Friday, March 30, 2018


Jean-Louis Ferrary, Rome et le monde grec: choix d'écrits. Epigraphica, 9. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2017. Pp. 590. ISBN 9782251446349. €55.00 (pb). Contributors: Denis Rousset, Anna Heller

Reviewed by Sophie Lalanne, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, ANHIMA (UMR 8210) (

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A book published by Jean-Louis Ferrary deserves special attention: for French scholars interested in the institutions of the Greek city in the late Hellenistic period, it is as important as a publication by Louis Robert or Philippe Gauthier. Rome et le monde grec impressively assembles twenty-six articles published between 1976 and 2017, reprinting the original text but with a completely new pagination. All of them concern the "complex dialogue" between Greek cities and the Roman Republic which has been Ferrary's focus throughout his career. The volume compliments hisRecherches sur les lois comitiales et sur le droit public romain.1 For Hellenists, it is also the continuation of the excellent Philhellénisme et impérialisme.2 Among the penetrating insights that Ferrary shares with his reader, two major ideas stand out: first, the internal factors in the Greek cities' evolution which may have satisfied Rome without having been imposed, or even requested;3 secondly, Rome's efforts to halt European Greece's decline in comparison with Asia.

The twenty-six articles of Rome et le monde grec are divided into five sections. The first section deals with "political ideas and regimes", especially democracy. The first chapter (I) analyses Cicero's description of Rhodian institutions in his De Republica, and demonstrates not only the sovereignty of the popular assembly in this Hellenistic democracy but also a judicial system similar to the Athenian Heliaia. The next two chapters (II, III) offer a wider treatment of the significance and evolution of demokratia in the Hellenistic period. Ferrary asserts that the same chronological rupture can be observed with democracy as diagnosed by Philippe Gauthier with euergetism. In fact, in the 2nd-1st centuries B.C., the democratic regimes which predominate in all Greek cities tend to evolve into Republican regimes characterized by the transfer of decision-making from the Assembly to the boule and magistrates, and by the creation of a sort of ordo decurionum restricted to these last two categories. Roman hegemony seems thus to have accelerated a political development already under way, i.e., the decline of democracy in both the practice and the vocabulary of institutions.

The second section is entitled "From hegemonies to empire". This part is undoubtedly the major section of the book. The first four articles explore the notion of empire through various foci. In chapter IV, the study of the oikoumene's eastern and western frontiers reveals that, contrary to general belief, Dionysius of Halicarnassos, and not Polybius, was the first to construct a theory of world empires, while chapter V underlines the difference in Polybius' text between "relative" (on sea or on land) and "absolute" (on sea and on land) dominations, something which explains his denial of Athenian hegemony. Chapter VI qualifies assertions published in Philhellénisme et impérialisme and points out that Polybius wrote for two different sorts of readers: Romans, who were reminded not to succumb to philarchia and not to tyrannize dominated peoples, and Greeks, whose partial responsibility for Roman policies was denounced. Chapter VII argues that the notion of world order is hardly appropriate to describe the Hellenistic period, for Greeks of this period preferred several world powers to a unique hegemony, while the Romans, who rejected the idea of a balance of power, relied entirely on an imperial organization based on provinces and legions. The following chapters analyse two examples of Roman domination: first in Macedonia (VIII), with the evolution of Rome's administration and army, secondly in Pontus (IX), with the traumatic break of the Mithridatic wars. The last three chapters explore the status of free cities. In chapter X, treaties between Rome and Greek cities (provincial or free cities) appear first to be symbolically bilateral, but then to evolve, from the Caesarian and Augustan periods, into a manifestly unequal form. The example of a free city, Colophon, is illuminated by the Claros inscriptions (XI), while the subsequent discussion (XII) explores the tensions between the Greek civic ideal of liberty and the requirements of Roman hegemony. In these chapters it becomes clear that alongside and after Hellenistic kings and before Roman emperors, Greek cities had to deal with a third interlocutor, the Roman Senate, with its own peculiarities.

A third section studies the functions and careers of "benefactors, patrons and ambassadors". More than others, this part brings to life the most distinguished representatives of the Greek cities (Ferrary never uses the term "elite"). Chapter XIII analyses the different forms of evolution from Hellenistic to Roman euergetism, with a remarkable continuity of institutions in the Greek city (confederations and kingdoms were the main victims of the Roman conquest). Here, Ferrary re-examines the emergence of great benefactors in the 1st century B.C., with special attention to Romans and Italians. Greek honours to these benefactors apparently disregarded the Roman social hierarchy and coexisted with the traditional patronage of Roman senatorial families, which played an important role until the Augustan era. Next, Greek ambassadors are described as striving to obtain the best results from their embassies (XIV, XV, XVI), most of which were appealing to the Senate against Roman governors' decisions. They appear in Rome preparing for their audience for months at their own expense, first visiting the magistrate in charge, then vigorously lobbying all the important political figures in Rome, so composing their speech to the Senate as to arouse mercy and pity, but also to recall the services that their city had done Rome. Finally, back in their province, they give great publicity to the senatus consultum they had obtained. In spite of these expensive and time- consuming efforts to mediate between their city and Rome, most eminent Greeks seem to have been uninterested in acquiring Roman citizenship (XVII) until the end of the 40s, when it became possible to combine it with local citizenship.

The fourth section deals with Asia Minor. The first chapter (XVIII) is entirely devoted to explaining the massacre of Romans and Italians in 88 B.C. orchestrated by Mithridates, and carried out by the cities as a whole (not by their urban plebs as generally assumed). Ferrary underlines the negative effects of M'. Aquillius' organization of provincia Asia in 129-126 B.C. and of C. Gracchus' fiscal law in 123/122 B.C. which applied to provincial and free cities alike, almost equally affected by the abuses of magistrates, publicani and negotiatores. Chapter XIX demonstrates that, on one hand, free cities had to fight permanently for their autonomy, notably through laborious and expensive embassies to the Roman Senate (attested by epigraphy only when successful); on the other hand, in provincial cities Greek aristocrats experienced the humiliation of dealing with the employees of societies of publicani, often slaves and freedmen employed by equites domiciled in Rome. In the following chapters, Ferrary scrutinizes the epigraphic material available to draw up lists of Asia Minor governors and hereditary patrons of Greek cities (XX), then records Romans honored on the sacred road leading to the temple of Apollo at Claros (XXII); chapters XXI and XXIII respectively analyse the cases of Q. Mucius Scaevola and king Archelaos of Cappadocia. These chapters give Ferrary an opportunity to shed light on the various honorific titles describing, for instance, L. Valerius Flaccus as patrôn of Colophon (the first mention of this title used of a Roman, though Colophon was a free city) or Hadrian as Paniônios.

In the fifth section, entitled "Philhellenism and hellenism", Ferrary carries further the ideas that he developed in Philhellénisme et impérialisme, examining the internal hierarchy of the Greek world not only in the perceptions of Greeks, but also, and above all, of Romans (XXIV, XXV, XXVI). This brilliant demonstration shows that Roman philhellenism, by favouring archaizing literary and artistic tendencies, slowed down the decline of European Greece in comparison with Asia Minor. As Cicero bears witness, Roman aristocrats were conscious of their debt to ancient Greeks, especially to their humanitas, and Greeks understood the benefit they could derive from this profound esteem in seeking better treatment within the Roman empire. But the terms Graeci and Hellenes could have different meanings: they could designate a part of the Greek world, most often Achaia or Asia, but they could also mean "provincial", as opposed to cives Romani. In the same time, one may observe a regular shrinking of the notion of "true Greece", now reduced to the Peloponnese, Attica, and central Greece, which led to a form of restructuring of the Hellenic world in the 2nd century A.D. with the creation of Hadrian's Panhellenion. From this new configuration were excluded not only Hellenistic foundations but also the most important cities of Asia, which probably were reluctant to join a community where they couldn't compete for the first place, and western cities, who could simply not be subjected to their former metropoleis.

These twenty-six chapters form a coherent and rich opus, offering many points of view and bringing to light facts usually consigned to the no man's land between main topics of interest, like the difficulty for the leading cities of Asia Minor in making the Roman government respect their freedom and the cities of European Greece respect their ranking, in particular in the reigns of philhellenic emperors. Few scholars venture comparisons between Greek and Roman political practices: Ferrary, who knows as much about institutions of Greek cities as about Roman law, is highly qualified to do so, and he does, for instance concerning the ekklesia and comitia, boule and ordo, benefactors and patrons, koina and the Panhellenion, or concerning the different treatments of demokratia under Macedonian kings and Roman emperors. This view from a height incidentally allows reconsideration of various stereotypes, and portrays well-known figures of Greek and Roman history in an original and convincing way: Polybius in his acquaintance with Roman propaganda, Mithridates as an enemy of unique hegemony, Attalus III as an embarrassing testator, the brothers Quintus and Marcus Cicero collaborating to help Quintus to be a good governor of Asia. This attention to individuals, not only to institutions, makes the book extraordinarily lively and brings out a world of Greek citizens appointed by their cities to remind the Romans of their duties towards them, of Roman patrons and senators doing their business in Rome, of Italian negotiatores living in Ephesos and in cities where they could easily appeal to Roman law, of freedmen working for publicani, and of all-powerful governors harassing free cities to increase their own gains.

In conclusion, Rome et le monde grec is the culmination of forty years of very fruitful research into the late Hellenistic and Roman periods (with some rare incursions into the reigns of Nero and Hadrian), and an inspiring book. As far as presentation is concerned—thanks to Anna Heller and Denis Rousset for their valuable assistance—the various indices, the up-to-date bibliographical addenda, the thematic headings, and the high quality of the photographs of inscribed stones make the book very convenient and easy reading, despite its impressive level of scholarship. As for the content of the book, thanks to a skilful combination of sharp analysis of epigraphical material and slippery notions, and of various aspects of civic life in the late Hellenistic period, the reader is led with authority, diligence and caution through the labyrinthine evolution of the Greek city in a period of its important transformation. This is very much the kind of book which deserves an English translation to reach a wider circle of readers.


1.   J.-L. Ferrary, Recherches sur les lois comitiales et sur le droit public romain, Pavia, 2012. The reader of Rome et le monde grec will find in the introduction, n. 1, the titles of the articles published in that book concerning the Greek world.
2.   J.-L. Ferrary, Philhellénisme et impérialisme. Aspects idéologiques de la conquête romaine du monde hellénistique, Rome, 1988.
3.   This well-argued assertion may appear as a support to the demonstration that F. Millar raised in The Emperor in the Roman world, London, 1977.

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Andrew Faulkner, Athanassios Vergados, Andreas Schwab (ed.), The Reception of the Homeric Hymns. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. xiv, 409. ISBN 9780198728788. $150.00.

Reviewed by Stephen Sansom, Stanford University (

Version at BMCR home site

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

On the evening of September 30th, 1991, roughly 11 million viewers of the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation heard Captain Jean-Luc Picard respond to his first officer that he was reading not only Greek, but, more specifically, the Homeric Hymns. After a heroic encounter with an alien people who speak only in allegorical myth, Picard turns to the Hymns as "one of the root metaphors of our own culture," with the hope that "more familiarity with our own mythology [may] help us to relate to theirs." For the scholar interested in the reception of the Homeric Hymns, a problem of interpretation presents itself: what do we do with such a Classical name-drop? Is it a reference, citation, allusion—a 'tag'? How deep should we go in the intertext, if it is an intertext at all? What should we make of this bit of hymnic reception?

The Reception of the Homeric Hymns (Oxford 2016), edited by Andrew Faulkner, Athanassios Vergados, and Andreas Schwab, identifies and interprets instances of the reception of the Homeric Hymns. Although the above instance is not featured, it lies only slightly outside the volume's capacious purview. The book provides the most wide-ranging account of the reception of the hymns to date, from 1st century BCE Rome to 19th century England and Germany. The book grew out of a Heidelberg workshop of 2012 and joins the recent increase of scholarship on the Hymns in the Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic eras.1 With its publication, it brings the account of the reception of the Hymns to the cusp of the 20th century. The book is organized into five parts, with each part, except for the first, dedicated to a literary time-period: Narrative and Art (Part 1), Latin Literature (Part II), Imperial and Late Antique Literature (Part III), Byzantine Literature (Part IV), and Renaissance and Modern Literature (Part V). Along with bibliographic references, the book also includes a helpful list of citations to ancient texts as well as a general index.

The volume does not simply fill a gap in scholarship in the reception of the hymns. Rather, it convincingly challenges the received opinion on the "impression of neglect" (3) of the Hymns in antiquity and thereafter. While the Homeric Hymns were never as universally known as the Iliad or the Odyssey—no texts were, of course—the purpose of the volume is to illuminate the instances in later literature where their influence is most apparent. After looking briefly at the introductory material and methodology, I will treat each part of the book in turn.

In addition to previewing the book's contributions, the introduction provides a useful survey of the Classical and Hellenistic reception of the Hymns, as well as the fundamental methodology for the project. The survey catalogues verbal echoes of the Hymns in the few Classical examples found in Pindar, Attic Drama, and Antimachus of Colophon, and in prominent Hellenistic poets, including Philitas of Cos, Aratus, Sotades, Apollonius of Rhodes, Callimachus, Theocritus, and Moschus. The method for identifying the presence of the Hymns in later texts follows the now conventional approach to literary intertextuality, in which scholars interpret or argue for meaning in "verbal parallels combined with thematic elements or motifs" (17). This approach benefits from the wide range of modes of reception to which it can be applied, including poetry, prose, commentaries, translations, and visual art.

Part One of the volume is an outlier in its focus on the visual, rather than literary, reception of the Homeric Hymns in Archaic and Classical vase painting. In both prominent and lesser known vases, Jenny Strauss Clay (Ch. 2) identifies several ways in which visual art represents the content of the Hymns. Some vases synopsize the major events found in a hymn, as the Louvre's Caeretan Black-figure Hydria (E 702, c. 550-530 BCE) does for the Homeric Hymn to Hermes. By way of contrast, the famous kylix of Exekias (Munich Glyptothek, c. 530 BCE), with its reclining Dionysus on a ship surrounded by dolphins, displays the god immediately after the moment of epiphany and full power, "serenely reclining on his ship, tranquilly asserting and basking in his divinity" (34). Clay seamlessly moves between visual and verbal art and continually raises awareness of the complexity of the thematic relationships between them, making the chapter particularly valuable.

Part Two focuses on the reception of the Hymns in Augustan Rome. Each chapter addresses Alessandro Barchiesi's observation about the lack of scholarly attention to the influence of the Hymns in Roman literature.2 In one of the few chapters to trace a hymn through numerous sources, James J. Clauss (ch. 3) tracks Hermes and his theft of Apollo's cattle from Hermes through Callimachus and Apollonius to its multiform as the Hercules-Cacus story found in Virgil, Livy, Propertius, and Ovid. Here the Hellenistic reception, specifically Callimachus' Hymn to Zeus, mediates the Augustan, e.g. through its "embedding of an unnamed monarch, a trope that Ovid inverts by naming names" (78). Stephen Harrison (ch. 4) works across the hymnic poetry of Horace and uncovers several thematic clusters shared with the longer and shorter Homeric Hymns, for example Ode 1.21 and the Homeric Hymn to Artemis (27). In several instances, Harrison helpfully untangles Horace's cultic models, such as Catullus 34, from the Homeric. In chapter 5, John F. Miller sifts through Ovid's account of the nautical abduction of Bacchus and turns up not only persuasive reliance on Hymn 7—for example, both have the "divine boy seized on the shore...rather than present[ing] himself to the pirates" as in Hyginus (99)—but "still other (lost) narrative accounts that are reflected in other surviving sources" (103). Alison Keith (ch. 6) demonstrates that the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite supplies a pattern of details and mythopoetic plot points that can be found throughout the Metamorphoses, but not without a debt to Virgil and the well-studied encounter between Aeneas and Venus in Aeneid 4. Both Keith and Harrison, in fact, point to "Virgilian poetry as an important site of the Homeric Hymns' naturalization in Latin literature" (125). Jason Nethercut (ch. 7) mixes scanty textual and visual evidence, e.g. Apollo and the tripod relief from Augustus' Temple of Apollo Palatinus (138-9), to argue for a type of syncretism of Heracles and Apollo in Ovid.

Part Three pursues the use of the Hymns by Imperial and Late Antique authors, including Lucian, Aelius Aristides, Cornutus, and Proclus. Polyxeni Strolonga (ch. 8) catalogues the multifarious ways that Lucian appropriates the Homeric Hymns in his Dialogues of the Gods for parodic effect, including transposition, literalization, analogy, rivalry for honor (timai), even reformulation of the formulaic ending of many hymns ("farewell [chaire], and now I will remember you (mnêsomai) and another") in parodic prose ("but do me this favour [charis], Cyllenian, so that I will always remember it [memnêsomenôi]," 161). Similar to Harrison in his focus on a single author, Athanassios Vergados (ch. 9) surveys the hymnic work of Aelius Aristides and concludes that Aristides not only knows and alludes to the Hymns in his own prose hymns, but also considers them to be 'prooimia' in emulation of archaic and classical poetic practice (185-6). José B. Torres (ch. 10) treats the broader difficulties of Quellenforschung and identification of the Hymns in later mythographic tradition, especially Cornutus. The final two chapters of part three both assess the Hymns' influence in late antiquity: Robbert M. van den Berg (ch. 11) in the hymnic corpus of the Neoplatonist and Homeric scholar Proclus; and Gianfranco Agosti (ch. 12) in the contestation for Greek paideia between Christians and Pagans (in which Hermes is 'usurped' as a pawn by both).

Part Four follows the Hymns to Byzantium in two very different contributions. Christos Simelidis (ch. 13) elaborates the scribal practices that produced many of the extant manuscripts containing the Hymns. Most importantly, Simelidis argues that the famous manuscript M (Leidensis BPG 33 H), which groups the Hymns with the Iliad, is likely the result of the idiosyncratic interests of its copyist, John Eugenikos. Andrew Faulkner (ch. 14) provides readings of the historical poems of Theodoros Prodromos, which likely contain only brief allusion to Aphrodite but are exemplary as praise poetry in the long hymnic tradition.

Part Five gathers five cases of hymnic reception in Renaissance and Modern literature of Italy, England, and Germany. The two from Italy cover the scholarly production and artistic reinterpretation of the Hymns in the 15th and early 16th centuries. Oliver Thomas (ch. 15) shows how early modern scholars and poets, including Michael Marullus and Francesco Filelfo, deftly maneuvered and ultimately constructed the reception of the hymns as either Homeric texts or as another set of pagan hymns—essentially the origins of "the 'Homerizing' approach that won out historically" (298). M. Elisabeth Schwab (ch. 16) focuses on Florence and the work of Angelo Poliziano, especially his Stanze, in which Schwab finds continual interaction with Aphrodite. Nicholas Richardson (ch. 17) treats the poetic translations of the Hymns in England by Chapman, Congreve, and Shelley. Richardson's description of Shelley's translation of the shorter Hymns and Hermes as a therapeutic practice (337) is particularly touching. In the final chapter (18), Andreas Schwab writes on the 18th and 19th century Heidelberg philologist J. H. Voss's edition, commentary, and German translation of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, a version which emphasized the potential insights into Greek religious thought to be gleaned from the newly discovered hymn.

As a whole, the volume certainly affirms the presence of the Homeric Hymns in the Classical tradition. It will be a useful resource to scholars of the Hymns themselves as well as of the individual authors and texts that receive and revive them. Some may feel that more work could be done at times in sifting through the topoi, motifs, and tropes of mythological, hymnic, and epic language to arrive at a 'core' of Homeric Hymns— perhaps an impossible task. Other readers might desire a more explicit position on the state of intertextual studies. The book makes no claim in this regard. Finally, as is inevitable with edited volumes, there could be a more robust cross- referencing of meaningful connections between chapters.3 The general index, however, does much to assuage this concern. Otherwise, the volume contains few errors that I noticed,4 and it generously translates most non-English texts. Most importantly, the The Reception of the Homeric Hymns demonstrates that the 'deuterocanonical' status (3) of the Hymns has been exaggerated and comprehensively demonstrates that they were read and reinterpreted for a long time, especially within the genres and discourse of hymnology, praise, myth, religion, Homeric epic, and—as Captain Picard attests—science fiction.

Authors and titles

1. "Introduction" by Andrew Faulkner, Athanassios Vergados, and Andreas Schwab Part I. Narrative and Art
2. "Visualizing Divinity: The Reception of the Homeric Hymns in Greek Vase Painting" by Jenny Strauss Clay
Part II. Latin Literature
3. "The Heracles and Cacus Episode in Augustan Literature: Engaging the Homeric Hymn to Hermes in Light of Callimachus' and Apollonius' Reception" by James J. Clauss
4. "The Homeric Hymns and Horatian Lyric" by Stephen Harrison
5. "Ovid's Bacchic Helmsman and Homeric Hymn 7" by John F. Miller
6. "The Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite in Ovid and Augustan Literature" by Alison Keith
7. "Hercules and Apollo in Ovid's Metamorphoses" by Jason S. Nethercut
Part III. Imperial and Late Antique Literature
8. "The Homeric Hymns Turn into Dialogues: Lucian's Dialogues of the Gods" by Polyxeni Strolonga
9. "The Reception of the Homeric Hymns in Aelius Aristides" by Athanassios Vergados
10. "The Homeric Hymns, Cornutus, and the Mythographical Stream" by José B. Torres
11. "The Homeric Hymns in Late Antiquity: Proclus and the Hymn to Ares" by Robbert M. van den Berg
12. "Praising the God(s): Homeric Hymns in Late Antiquity" by Gianfranco Agosti
Part IV. Byzantine Literature
13. "On the Homeric Hymns in Byzantium" by Christos Simelidis
14. "Theodoros Prodromos' Historical Poems: A Hymnic Celebration of John II Komnenos" by Andrew Faulkner
Part V. Renaissance and Modern Literature
15. "Homeric and/or Hymns: Some Fifteenth-century Approaches" by Oliver Thomas
16. "The Rebirth of Venus: The Homeric Hymns to Aphrodite and Poliziano's Stanze" by M. Elisabeth Schwab
17. "'Those miraculous effusions of genius': The Homeric Hymns Seen through the Eyes of English Poets" by Nicholas Richardson
18. "The Reception of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter in Romantic Heidelberg: J. H. Voss and 'the Elusian Document'" by Andreas Schwab


1.   E.g. A. Faulkner (2011) The Homeric Hymns: Interpretative Essays. Oxford. BMCR 2012.06.07.
2.   (1999) "Venus' Masterplot: Ovid and the Homeric Hymns." in Ovidian Transformations: Essays on Ovid's Metamorphoses and its Reception. P. Hardie, A. Barchiesi, and S. Hinds, eds.. Cambridge. BMCR 2000.07.23
3.   E.g. discussion of Dionysus' agency in leading Hephaestus back to Olympus (and West's comments thereon), pp. 167 and 198; to Proclus and ch. 11 at pp. 223n.8-9; Tyrrhenian pirates and Dionysus at pp. 33n. 8, 96/99, and 166; and the ideological pressures on hymning political figures at pp. 78, 270, and 292.
4.   E.g. p. 57n.6 should read Pindar P. 4.148-50 (not P. 41.148-50); p. 116 ἅδεν and Ἱστίῃ instead of ἅδε and Ἱστίη (Aphr. 21- 22); p. 232 should feature a comma instead of semicolon at "having drawn out a portion of his diverse power[;]<,> he is Hermes-Nous..."; p. 266n.14 would benefit from an ellipsis at "Ηοm. 32.8 εἵματα<...>τηλαυγέα," and p. 336 from a space at ἀθανάτῃ/παρέλεκτο (167).

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Sergio Casali, Virgilio, Eneide 2. Introduzione, traduzione e commento. Syllabus, 1. Pisa: Edizione della Normale, 2017. Pp. 390. ISBN 9788876425721. €25.00 (pb).

Reviewed by David Quint, Yale University (

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This volume is the first in a series of texts and commentaries, Syllabus, published by the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. Giampiero Rosati notes in a brief preface that the series is intended for university and advanced upper school students. This handsomely produced book contains an introduction and textual note, Virgil's text and a facing page translation in clear, literal prose, a commentary, extensive bibliography, a useful contents index, and an index locorum. It sets a very high standard for the Pisa series and immediately places itself among the elite commentaries of Aeneid 2, alongside Austin (1964) and Horsfall (2008). Sergio Casali draws on these – on occasion he refers the reader for further bibliography to Horsfall's exhaustive work – as well as on Italian scholarship (Feliciano Speranza, Alfonso Traina) and on Giacomo Leopardi's verse translation of Book 2. He brings us up to date with scholarship and criticism published in the last decade since Horsfall's work. Casali manages to be both thorough and more selective in his annotation (the commentary comes in at 250 pages – Horsfall at 500 plus, Austin at 265 with smaller print.) He offers short preliminary summaries and guides to interpretation of sections and episodes of the book, before digging into questions of textual variants, usage, verbal nuance, allusion. The result is a well-shaped, reader-friendly guide to Virgil's poetry by one of its top scholars and critics.

Casali's introduction systematically examines the relationship of Book 2 to the preceding tradition of accounts of the fall of Troy and of the Aeneas legend. Virgil's "delicate task" – the delicate task as well of Aeneas, the narrator of his own story – is to depict the hero experiencing defeat and yet surviving the destruction of his country. Virgil has to take into account stories less creditable to Aeneas: that he left Troy before the Greeks took the city, that he may even have been a traitor who went over to the Greek side. Such stories circulated, and in some cases may have originated, among enemies of Rome. Casali shows how the serpents' killing of Laocoon and his sons – the portent that, according to the most authoritative tradition (the Ilioupersis and Sophocles' Laocoon) caused Anchises to persuade Aeneas to leave the city before it fell – becomes instead in the Aeneid the divine sign that clinches Sinon's fraudulent story and causes the Trojans to bring the wooden horse into the city. Virgil's Anchises, in an inversion of Ennius's Annales as well, refuses to leave the burning city, and is only convinced to do so by a very different portent sent from Jupiter, the Julian omen of the fiery hair of Iulus and the comet-like shooting star. Following Heinze, Casali also explains why Virgil does not follow versions in which Aeneas worthily takes command and holds the Trojan citadel: After losing most of his band of followers after they follow the stratagem of harebrained Coroebus and don Greek arms (so explaining the tradition in which Aeneas looks like a traitor), Virgil has Aeneas reach the citadel only to witness the death of Priam and then, through the intervention of Venus, the gods' demolition of Troy; he finally realizes that further resistance is futile. Where Venus in other accounts guides Aeneas and family out of the city, Virgil's Venus only accompanies Aeneas back to his house.

The absence of divine protection in the final flight from Troy is the condition for the loss along the way of Creusa, who will turn out, as one tradition had it, to be under the protection both of Venus and of Cybele. "At one and the same time, Creusa, humanly, is lost, while, divinely, she comes to be saved by Cybele." (37) Casali shows how Virgil, masterfully rewriting his own story of Orpheus and Eurydice in the Fourth Georgic, both makes Aeneas responsible and absolves him for the loss of his wife. Both here in the Introduction and in the Commentary that follows, Casali notes how Virgil points to prior accounts of the Aeneas story that he is not following as well as to his own innovations. When Lucifer, the star of Venus, appears at the end of the book (2.801-2) to signal a new dawn for the hero and the Trojan refugees who have gathered around him, we are asked to remember the alternate tradition in which the goddess accompanied her son out of the city as well as the story that Venus sent a star to guide the Trojans across the sea to Italy (a story that Aeneas himself glances at 1.382, when he tells his story in Carthage to none other than Venus in diguise). Aeneas's wonder at finding new fellow Trojans placing themselves under his lead – "hic ingentem comitum adfluxisse nouorum / inuenio admirans numerum" (2.796-7), Casali argues, tips the reader off to the new invention and tradition that Virgil is creating. These metaliterary arguments are a feature of Casali's own wider criticism and of his critical moment, and they lend a distinctive flavor to his commentary vis-a-vis its predecessors.

Casali views the Helen episode as a non-Virgilian interpolation, correctly I believe. The hero Aeneas is not quite a superhero: he would need X-ray vision to spot Helen lurking in the shadows of another building and he can't fly down to her from the roof of Priam's palace. Casali prints the Helen passage in brackets and gives due space in his commentary for the arguments of critics who want it to be genuine. He concedes a narrative gap in the text that Venus's apparition does not suture over.

The commentary teems with new observations as well as careful siftings of the remarks of earlier scholars. It contains one of the best discussions I know of Sinon's lying stories, in which Sinon tricks the Trojans while telling stories of trickery (something which can reflect on our storytelling hero, Aeneas, and on the poet Virgil, too, who may be putting one over on us). Casali points out many instances in which Sinon takes satisfaction in his own cleverness and in his derision of his duped Trojan audience. At the same time, Casali indicates how Sinon's words have a way of backfiring on him and the Greeks, particularly in the cock-and-bull story of the stolen Palladium, which looks forward to a real sacrilege in Athena's temple, the rape of Cassandra, to which Virgil tactfully alludes, but which he does not directly depict. He tactically places the Cassandra episode at the center of the book, the turning point in the battle between Aeneas's band of defenders and the Greek invaders. If the rape of the virgin Cassandra stands in for the taking of Troy itself, it also occasions Athena's wrath and punishment, the wrecking of the Greek fleet at Caphereus – punishment, it can now seem, for both deeds. (The wreck is the first event we learn about in the Aeneid, through the voice of grumbling Juno [1.39f].) Sinon's coupling of the phony Palladium story with the half-true story of Palamedes doubles down on this motif, for Palamedes's father Nauplius takes his own vengeance by hanging out false signal fires that further shatter the Greek ships against the cliffs of Caphereus (cf. 11.259-260). The reader of the Aeneid thus sees the great opening storm sent by Juno as a damp squib next to the disaster that awaits the returning Greeks and that begins the long decline of Greece before Roman power in the poem: all unwittingly predicted by Sinon. In the same discussion, on vv. 114-115, Casali inserts a brilliant note on Eurypilus, who, according to Sinon's false story, is sent to consult the oracle at Delphi that demands the human sacrifice – a repeat of Iphigenia and Artemis – that will turn out to be Sinon; Eurypilus, in Pausanias, is indeed involved in a story that concerns the oracle, but one that puts an end to human sacrifice to Artemis.

Another striking note to v. 540 sees Priam's famously telling Pyrrhus /Neoptolemus that he lacks the mercy and magnanimity of his father Achilles as a reversal of an Ennian fragment in which Hannibal is found to lack the maganimity of King Pyrrhus, who claimed descent from Achilles and Pyrrhus; this link between Pyrrhus and King Pyrrhus will turn up again in Book 3 in Buthrotum, part of the Molossian king's realm of Epirus.

One of Casali's most original findings comes at the end of the book. He argues that behind the shade of Creusa, who appears to Aeneas to tell him that she has been deified by Cybele and that he is to find a new royal wife in Hesperia, is the deus-ex-machina figure of Apollo at the end of Euripides' Orestes: Apollo announces that the divinely engendered Helen is now a divinity and that her husband, Menelaus, should remarry (1638). It is an arresting parallel to discover at the end of a Virgilian book so full of reminiscences of Euripides' Trojan plays (with the Hecuba and Andromache lurking around the bend in Book 3). We will have to see what other scholars make of this proposal. It suggests relationships in Book 2 among the now prophetic Creusa, the ravished Cassandra, and the never-punished Helen. (Homer places Helen squarely back together with Menelaus in Sparta in Odyssey4, a situation that Virgil, I think, rewrites into another mismatched couple, Andromache and Helenus, bid by Aeneas in Book 3 to live happily ever after in Buthrotum; Virgil's Deiphobus has plenty to say about Helen in Book 6.) It might require more thinking about the Helen episode.

Casali's text follows the principal editions of Conte, Mynors, Geymonat and Horsfall, and notes the manuscript traditions. His commentary discusses the few textual variants that matter. He makes a defensible choice of "lassa" over "lapsa" in verse 739 to describe a Creusa who may have sat down because of weariness on the way out of Troy and was left behind by Aeneas; the latter is also consonant with a book in which so much has fallen.

Casali's commentary is a must-read for a serious Virgilian.

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Thursday, March 29, 2018


Curie Virág, The Emotions in Early Chinese Philosophy. Emotions of the past. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. Pp. xiii, 219. ISBN 9780190498818. $90.00.

Reviewed by Ed Sanders, University of Roehampton (

Version at BMCR home site

[Chapter titles are listed below.]

Early Chinese philosophy is outside the usual range of BMCR's interests, but this review considers the book from a Classicist's perspective. The period covered by the volume is the early-5th to the late-3rd centuries BCE, the 'Warring States' period in China, when political disunity created the situations in which a number of philosophers and their schools could flourish. These schools were characterized inter alia by a wide range of views on emotion, and this volume examines the place of emotions within their various natural, psychological, ethical and political philosophies. The exact mix of these varies quite considerably between schools.

The introduction notes that the primary term for 'emotions' (qing) developed early in this period out of its earlier meaning of 'how things are', and includes both objective and subjective aspects. Lists of 'basic feelings' comprised some or all of "joy (xi), anger (nu), sadness (ai), delight/pleasure (le), fear (ju), love (ai), dislike (wu), and desire (yu)" (p. 6, Chinese characters removed). This suggests that other emotions might involve more complex mixtures of these – though the point is not developed.

Though the period coincides with the principal floruit of Greek philosophy, and Classicists will feel occasional flashes of recognition at the way Chinese philosophers express a point, such similarities are probably coincidental. Virág frequently argues that Chinese philosophy does not share Western philosophy's approach in a range of ways, including such dichotomies as reason and emotion, thinking and feeling, objective reality and subjective experience, etc. In particular, the self and the external natural world (which includes humans) are much more closely entwined than in Greek thought. While some Chinese philosophers believed emotions were a passive response to the natural world, others believed they actively shaped it. Though there were arguments about the appropriateness of (some) emotions, Virág argues for a common "orientation … that despite their tendency to go awry, emotions and desires functioned according to the patterns and workings of the natural world, and that their fulfillment was a necessary feature of the fully realized human existence" (p. 1).

The substantive chapters cover six philosophers or traditions of thought, of which Virág describes five (Confucius, Laozi/the Daodejing, Mencius, the Zhuangzi, and Xunzi) as 'mainstream'. These unite in holding a 'naturalistic' view of emotions, by which the author means that they "make sense of the natural world – humans included – in terms of intelligible processes" (p. 16) – though the ways in which humans and their experiences interact with the natural world is very much up for debate. The sixth philosopher discussed (Mozi) is commonly thought not to share this interest in a naturalistic psychology of emotions, but rather to approach them normatively; however, Virág argues against this received view. Though some arguments between individual philosophers are noted in passing, the volume does not concentrate on inter-school debates.

Chapter 1 considers Confucius (551-479 BCE) and the Confucian tradition, as propounded in the Analects. Confucius sees the self as integrated with (or attuned to) the wider human world around us. Emotions and desires determine how we interact with that world with agency. One must cultivate the self by performing ceremonial rituals in the right frame of mind – correct actions being pointless without appropriate emotional feelings – until one learns to act with 'humaneness' (ren), the supreme moral virtue. At that point, one's emotions and desires will be in tune with the correct way to act, and one achieves fulfillment. Deep emotion truly felt will last a long time, and affect one's actions during that period.

Mozi (c.480-390 BCE) disagreed with Confucius's conclusions, believing that people should, through reasoning, pursue objective knowledge as to how society should be ordered. Problems in the world stem from partiality: people care most about themselves, then their family and friends, and little about others. Instead they should learn to desire what is best for the community as a whole. Emotions lead to wrong actions (including by rulers), so should generally be expunged. However, it is natural and right to desire such things as "peace and comfort, … food, clothing, and shelter" (p. 56), so one should aim at a society where such things are universally achieved, by cultivating 'impartial caring' (jian ai).

The early Daoist text, the Daodejing, attributed to Laozi (4th century BCE), is often taken as showing a similar dislike for emotions, as it occasionally speaks negatively about specific emotions such as anger, and senses-based desires (yu) in particular. However, in other passages, it advocates desires, including natural desires for "food, drink, shelter, and sex" (p. 77). Virág sees yu as having an ambivalent meaning: these desires are healthy, insofar as they are biologically driven; however, desires for unrestrained pleasures are unhealthy, and should be avoided. The sage knows that eliminating these allows one to fulfil one's desires for necessities. This links emotional fulfillment to harmony with nature.

Mencius (372-289 BCE) did not use the word qing for emotions, but expounded the most developed emotion theory yet. He believed humans had biologically innate dispositions, centered in the xin (heart/mind), towards "pity and compassion" (ce yin), "shame and aversion" (xiu wu), "courtesy and respect" (gong jing), and a "sense of right and wrong" (shi fei)", and that if those potentials were fulfilled they would achieve "the basic human virtues of humaneness (ren), rightness (yi), ritual propriety (li), and wisdom (zhi)" (p. 101, Chinese characters removed). The process of fulfillment comes about through understanding one's nature and Heaven. Mencius believed (like Confucius) in performing rituals, but because doing or not doing so aroused satisfaction or horror. He also saw the political art of ruling as being about pleasing the ruled "to the depths of their hearts" (p. 121). He believed the good ruler should share with his subjects the things that delight him. In many ways, then, emotions are bound up with moral behavior in Mencius's thought.

The Zhuangzi (late-4th century BCE), a composite text of multiple voices, appears both to see value in emotions and advocate transcending them – which Virág describes as a "doubleness … [of] detachment and engagement" (pp. 134- 5). Emotions stem from our human nature, so cannot be avoided. Painful emotions such as "fear, anxiety, or anger" (p. 135) result from not being in harmony with the world, and the Zhuangzi seems to suggest we should aspire to free ourselves from them, but that feeling pleasant emotions such as affection and joy/happiness (le) is in line with attaining full human potential. Rather than this being an ascetic message, Virág argues that the Zhuangzi sees emotions as neither moral nor immoral in themselves: what matters is whether they are fitting to a situation. When deciding whether to engage or detach, one should employ a method of 'wandering' (you), which through testing ways of responding to the world will lead us to true knowledge.

The final sage, Xunzi (c. 310-210 BCE), sees human nature as bad because inclined to gratify urgent sensual desires. Innate dispositions are 'unlovely' (bu mei), creating emotions and desires that seek selfish ends. Through deliberate effort, thought and reflection, we can overcome these base natures. These are pursued via a twofold process of detachment from (but not transcending) one's current situation and accumulating experiences through sensory engagement, and are aided by ritual and music. This helps us feel fulfillment, and aligns us with the cosmic process. Like other thinkers in this book, Xunzi believes that true knowledge will lead us to respond to situations with the right – and right amount of – emotions.

This is a somewhat unusual book, compared with what we would expect from a volume on emotions in Greek or Roman philosophy. We learn little about what Chinese philosophers thought emotions were, what caused them, from which part of the body/soul they emanated, or how they felt. We learn less about how specific emotions mediated human interactions or engagement with literature or the arts. The term 'emotion' is, in fact, never defined, but rather the English word is generally used in the book explicitly to avoid having to pin down an amorphous category of loosely related phenomena (pp. 7-8). While a number of specific emotions are mentioned in passing, these are rarely examined in detail, except for central terms such as 'impartial caring' (jian ai). Most emotions that are specifically named (e.g. in the list in paragraph 2 above) are given simple English translations, that assume without discussion a one-to-one equivalence with English language emotions.

These quibbles aside, this is in many ways an excellent and enlightening book. The level of argument is uniformly high: Virág both engages with previous scholarship, and is not afraid to move beyond it, giving her own (often radically) new interpretations of texts, and in the process rehabilitating at least one philosopher into the 'mainstream'. On first reading, these Chinese philosophies seem so alien to the Greek and Roman worlds that one wonders what use a Classicist might make of them. However, repeated re-reading raises questions about our own (Western) tendency to unconsciously adopt Greek thought patterns. Looking through the eyes of these highly intelligent and subtle, but very different thinkers, one wonders how much further we might question our own assumptions in reading Classical texts.

The book is well produced, but a small number of typographical errors were noted, such as a wrongly italicized title (p. 119), and a hyphen missing between dates (p. 163).

Chapter titles

1. Emotions and the Integrated Self in the Analects of Confucius
2. Reasons to Care: Redefining the Human Community in Mozi
3. Cosmic Desire and Human Agency in the Daodejing
4. Human Nature and the Pattern of Moral Life in Mencius
5. The Multiple Valences of Emotions in the Zhuangzi
6. The Composite Self and the Fulfillment of Human Nature in Xunzi
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Wednesday, March 28, 2018


N. G. Wilson, From Byzantium to Italy: Greek Studies in the Italian Renaissance. Second edition (first published 1992). London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017. Pp. xi, 231. ISBN 9781474250474. $35.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Renate Burri, University of Berne (

Version at BMCR home site


A quarter of a century after the publication of From Byzantium to Italy: Greek Studies in the Italian Renaissance,1 Nigel G. Wilson has prepared a second edition of this classic work. It remains an essential introduction to the reception of classical Greek literature in humanist Italy. A first, slightly revised edition of the book appeared in 2000 in Italian translation, and was reprinted in 2003.2 The author updated the work once more for its 2015 French translation.3

The new 2017 English edition is a reasonably priced paperback, but it is also available as an eBook (at the same price). According to the five lines added by the author to the Preface to the first edition (p. x), the principal motivations for this revision are the considerable amount of research done in the meanwhile, as well as new findings in the fields treated in the book. For this purpose, "various adjustments have been made, and a large number of the notes have been brought up to date" in the text of this new edition. Nonetheless, the newly designed cover presents the book – correctly, as we will see – as a "Second Edition" rather than as a revised edition. The Table of Contents and the structure of the book are identical to the first edition, but the pagination is not. After a short Preface and List of Abbreviations, the material is arranged in a chronological overview of the theme and presented in fifteen chapters of various lengths, some of which are divided into subchapters. The chapters and subchapters are dedicated mostly to protagonists or places. The last chapter, the Conclusion, is followed by the Notes, more precisely endnotes, referencing the body of the work and organized in sequence by chapter.4 These are primarily, but not exclusively, bibliographical references. Indexes conclude the volume.

The main focus of the book is the revival of Greek studies, including the reception and production of (usually) Latin translations of Greek classical works in Italy, bridging the late medieval and early modern periods. Planned as "a sequel to Scholars of Byzantium (p. ix), another classic by Wilson,5 the narrative's first main actor in the book under review is the Calabrian Leonzio Pilato. He produced – it seems at the suggestion of the leading Italian authors of that time, Petrarch and Boccaccio – complete Latin versions of the Iliad and the Odyssey as well as a Latin translation of the beginning of Euripides' Hecuba. Pilato also lectured on these authors in Florence in the early 1360s. But it was only with the Byzantine diplomat Manuel Chrysoloras, appointed Greek professor in Florence in 1397, that a continuous tradition of teaching and studying Greek in Italy was established. He provided Italian humanists such as Leonardo Bruni, Ambrogio Traversari, Guarino Veronese, and many others with the requisite know-how and he set new standards, thanks to his Greek grammar book, the Erotemata, and his method of translating idiomatically instead of verbum pro verbo.

Wilson concludes his narrative in 1515 – the year of Aldus Manutius' death. Manutius was the founder of the most significant Renaissance publishing house. Located in Venice, this firm established its reputation in large part through the editing of Greek texts. Theocritus was the first Greek text printed by the Aldine publishing house, appearing in 1495. From 1498 onwards the Cretan emigré Marcus Musurus became Manutius' expert collaborator in preparing Greek editions. The publishing house's activities had a deep and lasting effect on scholars and students. However, they were less kind to copyists, whose services became increasingly expendable. Musurus' death only two years after Manutius' concluded "one stage in the history of scholarship" (p. 177). At that point, the editions and Latin versions of Greek texts produced to date were based on only one or a very small number of manuscripts, and these were mostly not the most important textual witnesses. Wilson argues that, all in all, the corpus of Greek classical literary works, as far as it was extant after the Fourth Crusade in 1204, was preserved nearly completely by humanists active on Italian soil.

The bulk of the amendments in this second edition are found in the Notes. Numerous notes have been updated, and two thirds of the chapters now have one to five additional notes. I would have expected the book as a whole and the bibliographical information in particular to have been updated on a larger scale, but, as already stated, this is a second and not a revised edition. Additionally, mostly likely in keeping with his practice in the first edition, the author appears to refrain from mentioning some titles if they "did not seem to offer a real contribution to the point [he] wished to argue" (p. x). Still, the Notes should have been reworked more carefully, especially as far as style and consistency are concerned.6

The book is generally free of errors, but there are a few typographical mistakes, some of which are not present in the first edition, even though the text was not altered in the relevant passages for the second edition.7

Apart from these quibbles, it remains a pleasure and a thrill to read this book. Wilson's language is clear and concise. The author focuses on the essential but still enlivens the narrative with enjoyable and exciting anecdotes without ever losing the thread of his argument. He finds the right balance between sticking to facts and launching hypotheses on the basis of possible relations and links. In the age of companions and conference proceedings, this monograph particularly captivates thanks to the homogeneity of its contents and themes, as well as the sharpness of its focus. 8


1.   London: Duckworth, 1992.
2.   N. G. Wilson, Da Bisanzio all'Italia: gli studi greci nell'umanesimo italiano, edizione italiana, rivista e aggiornata, traduzione di Barbara Sancin (Alessandria: Edizioni dell'Orso, 2000, ristampata ibid., 2003).
3.   N. G. Wilson, De Byzance à l'Italie. L'enseignement du grec à la Renaissance, traduit par Henri Dominique Saffrey (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2015), p. 14: "Je suis heureux d'avoir une nouvelle occasion de faire une révision pour cette édition française."
4.   In the Italian and French translations (see above notes 3 and 4), the Notes appear as footnotes.
5.   N. G. Wilson, Scholars of Byzantium (London: Duckworth, 1983).
6.   For instance, references to works cited in an earlier chapter consist sometimes only of the name of the author + "op. cit." + page(s) (see, e.g., p. 197, n. 5), sometimes "op. cit." is additionally followed by "at Ch. #, n. #" (see, e.g., p. 188, n. 5), sometimes "op. cit." is replaced by a short title of the work in question (see, e.g., p. 187, n. 1). For books, place and year of edition are usually indicated, but in a few instances the place is replaced by the publisher's name (see, e.g., p. 186, n. 8). Note 4 on p. 185 is supplemented with further references, but the text of the following number appears unchanged so that the first word of it, "Ibid.", now refers to the wrong title. In n. 19 on p. 201 a reference to a preceding note has not been adapted to the new numbering of the notes due to the insertion of an additional note.
7.   These include: (p. 33) "pracsertim" for "praesertim", (p. 42) "Muntua" for "Mantua", (p. 91) "Vittorino's school He" for "Vittorino's school. He", (p. 92) "he would he blamed" for "he would be blamed", (p. 121) "empire the Enchiridion" for "empire, the Enchiridion", (p. 198) "Coaimo" for "Cosimo", (p. 207) "Miscellanca" for "Miscellanea", (p. 228) "Modens, Biblloteca" for "Modena, Biblioteca". A few errors can be found in text additions (p. 86: "He write" for "He wrote", p. 186: "MS. Urh." for "MS. Urb.", p. 210: "Matese" for "Maltese"). One further error has not been corrected from the first edition (p. 215: "intiera" for "intera").
8.   I wish to thank Y. N. Gershon for various suggestions pertaining to the text and English phraseology of this review.

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Richard Seaford, John Wilkins, Matthew Wright (ed.), Selfhood and the Soul: Essays on Ancient Thought and Literature in Honour of Christopher Gill. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. Pp. xi, 331. ISBN 9780198777250. $105.00.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Ulrich, Wellesley College (

Version at BMCR home site

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

It is a humbling realization for anyone about to review a Festschrift to realize that, in order to appreciate fully the arguments presented in the volume under consideration, one would have to be the honorand to whom it is dedicated. Indeed, Selfhood and the Soul covers such a broad range of material—from the evolution of the psychē in Archaic Greek literature to Galen's physiological analysis of rage, from underworld geographies in Vergil to Persianic satire—across multiple distinct disciplines— philosophy, medicine, music, literature—that it would be impossible to give a thorough treatment of such a text without possessing all the interests and expertise that Christopher Gill acquired over a long and distinguished career.

Selfhood and the Soul evolved out of a 2013 conference held at Exeter to honor Christopher Gill and, broadly speaking, the volume is meant to reflect (but not fully encapsulate) the kinds of questions he explored throughout his career: questions about the boundaries of the self, identity, and the soul in antiquity, about the development of personality and psychology, and about the intersection of literature, philosophy, and medicine. As such, the thirteen stand-alone contributions in Selfhood and the Soul, though lacking a unified theme or question—a goal the editors explicitly eschew—deploy a variety of methodologies aimed at elucidating, implicitly or explicitly, "some aspect of selfhood or the soul" (2).

After an introduction co-authored by Seaford, Wilkins, and Wright, Selfhood and the Soul opens with a piece by Richard Seaford (ch. 1), which represents a significant expansion on earlier work. In it, Seaford addresses anew Bruno Snell's old claim that there is no concept of "consciousness" in Homer that mirrors our word for "soul" by appealing to a historical phenomenon previously unrecognized—namely, how the psychē as a form of "consciousness" evolves in tandem with the emergence of Greek coinage. 1 With a comprehensive treatment of sources from Homer to the pre-Socratics, Seaford convincingly argues that the process of abstraction required to endow coined money with value—a level of abstraction, he notes, absent from gift-exchange cultures such as Homeric society—is parallel to the philosophical process of recognizing and naming an abstract, individual and metaphysical soul.

Five subsequent chapters (2, 3, 4, 5, and 8) constitute a thematic cluster, exploring the philosophical struggles involved in (a) experiencing pleasure and happiness, (b) recollecting the past, and (c) making choices for the future. Katja Maria Vogt opens this cluster with a study of "hope" in Plato's Philebus (ch. 2), in which she suggests that, contrary to earlier Greek conceptions of elpis as empty and deceptive, Plato recognizes "hope" as a "future-directed" anticipation, one "essential to agency" and "informative [as an] affective response" (38). Here, Vogt is primarily concerned with showing how hope points to potential future states of pleasure, and how, furthermore, agents are compelled to use their imaginations to choose what to pursue. One must imagine different future lives—such as that of Plato's sea-urchin (Philebus 21c)—to make well-informed choices. A related question of choice (prohairesis; voluntas) is explored in the next chapter by Richard Sorabji (ch. 3), who builds on previous seminal work to explore the origins of both the concept of the "will" and of the "free will." In particular, Sorabji responds to Frede's claim that Epictetus predated Augustine in developing a notion of the "will" by demonstrating how, in fact, many strands of Augustine's conception of voluntas can be deciphered in texts from Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Lucretius, and Plotinus (not Epictetus).3

Whereas Vogt and Sorabji deal with future-directed choices, R. J. Hankinson (ch. 4) sets out to elucidate questions of the continuity of personhood and of retained memories of a past self. Within the collection, Hankinson employs the most distinctly analytic approach to discuss the survival of the soul across transmigrations and even tele-transportations gone awry. Related to Hankinson's question of continuant identity across bodily transmigrations is Nicholas Banner's treatment of Plotinus' conception of the self (ch. 8): the soul of the philosopher can be transformed through ascent and yet still retain an indeterminate selfhood, existing somewhere between pure soul and body. Finally, David Sedley closes out this thematic cluster (ch. 5) with a helpful archaeology of Epicurus' concept of mental pleasure, where he traces in particular how Epicurus developed his theory of eudaimonia in response to the competing claims of the contemporary Cyrenaic school. Whereas pleasure is "unitemporal" (monochronos) according to Cyrenaic doctrine, and therefore can only be enjoyed at the very moment it is experienced—like Plato's sea-urchin—Epicurean pleasures can be felt in a mediated way both in retrospect and in prospect. Thus, according to Sedley, the "Epicurean complete life is enjoyed synoptically, and not just episodically" (104).

The next thematic group (6, 7, 9, and 10) departs from broad-brush philosophical concerns with selfhood and turns, instead, towards the application of these types of questions to specific authors. In Chapter 6, Malcolm Schofield aims to recover a largely lost debate from Cicero's De Re Publica over whether empire can ever come about in a purely just manner. Demonstrating how Cicero develops the comparison—differently from Aristotle—between the soul's control over the body and a master's power over a slave, Schofield argues that Cicero's Laelius in De Re Publica does not advocate for "a defense of empire as a form of just enslavement" (124). Gretchen Reydams-Schils analyzes Maximus of Tyre's conception of divinity and providence in Chapter 7, interpreting the metaphorical and literary language in a list of divine attributes—similar to those we find in other Middle Platonists (cf., e.g., Apul. Met. 11.5)—to show the fundamental syncretism in Maximus' theology. For Reydams-Schils, Stoic conceptions of a relational, and not strictly noetic divinity bleed into an otherwise Platonic framework in Oration 41.

Moving into the world of medicine, P. N. Singer (ch. 9) uncovers a physicalist interpretation of rage in understudied Galenic texts that go beyond the traditional psychological treatises historians of medicine generally consider. Indeed, the causal element of the phenomenon of rage—often occurring in certain circumstances (e.g., bathing)—is a particular material mixture of blood, pneuma, and heat from the body. Though Galen later endorses a concept of the Platonic tripartite soul, in Singer's view, he here reveals a more complicated and ambivalent relationship between material phenomena in the body and psychic responses. And last in this thematic cluster, Paul Scade (ch. 10) uses Galen's interpretation of music's irrational influence on the soul as a jumping off point to investigate how music was, in fact, seen as a rational and structured logos in the unified Stoic psychology, as a force that could be as powerful as language for the trained listener.

The final three chapters, which I found (together with Seaford's opening) to be the most innovative and compelling of the volume, take a distinct turn towards the literary. First of the triad is Matthew Wright's treatment of erōs in Greek tragedy (ch. 11), which by his own admission "pays heavy-handed hommage" to Barthes' Fragments d'un discours amoureux. Building on Barthes' demonstration that love is "not simply experienced by the subject but rather constructed through language" (220), Wright responds to the general trend in studies of Greek tragedy to see erōs as a strictly negative or problematic affection. By delineating in a Barthian-style "Lover's Dictionary" the various metaphors and epithets associated with erōs across the corpus of Greek tragedy (including fragments), Wright demonstrates that erōs in tragedy exists very much on a continuum with earlier and later Greek conceptions of love.

In the penultimate chapter (12), Emma Gee offers the boldest contribution of the collection, where she explores different approaches to visualizing underworld geographies by analogizing the process to mapping the structure of the soul. Underworld geography becomes, in her view, an "extrusion of the soul's configuration onto the idea of landscape" (245). Beginning with Freud's early attempt to map the soul in Civilization and Its Discontents—wherein he compares memory-traces in the soul to the palimpsest-like traces in the Eternal City—Gee proceeds through a series of modern psycho-geographies and ancient cartographies, roughly contemporaneous with Vergil, to describe the process of mapping layers of space in Aeneid 6's underworld. Inspired by Lacan, Gee cleverly suggests that more complex and interwoven topographies, such as the Mobius strip or the Torus, could more accurately model the structure of the soul and the topography of the afterlife.

Shadi Bartsch closes out the volume (ch. 13) with an expansion of her previous work on Persianic satire—a fitting final homage to Christopher Gill insofar as she expertly blends interpretations of Stoic philosophy, medicine, and literature. In short, Bartsch reads Persius' food metaphors across the satires as representing the genre as a cleansing antidote to the gustatory excesses of Neronian Rome. In contrast to Lucretius' honeyed-cup and much stronger and more pungent than Horace's crustula (Sat. 1.1.25), Persius' satire offers only boiled down (decoctius) medicinal vegetables and purgative beets, which "scrape" (radere) away bad mores just as actual beets were recommended to clean out the digestive tracts of patients. The satirist thus appropriates medical terms to make programmatic claims for the genre.

Overall, Selfhood and the Soul represents a high-quality, rich collection, comprised of thoughtful explorations of identity, the self, and the good life, and it will be useful to philologists, philosophers, and historians of medicine alike. What it lacks in unified theme and specificity, it makes up for in its focus, breadth, and substance of argumentation. There are, I should note, a great number of editorial errors that OUP let slip through, but I hope they can be fixed in a reprinting. Throughout the volume, prepositions and even verbs are routinely ellipsed, left to the reader to supply them (to cite a few: "to be pleased and to feel? pleasure and delight" (38) according to Philebus, not Protarchus, as Vogt claims; "by saying that what is up to us is in control of the choice…" (54); "…such as suspicion [not 'suspicious'], jealousy, hatred…" (290); and many others I do not have room here to enumerate). I also found two misprints of primary texts in my read through: one of a fragment (fr. 269) of Euripides in Wright's discussion, where καλῶν ἄπειρον ὢν is printed (235) and he, no doubt, means to print ἄπειρος; the second is more problematic, since Bartsch makes a rather strong claim (286-7) about decerpo in Persius' satire as it relates to Seneca's use of the verb in Thyestes 61, but prints discerpta (rather than decerpta), which is found in Tarrant's text.3 Infelicities aside, Selfhood and the Soul is an excellent volume, and will inspire in its readers a fascination with the same sorts of questions Christopher Gill spent his long career exploring.

Authors and titles

1. The Psychē from Homer to Plato: A Historical Sketch, Richard Seaford
2. Imagining Good Future States: Hope and Truth in Plato's Philebus, Katja Maria Vogt
3. Freedom and Will: Greco-Roman Origins, Richard Sorabji
4. Survival and the Self: Materialism and Metempsychosis, R. J. Hankinson
5. Epicurean versus Cyrenaic Happiness, David Sedley
6. Cicero on Imperialism and the Soul, Malcolm Schofield
7. Maximus of Tyre on God and Providence, Gretchen Reydams-Schils
8. The Indeterminate Self and its Cultivation in Plotinus, Nicholas Banner
9. The Essence of Rage: Galen on Emotional Disturbances and the Physical Correlates, P. N. Singer
10. Music and the Soul in Stoicism, Paul Scade
11. A Lover's Discourse: Erōs in Greek Tragedy, Matthew Wright
12. The Self and the Underworld, Emma Gee
13. Philosophy, Physicians, and Persianic Satire, Shadi Bartsch


1.   B. Snell, The Discovery of the Mind, trans. T. G. Rosenmeyer (New York, 1960), pp. 1-22.
2.   M. Frede, A Free Will: Origin of the Notion in Ancient Thought, ed. A. A. Long (Berkeley; Los Angeles, 2011). pp. 46 and 156-9.
3.   R. J. Tarrant (ed.), Seneca's Thyestes (Atlanta, Ga., 1985), p. 50.

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Robert Hahn, The Metaphysics of the Pythagorean Theorem: Thales, Pythagoras, Engineering, Diagrams, and the Construction of the Cosmos out of Right Triangles. SUNY series in ancient Greek philosophy. Albany: SUNY Press, 2017. Pp. 300. ISBN 9781438464893. $95.00.

Reviewed by Guy P.R. Métraux, York University (

Version at BMCR home site

Socrates, we are told, enjoyed visiting artists in their ateliers (Xen., Mem. 3.10.1-8): how artists moved from manual work with materials (marble, bronze) to considerations of the soul and metaphysical structures was a smooth intellectual trajectory. In addition, craftsmen/artists, especially architects, could supply philosophers with practical models for cosmic constructs. The interaction of material and intellectual realms is the topic of this study.

In past books and articles, Robert Hahn has started with the premise that our sparse and contradictory knowledge of the Ionian pre-Socratic philosophers—the monists Thales and Anaximander of Miletus and Anaxagoras of Clazomenae—can be given greater substance if seen in their local milieux. Greek intellectual thought and its origins in the archaic period were partly based on what such thinkers learned from the practice of architecture– the immense Ionic temples of the Greek east– and allied arts. Architecture is not confined to finished buildings but comprises the whole process, from quarrying, roughing out, and moving and lifting stone to the techniques for sculpting elements to ensure their stability, their proportional and spatial relationships, and even their decoration and roofing.1 The practical geometries of construction gave shape to the ordered geometries of metaphysical structure: in part, early Greek philosophers found answers to some cosmic questions from the building trade in their Ionian home-towns.2

In the elaborate Introduction (1-43), Hahn continues his theme of linking practical and metaphysical endeavors and, by adding Pythagoras of Samos, he proposes an Ionian comity of knowledge (from the late seventh into the early fifth centuries BCE) rather than a succession of intellectual discoveries. In addition, he posits that the philosophers shared an intention to "resolve a metaphysical problem" (5, 11-2, the author's emphasis) based in part on much earlier Mesopotamian and Egyptian methods of geometric mensuration. These methods had been illustrated with diagrams and figures, as evidenced by cuneiform tablets and mathematical papyri, but as such they were mainly used to train surveyors and storage officials in determining the areas of oddly configured land, the capacity of granaries, and other spatial and practical problems (7-25). There is also some evidence that Egyptian painters used reductions arrived at geometrically to define humans of lesser status in relation to those of higher rank (14-17)—using geometry to denote social significance. A tile incised with a geometrical sketch from the Ephesian Artemision (mid-seventh century BCE) was used to instruct painters on how to locate the centers and cast concentric circles of decorations on roofing-tiles (32-5)—using geometry to generate a small-scale template for monumental repetition.

The Introduction ends with an analysis of the digging of the mid-sixth century BCE Eupalinos tunnel on Samos, an aqueduct supplying the city with water (35-43). Hahn shows that the letters marked on the walls corresponded to a lettered diagram mapping the work of the two teams of diggers working toward each other from the north and south ends along a straight line, with a module of 20.6 m subdividing the estimated length of the tunnel under Mount Kastro. Unstable rock necessitated a detour, so Eupalinos calculated the simultaneous change of direction for both digging teams by "constructing"—underground—an isosceles triangle (marked with the same number of letters as the straight line but, in consequence, with a shorter module of 17.59 m). It was his knowledge of the properties of isosceles triangles that allowed Eupalinos to predict, within good tolerance, that the two teams of diggers would meet. Geometry is thus a universal device to solve problems of any kind.

The succeeding chapters refine the propositions of the Introduction by reviewing and updating the history of early geometry. Chapter 1 ("The Pythagorean Theorem", 45-89) analyzes the hypotenuse theorem attributed to Pythagoras, not, as Hahn points out (45) as a modern algebraic equation (a2 + b2 = c2) but as extensions of right triangles deriving from, and generating, squares of different sizes (as per Euc., Elements I.47; 46-66); the "enlargement" of the theorem broaches the relation of right triangles to other forms of triangles, rectangles, geometric shapes, and polygons (id. VI.31, with ratio values at VI.19-20; 66-81). The reducibility of all shapes to the ratios derived from right triangles "tells us how many small worlds fit into the big world . . . The whole cosmos is conceived aggregately out of small worlds" (71).

In Chapter 2 ("Thales and Geometry", 91-133), Hahn brings us to Thales' two famous feats: the measuring of the height of a pyramid and of the distance from shore of a ship at sea. The measurement of a pyramid on the day that the sun stands at a 45o angle to give a length of shadow to its height (97-106) is shown to be impractical: the days are few and the shadow can change within a few moments, resulting in measurements too varied to be convincing. (Some steep-sided pyramids do not throw shadows beyond their base at all.) Still, the principles of similarity and scalable proportions among triangles was understood, leading to Thales' deriving the height of a pyramid by simultaneously measuring its shadow and the shadow cast by a gnomon, then upscaling proportionally from smaller to larger (107-08, 113-15, later at 143). A similar method could determine the distance of ships at sea, either "on the flat" from the land or from elevated view-points (108-13). From these practical applications, the study of triangles, triangles within half-circles, and proportional relations among triangles would have led Thales to an understanding of the hypotenuse theorem as expressed in diagrams. The plenitude of the world was reducible to simple, single, but multipliable geometric figures, and gave rise to the search for a simple, single, universal guiding form. Apparent variety was reducible to a comprehensible One.

In their historical narratives, philosophy and mathematics can be framed as progressive, with one breakthrough following upon another linearly. Other narratives exist which frame philosophy and mathematics as explorations of intellectual phenomena within a shared mental topography. In Chapter 3 ("Pythagoras and the Famous Theorems", 135-212), Hahn combines the two narratives by back-dating the hypotenuse theorem (or a grasp of it) to the later seventh / early-sixth century BCE rather than to Pythagoras and his followers in the late sixth / early fifth century. His complex argument takes in the "squaring of the circle" (quadrature of lunes; 1137-40) by Hippocrates of Chios (fl. 440 BCE) and the study of the incommensurability of the hypotenuse (and other odd-even numerical relations; 144-8) by Hippasius of Metapontum (mid-5th century BCE). "Squaring the circle" and irrational numbers both presuppose a long knowledge of the hypotenuse theorem that had been clinched long before by Thales' measurement of the height of a pyramid (143). The application of geometry to musical intervals (octave, fifth, fourth) and the "harmony of the spheres" is analyzed in detail. Hahn then returns to the geometric strategies by which Eupalinos laid out the Samos tunnels; levelling from sea-level, determining (and changing) the direction of the digging so the tunneling-teams could meet, and the geometric means—"microcosmic-macrocosmic reasoning" and "analogia– by means of ratio and proportions"—by which the problem was solved (158-65). Thales (for the pyramid) and Eupalinus (for the tunnel) "had to supply a number" to show the authorities that their calculations were practical, but the number was arrived at by a well-established tradition of geometric speculation (148).

The remainder of Chapter 3 concerns Pythagoras and his associates as geometers (168-212). As with the hypotenuse theorem, Hahn (with other scholars) pushes back the date of some of the so-called Platonic solids—tetrahedron, cube, octahedron, dodecahedron, icosahedron— more than a century, to Pythagoras and his associates (201-12, esp. 202, 210) rather than to the mid-fourth century and Theaetetus, because these shapes (surfaces of the same size and angles meeting at the same number of vertices) were all derived or derivable from right angles.

A final Chapter 4 (Epilogue, 213-39) is a reprise and a useful recapitulation, for the non-specialist, of the many arguments in the history of Greek geometry and mathematics, in terms that cover the intellectual meaning, cosmic structure, and practical application of the early philosophers' work. The arguments are graphically accompanied by some repetitions of illustrations to keep the necessarily complex arguments clear and accessible. Hahn ends with the story of Pythagoras, who in some accounts became a vegetarian in old age and a believer in animal reincarnation, celebrating his youthful discoveries with a splendid sacrifice of oxen.

It is a mark of Hahn's generosity that he includes, in every chapter, clear analysis of the geometric problems together with a thorough history of both ancient sources and modern mathematical theory and interpretations before proposing his own extensions; this allows the non-specialist reader to perceive, if not participate in, the often quite divergent current debates about early Greek thought. The handsome production-values and clarity of organization of this book by SUNY Press are exemplary, as are its general index and index of Greek terms.3

The only regret the reader may have is that Hahn does not address, even in an endnote, the relation of early Greek geometry with the architectural diagrams of later Greek architects. The evidence of architectural drawings on the floor surfaces at the Didymaion (temple of Apollo at Didyma) is well known and could provide further material for Hahn's methodology.4


1.   R. Hahn, Anaximander and the Architects. The Contributions of Egyptian and Greek Architectural Technologies to the Origins of Greek Philosophy (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2001); "Proportions and Numbers in Anaximander and Early Greek Thought" in D. L. Couprie, R. Hahn, and G. Naddaf, eds. Anaximander in Context. New Studies in the Origins of Greek Philosophy (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2003), 71-163; Archaeology and the Origins of Philosophy (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2010); and many articles.
2.   The method is not without its critics: see, e.g. D. L. Couprie in Aestimatio 8 (2011), 78-96.
3.   The only editorial mistake I noticed is the non-indentation of the paragraph of the English translation of a lengthy Greek quotation from the Timaeus (196).
4.   See L. Haselberger, "Die Bauzeichnungen des Apollontempels von Didyma," Architectura 13 (1983), 13-26.

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Monday, March 26, 2018


Pierre Bonnechère, Gabriela Cursaru (ed.), Katábasis dans la tradition littéraire et religieuse de la Grèce ancienne. Actes du Colloque de Montréal et de Québec (2-5 mai 2014), Vol. I. Les Études classiques, 83 (2015), special issue. Namur: Société des Études Classiques, 2015. Pp. 464. ISBN 0014-200-X. Pierre Bonnechère, Gabriela Cursaru (ed.), Katábasis. [Proceedings of the international conference "Katábasis, the Descent to the Underworld in the Ancient Greek Tradition and Religious Thought," Montréal; Québec, May 2-5, 2014, Volume II]. Cahiers des études anciennes, 53. Laval: Institut d'études anciennes, 2016. Pp. 189. ISBN 1923-2713.

Reviewed by Heinz-Günther Nesselrath, Georg-August-Universität, Göttingen (

Version at BMCR home site

Open Edition

These two volumes contain the proceedings of a conference on the notion of katabasis. After an introduction by the two editors ("La catabase dans le monde grec entre son passé et son avenir", 3–13), Volume I begins with a contribution by Alberto Bernabé ("What is a Katábasis? The Descent to the Netherworld in Greece and the Ancient Near East", 15–34), which gives an informative overview of the (literary) phenomenon of katabasis (defined as "a tale of the journey to the subterranean world of the dead led by an extraordinary character while alive that has a determined purpose and is keen on returning", 17), its "types of narrative", its contents and motivations and remarks on successful and failed katabaseis, before looking more closely at the "paradoxical katábasis" of Orpheus (25–6) and examining "mutual influences between the katábasis and other similar texts" (26–31).1

Two contributions are devoted to the failed katabasis of Theseus and Peirithoos: Jan N. Bremmer ("Theseus' and Peirithoos' Descent into the Underworld", 35–49) discusses the context in which the oldest poetical version of this katabasis was produced. He also looks at the remains of the play Peirithoos (by either Critias or Euripides), but concludes that the available evidence yields rather little. Stamatia Dova ("Theseus, Peirithoos, and the Poetics of a Failed Katábasis", 51–69) provides more details about this tale, but is compelled to use later sources (like Plutarch and Pausanias) for this, which may be a questionable procedure, because it is by no means certain that these authors faithfully represent the earlier versions of the tale.

In "The Nekyia's Catalogue of Heroines: Narrative Unbound" (69–99), George Gazis offers a new interpretation of Odyssey XI 225–329, plausibly highlighting how the stories about the heroines Odysseus meets during his visit to the entrance of the underworld are shaped by these heroines' own perspectives. Not all of Gazis' assumptions, however, are borne out by the text.2

Marie-Claire Beaulieu ("Ulysse et l'Hadès brumeux : catabase et anabase dans l'Odyssée", 101–115) discusses the use of the notions of "fog/mist" and "darkness" in the Odyssey and their association with liminal or otherworldly spaces, like the island of the Phaeacians, the "Port of Phorcys" (where Odysseus re-enters Ithaca) with its "Grotto of the Nymphs", but also the realm of the gods or the dark Underworld. Her summarizing conclusion, however, that "Odysseus has traversed the dark and foggy world of the Dead as well as the world of the gods shrouded in magical mists and finally […] come back home" (113) seems more than a bit exaggerated, as Odysseus only ventured to the entrance of Hades, just as he only liminally touched the world of the gods when staying on Circe's and on Calypso's islands.

Marco Antonio Santamaría Álvarez ("The Parody of the Katábasis-Motif in Aristophanes' Frogs", 117–136) gives a very readable account of the katabasis motifs that Aristophanes uses and parodies in Frogs as well as of his probable models. He ends with the intriguing suggestion that Dionysus' Aristophanic katabasis "can be viewed as a reedition of that of Heracles" (133) and that Aeschylus, whom Dionysus takes back into the upper world, here resembles Theseus as a sorely needed patron for Athens (134).

Sara Macías Otero's contribution ("On the Threshold of Hades: Necromancy and Nékyia in some Passages of Greek Tragedy", 137–153) is the only one that carefully characterizes Odysseus' venture as necyomantic (though she, too, sometimes speaks about Odysseus' "katabasis": 137, 138, 142, 143). She provides detailed comments on Aeschylus fr. 273a Radt (Aeschylus' version of Odysseus' necyomantic ritual), on Orpheus' katabasis as represented in Eur. Alc. 357–362, on Heracles' katabasis as (probably) the theme of Eur. fr. 371 Kannicht and of Eur. Herc. 606–621, and she ends with Heracles' envisaging another katabasis in Eur. Alc. 850–854, which, however, is not carried out, because he manages to snatch Alcestis from the grip of Thanatos at her grave.

In "Les chemins de la catabase. Paysages des dieux, paysages des hommes" (155–174), Yann Leclerc delineates two basic types of "katabatic landscapes" in the "real" world: a "coastal environment" with a rocky promontory, dark woods and a cave (like the Acherusian Cape in Bithynia or Cape Tainaron), and a "lake environment" with (again) surrounding dark woods and a cave entrance (like Lake Avernus). Why, however, Leclerc also includes the place where Hylas was abducted by nymphs among such environments remains unclear (at least to this reviewer).

Daniela Bonanno ("Jouer avec les dieux : la katábasis de Rhampsinite dans l'Hadès (Hdt., II, 122)", 175–192) assumes —in the wake of François Hartog—that the katabasis of the Egyptian king Rhampsinitus as described by Herodotus contains elements that reflect Greek notions of the Beyond (175). As she is, however, unable to ascertain which elements of the story are Egyptian and which actually Greek (189), the results of her interpretation remain rather speculative.

Daniel Ogden's contribution ("Katábasis and the Serpent", 193–210) is, in spite of its title, not particularly connected with the katabasis theme, but rather presents a plethora of evidence for serpents and serpentine figures connected with the underworld. He concludes (207): "The ancient Underworld was infested with serpents. Their primary functions were to be symbolic of the depths of the earth, to guard the ghosts […] and […] to torment them […] in some contexts […] the Underworld was, metaphorically at any rate, a serpent in itself."

Monique Halm-Tisserant ("Les dessous de la katábasis : effets spéciaux et machineries ?", 211–235) tries to build a case for arguing that "katabatic" rituals, like the consultations in the sanctuary of Trophonius or the Bacchic rituals condemned by the Roman Senate in 186 BCE, were "underpinned" by a certain machinery designed to make people experience psychosomatic effects to render them more susceptible for oracular revelations. Despite her valiant efforts, however, it remains largely a matter of belief to accept the suggestions made by Halm-Tisserant or not.

Ana Isabel Jiménez San Cristóbal ("The Rape of Persephone in a Berlin Papyrus", 237–260) meticulously (but not without some glaring mistakes of translation from Greek and in sometimes rather unidiomatic English) compares the Rape of Persephone (a catabasis?) as it seems to be depicted in a Berlin papyrus ("seems", because the papyrus is in many parts badly preserved) with other versions of the story and concludes that it combines elements from a number of different versions, among them an Orphic one.

Radcliffe G. Edmonds III ("'When I Walked the Dark Road of Hades': Orphic katábasis and the katábasis of Orpheus", 261–279) presents a noteworthy case against the wide-spread assumption that there once was an Orphic Katabasis (allegedly written by Orpheus) in which a first-person-narrator Orpheus described his own descent into Hades. Edmonds convincingly argues that these two notions should be kept apart: there is no reliable evidence that an Orphic katabasis ever featured Orpheus himself, while the known versions of the story of Orpheus' descent to reclaim his dead wife were written by other poets.3

Renée Koch Piettre ("Remonter d'une catabase burlesque à une ἄνοδος cosmique. À partir du jeu de mots d'Héraclite (fr. 15 D.-K.) sur Hadès et αἰδοῖα", 281–298) begins soberly enough with pointing out (and also rather successfully solving, up to a point) the substantial difficulties in the text of the Heraclitus fragment cited in the title. After that, however, she too speculatively tries to provide a larger context of this fragment by freely associating other Heraclitus fragments. The only real connection to the katabasis theme is in the context Clement of Alexandria provides when citing fr. 15.

In "The Myth of Er: Between Homer and Orpheus" (299–311), Francesc Casadesús Bordoy characterizes the final myth of Plato's Republic as a combination of Homeric and Orphic notions of the Underworld, leading to a new conception in which only the soul who has let herself consistently be led by philosophy is finally able to escape the cycle of reincarnations and embark on a "liberating anábasis to the heavenly gods" (310). 4

In "La catabase aérienne de Thespésios : le statut du récit" (313–328), Renaud Gagné presents the final myth of Plutarch's De sera numinis vindicta as a kind of rewriting of all previous katabasis depictions ("une refonte de toutes les catabases précédentes", 319), showing how Plutarch manages to combine the two great models of divine punishment, i.e. the punishing of descendants for crimes of their ancestors and the punishment of crimes in the afterlife.

In a wide-ranging and convincing analysis ("Traditions of Catabatic Experience in Aeneid 6", 329–349), Miguel Herrero De Jáuregui elucidates "which characteristic features of the catabatic traditions [...] were used and reinterpreted by Vergil to depict Aeneas' experience" (346). Notable are the frequent comparisons of Vergilian details with features found in the Orphic gold-tablets, which is not meant as showing that they were sources for Vergil, but that they represent traditions that he knew of.

Hedvig Von Ehrenheim's contribution "Death and Ascent of Hyakinthos in Sparta: Ritual Mourning and Feasting" (351–364) is rather tangential to the theme of katabasis (as Hyakinthos' death is not really a katabasis as defined, e.g., by Bernabé in this volume), elucidating the unique features of the Spartan Hyakinthia (i.e. their combination of mourning for an untimely death with rejoicing over an ascent into heaven) in comparison with other festivals of the ancient world focussing on a temporary reversal of the social order.

Philippe Swennen ("Anabase et catabase dans les représentations indo-iraniennes archaïques", 365–384) tries to apply the notions of katabasis and anabasis to tales centering on the Indian divinity Yama and its Iranian counterpart Yima, which are, however, very different from each other and contain elements of katabasis and anabasis only if one understands these terms very loosely: while Yama chooses—in what Svennen calls a "catabase inaugurale" (375)—the way of death for himself and creates a kind of underworld for humans, Yima hides them (while they are still living!) in a gigantic cave from which they will come out for the final battle between Good and Evil.

There follow two contributions taking the katabasis theme into Christian surroundings, Matthew R. Anderson ("The Curious Voyage of Christ: Katábasis, Anábasis, and the New Testament", 385–396) describes how in post-New Testament Christian literature the three days between Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection were filled enormous "katabatic" activity (preaching to the dead and liberating the righteous ones among them) and discusses the possible role of an ambiguous passage in the First Letter of Peter (3:18–22) and the Christian rite of baptism for these developments. Pierluigi Piovanelli ("Katabáseis orphico-pythagoriciennes ou Tours of Hell apocalyptiques juifs ? La fausse alternative posée par la typologie des péchés et des châtiments dans l'Apocalypse de Pierre", 397–414) retraces the discussion about the models of the catalogue of punishments of sinners in the afterlife in the Apocalypse of Peter and comes to the conclusion that this text has indeed selectively appropriated Greek (Orphic or Pythagorean) ideas for its depiction of punishments in the Beyond.

The volume closes with two papers on the later reception of the katabasis of Orpheus. Joseph Vietri ("Sir Orfeo, Death and Katábasis", 415–426) discusses the "Middle English lai Sir Orfeo, written around 1325" (416), which contrary to its ancient predecessors, ends happily with "king" Orfeo successfully bringing his wife, Queen Heurodis, back from the realm of the fairies, into which she had been abducted. Jean-Michel Roessli ("La catabase d'Orphée dans la poésie portugaise de la Renaissance", 427–444) presents a survey of Portuguese poetry of the 15th and 16th centuries (by Duarte de Brito, Diogo de Brandão, Luís Vaz de Camões, and a few others) in which Orpheus' descent into the Underworld to bring back his wife is evoked.

Volume 2

After a brief introduction by the editors (1–7), Jonathan S. Burgess ("Localization of the Odyssey's Underworld", 15–37) surveys a large number of attempts to localize the underworld (or rather its entrance) where Odysseus consulted the Tiresias and met a number of other shades, without, however, stating a clear preference of his own. He regards Odyssey XI as a combination of necromancy and katabasis and has no problem with regarding this book as a unit without interpolations.

Gabriela Cursaru answers the question contained in the title of her contribution ("Le Proème de Parménide : anabase et /ou catabase ?", 39–63) by trying to show that Parmenides' Proem describes neither one nor the other but a voyage into a different level of truth and reality where "up" and "down" do not really matter.

Adrian Mihai ("Le Descensus ad inferos du néoplatonicien Damascius à Hiéropolis", 65–81) discusses Damascius, Vie d'Isidore fr. 131 Zintzen = fr. 87 A Athanassiadi, in which Damascius relates a descent into the Plutonion (a subterranean space below a temple of Apollo) in Phrygian Hierapolis, followed by a dream in which he saw himself transformed into the god Attis for whom the Mother of the Gods celebrated the Hilaria. In opposition to other researchers Mihai detects here not a tale of death and resurrection, but of conversion to philosophy.

Bonnie MacLachlan ("Ritual Katábasis and the Comic", 83–111) enumerates a number of locations in Magna Graecia where material related to the abduction (katabasis?) of Persephone was found in connection with material pointing to performances of comic plays. After presenting additional material for such connections between the chthonic and the comic and for Dionysiac motives found in funerary contexts she discerns a particular Western Greek penchant for serio-comic drama—but what about the many examples of parody and travesty of tragedy in Athens? Also her claim that this penchant "can be attributed […] to the presence of playful inversions and comic components in […] chthonic rituals, including funerals" seems somewhat specious.

Thierry Petit ("Sphinx et katábasis dans la peinture de vases", 113–150) discusses vases (found in funerary contexts) on which a sphinx is depicted together with humans and proposes (plausibly) that the sphinx is presented here as a guardian of the route into Hades or as psychopompos of the dead coming into the Underworld.

Valérie Toillon ("Dans l'antre de Dionysos ? Le « satyre » du cratère du Louvre G485", 151–189) offers a new interpretation of the scenes (the most mysterious of which is a satyr lying in an extended position in what seems to be a grotto or subterranean space) on the vase mentioned in the title as an ensemble which may depict "an adolescent's initiatory and religious experience […] in which the descent [katabasis?] into a cave and an experience of death played an essential role".

If there is a major criticism that might be raised against this collection it it the fact that the thematic coherence of the two volumes (both within themselves and with each other) is rather feeble. Many papers do not deal with „katabasis proper" (i.e. with the voluntary descent into the underworld of at least one still-living being with at least the intention of returning alive) but with a number of phenomena somehow connected with undeworld and afterlife. That said, specialists will find many things of interest here related to the ancient imaginary on death and what comes after it.

Contents of Volume II

Pierre Bonnechere et Gabriella Cursaru, Katábasis. Introduction
Jonathan S. Burgess, Localization of the Odyssey's Underworld
Gabriela Cursaru, Le Proème de Parménide : anabase et /ou catabase ?
Adrian Mihai, Le Descensus ad inferos du néoplatonicien Damascius à Hiéropolis
Bonnie MacLachlan, Ritual Katábasis and the Comic
Thierry Petit, Sphinx et katábasis dans la peinture de vases
Valérie Toillon, Dans l'antre de Dionysos ? Le « satyre » du cratère du Louvre G485


1.   Curiously, Bernabé has no problems with treating Odysseus' calling upon Tiresias in Odyssee XI as a katabasis, although it is never explicitly said Odysseus ventures beyond the threshold of the Underworld). Bernabé is not the only author in this collection who considers Odysseus' adventure a real katabasis; see also Bremmer; Dova; Santamaría Álvarez; Casadesús Bordoy; Burgess).
2.   His claims (75–78) that Odysseus is the very first to whom Tyro reveals that Poseidon lay with her, as a result of which she bore Pelias and Neleus; but Tyro, while still alive, must have told at least her sons of her encounter with Poseidon, because in mythic tradition Pelias knows that he is a son of Poseidon (see, e.g., Apoll. Rhod. Arg 1.13). Likewise, he seems to misunderstand Od. 11.285 when he claims that Neleus is presented here as ruler of Orchomenus (that is Amphion, mentioned in v. 284) and that "Chloris established her own rule in Pylos" (85); he himself points out that βασίλευε can be understood differently by comparing Il. 6.425.
3.   Edmonds' claim, however, that "As an Argonaut, Orpheus predates the Trojan War by a few generations" (264) is erroneous: Among the Argonauts were the fathers (e.g. Peleus and Telamon) of the heroes (e.g. Achilles and Ajax) that fought against Troy.
4.   The notion of katabasis does not play an important role in this contribution, although the author might have considered at least briefly that Er's "katábasis" is quite special: Unlike other human "katabatai", Er does not descend bodily but only his soul (like that of a shaman) visits the Beyond.

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