Tuesday, February 27, 2018


Andrew S. Jacobs, Epiphanius of Cyprus: A Cultural Biography of Late Antiquity. Christianity in Late Antiquity 2. Oakland: The University of California Press, 2016. Pp. xiv, 335. ISBN 9780520291126. $95.00.

Reviewed by Rebecca Lyman, The Church Divinity School of the Pacific (lyman.rebecca@gmail.com)

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In his study of the fourth-century bishop and ascetic Epiphanius, Andrew Jacobs makes another illuminating intervention into the history of ancient Christianity. This book received the Philip Schaff Best Book Prize from the American Society of Church History in 2017. His contribution joins several other recent books on Epiphanius, including Young Kim's historical and theological biography and Todd Berzon's examination of difference and ethnology.1 Jacobs' historical skills in using literary and post-colonial methods to explore the construction and exploitation of difference in late antiquity have been well demonstrated in his previous books, Remains of the Jews and Christ Circumcised.2 Noting that Epiphanius, a tenacious heresiologist, is one bishop most scholars of ancient Christianity would prefer to ignore (or at least not include in the company of Augustine or Basil of Caesarea), Jacobs explores his undeniable importance to his contemporaries through categories not always found in their holy vitae: celebrity, conversion as creating social boundaries, scripture as an antiquarian treasure house, salvation as necessarily corporeal, and sanctity as social transgression. Through these lenses Jacobs argues that contentious Epiphanius embodies ancient Christian sensibilities, which challenges the current, and perhaps complacent, narratives of religious change in the Anglophone sphere of late antique studies. This is the Christianization of eastern Roman society through a holy Krakatoa rather than a learned Athos.

In the introduction, Jacobs sets out a thorough review of scholarship, demonstrating the incoherence of the modern distaste that marginalizes Epiphanius as a dishonest heresiologist and defender of literal interpretation. His historical peers felt quite differently about Epiphanius; he is ubiquitous in their works and indispensible to their analyses. The introduction includes a summary of his life and a thorough review of his extant writings. Methodologically, Jacobs understands heresiology to be the ordering of theological difference in line with Roman imperial attention to otherness and difference: management and incorporation rather than eradication and destruction. Epiphanius' management of theological error in his encyclopedic heresiological work, the Panarion, and heavy-handed interventions in local disputes are then essentially congruent with the surrounding culture, and reveal the construction and reception of a totalizing Christian discourse.

In the first chapter, the category of "celebrity" helps to re-imagine Epiphanius' influence and interventions. Celebrity, in contrast to power or authority, first traces the effects of prominence over a variety of social fields rather than focusing on its cause, e.g., ecclesiastical office. Secondly, celebrity signals immediacy and transience. The polarizing and charismatic effects of Epiphanius' fame therefore signal him as a historically precise icon. His "celebrification" challenges our ordered narratives of Christian unity and culture. Epiphanius was used within contemporary narratives about imperium, paideia, and askesis to exemplify the variety of conflicting values within ancient Christianity. He is both a defender of a Christian empire and a gadfly; he is both learned and rustic; he is distinguished by his asceticism and his episcopal authority. In these ways Epiphanius as a celebrity encompassed the contradictions of his era and reveals the complexity of Christian culture and authority.

"Conversion" is the means to explore the centrality of Epiphanius in Chapter Two. Jacobs draws on recent work on boundaries and borders, including D. Boyarin's description of borders as constructed by those in power to mask and occlude hybridity and L. Nasrallah's work on conversion and colonial discourse.3

Conversion, when defined as a social expression of religious identity and power rather than an interior shift of religious experience provides insights into the social management of status and difference. Jacobs explores changes in status within Christian hierarchies, the conversion from orthodox to heretical, and from Jew to Christian. These changes reveal unstable zones of authority as well as the collapse of boundaries themselves within a totalizing identity. The famous forced ordination of Paulinian, Jerome's brother, illustrated the control of Epiphanius over himself and others. The slippage of Christians such as Origen or Arius into heresy was framed by Epiphanius with reference to the force or failure of empire. The conversion of Jews to Christianity presented the absorption of Judaism into Christianity. Epiphanius thus displayed control and dominance as well as the anxieties of loss and change in his narratives and episcopal actions.

In Chapter Three on "Discipline," Jacobs uses improvisation as a performative mode to explore the conventional narratives of the drift of fourth-century institutions toward exclusion, hierarchy and constraint. Ancient improvisation was linked to a perception of spontaneous creativity, which often evoked relations and negotiations of power that were received within institutions, i.e., it presupposed an audience familiar with certain models or traditions. Epiphanius enforced discipline on the body and the community through a self-consciously improvisational style. Thus, he criticized immoderate ascetics because of their lack of discipline; their inflexibility limited the diverse levels of asceticism needed within the Church. This rigorous flexibility indeed emphasized his authority in varied circumstances. With regard to the larger Church, Epiphanius' interventions in his own self-representations performed a sense of improvisation and dialogue, though they did not always satisfy his peers, such as John of Jerusalem. This style of episcopal authority was not necessarily unique to Epiphanius, but instead revealed a crucial strategy within the development of the imperial Church after the divisive Trinitarian debates by presenting orthodox rigor in a spontaneous style. S. Greenblatt has argued that improvisation was a tool of domination by masking its dominating goals.4

In Chapter Four on "Scripture," Jacobs portrays Epiphanius as an antiquarian whose knowledge and defense of detail portrayed his mastery of the world. Ancient antiquarian treatises supported Roman claims to a totalized mastery of the world, resulting in "compilatory" texts, i.e., encyclopedic summaries of collected knowledge. Epiphanius' attacks on Origen's allegorical exegesis displayed this sort of antiquarian aesthetic: literalism, digressions, lists, and logical gaps. This kaleidoscopic effect is not to persuade, but to catalogue and know. Thus the Ancoratus and Panarion are full of long chains of proof texts and digressions on history, geography, and ethnography. This is clearly shown in his works On Weights and Measures and On Twelve Gems. Epiphanius' treatment of the Bible therefore reflects the "aesthetics of discontinuity" or the jeweled style of late antiquity.5 Rather than ranking the intellectual and philosophical exegesis of Origen or Augustine over the literalism of Epiphanius, one needs to understand the cultural significance of antiquarian exegesis which demonstrated the mastery and display of all the knowledge of the world.

In Chapter Five on "Salvation," Jacobs reframes Epiphanius' infamous theological misreading of Origen by defining the importance of physicality to salvation as a moral rather than philosophical view. Epiphanius modestly and shrewdly declared his own theological simplicity, while consistently enforcing Nicene formulas. This defense of the consubstantial Trinity and physical resurrection in the Ancoratus and Panarion was based on an idea of the body and soul as a moral unit fashioned in the complete image of God. Just as the Panarion should be read not as a heresiological handbook, but, like The City of God, as treatise on moral destiny in ancient culture, Epiphanius' opposition to Origen was located in his perception that Origen's exegesis and theology dissolved the moral and divine unities which structured human salvation. Epiphanius, and it seems Jacobs, believed that Origen had a theology of personal transformation rather than personal continuity. Epiphanius' defense of moral unity and divine unity was therefore continued in later controversies by Theophilus and Shenoute that resulted in his victory over the legacy of Origen.

In Chapter Six, Jacob explores the "After Lives" of Epiphanius as a saint. Using F. Meltzer and J. Elsner rather than P. Brown, he defines the saint as a model of holiness, but also as one who transgresses cultural values and reveals the uncertainties and ambiguities of culture.6 His two examples are a Greek Vita Epiphanii from the sixth century and a Victorian novella, Epiphanius: The History of his Childhood and Youth, Told by Himself; A Tale of the Early Church, which both explore empire and holiness. In the ancient account, the boundaries of Roman and Christian identity are defined and defended, while the figure of Epiphanius as a Jewish convert and his troublesome excesses also allow the reader to question the unity of Christianity and Rome. In the later Anglo-Catholic account, the Victorian perplexity around the boundaries separating Church from state and Judaism from Christianity shape the narrative of the life: continuities are obvious and disturbing, which must be regulated by Catholic orthodoxy.

In his conclusion, Jacobs argues that retrieving Epiphanius as an " impresario" of difference and confrontation should both challenge and perhaps shame historians who have preferred to understand a late antiquity made in their own image: humane, learned, and tolerant. Rather than being a boorish outlier, Epiphanius in fact represents the strong cultural values of the fourth century that shaped the resulting structures of imperial Christianity. Difference and its mastery is not a problem for Epiphanius. This stands in contrast to the 1970s liberalism that fostered the rise of "Late Antiquity" as an era of change and transformation. Epiphanius' standing as a central ecclesiastical actor therefore requires scholars to inquire what twisted uses our present multi-cultural societies may also be making of difference.

Jacob's reading of Epiphanius is exemplary and brilliant in stripping away traditional assumptions about the social power of ecclesiastical definitions and displaying the different ways in which power and authorial presence work in ancient culture. Yet this fine study with its own teleology of re-centering Epiphanius would have attained more nuance within a broader historical horizon. The antiquarian Epiphanius whose disconnected exegesis opposed Origen in Chapter Four seems difficult to reconcile with the cultural apologist whose moral and theological unity defeated Origen in Chapter Five. Eusebius of Caesarea's reading of Origen, together with his own antiquarianism and heresiology, would have provided a helpful contemporary foil. A significant omission in a cultural definition of difference is a treatment of Epiphanius' violent rhetoric. Epiphanius routinely closes the chapters of the Panarion by trampling his opponents or beating them to death, often with the cross of Christ. Jacobs's account of the monastic Epiphanius opposing the philosophical Origen on salvation would have been more intelligible if it were set within the variety of unsettled opinions about image and corporeality among ascetics as well as theologians from Marcellus to Apollinarius to the Manichees, rather than connected to the later monasticism of Shenoute. Finally, beyond the work of Peter Brown and Late Antiquity lie the horizons of traditional "patristic" studies and the post-Reformation apologetics that saturate the field. Ironically, the distaste for Epiphanius is linked to the Catholic humanism of Anglicans such as Henry Chadwick and connected to his own rehabilitation of Origen, the perennial outlier.


1.   Young Kim, Epiphanius of Cyprus. Imagining an Orthodox World (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015); Todd S. Berzon, Classifying Christians. Ethnography, Heresiology, and the Limits of Knowledge in Late Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2016).
2.   Remains of the Jews: The Holy Land and Christian Empire in Late Antiquity, Divinations (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004); Christ Circumcised: A Study in Early Christian History and Difference, Divinations (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013).
3.   Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity, Divinations (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004); Laura Nasrallah, "The Rhetoric of Conversion and the Construction of the Experience: The Case of Justin Martyr," SP 40 (2006) 467-474.
4.   Stephen Greenblatt, "The Improvisation of Power," in Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).
5.   Michael Roberts, The Jeweled Style: Poetry and Poetics in Late Antiquity (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, 1989).
6.   Françoise Meltzer and Jas Elsner, eds., Saints: Faith without Borders (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011).

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Elena Muñiz Grijalvo, Juan Manuel Cortés Copete, Fernando Lozano Gómez (ed.), Empire and Religion: Religious Change in Greek Cities under Roman Rule. Impact of empire, 25. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2017. Pp. xvii, 221. ISBN 9789004347106. $127.00.

Reviewed by Kristan Ewin Foust, University of Texas at Arlington (Kristan.Foust@uta.edu)

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Table of Contents

The overall purpose of the work is to consider continuity and transition in Greek religion as the Greeks came under Roman control. The work considers continuity and transition of religion in three themes: the prevalence of unique local features, shaping imperial policies territory by territory, and local responses to the implementation of empire-wide religious directives (vii-x).

In Chapter 1, "Priesthoods and Civic Ideology: Honorific Titles for Hiereis and Archiereis in Roman Asia Minor," Anna Heller draws upon her database of titles used in 20,000 inscriptions, noting variations in local regions as well as changes in the honorific titles used in Roman-ruled Asia Minor. She uses this statistical data to show that the individual cities remained a central focus under the Romans. Her epigraphic analysis measures continuity and change in the titles of local religious officials. For example, some honorific titles like philopatris, philosebastos, philoromaios, and philokaisar emerged in the civil wars and in Augustus's reign. Heller challenges a current idea that philosebastoi were part of the imperial cult in Roman Asia Minor (1). She also looks at a wide range of additional priestly titles catalogued by geography, typology, gender, citizenship (status). Her work includes tables and graphs to show the regionality and gender-specificity of some titles (3-4, 6-7). She disproves a commonly held belief that an elite group of families dominated public offices, proving this was an irregular practice (9). While extremely rich in data, one drawback to Heller's chapter is that she frequently cites her forthcoming database publication, which will undoubtedly be a valuable source for scholars.

Elena Muñiz Grijalvo notes, in "Public Sacrifice in Roman Athens" (Chapter 2), that in Roman-ruled Athens certain public sacrifices continue, but the inscriptions associated with them change, especially in the elimination of wordy formulas (22). She seeks to explain both the change and continuity. She concentrates on the sacrifice offered by the prytaneis before the meeting of the dêmos (the people, including women and children), and the sacrifices given by the tamiai (treasurers) for the benefit of the boulê and the dêmos (22). Grijalvo finds, in the first century BCE, the role of the boulê decreases while that of the prytaneis increases; the inscriptions become shorter and the mention of the deity and type of offering are no longer included. The tamiai were probably still financing the sacrifices, but they and the prytaneis are mentioned less, while explicit mention of named individuals and their private funds appear more often (24-25). Grijalvo counters J. H. Oliver's position that Athenians eschewed religious obligations because of economic decline.1 Instead, Grijalvo proposes that Roman influence altered who among the local elites were involved in euergetism as the purpose of public sacrifice became more of a tool for the elite to appear as societal benefactors (25-35).

Francesco Camia's "Cultic and Social Dynamics in the Eleusinian Sanctuary Under the Empire" (Chapter 3), reveals the transition of the Eleusinian cult under the Roman Empire including the emperors' participation and emperor worship (46-51), and argues that the cult was essential in the Panhellenic program centered in Athens (57-62). Camia further contends that the priesthoods of the mystery cult were used to gain prestige, linking the priestly roles (and the "quasi-priestly" positions in which they placed their children) to state office holders (54-62). In Chapter 7, "Hadrian among the Gods," Juan Manuel Cortés Copete continues the topic of the Eleusinian cult by proposing that the Eleusinian cult was essential in the premortem deification process of Hadrian (129- 133).

Cristina Rosillo-López's contribution, "Communication between Sanctuaries and Rulers: An Analysis of Religious Resistance to Roman Abuses in the Greek East during the Roman Republic" (Chapter 4), sheds light on the use of temple embassies. The investigated cases center on extortion and spoliation. The embassy process includes five steps: sending the ambassadors, the ambassadors' registration, the introduction of the embassy to the Senate, the Senate committee's research, and the Senate's verdict (70, 76). Rosillo-López suggests the Greek embassies were more successful than those sent by other provinces, but only provides two Hispanic examples to counter several Greek examples, which does not, on its own, prove that the Greek temples had an elevated relationship with Rome, as contended in the chapter (71, 76). Rosillo-López notes that the Greeks played to their strengths with their ancient past and that the prestige of certain temples, cities, and people were used to make their case to the Senate. Rosillo-López's section on "Abuses by the Publicani" describes four embassies, but only provides the results of two of these (72-76). The two cases given without results were successful, which would have helped Rosillo-López's argument. 2

Chapter 5, "Trajan and Hadrian's Reorganization of the Agonistic Associations in Rome," written by Rocío Gordillo Hervás, discusses the absorption of Greek games into the Roman world and the transitions they underwent through this process (84-97). The primary shifts occur with the reorganization of athletes and technitai (drama and music associations) by the introduction of the Entire Portico (an athletic association from the second to third centuries CE). This chapter hardly touches on the religious interaction within the games, though it does provide a helpful table of names, inscriptions, and dates of the Entire Portico directors and the xystarch (game managers) (87-91, 93-95). I was surprised not to see Donald G. Kyle's Sports and Spectacles in the Ancient World cited, as it seems essential for Gordillo Hervás's topic.3

Alessandro Galimberti makes a fascinating contribution on the cult of Antinous. The content of "P.Oxy. 471: Hadrian, Alexandria, and the Antinous Cult" is rich, though it has several typos, is a bit unorganized, and is sometimes hard to follow (Chapter 6). Galimberti suggests that the cult was prosperous because of its prominence in Egypt and because of the philhellenic stance of Hadrian. The cult was successful despite the relationship between Hadrian and Antinous (98). P.Oxy. 471 is not explicitly about Hadrian or Antinous, but rather comes from the anti-Roman Acta Alexandrinorum literary tradition. Galimberti's interest here is on accusations in the text against Maximus and his young male lover. Galimberti proposes that the papyri must be read with the parallel of Hadrian and Antinous's relationship in mind. It would be helpful to emphasize the comparison with excerpts from the papyrus, but the text is not included. Galimberti first describes the characters in the papyri and then Hadrian and Antinous (99-104), going on to explain the death and subsequent cult of Antinous (104-105). Galimberti provides five reasons for the spread, organization, and success of the Antinous cult: Greek and Egyptian syncretism, connection to mystery cults, strategically establishing cities with this cult, instituting games honoring Antinous, and elite promotion. All the while, in Rome, the cult was despised (106-108).

Cortés Copete's chapter, "Hadrian Among the Gods" (Chapter 7), traces the process of Hadrian's divinity suggesting that in the provinces his divine status, was reached while he was alive. Hadrian, as a Greek benefactor, was adopted into Greek local religions through various factors: he was inducted into the Eleusinian Mysteries as a stepping stone to his deification (a pathway of men becoming gods previously established by the Dioscouri, Asclepius, and Heracles, to whom Hadrian was compared); and integrating the imperial cult to such a benefactor was beneficial as a demonstration of loyalty (125-133). In showing this gradual deification process through several inscriptions and his acquired title of Olympian Zeus, Cortés Copete has argued against A. M. Woodward's dating of a Spartan inscription by Caius Iulius Theophrastus, son of Theoclimenes (112-115, 121-124).

In "Some Thoughts on the Cult of the Pantheon ('All the Gods'?) in the Cities and Sanctuaries of Roman Greece" (Chapter 8), Milena Melfi considers temples and altars dedicated to "all gods" and "all gods in common" for what they reveal about the nature and rituals of the cult(s) (137-143). The Pantheon cult spread with Hadrian and with his successors, but Melfi questions if there were two cults involved, as Pausanias considered "all gods" and "all gods in common" separate (141, 143-146).

Fernando Lozano's chapter, "Emperor Worship and Greek Leagues: The Organization of Supra-Civic Imperial Cult in the Roman East" (Chapter 9) is one of the most valuable contributions of the book. His well sourced and organized work reveals that the imperial cult was not orchestrated by provinces, but rather by leagues and at times by organized collections of these leagues he calls supra-civic (150-160). Lozano proposes a terminological change away from the term "provincial cults" to prevent further misinformation in the field (162-163). He also offers a historiography that shows why previous historians have suggested the term "provincial cults" when discussing emperor worship. However, Lozano advocates the use of more specific terms: "koinon cult," "league cult," or "federal cult" as appropriate (150-151, 160-162, 169).

Athanasios D. Rizakis contributed the tenth and final chapter, "Le paysage culturel de la colonie romaine de Philippes en Macédoine: cosmopolitisme religieux et différentiation sociale." Rizakis focuses on the change in religion at Philippi. The chapter looks at temple design and excavation, and the elite adoption of the cult of the emperor that followed Rome's take-over. Rizakis discusses the location of the temples based on the nature of the divinities (180-183), and has noted syncretism between Thracian and Greek deities (192-196).

Aesthetically, the book is pleasing. Color pictures are included in the final chapter. The book successfully reaches its goal in spurring discussion and debate regarding religion in the Greek territories under Roman rule. Each of the authors' contributions could develop into a worthy book. The authors delve deeply into their subject area, and, as a result, almost all of the essays jump into their specific topic without clearly defining terms. Such narrow and complex topics condensed into single chapters make the book a slow read, and some chapters require background knowledge and preliminary research before reading. A few of the chapters struggle with organization and clear thesis and logical sentences, and there are a fair number of typos. Regarding the content as a whole, while a brief mention was made in Chapter 7, by Cortés Copete (129-133), about the Second Sophistic, the way second sophists approached philosophy, their public role, and their twisting of mythology and history would be an excellent addition to the text. As many of the chapters focus on Hadrian, he seems a bit over emphasized in the collection. But again, this book is a worthwhile read and contributes to a glaring hole in the historiography of religion in the Greek provinces under Roman rule.


1.   Oliver, J. H. "Patrons Providing Financial Aid to the Tribes of Roman Athens," AJPh 70, no. 3 (1949): 299-308.
2.   For the result of the embassy of the sanctuary of Athena Polias of Priene see Sheila L. Ager, Interstate Arbitrations in the Greek World, 337-90 B.C. Berkeley; Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996, 508-509. For the result of the embassy of the sanctuary of Artemis in Ephesus led by Artemidoros, see Annalisa Marzano, Harvesting the Sea: The Exploitation of Marine Resources in the Roman Mediterranean. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013, 62.
3.   Kyle, Donald G. Spectacles of Death in Ancient Rome. London: Routledge, 1998, especially 259-264, 274-278, 333-339.

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Eleni Pachoumi, The Concepts of the Divine in the Greek Magical Papyri. Studien und Texte zu Antike und Christentum, 102. Tübingen​: Mohr Siebeck, 2017. Pp. xvi, 258. ISBN 9783161540189. €79.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Radcliffe G. Edmonds III, Bryn Mawr College (redmonds@brynmawr.edu)

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Pachoumi's study of The Concepts of the Divine in the Greek Magical Papyri adds to the growing number of recent works that probe in detail the fascinating and mysterious collection of papyrus texts from Roman Egypt known (somewhat misleadingly) as the Greek Magical Papyri.1 Building upon a number of articles she has published in the last few years, Pachoumi assembles a set of analyses of specific spells within this collection of magical recipes that illuminate the underlying understanding of divinity within the ritual recipes. While Pachoumi claims that the overall picture reveals a basic consistency of ideas across the corpus, it is the rich diversity of concepts of the divine that emerges from her analysis that makes the study appealing. In the chapters of the book, Pachoumi analyzes three kinds of characterizations of divine figures within the Greek Magical Papyri: the personal daimon, the paredros divinity, and the assimilations of deities with one another. The book concludes with a wealth of appendices, indices, and bibliography, and Pachoumi provides an introductory treatment of the corpus of the Greek Magical Papyri and the study's approach to the concepts of the divine within the syncretic context of magical ritual practice. Like many recent scholars treating materials that have been considered magic, however, Pachoumi refuses to grapple with the knotty problem of defining magic. She provides a few brief remarks about the nature of magic and the contrast with religion, but the definition of magic Pachoumi actually applies in her study seems simply to be the things in the corpus of the Greek Magical Papyri, along with other things (curse tablets or amulets) that seem like them.

The first chapter deals with the personal daimon, described variously as ἴδιος δαίμων, οἰκεῖος δαίμων, or ὁ ἑαυτοῦ δαίμων, arguing that it is something internal to the magician performing the spell. Going text by text, Pachoumi analyzes each of the rituals found in the Greek Magical Papyri that mentions such a figure and links them with the ideas of the personal daimon found in Neoplatonic theurgy, seeing the underlying aim of such spells as achieving σύστασις, some kind of connection to or even union with the personal daimon. Pachoumi demonstrates the ways in which the magician must make contact with other daimonic figures (the astrological rulers of the particular day and hour as well as the daimon of the place) and with the ruler of the cosmos (variously identified in different spells) in order to secure the proper conditions for getting in touch with his own internal daimon. The peculiar paradox of making contact with something within oneself is sometimes, Pachoumi notes, portrayed as making contact with one's own shadow (PGM III.612-632). Throughout the chapter, Pachoumi seeks to identify 'influences' or 'parallels' of the concepts in the Greek Magical Papyri with Stoicism, Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, and other religious and philosophical movements, but the search for parallels is perhaps more apt, since Pachoumi makes no attempt to trace an actual chain of influence (nor would the evidence support it). Pachoumi might have delved further into the ideas of the personal daimon and the various arguments over its status within these philosophical contexts in order to show the significance of the differences in the way the personal daimon is portrayed, but the references to the various (and quite varied) texts are useful for scholars wishing to pursue such ideas further.

In the following chapter, Pachoumi explores the nature of the paredros, the assistant spirit, in the Greek Magical Papyri. After a brief excursus on the place of such assistant figures in Greek religion from the Minoan period onward, Pachoumi surveys the variety of ways the paredros appears in the Greek Magical Papyri, from nameless assistants to a major deity to Eros (as the Platonic paradigm of the mediating daimon) and all the way to the great Agathos Daimon itself. Pachoumi again treats each text in detail, analyzing how the paredros figure appears and the nature of its divinity in each spell. Most of these analyses are illuminating, providing careful attention to these difficult texts. Pachoumi argues, however, when discussing the paredros as the spirit of a dead person, that the spells aim not at the harnessing of the spirit itself as an assistant but rather at reanimating the deceased's body and creating a zombie assistant like the reanimated corpses that feature in some of the more extravagant depictions in Roman literature (Lucan, Apuleius, etc.). The speculation, although intriguing, is not convincing, even if some of her specific suggestions for textual emendations were to be accepted. Pachoumi argues, against Ogden, Faraone, and Johnston, that the use of the skull or other piece of the corpse (especially of one untimely or violently dead) enables the magician to reassemble and reanimate the whole body.2 Pachoumi admits that the spells involving the skull vessels do not actually explicitly mention bodily reanimation, but suggests that the reference in the Eighth Book of Moses (PGM XIII.277-283) of putting pneuma into a dead body and making it walk, as well as the reference in another spell (PGM IV 2145-2240) to inserting an inscribed lamella into a corpse so that it "will have his day again" (διημερεύσει 2216) imply that the other spells likewise involve reanimating the whole body. I would note, however, that both of these references come in long lists of amazing things that the magical preparation can do (e.g., wrecking chariots, restraining enemies, obtaining invisibility, or crossing the Nile on a crocodile), rather than, as with the skull spells, in rituals designed to bring up a dead spirit as an assistant from the underworld. Pachoumi's explanation of the lack of explicit reference to reanimation is even more problematic, "it was safer to retain the traditional form of paredroi as spirits of the dead and leave the new problem of bodily resurrection related to the issue of time to be solved by the new religion (e.g., Christianity)." (47) It would be preferable to explain the differences between the literary evidence and the Greek Magical Papyri as the difference between fantastic literature's emphasis on spectacle and the ritual recipe's emphasis on the process and results, rather than to rely on an account that seems to put Christianity in the role of the religion that comes to do away with the old excesses of pagan superstitious magic. Despite the problems of this section of the chapter, Pachoumi again provides useful specific analyses of individual spells, building upon earlier scholarship on the paredros.3

The third chapter is nearly as long as the other two together, and it provides a survey of the deities within the Greek Magical Papyri who are identified with or assimilated to one another (Helios, Eros, Aion, Chrestos, Dionysus-Osiris, Hekate-Selene-Artemis, Typhon-Seth, Sarapis, Isis, Aphrodite, Bes), seeking to answer the question of "what religious tendencies do these religious assimilations reveal?" (63) Pachoumi discusses various epithets and descriptions of the deities and suggests parallels, some of which have been suggested previously in various studies, but it is nevertheless helpful to have them gathered together in a single study (Pachoumi also often cites parallels from the Derveni Papyrus, which has not entered into discussions in the scholarship before). While not all these references are particularly valid or useful, some are quite thought-provoking and helpful in showing the early date at which some of these ideas appear in the religious tradition. Pachoumi's rationale for which deities to group together for analysis is not transparent, however, in contrast to the recent study of Bortolani, who groups all the deities addressed in the hymns in the Greek Magical Papyri in two main groups that correspond to gender (male solar figures and female lunar and chthonic figures).4 The puzzling appearance of the Babylonian underworld goddess Ereschigal, for example, is discussed only under the assimilation to Aphrodite as Aktiophis, but that same name appears assimilated to Selene (along with Hekate, Artemis, and, I would add, Persephone). Nor does Pachoumi explain the logic behind the assimilations in the texts she is analyzing; her analysis is again mostly limited to seeking influences (or, rather, parallels) from Neoplatonic, Hermetic, Egyptian, or other sources. When Pachoumi does theorize about why a particular element or connection was deployed in a specific spell, she seems to imagine "that the magician who compiled the spell was a skilled syncretist", selecting elements from (apparently pure) streams of religious or philosophical thought. "This compilation technique of accumulating various religious currents in one spell often occurs." (115) The idea of the magician as a self-conscious bricoleur, patching together a workable spell from a variety of elements, is certainly plausible, but problem with such a model is rather the idea that there was in the third century CE a clear Jewish or Christian or Egyptian or Greek tradition (much less a clear 'Gnostic' or 'Orphic' tradition) upon which the magician could draw, rather than a variety of hybrid traditions formed from centuries of cross-cultural bricolage. Pachoumi seems to present a Greek tradition into which other elements have been introduced, a model that accounts for the rather short shrift Egyptian names such as Isis, Osiris, Bes, Thoth, and Sarapis receive. Pachoumi praises the ingenuity of the syncretic magicians and argues that their syncretism was not haphazard but consistent and functionally supportive of "a magical interreligious system, which supported diversity, coexistence, and unity." (174) It is not clear, however, whose coexistence and unity is at stake here, perhaps those believers in "formal religious systems" (169) who populated the larger cities of Egypt in the period.

Despite the problems with the broader theoretical models, Pachoumi provides a wealth of information and analysis in this slim volume, which includes seven appendices in addition to the chapter studies. The most useful appendices are perhaps Six and Seven, the lists of epithets in the Greek Magical Papyri mentioned in LSJ and the ones not mentioned in LSJ, although appendix Four of Homeric verses quoted and the list of names of famous magicians (appendix Five) could both be of service for further explorations of these texts. Pachoumi's attention to detail in her analysis of individual texts provides a number of insights into the ways the creators of these texts conceptualized the divine forces they were attempting to make use of, and her study will illuminate the work of future scholars exploring the intriguing corpus of the Greek Magical Papyri.


1.   E.g., Bortolani, Ljuba. 2016. Magical Hymns from Roman Egypt: A Study of Greek and Egyptian Traditions of Divinity. New York: Cambridge University Press; Love, Edward O. D. 2016. Code-Switching with the Gods: The Bilingual (Old Coptic-Greek) Spells of PGM IV (P. Bibliothèque Nationale Supplément Grec. 574) and Their Linguistic, Religious, and Socio-Cultural Context in Late Roman Egypt. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter; and, earlier, Dieleman, Jacco. 2005. Priests, Tongues, and Rites: The London-Leiden Magical Manuscripts and Translation in Egyptian Ritual (100-300 CE). Religions in the Graeco-Roman World 153. Leiden: Brill. Consider also the thesis of Dosoo, Korshi. 2014. Rituals of Apparition in the Theban Magical Library. Macquarie University, Sydney: dissertation.
2.   Ogden, Daniel. 2001. Greek and Roman Necromancy. Princeton: Princeton University Press; Faraone, Christopher A. 2005. "Necromancy Goes Underground: The Disguise of Skull- and Corpse-Divination in the Paris Magical Papyri (PGM IV 1928-2144)." In Mantikê: Studies in Ancient Divination, edited by Sarah Iles Johnston and Peter T. Struck, 255–82. Leiden: Brill; Johnston, Sarah Iles. 2008. Ancient Greek Divination. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
3.   Ciraolo, Leda Jean. 1995. "Supernatural Assistants in the Greek Magical Papyri." In Ancient Magic and Ritual Power, edited by Marvin W. Meyer and Paul Allan Mirecki, 279–95. Leiden and New York: E. J. Brill; Scibilia, Anna. 2002. "Supernatural Assistance in the Greek Magical Papyri: The Figure of the Parhedros." In J. Bremmer and J. Veenstra (eds.), The Metamorphosis of Magic from Late Antiquity to the Early Modern Period, 71–86. Leuven: Peeters.
4.   Cp. Bortolani 2016: 53, "the male or female gender corresponds to a solar/creative or lunar/chthonic basic nature of the deity invoked." ​

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Margaret Alexiou, Douglas Cairns (ed.), Greek Laughter and Tears: Antiquity and After. Edinburgh Leventis studies. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017. Pp. 552. ISBN 9781474403795. £95.00.

Reviewed by Katarzyna Jazdzewska, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University, Warsaw (kjazdzewska@gmail.com)

Version at BMCR home site

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

This fascinating book, an offspring of an Edinburgh conference in 2013, focuses on laughter and tears as expressions of emotion in Greek culture. Although the subtitle "Antiquity and After" may suggest a preoccupation with the ancient world, this is not the case: the principal focus is on Byzantium, with just a few papers dealing with antiquity, late antiquity, and the Renaissance. Edited volumes with such ambitious diachronic spans frequently suffer from a lack of interconnectedness between their parts. Therefore, it is to be appreciated that the editors, Margaret Alexiou and Douglas Cairns, made a significant effort in the introduction to point out connections between individual contributions and to consider them within the general framework of the questions raised in the book. The introduction also locates the volume within the field of the cultural history of emotions: as the editors point out, the Byzantine world has not been a frequent subject of scholarly investigations in this respect, and they seek to better our understanding of conceptualizations and expressions of emotions in Byzantium, and improve our comprehension of the continuities and breaks between this period and antiquity.

The volume consists of twenty-two papers, divided into five thematic parts: I. Ancient Keynotes: From Homer to Lucian; II. Ancient Models, Byzantine Collections: Epigrams, Riddles, and Jokes; III. Byzantine Perspectives: Tears and Laughter, Theory and Praxis; IV. Laughter, Power and Subversion; V. Gender, Genre and Language: Loss and Survival. The majority of the papers focus on representations of laughter, smiles, tears, and laments in ancient and Byzantine texts. Seaford's paper, which opens Part I, offers a nice collection of passages from early Greek literature (mostly Homer and the tragedians) in which laughter and tears occur together as manifestations of complex emotions. Halliwell focuses on divine laughter in Homer and Lucian. Disagreeing with Burkert's influential interpretation of Homer's laughter of the gods as a celebration of their trouble-free existence and expression of their superiority and invulnerability,1 he argues that divine laughter in Homer does not celebrate the gods' detachment from or belittlement of the human world. An examination of Homeric passages leads him to conclude that divine laughter is represented as not fully intelligible from the human perspective. In his discussion of Lucian's representation of laughing gods, Halliwell points out that Lucian juxtaposes divine laughter and human laughter at existential absurdity.

Moving on to Byzantine literature, Hinterberger's rich paper discusses connections between laughter, smiles, and tears on the one hand and the emotions causing them and expressed by them on the other. There is a lot of fascinating material here, as Hinterberger discusses various categories of tears (tears of sorrow, joy, beneficial and cleansing tears of contrition, tears driving away demons), the negative connotations of laughter, and its association with moral corruption (in a clear continuity with ancient attitudes towards laughter), and, interestingly, a smile as not so much a sign of emotions, but of their absence. Stenger in his captivating paper compares John Chrysostom's and Libanius' reactions to the same event, the riot of 387 in Antioch on the Orontes, revealing subtle differences between the sophist and the Christian preacher in their perusal of the motif of laughter and tears. Lamentation is the topic of two other stimulating papers: Papadogiannakis discusses the reaction to the fall of Jerusalem in 614 in the Capture of Jerusalem, in the context of the classical tradition of both urbs capta and city laments in Hebrew literature, while Harvey examines intense and graphic expressions of grief in biblical characters in early Byzantine hymns and liturgy, the emotionality of which remains in striking contrast to recurrent exhortations to constrain personal grief in the face of the death of one's loved ones. The papers by Papadogiannakis and Harvey tie in nicely with two papers in part V, one by Mullett, who discusses culturally acceptable contexts for male weeping (emperor's tears, ascetic tears of holy men, biblical models of male lament) and then focuses on grief and tears in Theophylact Hephaistos' poem after his brother's death; and the other by Angold, who examines four reactions to the fall of Constantinople in 1204 and its aftermath (by Nicetas Choniates, Michael Choniates, Euthymios Malakes, Euthymios Tornikes), pointing out the complexity of the emotions expressed by Byzantine authors (personal sorrow at the death of relatives, humiliation, realization of loss of status, grief over destruction of an ideal, etc.). Papers by Nilsson and Agapitos focus on Byzantine romances, with Nilsson discussing laughter and tears in the Komnenian novels and Agapitos addressing the phenomenon of "amorous discourse as lamentation" in the Palaiologan texts.

Apart from papers focusing on representations of tears and laughter in literature, the volume offers a handful of contributions dedicated to humour in literature. Among these are Maciver's paper, which focuses on Lucian's literary strategies aimed at producing humour in four texts: Charon, Icaromenippus, Nigrinus, and the True Histories; Herrin's paper on humour in sixth-century epigrams from the Palatine Anthology; Beta's contribution on the comic side of Byzantine enigmatic poetry and amusing riddles; and West's paper on the Philogelos. I found the last contribution particularly interesting: it discusses joke-collections in antiquity, going over types of jokes, and devoting considerable attention to the figure of the scholastikos, which West describes as "a caricature of the sage" (p. 116) and connects with the spread of the rhetorical form of higher education: the scholastikos is "the pepaideuomenos presented in an unfavorable light." Humour is also the theme of two papers examining objects in the visual arts: Boeck discusses eleventh-century frescoes in the Kievan church of St Sophia which depict imperial amusements – acrobatic and musical performances – and convey to the viewer a message about "the power of amusement and the amusement of power." Walker examines two art objects, the Veroli casket (tenth-eleventh century) and the San Marco Censer (twelfth century), and argues that both aim to amuse the viewer by employing gender-inversion as the comic strategy.

The papers examining the humorous and comic side of Greek literature are informative and cover a lot of interesting, sometimes little-studied material, though in some cases, I wished more thought had been put by authors into their word choices. For instance, Herrin alternates between epigrams that mention laughter and epigrams that are "laughter-provoking" or which "clearly anticipated" laughter (e.g., Herrin quotes an epigram that describes an adulterous couple that "were killed when the roof of the house fell in and now they are locked in an unceasing embrace," p. 84, as an example of a poem that "clearly anticipated" laughter); similarly, Beta talks about "laughter provoked by Byzantine riddles" (p. 102). Are we to imagine people actually laughing when reading these epigrams and riddles? I do not want to be excessively pedantic, but I found these expressions overly casual in a book focused on laughter specifically and acknowledging its diachronic instability. In fact, one theme I would love to have seen treated more extensively in the volume is the readability and recognizability of modes of playfulness in ancient and Byzantine texts. On p. 18, the editors refer to Webb's comment that mime fragments may not seem very funny to us, and ask "but can we trust contemporary reactions?" If we cannot, what intratextual and extratextual signals are we relying on when we decide that a text is humorous or playful?

The third broad category of papers deals with Greek reflections on laughter. Pizzone's thoughtful paper discusses Byzantine theoretical approaches to humour. She starts with pseudo-Hermogenes' characterization of the comic style, discusses scattered remarks in Gregory of Corinth and Tzetzes, and then focuses on Arethas' and Eustathius' treatments of laughter. She observes that the Byzantine authors work out "integrated theories of laughter," i.e., theories that combine rhetorical, psychological, and ethical aspects (in this respect, there is palpable continuity with ancient elaborations of laughter, in particular with the Aristotelian tradition). The evidence she discusses is interesting, both in its own right and as a comparandum to ancient theoretical reflections on laughter. Two related contributions, by Webb and Marciniak, tie in nicely with Pizzone's paper and discuss mimic performances in late antiquity and Byzantium, respectively. The authors point out both the appeal and popularity of mimes, and the accusations raised against this type of entertainment by preachers and intellectuals, and then discuss the rationale for late antique and Byzantine misgivings about laughter, in particular performative laughter.

Two papers move beyond ancient and medieval Greek culture: Holton focuses on Cretan dramatic literature from 1580 onwards, pointing out an interesting predilection of Cretan poets for blending the comic and the tragic and coupling laughter and tears, while Stavrakopoulou discusses the phenomenon of the Greek shadow theatre (popular from 1890-1970), focusing primarily on a humorous representation of the general Belisarius, who appears in the company of his wife Antonina, and the imperial couple Justinian and Theodora. The volume concludes with a summarizing afterword by Roderick Beaton and an appendix consisting of Alexiou's translation of the Greek tale Chyrogles, or The Girls with Two Husbands.

This rich and informative book is diverse yet interconnected and carefully thought through by the editors. It is an absorbing and stimulating read, revealing the complexity and polysemy of laughter and tears in antiquity and Byzantium and touching on a variety of fascinating subjects, such as the cultural continuities and discontinuities between antiquity and Byzantium, and between paganism and Christianity; the history of emotions and of their expression in literature; and the relationship between both representations of emotions, and gender and genres.

Authors and titles

1. Introduction, Margaret Alexiou and Douglas Cairns
Part I. Ancient Keynotes: From Homer to Lucian
2. Richard Seaford, Laughter and Tears in Early Greek Literature
3. Stephen Halliwell, Imagining Divine Laughter in Homer and Lucian
4. Calum Maciver, Parody, Symbol and the Literary Past in Lucian
Part II. Ancient Models, Byzantine Collections: Epigrams, Riddles and Jokes
5. Judith Herrin, 'Tantalus Ever in Tears': The Greek Anthology as a Source of Emotions in Late Antiquity
6. Simone Beta, 'Do you think you're clever? Solve this riddle, then!' The Comic Side of Byzantine Enigmatic Poetry
7. Stephanie West, Philogelos: An Anti-Intellectual Joke-book
Part III. Byzantine Perspectives: Tears and Laughter, Theory and Praxis
8. Martin Hinterberger, 'Messages of the Soul': Tears, Smiles, Laughter and Emotions Expressed by Them in Byzantine Literature
9. Aglae Pizzone, Towards a Byzantine Theory of the Comic?
10. Jan R. Stenger, Staging Laughter and Tears: Libanius, Chrysostom and the Riot of the Statues
11. Ioannis Papadogiannakis, Lamenting for the Fall of Jerusalem in the Seventh Century CE
12. Susan Harvey, Guiding Grief: Liturgical Poetry and Ritual Lamentation in Early Byzantium
Part IV. Laughter, Power and Subversion
13. Ruth Webb, Mime and the Dangers of Laughter in Late Antiquity,
14. Przemysław Marciniak, Laughter on Display – Mimic Performances and the Danger of Laughing in Byzantium
15. Elena Boeck, The Power of Amusement and the Amusement of Power: The Princely Frescoes of St. Sophia, Kiev, and Their Connections to the Byzantine World
16. Alicia Walker, Laughing at Eros and Aphrodite: Sexual Inversion and Its Resolution in the Classicising Arts of Medieval Byzantium
Part V. Gender, Genre and Language: Loss and Survival
17. Ingela Nilsson, Comforting Tears and Suggestive Smiles: To Laugh and Cry in the Komnenian Novel
18. Margaret Mullett, Do Brothers Weep? Male Grief, Mourning, Lament and Tears in Eleventh- and Twelfth-Century Byzantium
19. Michael Angold, Laments by Nicetas Choniates and Others for the Fall of Constantinople in 1204
20. Panagiotis Agapitos, 'Words Filled With Tears': Amorous Discourse as Lamentation in the Palaiologan Romances
21. David Holton, The Tragic, the Comic and Tragi-Comic in Cretan Renaissance Literature
22. Anna Stavrakopoulou, Belisarius in the Shadow Theatre: The Private Calvary of a Legendary General
23. Afterword, Roderick Beaton
Appendix: Chyrogles or The Girl with Two Husbands


1.   W. Burkert, 'Das Lied von Ares und Aphrodite,' RhM 103 (1960) 130–144.

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Monday, February 26, 2018


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Christine Kossaifi, 20 minutes de grec ancien par jour. Paris: Ellipses, 2017. Pp. 335. ISBN 9782340014923. €16.50 (pb).

Reviewed by María Natalia Bustos de Lezica, Fordham University (mbustos@fordham.edu)

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Christine Kossaifi, quien es profesora de latín y griego en el Lycée Balzac de París, presenta al lector un método de aprendizaje del griego antiguo "en autonomie" (p. 4). Alentando al lector a practicar durante veinte minutos cada día, la autora propone un estudio de la lengua clásica a partir de textos originales que están acompañados de su traducción y una lista de vocabulario. Los 30 capítulos del libro presentan una estructura recurrente. Un fragmento de un texto original es seguido por una explicación de un tema de gramática. Luego se introducen ejercicios de gramática, vocabulario y civilización, y algún aspecto cultural y reflexiones sobre la etimología de algún término destacado del texto presentado en el capítulo. Los ejercicios están relacionados con el fragmento griego. Puede tratarse de frases para traducir inspiradas en el fragmento original griego o implicar la búsqueda o análisis de formas gramaticales en el texto, o el uso del vocabulario del mismo. Las respuestas están incluidas después de los capítulos, (inmediatamente antes de los anexos que presentan las tablas de declinaciones y conjugaciones), lo que permite al lector evaluar su progreso y entendimiento de la lengua. La autora alienta al lector a impregnarse de cada lección y revisarla por una semana al menos, durante 20 minutos al día, y luego pasar a la siguiente. Advierte, al mismo tiempo, que en veinte minutos el lector puede abarcar parte una lección o su totalidad y recomienda que cada uno respete su ritmo, siempre dedicándole veinte minutos en el día a la asimilación y disfrute de la lengua griega.

El libro presenta al lector textos griegos originales desde el comienzo. El capítulo 1 (que incluye alfabeto y nociones de acentuación) se abre con un pasaje de Aves de Aristófanes, autor al que Kossaifi se refiere como el "Molière" de la Atenas clásica (p. 14). A continuación, en la primera parte del libro (capítulos 2 a 15), para explicar la historia de Grecia, incluye textos de Pausanias, Heródoto, Apolodoro, Ateneo, Diodoro Sículo, Plutarco, Tucídides, Jenofonte, Isocrátes, Demóstenes, Arriano, Flavio Josefo, Estrabón y el Idilio 15 de Teócrito (en referencia a Alejandría y la dinastía ptolemaica). En la segunda parte (capítulos 16-30), que se centra en la civilización griega, los textos son en su mayoría literarios, incluyendo autores como Homero y Hesíodo, los poetas trágicos Esquilo, Sófocles y Eurípides, o los poetas helenísticos Calímaco, Herodas y Apolonio de Rodas, entre otros, pero también Aristóteles y Platón. El aspecto positivo es que resulta estimulante y atractivo para el lector ansioso de entrar en contacto con estos textos tener la posibilidad de hacerlo desde el principio. Sin embargo, el método supone un lector motivado y disciplinado que disfrute del desafío y tenga el deseo de superarse y sortear los obstáculos que se puedan presentar en el camino. Si bien el libro ofrece una lista de vocabulario al final, sería recomendable que el lector tuviera a mano un diccionario también que le permitiera buscar los términos no incluidos en el vocabulario del libro.

Hay varios elementos dignos de ser destacados. En primer lugar, los resúmenes de la historia de Grecia, desde la civilización minoica hasta el fin del período helenístico, presentados en la primera parte, son excelentes y las referencias bibliográficas o sitios web sugeridos alientan al lector a adentrarse en una investigación más profunda. Los capítulos de la segunda parte ofrecen un panorama muy completo de la civilización griega, que incluye la religión y las ceremonias, las instituciones, el arte y las ciencias. Son particularmente interesantes los comentarios etimológicos, que siempre parten de algún término utilizado en el texto griego original presentado en el capítulo. Así, por ejemplo, en el capítulo 22 (p. 193- 194), la autora explica la etimología de las Rocas Cianeas (Πέτρας …Κυανέας) que aparecen en los versos 317-318 del libro 2 de las Argonáuticas de Apolonio de Rodas. Menciona Kossaifi que estas rocas toman el nombre del adjetivo griego κυάνεος, que designa un color de azul oscuro y puede caracterizar ya sea a las nubes, al cabello, al velo de Tetis (en Ilíada 24, 94) o la piel de una serpiente (en Ilíada 11, 26), y que, derivado del hitita, kuwanna, 'azurita', se relaciona con el metal (azurita) y con los pigmentos, como el esmalte azul. Agrega también la autora que este adjetivo es a su vez el que origina la palabra cyanure o 'cianuro' en español, (ácido cianídrico que provoca la asfixia y se usa como insecticida) y que también ha dado origen a la palabra cyanose, en español, 'cianosis' (coloración azul de la piel por bajo contenido de oxígeno en la sangre), término que ha sido aplicado a la medicina a partir de la observación de la coloración azul de la piel que se produce después de una intoxicación con cianuro. En relación con el sustantivo Πέτρας, la autora explica que λίτος (de etimología desconocida) designa a la 'piedra' (fr. pierre), y que ha originado la palabra francesa lithographie (dibujo sobre la piedra) y lithiase, en español 'litiasis' (enfermedad o mal de piedra), pero πέτρα significa 'roca' (fr. roche) y simboliza la solidez. Comenta Kossaifi que era esta la cualidad a la que se refirió Jesús cuando eligió para el apóstol Simón el sobrenombre Πέτρος (correspondiente al arameo Κῆφας), y añade que esta palabra ha dado su nombre a la ciudad de Petra (en Jordania), que es conocida por su Khazneh, tumba real del siglo I a.C. cuya fachada está excavada en roca arenisca.

En cuando a los temas de gramática, la autora presenta elementos importantes para memorizar, como por ejemplo el uso del verbo ἔχω construido con un adverbio, que tiene el significado de εἰμί acompañado por un adjetivo (p. 75), en recuadros que resaltan su importancia. Incluye el dual en todas las declinaciones y conjugaciones, y no como un tema aparte, algo que ayuda a su asimilación. Resulta interesante también que presenta explicaciones de las negaciones μή y οὐ, en la página 245, y de la partícula ἄν, en las páginas 261-262, que abarcan todos sus usos tanto en proposiciones principales como subordinadas (reuniendo, de esta manera, temas de sintaxis de la lengua que en otras gramáticas o manuales aparecen en secciones separadas).

Podría objetarse que la autora empieza a introducir los verbos recién a partir del capítulo 14, por lo que el lector necesita disponer de paciencia y superar la frustración que esta limitación le pueda provocar. Unos pequeños errores que observé incluyen la forma τινῶν (genitivo plural masculino y femenino del pronombre indefinido τις) con acento agudo en vez de circunflejo y las formas ἄττα de nominativo y acusativo neutro plural del mismo pronombre con espíritu áspero en vez de suave (como si fuera de ὅστις y no de τις) en la página 106; la presentación de la formación del participio de perfecto masculino singular λελυκώς (de tema en dental) sobre el modelo del sustantivo κόραξ (de tema en gutural) en la página 207. En la página 228 aparece la forma λύσοι como la tercera persona del singular del optativo futuro medio, en lugar de λύσοιτο, y la forma λύθησοι en lugar de λυθήσοιτο, y hay un error tipográfico (λελυμένς εἴην en lugar de λελυμένος εἴην).

En general, el libro de Kossaifi es un texto para disfrutar y la autora misma insiste en la importancia del aprendizaje acompañado del placer que la lengua proporciona. Las partes de cultura se disfrutan muchísimo y las explicaciones etimológicas realmente atrapan la atención del lector. La selección de textos es variada y completa, por lo que el lector recibe una síntesis excelente de los aspectos más importantes de la cultura e historia griegas. En caso de que el lector necesitara un libro que le permitiera un ritmo más lento y un progreso más pautado, creo que este libro de Kossaifi le sería sumamente útil, de todas formas, para realizar un repaso y reafirmar y asimilar lo que ha estudiado. Es este un libro que, por la manera en que está diseñado, con recuadros con fondo oscuro que resaltan puntos importantes de la lengua, hace que el estudiante pueda volver a revisar ciertos temas con facilidad o encontrar con rapidez la explicación de algún elemento fundamental para la comprensión de sus textos. La idea de un estudio diario y continuado de la lengua es, por último, también un acierto, así como la continua insistencia en la perseverancia y la paciencia (representadas en la fábula de la liebre y la tortuga con la que se cierra el prólogo), virtudes sumamente necesarias para el cumplimiento de la tarea propuesta. Sin duda, los consejos prácticos que la docente y autora introduce al final de cada lección de la primera parte contribuyen de manera significativa a que la empresa pueda ser llevada a cabo con éxito. Es digno de mencionar, en el capítulo 10, el consejo de adoptar el lema de Jacques Coeur, tesorero del rey Carlos VII: "a coeurs vaillants, rien d' impossible" (p. 95).

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Valentina Vincenti, Mosaici antichi in Italia: regione quarta. Pavimenti musivi e cementizi di Villa Adriana. Mosaici antichi in Italia, 4. Pisa; Roma: Istituti editoriali e poligrafici internazionali, 2017. Pp. 428; 74 p. of plates. ISBN 9788862278003. €495.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Marina De Franceschini, Progetto Accademia (www.villa-adriana.net) (mdfmdf28@gmail.com)

Version at BMCR home site

As explained in the Introduction, the aim of this book is to supplement and complete the previous volume by Federico Guidobaldi dedicated to the opus sectile pavements of Villa Adriana, published back in 1994 in the same series, Mosaici Antichi in Italia. The Introduction briefly traces the history of previous studies, more than five hundred years long. Then there is a Catalog with chapters dedicated only to the buildings of the Villa where mosaics were found; for the other ones, reference to Guidobaldi's book is made. In the final part there is an overall Analysis, then the Conclusions and an extensive Bibliography.

The history of the studies and excavations is not the main objective of this book. Rightly, the author has chosen not to to transcribe the data of other scholars 'as a copyist' in the absence of new elements; as in the case of the Accademia, which she has not been able to explore in person, since it is in private ownership.

In the Introduction the author explains that her main source of documentation are the studies of Eugenia Salza Prina Ricotti, to whom she relies for the date of the building phases, and often for the interpretation of the function of the buildings—fortunately with some warnings. To the same scholar she relies for the sixteenth century Codices of Pirro Ligorio, without using the excellent work of Alessandra Ten, who transcribed and published the Code of Turin in 2005.1

The history of the studies and the antiquarian documentation is briefly outlined, taking part of the information from the well-documented history of the excavations published by Andrea Paribeni in the previous volume of Guidobaldi.

However, she does not mention the antiquarian plans and drawings by Francesco di Giorgio Martini, Andrea Palladio and other Renaissance artists, published by scholars like Ranaldi or Campbell and mentioned by Paribeni himself.2 For chronological reasons, she could not make use of other information provided by my last publication on the history of the studies and excavations at the Villa, which is mentioned at the end of the book.3

At the end of this beautiful volume, Valentina Vincenti hopes that her work "may stimulate other research, and that the investigations still underway will give further results, including the functioning of the complex organization of the imperial Court". This is the same wish I made in my book Villa Adriana, Mosaici, Pavimenti, Edifici, where in 1991 I published for the first time the mosaics, the sectilia, and other pavements of Villa Adriana: "I hope it will serve as a starting point for further studies".

In the Catalog, the author proceeds in a systematic and coherent manner, and I have seen with great pleasure that the book fills some gaps of my book (published in 1991) and adds new data that have emerged in recent years.4 Vincenti publishes the mosaics of the western part of the Vestibule, which at the time of my survey was covered by a thick grove, and some floors of other buildings that were not visible at that time. She publishes an updated plan of the Plutonium, an almost unknown building: it is the result of her thorough survey on the spot; previous scholars simply copied the largely hypothetical plan by Piranesi. She publishes the so called Antinoeion and the paved access road in the shape of a ring, which were discovered many years later. She provides new and excellent color pictures of the mosaics, (in 1991 my editor allowed only B/W pictures, because of high costs). She offers new stylistic comparisons with other mosaics and new insights about chronology and materials used, their distribution and provenance.

The overall analysis in the final part underlines the importance of the study of the walls in order to date the mosaics, and divides them into various classes, based on the size of the tesserae and the type of decoration. There are very interesting observations on the building technique, for example the use of the oblique disposition of the tesserae in the most important rooms; the construction of the floor before the fresco or other wall revetments, contrary to what was usually done. Other paragraphs are dedicated to the stylistic and historical- artistic analysis: the author mentions the archaic taste of Hadrian, who used ancient patterns dating back to the Republican period. There also are new patterns with flowers and stylized vegetal tendrils, which were 'custom-made' for the Emperor and sometimes do not find comparison outside of the Villa. Another interesting section is dedicated to the ancient restorations of the mosaics, about which very little is generally known.

The book by Vincenti confirms what I had discovered in 1991 and has been commonly accepted by subsequent scholars: at Villa Adriana the type of pavement— together with other elements such as latrines—followed a precise hierarchy corresponding to that of the buildings. The most imposing buildings, reserved for the Emperor, had marble floors (sectilia) or polychrome mosaic, prevalence of marble revetment on the walls, and single latrines. The secondary buildings, reserved for high-ranking personnel, had black-and-white mosaic pavements, sometimes with decoration, frescoed walls and multiple latrines. Finally, the buildings for slaves had rustic pavements such as opus spicatum or mosaics without decorations. This hierarchy makes it possible to propose hypotheses on the function of the buildings, which in many cases is still under discussion. In this regard, the author mostly refers to the studies of Salza Prina Ricotti, but her hypotheses are open to new possibilities.

However, there are some remarks to do on the internal organization of the book, whose structure obviously does not depend on the author, but on the editor of the series. It would have been useful to include a general plan of the Villa, to show the position of the single buildings. It is assumed that those who will buy this book already have the one by Guidobaldi, which dates back to 1994. Also, it would have been more appropriate to refer to the general plan of Salza Prina Ricotti of 1982, which is detailed, and to her other plans of individual buildings. Instead, the Pianta del Centenario of 2006 (not included in the book) is often mentioned, but in that plan the single rooms are not clearly visible because of the small scale.

The catalog is consistent and systematical; its structure and the compilation criteria are fully explained on page 20. However, the search for data and its organization are a bit cumbersome and not "user friendly". Once again, this certainly does not depend on the author: as Guidobaldi (editor of the series) writes in the Introduction, it was in fact chosen to "follow the usual pattern for the volume structure, and the individual forms", to have continuity with the other volumes of the series Mosaici Antichi in Italia. But that scheme is a bit outdated, linked to a nineteenth-century antiquarian approach.

1. The rooms are marked with acronyms and numbers, but the mosaics have a different inventory number on their own, so it is difficult to identify them in the plan.

2. In the color plates, one would expect to see the mosaics ordered according to their inventory number and not (for example) to see n. 3 together with nos. 69 and 171, as in plate XXXV. This happens because the pictures of the pavements are grouped together according to their decoration: stylistic comparisons are made easier, but it is difficult to find the single pavement.

3. The Roman numerals of the plates are shown in small print, at the end of the technical section of the forms, and this does not help. Fortunately, the code and number of the room are shown in the plates after the inventory number of the mosaic, and this helps to find the pavements.

4. In some buildings of the Catalog, the building phases and techniques are discussed. For a better understanding of the explanation—as in the case of the very interesting discussion about the building techniques of the Palazzo Imperiale—the different techniques (opus incertum, opus reticulatum etc.) should have been highlighted in the plans.

5. Rightly the author criticizes the choice of Mac Donald and Pinto to give new names to the buildings of Villa Adriana, making identification problematic, and chooses to keep the traditional names. But in the Catalog something similar is done, separating some rooms from others, as if they were a building on their own right. Again, it is not a choice of the author (who had to follow the previous 'format'), but a legacy of Guidobaldi's book, where the so called Ninfeo di Palazzo—which is usually considered a part of the Palazzo Imperiale—became a separate building. For the same reason, the Casa Colonica near Piazza d'Oro became a part of the Piazza d'Oro itself, with which it has nothing to do.

This alteration of the traditional plans is not a problem for scholars who know the Villa very well; but it can be a problem for other scholars, because it makes it difficult to identify the buildings and to find them in a general plan on in other books dealing with the same subject.

Back in 1998, J. Packer had noted how the plans of the same buildings had different features in three different books on Villa Adriana.5 Each scholar proposes his variant, also for the acronyms and numbers of buildings and rooms. A uniform and unique criterion, such as the one in use for Pompeii, is strongly needed.

Regardless of these 'technical' observations, the value and importance of Valentina Vincenti's work remains unchanged. Her book gives an updated and well-documented contribution to the study of the mosaics of Villa Adriana, especially as far as stylistic comparisons, study of materials and analysis are concerned. Therefore it marks an important step along the path of our knowledge of Villa Adriana, and opens the way for new explorations and studies.


1.   Ten A., Libro dell'antica città di Tivoli e di alcune famose ville, Roma, 2005.
2.   Ranaldi A., Pirro Ligorio e l'interpretazione delle ville antiche, Roma 2001. Campbell J., Ancient Roman Topography and Architecture. The Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo, London 2004.
3.   De Franceschini M., Villa Adriana, Accademia. Hadrian's Secret Garden. History of the Excavations, Antiquarian Texts and Studies, vol. I, Pisa Roma 2016.
4.   De Franceschini M., Villa Adriana, Mosaici, Pavimenti, Edifici, Roma 1991.
5.   Packer J. "Mire exaedificavit: three recent books on Hadrian's Tiburtine villa", Journal of Roman Archaeology 10, 1998. ​

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Wolfgang Filser, Die Elite Athens auf der attischen Luxuskeramik. Image & context, 16. Berlin; München; Boston​: De Gruyter, 2017. Pp. xi, 790. ISBN 9783110449730. $149.99.

Reviewed by Nathan T. Arrington, Princeton University (nta@princeton.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

Nearly 25 years after Michael Vickers and David Gill cast doubt on the value and prestige of Attic pottery,1 it is possible to publish a book on Athenian "Luxuskeramik" that leaves them out of the bibliography. Over the course of nearly 600 pages of text, but especially through the presentation of over 400 images, Wolfgang Filser makes the case that the images on Attic black-figure and red-figure pottery conveyed the qualities, ideals, and desires of the Athenian elite.

In the first chapter, "Die Reichen, der Reichtum und seine Quellen", Filser surveys sources of wealth for Athenians and argues that from the Archaic through the Classical periods land was the most important, secure, and respected path to riches. A propertied class arose in the 7th century and was in place by the time of Solon. In Solonian terms, these elites (a term Filser prefers to "aristocracy") were the pentakosiomedimnoi and hippeis and comprised 5–10% of the population. Not needing to work for subsistence, they represented a "leisure class." The threat of social risers constantly pressed upon those who yearned for exclusivity vis-à-vis other elites as well as the masses.

In the next chapter, "Thorstein Veblens 'Theory of the Leisure Class'", Filser sets out the theoretical premises of the study. According to him, this concept of a leisure class, developed in regard to nineteenth-century American society, offers a framework for the description and analysis of the ostentatious behavior of Athenian propertied elite, whose thirst for distinction led to conspicuous consumption and waste. Even the liturgy should be understood as a form of ostentatious display rather than a redistribution of wealth and true service to the city. The role of emulation in Veblen's model is critical for Filser: elite emulate one another while the poor emulate those in higher social circles. As a result, non-elite are unable to develop their own terms of distinction, to set themselves apart from the wealthy, or to recognize their majority status. For Filser, this helps explain the widespread appearance of elite imagery on vases not restricted to an elite audience.

"Die Elite im Wandel. 600-400 v. Chr." tracks the ebb and flow of the power of the elite in relation to personalities (e.g., Solon) and events (e.g., the Persian Wars). At no point, Filser argues, even in pre-Solonian times, was there a closed aristocracy. Under Solon, the leisure class became more institutionalized, while the tyranny of the Peisistratids "paralyzed" the leisure class, because of the way in which the tyrants monopolized prestige and aristocratic opportunities. Kleisthenes' reforms, in contrast, created the political offices that allowed the rich a civic pretext to enrich themselves. Athenian expansion during the Persian Wars enriched a small class of Athenians, with land holding systematically extending well beyond Attica, and an abundant supply of foreign luxury goods and slaves gave new dynamics to status emulation. Much of this display ended with Perikles, whom Filser compares to the Peisistratids. The death of Perikles created a power vacuum into which the nouveaux riches moved, with their wealth acquired from industry. With the end of the Peloponnesian War, a general suspicion of leisure culture took hold, with a systematic "Luxuskritik," and widespread adoption of modesty on the part of the elite.

An interesting chapter on depictions of labor follows ("Die andere Nacktheit, die andere Kleidung. Bilder der Arbeit"). Mostly black-figure, these scenes (trading, shoe-making, baking, smithing, and farming) on symposium vessels created a meaningful contrast with the depictions of symposiasts and athletes. The physical nature of the activity and the low status of the laborers was made evident through iconography, style, and composition.

The next three chapters represent the bulk of the book: a detailed survey of representations of symposia, athletics, and horses ("Pferdehaltung"). Each is organized chronologically and subdivided into numerous shorter sections.

The symposium reeked of luxury. Images of drinkers on vases conveyed idealized depictions of an elite atmosphere marked by decadent equipment and clothing, costly servants, and plentiful women. The representations of mythical figures such as Herakles, Achilles, and Greek kings allowed participants to think of themselves in heroic terms, while the presence of exotic and eastern objects, particularly from the late 6th century onward, infused the scenes. Persian and Lydian accoutrements were not curios but signs of close contact with the Persian elite (198-199). Filser emphasizes that the symposium never experienced a democratic movement and never became a widespread activity. So he argues that simple and humble klinai still operated in luxurious settings (234-255); that banquets on the ground were nevertheless decadent (173-209); and that images of workmen like Smikros banqueting were "Traumgebilde" and "Wunschbilder," jokes to be appreciated in the workshop, their names unimportant for rich revelers (162-168). The depiction of symposia dropped ca. 450 BC, but Filser sees no concomitant change in the representation of the luxury of the event.

Sport, too, was "ein Lebensbereich der Reichen" (282). Filser describes the clothing of trainers, the depiction of expensive prizes, and the presence of servants and musicians to show how athletics was portrayed as an activity of the leisure class. The athlete's body emerges as a subject of particular painterly interest (310-316, 345-347, 355-372, 381-392). The varied movements of pentathletes lent themselves to an exploration of bodily expression, and scenes of washing and caring for the body conflated athletics and courtship. In the first half of the 5th century, athletics itself took second place (363). Figures adopted statuesque poses and admired one another, with strigils deployed in suggestive ways. In the second half of the 5th century, the hoplitodromos lost prestige due to the introduction of the ephebeia (377), but there was not an overall decrease in the luxury of sport.

Finally, Filser turns to depictions of the horse, "der ultimative Diener der leisure class, denn es ist das teuerste, schönste und nutzloseste Luxusobjekt" (399), first discussing the cavalry class (hippeis) and the cavalry reforms. In black-figure, we find horses individually (horse-head amphoras) and in military scenes, departures, competitions, and wedding processions. Filser shows how the composition of the departures focalized large family groups (430) and how the innovation of frontally depicting horses added dynamism and power to scenes (455-460). In wedding processions, the chariot accompanied a display of familial wealth and underscored how matrimony cemented alliances between elite families and served as an important venue for the acquisition of property (495-501). A more complex power dynamic operated in the stall scenes, where compositions contrasted horses and their riders and owners with stable hands (470-476). In the late 6th century, the number of military scenes dropped and images appeared that Filser discusses under the rubric "beautiful riders" (505-517, 551-556). Hippic games continued, with some innovations, such as the presence of Nike crowning victors (529-536, 557-561), while departures for battle de-emphasized the place of the horse (538-545). It is evident that the cavalry reforms and the ensuing polis involvement in the cavalry and the widening of the ranks of riders damaged the pictorial role of horses as status symbols, and Filser includes discussion of the dokimasia (517-520, 549-551).

The conclusion summarizes some of Filser's findings and seeks historical explanations for chronological variation in the three themes, with references to graphs that Filser created on the basis of a database of 6507 vases (100-101, pl. IX, with a methodological discussion on 591-594). For example, he links the sudden rise in the number of vases depicting symposia at the end of the 6th century is linked with the end of Peisistratid rule, the return of the elite from exile, and the rise in ostentatious emulation (568-569). The increase in palaestra scenes finds a similar explanation, but unlike the symposia, athletics from 470/60 until 410 remained relatively popular (572). Horse-rearing was fashionable under the tyranny but dropped shortly after 500 because the institutionalization of the cavalry diminished the elite appeal of hippic imagery (576-578).

The strength of this book is the vast collection of images (over 400), which form an indispensable resource. As a visual argument for the existence of a relationship between vase-painting and the elite, the book is absolutely compelling. It is hard to deny the studied refinement and decadence that seeps from the pages. But what conclusions should one draw about Athenian social structure and the role of crafts therein? And are pots really "Luxuskeramik"? Filser acknowledges that the elite images are consumed by a much wider clientele than a narrow number of elite patrons alone. Through the term "Luxuskeramik," he makes no claim that only the elite used these pots. They dictated the imagery, he maintains, and others emulated their tastes. Yet this is a rather simplistic view of the social dynamics of production and consumption. Filser does not engage in a substantive way with the work of such scholars as Josiah Ober, Leslie Kurke, Ian Morris, or Richard Neer, who have drawn attention to the vexed relationship between individual and community and the contestation within the elite over terms of legitimacy.2 Elite images in this book reflect dominant discourse rather than operate as sites of contestation, misunderstanding, or reconciliation. Consequently, the descriptions of the images verge on the terse and oftentimes miss the possible complexity and openness of an image. For example, an enthralling black-figure kylix attributed to the Amasis Painter which almost surely represents the stables of Poseidon (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art 1989.281.62), with figures creeping out of the figured metopes, becomes instead an elite multi-generational image wherein some of the metope figures are children (502-503).

The absence of archaeological contexts is perhaps the most striking omission from this book. Apart from a brief discussion in the conclusion on the public dining debris from the Agora (567-568), physical contexts have no place, and such important studies as Kathleen Lynch's on the Agora deposits or Nicholas Cahill's on household assemblages at Olynthus are not in the bibliography.3 The Etruscan context of Attic vase-consumption is also absent. There is room for disagreement over the relationship between Etruscan clients and Athenian vase-painters, but most scholars see some Etruscan pull on Tyrrhenian amphorae and products of the Nikosthenes Workshop and the Perizoma Group. Filser discusses the latter at some length (190-193, 332-339) and accepts that some of the figures might represent Etruscans, but nevertheless maintains that they should be used as evidence for Athenian elite taste. This resistance might be defensible for the interpretation of specific images, but not for quantitative analysis. I fear that the Etruscan contexts of Attic pottery render the graphs on pl. IX highly problematic, at least for the ends to which Filser uses them. It is not possible to tally the production of a particular iconographic theme across time and to draw conclusions about the changing attitudes of the Athenian elite, because so many of these vases were made for export. It is one thing to use an Attic vase from an Etruscan context to discuss Attic imagery, and an altogether different matter to draw quantitative conclusions about the Athenian elite on the basis of numbers which must, at least in part, reflect Etruscan demand.

The search for chronological meaning behind quantitative variation subtends the entire book. Sensitivity to chronological change would be a welcome change to structuralist approaches, but the relationship between the history of events and artistic developments should not be forced. Art can have its own autonomy. One unfortunate consequence of the chronological privileging is that interesting discussions of similar material are cut off from each other, so section VI.4.10 deals with "Luxus and Homoerotik" but VI.5.2 is "Die schönen Athleten, die Homoerotik und die Strigilis."

Here and elsewhere, the book would benefit from more heavy-handed editing. I am not convinced it is necessary to have a 20-page introduction to Veblen's well-known theory, a 30-some-page survey of the elite that does little more than recapitulate highlights from Davies or a digression about the modern Olympic movement.4 More effort could be devoted, for example, to the short index, where neither "Elite" nor "Luxuskeramik" earns an entry; to engagement with some of the important literature on ceramics and society; and to integrating theoretical observations with reading of images.

Yet this is an important book, and for more reasons than one, it cannot be put down lightly. Filser has an argument to make, and he does so, boldly and clearly. He has presented the evidence in a transparent and generous manner so that others may quibble, disagree, or applaud. Just about every topic related to elite engagement in symposia, athletics, and horsemanship finds a place here. Many scholars will find good reason to dip into this book, and all will learn something valuable about Athenian ceramics. ​


1.   Vickers, M. and D. Gill. 1994. Artful Crafts: Ancient Greek Silverware and Pottery. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
2.   E.g. Ober, J. 1989. Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens: Rhetoric, Ideology, and the Power of the People. Princeton: Princeton University Press; Kurke, L. 1991. The Traffic in Praise: Pindar and the Poetics of Social Economy. Ithaca: Cornell University Press; Morris, I. 2000. Archaeology as Cultural History: Words and Things in Iron Age Greece. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell; Neer, R.T. 2002. Style and Politics in Athenian Vase-Painting: The Craft of Democracy, ca. 530-460 B.C.E. New York: Cambridge University Press.
3.   Lynch, K.M. 2011. The Symposium in Context: Pottery from a Late Archaic House near the Athenian Agora. Princeton: The American School of Classical Studies at Athens; Cahill, N.D. 2002. Household and City Organization at Olynthus. New Haven: Yale University Press.
4.   Davies, J.K. 1971. Athenian Propertied Families, 600-300 B.C. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

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Sunday, February 25, 2018


Catherine M. Keesling, Early Greek Portraiture: Monuments and Histories. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. Pp. xvii, 309. ISBN 9781107162235. $99.99.

Reviewed by Janet Burnett Grossman, Spokane (janet_grossman@yahoo.com)

Version at BMCR home site


The fresh and original perspectives offered by Catherine Keesling in this book on the genesis and development of Greek portraiture from its beginnings up to the early Hellenistic period have had a 15-year gestation period.1 In 2002 she accepted an invitation from Peter Schultz and Ralf von den Hoff to take part in a conference on early Hellenistic portraiture held at the DAI Athens.2 That was the beginning of a focus by Keesling specifically on portraiture, although it was a natural extension of her previous work on honorific statuary.3

Keesling begins her investigation with a question, why portraits? That is, what were the motivating factors that led Greeks in the Archaic period to commission and erect honorific portraits of mortals? Assuming that any representation of a historical personage, regardless of style or appearance, can be regarded as a portrait, then their first appearance begins in early Greek culture, which is defined by the author as ca. 600-323 B.C. During this period, as Keesling, and others before her have noted, portraits of historical figures are frequently indistinguishable from images of gods and heroes. Keesling identifies a key transitional moment at the end of the fifth century when the emergence of honorific portrait statues became a genre distinct from divine images in the context of a broader documentary culture in Greece. As monuments became proofs supporting historical narratives, portraits became historical documents alongside literary and epigraphical works. In this early period, a naturalistic rendering of an individual was not the aim of a portrait, rather the intention was to obscure the divisions between images of mortals, gods, and heroes. Mortals proved their worthiness to receive commemoration by sharing space in the sanctuaries, where most were erected, with statues of gods and heroes.

Chapter 1 explains the origins of honorific portraits and places them in the context of a broader documentary culture in the Greek world between ca. 430 and ca. 380 B.C. Observing the synchronicity in this time period of the production of honorific portraits with the documentation of historical events in literary texts and inscriptions leads Keesling to theorize that these changes were but a manifestation of a broad documentary revolution at the end of the fifth century B.C.

Chapter 2 offers a new approach to the historic problem of studying portraits of Greeks of the Archaic and Classical periods, since most are known from marble copies produced in the Roman period, literary references, or inscribed statue bases. Rather than following subject categories used by previous scholars to organize the material 4, Keesling utilizes the Greek concept of arete as defined in texts of Herodotus, Thucydides, and Plato as well as in inscriptions to demonstrate that what constituted arete had a broad meaning that is relevant to the origin of portraiture. An expansive use of the term resulted in its being applied to poets, priests and priestesses, individuals saved by the gods, and sophists, along with the traditional exemplars of arete such as athletic victors, warriors, generals and kings. And, indeed, portraits of poets, priests, priestesses, and sophists began to be erected in sanctuaries along with those of athletic victors, warriors, generals and kings.

Chapter 3 examines the context and placement of portraits in sanctuaries. Keesling provides a series of local histories of portraiture at Olympia, Delphi, the Samian Heraion, the Athenian Acropolis, the sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidauros, and the sanctuary of Athena Lindia at Lindos on Rhodes. It appears that portraits of mortals were placed to connect them with particular divinities and monuments dedicated to them. Particularly valuable to Keesling's argument is the inclusion of plans of the sanctuaries at Olympia and Delphi with portraits discussed in the text highlighted (figs. 23 and 26, respectively). The typical subjects of portraits commonly erected in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. in these sanctuaries were inspired by the character, biography, or deliverance by the gods with whom they were then associated.

Chapter 4 examines retrospective portraits created during the late Classical period in a number of places including Athens, Argos, Delphi, Plataia, Troizen, and Samos. Retrospective portraits of Archaic poets and of figures associated with the Persian Wars, such as Themistokles, had a symbiotic relationship with Archaic and Classical literature. They either reinforced or subtly challenged the testimony of canonical texts such as Herodotus' Histories. Some portraits seem to have been erected to erase, or at least lessen, the role of certain individuals in historic events. On Samos, for example, a portrait dated ca. 300 of the fifth-century naval commander Maiandrios, was erected to retrospectively enhance the role that the Samians played in the Greek victory over the Persians at the mouth of the Eurymedon river, thereby lessening the effect of Kimon and the Athenians. Keesling demonstrates with her selected case studies in the sites above that the erection of a retrospective portrait in a particular location was frequently for the benefit of local concerns.

The afterlives of early Greek portraits during the late Hellenistic (ca. 150-30 B.C.) and early Roman imperial (ca. 30 B.C.- A.D. 68) periods is the subject of the final chapter. Again, Keesling examines the evidence at a number of sites including Samos, Olympia, Delphi, Epidauros, Oropos, and Athens. Keesling focuses on the practice during those periods of inscribing the names of new individuals over earlier names on the bases supporting older portraits, which still remained in original contexts. Although portrait reinscription in Roman Greece was condemned by ancient writers, Keesling interprets it as a positive practice, which made a visual analogy between Greek of earlier periods and contemporary Roman rulers and Greek benefactors, thereby continuing the documentary function of Early Greek portraits even when the identities of their subjects were no longer recognized or even relevant.

Keesling's text is supported by meticulous and detailed footnotes as well as a generous inclusion of illustrations. Two tables and two appendices are extremely useful for anyone wishing to engage in the study of Greek portraiture. One table lists all portraits cited by Herodotus, the other lists literary sources citing the removal of specific statues from Greek sanctuaries in Athens, Delphi, Epidauros, and Olympia and on Delos and Samos ca. 88 B.C. to A.D. 68. Appendix 1 lists portrait statues at Olympia, ca. 600-300 B.C. Appendix 2 lists portrait statues at Delphi, ca. 600-300 B.C.

A minor issue for this reviewer is the title of the book and the use of "Early Greek" to discuss objects created during the Classical and Late Classical periods. Typically "Early Greek" has been used by scholars for works produced down to the end of the Archaic period, or 480 B.C.5 There is no discussion in the text as to the decision to use "Early Greek" to designate the period ca. 600-323 B.C.

Keesling's book is significant, a masterful exploitation of every scrap of evidence for portrait sculpture in the Greek world from the sixth to the fourth centuries B.C. Keesling has scoured contemporary literary texts, combed corpora of epigraphical monuments, tramped the ground of multiple sacred sanctuaries, and examined stone blocks that formed the bases supporting portraits to prove that civic honorific portraits emerged as a sculptural type at the end of the fifth century B.C. It is a book that is now an essential reference for future studies on Greek portraiture.


1.   Keesling's book, however, is appearing at an opportune time with interest in Greek portraiture demonstrated by related publications. For example, R. von den Hoff, F. Queyrel and E. Perrin-Saminadayar, eds. Eikones: portraits en context: recherches nouvelles sur les portraits grecs du Ve au Ier s. av. J.-C., Venosa, 2016, and an exhibition on portraiture at the Munich Glyptothek July 12, 2017 – January 14, 2018, with a related catalogue, F.S. Knauss and C. Gliwitzky, eds. Charakterköpfe: Griechen und Römer im Porträt, Munich, 2017.
2.   The conference papers published in 2007, P. Schultz and R. von den Hoff, Early Hellenistic Portraiture: Image, Style, Cambridge. Keesling's paper is "Early Hellenistic Portrait Statues in Athens: Survival, Reuse, Transformation," pp. 141-160.
3.   C. M. Keesling, The Votive Statues of the Athenian Acropolis, Cambridge, 2003.
4.   For example, G. M.A. Richter, abridged and revised by R.R.R. Smith, The Portraits of the Greeks, Ithaca, 1984.
5.   For example, J.M. Hurwit, The Art and Culture of Early Greece, 1100-480 B.C., Ithaca, 1987.

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