Sunday, May 20, 2018


Philip Burton (ed.), Sulpicius Severus' 'Vita Martini'. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017. Pp. xiv, 298. ISBN 9780199676224. $155.00.

Reviewed by Raymond Van Dam, University of Michigan (

Version at BMCR home site

Sulpicius Severus' Life of Martin is a short text, only twenty-nine pages in the standard edition in Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, vol. 1. But that text was the starting point and the foundation for the most influential saint's cult in post-Roman Merovingian Gaul. It has also been featured widely in modern scholarship on the later Roman empire during the fourth century, not only in studies of hagiography and saints' cults, but also in accounts of the rise of bishops and monks, the authority of emperors and their administrators, the influence of Gallic notables, the effectiveness of the Roman army, and the coming of the barbarians.

In the late 1960s Jacques Fontaine revitalized study of the Life of Martin with a new critical edition and French translation. Fontaine should be considered one of the important founders of modern late antique studies, and his publications combined great philological skills with sensitive literary criticism and significant historical interpretation. His interests were primarily in Latin prose and poetry, and his study of the Life of Martin set a high standard. It also set a rather elephantine standard. In addition to the edition and translation, the three volumes of his study included an introduction of 240 pages, a commentary of almost one thousand pages, and another seventy pages of indices.

Sulpicius thought that any value in his "little book" would have to come entirely from its subject, bishop Martin of Tours. He claimed to be so embarrassed by his own "grammatical lapses" that he suggested a friend publish his book anonymously. False modesty was just another sophisticated trope, however, and Philip Burton rightly highlights Sulpicius' "virtuosity" (52, 63) as a stylist. His new book is an excellent introduction to and overview of the many noteworthy literary aspects of the Life of Martin.

Burton's book includes an edition of the Latin text, largely based on Fontaine's edition but with a few variant readings, and a very readable translation. Following the format of Fontaine's edition, the text is preceded by an introduction and followed by a commentary. But both are more compact and hence more accessible, and both are important contributions to our appreciation of late Roman and early medieval Latin.

Burton's introduction includes an overview of Sulpicius' life, compiled largely from his own writings and the letters of his friend Paulinus of Nola. An overview of Martin's life is more difficult, however, because it requires evaluating the accuracy and reliability of the Life of Martin. Even though Sulpicius visited Martin at Tours and could describe him firsthand, the sources for his information about Martin's earlier life and episcopacy remain largely unknown. Sulpicius furthermore shaped that information to represent his own agenda, and in the process he obscured the chronology. Burton explains the uncertainties about Martin's age and the length of his military service by appealing to the conventions of genre. Sulpicius was writing under the influence of the Gospels, whose narratives consisted of a series of short episodes; the passions of martyrs, which emphasized confrontations and conflicts; and biographies of Christian holy men, such as the Life of Antony. As a result, even as he modeled Martin's actions on the behavior of biblical characters, he offered Martin as a model for others to imitate: "the language of imitation is effectively used to describe a typological theology" (40). This emphasis on literary styling and theological concerns implies that the Life of Martin cannot be read straightforwardly as a trustworthy depiction of the life of the historical Martin.

The most useful section of Burton's introduction is the meticulous analysis of the prose style of the Life. This analysis includes a detailed discussion of vocabulary, concluding that Sulpicius was "a careful traditionalist rather than a linguistic antiquarian" (49). His syntax and morphology recalled "the archaizing style of Sallust" (55). In fact, the influence of Sallust and the Sallustian tradition often reappears: "Sallust… stands in a similar relation to the Vita Martini as the Iliad or Odyssey does to the Aeneid" (81). Burton furthermore highlights the rhythms of Sulpicius' prose, which featured classical quantitative or metrical patterns over the accentual cadences that became more common in late antiquity. Some of his rhythms turned into fragments of dactylic verse, often close to full hexameter verses. As a result, these rhythms linked Sulpicius "to the traditions of classical hexameter poetry, as represented by Virgil, Ovid, and their successors" (81). Like many modern scholars of late antiquity, Sulpicius apparently had a background in classical studies, and he seems to have prepared to write hagiography by reading classical Latin prose and poetry.

Burton's commentary examines the Life section by section, often word by word. Some of his comments are extended discussions of relevant topics and themes: prose prefaces (139); the influence of military hagiography (146-51); clothing and Martin's cloak (158-160); Sulpicius' theology (178-80); resurrection stories (184-85); the selection and consecration of new bishops (190-92); sacred trees (213-14); Martin's apparent inclination toward Origin's doctrine that God's love might redeem even the Devil (242-43); and visions of the Devil wearing a diadem and an imperial robe (247). Most of Burton's comments are remarks on the meanings, morphology, and syntax of words and phrases: for instance, the comparative of the adjective incultus (134); the scarcity of gerundives (135), and the archaic form of a third- conjugation gerundive (151); the use of rex as the title for an emperor (153), and the appropriation of candidatus as the term for a neophyte after baptism (157); the odd use of vis with a noun in the genitive (160); the meanings of virtus (138), religiosus/a (176), sacerdos and fides (179), deformis ("tonsured," 193-94), altare (rather than ara, 206), pallium (221), signum (244), and videbantur (the equivalent of English "scare quotes," 258-59); the form of the pluperfect subjunctive passive (185); sentences that begin with verbs (216); the use of hyberbata as "a stylistic tic" (227); and the "dangling nominative" (234). The sequence of topics really is as haphazard and unpredictable as it appears in this summary. Only a few obvious mistakes pop up. For instance, "the defeat of Licinius at the Milvian Bridge in 307" (169): the defeated emperor, the battle, and the date do not match. Despite the eclectic nature of the comments, everyone planning to translate a late Roman or early medieval Latin prose text should read Burton's commentary as a very sensitive and astute primer.

Even though Sulpicius professed misgivings, his style was worthy of his subject. His "little book" became a bestseller at Rome, and his friend Paulinus of Nola was pleased to read it aloud to a visitor. These days historians of late antiquity are increasingly aware of the "literary turn" in historical studies that questions the reliability of ancient texts by interpreting them as presentist representations of the past, and literary critics amplify the aesthetics of ancient texts by examining intertextual allusions. Sulpicius' Life of Martin was certainly a literary construct that incorporated allusions to classical authors. But the underpinning for its representation and intertextuality was its grammar and style. Burton's book is a very helpful exposition of the impressive artistic and philological infrastructure of the Life.

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Tyler V. Franconi (ed.), Fluvial Landscapes in the Roman World. Journal of Roman archaeology. Supplementary series, 104. Portsmouth, RI: Journal of Roman Archaeology, 2015. Pp. 164. ISBN 9780991373086. $89.50.

Reviewed by Toon Bongers, Ghent University (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

Fluvial Landscapes in the Roman World results from a conference organised by the Oxford Roman Economy Project, entitled 'Shifting fluvial landscapes in the Roman world: new directions in the study of ancient rivers'. "The conference aimed to explore the social and environmental context of rivers in the Roman world, especially how Roman activity influenced hydrological activity and how, in turn, hydrological activity influenced Roman life" (p. 6).

The aim of the resulting publication is similar: it highlights the potential of interdisciplinary investigations into the relationship between society and rivers, including the surrounding areas or "fluvial landscapes". 1 Case studies from France, Italy, Germany, Syria, and Egypt examine "how hydrological events like floods, sedimentation, channel movement, droughts, and deltaic movement influenced settlement location, economic networks, transportation systems, agricultural schemes, and irrigation networks." 2 The various expert contributors, including editor Tyler V. Franconi, offer wide- ranging experience in (geo)-archaeology, history, physical geography and (hydro)-geomorphology. Although not explicitly mentioned, the volume seems to be aimed primarily at a professional audience (PhD students and researchers).

Franconi starts the volume off with his chapter "Studying rivers in the Roman world", in which he lays the foundation for the historical narratives explored further throughout the subsequent chapters. Franconi explains very well the dynamic relations between rivers, economic activities, and (military) settlements. Furthermore, he highlights the importance of (including) environmental data in archaeological research. This chapter and its bibliography, may (and should) serve as an introduction for anyone interested in the topic.

Campbell avoids the "hard sciences" in "Watery perspectives: a Roman view on rivers" and moves on to topics such as Rome's interventionist attitudes towards rivers and the various interactions between rivers and society. He clarifies that a river was not one thing, but that it could simultaneously be a border, communication line, divinity, source of life, military strategic point, transportation route, etc. He neatly integrates archaeology and epigraphy in this historical chapter, which offers insights into societies' views on altering rivers, but also the ways in which rivers shaped the ever-changing society. With regard to river transport in particular, this contribution offers a short but thorough introduction to the various questions surrounding the study of riverine transport (cost vs. distance, upstream vs. downstream transport, integrated transport systems etc.). Despite the modest length of this article, more reference to related works would have been welcome. Furthermore, Campbell refers to "efforts — over-ambitious in my view — to assess climate change" (p. 23) It is not clear whether the author refers to specific studies or to the entire study of past climate change. If the latter, I disagree: the use and optimisation of climatic data in the reconstruction of historical narratives is not only helpful, but necessary (as many chapters in this volume prove).

In "River Adjustment to change: the Rhône in France during the Roman period" Bravard provides a preliminary summary of studies on river change in France. Next, he presents several case-studies on flooding in the Rhône valley, which according to him "demonstrate the existence of a wet period within a long dry period" (p. 34). By presenting the evidence, or lack of evidence, for flooding Bravard explains the complexity of a fluvial system, which responds to climate-induced hydrological change and sediment transportation. He ends by rightfully stating that it is not easy to differentiate between climate- or human-induced hydrological crises. To conclude, Bravard is successful in building a bridge between (sometimes overly detailed) geological studies and archaeology, e.g. the use of archaeological artefacts to date alluvial deposits.

Leveau's chapter "Environmental risk in the Lower Rhône valley: high water levels and floods" complements Bravard's in both subject (e.g. flooding, hydrological processes) and in spatial focus (lower Rhône valley). Leveau writes about environmental risks in the Lower Rhône valley, focusing on negative high water levels. He describes the relationship between Arles (Arelate) and the Rhône delta with regard to the management of fluvial risk. Leveau begins his chapter with the geographical and historical context of the study area, which simultaneously serves as a chronological overview of the relevant (geo)archaeological studies performed in the Lower Rhône area. The picture that emerges is one of a conflict between economic versus environmental explanations for the attested archaeological record, a conflict which he tries to transcend by combining all the available sources (historical, economical, archaeological and environmental). Leveau's chapter is dense, information-rich and integrates all the available sources in an orderly fashion. However, it is perhaps too detailed at times, causing the reader to lose track of the bigger picture.

"High chrono-stratigraphical resolution of the harbour sequence of Ostia: palaeo-depth of the basin, ship draught, and dredging" by Goiran et al. tries to reconstruct the port of Ostia based on a high-resolution chrono-stratigraphic study of two core drillings. The aim was threefold: (1) understand the nature and speed of the filling, (2) compare basin depths with draughts of ships and (3) find the relationship between the depth of the ancient Tiber at its mouth and the depth of the harbour basin. Using a multi-disciplinary approach, the authors confirm the presence of a depression that they interpret as a harbour basin. Their conclusions show the possible results of such an approach, but they remain cautious.

In "Pater Rhenus: the hydrological history of Rome's German frontier" Franconi discusses the study of the Rhine in relation to fluvial change. He focuses on four questions: (1) how to attest and prove fluvial change; (2) the possible reasons for fluvial change (anthropogenic, climatic or both); (3) the consequences of fluvial change to the archaeological record; (4) how all of this changed over time. This chapter is a reaction to a passive view of the environment, specifically rivers, in the reconstruction of historical narratives. Franconi highlights often overlooked aspects of fluvial archaeology, such as: the role of rivers in society (as opposed to their military use); the backward projection of modern elements to the Roman era by scholars; and the necessity of identifying the different segments of rivers and attributing environmental data to either human or climatic events (also see Bravard). His comparative, integrative and summarising approach makes this chapter a very enjoyable read.

Morhange et al. ("Geoarchaeology of ancient harbours in lagoonal contexts: an introduction") provide a chapter on the durability of lagoonal harbours and the factors affecting it. The article's point of departure is that ancient harbours provide valuable insights into landscape changes, by allowing the reconstruction of paleo-environmental processes, which in turn shed light on both longue durée environmental events and short term high-energy events such as storms and floods. This study shows the significance of studying and understanding sediment processes, both in environmental and in historical sciences. Furthermore, it is interesting to see the continuous changing of the fluvial system explained by looking at the movement of energy through the system. The chapter, however, sometimes lacks a clear link to historical research and comes across as descriptive, rather than explanatory.

Wilson addresses the study of paleo-climatic events, rivers, torrents, floods, drought and to a lesser degree the transportation of goods in Roman North Africa in "Rivers, wadis and climate in North Africa: torrents and drought". He starts his article by not only stressing the importance of climatic factors and rainfall to agriculture, but also the importance of these factors to the transportation of agricultural goods. Next, he reports on the attested traces of water management in relation to environmental change. While doing so, he remains rightfully cautious about the interpretation of certain palynological data, since it is not always clear whether they refer to climate- or human-induced change (also see the chapters of Bravard and Franconi).

Whiting ("Gift of the Orontes: fluvial landscapes of northwest Syria in late antiquity") is critical of the general perception of the Orontes as a tool for transportation or irrigation. The exact nature of the river, its uses, and its impact on the surrounding settlements have only recently been studied. With this chapter she weakens the general perception that all rivers would have been used on a large scale in antiquity, for either economical or agricultural purposes. Whiting, from the start, makes a clear distinction between current and former hydrological conditions, and she rightfully points out the pitfalls when using climatic data. The geographical focus of her chapter makes it well-placed beside that of Wilson. In addition to providing an overview of recent research to frame the questions mentioned above, Whiting displays a clear view of future opportunities in the study of fluvial landscapes.

"360 Days of Summer" by Brendan Haug, discusses Roman-Egyptian papyri from the Fayyum. The first part of his lengthy contribution reveals the untapped potential of using geographic, historical and administrative writings from the mediaeval Islamic period. The second part focuses solely on the information that written evidence reveals on the character and rhythm of the Fayyum fluvial landscape. Here Haug brings to life the local inhabitants living in the Fayyum, not only focusing on elites, officials or soldiers (as is often the case). Haug shows that he is aware of the interaction between the human (social) system and the environment (the ecosystem). Or in his words: "These myriad and ever-changing human entanglements with the fluvial have in turn produced a complex tapestry of liquid landscapes whose intricate evolutionary histories have received little scholarly analysis." He furthermore refers to concepts such as "resilience of the landscape", adding to the discourse of this volume, which states that the landscape is no longer a static backdrop to historical narratives, but an influencer and shaper of historic events.

Purcell's short conclusion ("A second Nature? The riverine landscapes of the Romans") offers "a historian's reaction to the new directions represented by this research, with some hints to wider questions which fluvial approaches may illuminate" (p. 159).

The volume achieves what it set out to do: highlighting the potential of interdisciplinary approaches studying hydrological activity in the Roman world. Out of the various chapters, the implicit image has emerged that both society and the fluvial landscape can be conceptualised as a system, between which a dialectic relationship exists. This negates the image of a static environment that forms the backdrop to historical events. When discussing the environment and environmental proxies, all authors rightfully mentioned the ambiguities connected to this type of data. Regrettably, this volume shows a general lack of attention to theory. A single chapter on possible theoretical frameworks would have offered valuable guidance for future scholars in this field.

There are a moderate number of editing errors throughout (p. 69 "(ii) this sector could be a landing stage and handling cargoes with a quay to the north along the left bank of the Tiber (fig. 2)"; p. 79: "but can estimated based on vertical position"; p. 90: "geo-morphological"; p. 104: "(3)" should be "(c)", while chapters 3, 4, 7 and 8 contain mislabelled figures and grammatical errors which impede the reader's understanding. Finally, fig. 2 and 3 on p. 112-13 would have been more successful at bringing their message across if they had been presented in colour.


1.   Water.
2.   Water.

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Dirk Rohmann, Christianity, Book-Burning and Censorship in Late Antiquity: Studies in Text Transmission. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2017. Pp. ix, 360. ISBN 9781481307826. $49.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Raphael Brendel, München (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is given below.]

Vorbemerkung: Das Buch ist identisch mit dem gleichnamigen Werk Rohmanns, das 2016 bei De Gruyter erschien; die Unterschiede beschränken sich auf Bindung und Einband sowie Preisgestaltung (49,95$ statt 99,95€/140,00$).

Das Phänomen der Bücherverbrennung in der Spätantike wurde bislang nicht systematisch untersucht und nur durch Spezialstudien zu einzelnen Phänomen berücksichtigt. Diese bislang fehlende Studie wird nun mit dem Buch von Dirk Rohmann, der sich bereits mit den Bücherverbrennungen der Kaiserzeit auseinandergesetzt hat,1 vorgelegt.

In der Einleitung (S. 1-23) benennt Rohmann seine Grundthese, die Verbrennung von dem Christentum entgegenstehenden Werken habe einen negativen Einfluss auf die Überlieferung von Texten in Antike und Mittelalter gehabt; daneben bietet er dort einen Überblick über die Forschung zu diesem Phänomen sowie zur Thematik der Textüberlieferung. ersten beiden Kapitel (S. 24-61 und S. 62-110) stellen die Fälle von Bücherverbrennungen zusammen, die durch staatliche Autoritäten angeordnet oder unterstützt wurden; der Schwerpunkt liegt auf der Christenverfolgung Diokletians und der Religionspolitik der christlichen Kaiser bis Justinian. Als Ergebnisse sind festzuhalten: Eine schärfere Form der Zensur und Büchervernichtungen auf Basis von Magiegesetzen sind erst in der Spätantike festzustellen. Die christliche Wahrnehmung, wonach die Christenverfolgung Diokletians von Philosophen angetrieben wurde, hat zu einer höheren Bereitschaft geführt, mit ähnlichen Mitteln vorzugehen. Zensurgesetze als Mittel größerer Kontrolle wurden von Diokletian und Julian eingeführt. Einer harten Gesetzgebung der theodosianischen Dynastie stehen wenige Belege für tatsächliche Büchervernichtungen entgegen.

Das dritte Kapitel (S. 111-148) sammelt die Fälle, in denen christliche Gruppierungen aus eigenem Antrieb literarische Werke zerstörten. Hieraus ist zu notieren: Die weltliche Zensurgesetzgebung ging auch in die kirchliche Gesetzgebung ein. Während die staatlichen Autoritäten keine systematischen Nachforschungen anstellten, wurde solche durch Kleriker sehr wohl durchgeführt. Denunziantentum hat eine wichtige Rolle gespielt, war aber oft nicht religiös, sondern sozial, wirtschaftlich oder persönlich motiviert. Die Vernichtung magischer Bücher fand nicht aus Gründen der Zensur statt, sondern es sollten darin vermutete dämonische Kräfte vernichtet werden.

Das vierte Kapitel zu „Materialist Philosophy" (S. 149-197) stellt die Kritik christlicher Autoren an Vertretern solcher Richtungen (insbesondere Epikur) zusammen, um zu belegen, dass derartige Texte häufiger vernichtet und seltener kopiert wurden. Im fünften Kapitel (S. 198-237) wird versucht, eine allgemeine Vernachlässigung klassischer Literatur in der Spätantike zu belegen. Das sechste Kapitel (S. 238-261) sammelt die Fälle, in denen Bücher im Rahmen der Zerstörung von Bibliotheken vernichtet wurden. Rohmann gelangt hier zu dem Ergebnis, dass gezielte Aktionen gegen Bibliotheken die Ausnahme waren. Das siebte Kapitel (S. 262-295) wirft einen Blick auf die Nachfolgestaaten des römischen Reiches. Rohmann stellt hier ein systematisches Vorgehen nur gegen häretische und christenfeindliche Schriften fest, während die (zur Karriereförderung uninteressanten) Klassiker oft mit anderen Inhalten überschrieben wurden. Das Schlusskapitel (S. 296-302) fasst die wichtigsten Ergebnisse zusammen.

Das Buch stellt als erste ausführliche Behandlung einer kaum gewürdigten Thematik einen wichtigen Beitrag dar. Dennoch weist es einige Mängel auf, die weitere Forschungen unumgänglich machen. Ein Grundproblem ist, dass nicht klar wird, was eigentlich erforscht wird. Nach der Lektüre der Einleitung erhält man den Eindruck, es solle um überlieferungsgeschichtliche Fragen gehen. In den ersten beiden Kapiteln werden Themen behandelt, die man eher im Bereich der politischen Geschichte verorten würde. Kaum sind dafür gewisse Grundlagen geschaffen (denn ein wirklicher Beitrag dazu müsste sich eingehender damit befassen), wird auf die ideen- und bildungsgeschichtliche Ebene umgeschwenkt, um sich dann am Ende (auch) mit überlieferungsgeschichtlichen Fragen zu befassen. Rohmanns Buch bietet ein wenig von allem und kann so nirgends in die Tiefe gehen. Wie aber soll man beispielsweise die Zensurgesetze der Spätantike zuverlässig beurteilen, wenn man sie nicht in den allgemeinen Kontext der Fragestellung einordnet, ob es in dieser Zeit eine Art Meinungsfreiheit (für und gegen die es gleichermaßen Argumente gibt) bestand?

Unzureichend ist das fünfte Kapitel (S. 198-237). Rohmann zieht hier in der ersten Hälfte drei Autoren heran, die belegen sollen, dass in der Spätantike das Interesse an klassischer Literatur und Philosophie stark zurückgegangen war. Der erste Zeuge ist Johannes Chrysostomos (S. 200-209), von dem Rohmann selbst zugibt, dass seine Behauptungen Wunschdenken seien (S. 208). Als zweites wird die Kritik des Libanios über die Schulpolitik der christlichen Kaiser (S. 209-212) angeführt. Ein genaueres Eindringen in die Materie hätte aber gezeigt, dass dessen Beschwerden weniger im eigentlichen Sinne schulpolitisch, sondern eher verwaltungstechnisch sind: Libanios sah sich mit der Tatsache konfrontiert, dass Rhetorik für eine Karriere in der Reichsadministration immer unbedeutender wurde, ohne dass allerdings systematisch das Studium der Rhetorik unterbunden worden wäre. Auch die Bezeichnung des Statuenaufstandes von 387 in Antiochia, dessen steuerliche Hintergründe Rohmann selbst anführt, als „major example for the religious unrest of that time" (S. 211) ist sehr bedenklich. Zuletzt kommt Ammianus (S. 212-217) zu Wort, der in seinem ersten Romexkurs über den Niedergang der Bibliotheken spricht. Dass die Exkurse des Ammianus im Allgemeinen und die beiden Romexkurse im Speziellen hochliterarische Passagen sind, die nicht einfach als aktuelle Tatsachenbeschreibung angesehen werden dürfen, ist eigentlich nichts Neues. Für den Rest des Kapitels genügt der Verweis darauf, dass Rohmann selbst zugesteht, die Kritik christlicher Autoren an klassischen Werken sei von den Laien nicht immer geteilt worden (S. 230). Ein Niedergang oder auch nur Desinteresse wird so nicht bewiesen.

Eine Reihe von Punkten erschien bei der Lektüre problematisch: S. 2 wird nicht problematisiert, dass das Höchstpreisedikt nicht die tatsächlichen, sondern die höchsten erlaubten Preise ansetzt. Wenn S. 3 behauptet wird, „the concept of liberty of speech (libertas dicendi) did exist, it did so more as a privilege of the elite rather than as an accepted legal and cultural human right", ist nur der Teil über den rechtlichen Status richtig; lautstarke (oft als legitim anerkannte) Protestaktionen der Bevölkerung sind ebenso belegt wie Beschränkungen der Eliten. Die Übersetzung von humiliores als „less privileged people" (S. 26, Anm. 12) erscheint wenig gelungen. Die Charakteristik von CI 9,18,2 als „general, empire-wide ban of astrology" (S. 26 mit Anm. 15) ist dem Überlieferungszustand des durch die Kompilatoren des Codex zu einem solchen allgemeinen Verbot geformten Gesetzes geschuldet. Ähnliches gilt für die Einschätzung des nur aus literarischen Quellen bekannten diokletianischen Christengesetzes als „surprisingly unspecific" (S. 29). S. 32-33 wird die religiöse Dimension des Gesetzes gegen die libelli famosi stark überschätzt; ebensowenig ist eine Verbindung entsprechender Gesetze mit Africa zwingend (S. 55). Welchen Sinn macht die Diskussion christlicher Reaktionen auf die diokletianische Verfolgung (S. 35-54), wenn Johannes Chrysostomos übermäßig ausführlich berücksichtigt wird, um dann festzustellen, dass er sich auch auf aktuellere Ereignisse beziehen kann (S. 43-44)? Eusebios betont zwar seinen Einfluss auf Konstantin, doch sollte dieser nicht zu hoch eingeschätzt werden (S. 40 und S. 53). Die Behauptung, Konstantin habe sich griechischer Terminologie in Bezug auf Büchervernichtungen bedient (S. 42), übersieht, dass ein Kirchenhistoriker des fünften Jahrhunderts (S. 34, Anm. 56), nicht aber Konstantins eigene Worte zitiert sind. S. 56 wird unter Berufung auf Julians Vorgaben für die Lektüre der Priester behauptet, „he also argued for censorship" (S. 56); da aber die Lektüre solcher Schriften nicht darüber hinaus untersagt wurde, handelt es sich um einen berufsbedingten Verhaltenskodex. Die Plünderung der Bibliothek des Georgios (S. 56-57) geht aus dem Brief an Ekdikios nicht hervor; der Inhalt deutet eher darauf hin, dass das Problem nicht in der Entwendung von Büchern, sondern in einer Aufbewahrung an unterschiedlichen Orten lag. Die reichsweite Gültigkeit aller im Codex Theodosianus enthaltenen Gesetze nach dessen Publikation (S. 63), wird immer wieder behauptet, aber nie bewiesen; angesichts einander widersprechender Verordnungen ist vom Gegenteil auszugehen. Das (moralischen Kriterien geschuldete) negative Bild, das Ammianus von Valens hat, geht nicht (oder nur zu einem geringen Teil) auf dessen Scheitern bei Adrianopel zurück (S. 67). Selbst die S. 75 gebotene Argumentation macht es nicht unmöglich, dass Prudentius sich auf die Usurpation des Eugenius bezieht. Synkellos hat nicht die Chronik des Hieronymus benutzt (S. 78, Anm. 76), sondern beide die des Eusebios. Das Kapitel über Rutilius Namatianus (S. 91-93) äußert sich eingehend zu Rutilius allgemein, aber kaum zur behandelten Stelle und den entsprechenden Forschungsdiskussionen. Die damnatio Julians ist nicht die „immediate policy following Julian's death" (S. 239), sondern lokale Aktionen unterschiedlichen Ausmaßes. Bei der Diskussion des wohl aus Eunapios stammenden Suda-Artikels über Jovian (S. 240) wird übersehen, dass Johannes Antiochenus ebenfalls auf Eunapios zurückgeht. Die S. 241, Anm. 7 als Beleg für Jovians „actions against pagan philosophers" zitierte Passage aus Themistios ist bislang nicht zuverlässig gedeutet, allerdings tendieren die meisten Interpreten zur Identifikation der dort genannten Person mit Julian.

Einige Anregungen für weitere Forschungen: Das Kapitel zum Codex Iustinianus (S. 96-101) behandelt lediglich nach der Publikation des Codex Theodosianus erlassene Gesetze. Die stärkere Einbeziehung früherer Gesetze, die nicht nur mit der Kodifikation Justinians Gültigkeit besaßen, sondern nicht selten von den justinianischen Kompilatoren gekürzt, modifiziert oder stellenweise sogar verändert wurden, bietet einen weiteren Ansatzpunkt. Das Kapitel zu den christlichen Schriftstellern und ihrer Stellung zur curiositas (S. 85-91) ist nützlich, hätte aber noch davon profitiert, die Aussage der Historia Augusta curiositas nil recusat (Vita Aureliani 10,1) in Zusammenhang mit deren allgemeiner Kenntnis christlicher Literatur als mögliche Entgegenung einzubeziehen. Einige Literaturtitel sind nachzutragen. 2 Druckfehler sind selten 3, allerdings sind sonderbare Worttrennungen häufig (etwa S. 258: „Antiq-uity").

Ein Gesamturteil fällt nicht leicht: Es handelt sich um die erste systematische und umfassende Studie zu dieser Thematilk und nicht nur gemessen daran hat Rohmann gute Arbeit geleistet. Andererseits führen die übertrieben ambitionierten Zielsetzungen (vor allem die, Bücherverbrennungen der Spätantike nicht nur als Phänomen dieser Zeit, sondern auch als Element der Nicht-Überlieferung zu erforschen) dazu, dass die notwendige Aufmerksamkeit für Details ausbleibt. Mit stärkeren thematischen Beschränkungen hätte Rohmann ein Standardwerk für eines der behandelten Themen schaffen können; so liegen (durchaus wichtige) Vorarbeiten für mehrere vor. 4

Table of Contents

Preface (V)
Introduction (1-23)
Overview of Previous Scholarship (4-7)
Text Transmission in Antiquity (8-10)
Factors Affecting the Transmission of Texts (10-23)

1. The Great Persecution, the Emperor Julian and Christian Reactions (24-61)
1.1 Laws against Astrologers and Magicians before the Fourth Century (24-27)
1.2 The Great Persecution (27-31)
1.3 Constantine (31-35)
1.4 Christian Reactions to the Great Persecution (35-54)
1.5 Julian and the Constantinian Dynasty (54-57)
1.6 Christian Reactions to the Emperor Julian (57-60)
1.7 Conclusion (60-61)

2. Fahrenheit AD 451 – Imperial Legislation and Public Authority (62-110)
2.1 Magic Trials under the Emperor Valens (64-69)
2.2 The Theodosian Dynasty (69-77)
2.3 Philosophy and Astrology (77-85)
2.4 Curiosity and Illness (85-91)
2.5 Rutilius Namatianus and the Burning of the Sibylline Books (91-93)
2.6 Magic and Hellenist Trials in the Fifth Century (93-96)
2.7 Codex Justinianus (96-101)
2.8 Religious Inquisitions in the Age of Justinian (102-109)
2.9 Conclusion (109-110)

3. Holy Men, Clerics and Ascetics (111-148)
3.1 Book-Burning in the Acts of the Apostles (111-113)
3.2 Ecclesiastical Law in Late Antiquity (114-116)
3.3 Philosophy and Heresy (116-123)
3.4 Zacharias' Life of Severus (124-132)
3.5 „I Give You Power to Trample on Serpents" (132-137)
3.6 Individuals Renouncing their Past (137-144)
3.7 Philosophy and Magic (144-146)
3.8 Conclusion (146-148)

4. Materialist Philosophy (149-197)
4.1 Materialist Philosophies in Late Antiquity (151-157)
4.2 Christianity and Ancient Materialist Philosophy (157-163)
4.3 Augustine's Letter to Dioscorus (163-174)
4.4 The Eschatological Crisis of Babylon and Jerusalem (174-182)
4.5 Prudentius and Epicurus (182-186)
4.6 Polemics against Materialist Philosophies in the East (186-195)
4.7 Conclusion (195-197)

5. Moral Disapproval of Literary Genres (198-237)
5.1 John Chrysostom and the Decline of Ancient Philosophy (200-209)
5.2 Libanius' Complaints (209-212)
5.3 The Decline of Libraries in Rome (212-217)
5.4 The Jerome-Rufinus Controversy (217-219)
5.5 Christianity and Classical Literature (220-230)
5.6 Christianity and Paideia (231-235)
5.7 Conclusion (235-237)

6. Destruction of Libraries (238-261)
6.1 A Temple Destroyed in Antioch (239-241)
6.2 The Palatine Library in Rome (241-243)
6.3 The Library of Alexandria (243-255)
6.4 The Sack of Rome (256-258)
6.5 The Library of Constantinople (258-260)
6.6 Conclusion (260-261)

7. The Post-Roman Successor States (262-295)
7.1 Burning and Confiscation of Books after the Fall of Rome (263-278)
7.2 Ecclesiastical Law (278-281)
7.3 Isidore of Seville (281-289)
7.4 Membra Disiecta (289-294)
7.5 Conclusion (294-295)

Conclusion (296-302)
Bibliography (303-324)
Primary literature (303-310)
Secondary literature (310-324)
Index of persons (325-329)
Subject index (330-337)
Index of passages (338-360)


1.   Dirk Rohmann, Book burning as conflict management in the Roman empire (213BCE-200 CE), in: Ancient Society 43 (2013), S. 115-149. Dazu jetzt auch Joseph A. Howley, "Book-burning and the uses of writing in ancient Rome: Destructive practice between literature and document" in: Journal of Roman Studies 107 (2017), S. 213-236.
2.   Alan Cameron, "Were pagans afraid to speak their mind in a Christian world? The correspondence of Symmachus" in: Michele Renee Salzman, Marianne Sághy, Rita Lizzi Testa (Hrsg.), Pagans and Christians in Late Antique Rome: Conflict, Competition, and Coexistence in the Fourth Century, (Cambridge 2016), S. 64-111 = Alan Cameron, Studies in Late Roman Literature and History, (Bari 2016), S. 223-265; Graeme W. Clarke, "Books for the burning" in: Prudentia 4 (1972), S. 67-82; Pieter de Jonge, "Censuur in de late keizertijd" in: Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis 61 (1948), S. 276-289; Alexander Demandt, Zeitkritik und Geschichtsbild im Werk Ammians, (Bonn 1965) (Diss. Marburg 1963), insbesondere S. 61-69; Kay Ehling, "Zwei Anmerkungen zum argyrion in Apg 19,19" in: Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 94 (2003), S. 269-275 (zu S. 113); David Neal Greenwood, "Plato's pilot in the political strategy of Julian and Libanius" in: Classical Quarterly 111/N.S. 67 (2017), S. 607-616 (zu S. 83-84); Arthur S. Pease, "Notes on bookburning" in: Massey Hamilton Shepherd (Hrsg.), Munera studiosa. Studies presented to William Henry Paine Hatch on the occasion of his 70. birthday, (Cambridge, Mass. 1946), S. 145-160 (non vidi); Danny Praet, "Parrhèsia, asebeia en censuur. Het vrije spreken en het beknotten vet het vrije meningsuiting in het klassieke Athene en de Late Oudheit" in: Tetradio 18 (2009), S. 61-87; Wolfgang Speyer, Verkannte Magie-reinigendes Feuer. "Die kulturellen Voraussetzungen für die Vernichtung heterodoxer Literatur und des Heidentums in der christlichen Spätantike" in: Hans Reinhard Seeliger (Hrsg.), Kriminalisierung des Christentums? Karlhinz Deschners Kirchengeschichte auf dem Prüfstand, Freiburg 19942, S. 303-310. Ebenfalls mit der Thematik auseinandergesetzt haben sich zahlreiche Beiträge von Stéphane Ratti, die hier nicht alle einzeln aufzuzählen sind.
3.   S. 25 „Hipollytus" (S. 25, Anm. 2 aber richtig abgekürzt „Hipp."); S. 26 „to jurist Iulius Paulus"; S. 31, Anm. 41 „Delehay" (statt richtig „Delehaye"); S. 248, Anm. 52 „Tetrachenzeit"; S. 249: Theodosius I. regierte von 379 bis 394 (richtig: 395); S. 271 „Bishoff" (richtig S. 310-311 „Bischoff"); die französische Ausgabe von Ernst Steins großem Überblickswerk erschien 1959 und wurde 1968 (S. 322) nur nachgedruckt. S. 29 scheint Maximianus mit Galerius (der auch Maximianus hieß) verwechselt worden zu sein. S. 54 heißt es „Constantine reacted to slanderous rumours", was entweder zu „Constantius" zu ändern ist oder einen sehr plötzlichen Themenwechsel bedeutet.
4.   Bisherige Rezensionen: Balbina Bäbler in: Plekos 19 (2017), S. 493-498 (; Ulrich Lambrecht, in: H-Soz-Kult 16. Januar 2017 (h/soz/kult); Volker Menze in: Sehepunkte 17/1 (2017) (sehpunkte).

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A. M. Juster, Michael Roberts, The Elegies of Maximianus. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018. Pp. 240. ISBN 9780812294644. $65.00.

Reviewed by Christine Kossaifi, CELIS – Université Clermont Auvergne, Clermont-Ferrand​ (

Version at BMCR home site


Poète, traducteur et essayiste,1 A. M. Juster s'intéresse ici, après B. Goldlust2 en France, aux six élégies du poète tardo-antique, Maximianus (également appelé en français Maximien), qui vécut vraisemblablement au VIe siècle après J.-C., dans l'Italie ostrogothique. Il propose aussi, en appendices, le texte et la traduction des Variae 1.21 de Cassiodore (A), de l'Appendix Maximiani (B) et du De Boetio spata cincto d'Ennode de Pavie3 (C); il donne également le texte (sans traduction) des anonymes Imitatio Maximiani (D) et Le regret de Maximian (E).

L'introduction, rédigée par M. Roberts, spécialiste de la poésie latine tardive, présente de façon claire et concise le poète et son œuvre, tous deux marqués par une essentielle ambiguïté. Nous connaissons en effet principalement Maximianus par l'auto-fiction, hautement sujette à caution, des 686 vers de ses Elégies, dont la dimension ludique et érudite rend problématique le déchiffrage du sens. Voici, résumé à grands traits, le contenu des six poèmes du recueil. Le premier et le plus long (292 vers) est une deprecatio de la déchéance causée par la vieillesse ; entrelacée au souvenir de la jeunesse rayonnante et conquérante, qui avive le poids du présent, elle se termine sur un appel à la mort, seule capable de faire cesser cet état contre-nature de mort-vivant. L'Elégie II dit la rupture amoureuse entre le poète vieillissant et la femme avec laquelle il a vécu de nombreuses années, Lycoris, dont le prénom évoque à la mémoire du lecteur les Amores de Gallus. Le troisième poème remonte à la jeunesse de Maximianus, alors épris d'Aquilina; Boèce y est mis en scène dans le rôle de l'entremetteur, les parents étant hostiles à cette liaison; mais l'absence d'obstacle tue le désir et le couple se défait, avec l'approbation surprenante de Boèce, qui loue l'extrême chasteté de Maximianus. La chanteuse Candida occupe l'Elégie IV, laquelle nous donne aussi le nom du poète (v. 26), alors épris de cette artiste au point d'en rêver à haute voix devant le père de celle-ci; ce souvenir du passé rend plus pesante encore la vieillesse présente. Le cinquième poème décrit une aventure sexuelle « vécue » par Maximianus avec une Graia puella dans le cadre d'une mission diplomatique en Orient. Mais le poète, vraiment âgé, ne parvient pas, la deuxième nuit, à la satisfaire sexuellement: réécrivant les Amores d'Ovide (III, 7) et le Satiricon de Pétrone, il nous donne alors à entendre la colère furieuse de la jeune femme, qui, de dépit, entonne un éloge cruel et funèbre de la mentula impuissante à assurer son devoir de perpétuation de la vie et de l'univers, puis abandonne le poète comme si les funérailles étaient terminées (v. 154). La courte Elégie VI est un appel à la mort.

Devant la diversité de ces motifs, on peut s'interroger sur les intentions poétiques de Maximianus. Il est visible, comme le dit M. Roberts, qu'il joue sur les genres et principalement sur l'élégie érotique augustéenne, dont il reprend le mètre, mais dont il renouvelle la perspective puisque Ego est vieux et occupe une « position sociale respectable » (p. 9). Il brouille ainsi les critères d'analyse, entre dimension morale (à portée chrétienne?), fiction réaliste à contours autobiographiques et parodie ironique, en une « multitude d'approches possibles » (p. 12) qui sont autant d'invites à la réécriture, dont les six poèmes courts de l'Appendix Maximiani, « sans doute d'un imitateur » (p. 13), sont un exemple.

On comprend que cette œuvre ouverte ait pu séduire une personnalité éclectique comme celle d'A. M. Juster. Sensible à la polyvalence du sens, il a choisi de ne pas ponctuer le latin4 (qu'il présente sans majuscules en début de phrases) et de le mettre en regard du texte anglais, ce qui permet d'apprécier le passage d'une langue à l'autre ; attentif à l'architecture musicale des vers, il s'efforce d'en transcrire la partition dans sa traduction et se montre soucieux de faire sentir le rythme propre au distique élégiaque et de faire entendre en anglais l'étoffe sonore des vers latins, tissés sur le chant des allitérations et des assonances.5 Cette traduction, qui se veut « fidèle, sans être littérale » (p. VII), et qui est basée sur l'édition ancienne de R. Webster6, s'efforce de transcrire tout à la fois la forme et la signification, intimement liées; de fait, « when you compose / a line, it is a message, not just art ».7 Entre traduction et poésie, Juster s'affirme comme un maillon de la grande chaîne des enfants de Mnémosyne et comme un passeur de mémoire: assurément, comme il le dit lui- même, Maximianus mérite d'être connu, lu et étudié. Nous disposons maintenant pour cela d'une belle traduction anglaise, après celle, en français, de B. Goldlust.

Malheureusement, traduire, c'est toujours un peu trahir, parce qu'il faut faire un choix là où le texte s'offre dans son ambiguïté – c'est tout l'exercice délicat et subtil de la traduction! En voici un exemple, tiré de l'ElégieVI, vers 11-12, qui sont les derniers du recueil :

infelix ceu iam defleto funere surgo
hac me defunctum vivere parte puto

Morose, I rise now as if mourned at my last rites;
I think I'm living partly dead this way.

Cette traduction reflète la façon dont A. M. Juster comprend ces vers, dans lesquels il lit une « réécriture pessimiste » du vivam optimiste qui clôt les Métamorphoses ovidiennes (p. 197): pour lui, il n'y a pas ici « d'affirmation de l'immortalité par la poésie ». La lecture se trouve ainsi orientée dans un sens particulier (en lien avec « la sensibilité lucrétienne ») au détriment des autres approches possibles (rappelées brièvement dans le commentaire, p. 197). Car ce distique pourrait bien ne pas être aussi négatif que le pense Juster. Il se construit en effet sur un tressage signifiant de la mort et de la vie, qui me paraît pointer vers le mythe du Phénix, dont on connaît l'importance dans la littérature païenne et chrétienne8; le fait de placer funere à côté de surgo (qui, dans la langue chrétienne, a le sens de « ressusciter ») et defunctum juste avant vivere me semble, à cet égard, assez significatif, si l'on songe au mode de résurrection de cet oiseau. L'adjectif infelix, qui ouvre le distique et le verbe puto qui le ferme renvoient à l'ἔλεγος élégiaque, qui tresse plaintes affectives et sensibilité personnelle. Maximianus pourrait ainsi indiquer qu'il vient de finir son recueil (il est donc hac defunctum parte, si l'on donne au substantif un sens métapoétique), mais qu'il envisage (puto) d'en commencer un autre (surgo). L'ElégieVI ne serait pas alors simplement la suite du poème précédent ou l'épilogue du recueil… Quoi qu'il en soit de la traduction ou de l'interprétation de ce texte subtilement fuyant, le travail d'A. M. Juster mérite assurément d'être reconnu et salué.

Le commentaire (p. 103-209) commence par une nouvelle présentation de l'œuvre: titre (celui d'Elégies étant par défaut), structure, datation de l'auteur et du texte (que Juster, plus catégorique que Roberts, situe vers 539 après J.-C.) et complément sur la vie de Maximianus (p. 103-105), ce qui fait quelque peu double emploi avec la présentation de M. Roberts. Le commentaire, nourri et érudit, de chaque élégie se fait vers par vers, avec la volonté, de la part de l'auteur, d'élucider le sens, de faire le point sur les différentes analyses qui ont été faites et, parfois, de proposer sa propre interprétation, mais sans jamais l'imposer, conformément au but fixé au début du livre : « I want to stimulate debate, not to stifle it. With the same rationale, I try to highlight disagreements between scholars about the meaning of lines instead of pronouncing a definitive answer where there is uncertainty » (p. VIII) ; il ne faut donc pas chercher de synthèse d'ensemble, comme ce que l'on trouve chez Goldlust. C'est au lecteur de se faire sa propre idée sur l'œuvre de ce poète fuyant, maître de l'illusion et capable de construire une solide matrice de l'apparence trompeuse.9 On peut, de ce point de vue, regretter l'absence de tout index. Les textes donnés en appendices font ensuite l'objet d'une analyse concise mais serrée et l'ensemble se termine sur une très large bibliographie, qui comporte toutefois des articles non exploités dans le commentaire.

Nous avons donc ici un ouvrage de qualité et, de surcroît, de belle facture; sa couverture, qui représente une peinture murale pompéienne, capte parfaitement l'esprit de la poésie de Maximianus, donne le plaisir de la vue et suscite le désir de la lecture, désir intellectuellement satisfait par la qualité de l'étude. Complétant utilement celui de Goldlust10, il facilite la connaissance de ce poète subtil et raffiné, aux accents étrangement modernes, et invite à (re)découvrir la littérature latine de l'Antiquité tardive.


1.   A. M. Juster a notamment traduit les Satires d'Horace (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008) et les Elégies de Tibulle (Oxford World's Classics, 2012). Pour plus de précisions sur cette personnalité éclectique, active dans de nombreux domaines, voir le site
2.   B. Goldlust, Maximien. Elégies, suivies de l'Appendix Maximiani et de l'Epithalame pour Maximus d'Ennode de Pavie, Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 2013.
3.   Par contre, l'Epithalame pour Maximus, que l'on trouve dans l'édition de Goldlust, est omis. Or, tout comme l'épigramme (CCCXXXIX, carm. 2, 132, éd. Vogel, MGH AA 7), il éclaire de façon intéressante la signification de la laudatio funebris de la mentula dans l'Elégie V de Maximianus ; voir, à ce sujet, Goldlust, p. 109 et 181-182 (n. 65).
4.   Il est cependant resté fidèle à la structure traditionnelle en six élégies, même si « les manuscrits n'ont généralement pas de divisions » en poèmes (p. 104).
5.   Cf. p. VII : « I try to replicate the feel of the Latin elegiac distich with couplets in alternating iambic hexameter and iambic pentameter while allowing myself the customary substitutions of formal poetry in English ».
6.   R. Webster, The Elegies of Maximianus, Princeton, Princeton Press, 1900.
7.   Poème de l'auteur, intitulé No, Premier prix du Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award, en 2007, en ligne sur son site.
8.   Sur ce mythe, voir, entre autres, L. Gosserez (Dir.), Le Phénix et son autre. Poétique d'un mythe des origines au XVIe siècle, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, coll. « Interférences », 2013, 359 p.
9.   Comme le lecteur l'aura compris, je fais ici allusion au film des frères Wachowski, Matrix, sorti en 1999.
10.   Contrairement à ce que l'auteur affirme, de façon quelque peu péremptoire, dans son introduction (le commentaire est plus nuancé), « la plupart des analyses textuelles des Elégies ne s'arrêtent pas près d'un siècle auparavant avec les éditions très différentes de Baehrens et Webster » (p. VII). Voir, par exemple, peu avant Goldlust, l'ouvrage, utilisé d'ailleurs par Juster, d'A.-M. Wasyl, Genres Rediscovered: Studies in Latin Miniature Epic, Love Elegy, and Epigram of the Romano-Barbaric Age, Kraków, Jagiellonian University Press, 2011 (cf. BMCR 2012.02.41). ​

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Friday, May 18, 2018


Federico Favi, Fliaci testimonianze e frammenti. Studia comica, 7. Heidelberg: Verlag Antike, 2017. Pp. 532. ISBN 9783946317043. €89,00.

Reviewed by Sebastiana Nervegna, Monash University (

Version at BMCR home site

To most classicists, the word phlyax brings to mind one poet, Rhinton, who hailed from Syracuse but worked in Taras between the late fourth and the early third centuries BC, and a series of South Italian vases once associated with his plays. As Favi's work clearly shows, there is much more to be said about the whole topic. This book deals with both the testimonia related to the term phlyax and the testimonia and fragments related to the poets that ancient writers identify, or allow us to identify, as phlyax-writers: Rhinton, Sciras, Blaesus and Sopater. These sources have been already treated in three or four editions, including the work by Kassel and Austin, whose text and general organization Favi follows with some changes.1 For instance, he provides a different critical apparatus, includes another fragment by Rhinton (*fr. 26) present in earlier editions but excluded by Kassel and Austin, and considers a larger number of testimonia related to the term phlyax. But Favi's work goes well beyond the analysis of these testimonia and fragments. This is the first book to contextualise these sources and to identify their contribution to an increasingly popular field of study, 'theatre outside Athens' and, more generally, post-Classical dramatic production.2

The first chapter considers the testimonia related to the word phlyax, which Favi combines with select testimonia on Rhinton, Sopater and another author otherwise excluded from this work, Sotades. Favi reads the evidence carefully, paying due attention to a passage from Athenaeus (XIV 621d-f), and explores two key issues, the origin of the term phlyax and its relationship to the Greek West. He argues against the modern interpretation that has phlyax derive from the verb φλέω ('I teem with abundance') and indicate some sort of 'demon of abundance' belonging to the entourage of Dionysus. Earlier scholars identified this demon with the satyr-like figures appearing on the vases from South Italy once considered to reproduce phlyakes. Favi builds his case on the ancient testimonia relating phlyax to the verb φλυαρέω ('I talk nonsense') and points out the mistaken association between the phlyakes and the pictorial record, which is instead related to Attic comedy. In addition to having nothing to do with Dionysus, the phlyakes cannot be exclusively framed within a Western-Greek prospective. After reviewing and ultimately questioning various interpretations of the term phlyax, Favi concludes that it cannot be considered either Western Greek or Doric (although the case for the verb φλουάζω is more complicated). Favi then formulates a new definition of phlyax by tracing its various uses. Originally indicating simply ridiculous people, it was later applied to interpreters of farcical performances that did not constitute a specific dramatic genre. These are the phlyakes mentioned by Athenaeus, who records that this terminology was familiar in the Greek West although not exclusive to this area. Afterwards, phlyax came to indicate a type of Western (Tarantine) drama, a form of comedy dealing with paratragedy made famous by Rhinton. But since phlyax was not a label for a specific genre with its own sets of conventions, it was also applied to other literary products sharing some basic features. This is the case of the works by Sopater and Sotades, which were as parodic as Rhinton's plays.

Rhinton takes up the second chapter. Of the thirty-eight dramas ascribed to him, we have only twenty-five (or twenty-six) fragments. Before examining them, Favi reviews the testimonia for Rhinton and offers a wide-ranging discussion of Rhinton's biography, cultural milieu, his plays and their relationship with other kinds of drama, including the Atellana. Ancient sources never label Rhinton's plays 'comedies' but describe them as a mixture of tragedy and comedy. This suggests mythological comedy, which is attested from the beginning of comic theatre, flourished in Athens between the late fifth and early fourth centuries BC, and fell out of fashion by the time Rhinton started his career. At the same time, ancient writers also paint Rhinton as an innovator, the father of a new type of drama called hilarotragoidia. Favi examines the sources to identify what made Rhinton stand out: he wrote only mythological comedies, combined international and local elements (note here how Favi cleverly reads side-by-side the epigram whereby Nossis celebrates Rhinton and those in which she comments on her own work, AP 7.414; 7.718, 5.170; pp. 69–72) and used the dialect spoken at Taras. This was Rhinton's base-language, although the fragments also present Attic forms, be they restored, or, perhaps more likely, due to Rhinton's use of tragic models, and non-Greek forms drawn from Italic languages. These forms were commonly used in Rhinton's Taras, although we may not exclude that Rhinton brought onto the stage foreign speakers. Here as throughout his work, Favi pays particular attention to the linguistic element of Rhinton's fragments. After all, except for a proverb-like expression preserved by Cicero (fr.*12), these fragments do owe their survival to their linguistic and metrical peculiarities.

The nature of the evidence makes it hard to say much about the content of Rhinton's plays, and Favi keenly points out the few interesting bits. First of all, the coincidence between Rhinton's play-titles and those by Euripides, with Iphigenia among the Taurians and Iphigenia in Aulis as the most interesting cases. The word Kalabria, one of the many terms whereby the Greeks referred to modern Puglia, is first attested in Rhinton (fr. 16). This shows that his plays, just like mythological comedies in general, contained references to local realities. Also intriguing is the metrical parody of another fragment that mentions Hipponax (fr. 8) and sheds some light on Rhinton's plays and his audiences. They were both sophisticated.

The following two chapters are dedicated to two obscure authors: Sciras of Taras (two testimonia and one fragment) and Blaesus of Capri (two testimonia and five fragments). They are considered phlyax-writers because Johannes Lydus (Mag. 1.41) associates them with Rhinton. Sciras is otherwise called 'a poet of the so-called Italic comedy' while Blaesus is mentioned as 'a poet of those who mix serious and funny' (Athen. IX 402b, cod B; Steph. Byz. κ 69 Billerbeck).' Favi teases out of the evidence any possible clue to their dramas and their links to Rhinton's. The one surviving fragment from Sciras' Meleager recalls Euripides' Hippolytus (75–6), thus suggesting that Sciras and Rhinton drew inspiration from similar models. Tragic parody is not evident in either one of the titles attested for Blaesus, Mesotribas and Satournos, although the latter implies a mythological topic. Blaesus' fragments, however, do seem to be linguistically close to those by Rhinton, thus suggesting some continuity between these two dramatists and their works.

The final chapter deals with a better-known author, Sopater (six testimonia and twenty-five fragments), who is variously labelled παρῳδός, comic poet and phlyax-writer. While Rhinton, Sciras and Blaesus were all active in South Italy, ancient sources tell us that Sopater hailed from Paphos, on the island of Cyprus. Several reasons, however, suggest that he worked in Alexandria during the reign of Ptolemy II, to whom Sopater referred in one of his plays. Favi discusses what we know of dramatic activities in Cyprus (very little) and in Ptolemaic Alexandria (much more), concluding that Sopater was active in Egypt, as generally supposed. Another element that marks Sopater from the other poets discussed in this volume is his language: Sopater's fragments are all in Attic dialect and interestingly include forms typical of the raising koiné. Here too Favi does his best to examine the fragments, which are all preserved by Athenaeus, searching for clues to the content of the original plays. At least some fragments may have been spoken by cooks. One play, Nekyia, dealt with Odysseus' katabasis (fr. 13), and other titles too suggest mythological parody. We also have one instance of philosophical parody (fr. 6) and several examples of parody targeting tragic and dithyrambic diction. The twelve hapax legomena that we find in the twenty-five fragments ascribed to Sopater contribute to suggesting that he wrote learned plays. This feature, along with the parodic element and the circulation of Sopater's works within a regional context, makes Sopater close to Rhinton (who was one of his contemporaries).

The book closes with four helpful indices: sources for the testimonia and the fragments treated, select passages discussed, Greek words and topics of interest.

Favi's discussion is always detailed, lucid and cautious in handling the evidence, even when dealing with questionable sources (see for example his discussion of Johannes Lydus' claim that Rhinton used hexameters, pp. 91–3). Favi takes on philological minutiae and linguistic analysis as well as broader issues related more generally to the history of Greek drama. In a work of this scope, some topics are necessarily treated in more detail than others. I missed more discussion on the tragedy-related vases from fourth-century South Italy (mentioned on p. 86). Favi stresses the links between Rhinton's plays and Middle Comedy, and in discussing individual dramas refers only to the comedy-related vases possibly relevant to the myths treated by Rhinton (incidentally, one regrets the use of the expression 'vasi fliacici' although given in quotation marks). But some interesting questions spring to mind. Is it a coincidence that virtually all the Euripidean tragedies with which Rhinton more or less probably engaged can be identified in the tragedy-related vases, and that the same can be said for the two Euripidean plays more or less securely recalled by Sciras's fragment? More importantly, could we find some role for performance as the medium whereby Rhinton and his audiences familiarised themselves with tragedy? One of the most debated issues on the spread of Greek drama involves the Italic populations (see the references given on p. 86 n. 139). In the vast majority of cases, the tragedy-related vases from South Italy come from Italic tombs scattered across Apulia, Lucania, Campania and Sicily, raising interesting questions about the circulation of Greek tragedy among the Italic populations, or at least the commissioning clients. The Italics' exposure to Greek tragedy and their familiarity with the Greek language are two controversial issues, and Favi and the material that he discusses shed some light on them. Rhinton's fragments present non-Greek forms (fr. 5, 7, 17 and more tentatively fr. 1) that, as Favi points out, are to be considered loans from Italic languages. This kind of loan characterises the literary production from the Greek West, including Sicily, and betrays the cultural interactions between Greeks and non-Greeks in this area (see the references given on pp. 82, 124–5). Obscure as he is, Blaesus is a very interesting figure. His name and his hometown, Capri, identify him as an Osco-Italic (see on p. 251) yet he wrote drama, and did so in Doric. His chronology remains elusive, but we may compare him to Mamercus, the Italic mercenary with an Oscan name who seized Catania when Timoleon invaded Sicily. Mamercus wrote poems and tragedies, and he also thought highly of his poetic skills (Plut. Tim. 31.1).

Favi's book is timely and much needed. By combining a detailed and insightful analysis of the ancient sources with a wide-ranging discussion of the spread of Greek drama outside Athens, Favi has produced a work of great interest for philologists, linguists, historians and anyone interested in ancient theatre and drama. It will be mandatory reading for all of them.


1.   G. Kaibel, Comicorum Graecorum Fragmenta (Berlin 1899, 19582); A. Olivieri, Frammenti della commedia greca e del mimo nella Sicilia e nella Magna Grecia II. Frammenti della commedia fliacica (Naples, 19472), R. Kassel and C. Austin, Poetae Comici Graeci Vol I: Comoedia Dorica, Mimi, Phlyaces (Berlin, 2001). For Rhinton, see also the edition by E. Völker, Rhintonis fragmenta (Halle, 1887) and the study by M. Gigante, Rintone e il teatro in Magna Grecia (Naples, 1971).
2.   The expression comes from the volume edited by K. Bosher, Theater Outside Athens: Drama in Greek Sicily and South Italy (Cambridge, 2012).

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Allison Glazebrook, Christina Vester (ed.), Themes in Greek Society and Culture: An Introduction to Ancient Greece. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. Pp. xxii, 481. ISBN 9780199020652. $80.00 (pb).

Reviewed by John Bloxham, The Open University (

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This is an ambitious and extremely wide-ranging introduction to almost every aspect of ancient Greek studies encompassing a timespan from the Bronze Age to 31 BC and utilising approaches from archaeology, history, literature, art, philosophy and reception studies. The introduction does not claim to provide a narrative of the entire period and suggests that the authors will not 'privilege' political change (9). The volume contains two broad overviews of time periods, one chapter on the Bronze Age and another on the rest of Greek history down to the end of the Hellenistic period, as well as chapters giving thematic treatments of aspects of Greek life such as the polis, the economy, religion, law, slavery, gender, sport and so on.

As an introductory companion, each chapter aims to provide a clear overview of the topic, a window into current controversies and questions, and pointers towards further reading. At the end of each chapter there is a section titled 'Questions for Review and Discussion' which could be a useful resource for course designers. Some of these sections are quite basic, although the better ones will encourage more active students to reflect upon their learning. There are a range of useful illustrations in black and white, presumably to reduce the expense, and there are two maps, of Greece and the Aegean at the beginning of the book and Greece and the Middle East towards the end. However, it is quite a short book and the result is that some of the chapters are little more than superficial overviews of the topic under consideration.

This review will assess the strengths and weaknesses of the book as a whole, whilst of necessity only looking in detail at a few chapters emblematic of broader issues. The work contains a number of solid if somewhat pedestrian surveys, such as those by A. Faulkner ('Literature and Performance'), which manages to squeeze in discussions of epic, lyric, tragedy and comedy, and M. Haworth ('Art and Architecture'). Chapter Two ('The Ancient Greeks'), by R. Kroeker, is less successful. It provides an overview of the period from the Mycenaeans to 31 BC, and is concerned primarily with military and political developments on whose basis the later, more focused, chapters can be constructed. However, condensing such an expanse of history into a 20-page chapter (18 once the references, questions and so on are excluded) inevitably paints a simplistic picture. In addition, the 'sources' discussion for this section only lists authors concerned with the same small sliver of the chapter's range (Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon), as does the 'Further Reading' section. Other periods are barely touched upon, including the Hellenistic period which is given just over a single page, and the interpretations are very much geared towards a traditional 'Great Man' view of history. The chapter also has a tendency towards vagueness (for example, providing no dates when talking about the emergence of the polis and providing population figures for a 'typical' polis). It may be heresy to suggest it, but it is difficult to see what this chapter offers that could not be gained by asking students to read the relevant Wikipedia page. Likewise, F. Pownall's chapter on Macedonia provides just the sort of narrative political history that was disavowed by the editors in the introduction.

The volume is strongest where it sticks closest to the introductory aim of providing thematic treatments and avoiding political narrative. Sears' chapter on the polis provides an excellent discussion which should really get students thinking about differences with the modern world where they might before have seen only similarities. That said, there is arguably too much emphasis placed upon the 'specialness' of the polis. A brief indication of the alternative views in existence (for example, Vlassopoulos' Unthinking the Greek Polis 1) would have been useful, even if only added to the 'Further Reading' section. Sears also supplies the traditional account of the egalitarian nature of the polis being a consequence of the rise of hoplite warfare, but in this instance provides useful further reading suggestions which contest this view.

Kroeker's chapter is not the only one to largely ignore the Hellenistic period, which merits a short postscript in most chapters. V. Provencal's chapter on philosophy goes a step further and explicitly ignores all Greek philosophy after 300 BC. Chapter Four ('War and Peace') by S. Ager is one of the few chapters to give serious attention to the Hellenistic period. The chapter is also strong on hoplites and navies, although other important aspects of Greek warfare, such as sieges, logistics or irregular troops, are hardly mentioned. One small complaint is that she compares the period before the Peloponnesian War with the Cold War to argue that 'bipolar alignments resulted in a dangerously combustible international situation' (87), which oversimplifies the situation in Greece but might also leave the reader with the misleading impression that the Peloponnesian War was an aberration, whereas warfare was actually a fairly normal state of affairs in Greece.

A couple of points on especially good chapters are in order. 'Sparta: Separating Reality from Mirage', by N. Humble, is one of the strongest of the book. The question running throughout the chapter is whether Sparta can be classed as, 'above all, a militaristic state?' (106). Humble engages admirably with the scholarship of recent decades which has transformed Sparta by normalising it, whilst at the same time acknowledging the 'othering of Sparta' undertaken at times even by contemporaries such as Xenophon (109). In contrast to some of the more simplistic, narrative chapters, Humble does an excellent job of bringing out the complexity and ambiguity of both the literary and archaeological source material. B. Akrigg ('Going to Market: the Economy and Society') has also produced a thought-provoking introduction to his topic. He concisely lays out some of the main current and past debates concerning the Greek economy, acquainting students with the questions at issue between the primitivists and modernists, substantivists and formalists and so on. Akrigg adopts the position that Greece had a 'high standard of living by historical standards'. A minor criticism arises from Akrigg's argument that the Greek economy grew because Greeks became more productive (not just because there were more Greeks), for which he offers no real evidence in support.

Any study of ancient Greece will necessarily present a fairly unbalanced picture due to the preponderance of Athenian sources in the surviving evidence; however, this makes it all the more essential that non-Athenian evidence is utilised whenever available to establish a more inclusive representation of ancient Greece. Some of the best chapters make admirable efforts in this respect, such as those by J. Trevett ('Status and Class'), R. Tordoff ('Slaves and Slavery') and C. Vester ('Women and the Greek Household'). In contrast, a number of others are excessively Athenocentric, of which J. Fletcher's chapter on law is a good example. The absence of any discussion of the Gortyn law code is especially regrettable, particularly as it is included in an illustration. There are a few references to non-Athenian evidence from Locri, Croton and so on, but no sustained comparison or discussion. This criticism notwithstanding, it is an excellent introduction to (largely) Athenian ideas of law and justice. Whilst a number of chapters can be criticised along similar lines for their overly narrow focus in terms of excluding the Hellenistic period or non-Athenian evidence, M. Liston's chapter on disease and health suffers from the opposite ailment. Ignoring the scope of the volume, Liston frequently draws upon much later Roman authors as if Greeks and Romans are interchangeable and time has no meaning. Indeed, even Byzantine authors and evidence make an appearance. She is very good on different treatments given in the ancient world, but the chapter could have contained more on Greek attitudes to sickness and the body. Fortunately this drawback is rectified to some extent by Glazebrook's stimulating discussion of the female body in her chapter on gender.

The work is largely free from editing errors (although an Egyptian statue illustrated on page 368 is mistakenly labelled as Greek). As I have indicated above, the volume occasionally oversimplifies, which can be further highlighted with a couple of examples concerning Sparta. Considering the importance that the falling number of Spartiates had in Sparta's decline, and the controversies surrounding the extent and reasons for the fall in numbers, it is surprising that Sears simply describes the Spartiates as 'typically around 5,000 in number' (64). Sears also conflates different and occasionally contradictory ancient sources on Sparta to depict something close to the 'Spartan Mirage' discussed by Humble. A larger drawback is the frequent repetition of material. Chapters two and four both provide narrative outlines of the wars and changing political alliances of the Classical and Hellenistic periods and both cover the dynamics of warfare in a similar fashion; the structures of the polis are outlined in chapters two, three and four; and the Athenian attack on Melos is described in a large text box in chapter two and then again in chapter four. Likewise, chapters four and five each begin with discussions of the Battle of Thermopylae as the 'hook' to draw readers in. Both descriptions are fine in themselves, but a more assertive editor might have suggested that one of them be altered to avoid duplication.

The major strengths of the volume are its breadth of coverage and its straightforward readability. Additional selling points are the suggestions for further reading, which are largely current and authoritative, and the excellent introductions it provides to the types of evidence available and the different ways it can be interrogated. The glossary will also be a useful tool for students new to the ancient Greek world. However, whilst there are strong individual chapters, the volume as a whole tries to do too much. The result is that some of the periods which are ostensibly part of the work are barely touched upon. For example, every chapter includes a timeline sketching events from across the whole period covered by the book; however, the chapters themselves often concentrate almost entirely on the Archaic and Classical periods. By cutting out some of the chapters which do not fit with the book's main thematic and chronological focus (the one on the Bronze Age, the political overview and the reception chapter), as well as each chapter's sections on the Hellenistic period (usually the briefest of afterthoughts anyway) and the elements of repetition, the remaining chapters could have been made much more comprehensive.

Finally, it is worth adding a few words on the possible market for this work. For students intending to continue their studies of ancient Greece throughout their degrees, it is likely that even the introductory courses they take will demand more depth than many of the chapters in this volume provide. There are introductory works elsewhere which break the Greek world down into manageable units of time or theme, but delve much deeper into their chosen fields. Consequently, these alternatives are likely to be more suitable in many cases. However, the main market for a book like this one would be the large introductory survey courses popular in North America, in which ancient Greece might be just one part of a broader course on, for example, 'Western Civilization'. Despite its drawbacks, this volume would serve as a very serviceable companion on such wide-ranging courses.


1.   Vlassopoulos, K., Unthinking the Greek Polis: Ancient Greek History beyond Eurocentrism, Cambridge; New York, Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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Mauro Tulli (ed.), Testo e forme del testo: ricerche di filologia filosofica. Ricerche di filologia classica, VII; Biblioteca di studi antichi, 97. Pisa; Roma: Fabrizio Serra editore, 2016. Pp. xii, 408. ISBN 9788862277884. €125.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Geert Lernout, University of Antwerp (

Version at BMCR home site

These studies of editorial and exegetical issues in Greek philosophy began as contributions to a master's and doctor's seminar at the University of Pisa. Mauro Tulli expresses the hope in his introduction that in the "joyous polyphony" of these contributions might live the fruit of a "non breve tradizione" of his department, and as Chair of the Department of Literature and Linguistics he should be proud, both of the erudite work of his students and of the handsome volume that these young scholars have produced. How many universities in the world could produce fourteen contributions on Greek philology and philosophy?

In the first contribution of the opening section (on Plato), Andrea Beghini studies the narrative frame of the Axiochus, more specifically, the role of the Cynosarges in the opening lines of what is considered one of the spuria in the Platonic corpus. Before Socrates meets Axiochus' son, he is said to be going to the Cynosarges, and at the end of the dialogue he says he'll go there directly. Beghini argues against the traditional (and mostly German) interpretation which sees this as a reference to the Cynics and, for both internal and external reasons, he opts for an association with a burial ground that was close to the Cynosarges.

In a more philosophical essay, Maria Isabella Bertagna devotes the same kind of patient study to another textual detail with important structural significance: the fact that it is Hermogenes who first expounds the theory of names of Cratylus in the Platonic dialogue that carries the latter's name, while it is affirmed, repeatedly, that the name "Hermogenes" itself is problematic.

Even more general is Dino de Sanctis' study of the role of the encounter in the incipit of so many of Plato's dialogues, which he calls "a narrative technique that seems to have been theorized by Plato" (55), and its relevance for the poetics of the literary genre. He looks at the "exemplary" opening of the Republic and the role of the city of Athens "as an immense theatre scene in which Socrates plays the lead" (61) and the role of the prison, the gymnasium, the private house and, finally, the locus amoenus in the Phaedrus and the meeting with Io, to conclude that Plato managed to create a sophisticated new literary genre.

Marco Donato offers a detailed study of a fragment of Archilochus in another spurious Platonic dialogue. Prodicus cites one of the poet's lines in support of his argument which seems to claim the exact opposite of what his argument needs at this point (91). Donato attempts to interpret, first the original line in Archilochus and its role in the rest of the poet's oeuvre, and then its meaning in the dialogue.

Federico M. Petrucci looks at the recent debate about the authenticity of Hippias Major, which has divided European and English-speaking scholars. This author aims to show that the dialogue is authentic by closely studying and then rejecting the arguments against authenticity, most prominently those offered by Charles Kahn and Ernst Heitsch.

Mario Regali opens his essay on the role of Nestor in the Republic with the anomaly that Plato owes so much to Homer yet still will not admit him in his ideal polis. The seeming contradiction has been noted both in the earliest criticism among the Alexandrian philologists and in the biographies of the philosopher which posit that Plato was active as a literary author before he met Socrates. Regali shows how Plato portrays Socrates as Nestor and how, in the process, he finds a new use for literary techniques

Silvia Venturelli tackles the chronology of Plato's dialogue Io with a detailed discussion of a limited number of expressions in the text in order to demonstrate that, although exact dating will remain difficult, the traditional view that Io is an early dialogue remains plausible, "even on the basis of linguistic findings" (187).

In the longest contribution to the first section, on Platonic works, Claudia Zichi contributes a thorough study of the changing meaning of the term paidia in Plato's Sophist, a word that has not received much notice in recent criticism, despite the nine different meanings of that term that critics have distinguished. Zichi not only distinguishes positive, negative and neutral meanings of the term, she concludes that the negative meaning of the term is necessarily dominant in the Sophist, in which Plato attempts to distinguish the sophist from the genuine philosopher.

The second half of the book carries the title "Epicurea" and opens with an essay by Michele Corradi on the use of probable arguments in Plato, Aristotle and Epicurus, whom he sees as engaging in a dialogue at a distance, first Plato in the Theaetetus, then Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics and then Epicurus in his turn reacting to Aristotle. This essay is so well documented that the bibliography alone takes up twelve pages.

Vincenzo Damiani studies the influence of the archaic and Hellenistic poetic tradition of the didactic poem on De rerum naturae, more specifically the influence of the ways in which the Epicurean tradition adopted the epitomē as a genre for the transmission of Epicurus' philosophy – a genre pioneered by the philosopher himself, and used by his school and then in the Latin tradition to which Lucretius belongs. Damiani concludes that for Lucretius' poem the specifically Epicurean tradition of compendia was admittedly "less immediately visible" but at the same time decisive (273).

Margherita Erbí discusses the role of the practice of gift giving in the intellectual life of the Kēpos of Epicurus and his followers. With a bibliography of ten pages, this essay is exemplary in its eye for detail and its enormous documentation.

In a very short article, Alessio Mancini identifies a difficulty in Epicurus' Letter to Pythocles 93 (as preserved by Diogenes Laertius) for which different solutions have been offered and for which Mancini has found a new and elegant solution. Antonino Pittà needs a lot more space to tackle another difficulty in the same letter when section 98 appears to be a mere repetition of 115. Like Mancini, Pittà looks at the different interpretations, and then proceeds to demonstrate that the parallel passages help to show the correct interpretation of the animals mentioned here (contra Jean Bollack), but then he finds parallels in an unlikely location: Basil the Great's Homilies on Genesis: like Epicurus, the bishop dismisses astrology.

The final essay looks at the ambiguous role in Cicero's work, most prominently in De finibus and in De natura deorum, of the thinking of Epicurus on iudicium. Francesco Verde opens the discussion with the treatment of Epicurus in the Vitae philosophorum of Diogenes Laertius in order to show the importance of Cicero's interpretation of Epicurus, not just for an understanding of empiricism, but for a tiny reference in the second edition of Kant's Critik der reinen Vernunft, which Verde shows to have been based on Cicero.

Whether their focus is philological, philosophical or linguistic, these essays are exemplary for their judicious reading of the existing literature. Most of them were given first as research papers in seminars and the authors often gratefully mention the critiques of various colleagues. This is what scholarship should be. Rumors of the death of philology have been exaggerated: Greek philology is alive and well in Pisa.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018


Peter D. Arnott, Public and Performance in the Greek Theatre. London; New York: Routledge, 2017. Pp. viii, 203. ISBN 9781138430785. $195.00.

Reviewed by N. J. Sewell-Rutter, Oxford, UK (

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Preview (2002 edition)

This account of Greek theatre as drama for performance is newly reissued almost thirty years after the author's death in 1990. There was no pressing scholarly need to make the book available again, but it has a place on undergraduate reading lists and in the hands of interested general readers and theatre practitioners, who will appreciate Peter D. Arnott's depth of theatrical experience. However, the book must be used and recommended for these purposes with caution, as we shall see.

Public and Performance is not a dense scholarly monograph: the endnotes run to only five pages and there is a one-page bibliography of key works on dramatic performance as things stood when the book was written in the late 1980s. The presentation is accessible and the style readable and literate: this is the work of a cultivated writer. For example: 'It is no more arbitrary for Creon to appear when he is called for than for the flute to appear in a given bar of a Mozart sonata.' (p. 185)

A short Introduction sets the tone, emphasising that the theatre within which the Classical playwrights worked was different from standard modern playhouses in form and layout, and that this is a crucial factor in the interpretation of ancient plays: '[P]ractising playwrights work from a basis of practical stagecraft. They write for the kind of playhouse they know…' (p. 1). In 2018 this is not a new insight, to be sure, but it is a truth that instructors generally utter on day one of a Greek drama course.

Arnott proceeds to consider, in successive chapters, the citizen audience and the role of the chorus; visible and audible aspects of acting and performance; the central place of debate and dialogue on the Attic stage; 'place and time' in Greek plays, with due suspicion of 'the Unities' as once understood; and, finally, the distinctive dramatic conception of character as something that works, in ancient plays, inseparably from the context and flow of the plot.

These chapters blend general remarks about context, theatricality and performance with readings or fragments of readings of the tragic and comic texts themselves. The orientation and general information sections require more caution than the play readings, which are often very successful and show a profound and nuanced awareness that the comedians and tragedians wrote for real performance, not the study.

Arnott's habit of minimal footnoting will often frustrate the reader, especially the beginner, as for example at the very beginning of Chapter 2 (p. 44):

About the selection and training of Greek actors we know little. They were almost certainly not full-time professionals. Although actors were paid for their festival appearances, opportunities for performance were limited. In Athens, the major dramatic festivals occupied only three weeks of the year…

These nobly sweeping statements are quite unreferenced. The beginner is immediately set wondering how much is the 'little' that we 'know', and whence we 'know' it. After another moment's thought, she will wonder if we are still talking about the Classical period of Athenian theatre, or whether there were never professional 'Greek actors'. A judicious educator will be able to prompt discussion to fill these rather large gaps, particularly in a tutorial setting. Indeed, this reviewer has himself put the book on reading lists, but with a note to the effect: 'use with care'.

The chapter on 'Debate and Drama' (pp. 105–131) is among Arnott's most successful: it traces the 'argumentative instinct' and legalistic form typical of these plays through the Oresteia and Medea. The learner is left with a strong sense that there is something fundamentally agonistic about the art form, as there is about Athenian life in the midst of which the plays were performed.

Arnott is also useful, and once again quite unfootnoted,1 on the 'needless problems' generated by historical misapplication of the 'Unities', particularly that of place (Chapter 5, at p. 132). 'If we look at the plays, instead of what people have said about them, a very different pattern appears.' (p. 133) The settings for dramatic action are sometimes shifting and sometimes, as in Aeschylus' Persians, rather vaguely defined, an ambiguity that playwrights may ingeniously exploit. In Euripides' Bacchae, just how ruinous is the palace after the earthquake, the effects of which appear to fade out conveniently after the dramatic coup (pp. 140–1)? The learner is also well shown that the Unity of Time breaks down under scrutiny 'in both subtle and more obvious ways' (p. 148), with particular reference to OT and Antigone. We have all known people, whether students or members of the public, who believe that the tragedians observe the 'Unities'. If they are to be deprived of their innocence, a reading of this chapter might let them down helpfully and gently.

The final chapter, 'Character and Continuity' (pp. 162–92), addresses the tricky question, very much alive in the late 1980s and early 1990s, of how Attic drama conceives and works with character.2 Arnott's answer is (essentially) that character works fluidly, according to the demands of plot and situation, most markedly so in Old Comedy. 'Logic, consistency and psychological unity are things the modern actor looks for…' (p. 183). The book has no Conclusion, so its last sentence is the last of this chapter: 'The tragic character, no less than the comic, adapts himself to his immediate environment.' (p. 192)

In conclusion, the reappearance of this flowing and rather enjoyable work offers nothing of great moment to scholars today, and it is not a flawless guide for the learner. But it will be of some use to those involved in theatre, as well as to instructors at various levels and their students. Public and Performance may be circumspectly recommended, even in 2018, as an introduction to the theatricality of ancient plays for non-specialists.


1.   The endnotes to Chapter 5 are, with no exceptions, bald references to lines of the primary texts themselves.
2.   C. B. R. Pelling (ed.), Characterization and Individuality in Greek Literature (Oxford, 1990), is of the same vintage as Arnott's book.

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Monday, May 14, 2018


Robin M. Jensen, The Cross: History, Art, and Controversy. Cambridge, MA; London: Harvard University Press, 2017. Pp. x, 270. ISBN 9780674088801. $35.00.

Reviewed by Mary Joan Leith and Allyson E. Sheckler, Stonehill College (;

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Robin Jensen brings her expertise as a leading scholar of early Christianity to a history of the pre-eminent Christian symbol. Following a trajectory from the first to the twenty-first century, The Cross fits into the category of surveys written with both the public and academics in mind. Jensen does not shy from the implications of the word "controversy" in her title, from ancient scorn for the very idea of crucifixion to the cross's association with anti-Judaism and modern lynchings. On a more meta-level, controversy figures in the surprising lack of sound historical evidence for many traditions about the cross. Jensen is careful throughout to qualify as necessary the topics she discusses.

Jensen dedicates the volume to her students who provided feedback on early drafts of the book. Each chapter is headed by a Latin title, but an English subtitle either translates the Latin or relates to it. Endnotes and suggestions for further reading follow an abbreviations list of ancient authors and works, and there is a useful, if not exhaustive, subject index. Readers will particularly appreciate the inclusion of between five and eight full-color illustrations per chapter. Jensen's prose is clear and the occasional undefined term (i.e., apocryphal, colobium, imitatio Christi) should not deter undergraduates who, along with graduate students and academics, will find much of value in its nine chapters. This review is written in the awareness that individual chapters will work well as assigned readings in courses across the disciplines.

Chapter One, "Curse of the Cross," begins chronologically with Paul's letters and the gospel accounts of Jesus's crucifixion. The practical side of crucifixion is illuminated by archaeological and artistic evidence; illustrations include the famous heel bone of the first-century Jew, Johannan, and two graffiti, one the well-known Alexamenos from the Palatine Hill in Rome and the other, much more grisly, from a tavern at Puteoli in southern Italy. Pagan and Jewish attitudes to crucifixion, along with the heterodox views of the Gnostics and Manicheans round out the chapter.

Chapter Two moves on to the early church fathers and apocryphal texts (i.e., the Acts of John, the Gospel of Peter, the gnostic Gospel of Philip). A quotation from Ephrem of Syria introduces the link between Jesus's cross and the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, a recurrent theme in Christian theology and art. Jensen explains that the cross figured in early Christian ritual not as a physical symbol but as an embodied action, the sign of the cross. Actual images of the cross come up in John Chrysostom's recommendation in the late fourth century that Christians "inscribe [the cross] on the walls and windows of their houses" (p. 37). This period also sees some rare references to martyr crucifixions in the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Andrew. The chapter concludes with a consideration of early cross marks whose meaning is often ambiguous: a tau-rho on a lamp, an Ichthus with anchor on a gem, and the controversial ROTA-SATOR square.

The Constantinian cross and its evolution are treated in Chapter Three, beginning with Constantine's famous vision of the cross in 312 (no mention of the Milvian Bridge). Jensen works through the gnarly question of what Constantine actually saw given the conflicting accounts of Eusebius and Lactantius. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is traditionally linked to the supposed discovery in 324/5 of the true cross by Helena, mother of Constantine although Jensen reports that the earliest clear reference to a relic of Jesus's cross in Jerusalem and its miraculous healings dates to the mid-fourth century. How and in what form the cross was venerated in Jerusalem we learn from pilgrim accounts of Holy Week rituals. The dispersal of cross relics, often as diplomatic gifts, seems to begin in the sixth century. Among early Christians the cross primarily signified victory over death rather than Jesus's sacrificial suffering; for example, fourth-century Christian sarcophagi display the Emperor's triumphal chi rho cross but never the crucified Jesus.

In Chapter Four, Jensen takes up this apparent reluctance to represent the crucifixion in visual media. A few gems of the third or fourth century depict a crucifixion, and Jensen treats at some length a crucifixion scene on a small early fifth-century ivory panel. However, the first public image of Christ on the cross appears around 425 on a wooden door panel of the Church of Santa Sabina in Rome. Nevertheless, images of the crucifixion remained rare for several more centuries. Sixth-century Jerusalem pilgrim ampullae (flasks), for example, show a cross beneath Christ's hovering head, not a crucifix. Jensen cites the sixth-century Rabulla Gospel crucifixion scene, a seventh-century gold Byzantine pectoral crucifix, and an eighth-century Mt. Sinai crucifixion icon which together demonstrate the lack of any artistic convention for the scene until the early Middle Ages. Jensen might have noted that the aforementioned ivory panel shows Christ's wound on his left side contrary to later tradition. The chapter ends with a section about disputes over the display of crosses versus crucifixes in eighth-century Byzantine iconoclasm.

Chapter Five describes how the cross "evolves from being a mere prop in the Passion Story to a symbolic manifestation of Christ's power and glory" (p. 122). This is exemplified by the appearance of monumental gemmed crosses (but not crucifixes) in mosaics and in new feasts dedicated to the cross itself. In 614 the Sassanian Persians sacked Jerusalem and brought the relic of the true cross to Persia; Jensen recounts the story of its recovery by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius who restored it to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, an event commemorated thereafter on the third Sunday of Lent. The ultimate fate of this most illustrious of relics is a mystery; supposedly, it was taken to the Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople where one of its last witnesses was the Crusader King Louis VII of France in 1147.

Chapter Six, subtitled "The Cross in Poetry, Legend and Liturgical Drama," brings us to the Middle Ages. It considers hymns to the cross from as early as the third century and quotes the work of the sixth-century father of Orthodox hymnography, Romanos the Melodist. Jensen discusses the sixth-century Frankish poet Venantius Fortunatus, famous for such hymns as Vexilla Regis Prodeunt("The Royal Banners Go Forth") written to celebrate the arrival in Poitiers of relics of the cross. Venantius also composed Pange Lingua Gloriosi ("Sing My Tongue of the Glorious Battle") celebrating the "tree of all trees, glorious, having no peer" (p. 128). To illustrate the linkage of cross and tree Jensen provides a generous selection of images from across the western Christian world. As she explains, "…Christians sought ways to connect the origin and fall of humanity with the salvation they believed came through the passion of Christ" (p. 147). Most famously, the fourteenth-century Golden Legend explains how wood from a tree planted on Adam's grave eventually becomes the cross of Christ. In the same period, however, the cross brought only terror to Jews imperiled by Christian anti-Judaism aroused by Medieval Passion plays.

Chapter Seven is possibly the densest. After a summary of the iconoclastic controversy in the west, the chapter follows the evolving Christus patiens (suffering Christ) type between the eleventh and sixteenth centuries, with eight well-chosen illustrations; strangely, no illustration accompanies an extended passage on the Gero Crucifix (965-970), arguably the first example of the crucified Christ with closed eyes. This new type of suffering Christ on the cross parallels the emerging textual focus on Christ's sacrificial agony and new images such as the Man of Sorrows, the Deposition, and the Pietá. The doctrine of Transubstantiation increasingly informed the faithful's meditation on Christ's passion, an example of which is the Showings of Julian of Norwich (late fourteenth century). As Jensen points out, imitatio Christi becomes part of the larger theatrical panorama of Christ's passion exemplified by the narrative fresco cycles that appear in the early fourteenth century (i.e., Giotto's Arena Chapel). She concludes the chapter with a discussion of the cross as a symbol for crusaders, a different kind of imitatio Christi, where Crusaders hoped for a victory over evil by taking up their crosses.

With Chapter 8 we move to the Protestant and Catholic Reformation and debates over the display of a cross versus a crucifix. (Jensen assumes her readers know the difference.) The leading Reformers—Luther, Zwingli, Karlstadt, Calvin—were hardly consistent in their views on the subject, although on balance, the Protestant movement left many churches stripped of ornament. The fate of the Cheapside cross, an English free-standing stone monument, illustrates the issues at play in England. For its part, the Catholic Church with the Council of Trent (1563) mounted a spirited defense of crucifixes and relics, affirmed ritual signing of the cross, and formally instituted greater liturgical veneration of the cross. Baroque depictions of the crucifixion evolved toward a sublimely beautiful Christ. St. Ignatius's example of affective contemplation of Christ's passion and the cross has affinities with the mystical encounters of St. John of the Cross and St. Theresa of Avila. Yet another intense devotional practice, the Stations of the Cross, gained in popularity in this period. On the Protestant side, affective contemplation of the cross manifested itself in singing, most famously in the still popular hymns of Charles Wesley. In an elegant ecumenical turn Jensen ends this chapter about doctrinal conflict discussing an artistic metaphor embraced by Protestants and Catholics alike, the now largely forgotten artistic motif of Christ the Winepress.

In light of the final chapter's global and contemporary perspective, Jensen acknowledges modern objections to the cross which has historically been "identified with colonizing nations or supremacist groups" (p. 205). Missionaries delivered deadly microbes along with the message of the cross to the indigenous peoples of the Americas, but native cultural elements, such as Mexican stone atrial crosses or the Mayan world tree, colored New World Christianity in the ensuing centuries. In 1491, Portuguese success in converting the Congo was followed by a series of miraculous cross apparitions, whereas in the Muslim world, the concept that Jesus died on the cross has always been problematic. Jensen chooses to end her book with the multiple, often controversial, ways the cross appears in the contemporary world. She reports on the resurgence of the cross in formerly Communist countries but its suppression in China, the disputes over raising a cross at Auschwitz, and the association of the fiery cross with the Ku Klux Klan. She is sensitive to critiques by feminists and others that theologies of the cross have often justified unnecessary suffering. In the end, Jensen turns to the cross in the work of contemporary artists from Chagall to Sandys' Christa.

Thankfully, Harvard University Press still seems to care about copy editing, so typographical errors are rare (the name of one of the reviewers is misspelled). We have just a few criticisms besides the occasional undefined term. Figure numbers are not provided in the text, even when the discussion of a work occurs several pages apart from the illustration, and many illustrations lack dates. There are also some inaccuracies regarding the figures: for example, figures 3.3 and 3.4 should be reversed, and Jensen discusses Chagall's White Crucifixion (1938) while illustrating the Yellow Crucifixion (1942). These, however, are problems that can easily be addressed in a future printing of this fascinating and useful book.

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