéphane Lebreton sulle rappresentazioni della regione degli Stretti presso gli Antichi. L'A. individua un momento di rottura in questa tradizione intorno al 200 d.C., quando per due volte le sorti dell'impero romano si giocano nell'area che viene vista per la prima volta come il passaggio naturale dall'Europa all'Asia, il fulcro delle comunicazioni e dunque il primo baluardo da difendere. Assunta a "luogo di memoria negli annali dell'impero", Bisanzio acquisisce un valore strategico ben prima di diventarne la capitale.

E passiamo ora ai contributi nei quali più chiaramente il tema identitario è posto al centro dell'analisi. Lo studio di Alexandre Baralis sulla presenza coloniale eolica nella vasta area che va dal nord dell'Egeo alla Propontide al sud del Mar Nero – un'area nella quale rari sono gli scavi archeologici sistematici – focalizza l'indagine sulla rete degli scambi dalla fine del X sec. a.C. all'epoca arcaica e arriva a conclusioni importanti: dal secondo terzo dell'VIII secolo sono operanti due network, il primo guidato dagli Eubei con Parii e Andrii al seguito, il secondo realizzato dagli Eoli, già presenti nelle isole a nord-ovest dell'Egeo, che s'installano a Tenedo, sulla costa occidentale della Troade, nel nord del Chersoneso tracico, a Samotracia e alla foce dell'Ebro. L'A. riduce considerevolmente, fin quasi a negarla, la presenza fenicia nell'area: il suo contributo alla storia archeologica di questo comparto territoriale è indubbiamente innovativo; qualche perplessità permane sull'approccio storico (cf. 37-41 e passim), ad esempio sull'assunzione acritica della tradizione della migrazione eolica in Asia Minore dopo decenni di riflessioni sul tema che in taluni casi hanno portato a un ridimensionamento radicale della tradizione stessa, non solo dal punto di vista cronologico,3 o ancora, sulla lettura non mediata del resoconto erodoteo sull' 'ethnicity' dell'Asia Minore (1.149-151), oggi non più proponibile senza un adeguato approfondimento critico.4 Al periodo da Alessandro Magno fino ad Antioco III in relazione alla città di Ilio e al santuario di Atena Iliaca è dedicato il lavoro di William Pillot che giustamente individua nel caso preso in esame un "buon laboratorio d'osservazione dell'identità civica e della cultura regionale nella regione degli Stretti". Stupisce che l'A., nell'apprezzabile ricostruzione storica dei rapporti fra Ilio, i Diadochi e gli Epigoni, non si confronti con l'articolo di Franca Landucci Gattinoni del 20055 che verteva esattamente sullo stesso tema, arrivando a conclusioni spesso non divergenti. Decisamente convincenti sono le osservazioni sul funzionamento, la composizione etnica e l'estensione geografica del koinon di Atena Iliaca che rappresentano un contributo positivo al dibattito attuale sulla funzione dei consorzi sacrali interpoleici e interregionali del mondo greco fra territorialità, ethnicity e politica.6 Alla 'storiografia degli Stretti' ha dato voce in questo volume Madalina Dana che ha saputo tracciare ben più di una rassegna sugli autori nati e operanti nell'area (logografi, storici di Filippo, alessandrografi, autori di Troika, Hellenika e Lokalgeschichte, commentatori di Omero, geografi, periegeti, etnografi, filosofi, scienziati, eruditi), dimostrando una volta di più quanto fruttuosa sia l'indagine sulla storia culturale per riconoscere e apprezzare le costruzioni identitarie dell'Antichità nel loro divenire storico. Fra i molti risultati del lavoro di M. Dana si segnalano l'emergere di quattro 'microzone' di particolare interesse storiografico (il Bosforo,7 la Bitinia, la Propontide e la Troade) e il favore per alcuni temi generali come la saga argonautica, i Bythiniaka e, com'era prevedibile, la tradizione omerica. A quest'ultima fa riferimento anche il bel lavoro di François de Polignac che, partendo dal caso del Kynosema (il 'monumento del cane') del Chersoneso tracico, analizza tutta una serie di analoghi (e omonimi) monumenti marittimi caratterizzati dalla funzione 'segnaletica', dal controllo dei passaggi e dalla relazione privilegiata con le divinità 'phosphoroi'. Il contributo è significativo sul piano generale della conoscenza della mentalità antica dei Greci per la chiara distinzione che introduce fra spazio e paesaggio e per la molteplice prospettiva metodologica e percettiva nella quale la definizione di 'paesaggio' (qui marittimo) può essere declinata: "horizon d'expérience immédiate et linéaire, horizon de savoir partagé donnant sens simultanément à un ensemble de lieux séparés mais formant système dans le cadre régional, horizon d'attente d'un paysage 'en creux' (250)". A queste conclusioni dell'A. accosterei volentieri, in prospettiva semiotica, l'interessante definizione di Krzysztof Pomian (Che cos'è la storia? Milano 2001, capitolo 5) della storia culturale come storia dei 'semiofori'.


1.   G. Ragone, "Corografia senza autopsia: Strabone e l'Eolide, in Strabone e l'Asia Minore", a cura di A.M. Biraschi - G. Salmeri, Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane (Napoli 2000) 286.
2.   A.D. Rizakis & I. Touratsoglou, "In Search of Identities: A Preliminary Report on the Visual and Textual Context of the Funerary Monuments of Roman Macedonia", in Beyond Boundaries. Connecting Visual Cultures in the Provinces of Ancient Rome, ed. by S.E. Alcock, M. Egri, J.F.D. Frakers, (Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2016) 120-136.
3.   Basterà citare i seguenti lavori collettivi: Eoli ed Eolide tra madrepatria e colonie, a cura di A. Mele - M. L. Napolitano - A. Visconti, Luciano Editore: Napoli 2005 e L'Éolide dans l'ombre de Pergame Ve- Ier siècles a.C., éd. par Ivana Savalli-Lestrade, Topoi Suppl. 14, 2016.
4.   Cf. G. Ragone, "Μηδαμοὺς μὴ πλέονας ἐσδέξασθαι ἐς τὸ ἱρόν. 'Numerus clausus' e auto-identificazione 'etnica' dei Greci d'Asia (Eoli, Ioni, Dori)", in Forme sovrapoleiche e interpoleiche di organizzazione nel modo antico. Atti del Convegno Internazionale (Lecce, 17- 20 settembre 2008), a cura di M. Lombardo - F. Frisone, (Galatina 2008), 406- 421 e M. Polito, "Autorappresentazione e rappresentazione erodotea degli Ioni d'Asia (1.142 ss.)", Erga-Logoi 4(2), 2016, 157-181.
5.   F. Landucci Gattinoni, "Diadochi ed Epigoni nell'Asia Minore di Strabone: Ilio e la Troade", GeogrAnt 14-15, 2005-6, 15-29.
6.   Dibattito ottimamente interpretato da F. Lefèvre, "Identités grecques et sanctuaires communs", AWE 15, 2016, 1-24.
7.   Il lavoro di S. Belfiore, Il Periplo del Ponto Eusino di Arriano e altri testi sul mar Nero e il Bosforo: spazio geografico, mito e dominio ai confini dell'Impero romano. Memoria dell'Istituto Veneto di Scienze Lettere e Arti, (Venezia 2009) stranamente non è preso in considerazione in questo, come negli altri pur aggiornati contributi del volume.

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Sunday, May 21, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Reviewed by Daryn Lehoux, Queen's University (

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[Authors and titles are listed below.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authors and titles

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


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

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

Reviewed by Robin Whelan, Balliol College, Oxford (

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authors and Titles

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Reviewed by James Uden, Boston University (

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Table of Contents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Reviewed by Valérie​ Toillon, Perseus Digital Library (

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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