Friday, March 16, 2018


David D. Butorac, Danielle A. Layne (ed.), Proclus and his Legacy. Millenium-Studien / Millennium studies, 65. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2017. Pp. x, 456. ISBN 9783110466997. $168.00.

Reviewed by Lloyd P. Gerson, University of Toronto (

Version at BMCR home site

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

Recent work on Proclus (412-485 C.E.) makes increasingly evident the centrality of his role in the history of philosophy. In this regard, mention should be made especially of recent work, including Radek Chlup's monograph Proclus. An Introduction (Cambridge, 2012), Interpreting Proclus. From Antiquity to the Renaissance, edited by Stephen Gersh (Cambridge, 2014), and All From One. A Guide to Proclus, edited by Pieter d'Hoine and Marije Martijn (Oxford, 2017). There are also new editions of Proclus' Commentary on Plato's Parmenides and a new translation (for the first time in English) of his massive and extremely important Commentary on Plato's Timaeus, and in the offing of his sadly neglected Commentary on Plato's Republic. Revealed in all these works, along with a steady stream of articles, is Proclus as the last great consolidator of ancient Platonism and its "face" as philosophy shifted into a Christian, and later Islamic, context. If, as Proclus himself thought, Plotinus was the greatest expositor of the Platonic revelation, Proclus was the supreme systematizer of that revelation. It was through Proclus and definitely not through Plotinus that the principal philosophical school of antiquity was "received." It was Proclus, above all others, whose systematic expression of Platonism was found to be most apt for theological re-purposing.

The present collection of essays, immense in scope, and the fruit of a conference in Istanbul in 2012 celebrating the 1600th anniversary of the birth of Proclus, gives us a taste of exactly how broad the influence of Proclus was. I cannot here in my allotted space even begin to articulate all the issues and arguments in the essays covering more than a thousand years of philosophy in multiple countries and languages. And I am certainly not competent to render a judgment on most of the sometimes bold interpretations offered, especially regarding authors who are barely more than names to me. I shall rather pick out a few central themes, adumbrated in several articles, and mention what seem to me to be some exciting new lines of investigation.

When Proclus was teaching and writing in Athens in the middle of the 5th century C.E., it was already evident that pagan Platonism was waning and soon would be swallowed up by Christianity. The first division of this book sets the context for the major encounters of thinkers within the Abrahamic tradition and the Platonism of Proclus. Since the collection is primarily focused on the reception of Proclus, only various elements of that system are directly treated, including bodies, time, and the nature of knowledge. I found particularly stimulating the essays by Tarrant, Ramelli, and Luz, and for similar reasons. Tarrant traces the gradual displacement of Plato's Parmenides by his Timaeus among the students of Proclus (both pagan and Christian) as the central Platonic theological work. Proclus himself, guided by his teacher Syrianus, thought it was the former dialogue which contained the theological secrets of Plato. The crucial underlying motive for the shift in emphasis was, of course, that an impersonal "One" as found in Parmenides did not resonate for those steeped in the tradition of a personal deity as did the Demiurge of Timaeus. In Ramelli's essay, she compares the Christian idea of apokatastasis ("restoration") as found in Origen and others with the Procline idea of epistrophē ("reversion"). The idea of reversion along with the ideas of monē ("remaining") and proodos ("procession"), make an interlocking triad, constituting the central dynamic principle of the Platonic architectonic. What sets the Christian idea of restoration as a final reconciliation with God apart is the essential linearity of the Christian vision. By contrast, the Platonic dynamic is eternal or at least everlasting. Ramelli gives us a rich array of texts enabling us to see how the transformation is made. And the essay by Luz recounts what is apparently the lone conversion from an Abrahamic religion to paganism, that of Proclus' biographer and student, Marinus, who was a Samaritan, but found his native religion too lax for his taste. Luz reminds us that in the encounter of Hellenism and Christianity, the appropriation was not entirely one-sided.

The second division of the collection is devoted to Ps.-Dionysius (c. 500 C.E.) and later Eastern Christian encounters with Proclus. In all likelihood, Ps.-Dionysius was a Christian pupil of Proclus. He is today, despite the undeniable falsity of the claim that he was the first convert of the Apostle Paul, still a saint in the Orthodox Church. The Corpus Areopagiticum is a remarkably rich collection of treatises that appear to take Procline metaphysics as providing the philosophical architecture for a Christian edifice. Lankila constructs a tantalizing, though not persuasive, argument to the effect that in fact the treatises may be a pagan attempt to conceal Proclus inside a Christian cloak in order that his metaphysics would not be lost. Mainoldi's paper focuses on the central problem: how to assimilate the Neoplatonic first principle of all, the absolutely simple One, to a scripturally based conception of God. He argues that one of the main moves made by Ps.-Dionysius is to assimilate Proclus' henads to properties of the divinity of scripture. The implicit response to the postulating of an impersonal first principle of all is a kind of tu quoque addressed to Proclus, who locates multiple divinities above the level of composite being. Mainoldi adds that it is probably Damascius, the last scholarch of the Platonic Academy, who is the specific target of Ps.-Dionysius' Christianized metaphysics because it is Damascius' radical apophaticism in regard to the first principle of all that Ps.-Dionysius is most keen to counter. A paper by Robinson on a philosopher hitherto unknown to me, Nicholas of Methone (mid-12th century), recounts his Christian objections to Ps.-Dionysius. The principal objection is that Ps.-Dionysius' effort to retain the radical simplicity of the first principle of all is in direct contradiction to the doctrine of the Trinity. A second related objection is that Ps.-Dionysius retains a Procline account of emanation from the first principle rather than an authentic Christian account of creation. The paper shows in fine-grained detail the struggle of Nicholas to amalgamate philosophy and theology.

The last division of the book includes material covering Arabic, Jewish, Renaissance, and Elizabethan "receptors" of Proclus. The paper by Riggs explores the Arabic book known by its Latin translation, Liber de Causis, a sort of epitome of Proclus' Elements of Theology. The aim of the epitome was evidently to Islamicize Proclus analogously to the way that Ps.-Dionysius aimed to Christianize him. In the case of the Liber de Causis this is done not so much by providing scripturally sanctioned analogues for Procline principles—angels for henads, say—but rather by reconsidering the philosophical basis for the non-sanctioned Procline conclusions. For example, henads are eliminated altogether. Riggs helpfully engages with this dispute at a philosophical level, arguing that the purpose of henads was to account for individuation, whereas the Liber has lost the ability to do this. What might otherwise be taken as a defect in the plan of the Liber is turned into a strength by Al-Fārābī who argues for the unity of all intellects in separation from the body. One of the most consequential of Proclus' doctrines for those trying to graft him onto a scriptural body was that of the eternity of the world. More exactly, the arguments Proclus provided were for the everlastingness of the sensible world as a product of the divine eternal or atemporal universe. John Philoponus (c. 490-570) wrote a lengthy treatise, De aeternitate mundi contra Proclum, arguing for temporal creation by God. This debate was taken up by Islamic, Jewish, and Christian philosophers. The debate has a scope much broader than that of the question of whether the cosmos had a temporal beginning or not. It concerns the nature of divinity, being, modality, and the relative autonomy of the sciences. There are two interesting papers here on Al-Šharistānī (c. 1120-1188), who wrote a book, The Sophisms of Proclus on the Eternity of the World. The paper by Chase clearly sets forth the argumentative strategy of Šharistānī, which is to show that, without creation in time, the unique dominance of God is lost. Chase provides a clear and concise history of Timaeus interpretation about divine production of the cosmos, leading to the conclusion that a pivotal role was played by Porphyry in its transmission, which he then traces on through Proclus, Philoponus, and the rather obscure path to Šharistānī, whose arguments were evidently of great influence in later Islamic thought. The companion paper minutely examines relevant passages in the works of Šharistānī and shows that they are derived from the work of Philoponus whose influence both on Muslim theologians and philosophers was immense. Finally, I mention the paper by Steiris which considers the writings of the learned prodigy Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494), the preeminent "harmonizer" of the Renaissance. Not only did he aim to show that Aristotle's philosophy was in harmony with that of Plato, but that Platonism —especially the Platonism of Proclus—was compatible with Christianity and, indeed, that all the major philosophical and theological traditions were in harmony. This included the doctrine of the eternity of the world and the omnipotence of God. As Steiris shows, this was a task that Pico, despite his praeternatural learning, was not quite up to.

On balance, there is something in this volume for anyone with more than a passing interest in Proclus and the connection between the ancient philosophical period and its successors. I would add that contemporary Platonism, whether theological or non-theological, as is found, say, in the philosophy of mathematics, can only be enriched by realizing that Platonism is more than what we find in Plato's dialogues and that Proclus' contribution cannot be safely ignored.

Authors and titles

John Dillon, David Butorac, Danielle A. Layne, Introduction

I. Proclus in Context: Background, Relevance and System
Stephen Gersh, Proclus in the History of Philosophy: Construction and Deconstruction
Harold Tarrant, Forgetting Procline Theology: the Alexandrian Story
Dimitrios A. Vasilakis, Platonic Eros, Moral Egoism, and Proclus
Danielle A. Layne, The Platonic Hero
Helen S. Lang, The Status of Body in Proclus
Antonio Vargas, Proclus on Time and the Units of Time
Ilaria Ramelli, Proclus and Apokatastasis
David D. Butorac, Proclus' Aporetic Epistemology
Edward Watts, The Lycians are Coming: The Career of Patricius, the Father of Proclus
Menahem Luz, Marinus' Abrahamic Notions of the Soul and the One

II. Ps.-Dionysius, Byzantium and the Christian Inheritance of Proclus
Rebecca Coughlin, Spiritual Motion and the Incarnation in the Divine Names of Dionysius the Areopagite
Tuomo Lankika, A Crypto-Pagan Reading of the Figure of Hierotheus and the "Dormition" Passage in the Corpus Areopagiticum
Ben Schomakers, An Unknown Elements of Theology? On Proclus as the Model for the Hierotheos in the Dionysian Corpus
Ernesto Sergio Mainoldi, The Transfiguration of Proclus' Legacy: Pseudo-Dionysius and the Late Neoplatonic School of Athens
Sarah Klitenic Wear, Pseudo-Dionysius and Proclus on Parmenides 137d: On Parts and Wholes
Frederick Lauritzen, The Renaissance of Proclus in the Eleventh Century
Levan Gigineishvili, Proclus as a Biblical Exegete: Bible and its Platonic Interpretation in Ioane Petritsi's Commentaries
Joshua M. Robinson, Dionysius Against Proclus: The Apophatic Critique in Nicholas of Methone's Refutation of the Elements of Theology
Elias Tempelis and Christos Terezis, The Presence of Proclus in George Pachymeres' Paraphrase of Ps.-Dionysius' De Divinis Nominibus

III. Proclus in Arabic Philosophy and Early Modernity
Tim Riggs, On the absence of the Henads in the Liber de Causis: Some Consequences for Procline Subjectivity
Theodora Zampaki, Ibn al-Tayyib's Istithmār on Proclus' Commentary on the Pythagorean Golden Verses
Michael Chase, Al-Šahrastānī on Proclus
Elias Giannakis, Proclus' Argument on the Eternity of the World in al-Šhahrastānī's Works
Georgios Steiris, Proclus as a Source for Giovanni Pico della Mirandola's Arguments Emanatio and Creatio Ex Nihilo
Torrance Kirby, Aeternall Lawe: Richard Hooker's Neoplatonic Account of Law and Causality
Y.Tzvi Langermann, Proclus Revenant: The (Re-)Integration of Proclus into the Creationism-Eternalism Debate in Joseph Solomon Demedigo's (1591-1655) Novelet Hokhma
Marie-Élise Zovko, Understanding the Geometric Method: Prolegomena to a Study of Procline Influences in Spinoza as Mediated Through Abraham Cohen Herrera
(read complete article)


Giovanna De Sensi Sestito, Maria Intrieri (ed.), Sulle sponde dello Ionio: Grecia occidentale e Greci d'Occidente. Diabaseis, 6. Pisa: Edizioni ETS, 2016. Pp. xiii, 518. ISBN 9788846746221. €48.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Paolo Daniele Scirpo, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Inserito nella collana DIABASEIS, diretta da Claudia Antonetti e pubblicata dalle Edizioni ETS di Pisa, esce il sesto volume che contiene gli Atti del Convegno internazionale svoltosi presso l'università della Calabria, dal 2 al 4 dicembre 2013, curati da Giovanna De Sensi Sestito e da Maria Intrieri. Quale "la tappa conclusiva delle attività di ricerca svolte dalle unità operative delle cinque università italiane (Ca' Foscari di Venezia, della Calabria, "Federico II" di Napoli, di Parma e "La Sapienza" di Roma) coinvolte nel progetto Sulle sponde dello Ionio: Grecia occidentale e Greci d'Occidente finanziato dal MIUR nell'ambito del PRIN 2009, il volume si divide in 6 parti non omogenee che indagano alcuni aspetti particolari della storia dell'area ionica.

Dopo l'Introduzione a nome delle curatrici (pp. IX-X), la prima di loro traccia un bilancio del progetto di rilevante interesse nazionale (PRIN) del 2007 dal titolo "La terza Grecia e l'Occidente" e della sua evoluzione sviluppati nel successivo PRIN del 2009 che ha allargato gli orizzonti di ricerca sia dal punto di vista diacronico sia da quello geografico. I risultati, tanti e forieri di nuovi interrogativi, sono esposti nelle pubblicazioni seguite agli incontri organizzati dalle Università coinvolte, e comprese nella collana DIABASEIS (pp. 1-5).

Cinzia Bearzot riflette sul multiforme ruolo del mar Ionio nella storia ellenica (pp. 7-27): da un lato corridoio utilissimo ed indispensabile di collegamento fra Occidente e Oriente fin dall'età arcaica, dall'altro vero e proprio confine (horos) "onorevole" fra le sfere d'influenze siracusana ed ateniese, come si evince, a detta di Tucidide, dalle parole accorate e provocatorie di Ermocrate pronunciate in occasione della pace di Gela (424 a.C.) e ribadite non senza timore reverenziale da Nicia alla vigilia della spedizione ateniese in Sicilia (415 a.C.).

Catherine Morgan pone in evidenza come un'area ristretta e particolare comprendente le isole Ionie centrali e l'antistante costa acarnana, in virtù della sua posizione, fu spesso costretta a bilanciare gli interessi locali a volte in conflitto con le richieste imposte da alleati politici, con quelli più grandi di poteri esterni (pp. 29-47).

Simon Hornblower propone di ridatare al II secolo a.C. l'Alexandra, poema d'età ellenistica, attribuito al tragediografo Licofrone di Calcide, sulla base di un piccolo particolare della profezia che la protagonista Cassandra fa a Diomede: la citazione fra i discendenti di origine etolica dell'eroi dei Dasii, genos appartenente all'élite di Argyrippa/Arpi, in obliquo riferimento al loro ruolo svolto durante la seconda guerra punica contro Roma alla fine del III secolo a.C. (pp. 49-66).

Tratto dalla sua tesi di dottorato,1 il contributo di Giulia Biffis propone di riconoscere un collegamento fra Cassandra, voce narrante del poema di Licofrone e le Sirene delle quali il poeta descrive il suicidio. Figure femminili relegate ai margini della società greca per la loro scelta di rimanere vergini e quale tratto in comune, il fascino e l'incomprensibilità del loro canto, esse risultano sconfitte così come il valore della poesia (pp. 67-78).

Luisa Breglia porta argomenti per convalidare l'affermazione di Clemente Alessandrino, secondo cui il poeta Eugamon di Cirene, collocabile cronologicamente alla prima metà del VI secolo a.C., avrebbe copiato e rimaneggiato un'opera epica precedente, la Thesprotis di Museo, dal chiaro contenuto orfico. Nella sua Telegonia infatti, le vicende di Odisseo sono narrate allo scopo manifesto di legare la casata regnante dei Battiadi al re di Itaca (pp. 81-112).

Sebbene nella sua opera Genealogie, giuntaci frammentaria, Acusilao di Argo sembri non fare riferimenti concreti all'orizzonte occidentale, Ornella Salati propone di intravedere un accenno in due frammenti dedicati rispettivamente alle Graie ed alle Arpie. Entrambi i gruppi sono dal poeta argivo collocati nell'occidente "mitico", vago ed indeterminato di chiara ispirazione esiodea (pp. 113-135).

Riprendendo le conclusioni della sua tesi di dottorato discussa a Napoli,2 Florinda Guadagno sostiene che Erodoro di Eraclea pontica, mitografo di V secolo a.C., fosse incline ad accettare le interpretazioni filosofiche dei miti, dei quali in ogni caso preservava, come si evince dai frammenti rimasti della sua opera, dei tratti antichissimi, quali ad esempio la localizzazione in Oriente dell'ingresso dell'Ade, e la presenza di Atlante in Frigia, collegando così la patria alla saga di Eracle (pp. 137-166).

In una lunga disamina delle fonti, Maria Luisa Napolitano mette in evidenza gli influssi dovuti alle vicende della turbolente area sibarita nella mitopoiesi di Filottete. Eroe acheo, ma legato all'ambiente dorico, tramite Eracle, fu simbolo del tentativo di rinascita politica di Sibari all'indomani della sua distruzione (510 a.C.) ad opera di Crotone. Non mancano però prospettive anche successive come quella lucana-brettia di Petelia e campana (pp. 167-238).

La seconda parte del volume si apre col contributo di Maria Intrieri sugli aspetti dell'ordinamento sociale corcirese (pp. 241-270). Col passare dei secoli e a causa della posizione geografica dell'isola, l'antico ordinamento aristocratico della colonia corinzia mutò in senso timocratico, permettendo così ad un'ampia fascia della popolazione di partecipare in parte al governo civico. Le lotte intestine che caratterizzarono la storia dell'isola durante il V secolo a.C. furono frutto di questa polarizzazione degli schieramenti a favore dell'una o dell'altra contendente durante la guerra del Peloponneso.

Lo studio di due proverbi antichi (il "bronzo dodoneo" e il "bue molosso"), il cui ricordo è tramandato dalle raccolte paremiografiche, permette ad Adele D'Alessandro di fare alcune interessanti osservazioni sui culti e sulle tradizioni dei Molossi (pp. 271-285).

Dopo un attento esame delle diverse e intricate testimonianze storiche sulla campagna di Pirro in Occidente, Giovanna De Sensi Sestito ritiene che si debba attribuire ai rappresentanti della prima annalistica romana la sovrapposizione del racconto timaico degli avvenimenti con una serie di duplicazioni ed alterazioni storiche (riguardanti assedi, stragi e conquiste delle morenti poleis, che facevano parte della Lega Italiota ed interessate dal conflitto). Gli annalisti presero consapevolezza di come la guerra contro l'Epirota fosse un antefatto e modello del conflitto contro Annibale di cui loro stessi furono testimoni oculari. (pp. 287-335).

Stefania De Vido riflette sulla figura affascinante e controversa di Agatocle3 che, proclamatosi basileus nel 306 a.C., fu ritratto dalle fonti storiche accanto a Dionisio I come esempio di tiranno baciato dalla Fortuna ed abile a scalare il potere partendo da una condizione sociale umile. La mancanza di Virtù (altro caposaldo imprescindibile nella figura ideale dell'optimus rex di età ellenistica) fu la causa della sua rovina e del crollo del suo regime alla sua morte (pp. 339- 354).

Silvia Palazzo sottolinea l'abilità di Mitridate VI a diffondere la sua immagine di basileus ellenistico, enfatizzando nella sua propaganda – echi della quale si ritrovano anche nelle fonti romane – oltre le sue origini iraniche anche i legami di sangue con la dinastia seleucide ed, indirettamente, con lo stesso Alessandro (pp. 355-370).

Nel quadro tracciato da Nicola Reggiani sul processo diacronico di formazione delle democrazie, preso in esame da Aristotele, l'immagine resa delle colonie corinzie di Epiro e Illiria appare sbiadita perché contraddistinta solo dal carattere coloniale e dal passaggio graduale a forme più moderate di democrazia (pp. 373-385).

L'interessante contributo di Luca Iori analizza la traduzione inglese delle Storie di Tucidide, risalente al 1628/9, ad opera del filosofo inglese Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679); egli inoltre tracciò, sulla base della carta geografica di Mercator e dei passi autorevoli degli storici antichi, una mappa della Grecia all'epoca della Guerra peloponnesiaca (pp. 387-406).

Sintetizzando i risultati della ricerca epigrafica condotta dalla sue equipe in area magnogreca, Maria Letizia Lazzarini propone di datare ad età arcaica la famosa iscrizione di Sibari che stipulò un trattato con la popolazione enotria dei Serdaioi, d'identificare nel damiourgos una carica eponima di Crotone e delle sue colonie (denominazione mutata nel corso del III secolo a.C. in hieros) e di riconoscere, nelle sigle accanto ai nomi propri in iscrizioni achee, denominazioni di unità a carattere gentilizio piuttosto che demotici (pp. 409-417).

Sulla scia dei suoi precedenti lavori,4 Michela Nocita mette in evidenza la presenza dei Tarantini nel bacino orientale del Mediterraneo dal VI secolo a.C. al I secolo d.C., soprattutto nell'ambito degli agoni panellenici (Olimpia e Delfi su tutti) e locali (Beozia) (pp. 419-440).

Il recente ritrovamento di un frammento di piede di pisside corinzia, con incisa una dedica in metrica eolica alle Muse, fa propendere Giulio Vallarino per la presenza di un santuario di queste divinità accanto a quello principale di Athena sull'acropoli dell'antica Satyrion a pochi km da Taranto, su modello del pantheon spartano (pp. 441-451).

Grazie all'attenta revisione di tutti i dati epigrafici sui bolli d'anfore rinvenuti a Reggio, Lucia D'Amore ricostruisce a grandi linee i rapporti commerciali che la polis dello stretto intrattenne con la Sicilia (soprattutto Siracusa), Rodi e con l'antistante area ionica tra il III ed il II secolo a.C. (pp. 453-467).

Nelle note conclusive del convegno, Athanasios Rizakis pone l'accento sull'importanza dello studio interdisciplinare (ed interregionale) dei rapporti fra le due sponde dell'Ionio, rimarcandone così l'apporto indispensabile nella migliore comprensione del fenomeno storico della colonizzazione greca in Italia (pp. 471-478).

In una veste tipografica più che dignitosa, eccezion fatta per qualche immagine di pessima qualità, il libro sarà apprezzato ed ampiamente utilizzato dagli studiosi che si occupano dell'area ionica nel periodo in cui il Mar Ionio era solo e soltanto un mare greco interno.

Table of Contents

Giovanna De Sensi Sestito, Maria Intrieri, Introduzione, IX
Indice, XI
Giovanna De Sensi Sestito, Percorsi di ricerca sullo spazio ionico: dal PRIN 2007 al PRIN 2009, 1
Cinzia Bearzot, Lo "spazio ionico" nelle relazioni internazionali greche: dagli antichi ai moderni, 7
Catherine Morgan, A closed sea? Archaeological evidence for mobility in the central Ionian islands, 29
Simon Hornblower, Lycophron and the daunian descendants of Diomedes, 49
Giulia Biffis, Sirene in Licofrone, tra culto e concettualizzazione, 67
L'immaginario mitico fra Oriente e Occidente
Luisa Breglia, L'immaginario mitico della Telegonia di Eugamon di Cirene, 81
Ornella Salati, Graie, Arpie ed esperidi in Acusilao di Argo, 113
Florinda Guadagno, L'Ade e Atlante a Oriente in Erodoto di Eraclea Pontica, 137
Maria Luisa Napolitano, Nel segno di Eracle: Filottete e l'arco in Occidente, 167
Corcira, l'Epiro, Pirro e la Magna Grecia
Maria Intrieri, Aspetti dell'ordinamento sociale corcirese, 241
Adele D'Alessandro, Il "bronzo dodoneo" e il "bue molosso". Osservazioni paremiografiche riguardanti l'Epiro, 271
Giovanna De Sensi Sestito, Pirro e le città italiote, 287
Basileia: paradigmi di frontiera
Stefania De Vido, Immagini di re e paradigmi di regalità. L'esempio dell'ultimo Agatocle, 339
Silvia Palazzo, Immagini di re e paradigmi di regalità. Mitridate, Basileus tra Asia ed Europa, 355
La Grecia nord-occidentale: politica e geografia
Nicola Reggiani, Le poleis nord-occidentali nella Politica di Aristotele, 373
Luca Iori, La Grecia occidentale nella geografia storica del secolo XVII. Thomas Hobbes e gli Eight Books of the Peloponnesian War, 387
La Magna Grecia e il Mediterraneo
Maria Letizia Lazzarini, Aspetti politico-culturali delle colonie achee: la documentazione epigrafica, 409
Michela Nocita, I Tarantini nel Mediterraneo, 419
Giulio Vallarino, Muse a Saturo. Nuovi dati su un culto delle Muse in area tarantina, 441
Lucia D'Amore, Scambi commerciali tra Egeo e Ionio in età ellenistica: l'Instrumentum, 453
Athanasios D. Rizakis, Notes de conclusion, 471
Indici, a cura di Ida Infusino, 479
Abstracts, 505


1.   G. Biffis, Cassandra and the female perspective in Lycophron's Alexandra, Diss., University College London, 2012.
2.   F. Guadagno, Studi su Erodoro di Eraclea Pontica, tesi di dottorato, XXVI ciclo, 2014.
3.   Sulla figura del basileus, cfr. Agatocle, re di Sicilia. Nel 2300° anniversario della morte. Atti del convegno (Siracusa, 14-15/10/2011) [ArchStorSir, XLVI, 2011], Siracusa, 2013.
4.   M. Nocita, Italiotai e Italikoi. Le testimonianze greche nel Mediterraneo orientale [Hesperìa, 28], Roma, 2013. Eadem, Le dediche degli Italiotai di Delo alle divinità orientali, in F. Raviola – M. Bassani – A. Debiasi – E. Pastorio (a.c.d.), L'indagine e la rima. Scritti per Lorenzo Braccesi [Hesperìa, 30], Roma, 2013, pp. 363-372. Sulla presenza di offerte dei Magnogreci nel santuario di Delfi, cfr. inoltre M.E. Cavaliere, Dediche di Occidentali nel santuario di Apollo a Delfi (VI-IV a.C.) [BAR International Series 2479], Oxford, 2013.

(read complete article)


M. G. L. Cooley (ed.), Sparta. LACTOR, 21. London: The London Association of Classical Teachers, 2017. Pp. 309. ISBN 9780903625401. $25.00 (pb).

Reviewed by James Lloyd, Reading University (

Version at BMCR home site

Publisher's Preview

This volume is the twenty-first in the LACTOR series, known to students and teachers as focused source-books on the ancient world. From their website, the volume is described as "invaluable for school and university teaching of ancient Sparta." I would agree wholeheartedly with this statement: the volume is groundbreaking, without doubt a milestone in Spartan studies, and I will certainly be using it for my own teaching.

Several authors contributed to the volume. Brian Wilson translated the passages of Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon Const. Lac., and Plutarch Lycurg. Ken Hughes translated Tyrtaeus, Alcman and Aristophanes, with Terence Edwards translating 'a good deal' (3) of Plutarch, and Andrew Harker some of passages of Xenophon. M. Cooley translated the rest.

The book includes 18 illustrations, 7 maps, 5 tables, a timeline (c.650-360 BCE), a useful list of abbreviations, and a helpful glossary of words (from agathoergoi to xenos) in addition to a select (English) bibliography, concordance of passages (literary and epigraphic), and three separate indexes (people; places and peoples; themes).

The illustrations are generally useful, if quite small, and, the maps are all clear. The tables are particularly helpful. The timeline could have been expanded; it only contains core details (the reigns of the Agiad and Eurypontid kings, events in Spartan history, and authors), and therefore leaves out at least one important date, the regency of Pausanias.

Three short introductions precede the sources: one on the literary sources (it is not clear who authored it); Stephen Hodkinson on the epigraphy of Lakonia and Messenia; and William Cavanagh on Lakonian archaeology. These introductions are succinct and provide very good orientation. Further, Hodkinson and Cavanagh are not shy of informing students about the difficulties of interpreting epigraphic and archaeological material as it relates to Sparta. Cavanagh concludes that "uncertainties make the study of archaeology both frustrating and stimulating – this section, perhaps more than any other in this book, will certainly need to be rewritten in the future" (23).

Where the volume also excels is in its inclusion of a rich selection of epigraphic sources (c.100), many of which would otherwise have likely remained inaccessible to sixth-form and undergraduate students. Hodkinson's comment that "this sourcebook aims to redress [the neglected use of epigraphy in Spartan studies]" (15) is very well founded.

Generally speaking, the sources are presented rather than interpreted, though particularly important, controversial or otherwise problematic sources are accompanied with a few lines or paragraphs of contextualisation. This will hopefully encourage the inquisitiveness of sixth-form and undergraduate students alike, while ensuring that sources are not completely misinterpreted.

The sources themselves are divided into nine sections. Each source is numbered according to its place in its section, so A10 = Tyrtaeus fr. 19, and E58 = Xen. Hell. 6.5.21, for example. There is ample cross-referencing of sources throughout, which is useful since many relate to more than one section. The following is a list of the sections as printed in the contents, and a brief review of the contents of each (the title pages and page headers for sections B, G and K have different names from those given in the contents; I have marked the title page titles in brackets).

Section A is entitled "Sparta from Contemporary Spartan Poetry". It makes good sense to start the volume with the earliest surviving literature written by Spartans (adoptive or not), especially since Tyrtaeus and Alcman present such contrasting views of Spartan society. There are few places where students can read translations of Tyrtaeus and Alcman side by side; this is one of them. Section A also includes Simonides' Plataea Elegy, but it is perhaps surprising that A22 (AP 7.25) was included, a dubiously attributed Simonidean epigram for the Spartan dead at Plataea, while Simonides PMG 531, the Thermopylae lyric, is omitted.

Section B, "Historical Inscriptions relating to Sparta" ("Sparta from Mainly Spartan Sources"), brings together several epigraphic texts, many not otherwise easily found in the same place. Sources range from dedications at Olympia (B1-3) to the Spartan War Fund (B12) and a variety of relevant treaties and other inscriptions. Section B is, in effect, a very useful gathering of Spartan "public documents".

Section C, "Sparta in Religion and Religious Festivals", is divided into two parts. C1-38 cover religious dedications and C39-94 relate to games and festivals (including, in addition to Spartan festivals, the Olympic games). The sources that make up the section on religious dedications give "an impression of the range of religious worship within this area and period [Archaic and Classical]" (63). These sources are predominantly votive objects dedicated with an inscription to a specific deity. Many of the inscriptions are not easily (if at all) found in translation anywhere else. Notably, in the section on Artemis Orthia (C84-92), the sources focus on the famous whipping contests which show "the dangers of later tradition … obscuring real history" (86). This section sets a new standard for the study of Spartan religion, especially since it is very up to date, following as it does Christesen's ingenious, forthcoming reading of the Damonon stele (C83), as well as Bayliss's brilliant reading of Sosibius F5 (C75) in Brill's New Jacoby.

Section D, "Spartan Institutions in Theory", and Section E, "Spartan Institutions in Practice", form the core of the source-book and are very well structured. In them, teachers will find the bulk of the material for any course they might want to teach on Sparta in the Archaic and Classical periods. The sources are presented clearly and thoroughly. Section D is divided thematically; Section E is presented chronologically. Both sections are divided into three parts, each focusing on the same Spartan institutions, but from different perspectives. These are: the executive (the kings, the gerousia, the ephorate, and the assembly); social structure (Spartiates, Mothakes, Perioikoi, Helot ownership, Helots and Messenians); and institutions (including laws, property, Spartan women, education, the army, the navarchy, and the Peloponnesian league). Among more easily accessible sources such as Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, and Plutarch, readers will also find the Xanthus pillar (E149; a Lycian inscription from c.400 BCE that seems to record the Persia-Sparta treaty of 412/1 at Caunus); Polyaenus (E129; on Lysander's treachery at Thasos, an episode not included in Xenophon's or Plutarch's accounts of Lysander); the Xouthis inscription (E73; a bronze plaque from Tegea, c.450 BCE, which might refer to a Spartiate who is unable to deposit money at home); the Rylands Papyrus (E5; which credits Chilon and Anaxandridas with removing the tyrants Aeschines from Sikyon, and Hippias from Athens); and various authors mentioned by Athenaeus.

Section F, "The Spartan Mirage", begins with an introduction to that concept, described here as the "sum of stereotypes that came to dominate the Spartan image" (226). The section focuses on three aspects of the mirage most relevant to students: Lycurgus, Thermopylae, and the Spartan Sayings.

Section G, "Contemporary Athenian Views of Sparta" ("Some Fifth-Century Athenian Views of Sparta"), and Section H, "An Historical Overview", are very thorough, and like sections D and E will make the teaching of modules on Sparta much easier. In fact, Section H is likely to become required introductory reading on Sparta for many. Sources in Section G include an Athenian take on a Spartan song from Aristophanes, Lysistrata 1241-1321 (G7), and Pericles' summary of Spartan weaknesses from Thucydides 1.141-144 (G3). In Section H, sources start with eighth- and seventh-century Sparta and end in 362 BCE with the second battle of Mantineia.

Section K, "Sparta and Environs" ("Sparta and Lakonia"), focuses on questions of geography concerning Sparta and Lakonia, especially how Pausanias influences our understanding. There is a particularly interesting fifth-century inscription here from a stone quarry at Gytheion: "If anyone or his slave digs anything out, let him be cursed." (K6, IG 5.1.115).

This volume is a milestone in the study and teaching of ancient Sparta, and I have no doubt that it will be essential reading for any courses on the subject.

(read complete article)

Thursday, March 15, 2018


Chiara Thumiger, A History of the Mind and Mental Health in Classical Greek Medical Thought. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017. Pp. viii, 503. ISBN 9781107176010. $135.00.

Reviewed by Jessica Wright, University of Southern California (

Version at BMCR home site


This book argues that Hippocratic medicine presents mental disorders as bodily phenomena that manifest themselves in disturbance of physical features and gestures, vital functions, and sense perception. The aspects of mental life most prominent in Western psychiatry and in scholarship on the history of madness—the rational faculties, the emotions, and ethical responsibility—are de-emphasized in, if not entirely absent from, Hippocratic writings. The reason for this, Thumiger argues, is that Hippocratic authors sought to demarcate their professional territory by distancing themselves from contemporaneous philosophy and tragedy, where irrationality, emotions, and ethics are focalized. Taking the body as their lens, Hippocratic authors naturalized and neutralized mental disorder, and in so doing established a distinct professional identity. The incorporation of ethics and emotions into post-Hellenistic accounts of mental disorder, Thumiger suggests, might be explained by the more secure professional status of doctors at this later period.

Thumiger's approach draws on work in medical anthropology and cross-cultural psychiatry to challenge the hegemony of "current official Western psychiatric culture" as a source for understanding mental disorder. She suggests that the focus on bodily symptoms in Hippocratic medicine may reflect a clearer and more accurate conceptualization of mental disorder, a claim that she backs up through reference both to the prominence of the body in non-Western psychiatric cultures, and to the increasing attention to the body in current Western scholarship on cognition and mental life. Recognizing the centrality of the body in Hippocratic accounts of mental disorder contributes to a broader critique of Western psychiatric culture as unhelpfully fixated on the psyche. It also explains why Hippocratic accounts of mental disorder have seemed so impoverished and inconsistent to the modern Western reader: precise terms for irrational thoughts or depression, for example, are unnecessary within a framework that does not privilege "non-physical" experiences over bodily symptoms.

The introduction lays out a substantive historiography of mental disorder in classical antiquity, covering the past two hundred years but focusing especially on the most recent half-century. In order to cover the range of different approaches, Thumiger identifies eight categories: comprehensive cultural studies of mentalité addressing madness; the emotions; literary approaches; historical psychoanalysis; studies of insanity in ancient medical sources; disability studies; history of self and history of mind; cognitive studies. This introduction offers a valuable overview of the different fields and approaches that have contributed to the study of mental disorder in antiquity. It closes with the observation that the history of mental disorder and the history of mind "meet only later in Greek thought"; it is for this reason, she adds, that her analysis focuses on "embodied and externalised manifestations of the mental" (14). Chapter one turns, then, to the method that underlies this approach.

Chapter 1, titled "Mental Disorder and History: Methodological and General Issues," offers three central methodological insights. First, while the topos of insanity is well-developed in other classical genres (for example, comedy and tragedy), Hippocratic authors do not clearly conceptualize mental illness as a phenomenon separate from physical illness. This, Thumiger argues, must be interpreted as the intentional demarcation of professional territory.

Second, an approach to mental disorder in antiquity must find a middle path between biological, social, and psychological perspectives, a point that Thumiger draws from work in medical anthropology and cross-cultural psychiatry. Thumiger distinguishes four principles that support this middle path: (1) acknowledgement of "hard facts" about mental disorder that allow for some retrospective diagnosis, (2) prioritization of the visible body as the central focus in Hippocratic accounts of mental disorder, (3) contextualization in terms of generic conventions, literary traditions, expected audience, and social convention, and (4) recognition that the individual and subjective nature of human experience is cross-cultural.

Third, Thumiger distinguishes three aspects of the study of mental disorder: causation and prognosis (or, as she glosses it, theory of mind), notions of the good life, and manifestations of insanity. Only the last of these, Thumiger argues, appears in Hippocratic texts, which exclude even aetiology and curability from their discussion. For Hippocratic doctors, in contrast to modern Western psychiatrists, "theory and observation of pathological manifestations are ultimately different spheres, which may intersect but are determined by different epistemologies and interests" (42). The analysis that follows focuses on the physical (and mostly visible) manifestations of mental disorder, demonstrating through a systematic catalogue of examples the argument that it was through manifestations at the surface of the body that mental disorders were constituted as medical entities in Hippocratic thought.

The main body of the book is divided into two parts: 1. "The Body of the Insane" and 2. "The Mind of the Insane." By this distinction, Thumiger indicates two different perspectives on the symptoms of mental disorder: that of the physician, who gathers information from the appearance and functions of the body, and that of the patient, whose mental life (understood in terms of sensory experience, emotions, and cognitive activities) is accessible only through communication and self- report (273). Part 1 begins with a chapter dedicated to "The Body Perceived" (chapter 2), first in its parts ("the human face and its features, limbs and physical postures") and then as a whole ("voice, behaviours, gestures") (68). Rather than try to identify locations or organs of mental disorder, Thumiger maps out "gravitational centres" for mental activity (for example, the eyes), and establishes a "repertoire of signs" that appear across the medical works (172). This chapter is particularly successful in illuminating the distinctive picture of mental disorder that emerges when the surface of the body is focalised as the site of mental disturbance.

Chapter 3 ("The Vital Functions and Mental Life: Sleep, Food and Drink, Sex, Death") shifts from external perceptions of the body to its vital functions. Thumiger chooses sleep, food and drink, sex, and death because, as she explains, they generally affect sick people, are signs of mental disorders, and affect cognitive abilities (174–176). Thumiger makes a noteworthy contribution in shifting the conversation about food and mental disorder in antiquity away from retrospective diagnoses of modern eating disorders and toward an evidence-driven account of how excessive appetite and the rejection of food enter into ancient medical texts (206–213). This reader wished for a deeper analysis of sleep and drunkenness. The discussion of homosexuality was promising but abrupt, and more work is necessary to examine Thumiger's claim that Hippocratic authors offer a "value-free, cognitive description of sexual physiology and psychology," in contrast to the "normative, ethically-laden one" that appears in later medical works (264–265).

Thumiger's analysis of the role of death is the most intriguing part of this chapter. Observing that violence is a fundamental manifestation of insanity as represented in Greek drama (for example, the figures of Ajax and Heracles), Thumiger points out that aggressive behavior is almost entirely absent from Hippocratic accounts of mental disorder. She suggests that the trope of murderous insanity "rephrases the destruction of the body (or a body) that mental disturbance entails in medical texts in dramatic form" (266). Whereas medical literature foregrounds physiological disintegration, non- medical literature highlights death, violence, and fatal choices. The dramatic markers of insanity, while absent from medical texts, reflect the embodied character of mental disorder as it appears in the Hippocratic material: "Insanity," Thumiger concludes, "is not a phenomenon that occurs inside a person, within an internalised mind, but a matter of visible acts that ultimately destroy the body" (272).

Part 2 begins with a chapter titled "Sensory Perception and Its Impairments" (chapter 4). Thumiger opens by returning to the methodological concerns addressed in chapter 1, emphasizing the need to find a balance between "anthropological particularism" (senses as cultural history) and "biological universals" (sense experience as "recognisable biological facts") (278). Following a brief survey of "general remarks on the senses and their physiology" (279–282), she examines each of the senses in turn, paying most attention to vision, hearing, and touch. Since, on Thumiger's reading, the physician can only know a patient's sensory experience through self-report, Thumiger concludes that the central importance of patient's sensory experience indicates "an irreducible element of subjectivity" in Hippocratic conceptions of mental disorder, and "further anchors mental life to bodily activity"; the expectation that subjectivity might be a disembodied experience results from a "general poverty of awareness of sensory stimulation" among modern Western readers (334). At stake in this turn to the language of subjectivity is Thumiger's ambitious effort to detach the history of mental disorder in classical antiquity from the history of mind. As Thumiger will later conclude, "the search for subjectivity in our texts inevitably leads here [sc. to sensory experience], rather than where modern humanism leads us to expect, to the emotions and rational–logical thought" (419).

Chapter 5 ("Personality and Personal Psychology: Emotions, Character, Reasoning") turns, finally, to the symptoms and characteristics associated with mental disorder in contemporary Western psychiatry—and it is, for this reason, a chapter of negations. Thumiger proves her argument that Hippocratic mental disorder is a bodily phenomenon by demonstrating that emotions, character, and reasoning receive little attention in Hippocratic texts. This is, she argues, a strength: "the avoidance of personal, psychological topics in our texts is not a shortcoming but part of a programme that privileges an objective perspective on human health and disease" (339).

Thumiger concludes with four main findings about the representation of mental life and mental health in Hippocratic medical texts: mental disturbance is visible; mental disturbance is embodied; sensory changes are central; and, to the extent that symptoms we might associate with mental disorder are included, they are naturalised (419–20). She then offers a helpful list of contrasts between Hippocratic medicine and both non-medical and post-Hellenistic medical texts: Hippocratic medical texts avoid (1) biographical detail, (2) ethical evaluation, (3) motifs, themes, and experiences characteristic of contemporaneous representations of mental disorder, and (4) traditional psychological vocabulary, but include (5) emphasis on continuity between body mind (420–21). Thumiger's final move is to lay out two stories that might be told about Hippocratic accounts of mental disorder, based on the data she has so carefully gathered and interpreted: (1) Hippocratic texts offer "poorer, less perceptive and certainly more mechanical" accounts of mental illness than poetic and mythological texts; (2) Hippocratic texts are admirably scientific and non-metaphysical (421). It is clear that Thumiger advocates for the latter narrative.

This book makes an important contribution to the study of mental disorder in antiquity. Thumiger's thorough survey of relevant material offers an invaluable resource for the researcher, and her historiographical introduction is outstanding in its detail and clarity. The methodological remarks in the opening chapter offer a careful account of the role of medical anthropology in the history of medicine in antiquity. There is little doubt that this book will become a standard in the study of mental disorder in ancient medical and non-medical texts.

(read complete article)


Mario Liverani, Imagining Babylon: The Modern Story of an Ancient City. Studies in Ancient Near Eastern Records (SANER), 11. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2016. Pp. xviii, 488. ISBN 9781614516026. $182.00.

Reviewed by Felipe Rojas, Brown University (

Version at BMCR home site

Publisher's Preview

How has the ancient Near Eastern city been "imagined and visualized, studied and reconstructed" (p. vii) over the past two hundred years? That is the question at the core of this wide-ranging book, originally published in Italian in 2013. According to Liverani, the answer should excite not only his fellow historians and archaeologists of the ancient Near East, but also many other scholars, including those studying the history of the city, the dynamics of colonialism and its aftermath, and, more generally, anyone interested in the biography of the cultural constructs called "East" and "West." To that list I would add historians of archaeology and ancient history.

Liverani provides no introduction, and no explicit overview either of the book's organization or of its goals. A detailed table of contents, however, allows the reader to get a sense of the general contours of his investigation. Two structuring principles are apparent: first, that he approaches his topic from an unabashedly western perspective, according to which nearly all protagonists in "the modern story of the ancient city" are either European or American and were born after 1900, and second, that within this geographic, chronological, and cultural framework, his study is expansive. Throughout the book, he strives to set changing archaeological and historical approaches to the ancient Mesopotamian city in broad cultural contexts, showing how debates among Mesopotamian specialists have often overlapped with more general academic and political ones in Europe and America. As his many previous publications attest, Liverani is intellectually omnivorous. While Borges, Calvino, and Kafka are cited seemingly de rigueur by many historians of the city—and in this respect Liverani is no exception (e.g. pp. 49-50, 192, and 367)—few of them would also invoke Donald Duck in Ancient Persia (1950) as an example of the modern urge "to 'enter inside' the ancient cities, find them intact, walk through them, and meet the ancient inhabitants (and indeed speak to them in heaven knows what language"; p. 54). Throughout the book, he discusses visual and material representations of the ancient Mesopotamian city as envisioned by both specialists and, more sporadically, non-specialists. His insightful reflections, regretfully, are accompanied by fifty-three small and occasionally blurry (e.g., Figs. 15, 39, and 51) black-and-white figures. Given the exorbitant price of this volume, better reproductions should be expected from the publisher.

The book is divided into six chapters that are arranged roughly chronologically and composed of short subsections. Many of these are succinct critical assessments of the contributions of late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century men to the study of the ancient city. Among female scholars, only the economic historian Anna Schneider is given a titled subsection for her pioneering efforts to use ancient texts to understand the Mesopotamian city in its own terms—not simply in contrast to the classical polis (pp. 104-107). In these crisp, almost stand-alone essays, Liverani analyzes the influence that people as diverse as Max Weber, Gordon Childe, and Karl Polanyi exerted on the study of ancient Mesopotamian cities, and discusses how growing understanding of the remains of those cities on the ground impacted or—just as often and perhaps more consequentially—failed to impact the history of the city. Fustel de Coulanges, for example, is gently taken to task for neglecting Near Eastern evidence in his seminal study of the ancient city first published in 1864 (pp. 38-39), while Lewis Mumford, who wrote nearly a century after Fustel, is strongly criticized for having read the specialized scholarship available in his own day and perverted it with "exaggerations, contradictions, and also misunderstandings" (p. 165). Liverani's prose is often pointed: he reproaches his American colleagues for restricting their bibliography to English-language publications (p. 373), and classicists for stubbornly equating "ancient" with "Graeco- Roman" at the expense of Mesopotamian and all other available alternatives (e.g., pp. 37, 176). Alisa Campbell's translation is clear and conveys the author's wit and idiosyncratic style. Sarcasm is sharp—note, for instance, his remarks on the lack of monuments of the "wretched" Kurds (p. 350). Paragraphs often close with gnomic statements.

I call attention only to a few key issues in each of the book's chapters; the table of contents serves as a detailed map of the book.

In Chapter 1, Liverani offers a quick survey of pre-twentieth century speculations about the ancient Mesopotamian city. Such speculations, largely unencumbered by archaeological exploration, range from the moralizing tales told about Assyria and Babylonia in the Bible to the accounts of early modern European travelers in Mesopotamia. The author describes the anxieties incited by the unearthing of Mesopotamian cities and subsequent display of their antiquities in the midst of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian ones at the British Museum. He also discusses the development of an academic discourse according to which Babylon was an anti-city or a non-city "because it was too big, too empty, too centred on the palace, devoid of citizens and civic structure" (p. 49); in other words, because it was not a classical city.

Chapter 2 treats early twentieth-century investigations of actual archaeological sites in Mesopotamia. Liverani shows how analyses of the ancient Mesopotamian city were affected by developments in seemingly distant intellectual fields such as modern economic history and architecture. Here the German architect and archaeologist Walter Andrae comes across as a sort of intellectual hero, not only for his trailblazing and striking visualizations of life in ancient and modern Mesopotamian cities,1 but also for his forward-thinking archaeological "manifesto" (published posthumously in 1957), which called for specialists to respect the ground, carry out precise observations, and act unselfishly (p. 64). This chapter also includes discussion of practical and methodological developments that had a lasting impact on the study of the ancient city, such as the topographical surveys of Mesopotamia carried out in the period of the mandates as well as systematic excavation by squares divided by baulks.

Chapter 3 is devoted to grand theoretical models, for which Liverani has a predilection. The chapter makes for lively reading given that the author discusses the historical narratives, theoretical insights, and political backgrounds of Assyriologists and ancient historians such as Thorkild Jacobsen and Igor Diakonoff, as well as those of scholars whose specialties lay elsewhere (but whose work informed or was informed by the study of the ancient Mesopotamian city) including the economic theorist Polanyi, the Sinologist Karl Wittfogel, and the urban historians Gideon Sjoberg and Jane Jacobs. Chapter 3 also includes an assessment of how ancient historians in the second half of the twentieth century have tackled the epistemological challenges of imagining a properly diachronic history of the ancient city—one that does not begin in Greece, but rather extends forward in time from the polis to its Islamic successors as well as backward to earlier cities in Mesopotamia and elsewhere.

In Chapter 4, Liverani moves away from theoretical models to discuss major developments in scientific archaeology in the mid-twentieth century. The author examines, for examples, how new types of evidence (such as paleoenvironmental data) and methodological innovations (such as demographic analysis) allowed fine-grained studies of the ancient Mesopotamian city even at a single site. The work of American anthropologist Robert McCormick Adams—to whom the book is dedicated—is treated in a concise subsection. Adams was a pioneer in both methodologies of archaeological survey and theories of social evolution that were influential not only among those studying the ancient Near East. Among his main contributions to the study of the ancient Mesopotamian city was the development of methods to study and visualize settlement history over the very long term. Liverani considers Adams a sort of intellectual fulcrum between the largely theoretical positions of the nineteenth century and those of fully modern scientific archaeology.

In Chapter 5, Liverani assesses and critiques more recent methodological developments including settlement hierarchies and catchment analyses. He also studies what he calls revivals of French and German interest in Near Eastern architecture, exemplified by the former's work in architectural documentation and reconstruction on Mari and Ugarit, and the latter's emphasis not only in Bauforschung, but also interest in such topics as negative urban spaces in ancient Mesopotamian cities and the exploration of non-monumental urban contexts (e.g., in Hattusas). This chapter ends with skeptical and often critical discussions of more recent models such as "world-system" theory and interest in collapse.

Chapter 6 consists of a series of loosely interconnected reflections on topics relating to archaeological visualization and politics. Liverani begins the chapter by discussing the ethics and practicalities of restoration of ancient Mesopotamian archaeological sites, including Saddam Hussein's "totalizing" reconstructions of Babylon and his mobilization of figures such as Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar for political purposes. Here, too, Liverani is sensitive to how changes in the conceptualization of modern cities have informed scholarly understanding of ancient ones.

In a brief epilogue, the author describes the narrative of his book as a parabola, "in the sense of a journey first ascending and then descending" (pp. 384-387): from the depths of imaginative speculation (based largely on biblical texts) to the heights of archaeological excavation and survey back down to the present-day challenges of virtual reconstructions and mass tourism; or again, from the initial flat-out denial that a proper city could have existed in ancient Mesopotamia to the bold championing of uniquely Near Eastern models (in contradistinction to classical ones) to a "continuum of Easts and Wests." The neatness of the intellectual trajectory is suspect, as is the notion that the second half of the twentieth century represents a sort of apogee. Liverani acknowledges that other histories of the ancient Mesopotamian city will no doubt be written in which such "geometric elegance" will be lost. Indeed, these histories are being written already. The story of Babylon as Liverani tells it is only one possible—and dominant—account of how that city has been imagined, but there are others. Some of those histories have, if not longer, then at least different and more diverse roots than those explored here.

Just as colonialist projects on the ground envision the territory to be colonized as a wasteland waiting to be civilized (p. 177), intellectual historians have frequently imagined the territories of their inquiry as a terra nullius only recently historicized by their own recognizable predecessors (the Schliemanns, Petries, Andraes, etc.). According to this view, which Liverani shares, the proper work of interpretation of material remains only began in the nineteenth century with the rise of professional archaeology. Thus any "archaeological" story is, inevitably, also a modern and a western one. Consequently, there is almost no reference here to how the scientific narratives the author so carefully analyzes intersect with those of the people who lived and continue to live among the remains of ancient cities or even with those of scholars working in places other than Europe and America. When dealing with territories in which Islam has been the dominant religion, influential historians of archaeology—Liverani among them—have repeatedly called attention to the "Islamic disdain for everything before the advent of Islam" (p. 350) to explain why there are allegedly no meaningful local accounts of ruins to be found. And yet, the notion that there was no Muslim interest in the material traces of the past is, at best, misleading. Local antiquarians of various sorts have existed in Mesopotamia as they have also throughout the Dar al-Islam. The oft-repeated notion that Near Eastern civilizations offered only "rubble" (p. 5), while the ruins of classical cities stood proud and imposing is imprecise. As Liverani himself notes (pp. 87-88), no exact classical analogue to the dozens of rock-cut inscriptions of Bronze and Iron Age Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Armenia, and the Levant existed in Greece or Rome. Like those rock-cut inscriptions, the remains of ancient Mesopotamian cities have excited and continue to excite local historical imaginations.

Liverani is aware of the fact that in some of his intellectual preferences he is anachronistic: for example, in favoring "the beautiful, simple and elegant models, like that of Childe on the urban revolution" over the complexity and messiness of Neo-evolutionists and champions of systems theory (p. 371). Even so, or rather precisely because the author is frank about his opinions and even his emotions, this is an eminently readable book, written by one of the most innovative historians of the ancient Near East in the past fifty years. Imagining Babylon is an important contribution to the historiography of the ancient city. Liverani's account of how ancient Babylon has been studied and reconstructed serves as a sort of looking glass through which the reader can spy on the history of archaeology and history as practiced in that cultural construct called the "West." But Babylon has also been imagined elsewhere.


1.   On Andrae's sketches, see Rainer Michael Boehmer (1989) Bilder eines Ausgräbers: die Orientbilder von Walter Andrae 1898-1919 = Sketches by an excavator (Berlin: Mann,1989).

(read complete article)


Ulrike Ehmig, Donum dedit: Charakteristika einer Widmungsformel in lateinischen Sakralinschriften. Pietas, 9. Gutenberg: Computus Druck Satz & Verlag, 2017. Pp. 244. ISBN 9783940598356. €68,00.

Reviewed by Ghislaine van der Ploeg, University of Cologne (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

The work presented in this book was undertaken as the result of a Marie Curie fellowship hosted by L'Année Épigraphique in Paris. It examines Latin donum-inscriptions and its special value is in showing how unique this relative small corpus of inscriptions was in comparison with other kinds of sacred dedications, namely votum-inscriptions. As well as providing a thorough understanding of the nature of donum-inscriptions, the book explores who offered them and the gods to whom they were erected. The work also illustrates, via its analysis of these dedications, how people in antiquity increasingly sought a closer relationship with the divine and how one of the ways of achieving this was by giving gifts to the gods.

The book consists of 12 chapters, foreword, bibliography, and 16 appendixes comprising 123 pages. The appendixes are referred to in the text and cover various aspects of donum-inscriptions which are relevant to the subjects of the chapters. In each of these, the donum-inscriptions are contrasted with votum-inscriptions and the results of this study show differences in the use of these two terms. The author uses percentages to display these results which is a clear way of showing the dedicatory differences, especially as there is a far greater number of vota extant than dona.

The first chapter sets the scene for the rest of the work by making some introductory remarks and raises questions about the representational nature of the inscriptions discussed in the work.

Chapter 2 continues with the introductory theme. There are over 1,500 donum-inscriptions which have not yet been the focus of a specialist study. The aim of this book is to provide the first systematic analysis of Latin inscriptions which contain the phrase donum dedit. An innovative approach to this material has been taken by focusing on the nature of these inscriptions, why and by whom they were dedicated, and to which gods. This in contrast with past studies which have focussed solely on the chronological and spatial distribution of these dedications. The chapter also includes a helpful literary review of previous scholarship on the subject.

The third chapter describes the methodology, clearly showing the way in which the author used the online EDCS database and filtered the results for relevant inscriptions. The author also illustrates how she filtered the results for suitable and unsuitable inscriptions for this study. As such, this methodology can easily be followed by other scholars. The chapter also includes a discussion of the various meanings of the abbreviation DD which can stand for donum dedit but also for decreto decurionum, donis donatus, or dedit dedicavit. However, the vastly different natures of these inscriptions greatly facilitated the narrowing down of the search results.

The temporal and spatial spread of donum-inscriptions is the focus of the fourth chapter. When compared with votum-inscriptions, it becomes clear that there are very different patterns of distribution in the two types of sacred inscriptions. There is a distinct concentration of dona in Rome and Italy whereas vota mainly come from the Balkan provinces. Different patterns are also shown in the chronological spread of these inscriptions.

Chapter 5 analyses who precisely the recipients of dona were. The names of gods were recorded in 1,400 inscriptions but 200 of these are too fragmentary to know to whom they were dedicated. In total over 150 gods were the recipients of these dedications though for the vast majority of these fewer than 10 inscriptions to each god are known. It is noteworthy that the largest number of inscriptions was set up to Silvanus and not to Jupiter, as might be expected. However, the second greatest number of donum-inscriptions was erected to Jupiter and he was also the main recipient of votum-inscriptions. The central position of Rome and Italy is again shown as 90% of donum-inscriptions set up to Silvanus come from this region.

Analysis of who precisely dedicated dona and vota, undertaken in Chapter 6, shows that different groups set up these inscriptions. More men than women erected dona and the main dedicators of these inscriptions were priests and temple personnel. This was followed by freedmen and administrators such as decuriones and IIviri. Collective dedications were also common in the case of dona but vota were exclusively individual in nature. Soldiers were the main dedicators of vota and the largest number of these was set up in Rome.

What precisely was dedicated as gifts to the gods is the subject of the seventh chapter. There is again a difference between what is offered in donum- and votum-inscriptions as statues were the most common objects mentioned in dona, followed by altars. However, altars were the most commonly item erected with vota. These inscriptions also state more frequently than dona what precisely was offered.

Chapter 8 explores the reasons why these inscriptions were erected. Only about 20 inscriptions give a clear reason for their being set up, for example being freed from an office or a payment. However, vota could be erected for a variety of reasons including safe travel. The author stresses how dona were set up in a positive environment, where a good relationship with the god was created, and that these were not erected as the result of negative happenstances which occurred in a dedicator's life, for example an illness.

The ninth chapter continues with this theme, focussing on dedications containing the formula ex viso and how these inscriptions have been treated by other scholars. A comparison is again made with the votum-inscriptions where, in about 125 inscriptions, the text states that the dedication was erected as a result of a vow, something which does not occur with dona.

Chapter 10 examines donum and votum as different ways of communicating with the gods. The analysis undertaken in this work clearly shows the difference in the use of these two terms as those containing the term votum were mainly set up in fulfilment of a vow and those with donum were solely gifts to the god, erected without a prior action undertaken by the god. These gifts were set up through an individual's own choice and show a more personal way of interacting with the gods. The analysis here shows that people had very different reasons and ways for erecting both types of inscriptions.

The eleventh chapter engages with sociological theories about the nature of giving, taking, and reciprocation and how this should be seen as a connected whole. The author questions where the epigraphic material can be placed within this discussion. She emphasizes how donum-inscriptions were focused upon ensuring a good future interaction with the gods whereby the dedicator made the first overture and hoped to create a sense of future obligation in the gods when they accepted the dedication. These dedications looked to the future and no mention is found within them of illness or issues of safety and salvation. In contrast to this, votum-inscriptions asked for divine help in concrete and specific circumstances, and were often set up as the result of a vow.

Chapter 12 contains a good summary in German, English, and French of the key points made in this book. The 16 appendixes cover various aspects of these dedications, for example organising the inscriptions by god to whom they are dedicated or lists of dona which date to the Republican era.

As well as being an invaluable tool for understanding the nature of dona, this book also aptly illustrates why people sought to erect these dedications as well as putting this habit in its temporal and spatial setting. Furthermore, it emphasizes a desire on the dedicator's part to increase their closeness to the gods. This allows the reader to better understand how people started to approach the gods in different ways over time and that there was a definite change in how this happened between the Republic and the Empire. However, the subject matter is quite specialist and the text could perhaps have benefitted from giving some example of inscriptions in the text, rather than giving partial quotations or the whole inscriptions in footnotes.

There are few criticisms to be made of this work, though the large number of chapters could have been condensed in number as some are not even 5 pages long (e.g. making the first 3 chapters into one longer introductory chapter. Criticism of Renberg's work in Chapter 9 seems a bit excessive but the author's arguments would have been augmented by references to his new book, also published in 2017.1 Similarly, engagement with works on divine epiphany by Platt2 and Petridou3 would have strengthened this section as perhaps would a reference to von Ehrenheim's book on incubation practices.4 Despite these minor points this work offers a valuable insight into the ways in which and the reasons for which people in antiquity erected donum-inscriptions.


1.   Renberg, G.H. (2017) Where Dreams May Come. Incubation Sanctuaries in the Greco-Roman World. Leiden: Brill. (2 vols.)
2.   Platt, V. (2011) Facing the Gods. Epiphany and Representation in Graeco-Roman Art, Literature and Religion. Greek culture in the Roman world. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
3.   Petridou, G. (2015) Divine Epiphany in Greek Literature and Culture. Oxford:  Oxford University Press.
4.   von Ehrenheim, H. (2015) Greek Incubation Ritual in Classical and Hellenistic Times. Liège:  Presses Universitaires de Liège.

(read complete article)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Andrea Carandini, Paolo Carafa (ed.), The Atlas of Ancient Rome: Biography and Portraits of the City (2 vols.). Translated by Andrew Campbell Halavais. Princeton; Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2017. Pp. 1,280. ISBN 9780691163475. $199.50.

Reviewed by R. Scott Smith, University of New Hampshire (

Version at BMCR home site


This attractive two-volume set, consisting of over 600 pages of text and over 400 elegant maps, illustrations, floor plans and reconstructions, is an updated and translated version of the original Italian edition, Atlante di Roma Antica (Milan 2012). Leaving aside Gismondi's somewhat idiosyncratic plastic model in the Museo della Civiltà Romana, it is the first sustained attempt to offer a comprehensive overview of the ancient city since Lanciani's Forma Urbis Romae, which culminated in 1901.1 Yet, whereas Lanciani's work was an individual achievement, the Atlas of Ancient Rome highlights the power of collaborative work. Over forty individual contributors, many young scholars under the guidance of Carandini and Carafa, contributed to this book (p. 45), to which number one should add the members of the technological team responsible for georeferencing all of the monuments, curating the autoCAD-based database of the ancient city, and providing the base data for the behind-the-scenes work. Necessary, too, was the cooperation of numerous agencies, political entities, and archaeologists. The result, even taking into account the flights of fancy and creative reinterpretation for which Carandini is known, is a marvelous and ultimately responsible vision of the ancient city in graphic and textual form.

Scholars of Roman architecture and topography, teachers of Roman history and culture, and the interested layperson will want a copy of this book—at least until the whole project becomes available online, which is the ultimate goal (p. 30). To a large extent, this English edition is but another iteration in the evolution of the whole project. While the essays forming the "Biography of the City" portion of the book (vol. 1) have not, as far as I can tell, been updated except for the bibliography (updated to 2015), the plans and maps in the second volume have undergone extensive updates based on better archaeological data, recent discoveries, and new reinterpretations of existing data. In well over half of the Augustan regions (III–X, XIV, described on pp. 9–14) substantial updates have been made. In the words of Carandini himself (p. 6), "our results are in continual development and always deserving of correction." This book, then, is a snapshot of the project at a specific moment in time, and thus had already become obsolete even before it was sent to the printers.

The original Italian edition of the Atlas has been thoroughly reviewed elsewhere,2 and this reviewer holds similar concerns about the overly optimistic views of early Rome and some of the imaginative reconstructions of certain monuments. Even so, the research team is to be commended for their industry. They had to identify and then georeference 13,190 individual monuments in Rome, for which "each piece of information ha[d] to be critically weighed" (27). Collating and digitizing archeological reports and images, the Severan Forma Urbis, ancient iconography from coins, evidence from Renaissance and later drawings, the maps of Nolli (18th c.) and others, the project—now 12 years in the making—provides us with a conscientious and coherent, even if necessarily flawed, view of the ancient city. This holds true both for the numerous reconstructions of individual monuments, as well as the regional maps and the 37 additional tables that, collectively, offer a complete snapshot of the Roman city in the fourth century CE. Once the project is online, the map will be visible as a whole, hopefully as user friendly as that in the first note below.

The authors of each of the 284 "Tables" are at pains to responsibly indicate what is based on existing or comparative evidence and what is imaginatively reconstructed. Each monument is color-coded to alert the reader to what ancient material survives, where a reconstruction is based on ancient or modern evidence, and where it is mere speculation. Take, for instance the Neronian Magnum Macellum (Tab. 138), for which there are scant archaeological remains. Basing their plan on an original piece of the Severan Forma Urbis (fr. 157b–c, blue) and a Renaissance drawing of a lost fragment (fr. 157a, purple), as well as comparing it with the mostly extant macellum in Pozzuoli (green; we are told this explicitly in the English edition, unlike in the Italian original), the author, G. Fatucci, offers a complete reconstruction of the rest (in black ink). For the three-dimensional view and a construction of the facade, a bronze dupondius of the late Neronian period provides basis for the details. Because the coin and the fragments of the Forma Urbis are pictured beside the reconstruction, readers can determine for themselves the accuracy of certain reconstructed portions of the lost monument. Similarly, the Ludus Magnus (Table 115) is reconstructed using the substantial archaeological remains to the east of the Colosseum (in red) and a substantial fragment of the Forma Urbis (blue).

To be sure, several reconstructions could be challenged on any number of factors, but the alternative, as Carandini somewhat defensively puts it (p. 20), is to remain inert or myopic, looking only at the most minute part of an ancient monument. Perfection, to use the old saw, is the enemy not only of the good, but also of any possibility of seeing the ancient city as a whole. We cannot be those scholars or archaeologists who "jejunely worship perfection with no regard to the limits of time, that is, those who never actually complete any worthwhile projects" (p. 19).

While we may object to Carandini's dismissal of a certain type of scholarly activity, the Atlas is indeed a worthwhile project. As attractive as the plans and maps are, the essays written by the research team are of great importance (even if vitiated by the awkward translation: see below). After four unnumbered articles articulating the rationale for the Atlas, the personnel that made it possible, and the geomatic methodologies of creating the underlying georeferenced database, there are thirteen introductory essays on various aspects of the urban fabric: the natural and historical landscapes (parts 1 and 2); infrastructure, which treats the walls, roads, and aqueducts (pt. 3); the necropoleis (pt. 4); goods in Rome (pt. 5, an important contribution); the end of the ancient city, based on a new synthesis of the archaeological data (pt. 6); an article on the ancient Romans' conception of ruins (pt. 7); and two appendices on building techniques and the orders of architecture. Following these essays, each Augustan region, written by a different scholar, receives a thorough study (region VIII, the heart of the city, gets over 60 dense pages). Each essay starts with an overview of the region from remote antiquity to the present day, continues with a review of the ancient region according to the regionary catalogs, and ends with an overview of the important developments for each chronological period (pre- and proto-urban, early kingdom, late kingdom, early republic, etc.). These studies, based on up-to-date information contained in the extensive digital database, will doubtlessly be the starting point for future syntheses of the archaeological record.

Since the contents in their original form have been thoroughly addressed in other places, the remainder of this review will concern the updates to and the translation of the Italian edition. In addition to checking the changes announced in the introduction, I randomly spot-checked several other monuments to see what, if any, updates were made. There are several differences. In general, there are more labels, helping the reader discern the plans and maps; the images tend to be larger, allowing for easier viewing; and more images have been added where there was blank space in the Italian version. Some of the Tables take into consideration new excavations. For instance, those around the Curiae Veteres led by Clementina Panella, has led to a clearer understanding of the area (Tab. 61–62, 64, 70, 74), even if we may marvel at the confidence with which both the excavator and D. Bruno (the author of most of the tables) have identified the domus to the east of the Curiae as belonging to C. Octavius and the location of the Emperor Augustus' birth. In addition to more extensive reconstructions of monuments (such as the Horti Luculliani [Tab. 200] and the Templum and Basilica of Matidia [Tab. 241, based on others' work]), there are also more subtle, unannounced changes to the English version. For the temple of Saturn (Table 25), the author (D. Nocera) has correctly reconsidered Macrobius, Sat. 1.8.4 (Tritonas cum bucinis fastigio Saturni aedis superimpositas), and now the reconstructed Tritons (faithfully marked in orange to denote reconstruction based on literary texts) reside not in the pediment but are represented as acroteria. The cella of the Templum Divi Hadriani (Tab. 244) has been redrawn with an apse and stairs based on one of Palladio's drawings (pictured next to plan).

The translation of over 800 pages, a Herculean task to be sure due to the length and the technical nature of the contributions, is workmanlike, but unfortunately often leaves much to be desired, whether in accuracy or idiom. The translator, Andrew Campbell Halavais, is a professional translator but does not have an extensive background in classical studies or archaeology, leading to outright errors (rare) or unwieldy or obscure language (more frequent). In addition to strange expressions such as "archaeologically credited streets" (p. 51; the Italian is "strade attestate"), there are several inscrutable expressions. For example, on p. 113 the Italian "per introdurre nel corso dal tempo nel suo repertorio forme chiuse normalmente assenti tra il vasellame africano esportato" has become "and then [they] introduced new, closed shapes that were usually not germane to the exported African wares." On p. 37 we find, "Drastic transformations (like that...of the Domus Aurea) may occur by way of blackouts or ambitious urban projects, but these upheavals are rare..." for "le quali implicano oscuramenti improvvisi e un progetto urbano"—the loss of "unexpected" and the obscure "blackouts" (surely "sudden eradication" here given the reference to the Domus Aurea) makes it difficult to understand what is meant here unless one can divine the Italian original. The most egregious error that I spotted was the surprising statement that (p. 123) "Cicero recalls that as a young man in Corinth in AD 20 he was more moved by the locals...". It hard to understand how the translator got this from "nel primo ventennio del I secolo a.C," or worse, how it slipped past the editorial staff, unless those who proofread the copy likewise did not have a background in classical studies. In several places the Latin, too, has been corrupted, and on occasion citations of tables in the narrative are mistaken.3 The rationale for an English edition must have been primarily to bring the essays and maps to an English-speaking audience, but scholars will probably be best served to have the original Italian edition at their fingertips.

All told, this is an important and beautiful book, one worthy of the immense labor that has gone into collating and georeferencing all of the data from ancient sources, from the topographical work of earlier scholars, and from past and ongoing archaeological excavations. We greatly anticipate the release of the online version of the map and plans, which will at last fulfill Carandini's vision of allowing us to see the entirety of the ancient city. In the meantime, we should be thankful for the immense work that has gone into this book, a book that by its very nature opens itself up to criticism. That the editors are willing to receive feedback—we are invited to send feedback to them at on p. 52—is a welcome sign that the ongoing project will continue to seek out the most accurate possible view of ancient Rome.


1.   A clear and scalable map can be viewed at the collaborative work of MappingRome.
2.   For reviews in English see T. P. Wiseman, "The Palatine, from Evander to Elegabalus," JRS 103 (2013) 234–68, J. E. Packer, "The Atlante: Roma antica revealed," JRA 26 (2013) 553–61.
3.   Some examples from the first 20o pages: p. 71 evocentur has become evocetur; p. 117 casas seu tuguria has become casas sue...; p. 126 villarumque has become villrumque; p. 136 "table XVII 16" should read "table XVII 15;" p. 169 tribunal pretoris (see also the loss of the diphthongs in Table 200); p. 171 augurium maximus. I also encountered other surprises such as dolii instead of dolia (110), apis gabinus for lapis gabinus (132), Caelium hill for Caelian hill (137), aruspices and Vejovis (165).

(read complete article)


Niklas Holzberg, Publius Ovidius Naso: Metamorphosen. Lateinisch-deutsch. Sammlung Tusculum. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2017. Pp. 895. ISBN 9783110466201. $91.99.

Reviewed by Francesco Ursini, Sapienza Università di Roma (

Version at BMCR home site


Questa nuova edizione delle Metamorfosi nella «Sammlung Tusculum» segue a breve distanza quella pubblicata nel 2004 (20072) da Gerhard Fink con traduzione in prosa (ma anche, risalendo appena un po' indietro, quella pubblicata nel 1996 dallo stesso Niklas Holzberg con la vecchia traduzione poetica di Eric Rösch, uscita originariamente nel 1952). Le ragioni di una nuova traduzione del poema ovidiano sono illustrate dal Curatore alla fine dell'introduzione (Einführung, pp. 7-35): obiettivo del lavoro è quello di offrire una versione poetica (in esametri), che però adotti un linguaggio moderno e accessibile ai lettori del XXI secolo (pp. 30-35).

Sempre nell'introduzione Holzberg delinea un quadro di sintesi assai efficace delle caratteristiche principali delle Metamorfosi (pp. 7-21) e della fortuna dell'opera dall'antichità ai nostri giorni (pp. 21-30). Recuperando in parte, in relazione al primo punto, alcune idee, come quella della divisione dei quindici libri in tre pentadi, espresse nel capitolo sulle Metamorfosi («Poetic Explanation of Causes as Mythological World History: The Metamorphoses», pp. 114-151 dell'edizione inglese) della sua monografia (N. Holzberg, Ovid. Dichter und Werk, München, C. H. Beck, 1997; 20174; Ovid. The Poet and his Work, translated from the German by G. M. Goshgarian, Ithaca-London, Cornell University Press, 2002), egli propone una lettura del poema come fusione di metro epico, mitologia metamorfica, storia del mondo, spiegazioni etiologiche, intertestualità e racconti che riflettono i problemi di uomini «come te e me»; e presenta alcune persuasive chiavi di lettura, come quelle di «mise en abyme» (in relazione ai racconti delle Muse alla fine della prima pentade [5, 250-678], ai canti di Orfeo alla fine della seconda [10, 143-739] e al discorso di Pitagora nell'ultimo libro [15, 75-478]) e di «monde à l'envers» (in relazione al gusto ovidiano per il paradosso e il grottesco e al sistematico rovesciamento delle aspettative del lettore), che costituiscono altresì un ottimo accessus al poema ovidiano per il pubblico generalista al quale il volume è innanzitutto rivolto.

Ottima è anche la panoramica sulla ricezione delle Metamorfosi da Lucano ai Tales from Ovid (1997) di Ted Hughes: Holzberg dichiara di limitarsi agli esempi a suo avviso più interessanti (e in effetti dà particolare rilievo ad alcuni episodi di per sé forse minori, come le riprese di miti ovidiani da parte di Hans Sachs), ma di fatto la selezione è assolutamente soddisfacente in proporzione allo spazio. Sorprende comunque che Dante non sia neanche menzionato (a differenza, ad es., di Ariosto e Tasso): negli ultimi decenni è stato ampiamente dimostrato che «il riuso di Ovidio è sistematico e fondamentale nella strategia narrativa e nell'impianto strutturale della Commedia, tanto da segnare i loci deputati dell'opera e i momenti nodali del viaggio»,1 e infatti la bibliografia sul tema «Dante e Ovidio» è sterminata. Anche la scelta di indicare negli studi di Gianpiero Rosati (Narciso e Pigmalione. Illusione e spettacolo nelle "Metamorfosi" di Ovidio, Firenze, Sansoni, 1983; Pisa, Edizioni della Normale, 20162) e di Stephen Hinds (The Metamorphosis of Persephone. Ovid and the Self-conscious Muse, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1987) l'inizio della recente «riscoperta» critica del poema ovidiano è pienamente convincente, ma avrebbe forse meritato almeno una menzione Ovid. A Poet between Two Worlds (Berkeley-Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1945; trad. ted. Ovid. Ein Dichter zwischen zwei Welten, Darmstadt, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1970) di Hermman Fränkel, «un vero punto di svolta nella storia della critica per quanto riguarda gli studi classici».2

Come si legge nella nota al testo latino (Zum lateinischen Text dieser Ausgabe, pp. 803-804), base dell'edizione è il testo critico di quella curata da Alessandro Barchiesi e altri nella collana degli «Scrittori greci e latini» pubblicata dalla Fondazione Lorenzo Valla (6 volumi, 2005-2015): una scelta inusuale, che costituisce un notevole riconoscimento per quella che non è una vera e propria edizione critica (essendo basata a sua volta su quella edita nel 2004 da Richard Tarrant negli «OCT») e nella quale il testo dei vari libri è curato da studiosi diversi, a ciascuno dei quali sono affidati tre libri e dai quali Holzberg si distanzia, infatti, in misura variabile (6 volte da Barchiesi, una da Rosati, 11 da Kenney, 2 da Reed, 14 da Hardie).3 Laddove Holzberg compie scelte diverse rispetto sia all'edizione di Tarrant sia a quest'ultima, lo fa in genere per tornare alla lezione di Anderson (così in 13 casi, tra i quali tutti e cinque quelli relativi ai primi due libri) oppure per accogliere nel testo delle congetture già proposte da altri, da Heinsius allo stesso Hardie (anche qui 13 volte), più raramente per stampare lezioni non accolte né da Anderson né da Tarrant (6 casi, tutti relativi alla seconda parte del poema, a partire da 9, 713).4 È da segnalare, infine, la scelta – coerente con la volontà di fornire un testo facilmente accessibile anche al grande pubblico dei lettori non specialisti – di omettere del tutto dal testo (e quindi anche dalla traduzione), piuttosto che stamparli tra parentesi quadre, gli oltre cento versi espunti nell'edizione della «Lorenzo Valla» (e in gran parte già, naturalmente, in quella di Tarrant, dove le espunzioni totali sono ancor più numerose), con due sole eccezioni (7, 525-527 e 11, 510-513, che Holzberg considera autentici).

I criteri della traduzione sono diffusamente illustrati, come si è detto, nell'introduzione, e di fatto la versione di Holzberg realizza pienamente l'obiettivo di conciliare, da un lato, la resa metrica, in assenza della quale andrebbe perduto il carattere poetico del testo, e, dall'altro, un linguaggio che sia comprensibile ai lettori contemporanei: perseguendo così una «via di mezzo» che conservi il meglio delle precedenti versioni tedesche, giudicate rispettivamente troppo libere quelle in prosa e troppo «innaturali» quelle in versi («Mir ist wichtig, dass Leser des 21. Jahrhunderts bei der Lektüre meiner deutschen Hexameter die Verskunst des Originals zumindest erahnen, ohne dass sie hilflos vor veralteten Formulierungen stehen und dann das Vorurteil bestätigen, von lateinischen Texten seien nicht einmal die Übersetzungen verständlich», p. 34). Molto fedele al testo latino non soltanto per il senso ma anche nelle soluzioni ritmiche e stilistiche (ad es. 1, 474: Protinus alter amat, fugit altera nomen amantis, «Er ist sofort verliebt, sie flieht vor dem Namen "Verliebte"»; 10, 58: prendique et prendere certans, «bemüht, ergriffen zu werden, zu greifen»), la traduzione è, allo stesso tempo, vivacemente espressiva: un risultato al quale contribuisce anche il frequente ricorso al corsivo enfatico (ad es. «Genug, dass das freudlose Reich er / einmal erblickt und einmal den stygischen Strom überquert hat» [14, 590-591]; ma soprattutto con i pronomi personali e gli aggettivi possessivi: «Der da bin ich!» [3, 463]; «Ich hab mit meiner Brust» [13, 93]). La fedeltà all'originale, del quale è sovente riprodotta – per quanto possibile e in modo comunque assai efficace – persino la collocazione delle parole all'interno del verso, emerge in modo particolarmente evidente nella resa del dialogo tra Eco e Narciso (3, 379-392), dove ad es. i vv. 391-392 ("ante" ait "emoriar, quam sit tibi copia nostri!" / rettulit illa nihil nisi "sit tibi copia nostri!") sono tradotti «"Ich sterbe eher, als dir ich gehöre!" / Darauf gab sie nur zur Antwort "dir ich gehöre!"».5

Il volume è chiuso dalla già ricordata nota al testo latino, da un apparato di brevi note illustrative (Erläuterungen, pp. 805-855), da un'essenziale bibliografia (Bibliographie, pp. 856-862), che prende in considerazione soprattutto le pubblicazioni più recenti (quasi tutti i contributi citati sono degli anni Novanta o posteriori),6 e da un repertorio dei nomi e dei principali concetti che si incontrano nel poema (Namen und Begriffe, pp. 863-895):7 anche grazie a questi agili ausili alla lettura, il volume si conferma un eccellente strumento per il grande pubblico dei lettori non specialisti (ma di questa nuova traduzione delle Metamorfosi, che si deve di fatto a uno dei massimi studiosi di Ovidio viventi, terranno senz'altro conto con profitto anche i classicisti e gli stessi cultori della poesia ovidiana).8


1.   R. Mercuri, Ovidio e Dante: le "Metamorfosi" come ipotesto della "Commedia", «Dante. Rivista internazionale di studi su Dante Alighieri» 6, 2009, pp. 21-37, alla p. 21.
2.   A. Barchiesi, Nota bibliografica, in Ovidio, Metamorfosi, vol. I, a cura di A. Barchiesi, traduzione di L. Koch, Milano, Fondazione Lorenzo Valla-Arnoldo Mondadori, 2005, pp. CLXV-CLXXIV, alla p. CLXVII.
3.   A p. 804 Holzberg fornisce l'elenco dei 34 luoghi nei quali si distanzia da «Tarrant/Barchiesi u.a.», dichiarando che soltanto in un caso (9, 179) il testo di quest'ultima edizione differisce a sua volta da quello di Tarrant. In realtà vi sono diversi altri casi nei quali Holzberg segue Tarrant e non l'edizione della «Lorenzo Valla», a volte senza segnalazione nell'elenco (13, 693, dove è stampato dare e non per di Hardie; 8, 159; 14, 467), a volte inserendo il verso nell'elenco, ma senza indicare la divergenza tra le due edizioni (9, 569, dove è stampato paulum e non pauidum tra cruces di Kenney; 13, 684). In tutti gli altri casi di divergenza tra Tarrant e l'edizione della «Lorenzo Valla» (142 in totale) il testo stampato da Holzberg, se vedo bene, è sempre quello di quest'ultima.
4.   Si arriva così a 32 casi in tutto: ai 34 indicati da Holzberg occorre infatti sottrarre, come si è detto, i due versi nei quali la sua edizione si discosta da quella della «Lorenzo Valla», ma non da quella di Tarrant (9, 569 e 13, 684).
5.   Certo una fedeltà assoluta non sempre è raggiunta (come è forse inevitabile, del resto): a 6, 655, ad es., nella versione di Holzberg («In dir hast du den, den du forderst») è ben colto il ritmo dell'originale (intus habes, quem poscis), ma va del tutto persa l'anfibologia («è [qui] dentro»/«lo hai dentro [di te]»; cfr. ThlL VII.2, 103, 62-63: «nota sensum duplicem ita, ut pro 'in conclavi' accipiat Tereus»). Altrove la resa di alcune sfumature può apparire meno persuasiva: ancora nell'episodio di Narciso, ad es., al v. 405 (sic amet ipse licet, sic non potiatur amato!), che Holzberg traduce «Möge er selbst so lieben und das, was er liebt, nicht bekommen!», tenderei a considerare piuttosto amato maschile, con allusione al prosieguo della vicenda, e a rendere potiatur con «possegga» («besitzen»), lasciando aperta la possibilità di dare al verbo senso più concreto (cfr. fast. 3, 21: Mars videt hanc visamque cupit potiturque cupita); ma si tratta, appunto, di sfumature e di valutazioni comunque soggettive.
6.   Spiace comunque notare l'assenza, tra i commenti, dei due volumi curati rispettivamente nel 1972 (libri VI-X) e nel 1997 (libri I-V) da William S. Anderson per University of Oklahoma Press.
7.   Con pochissime eccezioni (come ad es. Plebs o Tiara), si tratta quasi esclusivamente di nomi propri o di aggettivi derivati da nomi propri.
8.   La veste editoriale è, in generale, ben curata, ma non mancano alcuni refusi, talora assai evidenti: ad es. a p. 19 «Met 13,120f.» dovrebbe essere «Met 14,120f.»; a p. 862 il titolo del libro di Sarah Annes Brown The Metamorphosis of Ovid. From Chaucer to Ted Hughes presenta ben due errori («Metamorphoses» è al plurale e manca «From»); a p. 863 il rinvio alla premessa alle note illustrative è privo del numero di pagina («S. ***»).

(read complete article)