Thursday, April 19, 2018


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

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

Version at BMCR home site

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Table of Contents

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


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

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

Reviewed by Katherine R. De Boer, Indiana University (

Version at BMCR home site


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Ine Jacobs, University College, Oxford (

Version at BMCR home site

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authors and titles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Reviewed by Moysés Marcos, University of California, Riverside (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed below.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authors and Titles

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


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

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

Reviewed by Dominik Wolff, Stade (

Version at BMCR home site

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

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

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

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

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

On the essays at a glance:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authors and titles

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


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

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Paul C. Dilley, Monasteries and the Care of Souls in Late Antique Christianity: Cognition and Discipline. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. Pp. xii, 350. ISBN 9781107184015. $120.00.

Reviewed by Philip Rousseau, The Catholic University of America (

Version at BMCR home site

Looking at the title of this work, and indeed at the structure adumbrated in the Table of Contents and the Introduction, one would anticipate a book very much at the working face of current monastic scholarship. The structure is based on a division into three parts: "Evaluating Postulants," "Cognitive Disciplines," and "Collective Heart-Work." The notion that monks (and we shall come to the meaning given that word) were engaged in some way in "the care of souls," plus an explicit appeal to the importance of "cognitive science," bespeaks a clear understanding of where scholars in this field are headed. And the book does move along those paths—let there be no doubt about the logical momentum of the author's argument, his detailed appeal to primary sources, and the reflective force of his judgments. He has provided us with an account at once full of interest and immensely useful.

The first section, on "Evaluating Postulants," did not immediately fit for me into what seemed to be the thrust of the whole. Yet the issue of recruitment—for that seems to be what is at stake here—is rarely treated so fully in the secondary literature. (Paul Dilley provides nearly a hundred pages.) That has been a pity: for, one does need to know why such large numbers of people, men and women, were attracted to a life of ordered asceticism during Late Antiquity. The care with which their commitment was tested, and yet their unrelenting eagerness to undergo "monastic resocialization" (the phrase is quoted from Bentley Layton), are all too infrequently attended to, as if we can take such a desire for granted. The testing (which could amount to a species of pastoral care, especially when combined with the follow-through) was, by Paul Dilley's account, entirely oriented towards what he later calls "cognitive disciplines": is that what the postulant is looking for, and does he (most often he) have the proven ability to make progress in that direction? A sense of advance, as well as of initiation, gives the opening section, therefore, its place within the book more generally.

The second section, "Cognitive Disciplines," provides us with the real meat (well over another hundred pages). The central preoccupation of the engaged monk is a move inward, "a heightened attention to inner thoughts and temptations." The result was "a new theory of mind"—new, I think, largely in virtue of the "disciplines" made use of. The author singles out three resources for this change of perception (largely "technologies of the self," à la Foucault): a steeping of the mind in Scripture, a special development of the fear of God, and an ever-uplifting experience of prayer, carrying the monk to a fuller awareness of God's presence. This is not, and does not claim to be, an entirely original description of the monastic experience; but it is cognitive in that it is based at every stage on a clear- headed understanding of how the mind functions and of how its specifically monastic form can be perfected.

This second section has some interesting details lodged in its account. Paul Dilley builds a great deal around the Pachomian evidence; and this seems to be his way of focusing somewhere between Antony and Basil—bringing, in other words, some order to what was, it has to be admitted, a wide range of traditions. Probably true, however, of all ascetics—although they undoubtedly expressed the achievement in different ways—was that "prayer" (which, modern scholarship now shows, took many forms) certainly carried you out of present circumstances and made its practitioners displaced in some sense, wanderers, exiles, even when domiciled in groups. This solitude in the crowd was never entirely absent, even in coenobitic communities: to that extent the reading, the self-criticism, the ascent remained inner, mental experiences.

The "monastic soundscape" (a pleasing phrase) made the ascetic essentially a listener; but the outcome was to an important degree private. The ultimate desideratum was a "personal attitude" that was "maintained," as by an engineered governor, ensuring a consistent response to unforeseeable stimuli. This was preferable to self-deprecation for its own sake, which could drag the mind back to what had already been resolved. A confident watchfulness was the ideal; and prayer was a consequent need, because the root of one's caution was precisely an awareness of the ultimate "watcher," God: not as a threat, but as the goal of the mind's capacity to reach beyond itself. The monastic life represented a transition from repentance to commitment: what had been left behind was increasingly overshadowed by the reward of effort, a progress from the "practical" to the "contemplative" life. When he turns specifically to prayer, Paul Dilley depends heavily on these dualities—perhaps better, these constant shifts from past to future. One had to be guided as to the wholesomeness and effectiveness of one's "thoughts" (within), and yet respectful also of the "rule" (without). One had to be obedient, therefore, and open, and yet ultimately capable of government by "conscience." Only with that maturity assured could one exercise without risk one's God-given freedom of choice. In the Pachomian corpus, therefore, "vigilance," a recollection of one's "promises," was what the author himself calls "a technology of the imagination," enabling the monk to keep his eye on "the road to the city, your dwelling place … the city of Christ."

When we come to the third section, "Collective Heart-Work," we have already dealt with "cognition" and "discipline" (in the second section), which makes it difficult to know exactly what this final part of the book is centrally about. It can only (and indeed does) refer to the "care of souls" in the book's main title; but "cognition" is given thereby an added weight (it is, after all, a work of the heart), which shows how these ascetics were supposed to use their new mindset to change also their understanding of their fellows, of other minds. In this section, the sources on which the analysis rests are limited explicitly to Theodore and Shenoute, Pachomians and Egyptians both (I shall return to this comment).

I do not think it is unfair to say that, as he proceeds, Paul Dilley makes this "collective" achievement less important than what has gone before. He is anxious to defuse, however, the voyeurism, as it were, of exemplarity and imitation, which could so easily undermine the genuine desire to understand why this or that monk behaved before others in the way he did. The hypocrite and deceiver always lurked in the company of the holy ones. (Discernment, therefore, continued to be of the essence.) One cannot help noting how this inevitably included those observing an ascetic regime from outside. Everyone had to learn how to spot sanctity (and spot it accurately) in settings where to many it might remain hidden. One must, therefore, include the laity in this "care," both as characters in and as readers of, for example, hagiography.

Shenoute is allowed the last word in this account. Quite apart from his notorious engagement with the wider community around his monastery, I find it perpetually puzzling how so richly illustrated a formula of leadership could yet have betrayed so much self-doubt and provoked so much resistance—the paradox of the man. The inner conflict undoubtedly governed, nevertheless, the outer persona. Paul Dilley calls this Shenoute's sense of a "heart of darkness." It is a sobering conclusion, and I have never allowed myself (I do not think Paul Dilley does, either) to believe that it could ever exhaust the phenomenon of "care."

Let me identify some other misgivings. There is, first, a quirk of method. A principle or theme is announced, and then an often exhaustive array of nevertheless disjointed illustrations follows after. The illustrations are picked out here and there across the empire and the centuries, obscuring difference of circumstance and a shifting attitude among ascetics themselves. We gain little sense of an arch of endeavor that was driven by a developing sense of how a human being functioned in its relations with others and with its creator.

This is connected with a second difficulty. There is an overwhelming emphasis on the early Egyptian evidence—paradoxically, on an ascetic milieu that was passing its prime. Cyril of Scythopolis (Beit She'an) was the Palestinian summarizer of an ascetic tradition (in the middle of the sixth century) that even he thought was under threat; and the Apophthegmata Patrum, barely used here, were—especially in their "systematic" form—marshalled in writing (only shortly before) outside the province they described. About the West, even in the persons of Jerome and Cassian, the author has much less to say, suggesting (to my mind, unjustly) that western figures have less to tell us about the "care of souls in late antique Christianity"—after all, a sweeping term.

We also have to accept—and this is perhaps a third misgiving—the term "monasteries": for, the overriding assumption seems to be that the "care" in the title was exclusively the preoccupation of coenobitic communities. Even more arresting is the impression that the members of such communities were "caring" mostly for themselves. There is little readiness to explore ways in which cognition and discipline featured in other social forms of asceticism and addressed itself to the needs of the pious laity (not least in written form).

These three misgivings—logical structure, territorial restriction, and coenobitic focus—cannot be allowed, however, to question the value and depth of the work. Paul Dilley's understanding of the cognitive features of the ascetic life, in particular, brings it into the forward ranks of current inquiry, and with positive effect. It reminds us in essential ways how much we need to bring into play this new inner awareness (this "theory of mind") and this new sense of responsibility for others (the Pachomian emphasis). Every ascetic lived in the world and had a gift for the world and a care for the world—an ideal not always lived up to, but an increasingly forceful impetus to self-examination and shared destiny on the grand scale.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018


Michel Federspiel, Pseudo-Aristote: Des couleurs, des sons, du souffle. La Roue à livres. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2017. Pp. xv, 210. ISBN 9782251446899. €26.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Adeline Grand-Clément, Toulouse 2 Jean Jaurès (

Version at BMCR home site

Publisher's Preview

L'ouvrage est le troisième d'une série de cinq volumes en cours de publication, qui rassemblera au total onze traités du corpus aristotélicien, selon l'ordre suivant : Du ciel (vol. 1), Problèmes mécaniques et Des lignes insécables (vol. 2), Des couleurs, Des sons et Du souffle (vol. 3), Du monde, Du vent et Des plantes (vol. 4), Histoires merveilleuses et Physiognomoniques (vol. 5). N'étant pas considérées comme de la main d'Aristote (à l'exception du traité Du ciel, le seul de la série à avoir fait l'objet d'une édition traduite et commentée dans la Collection des Universités de France, en 1965, par Philippe Moreau), les œuvres concernées ne disposaient pas jusqu'ici de traduction en français. Voilà pourquoi Michel Federspiel (1941-2013), philologue spécialiste des sciences mathématiques et des textes techniques grecs, avait conçu dans les années 1970 l'idée d'en proposer une traduction commentée. Le projet a finalement trouvé sa place dans la collection « La roue à livres » des Belles Lettres, une collection visant à mettre à disposition du public francophone, sous forme de traduction commentée, des textes souvent originaux et difficilement accessibles, car ils ne figurent pas parmi les « classiques » figurant dans la Collection des Universités de France. Le travail de Michel Federspiel n'ayant pu être achevé avant sa mort, Les Belles Lettres ont fait appel à d'autres spécialistes pour rassembler ses traductions et ses annotations, y ajouter, lorsque c'était utile, quelques références, et leur adjoindre un index et une bibliographie. Pour le volume qui nous concerne, la tâche de révision a été confiée à Jean-Yves Guillaumin.

Une courte préface d'Aude Cohen-Skalli précède la longue introduction de Michel Federspiel, divisée en trois sections bien distinctes. Chacune d'entre elles est consacrée à un traité, pour présenter le contexte historique dans lequel il a vu le jour et exposer les grands traits des théories qui y sont développées. L'auteur précise en outre les éditions du texte grec choisies comme référence : celle de Maria Fernanda Ferrini (1999) pour Des couleurs1, celle d'Ulrich Klein (1972) pour Des sons2, et celle d'Amneris Roselli (1992) pour Du souffle.3 Vient ensuite la partie consacrée aux traités proprement dits, qui ont été regroupés les uns à la suite des autres. La traduction française reprend le découpage en chapitres de l'édition d'Immanuel Bekker (1831) et des sous- titres ont été ajoutés pour guider le lecteur. La dernière partie du livre renferme les commentaires, en distinguant là encore chaque opuscule. Les annotations, nombreuses, comportent à la fois des mises au point philologiques relatives à l'établissement du texte, des éclaircissements sur les théories exposées, mais suggèrent aussi de nombreux rapprochements avec d'autres œuvres du corpus aristotélicien ou d'auteurs ayant traité de sujets comparables (les présocratiques, le corpus hippocratique, Platon, Galien,…).

Les trois traités rassemblés dans le volume touchent au domaine de la philosophie naturelle et de la médecine, sans pour autant entretenir de relation spécifique entre eux. D'attribution incertaine, ils ont probablement été composés par des auteurs différents. Le premier, Des couleurs, n'a pas connu un grand succès dans l'Antiquité. Les exégètes modernes ne s'accordent toujours pas sur son auteur : les deux noms les plus communément cités sont ceux de Théophraste et de Straton de Lampsaque, successeurs d'Aristote à la tête du Lycée. En l'absence d'argument décisif (des éléments du traité pouvant se rapporter à l'un ou l'autre philosophe), Michel Federspiel s'abstient de trancher. Le traité a pour ambition d'étudier la variété des couleurs observables dans l'environnement et d'identifier les causes qui expliquent une telle diversité. L'auteur s'efforce donc de déterminer les paramètres qui influent sur la perception visuelle : couleur de la surface, jeu de la lumière, nature du milieu qui sépare l'objet de celui qui regarde. Il tente également de saisir les mécanismes de production des couleurs pour rendre compte des différences de coloration observables chez les végétaux, les animaux et les êtres humains (surtout pour la peau, les poils et les cheveux).

Le deuxième traité, Des sons, était encore moins connu que le premier ; il n'a d'ailleurs pas été transmis avec le reste du corpus artistotélicien. Nous ne le connaissons en effet que par les extraits qu'en donne Porphyre dans son commentaire à l'Harmonique de Ptolémée. Nous ignorons donc sa forme originale et il est difficile d'évaluer la proportion de parties manquantes. L'auteur, dans lequel Michel Federspiel, comme la plupart des exégètes, propose de reconnaître Straton de Lampsaque, en raison des théories qui sont développées, s'interroge sur les mécanismes de production des sons. Il examine donc l'ensemble des paramètres susceptibles d'expliquer les différents types de sonorités, puis dresse une typologie de l'univers acoustique, prenant en compte les propriétés intrinsèques des sources d'émission : il définit alors ce qu'est un son « dur », un son « grêle », etc. L'une des originalités du traité, soulignée par Michel Federspiel dans l'introduction, réside dans la théorie vibratoire qui rend compte de la propagation des sons.

Le troisième traité, Du souffle, au style plus concis et ramassé, se présente comme un opuscule polémique, dirigé contre le médecin Érasistrate et l'un de ses condisciples, Aristogène de Cnide. Ces derniers ont contribué, avec d'autres, au développement des connaissances en matière d'anatomie et de physiologie au cours de l'époque hellénistique. Aristogène aurait même pratiqué des dissections, pour étudier le système vasculaire. Il semblerait que l'auteur du traité écrive précisément pour réagir face à ces progrès de la science médicale (par exemple la distinction entre artères et veines), afin de réaffirmer la validité des théories d'Aristote. Michel Federspiel propose donc de reconnaître dans cet auteur anonyme non pas un médecin, mais bien un membre de l'école péripatéticienne, actif au début ou au milieu du IIIes. av. J.-C. Le traité, qui s'ouvre sur une série de questions, s'intéresse au phénomène de la respiration : il tente d'en définir la nature, l'origine et s'interroge sur la façon dont se nourrit le pneuma. La fin de l'opuscule élargit l'horizon d'enquête, pour s'intéresser à la nature des os et des nerfs, puis au rôle de la chaleur et du feu dans les processus biologiques.

Les trois traités présentent des différences, mais leur réunion dans ce volume a le mérite de faire ressortir des points communs, fort éclairants sur l'école péripatéticienne. Les traits de ressemblance tiennent principalement à la méthode de travail mise en œuvre : il apparaît que la tâche du physicien ne se limite pas à la description des phénomènes, mais consiste aussi à proposer des schémas explicatifs, en utilisant un raisonnement dialectique. La démarche, profondément empirique, s'appuie sur l'observation d'éléments visibles, tangibles, qui servent d'opérateurs heuristiques à partir desquels peut se construire la réflexion. Les schémas explicatifs proposés dans ces opuscules ont tous pour vocation d'embrasser l'ensemble du vivant et recourent pour cela à l'analogie (par exemple entre ce qui se voit et ce qui ne voit pas). Ainsi, le fonctionnement des instruments de musique ne diffère pas de celui des organes de la parole chez l'homme, de même que les mécanismes de coloration à l'œuvre chez les végétaux sont identiques à ceux qui opèrent dans le règne animal ou humain. De plus, les principes fondamentaux qui sont mobilisés dans les théories exposées sont les mêmes : la chaleur et l'humidité, conditions nécessaires au processus de « coction » (pepsis).

Les traités, replacés par Michel Federspiel dans l'horizon intellectuel et scientifique au sein duquel ils ont été écrits, permettent donc au lecteur de découvrir la richesse et la complexité de champs du savoir en train de se constituer et de s'affirmer par rapport à d'autres traditions et courants de pensée. C'est particulièrement visible dans le troisième opuscule, le seul d'ailleurs à citer nommément quelques auteurs spécifiques, médecins ou philosophes. Mais même lorsque les allusions et les références sont cryptées, Michel Federspiel, en vertu de son excellente connaissance de la littérature scientifique et technique grecque, parvient à déceler contre qui les critiques sont dirigées.

L'intérêt du volume ne se limite pas au domaine de la philosophie naturelle et de la médecine. L'historien de la Grèce qui ne travaille pas spécifiquement sur les sciences y trouvera également des éléments dignes d'attention, en vertu de la mention fréquente de référents concrets, observables, empruntés à la pratique athlétique ou au domaine artisanal : la peinture, bien souvent, mais aussi le travail des métaux. L'art des cuisiniers se trouve même évoqué, aux côtés de celui des métallurgistes ou des charpentiers, parce qu'il mobilise lui aussi le feu. L'ensemble des exemples tirés de l'expérience quotidienne nous renseigne ainsi sur des savoirs largement partagés. On y apprend par exemple avec étonnement que l'on « lime les plis ou les franges qui pendent aux statues » et que, parce qu'elles émettent alors un son strident, on peut choisir de les entourer d'un bandage pour que le bruit cesse (Des sons, 802a38-41, p. 89-90).

Le travail effectué par Michel Federspiel n'était pas aisé. Les trois œuvres posent en effet de sérieux problèmes d'interprétation et de traduction. Il s'agit, rappelons-le, de traités ésotériques, c'est-à-dire destinés à circuler à l'intérieur de l'école péripatéticienne, et reposant donc sur un certain nombre de présupposés qui nous échappent. De surcroît, la matière même qui est traitée, en particulier les couleurs et les sons, soulève des difficultés particulières sur le plan lexical : les Grecs ne découpaient pas les catégories du sensible de la même manière que nous et la signification de certains termes reste donc sujette à caution. De fait, traduire une notation chromatique toujours de la même manière n'est pas possible, comme le reconnaît Michel Federspiel—et les travaux récents sur la perception des couleurs dans le monde grec vont dans ce sens (une actualisation de la bibliographie aurait d'ailleurs été possible sur ce point, comme cela a été fait pour le domaine musical et sonore). Dans les commentaires, l'auteur justifie parfois ses partis-pris de traduction : ainsi les sons tuphlai, littéralement «  aveugles » (800a 14) ont finalement été rendus par « sourds ». Mais parfois, il ne juge pas nécessaire d'avertir son lecteur ; or la traduction de xanthos par « jaune » plutôt que par « blond » ou « fauve », par exemple, mériterait discussion. Malheureusement l'omission, dans le volume, du texte grec qui a servi à établir la traduction ne permet pas toujours d'apprécier correctement les choix du traducteur. Cela oblige à un va-et-vient régulier entre le traité et les commentaires, ce qui ne facilite pas la consultation (d'autant que les annotations, qui suivent l'ordre des textes, renvoient non pas à un système d'appel de notes mais au découpage de Bekker). Le seul reproche que l'on pourrait faire au volume réside donc dans sa composition, qui dissocie chaque traité du propos introductif, d'un côté, et du commentaire linéaire, de l'autre, et ne livre pas le texte grec original. Ajoutons qu'un index plus nourri, ne se limitant pas aux realia et auteurs cités dans les traités eux-mêmes, mais prenant en compte l'ensemble du volume, c'est-à-dire incluant la partie introductive et la partie Commentaire, aurait permis de mettre en avant la richesse des références et renvois fournis par Michel Federspiel, dont le travail se situe au final à mi-chemin entre une traduction annotée et une véritable édition critique.

En dépit de ces quelques réserves qui tiennent plus à la forme qu'au fond, le volume présente un intérêt certain : il met à la disposition de la communauté scientifique francophone des textes peu connus, qu'il n'était pas aisé de traduire, et qui portent sur des aspects du sensible susceptibles d'intéresser les chercheurs (en histoire des couleurs ou des sons par exemple). On y trouvera en outre un commentaire érudit par un grand connaisseur, qui établit de nombreux rapprochements avec les autres œuvres d'Aristote, mais aussi une foule de traités naturalistes, philosophiques et médicaux. Il s'agit donc d'un réel instrument de travail susceptible d'intéresser les hellénistes, et plus largement les historiens des sciences. Quant aux amateurs et aux curieux, ils pourront pénétrer avec étonnement dans l'univers parfois déroutant de la pensée scientifique grecque qui, par exemple, identifie le souffle (pneuma) à un corps qui doit être nourri par le sang.


1.   Pseudo Aristotele, I colori. Edizione critica, traduzione e commento a cura di Matia F. Ferrini. Testimonianze sulla cultura greca, 1. Pisa: ETS, 1999.
2.   Ulrich Klein, Aristoteles Werke in deutscher Ûbersetzung, vol. 18.3, Opuscula. De audibilibus. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft,1972.
3.   Aristotele, De spiritu. Testo critico, commento e traduzione a cura di Amneris Roselli. Pisa: ETS, 1992.

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Myrthe L. Bartels, Plato's Pragmatic Project: A Reading of Plato's "Laws". Hermes Einzelschrift 111. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2017. Pp. 251. ISBN 9783515118002. €49,00.

Reviewed by Julia Pfefferkorn, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen (

Version at BMCR home site

This monograph presents the revised version of Myrthe Bartels' dissertation which was defended in June 2014 at Leiden University. In contrast to recent studies1 which pick out single aspects of the dialogue, this study focuses on the complexity of the overall composition of Plato's Laws as well as on the status of the legislative activity carried out by the three interlocutors. As the title suggests, Bartels' aim is to show that the Laws is based on a more 'pragmatic' attitude towards virtue and legislation than that of Plato's earlier works. The labelling of the Laws' approach as 'pragmatic' refers to the absence of a metaphysical foundation of the legislation, revealing the dialogue, according to Bartels, to be "at odds with what we consider the core principles of Platonic philosophy" (14). This strong claim turns the book into a valuable and indispensable challenge for everyone who studies the Laws.

The book is divided into seven chapters (Chapters 1 and 7 constituting the introduction and conclusion, respectively). While Chapter 2 deals with important preliminaries regarding Plato's earlier dialogues, the remaining chapters concentrate on features in the Laws which are relevant for Bartels' thesis, each building on the results of the previous parts. Thus the study is very well-structured, making it easy for the reader to follow Bartels' argument.

Two interpretative principles are put forward in the introduction ("Laws in Dialectic"), the first of which is the demand to interpret individual passages in their proper context (13). This principle is severely and successfully followed throughout Bartels' study, opening, in many cases, a different perspective on the Laws. The second guideline, "a text-immanent use of the philological 'principle of charity'" (23), leads the author to a coherent overall picture, though as an interpretative strategy it might in some cases obstruct a more profound confrontation with parallel passages in other works.

The first part of Chapter Two ("Platonic preliminaries") offers an introductory study of important aspects in Plato's earlier work in order to provide a "comparative framework for the study of Laws" (39), concentrating on the notions of technê (in the sense of an expert knowledge) and aretê (which is characterized by its intellectualism). The analysis, which helpfully references other ancient authors as well, leads to the account that aretê is usually presented as analogous to technê, i. e. as an expert knowledge. Subsequently, Bartels focuses on the concept of dikaiosynê in the Apology, the Crito and the Republic. Her intention is to show that in all three texts "justice" refers to an objective norm, grounded in physis, whose cognition implies a higher moral perspective. Both of these "prototypical" (76) assumptions of Platonic thought – and this is the central claim of the chapter – are abandoned in the Laws. Since the results of this chapter are of fundamental importance for the subsequent parts of the book, at this point one may voice some uncertainties which remain in spite of Bartels' thorough analysis: as far as I understand, Bartels' account of aretê (due to its strict analogy with technê) does not seem to recognize the possibility of non-philosophical kinds of virtue based on opinion, which the Republic, however, expressly admits (as does the Menon, cf. 97b1 ff.). If sôphrosynê "extends simply over the whole [city]" (Rep. 432a2–3), it cannot imply the knowledge of a metaphysical truth for everyone. A 'civic' (politikê) courage is introduced verbatim in Rep. 430c3. Finally, Bartels' account denies training as a way of acquiring virtue (126, cf. also 67–68, n. 132 and 90, n. 59), although this seems to be exactly the goal of the discussion on mousikê in books II–III (see esp. Rep. 395b8–d2). Charles Kahn has criticized Christopher Bobonich's Plato's Utopia Recast (2002) in a similar way.2

The third chapter ("Setting the Scene: ἀρετή in Laws I–II") concentrates especially on the puppet image as well as the three choruses. After Klaus Schöpsdau's article from 19863 Myrthe Bartels' monograph is the first to offer such a complete and careful description of the image's context in Laws I. Her step-by-step analysis leads the author to the conclusion "that Plato here introduces a novel conception of virtue" (77). This new account of aretê, according to Bartels, is the skill of being 'stronger than oneself' (kreittôn heautou) in the face of pleasures. Education (paideia) thus is to be understood as "the training of a skill" (87) with the symposion as corresponding "training ground" (99). The purpose of the puppet image, consequently, consists in illustrating the training of calculation (logismos), which is afterwards "equate[d]" (98) with shame (aidôs). Within the postulated new moral frame, aidôs turns out to be a pragmatic and behavioural notion of virtue focusing on social cohesion. The second, briefer half of the chapter centres on the claim that the four Platonic virtues, which are reintroduced, correspond to the four age groups of the citizens in the Laws (and hence to the three choruses). The symposion, identified with the chorus of Dionysus (109), becomes "embedded" in this four-stage process of paideia (110). In the concluding paragraphs both choreia and the symposion are revealed as representing nothing more than illustrations of paideia and aretê (113). The symposion, in particular, is called a "tongue-in-cheek version of the lawful society" (111, cf. 113). While the second part of the chapter contains a number of very original theses which put the status of the first two books in a new light, some aspects in Bartels' interpretation of the puppet image are open to criticism. 4 An account which intends to defend the introduction of a "novel conception" of virtue in the Laws should search in an intensified way the confrontation with parallel passages in other dialogues in order to provide a firm ground for such a strong claim. In the case of the puppet image, there are several well-known passages5 which are not discussed: especially, with regard to the specific vocabulary used in the image, the definition of sôphrosynê in the Republic (Rep. 430c8–432b1). In addition, the link between aidôs and the Platonic virtues in the Laws, especially sôphrosynê (which seems to be rather close), is not completely clear. Instead, owing to the results of Chapter Two, aidôs is only compared with dikaiosynê in the Republic (100–1). Finally, the assumption that aidôs is conceived of as a virtue in the Laws is arguable, particularly since it is called a kind of fear (Lg. 647a9–10) and could thus possibly have its proper place among the iron cords of the puppet.6

Chapter Four ("Lawgiving Logôi: Formal Features of the Legislation") examines the status of the interlocutors' legislative activity. Bartels' main thesis in this chapter is that the Laws "does not offer an unambiguous and straightforward law code ready for use" (115). Instead, what is usually conceived of as the law code of the dialogue is really a discussion or an exercise 'in speech' (logôi) regarding a possible arrangement of the city by which the practical use of the results of the conversation in Laws I and II is tested. This assertion is further substantiated by the observation (accompanied by a valid critique of Saunders' and Schofield's editions of the Laws, 130–2) that neither preambles nor laws can be easily extracted from the text and by an analysis of the interlocutors' ambiguous references to themselves as lawgivers. This chapter is certainly one of the most important and most carefully worked out parts of the book. It presents a strong and thought-provoking claim which, if adopted, has consequences for the status of the whole dialogue.

In Chapter Five ("Outline and Amendment: An inevitable lack of accuracy") Bartels focuses on the analogy between lawgiving and the painter in Laws 769a ff. and discusses how the text of the Laws points beyond itself. Some salient details of the analogy are highlighted: the painter is not presented as an expert, perfection is impossible, there is no model (paradeigma) to be imitated, and the painting is subject to deterioration over time. These observations, which fit well with Bartels' earlier claims, reveal the interlocutors' lawgiving activity as inevitably inaccurate and unfinished. Since their ideas have to be tested in practice over the course of time, they can only describe an outline of the legislation and need to appoint successors. Thus, the author concludes, in the Laws, lawgiving is not a technê but "is presented as a discipline profoundly concerned with practical considerations" (188). Bartels' reading of the painter analogy is well argued and persuasively presented. Two important issues should perhaps have been addressed additionally in this context: the relation between the model-less painting and the extensive accounts of mimesis in Laws II and VII (cf. Laws. 656e1–2 on painting), as well as the 'outline' or 'cast' terminology (typos) in the Republic since it is present there as well (cf. Rep. 377b2, 379a2, a5, 380c7, 412b2 etc.).

Finally, Chapter Six ("Outside the Legislation: The Nocturnal Council and the Athenian Stranger") discusses two of the most debated issues of the Laws. With regard to the Nocturnal Council, Bartels emphasizes, in light of her earlier claims, that its competences do not include any expert knowledge, but are based mostly on experience. The second part of the chapter is dedicated to the main character of the dialogue. Here, too, the author maintains that the Athenian does not present himself as an authority or a moral expert, but mirrors a pragmatic attitude to lawgiving. Certainly Bartels has an important point in stressing the differences between the Athenian and Socrates as main characters in Platonic dialogues. Regarding the Athenian's 'expert knowledge', however, Laws X with its explanations on the self-moving soul remains strikingly out of sight in her analysis. Are books I and II really the "most philosophical part of Laws' discussion" (199) or might not book X change our perspective on the Athenian and on the dialogue as a whole?

The conclusion ("Plato's Pragmatic Project") brings the most important themes of the book back into focus: the non-prominence of dikaiosynê and the new moral frame, the missing consideration of metaphysics, as well as the "fundamental […] shift" regarding the "core principles" (209) of Plato's philosophy.

As stated on various occasions, not all of Bartels' affirmations seem to be fully convincing. A narrow conception of virtue, a somewhat 'idealising' view of the Republic and a strong tendency to stress differences from earlier dialogues might be reasons for this. Yet undoubtedly Bartels' book is an important contribution to the research on Plato's philosophy in general and on the Laws in particular: for its lucid and fresh approach to the text, the ample consideration of the context of singular passages, the throughout competent discussion of the relevant literature (resulting in a rich bibliography), and not last for its strong and challenging claims.7


1.   E.g. Marcus Folch, The City and the Stage: Performance, Genre, and Gender in Plato's Laws (Oxford 2015), or Lucia Prauscello, Performing Citizenship in Plato's Laws (Cambridge 2014), reviewed by Klaus Schöpsdau at BMCR 2016.02.11.
2.   Charles Kahn, 'From Republic to Laws: A Discussion of Christopher Bobonich Plato's Utopia Recast,' in Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 26 (2004): esp. 343–53.
3.   Klaus Schöpsdau,'Tapferkeit, Aidos und Sophrosyne im ersten Buch der platonischen Nomoi,' in Rheinisches Museum für Philologie 129, no. 2 (1986): 97–123.
4.   I argue on the basis of my forthcoming article 'Shame and Virtue in Plato's Laws: Two Kinds of Fear and the Drunken Puppet,' in Laura Candiotto and Olivier Renaut (eds.): Emotions in Plato (Leiden 2018).
5.   E.g. Rep. 603c10–4d10, Phlb. 32b9–c2 and Tim. 69d.
6.   For Aristotle aidôs is not a virtue (cf. NE 1108a31–32, 1128b10; EE 1220b12–13). According to Laws 837c7–8 aidôs is a valuing attitude towards the virtues.
7.   I would like to thank Dr. Justin Vlasits (Tübingen) for his proofreading and advice.

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