Friday, April 20, 2018


Laurel Fulkerson, Tim Stover (ed.), Repeat Performances: Ovidian Repetition and the Metamorphoses. Wisconsin studies in classics. Madison; London: University of Wisconsin Press, 2016. Pp. vii, 328. ISBN 9780299307509. $75.00.

Reviewed by Jo-Marie Claassen, Stellenbosch University (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

From the subtitle, a reader may be led to believe that this collection of essays treats of aspects such as figura etymologica, polyptoton, epanalepsis and anaphora, as well as perhaps the type of formulaic phrases that are characteristic of epic composition. However, the concept of "repetition" is envisioned much more widely by the two editors of the book and the ten contributors of individual chapters, to cover anything from Ovidian intratextuality (re-use of his own words, plots or themes), to all aspects of Ovid's intertextual allusion to Latin and Greek predecessors, both verbal and thematic, plus the earliest receptions of Ovid by other epicists. Ovid's poetics appear to have set the norm against which his successors measured themselves.

An erudite "Introduction" by the two editors ("Echoes of the Past") explains their approach to repetition, starting with various interpretations of an author's "dynamic recycling of previous material" (4), such as Bloom's idea of "appropriative hostility" in parody and pastiche, versus Deleuze's idea of imitation as "either a theft or a gift," implying a "hierarchical model" within which the imitator "admits inferiority" or "rehabilita[tes]… a lesser-known model" or "goes one better" (5). They touch briefly on early twentieth century denigration (as morally reprehensible) of authors who either unconsciously borrowed from predecessors or deliberately repeated themselves (6).

The editors place Ovidian repetition in three categories: revision of previously published work, re-use of his own words and "re-appropriation of his own work," concluding that Ovid's "own acquisitive habits" served as a model for his successors (8-9). A discussion of Ovid's Echo and Narcissus tale from Metamorphoses 3.399-510 as a "case study" serves as illumination of Ovid's multi-faceted approach (9-15). This ties in with the cover illustration featuring Salvador Dali's 1937 Metamorphosis of Narcissus. The picture represents two different phases of the unfortunate youth's "floralization," as well as the reflections of both these phases in the pond that serves as his mirror, that is, repetitive duplication and reduplication, a subtle touch. The Narcissus tale essentially shows "the complicated nature of representation and reality… a topic closely related to repetition" (9-10). However, emphasis here is on Echo, the juxtaposition of whose tale with that of Narcissus is an Ovidian innovation, so the editors. "Repetition" is the Leitmotiv of Echo's tale; her clever redeployment of Narcissus' words in a successful attempt at conversation leads to what the editors term her "smutty double entendres" which, while "literally reappropriat[ing] Narcissus' questions and exclamations, "…is also, on Ovid's part, a kind of recycling," serving as a "powerful model for intertextual relations" (11).

In Chapter One ("Nothing like the Sun: Repetition and Representation in Ovid's Phaethon Narrative") Andrew Feldherr starts with a short discussion of the more obvious aspects of duplication (a rape-and-paternity plot, verbal echoes, Augustan political comment) in the tale of Phaethon, who sought to find certainty about his paternity as son of the Sun (a delicious repetition in English, not available to our Roman predecessors) and whose temerity in assuming that he had inherited enough of his father's characteristics to take over his duties for a day led to inevitable disaster. Feldherr considers that the story "comments on the hermeneutic consequences of repetition itself… [serving as] a kind of verbal metamorphosis capable of simultaneously suggesting sameness and difference" (27). In his discussion of the sculptures on the doors of Sol's palace (which, incidentally, reprise Ovid's account of the creation of the cosmos), Feldherr makes an important point about the function of ecphrasis in literature as another form of repetition: a verbal mirror of reality. The author's metatextual interpretation of the tale as an almost Platonic metaphor for the common human search for identity cannot be re-argued here: a series of close analyses of the text throughout the chapter serves to elucidate how throughout this tale Ovid is concerned with repetition as paradoxically central in a poem about change.

Chapter Two ("Repeat after Me: the Loves of Venus and Mars in Ars Amatoria 2 and Metamorphoses 4,") is the first of three chapters in which Ovid's debt to (reception of) Homer is explored. Barbara Weiden Boyd's discussion here of Ovid's two-fold repetition of the tale he gleaned from Odyssey 8 later became part of her extensive monograph titled "Ovid's Homer" (Oxford 2017). In the third chapter ("Ovid's Cycnus and Homer's Achilles Heel," where the omission of a second possessive apostrophe indicates a subtle pun worthy of Ovid himself) Peter Heslin triangulates from the episode in Ovid's "prequel" to the Iliad in Met 12 (where an apparently invincible Cycnus does battle with an apparently equally invincible Achilles) to Homer and subsequently to Statius' Achilleid. The gist of Heslin's argument is that Ovid's mischievous hinting at the idea of Achilles' vulnerability in the cut and thrust of this battle undercuts Homer's apparently objectively epic depiction of his hero. This, so Heslin, directly influenced Statius' version of the story of Achilles, which has always been considered as the first to feature the vulnerable heel.

The theme of Ovidian nuancing of the Homeric epic tradition also underlies Four ("Loca Luminis haurit: Ovid's recycling of Hecuba,") by Antony Augoustakis. In a complex nexus of arguments, the author delineates the line Ovid drew from Homer, via tragedy, to Vergil's Aeneid, by focusing on Hecuba as both victim and perpetrator of violence, and, by extension, on Hecuba's dual character as a metaphor for what the editors have termed the "mutilation and deformation of literary tradition that Ovid's poetics of recycling entails" (18).

The next three chapters concentrate on Ovid's re-use of his own material. Darcy Krasne (Five, "Succeeding Succession: Cosmic and Earthly Succession in the Fasti and Metamorphoses,") compares Ovid's rival cosmogonies, largely correspondent in the opening verses of both works, but with an alternative cosmogony in Fasti 5. The structure of this third version is neatly set out in Table 5.2. (127). Throughout, the divine "succession myth" parallels the imperial, as also in the 15th book of Ovid's epic. Both divine and human "sons" are drawn as surpassing their fathers, but in the human sphere no overthrow of the father-figure is featured; yet in Fasti 5 the ramifications of the "complex of Jupiter, Mars, Augustus, Tiberius" (142) hint toward the potential supremacy of Tiberius over his adoptive "progenitor."

Sharon James (Six, "Rape and Repetition in Ovid's Metamorphoses: Myth, History, Structure, Rome") tackles the fraught topic of rape in the poem, and the fact that the occurrence of such stories tapers off during the course of the epic. As our poet's narration of "world history" moves westward and ever closer to his own time, the uncomfortable aspects of the Roman founding myths are simply omitted: no Rhea Silvia, Sabines, Lucretia or Verginia are shown as violated during the course of the creation of the Roman state. James sees in this a political dimension: their omission causes these tales to become conspicuous by their very absence, an uncomfortable intrusion into Augustus' much vaunted "re-founding" of Rome.

Until the end of his life Ovid continued to re-use his own material: in exile, much from his earlier poetry reappears, now with a new thrust, but often, too, illustrating how the poet's life has become the final metamorphosis in his oeuvre. Peter Knox in Seven ("Metamorphoses in a Cold Climate,") first concentrates on Ovid's view of his relationship to his own poetry, reading the tale of Althaea's vengeance on her own son for the death of his uncles as "a metaphor for negation of the creative act" (180). Next, Knox discusses the exiled Ovid's frequent view of himself as an Actaeon, the victim of Fortune, punished for a mistake, rather than a crime, and, consequently, his view of Augustus as a vengeful Jupiter. "Repetitions of themes," so Knox, "… activate the intertext in the Metamorphoses… [so that i]t becomes impossible to read [its] … epilogue without interpolating Augustus into the text." Of a passage from the Tristia: "it is not Jupiter's wrath that is at issue, but Caesar's" (188). Verbatim repetition of 15.129 from the epilogue of the Metamorphoses in Tristia 4.10 signals Ovid's view of his own death-defying renown as set against oppression. Knox's concluding paragraph (191) has a more negative interpretation of the tone of Ovid's last work, the Epistolae ex Ponto, than this reviewer finds in it.

Eight ("Ovidian Itineraries in Flavian Epic,") by Alison Keith and Nine ("Revisiting Ovidian Silius, along with Lucretian, Vergilian, and Lucanian Silius," 225-48) by Neil W. Bernstein together cover the major Flavian authors who show Ovidian influence: that is, the earliest receptions of our poet, that served to establish him as a normative predecessor. Both are writing against the more common assumption of the preeminence of Vergil as the paragon. The chapters differ vastly, yet complement each other: Keith gives a careful analysis of the manner in which Ovid serves to supplement Vergilian evocations in Valerius Flaccus, Statius and Silius Italicus. Bernstein examines the occurrence of "quotation" from predecessors in Silius. This is done in a novel way: a quantitive analysis (by means of a computer program called Tesserae) of "all matches of two-lexeme phrases in a database of more than three hundred poetic and prose texts from the Greco-Roman literary corpus" (226). A system of "weighting" ensures that such matching can be further refined to eliminate common and fortuitous similarities, leaving only those that are "interpretatively significant." A series of tables shows the relationship between Ovid, his Flavian successors and Silius. Again Ovid stands second to Vergil, but is still a significant source for emulation on the lexical level.

Finally, in Ten ("Return to Enna: Ovid and Ovidianism in Claudian's unfinished De raptu Proserpinae) Stephen Hinds shows how, by the late fourth century, Ovid had become established as the norm, and this poem appears as almost "Flavian" in its closely "Ovidian" feel. Claudian was a Greek who composed in both Latin and his own tongue. Hinds shows that his responsiveness to Ovid's repetitive poetics is functional and essential to the fabric of his poem. A central philological issue has always been the question of whether the locus amoenus whence Proserpina was abducted was Enna ("Henna") or Etna, a reading of DRP 2.71-5 which has been favored in various modern editions. Recourse to Ovid's Met.5.385-6 and Cicero's Verr. 4.107 indicates "Enna" as the correct reading. Also, so Hinds, as a bilingual "Greek [with] Alexandrian origins" (267), Claudian could not have resisted the punning play on the contrast between Hennaeae (= Greek "oneness") and "numeric" Latin words "/ unica… secundam… / primos… / numeri damnum" in DRP 1.122-6. Hinds' chapter is particularly rich and thought-provoking, but must be left here in favor of a more general discussion.

Particularly memorable in all considerations of the concept of repetition are Feldherr's remarks (33) on ecphrasis as aiding the reader's "understanding of the relationship between representation and reality"; also, contrast between "unchanging ecphrasis and the linear narrative of Ovid's poem" illustrates the contrast between a "fixed picture" (as in visual art) versus "fluid narrative". Memorable in a different way is Hind's delicious praeteritio (276n.39) by means of which he manages to smuggle in a brief note on Claudian's debt to Vergil.

Less memorable are a few linguistic solecisms or deviations from the academic register: "…tradition from which Hercules has been air-brushed out" (twice: 76, 77); "a Homeric red-herring" (86); "paint-by-numbers view of poetic composition" (89); "she refutes a deeper …connection" for, presumably, "…rejects…" (149n.48); "…none of the Flavians take it up" (197). Another quibble: the Preface refers to "the original conference" (vii) on, we must assume, the topic of Ovidian repetition, and, apparently, at one of the campuses of Florida State University, but nowhere is this explicitly stated, nor when the conference took place. Also, puzzlingly, the editors refer to the "ambience" of the conference, when the context shows that "atmosphere" or "feel" of the event is meant. However, my slightly negative reaction to this was soon dissipated by the quality of both their Introduction and the chapters that follow.

Endnotes are printed after each chapter, which renders them slightly less difficult to look up than at the end of a volume, but footnotes would still have been preferable. A combined bibliography comprises a list of "Works Cited", starting with a list of common abbreviations. Thumbnail sketches of the twelve collaborators take up three pages, followed by a brief topical index of three double-columned pages and a similarly double-columned Index Locorum.

This volume of essays ranges widely and yet seems only to have touched on the theme of Ovidian repetition. Scholars can fruitfully take up the challenge to explore the topic in other directions.

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Irene Berti, Katharina Bolle, Fanny Opdenhoff, Fabian Stroth (ed.), Writing Matters: Presenting and Perceiving Monumental Inscriptions in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Materiale Textkulturen, 14. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2017. Pp. viii, 395. ISBN 9783110529159. €89,95.

Reviewed by Alexandra Wilding, University of Manchester (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below]

The present volume assesses the value of ancient and medieval texts, primarily those incised on hard surfaces such as stone, as artefacts with the potential to interact with and even re-shape their immediate surroundings.1 It is based on the conference 'Writing Matters. Presenting and Perceiving Monumental Texts in Ancient Mediterranean Cultures' held in Heidelberg from 10-12th October 2013, and consists of 13 contributions (three in German and 10 in English, all of which have brief synopses in the Introduction, pp. 5-9). They are arranged thematically under four headings: 'Theoretical and Methodical Approaches Around and About Writing', 'Text Spaces', 'Inscribed Monuments and Memory' and 'Writing Practices: Seeing, Perceiving and Acting with Inscriptions'. Space unfortunately does not permit discussion of all the contributions in this review.

After a brief introduction by the editors, the first section deals with 'Theoretical and Methodical Approaches Around and About Writing'. Of particular note here is the chapter by Ludger Lieb and Ricarda Wagner, which tackles the difficulty of assessing an inscription's impact on human actions and emotions (its 'affordance').2 They suggest that surveying literature for literary references which mention or directly quote an inscribed text ('fictional metatexts') is a way to identify the functions of physically extant inscriptions and to gauging their broader importance. This study may encourage systematic collection of literary references to Greek and Latin inscriptions.3

In the section on 'Text Spaces', focus is on the influence that a setting could have on an inscribed document (a theme also important to the latter two sections). While scholars remain interested in the factors determining the location of a particular genre of text,4 this section considers how an inscription's location could also create meaning. The chapter by Irene Berti and Péter Kató concerns the reception of Hellenistic lists of names at Athens and on Kos, places where list- makers were particularly prolific. The chapter focuses on records of actions such as lists of public donations (epidoseis) and lists men who served on the council. These lists commemorate the actions of the individuals concerned, but the authors suggest that their placement within major sanctuaries and civic centers important to the democratic image of their respective communities extended such commemoration to all citizens (a point made more explicit in the case of Athens): for example, the location of lists of prytaneis in front of the bouleuterion and later inside the prytanikon possibly represented the political involvement of all Athenians. While the social purpose of inscribed lists is well explored, it would be interesting to uncover more about their honorific capacity in relation to other Athenian honorific practices at this time.5

The chapter by Eeva-Maria Viitanen and Laura Nissin discusses the spatial contexts of the painted notices (programmata) that promoted candidates in local elections at Pompeii. By comparing reconstructions of their spatial distribution above and between doorways of public and private buildings with known 'street activity', they hypothesize a connection between the placement of the candidates' notices and the doorway owners. The importance of exactly where a text was visible is brought to the fore, and the authors speculate on who determined an inscription's placement and how they did so: although exact details are unknown, they suggest plausibly that negotiations between the candidates and doorway owners – who were possibly supporters and even neighbours – were integral to their location.

The section on 'Inscribed Monuments and Memory' examines the relationship between epigraphy and remembrance.6 The connection is drawn out particularly well by Julia Shear in her exploration of the Athenians' posthumous honours for Demosthenes in 281/0 BC, which were displayed within the Agora. Shear's chapter reflects on the fact that the reception of an honorific monument is shaped by historical circumstance: in this instance, she argues that Demosthenes' reputation as a past defender of democracy made it possible for his honours to blend in with the Athenians' contemporary efforts to re-establish their democracy.

Elizabeth Meyer's chapter offers a different perspective on the mnemonic function of inscribed monuments: she argues that the choice of a document's physical layout could harken back to the memory and importance of a society's earlier inscribing habits. Meyer's focus is on the Athenians' development of writing in columnar format, which began in the early fifth century, and suggests that this habit was inspired by inscribed posts set up on the Acropolis from the late sixth century (whose content corresponded broadly to thesmoi). Although Meyer is faced with the obvious problem of patterns in survival,7 her hypothesis that the columnar format was used in texts whose content overlapped with the concerns of earlier thesmoi is broadly compelling (although it is not applied as forcefully to the casualty lists from the Kerameikos). This chapter may encourage further recognition of the physical presentation of inscriptions in order to unlock their mnemonic function.

The final section, 'Writing Practices: Seeing, Perceiving and Acting with Inscriptions', concerns both the performative effect of inscribed texts and also motivations for monumentalizing the written word. The chapter by Vincent Debiais focuses on writing above, and leading to, medieval doors and passageways of religious structures, particularly the representation of the Holy City on a column capital in the Cloister of Moissac. Debiais highlights how the physical presence of this capital's text influenced the movements and even cognitive senses of its viewer: its position in front of the church door, for example, meant that its text signaled an entrance to sacred space. However, it was just one of the 80 capitals within the cloister and it would be useful to know more about how the Holy City capital fitted with the others, 80% of which were also inscribed (particularly as the influence that monuments could have on one another is a theme in several of this volume's chapters).

Rebecca Benefiel's chapter moves indoors in her exploration of wall inscriptions within domestic spaces at Pompeii, at the villa of San Marco at Stabiae, and at the villa of Poppaea at Oplontis. Although larger urban and rural domestic spaces display similar numbers of wall inscriptions, Benefiel observes a difference in their performative nature. At Pompeii, she suggests that wall inscriptions represent social interaction between residents and visitors: their placement in clusters within larger rooms and entrance halls suggest the inscriptions are communicating with one another. At the two rural villas, however, Benefiel notes a stronger presence of non-textual inscriptions such as drawings and numerical graffiti and a less- clustered spatial distribution and argues plausibly that this reflects a more ornamental than social function. One wonders if the type of person incising the text within urban and rural domestic spaces influenced its purpose.

Overall, this volume's loosely thematic approach succeeds in highlighting key similarities in the function of ancient and medieval incised texts, but the themes in each section are quite fluid. The editors note explicitly (p. 5) that several of the chapters could usefully contribute to more than one of the volume's subsections; inevitably, this does blur their focus. Nevertheless, this volume offers an important contribution to understanding incised texts and will be of value to students and scholars of various disciplines.

Table of Contents

Irene Berti, Katharina Bolle, Fanny Opdenhoff, Fabian Stroth. Introduction - 1
Theoretical and Methodical Approaches Around and About Writing
Ludger Lieb and Ricarda Wagner. Dead Writing Matters? Materiality and Presence in Medieval German Narrations of Epitaphs - 15
Alexander Starre. Social Texts: How to Account for the Cultural Work of Carrier Media - 27
Francisca Feraudi-Gruénais. Das synaktive Potential von Beischriften - 43
Text Spaces
Irene Berti und Péter Kató. Listen im öffentlichen Raum hellenistischer Städte - 79
Eeva-Maria Viitanen and Laura Nissin. Campaigning for Votes in Ancient Pompeii: Contextualizing Electoral Programmata - 117
Georgios Pallis. Messages from a Sacred Space: The Function of the Byzantine Sanctuary Barrier Inscriptions (9th-14th centuries) - 145
Inscribed Monuments and Memory
Julia L. Shear. Writing Past and Present in Hellenistic Athens: The Honours for Demosthenes - 161
Milena Melfi. The Stele of Polybios: Art, Text and Context in Second-Century BC Greece – 191
Elizabeth A. Meyer. Inscribing in Columns in Fifth-Century Athens - 205
Writing Practices: Seeing, Perceiving and Acting with Inscriptions
Andreas Rhoby. Text as Art? Byzantine Inscriptions and Their Display - 265
Vincent Debiais. Writing on Medieval Doors: The Surveyor Angel on the Moissac Capital (ca. 1100) - 285
Wilfried E. Keil. Von sichtbaren und verborgenen Signaturen an mittelalterlichen Kirchen - 309
Rebecca R. Benefiel. Urban and Suburban Attitudes to Writing on Walls? Pompeii and Environs - 353


1.   Recent publications assessing the inscribed word beyond its immediate textual content include: Zahra Newby and Ruth Leader-Newby (eds.), Art and Inscriptions in the Ancient World. Cambridge, 2007; Julia L. Shear, Polis and Revolution: Responding to Oligarchy in Classical Athens, Cambridge, 2011.
2.   This chapter is related to the subproject led by Ludger Lieb, 'Inscriptionality. Reflections of the Material Text Culture in the Literature of the 12th to 17th Centuries', which is part of the Collaborative Research Center 933, 'Materiality and Presence of Writing in Non-Typographic Societies' at the University of Heidelberg.
3.   See now Peter Liddel and Polly Low (eds.), Inscriptions and Their Uses in Greek and Latin Literature. Oxford, 2013, a collection of essays focussed on Greek and Latin literary attitudes to fictional and non-fictional epigraphical texts. For discussion of assembling a collection of inscriptions preserved in literary testimonia see pp. 4-6.
4.   For example: Robin G. Osborne, 'Inscribing Democracy' in R.G. Osborne and S. Goldhill (eds.), Performance Culture in Athenian Democracy, Cambridge, 1999: 341-58, Peter Liddel, 'The Places of Publication of Athenian State Decrees from the Fifth Century BC to the Third Century AD', ZPE 134 (2003): 79-93, Stephen D. Lambert Inscribed Athenian Laws and Decrees in the Age of Demosthenes. Historical Essays. Leiden, 2018: Chapter 1.
5.   For example, William Mack, Proxeny and Polis. Institutional Networks in the Ancient Greek World. Oxford, 2015 p. 240 (with Fig. 5.5, p. 241) observes that while the Athenians' inscription of honorific decrees declined from the late fourth century, inscribed decrees for citizens from this time were more common than those for non-citizens.
6.   The bibliography is extensive, but recent studies include Julia L. Shear, Polis and Revolution: Responding to Oligarchy in Classical Athens. Cambridge, 2011; Julia L. Shear, 'The Politics of the Past: Remembering Revolution at Athens', in J. Marincola, L. Llewellyn-Jones and C. Maciver (eds.), Greek Notions of the Past in the Archaic and Classical Eras. Edinburgh, 2012: 276-300; Polly Low, 'Remembering and Forgetting: The Creation and Destruction of Inscribed Monuments in Classical Athens', in J. Tumblety (ed.) Memory and History: Understanding Memory as Source and Subject. London and New York, 2013: 71-87; Stephen D. Lambert Inscribed Athenian Laws and Decrees in the Age of Demosthenes. Historical Essays. Leiden, 2018: Chapters 5 and 6.
7.   For extant inscribed stone posts from the Acropolis (and elsewhere within Athens and Attica) see Elizabeth A. Meyer, 'Posts, Kurbeis, Metopes: The Origins of the Athenian "Documentary" Stele', Hesperia 85 (2016): 323-383 (pp. 359-360, Table 1).

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Cillian O'Hogan, Prudentius and the Landscapes of Late Antiquity. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. viii, 197. ISBN 9780198749226. $100.00.

Reviewed by Rosario Moreno Soldevila, Universidad Pablo de Olavide de Sevilla (

Version at BMCR home site

Scholarly interest in Prudentius in recent decades has led to a better understanding of him as a skilled artist, and this book successfully follows this same path. By focusing on the whole oeuvre of this Christian poet, O'Hogan analyses the relationship between Prudentius' poetry and space—namely geography, journeys, urban and rural spaces, works of art, and architecture— and claims thatspace in Prudentius is more 'literary' than real, which emphasises the poet's bookishness. This approach differs radically from other contemporary studies, such as Hershkowitz's Prudentius, Spain, and Late Antique Christianity: Poetry, Visual Culture and the Cult of Martyrs (see my review in BMCR 2018.02.03), but proves to be equally illuminating, from a different perspective. O'Hogan also contextualises Prudentius' poetry within the framework of Late Antiquity, but he focuses mainly on the literature written by his contemporaries, as well as on the Scriptures and some illustrious pagan predecessors such as Vergil and Horace. As the author points out in the "Introduction", this book outlines "how Prudentius' poetry consistently shies away from engagement with reality, and retreats into descriptions of the world that owe more to biblical and classical precedents than they do to lived experience" (2). This book is about poetry, about how Prudentius is a "complex and brilliant" (166) poet who deserves attention for his artistic qualities. By accompanying O'Hogan on this fascinating literary journey, one can grasp the intricacy and richness of Prudentius' work.

After presenting the main objective of the book, the introduction offers a succinct summary of recent research on Prudentius that helps to contextualise this study, since little attention had been paid so far to "his descriptions of geography and space, and their debt to Prudentius' literary and theological training" (4); there is also a brief survey on scholarship about geography in Late Antiquity. Next, there is a concise outline of the volume, which is divided into five chapters, each exploring a different aspect of space.

Chapter 1 ("Reading as a Journey") approaches the Peristephanon as a kind of map or itinerary "through which the reader can travel" (9), and cogently argues that the diverse arrangements of the poems in the manuscript tradition may be viewed as the result of different reader responses in spatial terms. After surveying the manuscript tradition of the Peristephanon and the different interpretations of its diverse arrangement, O'Hogan studies the relationship between reading, literature, and space in Late Antiquity, suggesting that this collection of martyr hymns could offer the reader the possibility of "pilgrimage by proxy" (19). In the following subsection, the physical outlook of the collection is compared to the form of the world, further emphasising the idea of the book as space through which the reader can travel. All these arguments lead to a suggestive conclusion: "It is reasonable to see a clear geographical organization in the collection" (32). Chapter 2 ("Intertextual Journeys") deals with intertextuality in three poems of the Peristephanon (3, 11, and 9), suggesting that Prudentius' landscapes recall literary precedents in such a way that actual experience of the places is effaced in favour of more abstract conceptualisations that move the reader emotionally. Thus, Eulalia's night journey is read in light of certain biblical episodes, but also of some passages of the Aeneid, namely the description of the Sibyl of Cumae, the episode of Nisus and Euryalus, and Aeneas' descent into hell, which is also key to understanding the narrator's katabasis to Hippolytus' tomb in Peristephanon 11, whereas the Vergilian intertext is ingeniously combined with Apuleius' Metamorphoses in the hymn devoted to Cassian. O'Hogan concludes that "[t]he fourth- century Roman Landscape is another version of the mythic landscapes of the Aeneid, and the actions of the Christian martyrs are updated accounts of the figures of Roman literary heritage" (70).

Chapter 3 ("Urban Space and Roman History") begins with an introduction about how early Christianity conceived the city, citizenship, and urban space. Martyrs somehow helped solve the tension between Romanness and Christianity, since they are presented as "civic saviours" (77), "as purifying, renewing and refounding their native cities, thus emphasizing both continuity with the pagan past and break with that past" (75). Prudentius highlights this connection at the very beginning of each poem in the Peristephanon, where both the martyrs and their cities are eulogised in connection with each other. As regards urban landscapes, these are not depicted in detail: it is not the physical outline of the city that matters, since "cities are presented as significant almost exclusively because of the presence of martyr relics within them" (82). Apart from their purifying and edifying function, martyrs symbolically help to renew and refound their localities as Christian cities and relocate them "on the map of a Christian empire" (84). The chapter continues with the exploration of processions and celebrations of martyrs in the urban communities, as a way of reinforcing both their religious and civic identity, and establishing a new relationship with time through a Christian calendar that counterbalances the Roman calendar. Yet, this is not just a local phenomenon, for reading universalises the celebration of the martyrs: "while martyrs and martyrdom are firmly rooted in locality, they can be spread across the continents by means of praise and worship" (89). The final part of this chapter moves from the Peristephanon into the vague landscapes of the Psychomachia: O'Hogan stresses the fact that this battle "takes place in a non-space", unidentifiable and with "no parallel in earlier Latin epic" (95). In the same way as martyrs are both "local heroes" and "universal exemplars" (96), the deliberately unspecific nature of the landscape in the allegorical poem shows a tendency towards abstraction that emphasises the universality of Prudentius' message.

Chapter 4 ("Pastoral and Rural Spaces") moves into the realm of space idealisation, inasmuch as rural spaces in Prudentius' poems blend the pastoral tradition with the biblical idea of paradise. In the first section ("Endelechius and Christian Pastoral"), O'Hogan explores the different early Christian reactions to bucolic poetry, especially to Vergil, to conclude that "the association of Vergil, and specifically the fourth Eclogue, with Christian ideas of the good shepherd and Jewish prophecy was widespread between the third and fifth centuries, even if the association was not always considered an appropriate one" (106). With this idea in mind, O'Hogan analyses Endelechius' pastoral poem as a reflection on the dichotomy between the city and the countryside, since the spread of the Christian faith was more successful in urban than in rural spaces. The adherence of country people to previous (pagan) forms of worship is also crucial for understanding Prudentius' emphasis on farming and agriculture in Contra orationem Symmachi: while rejecting the do ut des motivation of pagan religion, he stresses the idea that Christian faith and prayer have no effect on agriculture, but help the faithful live a better spiritual life despite the harshness of labour: by successfully combining both classical and biblical texts, he "presents an image of the ideal farmer as one who is content with little and whose Christian faith provides him with solace in times of need" (115). The following section ("Visions of Heaven") focuses on the Cathemerinon and its depiction of heavenly spaces and experiences: the description of paradise landscapes help to represent the triumph of Christianity over the harshness and difficulties of human life. As in the previous chapter, the final section is devoted to the Psychomachia, which, as stated previously, epitomises Prudentius' tendency towards abstraction and his withdrawal from real spaces, with an analysis of the allegory of "the temple of the soul", a blending of biblical and Vergilian material.

Chapter 5 ("Describing Art") focuses on constructed places and architecture. The main idea of this section is the problematic, potentially misleading nature of art as a way of approaching Christian faith and doctrine, and the superiority of language, which, paradoxically, is also fallible and liable for misinterpretation and incompleteness. The human word is unable to encompass the divine, but, according to O'Hogan, Prudentius "demonstrates how verbal interpretation always trumps visual representation" (135). Prudentius' attacks on idolatry and the ekphraseis of Peristephanon 9 and 11 are related to late antique ideas and controversies regarding the potential dangers of art, including Christian art, which could be useful as a didactic instrument for the illiterate, but also ambiguous and misleading if not provided with the suitable verbal explanations. Finally, in "Ambiguous architecture", O'Hogan decodes the intertextual echoes in the description of different religious buildings in the Peristephanon (the basilica of Eulalia, the church dedicated to Hippolytus, the baptistery of Peter, and the basilica of Paul), hinting at "uneasiness about overly ornate sites of worship" (156) and probably at a tacit criticism of excessive extravagance in religious buildings: "Prudentius presents himself as an ascetic warrior, a 'cheap vessel' (Ep. 26) far removed from his wealthier contemporaries, who embarked upon opulent building projects to express their piety" (164).

This book is rounded off with a "Conclusion", a comprehensive "Bibliography", an "Index locorum", and a "General index". The line of argument is always clear, cogent and well founded, and the author usually guides the reader through the different sections and provides conclusions to almost every chapter and subchapter, the result being a very coherent product. Furthermore, the volume is excellently produced. Yet, one possible ground for improvement could be the relatively limited set of classical authors taken into account for the analysis. Perhaps more attention could have been paid to other classical Latin writers beyond the ever-present Vergil: in fact, in his state of the art at the beginning of the book, O'Hogan regrets the absence of "more sustained and detailed studies of Prudentius' relationship to authors besides the usual trio of Vergil, Horace and Ausonius" (4). It is true that the presence of Horace, Ovid and, most significantly, Apuleius is more than anecdotal in this volume, and that Catullus, Ennius, Juvenal, Lucretius, Pliny the Younger, and Sallust are cited at least once, but one wonders whether a closer look at these and other authors (for instance other bucolic and epic poets) might have reinforced the argumentation. This could be, in any case, a line of research for future works.

O'Hogan's final remark deserves praise: "I am conscious of how much remains unsaid in my own work, but I hope that at the very least I will have added something1 to the wider understanding of just how complex and brilliant a poet he is" (166). Definitely O'Hogan has added more than "something": his book is full of enlightening ideas, and combines an original approach with a thorough knowledge of scholarship and literature, while encouraging future research. All in all, this book is instructive, enjoyable and truly commendable.2


1.   My own italics.
2.   This review forms part of the Research Project FFI2014-56798-P, funded by the Spanish Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Competitividad.

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Thursday, April 19, 2018


Sinclair Bell, Alexandra A. Carpino (ed.), A Companion to the Etruscans. Blackwell companions to the ancient world. Oxford; Chichester; Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2016. Pp. 528. ISBN 9781118352748. $195.00.

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

Version at BMCR home site

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

This volume is an important contribution to the growing number of publications and exhibitions in Etruscan art and archaeology in recent years. In the case of the former, the trend has been marked by a collection of essays on different aspects of Etruscan culture by a large number of contributors gathered in a single volume. I am here specifically referring to Jean MacIntosh Turfa's (ed.) The Etruscan World and, most recently, to the leading publication by Alessandro Naso's (ed.) Etruscology. 1 In this context, the book edited by Sinclair Bell and Alexandra Carpino is not different than the others, but it stands out in that its purpose is not to provide a comprehensive picture of the Etruscans. Instead, this volume offers fresh perspectives and up-to-date insights that scholars and graduate students in the field will certainly appreciate.

Among its many outstanding contributions (28 authors over 30 essays), a few points deserve particular attention. First, it reassesses and evaluates traditional topics like funerary and domestic architecture, tomb painting, ceramics, and sculpture, as well as new ones such as textile archaeology. Second, some papers offer new perspectives on topics that still need further investigation, such as the social function of jewellery and the misconceptions behind the Greek and Roman views on the Etruscans. Third, it presents substantial and innovative theoretical discussions on, for example, the material culture of rituals (Corinna Riva), the reception of Greek ponderation – the distribution of the body weight for standing statues– (Francesco De Angelis), and the uses of violent images in Etruria (Alexandra Carpino).

The volume is divided into five parts followed by an Appendix that reviews the Etruscan art displayed in North American museums, and an Index. Like other similar publications of collected studies on a broad subject, the variety of topics discussed in each part is not always clearly organised. For example, Part III: "Evidence in Context" starts with a discussion of Etruscan skeletal biology. Then it moves to language, followed by five chapters discussing different aspects of material culture, and three chapters discussing literary sources. A division of Part III into sub-areas would have made the section clearer to the reader. Some of the essays are not original. Margarita Gleba and Stephan Steingräber, for example, present updated versions of essays already published in similar editions. 2 Furthermore, the informed reader would have expected a more original approach –rather than condensed summaries– of familiar topics in the field such as language and myths. Thematic overlaps are also present: Gunter's discussion in Part IV does not really add much to Camporeale's in Part II, for instance. Cross-references by the contributors to other chapters in the book are frequent, inviting a reader to explore the volume further.

In Part I (History), Simon Stoddart examines the sociopolitical transformations that shaped the Etruscans' identity from the Bronze Age and into the first Iron Age. Skylar Nail then expands further on the expression and negotiation of Etruscan identity up to the end of the Classical Period. This chapter essay is followed by Letizia Ceccarelli's discussion on some Roman strategies adopted during the Romanization of Etruria such as road infrastructure, the establishment of colonies, and the creation of alliances with the ruling Etruscan elite which conveyed linguistic, religious, and iconographic changes.

Part II (Geography, Urbanization, and Space) centres on the significant aspects of Etruscan material culture, identity, and their prominence in Central Italy and the Mediterranean. In Chapters 4 and 5, Stoddart discusses the key landscape features of Tyrrhenian central Italy and the relationship between rural and urban landscapes from the Orientalising period onward. Giovannangelo Camporeale examines the sources of evidence to show how maritime trade contributed to significant cultural changes and how the Etruscans' wealth was inexorably linked to the sea. Next, an illuminating study by C. Riva reconsiders the evidence for rituals –sometimes interpreted as foundation rites– that occurred during the early phases of Etruscan urbanism. She concludes that the later Roman sources often used as evidence are more informative about the foundation of Roman, rather than Etruscan, colonies. Other essays provide updated synopses of particular sites, such as Poggio Civitate (Anthony Tuck) and current excavations (Claudio Bizzarri). The final chapters of this section (10, 11, and 12) cover aspects of the Etruscans' domestic (Bizzarri and David Soren), funerary (S. Steingräber), and sacred spaces (Gregory Warden). Among them, Steingräber's call for the necessity of a comprehensive handbook of all Etruscan cemeteries, tombs and tomb architecture, is worthy of special consideration.

Part III (Evidence in Context) opens the discussion with two chapters on the long-standing question of the Etruscans' origins, followed by five papers that examine diverse art forms in context. Three final chapters reconsider the ancient literary sources that mention the Etruscans. Marshall Becker demonstrates that, given the genetic diversity of their population and the lack of high-quality skeletal material, modern DNA studies are unreliable sources for a precise answer to this question. A different sort of evidence is discussed by Rex Wallace in his analysis of the Etruscans' language, alphabet and linguistic affiliation. While philological analysis shows that Etruscan, Lemnian and Raetic (a language spoken in the sub-Alpine regions of eastern Italy) belong to the same family of languages, it does not provide an answer to the question of the Etruscans' origins. Different art forms are discussed by Philip Perkins (bucchero), Lisa Pieraccini (wall painting), Helen Nagy (votives), and Alexis Castor (jewellery). Gleba's on textiles, a subject introduced by the author in other recent compendia, deserves particular attention because it is a relatively new field in Etruscan archaeology. 3 After discussing some data generated by new scientific methods to understand the extant textiles' chronology and provenance better, Gleba focuses on the different contexts of textile production and the information they give us about Etruscan women's contributions to ancient economy. The papers that examine the ancient literary sources in this volume stand as significant contributions to Etruscan studies on account of their originality and rewarding conclusions. In Chapter 20, Hilary Becker distinguishes two common topoi in many Greek and Roman authors who wrote about the Etruscans: wealth and decadence. She argues that constructions of the Etruscans based on these authors' portrayals were deliberate distortions designed to emphasise not Etruscan, but Greco-Roman real life. Next, Gretchen Meyers discusses the literary sources that mention the famous Etruscan queen Tanaquil, considering both her Etruscan and Roman identities, as well as Etruscan women's actual role in the production of ceremonial textiles. Finally, in Chapter 22, Jean MacIntosh Turfa reconsiders some of the literary conventions behind the obesus etruscus. By comparison to archaeological and artistic evidence, she concludes that these later portrayals of the Etruscans do not, in fact, reflect the majority of the members of its society.

Part IV (Art, Society, and Culture) includes papers on some well-known subjects in Etruscan art, its interaction with the Eastern Mediterranean (Ann Gunter), the active role of Etruscan artists (Jocelyn Penny Small), and the iconography of myth (Ingrid Krauskopf). However, two other outstanding papers are worth mentioning here in more detail. In addressing the use of ponderation in different media and its reception in Etruria, De Angelis argues against the irreconcilable distinction between "originality and derivation" in most approaches to Etruscan art. Instead, he concludes that this particular stylistic feature was both an "immediate and sensorial" response to the reception of Greek art in Etruria. This Etruscan stylistic response is, in fact, far from being as simple or unsophisticated as traditionally considered (p. 382). Alexandra Carpino's discusses the different uses and contexts of violent images in Etruria. She demonstrates that some Greek tragic stories were selected not because the Etruscans had a "taste" for fierce visual representations, but because these particular subjects effectively communicated particular beliefs, values, and concerns about human behaviour. She also clarifies that the instances of this type of imagery are few and mostly confined to specific contexts (i.e., religious and funerary), which is indicative of other purposes, probably in connection with the ritual needs of the dead, rather than a desire for bloody depictions.

Part V (The Etruscans' Legacy and Contemporary Issues), centres on the theme of Etruscan studies and their reception. Ingrid Rowland highlights Annius of Viterbo's (1437-1502) importance in the groundwork and reception of the discipline during his time. Etruscan forgeries are the subject of Chapter 29. After discussing the motivation for their production, Richard De Puma explains how some well-known falsifications have inaccurately shaped our notions on the Etruscans. Finally, Gordon Lobay discusses some of the present and past problems concerning the looting and trade of antiquities in Italy and reviews the international regulations created to prevent the illicit traffic of archaeological findings.

Overall, the volume is carefully edited, with plenty of cross-references and few typos. Greek and Latin texts are presented in translation, but Etruscan inscriptions are bilingual. A full list of references and a "Guide to Further Reading" usefully complement each chapter. There are seven high-quality inserts for coloured versions of some of the figures in the text, but the numerous black-and-white photographs are not always clear. For example, the engraved mirror on p. 96 (Fig. 7.4) is almost illegible –a drawing next to it would have been more informative. The topographic map on p. 113 (Fig. 8.4) is impractical as colours are lost in its black-and-white version; the same applies to the map on p. 68 (Fig. 6.1).

To conclude, this volume represents a significant effort to bring together new work and novel approaches on the Etruscans. Although prior knowledge of the main issues in Etruscan studies is recommended, the book's format makes it accessible to a broad audience as well. It would be a welcome addition to any Classics and archaeology libraries and will become undoubtedly a source of inspiration for scholars and students with interest in Etruria.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations viii
List of Tables xv
Notes on Contributors xvi
Acknowledgements xx
Map of Etruria xxi
Alexandra A. Carpino and Sinclair Bell, Introduction xxii-xxvii
Part I History 1
1. Simon Stoddart, Beginnings: Protovillanovan and Villanovan Etruria 3-14
2. Skylar Nail, Materializing the Etruscans: The Expression of Negotiation of Identity during the Orientalizing, Archaic, and Classical Periods 15-27
3. Letizia Ceccarelli, The Romanization of Etruria 28-40
Part II Geography, Urbanization, and Space 41
4. Simon Stoddart, Etruscan Italy: Physical Geography and Environment 43-54
5. Simon Stoddart, City and Countryside 55-66
6. Giovannangelo Camporeale, The Etruscans and the Mediterranean 67-86
7. Corinna Riva, Urbanization and Foundation Rites: The Material Culture of Rituals at the Heart and the Margins of Etruscan Early Cities 87-104
8. Anthony S. Tuck, Poggio Civitate: Community Form in Inland Etruria 105-116
9. Claudio Bizzarri, Southern and Inner Etruria: Benchmark Sites and Current Excavations 117-128
10. Claudio Bizzarri and David Soren, Etruscan Domestic Architecture, Hydraulic Engineering, and Water Management Technologies: Innovations and Legacy to Rome 129-145
11. Stephan Steingräber, Rock Tombs and the World of the Etruscan Necropoleis: Recent Discoveries, Research and Interpretations 146-161
12. P. Gregory Warden, Communicating with Gods: Sacred Space in Etruria 162-178
Part III Evidence in Context 179
13. Marshall J. Becker, Etruscan Skeletal Biology and Etruscan Origins 181-202
14. Rex E. Wallace, Language, Alphabet and Linguistic Affiliation 203-224
15. Philip Perkins, Bucchero in Context 224-236
16. Margarita Gleba, Etruscan Textiles in Context 237-246
17. Lisa C. Pieraccini, Etruscan Wall Paintings: Insights, Innovations, and Legacy 247-260
18. Helen Nagy, Votives in their Larger Religious Context 261-274
19. Alexis Q. Castor, Etruscan Jewelry and Identity 275-292
20. Hilary Becker, Luxuria prolapsa est: Etruscan Wealth and Decadence 293-304
21. Gretchen E. Meyers, Tanaquil: The Conception and Construction of an Etruscan Matron 305-320
22. Jean MacIntosh Turfa, The Obesus Etruscus: Can the Trope be True? 321-335
Part IV Art, Society, and Culture 337
23. Ann C. Gunter, The Etruscans, Greek Art, and the Near East 339-354
24. Jocelyn Penny Small, Etruscan Artists 353-367
25. Francesco de Angelis, Etruscan Bodies and Greek Ponderation: Anthropology and Artistic Form 368-387
26. Ingrid Krauskopf, Myth in Etruria 388-409
27. Alexandra A. Carpino, The "Taste" for Violence in Etruscan Art: Debunking the Myth 410-430
Part V The Etruscan Legacy and Contemporary Issues 431
28. Ingrid D. Rowland, Annius of Viterbo and the Beginning of Etruscan Studies 433-445
29. Richard Daniel De Puma, Tyrrhenian Sirens: The Seductive Song of Etruscan Forgeries 446-457
30. Gordon Lobay, Looting and the Antiquities Trade 458-474
Richard Daniel De Puma, Appendix: Etruscan Art in North American Museum 477-482
Index 483-493


1.   Jean MacIntosh Turfa (ed.), The Etruscan World. London; New York: Routledge, 2013. Alessandro Nasso (ed.), Etruscology. Boston; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2017.
2.   See Gleba's and Steingräber's contributions in MacIntosh Turfa 2013.
3.   Gleba, M. 2013. "The World of Etruscan Textiles", in J. MacIntosh Turfa (ed.), Ch. 42; Ead. 2017. "Textiles and Dress", in A. Naso (ed.), Ch. 29. ​

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Stephen Ridd, Communication, Love, and Death in Homer and Virgil: An Introduction. Oklahoma Series in Classical Culture, 54. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2017. Pp. 258. ISBN 9780806157290. $29.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Katherine R. De Boer, Indiana University (

Version at BMCR home site


Ridd's intention in this book is to offer a series of translations and close readings of passages from the Iliad, the Aeneid, and the Odyssey that treat the themes of communication, love, and death. These subjects were chosen because, as the author states, they "respond to three deeply ingrained human needs: the need to create and share a narrative, the need to love and be loved by another, and the need to come to terms with the death of loved ones and ultimately with one's own death" (6). These are certainly all prominent and important themes of the poems, and Ridd's choice of focus allows him to range widely over all three epics and to offer engaging readings of some of the poems' best-known episodes, as well as less prominent ones.

Ridd's aim is not to provide a sustained scholarly argument or interpretation of any of these poems. The book seems designed for students—all quotations are given in English translation, with no corresponding Latin or Greek, and many of the points raised will be familiar even to graduate students. I doubt, however, that many non-majors or students reading the poems for the first time will have the knowledge or the motivation to follow some of Ridd's more complex references. For example, the discussion of Demodocus' song in Odyssey 8 concludes, "After the moment of bad temper on the sports field, the outcome of Demodokos's story can be felt to have a special relish for Odysseus. Shown here is the victory of cunning (Odyssey 8.276, 281-282, 317) over speed of foot (Odyssey 8.329-32), the victory of the defining characteristic of Odysseus himself (Odyssey 9.19-20) over that of the other superhero, swift-footed Achilleus, with whom Demodokos earlier couples him (Odyssey 8.75)" (30-31). The athletic competitions earlier in Book 8 have not been quoted or described, so the novice reader must be willing to trace these various references back to the original text. The paragraph continues with references to the story of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra, the commentary of the gods in the Ares-Aphrodite story, and Odysseus' interactions with Medon during the mnēsterephonia. It is difficult to see how an introductory student could easily follow this wide-ranging discussion, which requires a fairly high level of familiarity with the poem. The book will probably be of most use to students with some knowledge of Latin or Greek, but little experience in the interpretative debates surrounding these poems—a fairly narrow readership.

Ridd interweaves the book's three stated themes, but the first three chapters are focused on communication, particularly in song (Singing with the Aid of the Muse(s), Singing and Celebration, and Supernatural Singing), the next three chapters are focused on love and relationships (Sons and Mothers, Helen and the Men in Her Life, and Parting), and the final two chapters are focused on death (Communicating with the Dead, and Deaths and Endings). The chapters on song seemed to me the least compelling, and the connections drawn between passages here often seemed more superficial than those proposed in the latter half of the book. For example, the Sirens of the Odyssey (Od. 12.39-46) are treated alongside the singing and dancing of the dead in Vergil's Elysium (Aen. 6.644-47) as instances of "supernatural singing." Ridd attempts to link the two passages with the conclusion that "the mortal travelers' experience of the beauty of these supernatural sounds is a part of their journey rather than an obstacle to its completion" (60). This association feels forced, and I did not find the comparison drawn between these experiences of "supernatural singing" to illuminate either. Nonetheless, Ridd's comments are generally engaging and his choice of passages generally interesting. Of course, as Ridd acknowledges, this choice is largely based on personal interest (6), and some readers will have different preferences—I for one would have liked to see Euryalus mentioned in the chapter on "Sons and Mothers." Yet Ridd's selections are broadly useful in directing the reader's attention to the presence of major themes even in more minor episodes.

The exclusive focus on the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid leaves some comparative lacunae. For example, the author includes, in his first section on "Three Openings and a Re-Opening," discussion of the invocation to Erato in Aeneid 7.37-45. Ridd writes "Neither the Iliad nor the Odyssey has a clearly marked halfway point in its narrative, but the Aeneid, devised from the start in the form of twelve distinct books, does contain such a structural break: a reopening…. By her presence at this carefully controlled turning point in the narrative, Erato suggests a different nuance in the presentation of what is the traditional, Iliadic subject matter of 'kings, fighting, death, and proud spirits" (12-13). There is no mention of the Apollonian source of this second invocation, nor of the dissonance created by Vergil's transference of the motif from a clearly "erotic" context in Apollonius' version (Μηδείης ὑπ᾽ ἔρωτι, Arg. 3.3) to the realm of horrida bella (Aen. 7.40). Perhaps Ridd does not want to confuse students with an endless series of pre-texts and intertexts. Yet by omitting Apollonius, he implies that Vergil's invocation to Erato is his own innovation and departure from Homeric tradition, and this implication is simply false.

Similarly, the author's references to previous scholarship are idiosyncratic to say the least. Ridd states in the introduction that he includes some suggestions for further reading, but refers only to works in English and in book form (4). He therefore includes chapters appearing in edited volumes, but not journal articles, a choice that seems arbitrary and excludes much excellent work on all three poems. Even within these restrictions, however, there are some odd omissions. For example, Marilyn Arthur Katz, Gian Biagio Conte, Nicholas Horsfall, Alison Keith, Douglas Olson, Michael Putnam, Richard Martin, Ruth Scodel, and W. Gregory Thalmann appear nowhere in the bibliography. Despite Ridd's chapter on "Helen and the Men in Her Life," Ruby Blondell's 2013 study of Helen is not referenced, an unfortunate absence given that it is particularly accessible to non-specialists. Ridd does not suggest that his citations are meant to be exhaustive, but the omission of some very prominent recent scholarship on these poems will hamper students wishing to explore further. It should also be noted that the citation style may be confusing: titles are listed according to the dates of their most recent appearance (whether in new editions or collected volumes) with no indication that some are reprints. So for example, Sheila Murnaghan's Disguise and Recognition in the Odyssey (first edition 1987) is cited throughout as Murnaghan 2011 (and appears to have been omitted from the bibliography) while Helene Foley's 1978 article "Reverse Similes and Sex Roles in the Odyssey" is cited only as Foley 2009, the publication year of the Oxford Readings in Classical Studies volume in which it was reprinted.. This may have been an editorial rather than an authorial choice, but the effect is misleading, especially for students unfamiliar with the scholarly history on these poems.

One final issue: the book does not include an index locorum, a major oversight in a work of this kind, and one that will certainly inconvenience readers trying to track down particular passages.

Overall, this book offers engaging and accessible comparative readings of Homer and Vergil. It is not designed for specialists, but will be useful to students who are new to intertextual and narratological approaches to ancient literature. It may also be helpful for high school Latin teachers who are less familiar with the Homeric epics but wish to introduce their students to some of the Greek passages that have been adopted and adapted by Vergil. The tone is not overtly didactic; indeed, Ridd describes his readings as "personal" (6) and his appreciation for the poems is evident on every page. I cannot recommend the book either to novices or to experts, but intermediate students of the epic tradition, particularly those with some knowledge of Latin or Greek and a desire to explore these texts in more detail, will find this a valuable introduction to comparative readings of ancient epic.

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Philip Francis Esler (ed.), The Early Christian World, 2nd ed. Routledge worlds. London; New York: Routledge, 2017. Pp. 1250. ISBN 9781351678292. $235.00.

Reviewed by Ine Jacobs, University College, Oxford (

Version at BMCR home site

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

This volume is the revised edition of the original Early Christian World (ECW ) published in 2000. Like the 2000 version, it is a treasure trove for all things related to the origins of early Christianity, the scriptures, early Christian controversies, and the most influential early Christian figures. Considering the many insights gained in the 17 years since the publication of the first edition, the adoption of new methodologies and development of new research foci, an update was urgently needed. In addition to chapter updates, 11 articles have been revised and another 11 have been newly added, ensuring that about one quarter of this second edition is new. Some of the added chapters deal with prominent individuals (chapter 52 on Pachomius the Great and chapter 55 on Gregory of Nyssa), whereas also Manichaeism (chapter 46) now is given a place next to gnosticism, Montanism, Donatism and Arianism (chapters 42 to 45). Other new contributions reflect the growing scholarly attention to matters such as interactions between Christians and non-Christians (for instance chapter 11, "Jewish and Christian interactions from the first to the fifth centuries"), the increasing interest in non-literary sources (chapter 23, "Christian realia: papyrological and epigraphical material") and the growing appreciation of hagiography as a historical source (chapter 25, "Saints and hagiography"). In addition, a chapter on ritual (chapter 21, "Ritual and the rise of the early Christian movement") results from the recognition in modern-day anthropology and religious studies that religion is not only about doctrine and immaterial belief and ideas, but also tangible practices.

The current volume's 60 chapters are grouped into ten parts. Part I is devoted to sketching the Mediterranean context in which early Christianity developed and answering how it could develop there at all. Factors including the geographic context, economy, the practical workings of the Roman Empire, the intellectual climate of the region and the spread and role of Jewish communities are discussed. The chapters in Part II analyse the earliest developments themselves, starting in Galilee in the pre-70s and ending with a rather dry historical overview of the progress of Christianity in the period between Constantine and Theodosius. Part III then focusses on community formation and maintenance, including the typical Christian monastic form of community.

Part IV turns to the everyday experience of early Christianity and covers a wide range of topics. More traditional chapters on sexual renunciation, the role of women and children in the spread and consolidation of the religion, and the principal liturgical acts of Christianity and Christian ritual are surrounded by contributions that are very different in scope and approach. The first chapter of this part of the volume deals with wax writing tablets excavated in London, the Vindolanda tablets and curse tablets found in Britain, and thus at first sight seems only tangentially linked to the theme of the ECW; What does Britain have to do with Jerusalem? Yet, it is surprisingly effective both in bringing to life aspects of daily life mentioned in the gospels and in imagining "how people from beyond the Mediterranean world might have read the New Testament?" (330). Likewise, the last chapter's discussion of communication and travel presents interesting insights that are more loosely connected to the theme of the volume.

The topics grouped under the rather vague heading of Part V, "Christian culture", include the variety of papyri written and used by Christians, the decision about what constitutes scriptures, hagiography and an overview of the languages used for communicating the Christian message. Part VI, "The intellectual heritage", is more coherent. Its chapters focus on Christian writings from the Apostolic period to the fifth century in both East and West and sketch the slow creation of an early Christian theology. Part VII contains traditional but comprehensive overviews of early Christian architecture and art, followed by a more conjectural article on the music of early Christians and, somewhat out of place in this section on "artistic heritage", a chapter on the Protevangelium of James and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, both indicated as "Imaginative literature".

Parts VIII and IX both deal with early Christianity's challenges. VIII discusses the hostile environment in which Christianity developed and the various kinds of popular and intellectual opposition it faced as well as Christianity's particular reaction to opposition in the form of martyrdom. IX constitutes a highly useful overview of the content, chronology and geographic distribution of Christian models in the first few centuries. It is effectively introduced by a chapter on internal renewal and dissent, which stresses the validity of all alternative models and mainly focusses on the decision-making process that made that one model became "orthodox" and the others "heretical". Part X, finally, consists of a series of profiles of prominent, mostly male, figures of the early Christian period, including ascetics, martyrs, bishops, the emperors Constantine and Julian, discussed in chronological order.

The ECW's division in ten parts is very traditional and sometimes rather artificial. The loose connections between the articles in Part V have already been mentioned. In addition, one wonders why topics such as architecture, art or music are not part of "Everyday Christian experience" but of "The artistic heritage". Then again, the division of a volume of this magnitude will never be pleasing to all.

The major strongpoint of the ECW is the many ways in which it brings to life the social world in which early Christianity developed. For instance, chapter 5 is a fascinating study of Jesus' Galilean homeland, Galilee's ecology, social systems, power networks, economy, the social-cultural circles in which Jesus would have moved, and so on. Chapter 8 offers an intriguing examination of the gospels' various and evolving strategies to appeal to peasants as well as members of the literate elite. Through their attention to continuous interactions and "unorthodox" practices, various chapters also considerably nuance the meaning of "Christian" and "Jew". By contrast, "pagan" is still all too often used uncritically, in opposition to "Christian", as when it is said that "a very destructive two-edged sword was being prepared by the pagans for their upcoming unprecedented attack upon the church" (797).

Somewhat disappointing is that the lion's share of the ECW is still based on literary sources. Some progress is noticeable – e.g., chapter 5 was revised by integrating a lot more archaeology than in the 2000 version; early Christian papyri and epigraphy have been given a separate chapter in the revised edition – but one is stuck with the impression that non-literary evidence remains unexplored. The discussion on epigraphy, for instance, though part of the "Christian realia. Papyrological and epigraphical material" chapter, barely takes up two pages. All forms and expressions of architecture and art have been dealt with in one chapter each. Likewise, although the volume is lavishly illustrated, many of the figures are not engaged with. Thus, a section on the early third-century theologian Hippolytus is illustrated with a (badly lit) photograph of the so-called statue of Hippolytus at the foot of the steps leading to the Vatican Library (Figure 29.1). This statue has a complicated history and was re-identified as Hippolytus only at a later, unknown moment in time and very likely only after the period the volume is concerned with. It functions here only as a "pretty picture". Likewise, in chapter 32, a discussion of Arius and his theology is accompanied by a picture of the auditorium excavated in Alexandria, which postdates Arius with about two centuries (Figure 32.2). On a side-note, the amphitheatre in Lyon is depicted twice, both in chapter 38 (Figure 38.1) and in chapter 40 (Figure 40.4).

That being said, there is no denying that the ECW is and remains an enormously useful reference work. It is highly accessible to specialist and non-specialist readers, with essays written in an accessible style, rich illustrations, indices of biblical, classical, Jewish references and patristic references as well as a subject index. These indices make it somewhat easier to navigate through its almost 1200 pages of text. Each article is followed by an extensive and up-to-date bibliography, encouraging and facilitating further research.

Authors and titles

List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations
1. "The Mediterranean Context of Early Christianity" – Philip F. Esler
2. "Emperors, Armies and Bureaucrats 68-430 CE" – Jill Harries
3. "Greek and Roman Philosophy and Religion" – Luther H. Martin
4. "Jewish Tradition and Culture" – James K. Aitken

5. "Jesus in His World" – Douglas E. Oakman
6. "Early Jewish Christianity" – Edwin K. Broadhead
7. "Paul and the Development of Gentile Christianity" – Todd Klutz
8. "The Jesus Tradition: The Gospel Writers' Strategies of Persuasion" – Richard L. Rohrbaugh
9. "The Second and Third Centuries" – Jeffrey S. Siker
10. "From Constantine to Theodosius and Beyond" – Bill Leadbetter
11. "Jewish and Christian Interaction from the First to the Fifth Centuries" – Anders Runesson

12. "Mission and Expansion" – Thomas M. Finn
13. "The Development of Office in the Early Church" – Mark Edwards
14. "Christian Regional Diversity" – David G. K. Taylor
15. "Monasticism "– Columba Stewart OSB

16. "Reading the New Testament in Roman Britain" – Richard Cleaves
17. "Sex and Sexual Renunciation I" – Teresa M. Shaw
18. "Sex and Sexual Renunciation II: Developments in Research since 2000" – Elizabeth A. Castelli
19. "Women, Children and House Churches" – Mona Tokarek LaFosse
20. "Worship, Practice and Belief" – Maxwell E. Johnson
21. "Ritual and the Rise of the Early Christian Movement" – Risto Uro
22. "Communication and Travel" – Blake Leyerle

23. "Christian Realia: Books, Papyri and Artefacts" – Giovanni Bazzana
24. "Scriptures in Early Christianity" – Outi Lehtipuu and Hanne von Weissenberg
25. "Saints and Hagiography" – Mark Humphries
26. "Translation and Communication across Languages" – Malcolm Choat

27. "The Apostolic Fathers" – Carolyn Osiek
28. "The Apologists" – Anders-Christian Jacobsen
29. "Early Theologians" – Gerald Bray
30. "Later Theologians of the Greek East" – Andrew Louth
31. "Later Theologians of the West" – Ivor J. Davidson
32. "Creeds, Councils and Doctrinal Development" – Piotr Ashwin-Siejkowski
33. "Biblical Interpretation" – Oskar Skarsaune

34. "Early Christian Architecture: The First Five Centuries" – L. Michael White
35. "Art" – Robin M. Jensen
36. "Music" – John Arthur Smith
37. "Imaginative Literature" – Richard Bauckham

38. "Political Oppression and Martyrdom" – Candida R. Moss
39. "Graeco-Roman Philosophical Opposition" – Michael Bland Simmons
40. "Popular Graeco-Roman Responses to Christianty" – Craig de Vos

41. "Internal Renewal and Dissent in the Early Christian World" – Sheila E. McGinn
42. "Gnosticism" – Alistair H. B. Logan
43. "Montanism" – Christine Trevett
44. "Donatism" – Jakob Engberg
45. "Arianism" – David Rankin
46. "Manichaeism" – Jason David BeDuhn

47. "Origen" – Thomas P. Scheck
48. "Tertullian" – Geoffrey D. Dunn
49. "Perpetua and Felicitas" – Shira L. Lander and Ross S. Kraemer
50. "Constantine" – Bill Leadbetter
51. "Antony the Great" – Columba Stewart OSB
52. "Pachomius the Great" – James E. Goehring
53. "Athanasius" – David M. Gwynn
54. "John Chrysostom" – Wendy Mayer and Pauline Allen
55. "Gregory of Nyssa" – Elena Ene D-Vasilescu
56. "Jerome" – Dennis Brown
57. "Ambrose" – Ivor J. Davidson
58. "Augustine" – Carol Harrison
59. "Ephrem the Syrian" – Kathleen E. McVey
60. "Julian the Apostate" – Michael Bland Simmons
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Wednesday, April 18, 2018


Cristina Rosillo-López (ed.), Political Communication in the Roman World. Impact of Empire, 27. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2017. Pp. 284. ISBN 9789004350847. $133.00. ISBN 9004350845. ebook.

Reviewed by Moysés Marcos, University of California, Riverside (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed below.]

Given the increasing interest in the transmission and impact of political speech and rhetoric, this edited volume of papers on "political communication in the Roman world" is a welcome publication for those who study the cultural, social, and political history of Republican and Imperial Rome, and it will surely promote further research, as well as discussion and debate. Of the volume's eleven contributions, six focus on various episodes or aspects of the (Late) Republic and five on different periods throughout the Empire. These papers, seven of which I discuss in some detail below, are organized thematically into five parts.

Catherine Steel conceives of "public speech" more broadly beyond oratorical texts and demonstrates the more complex reality of oratorical delivery that is hinted at within them. For example, Steel invites us to imagine the delivery of late Republican speeches in the Senate or before a contio in actual practice, when an orator, such as Cicero or T. Munatius Plancus, would have been consistently interrupted by various forms of approval and disapproval. In short, orator and audience interacted and so communicated with one another as part of a performance, a lively interchange that allowed for and even mandated quick and nimble responses, which complicates our view of how such speeches influenced and shaped official political action (this at once evokes Shadi Bartsch's Actors in the Audience [Harvard, 1994], which is not referenced). Steel's approach can prove fruitful if applied to other speeches and of all types. But this approach still raises questions about the extent to which these other forms of "public speeches" that are contained within oratorical texts are recordings of what was actually said and to what extent they are carefully constructed subtexts (or intratexts) central to the author's self-presentation. In short, what, exactly, is their value?

Using the correspondence of Cicero, among other literary sources, Cristina Rosillo-López illustrates well the importance that senators such as Cicero and Pompey placed on informal conversations in order to stay well informed about current political opinions on any given issue, and discusses the role that these conversations had in shaping projected political actions. But again, questions about authorial agendas arise: How much of what Cicero tells us about his conversations with important and powerful men such as Pompey can be understood historically, apart from how he wished to portray himself in relation to these men?

By arguing that Hadrian's administrative style consisted of "governing by dispatching letters," Juan Manuel Cortés-Copete, in line with testimony from ancient literary sources, ascribes the creation of a more robust and complex bureaucratic form of imperial government to this emperor. In so doing, Cortés-Copete adds his voice to a perspective that rightly challenges the reactive and simplistic "petition-and-response" model of Fergus Millar,1 which leaves little if any room for flexibility and innovation from one emperor to another and tends to see emperors as two-dimensional, static paper-pushers. Consequently, Cortés-Copete revises "petition-and-response" to include the category of imperial initiative, such as when Hadrian apparently dispatched missives to cities motu proprio, that is, not as a response to a particular request, and suggests that such initiative reveals an evolution of and an increase in communication between the emperor and his subjects. Cortés-Copete makes a good and interesting case, but the texts he presents in support of his claim regarding imperial initiative are open to interpretation, not least because of their fragmentary state and our inability to contextualize them more fully (pp. 125-30). Moreover, we should consider not only when an emperor might have taken (and did take) the initiative in dispensing benefits to his subjects, but also when he might have wished to appear to be doing so.

Julio Cesar Magalhães de Oliveira focuses on the role of rumor in how the Roman public responded to reports of an emperor's demise in the Later Empire. Here Magalhães de Oliveira shows well that there was continuity in the operation and impact of rumors from the Principate; indeed, reports and rumors are shown playing important roles in producing action among the urban plebs when they perceived that there were "political opportunities" worth taking advantage of. One key example is the reaction of the people of Alexandria to news of the death of Constantius II and the accession of Julian as sole emperor, when the Alexandrians revolted and ultimately lynched the hated bishop George of Cappadocia on 24 December 361 (pp. 170-73). Magalhães de Oliveira does not see this episode as a serious breach of civic order, but as "the expression of a reasonable discontent" (p. 172). And yet, from the perspective of diverse contemporaries, there was nothing reasonable about the Alexandrians' recourse to mob justice, least of all according to the Emperor Julian, who responded to the Alexandrians with a missive in which he reprimanded them for their brutal actions, actions which he also described as unlawful and inexcusable because they had not waited for his judgement on the bishop.2 Moreover, the lynching of George and the sequence of events leading up to it were more complex than Magalhães de Oliveira seems to consider; we do not know what, exactly, had prompted (and allowed) the Alexandrians to seize George from imperial authorities and to murder him.

When noting Cicero's role in the fate of Marcus Antonius, Ronald Syme once remarked that "the memory of Antonius is overwhelmed by the oratory of Cicero, by fraud and fiction."3 Antonio Duplá Ansuategui demonstrates just how overwhelming Cicero's rhetoric was. Duplá Ansuategui argues that a key component of that oratory was in vigorously delegitimizing Antonius, setting him apart from the community that was the res publica and thus laying the groundwork for the incitement of physical violence against him and others. The Cicero that emerges from these pages is far from a statesman; on the contrary, he comes off as quite dangerous in his apparent eagerness to condone extralegal violence against fellow citizens. While Cicero's choice to incite violence can be seen to represent a "failure to communicate," the very incitement of violence by means of oratory actually showcases success in communication, in that his messages were received and understood clearly by many of his fellow senators and citizens, just as he had apparently intended.

A "failure of political communication" is more evident in Martin Jehne's contribution on the deliberations and (in)actions of the minority party in the Senate that was most opposed to Caesar prior to the outbreak of civil war in January 49 BCE. Jehne underscores an important paradox, that the anti-Caesarians pushed Caesar to the brink of war and yet were ill-prepared to wage it. Jehne makes a compelling case that those who were most hostile to Caesar and who attached themselves to Pompey, such as the Marcelli, Metellus Scipio, and Cato, were detached from reality and suffered from political myopia, in that they could not anticipate Caesar's invasion of Italy after the (dubious) senatus consultum ultimum was issued against him. How do we reconcile and explain this paradox and myopia? Jehne proposes that the anti-Caesarians assessed Caesar's possible responses to their action from a perspective founded in a narrow understanding of proper Roman political behavior, that is, traditional, constitutional practices, and that their relative lack of military experience (as a group), led them to the conclusion that Caesar would not choose to follow the examples of Sulla and Cinna. Given that Caesar had been intimately connected to Sulla and Cinna (he had affiliations with influential supporters of the one and married a daughter of the other), as well as Marius (his uncle by marriage), the anti-Caesarian conclusion that Caesar would not seek to emulate these generals should have been explained further. However, as Jehne is right to emphasize, the anti-Caesarians operated from a series of (false) assumptions about Caesar instead of communicating more clearly and consistently, both with him and one another, about the possible consequences of their actions.

Henriette van der Blom explores references by imperial authors, such as Velleius Paterculus, Quintilian, Pliny the Younger, and Tacitus, to republican orators so as to improve our understanding of which of these orators were listed as exemplars; she considers how such a list came to be and what it tells us about the circulation and influence of republican political communication in an early imperial context. Van der Blom's paper prompts further questions: Could orators such as Cicero and Asinius Pollio be praised for their manners of expression without partly endorsing the substance of their speeches (or seeming to) in the process? In short, how effectively could imperial authors' praise of republican rhetorical style be separated from praise of content?

It is regrettable that this volume does not display greater cohesion between its chapters by means of interconnected references that tie those chapters closer together and that some chapters are occasionally marred by typos and awkward turns of phrase. Nevertheless, there is substantial scholarly value in this collection of papers, in that it draws attention to the diverse and subtle kinds of communication in public, cultural, and political settings—speeches and verbal interruptions to them, conversations, intermediations in person or by letter, the role of letters in imperial administration, rumors, incitements to violence, broader discussions of political consequences and possibilities, the circulation and influence of republican models of oratorical exemplarity, and epigrams—that many scholars often consider but sometimes take for granted, modes of political communication that, now able to be demonstrated more clearly, will necessitate a reevaluation of the relationship between political speech and political action in the Roman world. What this volume does well is to help to highlight the idea that Roman political communication was not only a fundamental means or tool by which information was distributed, but that it was also a mentalité or state of mind.

Authors and Titles

Introduction, Cristina Rosillo-López
I Speech and Mechanisms of Political Communication
Defining Public Speech in the Roman Republic: Occasion, Audience and Purpose, Catherine Steel
Informal Conversations between Senators in the Late Roman Republic, Cristina Rosillo-López
II Political Communication at a Distance
Intermediaries in Political Communication: Adlegatio and its Uses, W. Jeffrey Tatum
Circulation of Information in Cicero's Correspondence of the Years 59-58 BC, Francisco Pina Polo
Governing by Dispatching Letters: The Hadrianic Chancellery, Juan Manuel Cortés-Copete
III Political Communication, a Bottom-up Approach
The Roman Plebs and Rumour: Social Interactions and Political Communication in the Early Principate, Cyril Courrier
The Emperor is Dead! Rumours, Protests, and Political Opportunities in Late Antiquity, Julio Cesar Magalhães de Oliveira
IV Failure of Political Communication
Incitement to Violence in Late Republican Political Oratory, Antonio Duplá Ansuategui
Why the Anti-Caesarians Failed: Political Communication on the Eve of Civil War (51 to 49 BC), Martin Jehne
V Representations of Political Communication
The Reception of Republican Political Communication: Tacitus' Choice of Exemplary Republican Orators in Context, Henriette van der Blom
Retouching a Self-Portrait (Or How to Adapt One's Image in Times of Political Change): The Case of Martial in the Light of Pliny the Younger, Rosario Moreno Soldevila


1.   Fergus Millar, The Emperor in the Roman World (31 BC – AD 337). Ithaca: 19922. The review and challenge of Keith Hopkins, "Rules of Evidence," Journal of Roman Studies 68 (1978), 178–86, remains classic and fundamental. See also Jonathan Edmondson, "The Roman emperor and the local communities of the Roman Empire," in J.-L. Ferrary and J. Scheid (ed.), Il princeps romano: autocrate o magistrato? Fattori giuridici e fattori sociali del potere imperiale da Augusto a Commodo. Pavia: 2015, 701-29 (not cited by Cortés-Copete), who discusses Hadrian's "personal initiative" (pp. 708-9).
2.   Jul. Ep. ad Alex. (21 Wright, 60 Bidez). Magalhães de Oliveira does not include Julian's letter in his discussion, nor other important testimonies, such as those of Gregory of Nazianzus (Or. 4, 86.3), the Historia Acephala (2.8–10), and Jerome (Chron. s. a. 362).
3.   Ronald Syme, The Roman Revolution. Oxford: 1939 (19522), 4.

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Joseph R. Dodson, David E. Briones (ed.), Paul and Seneca in Dialogue. Ancient Philosophy & Religion, 2. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2017. Pp. xviii, 340. ISBN 9789004341357. $159.00.

Reviewed by Dominik Wolff, Stade (

Version at BMCR home site

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

The question "What if?" elevates historical studies from a mere descriptive level to a true Geisteswissenschaft. The reviewed collection of fourteen essays undertakes just this approach by putting two contemporaries of the 1st century CE, the Christic 1 apostle Paul and the Stoic philosopher Seneca, into dialogue, although the two of them actually, to our knowledge, never met.2 As such, this compilation follows in the footsteps of J. N. Sevenster's seminal book "Paul and Seneca" (Leiden: Brill 1961), and extends the path of its predecessor.

It is a positively minded approach the editors take up, since one must not forget that the few comments of Seneca on Jewish life—and he would have viewed Paul as a (albeit deviant) Jew—are not very polite or open-minded (cf. Ep. 95,47; Aug., Civ. Dei 6,11). Also, Paul's utterances on non-believers (e.g. 1Cor 5:13) lack courtesy as well. But in times like these, when so many people live in non-communicating bubbles, acknowledging "otherness" as a fruitful contribution to one's own thinking and thus undertaking to construct a dialogue between two distinct thinkers (even from antiquity) in order to learn from both equally, is honourable, and in this case worthwhile, too.

For the editors, the incentive to put Paul and Seneca in dialogue stems from their being contemporaries in the same environment, writing on similar topics, and being representatives of their respective schools of thought (p. 5). The demand for a true dialogue between the two is reflected in the methodology of the bulk of the essays: initially, a certain topic that both thinkers have in common is reviewed from the respective perspectives of Seneca and Paul, so that one receives something like two separate, but thematically identical monologues.3 Only then are Seneca and Paul brought into a dialogue about that topic. These conclusding parts take different forms, depending on the essay's author, sometimes only listing the results, but sometimes creating indeed the protocol of a conversation (cf. the contributions by Briones, Dodson, Lee-Barnewall, Nigh Hoghan). Here, the compilation truly fulfils the promise of its title. Finally, the epilogue by Joshua Richards, a short story about Seneca encountering Paul in Rome and inviting him to Trimalchio's house, offers a real dialogue between both protagonists.4

The epistles of Paul and Seneca serve as the main source for making their voices being heard in the conversation. Seneca's treatises come quite heavily into play, too, but sadly his dramatic works do not. Maybe his tragedies (and even his metaphysical satire Apocolocyntosis) would also shed some light onto certain topics in comparison (and dialogue) with the apostle's convictions. Concerning Paul's letters, on the other hand, there is no consensus among the different authors of this volume as to which of his writings are to be regarded as authentic or disputed. All in all, this leads to no greater problems, but nevertheless diminishes a rounded-out, complete picture of Paul. Especially concering the question of Paul's overall view on women and slavery it makes a difference, whether one counts only seven, nine or even thirteen letters as Paul's genuine oeuvre.

On the essays at a glance:

Harry Hine begins with an overview of the literary dialogues between Seneca and Paul that have appeared over the past two millennia. It is a well-informed and informative piece on the subject, and its subtitle ("The first two thousand years") makes one hope that this whole volume is just an intermediate step (although a major one) on a long and ongoing way.

Randolph Richards reflects on Paul and Seneca as letter writers, providing a dense treatise on and comparison of the environment and circumstances of their respective letter writing. Although it comes as no surprise, it is still an insight worth noting that Paul's letters were much more scarce and financially expensive than Seneca's and were thus probably viewed as very precious by him and his churches. Although Richards states that Paul's letters should be regarded as more personal than Seneca's, one could argue that Paul's letters are still official writings of an apostolos to certain ekklesiai and as such, not thoroughly personal in the modern sense of the word.

Runar Thorsteinsson's essay deals with the figure of the sage (a commonplace in Hellenistic popular philosophy) and its connections to Paul and Seneca. He argues convincingly that Jesus Christ fulfils this role in Christic thinking, whereas for Seneca it is performed by persons like Zeno, Socrates, or Cato. Both agree that the sage as a role model should be imitated by human beings. Here the question arises as to who the sage in the Christic context actually is, since Paul also calls upon his churches to imitate himself (as in 1 Corinthians, Galatians, and 1 Thessalonians). In this regard, one can wonder if Paul's letter to the Romans as the main document for Thorsteinsson's thesis is well-chosen, since here Paul writes to a congregation unknown to him. This said, there would be little to no possibility of imitating him through personal knowledge.

Brian Tabb provides a fascinating approach to both Seneca and Paul by applying James Olthius's worldview model to each one's concept of suffering. Both agree on the need to suffer for one's convictions and also on death's insignificance, but although they sometimes even use the same words (e.g. "sin"), their meaning differs fundamentally.

John Barclay's essay on altruism in Seneca's and Paul's thinking shows that both of them would agree in rejecting a modern conception of altruism because of the prevailing ancient concept of reciprocity. Nevertheless they differ in their distinct Christic or Stoic worldviews.

Close to that essay, the idea of the self-gift provides the theme for David Briones' article. He establishes that Seneca recognizes giving as fundamental for society, but also advocates a shift in thinking: a gift-giver should always discern the worth (dignitas) of the recipient and possess a willing mind (animus) in giving. This resonates with Paul in many respects, again with differences due to his specific theological worldview.

As a triplet to the two preceding essays (also because the main source for Seneca's thoughts in all three is his De beneficiis) comes David De Silva's thorough contribution in which he reflects on different obligations in the processes of reciprocity (both human and divine). Therein he shows that Seneca and Paul share very much a mentality of do quia dedisti rather than one of do ut des.

Timothy Brookins addresses Paul's and Seneca's views on slavery and puts them into a larger sociological context. Whereas both perceive slavery as a social norm and thus do not revolt against it, their reflections on it hold the possibility (although not the need) to overcome it.

Pauline Nigh Hogan offers a very insightful reading of Paul's and Seneca's views on women. The only weaknesses I see are in the lack of a reference to Chloe as a major player in Corinth (1Cor 1:11) as also of an awareness that the prominent Christic women mentioned in Rom 16 inhabited Seneca's Rome, too. What would Seneca have said, meeting them directly? By including them, the dialogue of the two men could be widened. And again: How "personal, heartfelt" (p. 212) were Paul's letters, being official apostolic writings?

Michelle Lee-Barnewall's essay on the body metaphors in Seneca and Paul is also done very well, offering one of the strongest dialogic parts within the compilation. Minor complaints include not identifying the sources of the Stoic understanding of bodily unity (p. 235) and a quotation from Romans to strengthen an argumentation solely about 1 Corinthians (p. 240).

Joseph Dodson's article deals with the two letter-writers' views on crucifixion and their use of metaphors of the cross. Although well researched it does not provide very much surprising news: The theologia crucis is the basis for the Christic (and later Christian) belief and thought system, whereas for Seneca the cross serves as a negative image for sinful desires. The crucial point of this essay lies in the insight of how one can apply the same image (in this case: the cross) for a totally different metaphor.

Troels Engberg-Pedersen explores the notion of death with both authors. Whereas for Seneca (Ep. 93) death can truly be coped with by living as a sapiens (and as such already having a life with the gods), Paul is driven by the hope for an afterlife with Christ that regards this earthly existence just as a passing state. In a meticulous analysis of certain passages in 1Thess, Rom, and Phil, Engberg-Pedersen indicates the development in Paul's thinking, in which a moral life before death becomes more and more important, thus connecting and combining present and future existence. To this, for me, the question arises: Are there also developments in Seneca? If so, what effect would that have on a Paul-Seneca dialogue?

In the final full-fledged article of this compilation James Ware deals with the eschatological concepts of Paul and Seneca. He opposes Seneca's Stoic convictions that human beings (along with creation) will be restored and renewed incessantly to Paul's Jewish, linear conception of the course of the world. Ware finely carves out the distinctiveness of both Seneca and Paul within their own larger schools of thought. He sees an overlap of both their thinkings in the assumption of a corporeal resurrection as a transformation of substance (rather than a mere ethereal existence).

All in all, this compilation is a worthwhile read. Of course, we do not know what Paul and Seneca would have said to one another, had they met. However, one can assume that they would have approved of the enterprise to make their own thoughts clearer, even if it means taking another person's thoughts as a backdrop, which is not the least lesson to learn nowadays.

Authors and titles

C. Kavin Rowe: Foreword
David E. Briones and Joseph R. Dodson: Introduction
Harry Hine: Seneca and Paul: The First Two Thousand Years
E. Randolph Richards: Some Observations on Paul and Seneca as Letter Writers
Runar Thorsteinsson: Jesus Christ and the Wise Man: Paul and Seneca on Moral Sages
Brian J. Tabb: Paul and Seneca on Suffering
John M.G. Barclay: Benefiting Others and Benefit to Oneself: Seneca and Paul on 'Altruism'
David E. Briones: Paul and Seneca on the Self-Gift
David A. deSilva: 'We are Debtors': Grace and Obligation in Paul and Seneca
Timothy Brookins: (Dis)correspondence of Paul and Seneca on Slavery
Pauline Nigh Hogan: Paul and Seneca on Women
Michelle Lee-Barnewall: Paul and Seneca on the Body
Joseph R. Dodson: Paul and Seneca on the Cross: The Metaphor of Crucifixion in Galatians and De Vita Beata
Troels Engberg-Pedersen: Paul in Philippians and Seneca in Epistle 93 on Life after Death and Its Present Implications
James P. Ware: The Salvation of Creation: Seneca and Paul on the Future of Humanity and of the Cosmos
Joshua Richards: Epilogue: The Stoic and the Saint


1.   By "Christic", I mean "belonging to Christ" or "believing in Christ". I avoid the term "Christian" in the context of Paul's letters, since Christianity as a fully-formed religion had not appeared on the scene by then.
2.   In that regard, the fictive letter exchange of Seneca and Paul from the 5th century (cf. Alfons Fürst, Therese Fuhrer, Folker Siegert, Peter Walter (ed.), Der apokryphe Briefwechsel zwischen Seneca und Paulus: zusammen mit dem Brief des Mordechai an Alexander und dem Brief des Annaeus Seneca über Hochmut und Götterbilder. Sapere Bd. 11. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006 BMCR 2010.09.03) appears as a precursor to this book, were it not written from a blunt Christian perspective that undermines it being a true dialogue.
3.   One can wonder if it is a matter of Christian politeness (since all the authors have a background as biblical scholars) that Seneca is always the first one invited to speak up in the essays. After all, the title of the book mentions first Paul, then Seneca. Or is there an underlying feeling of foreignness to Seneca that is tried to overcome by handling him first?
4.   Unfortunately, this smart and cheeky piece suffers from too much cliché and historical inaccuracies: Paul is not only described by Seneca as looking like a "schlub" (if at all, then Paul as a Jew would have used Yiddish slang), but also as being an old man, although Seneca was probably older.

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