Friday, September 29, 2017


Christoph Bachhuber, Citadel and Cemetery in Early Bronze Age Anatolia. Monographs in Mediterranean archaeology, 13. Sheffield; Bristol, CT: Equinox Publishing, 2014. Pp. xv, 223. ISBN 9781845536480. $120.00.

Reviewed by Vasıf Şahoğlu, Ankara University (

Version at BMCR home site


Archaeological interpretation is fraught with difficulties. Any attempt to bring together the archaeological evidence for the Early Bronze Age (EBA) of Anatolia and to go beyond the historico-archaeological approach in its interpretation, as Bachhuber has done, is certainly to be applauded. As the author points out, Anatolian archaeology has generally suffered from a lack of sound theoretical approaches being applied to its rich body of data; it is not often that attempts are made to reconstruct the social dynamics behind the archaeological remains.

Bachhuber focuses on data from two different types of settlements – citadels and villages – and cemeteries to construct his narrative. His main sets of data include the settlement of Troy, the settlements and cemeteries of Karataş-Semayük and Demircihöyük, the "Royal Tombs" of Alacahöyük, and the limited EBA data from Kültepe.

In Chapter 1, "Four Proto-Histories," Bachhuber chooses three sites, namely Troy, Alacahöyük, and Kültepe, and concentrates on the history of archaeological research dealing with the "proto-histories" of Homeric Troy, the Hittites, and the Assyrian traders, all of which have their roots in the EBA. The fourth "proto-history" concentrates on Indo-Europeans. In this chapter he also discusses the close connection between "citadels" and a particular types of architecture and pottery, the latter being the Wheelmade Plain Wares (WPW).

In Chapter 2, "Landscape and Settlement," Bachhuber focuses on bioarchaeological data to outline subsistence strategies. Here the palaeobotanical data suggests that the domestication of olives, figs, and grapes all date to the EBA, signalling the onset of horticulture. This evidence is supported by the appearance of pottery forms for consuming or storing wine and oil. Continuity of the types of animals consumed is also noted and the secondary products revolution is addressed. The consumption of meat is linked by Bachhuber to "socially sanctioned and integrative feasting events." Similarly, the evidence for animal use for traction is assessed. The evidence for equid domestication was found to be inconclusive. Seasonal transhumance is tied into this discussion, and Sherratt (1997) is cited as maintaining that the availability of the traction complex as well as a reliance on pastoral economy resulted in the ability to inhabit marginal and less agriculturally productive regions.

In Chapter 3, "Villages," Bachhuber focuses on the agrarian activities of households. Considering agrarian activities together with weaving, and mainly using the data from Demircihöyük, Bachhuber links the households within which wool was produced with large scale storage and the serving of food.

In Chapter 4, "Cemeteries," Bachhuber concentrates on the mortuary evidence from EBA Anatolia, particularly from Karataş–Semayük, Demircihöyük–Sarıket, and Alacahöyük. Here he considers extramural cemeteries to be foci of ritual activity which tied the village communities together and validated the village's claim to the landscape that its inhabitants used. According to Bachhuber, extramural cemeteries are not linked to any citadels but are a characteristic feature of villages. A recent discovery of an EB III extramural cemetery at Kültepe, however, raises a counterargument to the views expressed in this chapter. 1

In Chapter 5, "The Monumental Choreography of the Citadels," the author concentrates on the built environment of the citadels, both their "façades" and their interior arrangement, along with changes observed between the "more open and integrative" citadels of the EB I–II period and the "more exclusionary" ones of the EB III period. Most of Bachhuber's arguments are based on the data available from Troy I–III. He stresses the lack of systematic survey data which would enable a better understanding of the relationship between surrounding villages and the citadel, but nevertheless he argues for an increased control of the surrounding countryside by the citadel itself.

In Chapter 6, "The Agrarian Foundation of Citadel Elites," Bachhuber argues for the conversion of surpluses in agricultural production into forms of social capital and distinguishes between storage facilities in EB I–II, which he characterizes as more corporate and centralized than those of EB III, which he defines as "more modular."

In Chapter 7, "Connectivity and Refinement on Citadels," Bachhuber examines the long-distance exchange mechanisms and their transformative results using World Systems Theory. He first examines the trade network of the Assyrian Trade Colonies period as well as earlier documented exchange mechanisms in the Near East and concludes that "gift-exchanges are more relevant to the question of trade in EBA Anatolia." The author focuses on the exchange of metals, reviewing the evidence for standardised weights as well as the presence of ingots in Anatolia), and interprets their rapid spread throughout the Near East as only possible through increased exchange in the region.

In Chapter 8, "Spectacle and Communion on Citadels," Bachhuber concentrates on the ritual aspects of citadels. He argues that two types of ritual activity, both meant to mediate different kinds of relationships between the human and the cosmological realms, were used by the elites to bolster their power. One is the manipulation of fire and burnt sacrifices while the other is the ritual deposition of wealth (hoard deposits). In this chapter, the author also considers the absence of evidence for extramural cemeteries associated with citadels and concludes that cremation (which Bachhuber inventively calls "spectacular, fuel intensive pyrotechnic events"), was introduced by the elites as a new form of disposing of the dead. The chapter is concluded by a consideration of the end of the EBA period in Anatolia, which the author links to the 4.2 kiloyear event which disrupted both agricultural production and severed the exchange networks that supplied the elite with high-status goods.

In the final Chapter 9, "Metahistory and the Bronze Age in Anatolia," Bachhuber summarises his interpretations based on the data and his theoretical approach which he calls "universalist evolution." This approach differs from the more often employed "diffusionist historicism," and he attempts to place the Anatolian EBA within the wider Bronze Age of the Near East. Bachhuber's interpretative framework takes into account all the available evidence in order to understand the economic framework in which the settlements operated. While his efforts are admirable, some of the assumptions he makes are later treated as "facts."

Bachhuber's discussion of gift-exchange, for example, may be mentioned as one area in which he goes beyond the evidence. Although he admits that gift-exchange is archaeologically hard to detect (all examples he provides from the Near East are based on written evidence), Bachhuber asserts that a "down-the-line prestige chain was mediated by relationships and interactions based on gift-exchange" in Anatolia during the EB III period. The problem here may lie in the author's underestimation of the power of the extensive Anatolian Trade Network, which actively influenced all cultural formations from Mesopotamia, northern Syria, Cilicia, western and central Anatolia (south of Halys river), the Cyclades (Kastri), the Greek mainland (Lefkandi I), and Cyprus (Philia) at its peak (by the beginning of the EBA III period).2 The spread of this network in Anatolia largely corresponds with the distribution area of WPW.3

The WPW material, with minor exceptions, is almost nonexistent in the area north of the Halys River. This area seems to reflect a different cultural formation that manifested itself with the extensive usage of metals. It may be that sites like Alacahöyük, Resuloğlu, and Eskiyapar, located within the area to the north of this river, may have been part of a different interaction network than the regions to its south; this region may have chosen to participate in different networks of contact and exchange (perhaps with northern cultures instead of with the Anatolian Trade Network). A somewhat similar case can also be seen in the Argolid in the Greek mainland.4

One of the major problems of the book, however, is chronology. A sound chronological framework is vital to archaeological interpretation and although the author himself admits this, his dating of EB III between ca. 2600–2200 BC causes various problems regarding the conventional chronological setting of Anatolia. In the caption of Table 2, Bachhuber mentions a complete agreement between the chronological framework of the ARCANE Project as Early Western Anatolia (EWA) I–III and the conventional chronological framework of Anatolia as EB I–III. A close look at the table clearly shows that in the ARCANE project, the beginning of EWA III is proposed to be 2500 BC which is at least 100 years later than Bachhuber's EBA III (2600 BC) whereas the beginning of Early Central Anatolia (ECA) III offers an even later date, close to 2400 BC. In the same table, Bachhuber equates EBA III of Anatolia fully with Early Cycladic (EC) II period. Similarly, at Table 1, level 14 of Kültepe, which is generally considered to date to the EBA II, is interpreted as EBA III.

The chronological framework followed in the book thus creates an instability in the chronological synchronisms of various sites with similar archaeological finds. The book would have benefited from a more detailed and a clearer discussion of its chronological terminology in order to present the narrative within a coherent diachronic development.

A major concern in this respect is the re-dating of the Alacahöyük tombs to EBA I–II and incorporating this – as yet tenuous – result to the main narrative of the book. The "royal tombs" of Alacahöyük had been traditionally dated to the EB III period, mainly on typological grounds as well as because of the boom of metallurgical finds from EB III contexts elsewhere in Anatolia. A preliminary report of three new radiocarbon dates from Alacahöyük was reported by Ünsal5 where he himself admits that revising the chronology based on the results of these three samples would be premature and that more data is needed (Ünsal 2011: p. 62, n. 13). Bachhuber seems to have used these results without any discussion as a supporting element for his narrative of EBA Anatolia.

One could argue that Bachhuber selectively chooses the data he uses in his monograph to support his thesis. As he himself says "an evolutionary model, like historicism, contains a powerful internal logic that can bend archaeological data into its frame" (p. 184). Nevertheless, as he also points out, research on the EBA of Anatolia has only picked up its pace in the past 20–25 years; most of the data remain inadequately published, and the quality of the data remains uneven. Thus, the selective nature of his data can surely be understood. One of the problems that archaeology faces is that as soon as new discoveries are made, the data set used to explain social constructs and dynamics also changes, necessitating a review of the theories that were put forth to provide meaning to the data. This book, published in 2015, thus predates some important discoveries made in the past few years, which will perhaps offer new perspectives and new explanations that will replace some of the ideas expressed in this study.

Regardless of the issues outlined above, Bachhuber is to be congratulated for putting together such a comprehensive synthesis of the available data, and for presenting it within a new theoretical framework. His command of the published data, especially Turkish publications, is exemplary. This book will certainly be widely read by scholars and graduate students working on the EBA of Anatolia – it will be an eye-opener that will inspire further discussion.


1.   Kulakoğlu, F., "Current Research at Kültepe," in F. Kulakoğlu and C. Michel (eds.), Proceedings of the 1st Kültepe International Meeting. Kültepe 19–23 September, 2013. Studies Dedicated to Kutlu Emre. Subartu XXXV. (Brepols, Turnhout, 2015), pp. 9-21.
2.   Şahoğlu, V., "The Anatolian Trade Network and the Izmir Region during the Early Bronze Age," OJA 24 (4), 2005, pp. 339–360.
3.   Current evidence demonstrates that there are regional characteristics, which indicate local production and use of WPW ceramics at various regions of Anatolia. See Şahoğlu, V., "Depas and Tankard Vessels," in M. Lebeau (ed.) ARCANE IR 1 – Ceramic. (Brepols 2014), pp. 289–311, for the argument that the idea of this ware group traveled rather than the objects themselves.
4.   Şahoğlu 2015, p. 354.
5.   Ünsal, Y., "Alacahöyük İlk Tunç Çağı Kral Mezarları Üzerine," in Çorum Kazı ve Araştırmalar Sempozyumu - 1, 2011, pp. 55–64.

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Allison Glazebrook, Barbara Tsakirgis (ed.), Houses of Ill Repute: The Archaeology of Brothels, Houses, and Taverns in the Greek World. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016. Pp. viii, 256. ISBN 9780812247565. $69.95.

Reviewed by Ruth Westgate, Cardiff University (

Version at BMCR home site

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

This collection of essays, edited by a historian of prostitution and an archaeologist specialising in houses, addresses the thorny problem of how we can recognise the brothels and taverns that are frequently mentioned in Greek literary sources but rarely identified in the archaeological record. The volume is an interesting and thought-provoking contribution to recent scholarship on Classical and Hellenistic houses, which aims to move away from elite-centred perspectives and to gain a more nuanced understanding of the social and economic role of houses. However — perhaps inevitably, given the nature of the subject — it is ultimately inconclusive.

The volume is book-ended by chapters written by the two editors, which reflect their different perspectives on the theme. Barbara Tsakirgis' opening chapter attempts to define the Greek house, which proves to be surprisingly slippery. She rejects definitions based on purely architectural criteria, as many Greek building types follow the same basic plan of rooms around a courtyard, and argues instead that the defining feature of the house is the oikos, the group of people who lived in it, who are now largely invisible. She reminds us that a house was more than just a residence: it was also a symbol of the values espoused by its occupants, a commodity, and a place for industry and commerce.

This sets the scene for the subsequent chapters, which approach the problem of identifying taverns and brothels from various angles — architectural, artefactual, and visual. Kathleen Lynch and Mark Lawall focus on pottery, and ask whether we can recognise distinctive assemblages that might differentiate taverns or brothels from more reputable houses. Lynch compares pottery from four contexts in Attica to see whether there is a recognisable 'signature' for a tavern or brothel: the late Archaic domestic deposit from Agora well J 2:4, which she published in 2011;1 the Dema House in the Attic countryside; the contents of the fifth-century well R 13:4 in the Agora, which Lucy Talcott identified as debris from a tavern; and Building Z3 in the Kerameikos, identified by Ursula Knigge and others as a brothel. She compares the proportions of different functional types in each assemblage (drinking-wares, tableware, cooking-wares, food preparation, and storage), and finds that they are broadly similar, with a remarkably high proportion of vessels devoted to serving and drinking wine — as much as half, even in the 'respectable' houses. Interestingly, the only context with a markedly lower proportion of drinking-vessels is Building Z, the suspected brothel. Lynch is systematic and cautious in her conclusions, pointing out that our ability to identify meaningful patterns is limited by the small number of assemblages that are available for comparison, their differing dates, and the different excavation and recording processes that produced them.

Lawall looks for patterns in deposits of transport amphorae that might differentiate domestic from commercial premises. He examines various Classical to early Hellenistic contexts, mostly around the Agora, and suggests two possibly diagnostic features. Firstly, he identifies clusters of amphorae with graffiti denoting prices, volumes, ownership, or contents, which might be linked to commercial premises. Secondly, he suggests that concentrations of well-preserved amphorae, discarded over a relatively short period of time, might be an indication of commercial activity, whereas houses tend to produce smaller quantities of more fragmented amphora debris. However, like Lynch, he acknowledges the lack of comparative data and the difficulty of extracting significant patterns from deposits of widely differing dates and circumstances.

Bradley Ault, Monika Trümper, and David Scahill all reexamine odd cases, buildings that have been identified as brothels or taverns because they have unusual contents or do not fit expected architectural patterns. Ault reconsiders the evidence from Building Z in the Kerameikos, the most popular candidate for a brothel in Classical Athens. He argues that it served as a brothel and tavern in the first three phases of its existence (rather than just the third, as has been suggested previously), on the grounds of its large size, multiple small rooms, extensive water supply, and contents, which included large quantities of drinking-vessels and tablewares, lamps, astragaloi, and objects associated with women, such as loomweights and jewellery. However, it is debatable whether the quantities of drinking-wares are exceptional, in view of Lynch's statistics. It is a shame that the volume went to press before Ault and the other contributors were able to take full account of Susan Rotroff's study of the 'saucer pyres' from the Athenian Agora and environs,2 as Building Z has yielded one of the largest clusters of these ritual deposits, which Rotroff argues are typically associated with commercial or industrial activity.

Trümper reevaluates two alleged 'houses of ill repute' on Delos. One is a two-room building containing large numbers of amphorae, jugs, cups, lamps, and coins, which was identified by Panagiotis Chatzidakis as a tavern. This she finds plausible, though she cautions that the building and its contents have not yet been fully published. The other is the Maison du Lac, identified as an upmarket tavern and brothel by Nicholas Rauh. Trümper shows that many of the features which Rauh thought identified the building as a brothel are common in the houses on Delos — in fact, one of his criteria, the presence of private rooms with no direct access from the courtyard, would qualify around three-quarters of the Delian houses as brothels. Instead, she suggests a number of possible venues for disreputable activities, including the 'Granite Palaestra' and the 'warehouses' that line the coast near the harbour, but she emphasises that these structures only show the potential for such activities, not conclusive evidence.

Scahill's chapter, unlike the others, considers a building that is definitely not a house, the South Stoa at Corinth, which was identified by Oscar Broneer as a venue for dining and possibly 'sacred prostitution.' Its uniform two-room suites would have been suitable for dining, and its contents included objects linked to drinking and entertainment, but the elaborate waterworks and the provision of a well in each suite are a puzzle. Scahill sensibly concludes that the Stoa was probably used for a variety of functions, which could have included prostitution.

Amy Smith reviews the depiction of architectural spaces on pottery, in an attempt to identify 'non-public' space and to differentiate inside from outside space. She argues that representations of objects apparently suspended on walls and of architectural elements such as doors, windows, and columns are essentially symbolic, intended to help viewers decode the social activities represented on the pot. This chapter only deals indirectly with brothels, though its conclusions have a bearing on debates over the interpretation of scenes that might represent prostitutes and their clients.

In the concluding chapter, Allison Glazebrook reviews the buildings considered by the other contributors and several other possible brothels, along with comparative evidence from nineteenth-century America, and attempts to draw up a set of criteria that might be used to identify places of prostitution. She notes that the purpose-built brothel at Pompeii may not be an appropriate model for Greek brothels, and that many of the features and artefacts used to identify brothels are also found in houses, but seems reluctant to challenge identifications based on these criteria, even those that are questioned elsewhere in the volume.

Many of the contributions fall foul of the problems that make the identification of brothels and taverns so difficult. The first is knowing what is within the range of 'typical' for a house, and thus what is unusual. For example, some of the authors suggest that a brothel might have two entrances from the street, but this is a common feature of the Hellenistic houses on Delos, as Trümper points out, and even in the Classical period, when the 'single entrance courtyard house' was the most characteristic type, some houses had two entrances: Lysias (Against Eratosthenes, 12.15) describes escaping through the back door of Damnippos' house when he was imprisoned there by the Thirty Tyrants. Other features that are often attributed to brothels, such as a generous water supply, bathing facilities, and more than one formal dining-room, are also not unusual in Classical houses.

The same problem of knowing what is typical or unusual hampers attempts to identify brothels and taverns from their contents. Several authors in the volume take the presence of large quantities of drinking-vessels as evidence for a brothel or tavern, but as Lynch shows, the proportion of cups and wine-serving vessels in Classical house assemblages is often surprisingly high. Much more comparative data is needed to give us a better grasp of what is 'normal,' and how and why this varies in different periods and places. For example, some houses at Halieis produced a similarly high proportion of drinking-wares, but at Olynthos, Cahill noted a relatively small number of cups among the finds; he suggested that this was due to the common use of metal vessels, which were salvaged when the houses were abandoned.3

Identifications based on finds are also plagued by the wider problems of interpreting artefact assemblages and linking them to specific people or activities. How does the material left behind in a disused building relate to its contents when it was in use? Who used the artefacts, and in what context? Much of the evidence cited in the volume seems circumstantial and open to other interpretations. In the case of Building Z, for example, we can say that the occupants ate, drank, bathed, played games, and made textiles, that some of them were women, and that they had a few foreign-looking possessions, but is that sufficient to demonstrate that it was a brothel?

A more fundamental issue, which Glazebrook acknowledges in her conclusion, is that the whole idea of a brothel may be problematic. Prostitutes must have worked in many different locations, from the streetwalkers who did their business in the open, to the flute girls and other entertainers who visited their clients' homes, and more upmarket hetairai like Sokrates' friend Theodote (Xenophon, Memorabilia 3.11.4), who seems to have operated from a luxurious house. Many prostitutes probably lived and worked in 'normal' houses, and even if there were buildings that were used primarily as brothels (as the term porneion implies), they may not look any different from a house or shop, as is clear from Aischines' description of ergasteria whose function is defined by the profession of their occupants and changes when new occupants move in (Against Timarchos, 1.124, cited by several authors in the volume).

Despite these frustrations, which are largely down to the intractable nature of the problem, the volume is a fascinating and worthwhile contribution to the debate, not least because it makes a start on assembling the comparative data that we so desperately need. As Lynch says (p. 37), 'the field of archaeology would not exist if scholars gave up in the face of such difficult questions.' It certainly made me think, and that in itself is useful.

Authors and titles

Allison Glazebrook and Barbara Tsakirgis, Introduction.
Barbara Tsakirgis, What is a house? Conceptualising the Greek house.
Kathleen M. Lynch, Can pottery help distinguish a brothel from a tavern or house?
Mark L. Lawall, Patterns of amphora discard from houses, shops, taverns, and brothels.
Bradley A. Ault, Building Z in the Athenian Kerameikos: House, tavern, inn, brothel?
Monika Trümper, Locations of ill repute in late Hellenistic Delos.
David Scahill, Dining and the cult of Aphrodite: The function of the South Stoa at Corinth.
Amy C. Smith, Looking inside on the outside of a pot.
Allison Glazebrook, Is there an archaeology of prostitution?


1.   K.M. Lynch, The Symposium in Context: Pottery from a Late Archaic House near the Athenian Agora (Princeton 2011).
2.   S.I. Rotroff, Industrial Religion: The Saucer Pyres of the Athenian Agora (Princeton 2013). She also refines the chronology of the ritual deposits found in Building Z and shows that most of them are different from the 'standard' saucer pyres (pp. 57–60).
3.   Halieis: L. Foxhall, 'House clearance: Unpacking the 'kitchen' in Classical Greece,' in R. Westgate et al. (eds.), Building Communities: House, Settlement and Society in the Aegean and Beyond (London 2007), pp. 236–240, fig. 25.5. Olynthos: N. Cahill, Household and City Organization at Olynthus (New Haven; London 2002), pp. 180–190.

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Andy Merrills, Roman Geographies of the Nile: From the late Republic to the Early Empire. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017. Pp. xvi, 338. ISBN 9781107177284. $120.00.

Reviewed by Edward Kelting, Stanford University (

Version at BMCR home site


To wade into Nile scholarship is no small thing. The various representations of the Nile in poetry, prose, public monuments, domestic wall-paintings, technical maps, or itineraries have all been given their fair share of attention.1 Merrills, in a stimulating and ambitious work, addresses them all. He chooses the Nile as a test case to look at "different modes of geographical representation that were known within Roman Italy, and crucially how they related to one another" (p. 5). In so doing, he offers a less homogenous set of geographies than Claude Nicolet's L'inventaire du monde, which focuses mostly on painted maps and the Res Gestae.2 Merrills shows in each chapter how a different type of Nile geography creates a unique relationship between geography and political power, from the late Republic through the Flavian period. By juxtaposing different media in one work, Merrills offers a richer, more variegated picture of the Nile's contributions to (and undermining of) the ideologies of the principate and broadens Nicolet's otherwise narrow definition of authoritative, Augustus-sanctioned geography.

Chapter One, "A World Full of Maps?", focuses on Vitruvius's discussion of painted Nile maps and the Palestrina mosaic to emphasize public maps' role in broadcasting an ideology of community to their viewers. An introduction shows the range of forms that the so-called Map of Agrippa and, by extension, all public maps could have taken. Pliny's critiques of the Map of Agrippa's distance measurements point to the relative inability of such maps to communicate definitive cartographic information. Instead, its importance lay in viewers' collective contemplation, which cemented their place in an imperial community.

The main sections on Vitruvius and the Palestrina mosaic reiterate this elevation of imperial community over geographic authority. Vitruvius' citation of painted maps nods to their collective importance as "visual frames of reference" (p. 38), but Vitruvius' actual Nile description relies entirely on textual sources. Merrills' argument about the Palestrina mosaic takes the same form. As Merrills concludes, arguments for the identification of specific sites on the mosaic ignore that images and texts are only given meaning by their audience. Original viewers would not have all recognized a temple in the mosaic as Edfu, Philae, or Memphis. The importance of the mosaic (and all public maps) lies not in a definitive representation of specific sites or the accurate communication of cartographic data, but the "communal gaze that lent these representations their peculiar authority" (p. 68).

The same holds true for triumphs, which Merrills tackles in Chapter Two, "The Dismembered Nile." He differentiates the prominent geographical features highlighted by tituli and commemorated in the Fasti Triumphales from the jumbled list of conquered cities included not for geographic accuracy, but for sheer impressiveness. Once again, the audience constitutes the triumph: Ovid's Ars Amatoria and the geographic ignorance of its amator suggest that the geographic specifics of triumphs could be discussed, contested, and misread by the audience. The geographic mishmash central to triumphs creates a "dismembered" geography where the oikoumene is broken down, abstracted of original associations, imbued with a semantics of imperial subjugation, and reconstructed into new geographies in sites like Augustus' Porticus ad Nationes or Vespasian's Templum Pacis. The juxtaposition of the Vatican Nile and the Louvre Tiber in the Isaeum Campense underscores rivers' core role in this process of dismemberment and triumphal reconstruction.

Chapter Three, "Gazing on the Nile," shifts from public to private, moving from Rome to Pompeii. By presenting a summary of the Nile decorations of the House of the Ephebe and the Praedia of Julia Felix, Merrills traces the development of Nilotic scenes and the common presence of pygmies, wild fauna, and religious buildings in them. To Merrills, the presence of both a religious Nilescape and a pygmy scene in The House of the Ceii shows how different Niles cut against each other. With these two scenes paired, "the comic excesses and figural distortions of the pygmy painting partly emphasizes the other-worldly calm of the sacral-idyllic landscape, but also punctures it" (123).

Merrills then returns to the viewer. He underlines the control and domination that viewing Nilescapes entails by applying the ideology of the "managerial gaze" central to aristocratic self-fashioning to spectators of Egyptian wall-paintings; the move from illusionistic Roman villa scenes (the typical site of the "managerial gaze") to Nilescapes speaks to Pompeian elites' "claims to authority over a far wider area" (141) than Italy alone. Merrills ends by introducing different ancient viewers beyond the male elite; he thus broadens the range of associations that viewers would have made with Nilotic pygmy landscapes.

Chapter Four, "Creatio ex Nilo," bridges philosophy and religion. He analyzes Lucretius' De Rerum Natura and Seneca's Naturales Quaestiones, where lengthy doxographies offer explanations of the Nile inundation. To Lucretius and Seneca, the calming effect of listing multiple explanations of a phenomenon outweighs selecting a final preferred explanation. These Nile doxographies begin a process that leads one out of the physical present, toward larger and potentially unsettling cosmogonic cycles of watery cataclysm. A brief excursus on the Nile in Egyptian religion prefaces the different Niles present in the Isis complex at Pompeii. The cistern designed to recreate the inundation, the mythic Nile's presence in an Io wall-painting, and the wider dispersal of sacred-water vessels across Pompeii all point to the widespread religious-metaphysical associations often made with the Nile. In Chapter 5, "The River is a Jumbled Line, Perhaps?", Merrills outlines itineraries and the periplus tradition and argues, following Pietro Janni's articulation of "hodological" space, for the inherent linearity of travel along the Nile.3 Nero's expedition into Nubia in the 60s CE and Strabo's trip along the Nile in Geography Book 17 lead to two main arguments on itineraries in Egypt. First, Merrills emphasizes the lack of any single, definitive itinerary by examining how Nero's expedition relied on Hellenistic itineraries whose toponyms had become obsolete but which Romans continued to reproduce. Second, Strabo's trip upriver irons out the Nile's bends into a linear itinerary. The second half of the chapter traces the process by which the specific order of a linear trip through Egypt loses meaning. The order of stops in Egypt matters much less than the jumble of sights one would see in a trip along the Nile. Here, he relies on Tacitus' warped geography of Germanicus' trip to Egypt in Annals 2.59–61, nineteenth-century comparanda for Nile travel, and the satire of Lucian and Juvenal, all of which betray disinterest in or satirize the specific order of the nodes that constitute the Nilotic itinerary.

Poetry, mostly epic with a dash of elegy, rounds things out. Chapter 6, "Triumph and Disaster," gives half of its time to Augustan poetry before a longer reading of Books 8 and 10 of Lucan's Pharsalia. The Augustan arguments are brief. Merrills first traces an allusive legacy from Octavian's triumph in 29 BCE, through Aeneid 8, to Propertius and Ovid. He then makes two brief arguments on the Augustan fossilization of both the Nile's seven mouths and the link between a culpable Nile and Pompey's death. Turning to the Pharsalia, Merrills offers a reading of the two apostrophes to the Nile elicited by Pompey's death, which twist Nile topoi to morbid, anti-Vergilian ends. In Book 10, the geographic imprecision of Acoreus' Nile proves the inability of priest, poet, or tyrant (Caesar, but also Nero by extension) to claim privileged knowledge of the river's course; so too does Acoreus' list of frustrated source-searching tyrants play on a programmatic opposition between nature and tyrant, which connects Caesar's sympotic inquiry to Nero's expedition. Finally, the proliferation of flooded, Nile-like rivers throughout the Pharsalia both serves the poetics of Lucan's discors machina and builds on Seneca's belief that all rivers were connected by underground caverns.

An afterword on Pliny and his several Niles reemphasizes Merrills' overarching point about the polyvalent geographies created by the many different presentations of the Nile. The different locations of the river's sources in Books 5, 6, and 8 connect Pliny's collapse of multiple, competing authorities with Merrills' argument against monolithic, geographically authoritative texts or media. Pliny's valorization of Rome and its wonders (e.g., the Nile pales in comparison to the Cloaca Maxima) reintroduces the triumphal and imperial focus of the book's opening chapters.

Merrills is successful in his representation of Rome's many geographies. His reevaluation of the hierarchy of geographies helps move away from a paradigm that often looks to wall-painting and poetry to play a secondary role for conventional geographic media like prose texts and public maps. An emphasis on the diversity of geographic knowledge of ancient viewers, even if it sometimes ventures into hypothetical terrain, nevertheless introduces a welcome corrective to positivist arguments for the unambiguous meaning of visual geographies.

A book of this type necessarily pits diversity of different Niles against sustained individual arguments, which occasionally leads to sub-arguments that are less effective. While perhaps inevitable when working across so many different media, he occasionally advances arguments that do not move beyond other studies. His reading of Lucan's Nile digression and the presence of Nero therein largely restates the arguments of Jonathan Tracy and Eleni Manolaraki. The same can be said of his sections on pygmy landscapes and the Vatican Nile, which mostly repeats the fine work of Miguel John Versluys and Molly Swetnam-Burland.

Several of his smaller arguments are not given enough space to be developed fully. The argument that Propertius and then Ovid alluded specifically to Vergil's representation of Octavian's triumph needed further proof and a closer reading (quotations throughout are given only in English): Merrill's allusive argument depends on shared snake imagery, but does not mention that Ovid's word-choice for snake (serpens) differs from both Vergil's (anguis) and Propertius' (coluber); as it stands, Anubis and sistra do not prove Ovid's or Propertius' debt to Aeneid 8 and Octavian's triumphs rather than popular Isiac iconography. Other textual arguments are also overstated. That the Augustan poets established the seven-mouth Nile topos depends on an all-too-summary dismissal of the Greek tradition as overly complicated. Diodorus might offer caveats about additional mouths or canals, but he nevertheless gives the Nile seven mouths (1.33.5: ἐξίησι δ' εἰς τὴν θάλατταν ἑπτὰ στόμασιν).

While the inclusion of an Egyptian perspective has been badly needed in work on the Nile's reception, Merrills' discussion of the Nile in Egyptian religion bit off more than it could chew. His argument that Egyptian cosmogonies made a minimal impact on Roman authors would have been more persuasive had he engaged with a specific cosmogony. A discussion of the Hermopolitan Cosmogony and its frog zoomorphism would have built nicely on the chapter's discussion both of the half-born life created by the inundation and of Seneca's coordination of Nile inundation and watery cataclysm; even more so as the Hapy iconography mentioned by Merrills often depicted him holding a frog.4

These caveats notwithstanding, Merrills' overall contribution to our appreciation of Rome's many different geographies remains substantial. His goal of opening our eyes to the swathe of Nile geographies is well met, and his recalibration of the authority of different geographic media is a welcome breath of fresh air.


1.   Merrills relies particularly on: Versluys, M. J. 2002. Aegyptiaca Romana. Nilotic Scenes and the Roman Views of Egypt (Leiden; Boston); Tracy, J. 2014. Lucan's Egyptian Civil War (Cambridge); Manolaraki, E. 2013. Noscendi Nilum Cupido: Imagining Egypt from Lucan to Philostratus (Berlin); Swetnam-Burland, M. 2015. Egypt in Italy. Visions of Egypt in Roman Imperial Culture (Cambridge).
2.   Translated into English as Nicolet, C. 1991. Space, Geography, and Politics in the Early Roman Empire. Jerome Lectures 19 (Ann Arbor, MI).
3.   Janni, P. 1984. La Mappa e il Periplo. Cartografia antica e spazio odologico (Rome).
4.   On both of which, see Houlihan, P. F. 2001. "Frogs," in D. B. Redford, ed., The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. Vol. I (Oxford): 563.

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Thursday, September 28, 2017


Richard J. A. Talbert, Roman Portable Sundials: The Empire in your Hand. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. Pp. xxiii, 236. ISBN 9780190273484. $55.00.

Reviewed by Andrew M. Riggsby, University of Texas at Austin (

Version at BMCR home site


The force of this book's title may not be clear on first reading. On the one hand, Talbert is not talking even about all Roman portable sundials, but only those (a majority) which have geographical information inscribed on them.1 At the heart of the book is a catalog (nearly half the main text) of the sixteen such devices currently known. On the other, Talbert does not limit himself to the history of time-keeping. He originally came to these devices as evidence for ancient geographical world-views (hence the subtitle), and there are chapters on that question among others. I will begin with a summary of the more or less factual contents (treating the reference elements of the book before the more analytic chapters), then discuss some broader implications.

Those "reference elements" consist of the catalog (chapter 2) and a set of maps, lists, and tables (203-219). Each catalog entry is identified by a name (typically referring to location in which it is held), a three-letter abbreviation of that name, and a serial numeration. This is followed by current location (three or four are now lost), material, dimensions, provenance, description, date, and bibliography. Each is well illustrated by photographs (where possible) and line drawings, while maps and tables record the inscribed geographical information. The "description" sections also attempt to identify problematic locations and latitude values mentioned on the dials (this continues in ch.4). This is not trivial because of damage to the objects, heavy abbreviation of names, the variable reliability of ancient geographical knowledge, and ambiguity between homonymous sites. Use was made of Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) to arrive at new readings on several of the dials. Individual devices sometimes raise unique questions, such as the order of apparently successive additions of names to OXFORD, and the mechanism of operation of VIENNA and BALKANS. (In the main text, Talbert often uses just the name of the city, with ALL CAPS, for a device whose "proper" name in his catalog is that of a museum.)

The sixteen dials were found across most of the Empire (p. 138). Five include references to Constantinople. Four have termini post quem between 80 and 180 CE, but could be much later than that. Differences between the eight Latin and eight Greek examples are modest.

At the end of the book a gazetteer, set of maps, and table of latitudes and locations summarize all the geographical information from the various dials in composite form. The reader should note (23-4) that these composite maps follow different representational conventions than those in the individual catalog entries.

Chapter 1 briefly introduces the use of sundials in the Roman world, with focus on three methods of operation of portable models.2 The types cataloged here had to be adjusted for latitude and time of year before use. In far the most common type, this was done by rotating a series of parts, then suspending the whole and observing where a shadow fell on the face. The need to know the latitude gives rise to the inscribed lists of data.

Chapter 3 investigates the "geographical awareness and worldviews" of the users of these dials. The dials list two kind of information. The first (which defines Talbert's corpus) is place names, mostly of cities and provinces (never natural features). The other (found on most of them) is figures for latitude. Between abbreviation and homonymy most dials have significantly ambiguous information, especially for a user who did not participate in the original design. Accuracy of latitudes (whether compared to reality or to the Ptolemaic state of the art) varies considerably both within and across dials, and this is aggravated in cases of provinces/regions, which are always given a single latitude. The order of places in the lists often follows that of their latitudes, but seems sometimes to be inflected by grouping of adjacent regions. Two seem to be ordered as circuit tours. Most span the bulk of the empire, albeit unevenly. In a technical sense, use of these sundials does not require any very specific worldview, and Talbert reasonably identifies this as a valuable feature. What the dials suggest, however, is more specific. First, they confirm Talbert's own earlier intuition that provinces and their rough positions made up an important Roman framework for geographical understanding. Second, the importance of latitude to most of these devices suggests a broad internalization of a Ptolemaic, two-dimensional view of space, even if not directly from Ptolemy nor by way of formal cartography. Chapter 4 turns to the persons who used and produced portable sundials. There is little external evidence, whether in literary texts or in the (largely unknown) archeological contexts of the dials.3 Nor does any dial record its own maker or owner; everything must be inferred from the operation of the device. The geographical errors noted above and the difficulty of calibrating these quite small devices would have interfered with accurate time-keeping. Such a rough-and-ready approach contrasts with the precision seemingly promised by the several dials which list some latitudes to the fraction of a degree. At the same time, at least some geographical howlers would have translated into modest-seeming errors of time (p. 143). The lists of names generally show some degree of personalization by combining a selection of broadly scattered "greatest hits" with lesser and/or tightly clustered locations. Talbert closes with the reasonable suggestion that the network of designers, makers, and users merits the term "community," given the shared general knowledge that almost all must have had and traces of some quite specific traditions that seem to underlie some of the individual dials.

Chapter 5 briefly treats post-classical comparanda, running from early Islamic astrolabes to modern luxury watches. These are treated, I think rightly, as parallels to the Roman dials, rather than as instances of their reception.

An appendix concludes the analysis, considering an epigraphic fragment from Aquincum (in modern Hungary, on the outskirts of Budapest). Talbert argues convincingly that it is a "manual"—I might have said "set of templates"—for sundial makers, though not necessarily used for portable models.

These objects have all been published before, and most of them even collected in highly schematic lists, but they have not been genuinely accessible as a set.4 As a result, we have also lacked basic groundwork that Talbert provides on, for instance, the real and imagined locations of places, the ways they are arranged in the inscriptions, and even the basic text and translation of those inscriptions. In fact, it is useful to think of this book as the historical counterpart of what in literary studies would be the first major scholarly edition and commentary on a recently discovered text. Talbert writes (p. xiii): "My hope is that the book will both enlighten and intrigue readers across disciplines by uncovering a fresh, imaginative vision of the world shared by what might be termed a loose community of Romans." Mission accomplished.

With that in mind, let me take the liberty of suggesting what I think would be a very productive next step, starting from very technical time-keeping issues, but feeding eventually into much broader questions. One the one hand, we can calculate how much ancient measurements would have varied both from the notional norm and from each other.5 On the other, we can locate specific contexts in which Romans did or might have used sundials. Talbert and others have already shown that Roman tolerance for error/variation must have been greater than today's, but with more concrete descriptions of that variation in hand, we can think more specifically about how it would play out in different use contexts. Could you schedule in advance a meeting with someone you had never met? Even someone you know well? Use a sundial to measure the duration of a march or roast? Be confident you had completed duties within a legally imposed time limit (p. 164)? Talbert has a good survey of contexts in which norms of time were imposed generically (pp. 163-7).6 To this we should add at least the evidence collected by Ray Laurence on cases of times imposed by agreement or simply noted.7 Knowing how well the portable sundials could perform these tasks would then in turn be relevant to two kinds of big question. One is the conceptualization of measurement. What did a Roman who said something weighed two pounds or was to happen at the fourth hour think she was claiming? The other is more social. Talbert notes the likely value of these as prestige objects accessible to the merely well-to-do, as symbols of national pride, as souvenirs, and as both bearers and symbols of cultural capital. Having a more granular sense of their practical value would help us sort out how and why portable sundials were used in various contexts.

Finally, I would note Talbert's view that there is likely a good deal left to be discovered. He points out how much of our evidence (even whole types of it) has only appeared in the last few decades. The existence of several arbitrary but well-observed conventions (168) shows that there was a single (or at least dominant) culture of sundial making rather than independent rediscovery of the basic principle. But the fact that within our modest current evidence for this culture there is also a great deal of internal variation (see n. 3) argues that it was a robust and diverse culture.


1.   Talbert does not enumerate non-geographical portable sundials, but I count perhaps eight known instances in the secondary literature, plus another half-dozen or so described as "miniature." As Talbert further points out, we have only one apparent literary reference to portable sundials (Vitruvius, De arch. 9.8.1), but it seems very matter-of-fact.
2.   PHILIPPI operates on one of these principles, but its design is so different from its kin that it could have made for a fourth type. BALKANS is also distinctive in design. Moreover, we could distinguish the "normal" use of an hourglass layout of lines on the face from the set of curves on MÉRIDA and VIGNACOURT. Finally, MEMPHIS and SAMOS exhibit as-yet unexplained secondary networks.
3.   A couple of mosaics show figures holding sundials, but these seem to be much larger than any of the surviving portable types. See M. Olszewski (2015). "Les cadrans solaires dans les mosaïques romaines et byzantines (Ier siècle ap. J.-C. – IXe siècle ap. J.-C)." Pp. 449-68 in A. Tomas (ed.) Ad Fines Imperii Romani for images.
4.   M. Arnaldi and K. Schaldach (1997). "A Roman Cylinder Dial: Witness to a Forgotten Tradition." Journal for the History of Astronomy, 28, 108; E. Winter (2013). Zeitzeichen: Zur Entwicklung und Verwendung antiker Zeitmesser. Berlin: De Gruyter. Pp. 78-9; J. Bonnin (2015). La mesure du temps dans l'Antiquité. Paris: Belles Lettres. Pp. 387-401.
5.   Calculations for two particular cases in: Arnaldi and Schaldach 1997.112-4 and D. Savoie (2007). "Le cadran solaire grec d'Aï Khanoum : la question de l'exactitude des cadrans antiques." Comptes rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 151, 1161-1190. More general discussion at Bonnin 2015.167-70, but still without reference to individual use contexts.
6.   Esp. S. Remijsen (2007). "The Postal Service and the Hour as a Unit of Time in Antiquity." Historia, 56, 127- 140.
7.   R. Laurence (2007). Roman Pompeii: Space and Society2. New York: Routledge. Pp. 154-66. The second edition is crucial on this point.

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Philippa Adrych, Robert Bracey, Dominic Dalglish, Stefanie Lenk, Rachel Wood, Images of Mithra. Visual conversations in art and archaeology. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. Pp. xx, 211. ISBN 9780198792536. $50.00.

Reviewed by Kevin Stoba, University of Liverpool (

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Written collaboratively by five authors as part of the Empires of Faith project, Images of Mithra illuminates the diverse worship of four deities etymologically linked to Mithra (Roman Mithras, Sasanian Mihr, Bactrian Miiro, Commagenian Apollo-Mithras) by comparing the attributes and contexts of their iconographies. The refreshingly ambitious aim of the book is to convey dialogic relationships between the authors' specialisms: although the chapters have individual authors, they were not written in isolation, and the reflective impact of collaboration is apparent in each section.

The choice to focus on Mithraic iconography further heightens the boldness of the project: since the toppling of Franz Cumont's orthodoxy in the 1970s (who held that Roman Mithras had descended directly from Persian Mithra), it has been very unfashionable in Mithraic scholarship to look to the east. While the book maintains conversations between disciplines, it does not seek to establish historical connections between cognate Mithraic deities, but rather to reflect on common themes. Indeed, more often than not, iconographic diversity is highlighted, both between cultures and within. The influence of Jas Elsner, the editor of the Visual Conversations series (of which this is the first), is felt throughout in the importance given to the relationship between visual culture and ancient religion.

Dominic Dalglish's Chapter 1 ("Reconstructions: Mithras in Rome") provides background to the Roman Mithraic tauroctony and rightly highlights the multivalence and multifunctionality of the scene, which reaffirms more recent studies.1 The discussion is structured around two sculptures from Rome now in the British Museum: the Townley and Standish tauroctonies. In a novel approach, the recurrent/variable motifs of the scene are introduced through the (in)accuracies of modern restorations made on these two examples (particularly their reconstructions of Mithras' gaze, which usually averts the bull, either facing outwards or over Mithras' shoulder).Dalglish then considers precedents of the scene, including the widely discussed parallel of Nike/Victory killing a bull. The focus is on its iconographic divergences, most notably again the deity's gaze, for which other parallels are found (e.g. the relief of Claudius vanquishing Britannia from the Sebasteion in Aphrodisias). For all the focus on Mithras' gaze, Dalglish does not analyse the distinction between Mithras' gaze facing outwards vs. at Sol/the raven (which had regional tendencies but not exclusivity, being slightly more popular in eastern Europe and Italy respectively), which echoes the book's points about diversity.

Philippa Adrych's Chapter 2 ("Patrons and Viewers: Dura-Europos") moves further east to Roman Syria. The unique frescoed scenes from the Dura-Europos mithraeum are briefly discussed, but the focus is on the rare juxtaposition of two late-second-century AD tauroctonies: the Ethpeni tauroctony (smaller and slightly older), and the Zenobius tauroctony (larger and more sophisticated).

These two tauroctonies, although mostly stylistically similar (e.g. the Parthian 'fronting' of Mithras; the position of the dog, snake and bull's tail; Mithras' gaze, and the absence of the scorpion), are in some ways distinct (e.g. the depiction of Zenobius in his own tauroctony; the position of the raven, Mithras' feet, and the bull's wound). Aldrych tentatively suggests that these differences may reflect the merging of two distinct Mithraic groups. (Do they reflect different conceptions of the scene?) The chapter's closing section explores the use of patrons as intermediaries in other cults in Dura-Europos (pp. 57-60), suggesting that Zenobius' position in the Mithraic group there may reflect a distinct regional brand of Mithraic cult. This is a convincing position, although its discussion of Mithraic ritual does not acknowledge significant archaeological evidence from elsewhere of the use of incense and animals.2

Stefanie Lenk's Chapter 3 ("Settings: Bourg-Saint-Andéol") considers tauroctonies as physical objects and their place within mithraea, taking the rock-carved tauroctony at Bourg-Saint-Andéol as a starting point. The photographs in this chapter are particularly useful in conveying the setting of Mithraic objects. Regional diversity is discussed (pp. 65-78) concerning the similar and dissimilar characteristics of rock-carved tauroctonies, the distribution of mithraea set in the natural landscape, and the relationship between Mithraic sites and water (the frequency of proximity to streams, the presence of fonts, and the use of iconography featuring water). The chapter strongly implies a network-based understanding of connectivity in its interpretation of the dissemination of variants within Mithraic cults, but does not attempt any quantitative network analysis, which could perhaps have benefitted the overall project.3 Lenk recognises that modern universalisations of Mithraic design principles (based on e.g. Porphyry De antr. nymph. 5.6) are damaged by the diversity visible in the architecture/location of mithraea and the positions of tauroctonies within them (pp. 73-76). The full impact of this kind of variability on our understanding of Mithraic cults and their 'purpose' is yet to be absorbed by Mithraic scholarship.

Rachel Wood's Chapter 4 ("Identifications: Mihr in Sasanian Iran") provides the first focus outside the Roman world: the Sasanian Taq-e Bostan relief, featuring Mihr and three other figures. Wood narrates the difficulty of identifying Mihr and the other figures (probably the kings Shapur II and Ardashir II, with the Roman emperor Julian trampled underneath), which emphasises the sparsity of iconography (of not only Mihr) in Sasanian art. The deity's primary purpose here was as an overseer of the king's oath. Wood accurately dismisses Romano-centric interpretations of Mihr's presence in the relief, such as those reading a Sasanian reclamation of the deity (pp. 90-91) following Julian's (disputed) honouring of Helios/Mithras (if so, who was the intended audience?). The chapter also surveys the complexity of Mihr's position within the Sasanian pantheon, the extension of Mihr-worship to the private sphere (as evidenced by the deity's depiction on seals), and Mihr's consistent associations in art and literature (solar attributes, friendship/contracts, and war-like aspects).

Robert Bracey's Chapter 5 ("Interpretations: Miiro in Kushan Bactria") moves further east again, centring on second/third century AD depictions of Miiro from Kushan Bactria. Miiro was one of several diverse deities used on coins (pp. 107-109) and at royal temples (pp, 114-115) to legitimise kingship, echoing the Taq-e Bostan relief from Chapter 4. However, unlike Sasanian Mihr (and Roman Mithras), Miiro seems to have been a personification of the sun rather than a deity with solar associations. Bracey's most interesting point explores the possibility that "Miiro" on Kushan coins is in fact "a Bactrian translation for a traditional Kushan [sun] god otherwise unattested in our evidence" (pp. 116-119), which impacts the relatability of this deity to others etymologically linked to Mithra.

Dominic Dalglish's Chapter 6 ("Syncretisms: Apollo-Mithras in Commagene") studies the first century BC Commagenian depiction of Apollo-Mithras-Helios-Hermes among the dexiosis stelae at Nemrut. Dalglish attributes the multiplicity of (Graeco-Roman and Persian) gods at Nemrut to Antiochus I's political positioning between east and west, as he attempted to accentuate his ancestral link to Achaemenid Persia and friendship with Rome. The chapter's most valuable point is to stress that Mithraic scholarship should not isolate Apollo-Mithras in this context, as his role here (legitimising kingship through a handshake) is also played by several other deities (a point which can be projected back to Chapters 4-5). Simultaneously, Dalglish rightly warns against ignoring the uniquely Commagenian perspective in favour of grander Persian/Graeco-Roman/Armenian narratives.

Overall, the book succeeds in highlighting the diversity seen in the worship of Mithra both within and across cultural boundaries. It also stresses the need to view each piece of evidence within its own religious, political and historical contexts, and to avoid universalisation. Claudia Brittenham's Epilogue, which muses on the multiplicity of characteristics associated with Aztec Quetzalcoatl, also makes this point clear: "Rather than seeking to reconcile these conflicting accounts, what if we instead revelled in the differences?" (p. 179). The Conclusion still observes a few strands of consistency between some/all of the Mithraic chapters (solar attributes, youthful depictions, links to water, uses in legitimisation of kingship). These themes rightly serve reflective purposes, and are not intended to integrate the evidence historically.

Readers who are well-read in Mithraic scholarship will value the authors' innovative approaches to familiar evidence and cross- disciplinary range and reflection, but the book provides enough exposition to appeal also to a non-specialist audience. The authors provide accessible overviews of (especially Roman) Mithraic scholarship throughout, and so Images of Mithra could also work as an introduction to the topic. Readers with backgrounds in Graeco-Roman studies will find the transitions into sections on Sasanian and Kushan cultures smooth and well contextualised within discussions of their respective religious frameworks, either in the text or through the footnotes. Befitting the title and approach, the book also contains many (often original) photographs of Mithraic material which themselves serve as useful resources.

Readers with different backgrounds may find that the authors assume awareness of Mithras' position within the wider Roman religious context. The relationship between Mithras and other gods in the Roman world (and the relevance to regional variation in Mithraic cults), for example, is not acknowledged except in discussions of the tauroctony's Graeco-Roman precedents (pp. 25-32), traditions at non-Mithraic cult sites in Dura-Europos (pp. 57-60), and depictions of other deities found at the Walbrook mithraeum (p. 79).

There are, however, some limitations to the project. Although the book is "unashamedly object-focused" (p. 166), its exploration of the movement of Mithraic "groups of ideas" (p. 8) is somewhat stunted without exploration into the psychosocial processes and mechanics actually involved in the spread of ideas. Cognitive approaches which address the qualities and conditions needed for iconography to spread (or, conversely, remain limited), such as Dan Sperber's work on the "epidemiology" of images,4 have already been applied in Mithraic scholarship,5 and could have elucidated the discussion here. Similarly, as discussed above, Chapter 3 (and perhaps others) hint at but do not develop a network approach to this issue.

From a Roman perspective, the artificial 'Persianisation' of Roman Mithraic worship is only briefly acknowledged (referring to Mithras' superficially 'eastern' garb, p. 27, pp. 159-160 and pp. 169-170). This desire to forge links with the perceived antiquity, wisdom and religiosity of Persia likely influenced many characteristics of Roman Mithras-worship, and contributes significantly to the difficulty of untangling the relationship with the cognate deities.6 As such, the phenomenon deserves more attention than it receives here.

Nonetheless, this is a successful, highly innovative collaborative contribution to a much-studied field which will surely influence similar volumes in the future. It shows the riches of Mithraic visual culture in a new light with some fresh observations, which are largely concordant with recent scholarship, and its focus on (iconographic) diversity places it well within emergent trends in both Mithraic research and ancient religions more generally. Images of Mithra is a valuable read for scholars interested in religious and art history, the movement of ideas, and the multifarious types of relationships between iconography and religion.


1.   See e.g. Gordon, R., 2004, "Small and miniature reproductions of the Mithraic icon: reliefs, pottery, ornaments and gems", in M. Martens and G. de Boe (eds.), Roman Mithraism: the Evidence of the Small Finds, Brussels: 259-284.
2.   On incense, see Bird, J., 2004, "Incense in Mithraic ritual", in M. Martens and G. de Boe (eds.), Roman Mithraism: the Evidence of the Small Finds, Brussels: 191-199. On animals, see e.g. Lentacker et al., Olive, and De Grossi Mazzorin in the same volume.
3.   Such as that offered by Anna Collar on the spread of cults of Jupiter Dolichenus (see Collar, A., 2013, Religious Networks in the Roman Empire: The Spread of New Ideas, Cambridge) and Aleš Chalupa's forthcoming network analysis of the origins of Mithraic worship in the Roman empire (see Chalupa, A., 2016, Networks of the Roman Cult of Mithras).
4.   See e.g. Sperber, D., 1985, "Anthropology and Psychology: Towards and Epidemiology of Representations", Man 20.1: 73-89.
5.   See Martin, L., 2015, The Mind of Mithraists: Historical and Cognitive Studies in the Roman Cult of Mithras, London, pp89-106.
6.   See the summary of this entanglement in Gordon, R., 2015, "From Mithra to Roman Mithras", in Stausberg, M. and Vevaina, Y.S.D. (eds.), The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Zoroastrianism, Oxford: 451-455.

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Annemarie Ambühl​ (ed.), War of the Senses – The Senses in War: Interactions and Tensions between Representations of War in Classical and Modern Culture. thersites: Journal for Transcultural Presences and Diachronic Identities from Antiquity to Date, 4. Mainz: thersites, 2016. ISBN 2364-7612.

Reviewed by Daniele Foraboschi, Università degli Studi di Milano​ (

Version at BMCR home site

Thersites 4

Nove lunghi saggi su una tematica sottile e complessa : l'interazione tra cultura classica e cultura moderna nella percezione e nella rappresentazione della guerra.

La premessa di Annemarie Ambühl intreccia tutte le varie tematiche con la competenza che già conosciamo.1 La battaglia è un momento traumatico dall'inizio alla fine del suo svolgimento. La paura spinge all'assunzione di alcool, il cui consumo è tollerato, ma controllato.2 Ed Archiloco si vantava di bere il vino appoggiato alla lancia (fr. 2 West2). Così è anche nel mondo moderno: un ufficiale dell'esercito inglese della seconda guerra mondiale dichiarò esplicitamente che la vittoria fu merito degli alcolici.3 Così la strage finale può suscitare orrore come nella Farsalia di Lucano, oppure stupefazione paralizzante come in Cesare e Vercingetorige alla fine della battaglia di Avaricum.4 La stessa reazione può accadere oggi davanti alle recenti stragi del Ruanda, studiate in comparazione con Lucano nel saggio di M. Thorne alle pagine 77-119 del volume in discussione. Malgrado la distanza che ci separa dall'antichità classica, il parallelismo delle emozioni e la ricreazione storica degli antichi campi di battaglia possono creare delle somiglianze (Preface, pp. IV-V). Ma la percezione e descrizione di una battaglia può essere vista da prospettive soggettive, come si sottolinea nella prefazione. Può prevalere l'aspetto acustico, lo stridore violento, lo spettacolo violento, il fetore insostenibile, nelle descrizioni antiche come in quelle moderne. Lo specchio Antico/Moderno è il tema originale del volume, dove, però, si riconoscono dei precedenti studi significativi (Preface, p. IX).

Il volume si articola in tre sezioni:

- Rappresentazioni della guerra tra antico e moderno;
- Descrizioni letterarie e ricezioni dei classici tra le due grandi guerre mondiali;
- Rappresentazioni della guerra su vari media nel ventunesimo secolo.

Il primo saggio è P. Verzina, "Fantasie violente: il sogno ad occhi aperti in Omero e nel cinema". Esso esamina soprattutto le fantasie erotiche e violente presenti in decine di film, analizzandole come risposta ad un abuso subito. La documentazione presa in considerazione è amplissima e l'analisi puntuale e acuta. In parallelo vengono studiati degli esempi di sogni ad occhi aperti nei poemi di Omero. In particolare: Iliade 1, 188-198; Odissea 1, 438-445; Iliade 1, 224 ss. Qui il dubbio di Achille se uccidere o meno Agamennone crea una pausa narrativa che Verzina assimila ad un sogno ad occhi aperti analogo a quelli presenti in film famosi come C'era una volta il West di Sergio Leone. Il discorso è originale e stimolante, anche se la differenza dei media mi sembra il fattore di maggiore impatto e contrasto.

Segue un articolo di Ayelet Peer: "Hear no Evil? The Manipulation of Words of Sounds and Rumours in Julius Caesar's Commentaries". Nella battaglia I rumori fanno parte di quello che sta accadendo. I termini più ricorrenti sono clamor (l'urlo), rumor, fama. Assieme agli ordini urlati del Comandante, tali rumori possono orientare diversamente l'avvenimento. Il termine più impiegato è clamor, che può indicare sia l'urlo trionfale dei soldati sia il grido delle masse che scattano all'assalto. Del resto i suoni prodotti dagli esseri umani esprimono i diversi stati fisici o emozionali e Cesare, anche nell'essenzialità della sua scrittura, è attento a coglierli sia nel Bellum Gallicum che nel Bellum Civile. A. Peer ci offre una sottile analisi semantica di questi termini e dei contesti in cui vengono impiegati. Anche la parola fama viene analizzata, anche se non è un rumore ma malum qua non aliud velocius ullum. 5

Mark Thorne (in "Speaking the Unspekable: Engaging Nefas in Lucan and Rwanda 1994") si avventura in un parallelismo audace tra la Pharsalia di Lucano e le stragi del Ruanda sulla base dei resoconti giornalistici o dei racconti di F. Keane e di Boubacar Boris Diop, cui potremmo ora aggiungere St. Audoin-Rouzeau, Une initiation Rwanda (1994-2016), Paris 2016. La comparazione è suggestiva. Entrambe le stragi sono stermini indicibili (nefas), e producono l'effetto di un trauma. Indubbiamente le letture sul genocidio del Ruanda offrono un interessante termine di confronto per il Bellum civile e per l'indicibile strage di Farsalo, dove comunque i morti dei Romani furono molto meno dei Tutsi.

Quello di Manuel Mackasare ( "Ganymed im Weltkriege. Walter Flex' Wanderung zwischen Klassizismus und Kriegserleben") è un saggio importante su alcuni aspetti del classicismo in un'epoca di guerre e tecnocrazie crescenti. W. Flex fu uno scrittore di ampio successo agli inizi del secolo scorso. Il suo romanzo Il viandante tra due mondi (Der Wanderer zwischen beiden Welten) ebbe un ampio successo e se ne trasse anche un film. Ma Flex morì trentenne durante la prima guerra mondiale. Come tanti suoi contemporanei perpetua la suggestione dell'antico in toni elegiaci che sarebbero piaciuti anche ai nazisti. Ganimede e il suo variegato mito occupano uno spazio importante nella sua scrittura e nel suo pensiero anti-tecnocratico. In questo Flex risale fino a Goethe. Scrive Mackasare (p. 176):

Feucht von den Wassern und von Sonne und Jugend über und über glänzend stand der Zwanzigjährige in seiner schlanken Reinheit da, und die Worte des Ganymed kamen ihm schlicht und schön und mit einer fast schmerzlich hellen Sehnsucht von den Lippen.

Non sembra facile, a prima vista, conciliare Ganimede con lo spirito militaresco del tempo, ma secondo Mackasare, ai giovani soldati camerati di allora Ganimede appariva come il "più bello degli uomini mortali" (Omero, Iliade 20, 233).

Marian W. Makins, "Memories of (Ancient Roman) War in Tolkien's Dead Marshes", scrive un lungo saggio di raffronto tra le paludi marcite di Tolkien e quelle dei Romani, soprattutto la selva di Teutoburgo, dove nel 9 d.C. migliaia di legionari vennero sterminati. In modo convincente Makins sostiene che Tolkien, quando, ne Il signore degli anelli, descrive le paludi, si rifà non solo alla sua personale esperienza durante la Grande Guerra, ma anche, come Tolkien stesso scrisse, ad una tradizione letteraria: in particolare a Willliam Morris, di cui conosce le opere, come The House of the Wolfings e The Roots the Mountains (Makins, p. 210), che poi riprendono il Tacito della descrizione della tragica battaglia di Teutoburgo (Annali 1, 60-71, soprattutto 1, 61). Probabilmente Tacito, in queste e simili descrizioni, fu la miglior fonte di Tolkien. L'argomentazione di Makins è senz'altro convincente.

Segue il saggio di Lydia Langerwerf, "'And they did it as citizens': President Clinton on Thermopylae and United Airlines Flight 93". In esso si raffrontano due discorsi, uno del presidente americano Bill Clinton e l'altro del gerarca nazista Hermann Göring, che glorificano gli Spartani che combatterono alle Termopili. Clinton così declama (il testo è riportato da Langerwerf a p. 267):

The first such great story I have been able to find that reminds me of all your loved ones, however, occurred almost 2500 years ago, when the Greek king of Sparta facing a massive, massive Persian army took 300 of his finest soldiers to a narrow pass called Thermopylae. There were thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people and they all knew they were going to die. He told them that when they went. And the enemy said: "We are going to fill the air with so many arrows that it will be dark." And the Spartans said: "Fine, we will fight in the shade". And they all died. But the casualties they took and the time they bought saved the people they loved.

Viene qui ripreso con enfasi il modello Greco che ispirò i Padri Fondatori americani. Clinton fu forse il primo a richiamare le Termopili in corrispondenza del tragico 11 Settembre. Ma già Lincoln aveva ripreso l'epitaffio di Pericle tramandatoci da Tucidide (p. 250) in consonanza con l'ispirazione greca della democrazia americana. Lo stesso richiamo all'antichità, anche se in circostanze ben diverse, compare in discorsi radiofonici di Hermann Göring (riportati nel volume alle pp. 243-244), il quale in uno di essi riadattò l'epitaffio di Simonide: "Kommst du nach Deutschland, so berichte, du habest uns in Stalingrad liegen gesehen, wie das Gesetz, das heißt, das Gesetz der Sicherheit unseres Volkes, es befohlen hat". Lo stesso evento, la stessa battaglia vengono utilizzati per obiettivi diversi: la democrazia, oppure la sicurezza dello stato nazista. Anche Goebbels additava in Sparta il modello dello Stato Nazista (p. 259). Langerwerf mostra con finezza come la cultura classica riviva nella modernità, come ha più volte mostrato Emilio Gabba,6 arricchendosi di caratteri diversi.

Abbiamo quindi Anne Walter, "'What it felt like': Memory and the Sensations of War in Vergil's Aeneid and Kevin Powers' The Yellow Birds". Viene qui fatta una comparazione tra un episodio di guerra narrato da Virgilio 2000 anni fa e un altro episodio accaduto in una delle guerre dell'Iraq intorno al 2004 d.C. Il due episodi si incentrano attorno a due coppie di personaggi assimilabili: Eurialo e Niso e Bartle e Murph dall'altra. Sono quattro soldati spietati in battaglia, ma ciascuna coppia di amici è strettamente legata da un'amicizia profonda. Tutti compiono stragi spietate dei nemici; alla fine gli eroi di Virgilio vengono uccisi; degli americani solo Murph muore dopo atroci torture e il suo corpo viene gettato in acqua, così che la madre non possa vedere le atrocità commesse sul suo cadavere. Non sembrerebbe che, secondo A. Walter, Powers conoscesse direttamente Virgilio, ma i due episodi emergono da situazioni simili a da una simile immaginazione. Malgrado Virgilio si rifaccia ad una tradizione assente dal modulo narrativo di Powers, si coglie tuttavia una sensibilità narrativa affine e rintracciabile in altre storie di battaglie: guerrieri feroci e senza pietà intrecciano un'amicizia che solo la morte dissolve. La tesi sembra un poco scontata: ci sono strutture profonde dell'animo umano che perdurano nei secoli.

Il volume finisce, prima di due recensioni, con il saggio di Christian Rollinger, "Phantasmagorien des Krieges: Authentizitätsstrategien, affektive Historizität und der antike Krieg in moderne Computerspiel." Il tema è interessante: come i moderni video games utilizzano racconti di guerre antiche. Viene analizzata con competenza la serie Total War. Vengono prese in esame varie battaglie, illustrate da ottime fotografie, tratte dalle ricostruzioni dei video games: battaglie notturne di Galli, di Picti, di donne germaniche… Sono spesso rappresentazioni immaginarie. Ma, come dice l'autore (p. 319), citando W. Benjamin, l'immaginazione dell'Antico, se è esotica, paradossalmente trascina con se un' aura di autenticità. Roller richiama e approfondisce (p. 331) il pensiero di T. Winnerling: i video games trasformano la storia fattuale in storia affettiva.

Complessivamente il volume è molto interessante ed originale nella ricerca del fare rivivere ciò che del passato sopravvive nel presente. Il passato si dimentica, ma sopravvive sempre. Magari in modo distorto. È compito degli intellettuali riscoprirne le tracce. In questo volume l'operazione viene condotta in modo molto disinvolto nel trovare affinità narrative in testi ben diversi. Forse a volte troppo.


1.   Si veda A. Ambühl, Krieg und Bürgerkrieg bei Lucan und in der griechischen Literatur: Studien zur Rezeption der attischen Tragödie und der hellenistischen Dichtung im 'Bellum Civile', Berlin 2015.
2.   Senofonte, Costituzione degli Spartani, 5, 7.
3.   V.D. Hanson, L'arte occidentale della guerra. Descrizione di una battaglia nella Grecia classica, Milano 1989, p. 140.
4.   Cesare, Commentari sulla guerra gallica, 7, 13-31.
5.   Virgilio, Eneide, 4, 174.
6.   V. P. Desideri, "Le THOMAS SPENCER JEROME LECTURES di Ann Arbor 1985", in Ch. Carsana e L. Troiani (edd.), I percorsi di uno historikos, in memoria di Emilio Gabba, Como 2016, pp. 335-343. ​

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017


Egil Kraggerud, Vergiliana. Critical Studies on the Texts of Publius Vergilius Maro. London; New York: Routledge, 2017. Pp. xvi, 363. ISBN 9781138201347. £110.00.

Reviewed by S. J. Heyworth, Wadham College, Oxford (

Version at BMCR home site

This is a bold book, full of wisdom and critical sharpness, and deserves to be read carefully not only by editors and commentators, but by all serious students of Vergil. Kraggerud has collected 109 of his notes on problems of text, interpretation and punctuation, revising some and including 29 new loci. Introductory pages describe his evolution into a textual critic as he saw how literary and philological arguments could lead to texts that seemed superior to those in the published editions. He also became aware of how corrupt the revered capital manuscripts are, a point nicely illustrated on pp. 6-7 with a list of the 23 substantive errors to be found in M, P and R, individually and together, within one passage of 101 lines (Aeneid 5.500-600): 'the ancient paradosis is too … arbitrary to serve as the sole basis for the text' (xv). He is therefore inclined to think that there may be '80, perhaps even 100' places in need of conjectural emendation (7).

It has been said that no one agrees with a radical textual critic, the conservatives because they know that any changes to the familiar text are wrong, other radicals because they regard these changes as wrong. Having indicated my approval for Kraggerud's approach, and commended the methodological underpinning with which he opens the book, let me turn to the details — and the disagreements. In fact there are an impressive number of places where, on first reading at least, I find the notes persuasive (a) on matters of interpretation or punctuation: e.g. Ecl. 5.65-6 (interpretation of aras … altaria); Aen. 2.433 (uices Danaum), 6.153 (pecudes, prima), 6.822 (full stop after infelix, comma after minores), 9.141 (no comma after satis), 9.391-2 (question mark after siluae not sequar), 12.161 (ingenti mole, 'with a huge multitude', belongs before the comma); and (b) on textual decisions: Ecl. 2.32 (primus), 4.28-9 (paradosis), 5.3 (considimus), 5.8 (certet), 5.38 (purpurea); Geo. 1.35 (relinquit, as at 3.519, Aen. 12.470, and perhaps 6.716), 1.36 (sperent), 1.500 (nunc*)1, 3.303-4 (dum; but there is no vagueness in extremo … anno — 'year's end' means the second half of February); Aen. 1.380 (retaining et genus ab Ioue summo, deleted by Conte),2 1.458 (Atriden), 1.604 (iustitiae), 2.121 (paret), 2.598 (omnes), 4.176 (initu), 4.469-73 (Euiadum, and scaenis, 'stage-buildings', taken as an allusion to Euripides, Orestes), 5.300 (Panopeusque, reading of the 8th-century fragment p, which Kraggerud rightly values as a source of neglected readings), 6.293 (cauae), 6.561 (auris; but the claim that 'ad auras is found only twice in Vergil' is a bizarre error, for '16 times'), 6.615 (-que*), 6.659 (siluas*), 6.761 (luci), 6.846 (restitues), 7.129 (exiliis), 7.741 (paradosis), 9.85 (retained), 9.130 (exspectans), 9.363 (deleted by Wagner), 9.471 (uidebant, taking simul as simul ac), 9.539 (Schrader's recedunt), 9.709, 733 (clipeus twice*), 9.789 (pugna), 11.256 (deletion of ea*), 12.648 (nescia), 12.790 (certamine). Also valuable are notes that present a serious case for an alternative to the vulgate text, such as Ecl. 6.74 (ut), Aen. 6.852 (mores), 9.243 (fallet), 9.599 (marti).

However, there are many notes that are not convincing for various reasons, though many even of these will be useful in advancing critical debate. I begin with a quick list of unpersuasive notes on the Aeneid where I have little to say: the repunctuations of 1.1-7 and 6.791, uidet at 2.485 (those inside the palace, evoked by 483-4, see Pyrrhus and his soldiers in limine primo, as at 469), avoidance of the archaic orthography ni (for ne*) at 3.686, Tyrias … res spectat* at 4.224-5 (Housman's Hesperiam gives better sense and is hardly more distant palaeographically), amissae classis* at 4.375 (the paradosis means 'I restored [to you] the squadron of ships you had lost, and brought back your comrades from [imminent] death': a syllepsis rather than a zeugma), 5.851 (et 'even though' is easier than the awkward enjambment of fallacibus auris | et caelo together with the separation of caelo and sereni = sereni caeli), 6.466 ('this is the reason why …' does not do justice to the stress on extremum, or work in context), 7.377 (without anything to limit the reference to Latium immensum … per orbem would mean 'over the whole immense globe'), 7.598 (rapta is ingenious, but robs nam of its function), 9.402-3 (altam et lunam supposes an easier corruption than torquet, and aptly links suspiciens with precatur), 9.464 (the argument for quisque suas ignores the principle utrum in alterum abiturum erat? and the placement of the words, which encourages an appositional reading, as at 12.525, Accius, Carm. 3.5), 10.366 (quando is confusing and wasted: I suspect it has replaced an adjective, e.g. aquosi, or Courtney's uanos [BICS 46 (2002-3), 193]), 10.705 (Ellis's creat: Paris instead of Bentley's Parin: Paris leaves quem, i.e. Mimas, as the object of creat: the parallelism of the clauses requires an object, and not a verb), 12.218 (se uiribus aequos*; the sense is not incomplete if we delete non uiribus aequis, and punctuate with a comma at the end of 217, as Conte and Tarrant do). At Georgics 3.159 Kraggerud fails to consider the run of thought or to explain how he thinks ecquos* is an improvement on et quis: he has fallen for once into the palaeographical trap.

To end, detailed comment on a few passages.

At Ecl. 1.69 the asyndeton patrios longo post tempore finis | … et … culmen | post aliquot mea regna uidens mirabor aristas is awkward; together with the ambiguity of post before an accusative this renders the supposed resumption of longo post tempore hard to follow. Kraggerud therefore prefers to take post as a preposition meaning 'behind', comparing 3.20 tu post carecta latebas. However, latebas there clarifies the usage, whereas neither uidens nor mirabor encourages such a reading. It is surprising that commentators do not regularly adduce verses 29-30, where longo post tempore is followed by postquam: this may provide some support to the resumptive reading. (There is an odd error in this note, when it is said on p. 11 that Courtney 'rejects post … and reads instead post ah!'; presumably 'reads ah! instead of post' is meant. In general the proof reading has been carelessly done, e.g. subsistit for substitit at 2.739, Cereis and curia in the quotation of Aen. 2.741-51, vertitur for volvitur twice on 234, Latin semi-colons in the citations of Greek text, but I did not spot anything else likely to cause problems.)

The note on Ecl. 3.60-3 prints Ab Ioue principium musae and claims 'musae = carminis' (81); the analysis thus falls far short of the author's desire (4) for a thorough analysis of each context. For if we take Musae as a vocative plural, we have a passage that reworks the structure of Theocritus 5.80-2. As Kraggerud says, 'The Muses and Apollo constitute a group of inspiring deities belonging closely together.' Damoetas assumes the support of the Muses in invoking them to begin from Jove; and Menalcas adds Apollo (Et me Phoebus amat), just as Lacon does in the Idyll: there is no competition of Jupiter against Apollo, and not the slightest reason to read At* for Et. At Ecl. 4.8 quo is undeniably difficult, but Kraggerud's cum/quom* is no solution: he provides no translation and fails to show how the temporal clause works: the rest of paragraph stresses that the new age is being born now (iam … nascitur … iam … iam … modo … iam), so it is barely comprehensible for the birth of the child to be put into the future. Perhaps editors might consider cui/quoi (so Burman at 1.20); for the dative after desino cf. 8.11 tibi desinam.

Discussion of Ecl. 6.1-12 begins with the arbitrary addition of 'Roman' (35) to enable Prima to mean 'the first to', rather than the unusual but paralleled 'at first', which is shown to be correct not only by the sequence in this passage (which reflects the development of the book to this point, and which Kraggerud tries to break by introducing a new paragraph after verse 5), but also by the matching Extremum at the start of poem 10. Vergil wanted primus as the first word of the second half of his book, but as he preferred to avoid a spondaic word at the start of a line, and never begins a poem or a book with one, naturally avoided primum. Some of the material later in the note is useful, however, in explicating tamen in 9, e.g., and exploring evocations of Theocritus 16.

At Ecl. 6.33-4 Kraggerud sees that if you accept his ex omnia primis, rather than the better transmitted his exordia primis, the subsequent epanalepsis of omnia is pointless. He therefore follows Kirsch in extracting omnis from P's omnisa in 34 omnis et ipse tener mundi concreuerit orbis; but this creates another problem, the incoherence between the repeated forms of omnis, one of which is the subject ('everything') and the other a consequently ineffectual predicative 'in its entirety'. It is time to return to the inoffensive exordia. Though I am persuaded that Vergil wrote te, not me, at Ecl. 10.44, I cannot follow Kraggerud to his further conjecture inermem*, which seems an ineffectual epithet to apply to an elegiac puella. It is erotic love, not desire for war that has taken her away: one should take duri Martis not with insanus amor but with in armis (so Hollis, FRP 141, in supporting Heumann's te).

The discussion of fors et at Aeneid 2.139 makes no mention of several other instances of the combination (e.g. 11.50, which gets its own note, Horace, Carm. 1.28.31, Propertius 2.9.1, Statius, Siluae 5.3.62). The et could be pushed (with difficulty in the Horatian and Propertian cases) to have independent value, but such a collection of examples suggests that OLD s.v. fors2 is right to imply that the et is part of the usage. We might conceive that each of these was corrupted from an original forsit*, as Kraggerud suggests; but it seems more likely that the different manuscript traditions are right.

The note on the Helen interpolation (2.567-88) argues that there is no need to mark a lacuna. Given that we do not mark a lacuna wherever there is a half-line, this may be logical, but he does not produce the evidence to show that Vergil intended no change here: in the four passages cited from Cicero and Statius where inverted cum follows preterite verbs, the cum is always followed immediately by repente or statim (so cum subito at Aen. 1.535); there is no equivalent in 2.589. The case for expunction of 2.749 is thin, essentially based on the hysteron proteron urbem repeto et cingor armis, but without mention of the parallel at 11.535-6 graditur bellum ad crudele Camilla, | o uirgo, et nostris nequiquam cingitur armis.

The discussion of Aen. 6.460 inuitus, regina, tuo de litore cessi is out of the normal run, concerned not with philological issues, but with what the author regards as misguided over-interpretation of the imitation of Catullus 66.39: 'The original context if remembered should exert no power to change the meaning of Vergil's own context' (215). As it happens, I largely agree with him in his reading of the passage and the relationship with the Catullian verse (Vergil has subverted a comic line and made it tragic), but the principle is fundamentally misguided: if intertexts cannot affect meaning, the foundations of meaning are severely limited. How are dictionaries constructed?


1.   I mark Kraggerud's own conjectures with an asterisk.
2.   I came to the same view, with an alternative interpretation, in my review of Conte, BMCR 2010.10.03, where I also argued for retention of Aen. 4.126, excluded by Kraggerud, and, like him, for a strong pause after 6.585, not 586, and illa at 9.481. I missed Schaper's caelo, printed by Conte at 7.543, and now supported by Kraggerud (wrongly, I fancy: no example is offered of the dative after conuersa, and caeli … per auras, 'through the air of heaven' marks the ascent, as it marks the descent from heaven at 11.595).

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Nickolas P. Roubekas, An Ancient Theory of Religion: Euhemerism from Antiquity to the Present. Routledge monographs in classical studies. London; New York: Routledge, 2017. Pp. 190. ISBN 9781138848931. $149.95.

Reviewed by Greta Hawes, Australian National University (

Version at BMCR home site

Euhemerus is one of those intriguing authors whose name is better known than his work. His Hiera Anagraphe (HA) describes the author discovering on the fictional island Panchaea an inscription recording how King Zeus instituted worship of himself and of his family. It survives only indirectly (in Diodorus, via him in Eusebius, in Lactantius, and in Cicero via Ennius' Latin translation). Subsequently, Euhemerism took on a life of its own, leaving one scholar to wryly observe that 'whether Euhemerus…himself was a Euhemerist is questionable'. This is no unusual situation: was Marx a Marxist, Christ a Christian, Darwin a Darwinist?

Roubekas begins with this paradox. The Introduction charts three phases of Euhemerism: The Euhemerism of HA in which the Olympian gods were deified kings and the 'truly divine' beings were celestial gods; 'Early Christian' Euhemerism, which used the former argument to reveal the falsity of paganism; and 'modern' Euhemerism, in which 'every case of deified dead people constitutes euhemerism' (p. 2).

Chapter one argues that HA constituted a 'theory of religion'. This definition only applies to one part of Euhemerus' two-fold approach, his identification of celestial bodies as divine. Chapter two considers Euhemerus' influences, but concludes that HA is distinctively unique. Chapter three argues that none of the antique and late-antique sources for the HA should be considered unbiased and therefore trustworthy transmitters of the original. Chapters four and five discuss the contexts for Hellenistic Euhemerism: atheism, ruler cult, and irony. Roubekas concludes that Euhemerus' purpose was not to justify ruler-cult; the work's utopian frame has political ramifications, and utilizes 'localized irony' (p. 107).

From this point, Roubekas takes up the reception of Euhemerism in earnest. Chapters six and seven consider Euhemerism in early Christian texts where it was used to disparage paganism, a move which required jettisoning the HA's narrative frame and argument regarding the celestial gods. Chapter eight covers three disparate contexts: the treatment of Euhemerism as a form of myth interpretation; its appropriation by medieval and Renaissance writers; and the labelling of phenomena from other religious traditions as 'euhemeristic'.

Distilling this book's substance was frustratingly difficult. It is a difficult object to critique, being full of non-sequiturs, broad-stroke generalisations, context-less quotations, non-analogous analogies, and straw men; careful caveats are soon forgotten, and precisely-crafted definitions dissolve under the weight of special pleading. All this distracts from a quite simple central thesis.

Roubekas bills his work as a fusion of religious studies and Classics:

[T]here is a disciplinary chasm […] that is either not taken into consideration or simply ignored. Scholars of religion have, either forced by their lack of expertise, or agitated by the overwhelming data, deliberately left ancient history to historians and classicists, and simply utilized their findings. […] Classicists and ancient historians, obviously with exceptions, tend to under-theorize rather than theorize about their data. This becomes even more apparent in any meta-theoretical examination of the ancient Greek world in general and ancient Greek religion in particular. Although I might seem to be generalizing, a survey of works on, say, ancient Greek religion, demonstrates the tendency to rely heavily on the sources and avoid any theoretical discussions, as if the field of ancient religion is in danger if a different approach, hooked more on theory rather than data, is employed. (p.10)

The key problem for Roubekas, however, lies in the data, since HA exists only in testimonia. This encourages circular thinking: 'Modern scholarship on euhemerism', Roubekas declares, has not overcome the misunderstandings of early Christians since 'most modern scholars resort to secondary or even tertiary sources about what euhemerism is, which are themselves largely influenced by the way the theory was altered in the first centuries of Christian domination'. Roubekas, by contrast, will go back to the 'earliest available testimonies', which offer 'substantial information regarding the original's content that, practically, negates the common view of what euhemerism is all about. Like the early Christian authors, modern authors still have little, if any knowledge of the exact content of Euhemerus' euhemerism in those earliest sources' (p.4). In other words, because the HA is preserved second-hand, other scholars have failed to understand it, whereas because Roubekas can (also) access this secondary tradition, he – uniquely – can resuscitate the original.

Roubekas' key claim (hence his title) is that Euhemerus proposed a fully formed 'theory of religion' comparable to modern ones. Roubekas argues in chapter one that HA puts forward a coherent theological framework; he never explains how this vision of 'a straight-forward case of a theory of religion' (5) might be squared with the text's irony, its political programme, and its utopian narrative frame, aspects highlighted only in later chapters. Roubekas argues that Euhemerus' theory was religionist rather than humanist (i.e., it held that religion had divine rather than human origins). Here is where, in Roubekas' view, Euhemerus diverges most clearly from 'Euhemerism'. The evidence, however, appears only in Eusebius (one of those Christian authors disparaged elsewhere as a pernicious influence). In his summary of Diodorus' sixth book Eusebius describes the historian deriving from Euhemerus a theology which differentiated the 'eternal' heavenly bodies from the Olympians (T25). Roubekas concludes from his discussion of Eusebius as a source that we should use 'considerable scepticism when we take his delivery of the theory at face value' (p.62). Eusebius probably had no access to the HA and (as Roubekas fails to mention) Diodorus does not name Euhemerus as his source for information about Panchaea in book 5. It is unclear whether he did so in book 6; the most we can say with certainty is that Eusebius made this connection. Moreover, Diodorus elsewhere attributes very similar two-part theologies to the Egyptians and Ethiopians in contexts unrelated to Panchaea (see Winiarczyk's commentary on T25). Yet when Roubekas argues that the HA included this religionist theory, he prefers Eusebius' references to these divine beings over what survives in Diodorus' fifth book and elsewhere: an explanation for King Uranus' name as a nickname given to him because he engaged in star-gazing, suggesting a more ironic stance in which the stars are just stars. As Roubekas notes, 'it comes as a surprise that in book five [Diodorus] somehow neglects such important information, only to return to it in book six' (p.56). Quite. To support the idea that HA maintained the divinity of the celestial bodies, Roubekas must argue without much data, since this is 'a position which is not easily identified in the available testimonies' (p. 2); so, we get knotty sentences like these:

Euhemerus's view of the heavenly or celestial gods radiates a sense of acceptance of their divinity regardless of the lack of sources that would clarify this issue beyond any doubt. This position, embraced also by Marek Winiarczyk, virtually denies the traditional – already from antiquity – observation of Euhemerus' atheism […] Still, the sources themselves are not much help on this matter (p.73, italics added).

Roubekas is far from alone in noting a possible reference to true divinity in Euhemerus. He fails, however, to argue clearly and coherently for the soundness of Eusebius' comments on this point, or explain how they fit within Euhemerus' original narrative. Roubekas puts unusual weight on Euhemerus' religionist position; his central theme is that subsequent Euhemerists failed to appreciate this crucial theological point; yet this reader is no closer to being persuaded of its authenticity or importance to HA than before.

Finally, Roubekas argues that a fully-fledged theory of religion requires general speculation on the very category of 'religion', not merely observations pertinent to one particular religion. Here Roubekas can only argue that Euhemerus' theory could at least be universalised, since later Euhemerists 'transformed the Greek-centric ancient euhemerism into a full theory pertaining to the origins of gods and religion wherever and whenever they are to be found' (p.28). And besides –

we should not easily disregard the common view in antiquity of the centrality of the Greek culture in the Mediterranean world, partly exemplified in the known dipole of Greeks and barbarians. In this sense, one could argue that Euhemerus's view of the Greek pantheon and religious beliefs was a criticism of the most noble and superior form of religion, that is, the religion, which could therefore be applied throughout the rest of the ancient world (pp.28-9)

Such special pleading tests the very utility of Roubekas' theoretical approach. Roubekas' Procrustean paring is scarcely illuminating, unless one already agrees with Roubekas' conclusions.

Roubekas' lack of precision often restricts the success of his study. For example, when he criticises 'Euhemeristic' phenomena as insufficiently typical of the author, it is not always clear whose label this is. Roubekas' claims that incorporating pagan gods into Biblical history was 'the standardized form of what euhemerism meant after, more or less, the fourteenth century' (p.158). Meant to whom? One would have to consult the originals to know whether the authors described by Roubekas self-identified with this tradition. But a footnote reveals that Roubekas is relying on Luc Brisson's breezy summary of them, collected beneath the title 'Historical interpretation: Euhemerism', which label he does not explain in any detail. (It is odd that Roubekas, who has just concluded a categorisation of myth interpretation, does not interrogate Brisson's idiosyncratic categories.)

Such black-and-white casting prevents a more accurate, nuanced and – frankly – more interesting portrait of Euhemerism from developing. Roubekas' basic assertions are correct. Too often disparate phenomena are unthinkingly labelled 'Euhemeristic', and greater clarity in discussing modes of religious scepticism through time is a desideratum. But Roubekas makes this reception history a story of decline (the later tradition is 'corrupted', 'alienated', characterised by 'misuses', 'misunderstandings') and compounds the conflation. He simplistically subsumes modern references to Euhemerism beneath the rubric 'gods = deified people' and then protests that these are not in keeping with a long-lost original. Of course they aren't; but so what? Roubekas's study in fact uncovers a wealth of fascinating 'Euhemerisms' – ancestor worship in Africa, Mesoamerican ruler-cult, Captain Cook's welcome as a god on Hawaii, the sober historicisation of myth – deserving of closer study; at issue should be not the correctness of using Euhemerus as poster-boy for atheistic speculation, but the cultural cachet accorded to this name and, indirectly, to Greek religion as a paradigmatic comparandum. I take no pleasure in writing this review. Presumably I might be dismissed as just another nit-picking Classicist too concerned with data to appreciate anything more ambitious. Yet how is a theory to fly if not from a firm foundation of accurate knowledge clearly presented? There is a defence in Roubekas' modest avowal, 'I do not assert holding the true interpretation of euhemerism' (p.11). Yet this shrugging relativism hardly squares with the trenchant rhetoric elsewhere (or the authority implied in the book's price tag.) And herein lies the fundamental problem; for all his equivocations, Roubekas time and again divides the scholarly community between those who are 'with' him, and those who are 'against'. Roubekas oversells his innovations (his approach is 'contrary to the various different interpretations and motivations that scholars have identified in the study of Euhemerus' theory' (5)), lavishes praise on scholars quoted in support of his argument, while undermining the contributions of others. Patrick O'Sullivan is dismissed as 'lack[ing a deeper understanding of how theorizing about religion functions' on account of 'neglect[ing] discussions in the field of religious studies in the last 300 years or so' (39). Scott Scullion and Hugh Bowden are mistaken when they describe Herodotus and Xenophon respectively as 'theorists', in contradiction of Roubekas' definition (43, nn. 68, 72). Such comments cast a pall of mean-spiritedness, suggesting little of worth in scholarship which did not ascribe to Roubekas's argument in advance of his having formulated it. They gratuitously highlight Roubekas' tendency to argue semantics with the secondary tradition rather than arguing from the primary evidence.

A colleague once patiently explained to me that scholars should begin all papers by punching (figuratively) their intellectual rivals, as if incivility were a hallmark of impressive scholarship. Roubekas' rhetoric brought this back to mind. The logic of Roubekas' approach requires that, for every point he makes, someone else must be shown to be wrong. Scholarship becomes a zero-sum game, an exercise in point-scoring. It is not. Beyond all the words and references and debates, a reader should come away with something substantial to think about, some new idea to ponder, some new conceptual framework. I closed Roubekas' book none the wiser.

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