Friday, January 11, 2019


Aristoula Georgiadou, Katerina Oikonomopoulou (ed.), Space, Time and Language in Plutarch. Millennium-Studien, 67. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2017. Pp. xiv, 382. ISBN 9783110537710. €109,95.

Reviewed by Phoebe Garrett, Australian National University (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents
Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.

This volume 'derives its inspiration from' papers presented at a 2014 conference in Delphi, with the addition of Mark Beck's chapter. The thirty-one contributors have a reasonable geographical spread and a mix of women and men, and the contributions are spread across Lives and Moralia, with a noticeable Delphic theme (perhaps attributable to the location of the conference). Space and time are the common threads through the book, but some of the chapters interpret space or time rather generously, and a methodological problem arises when the contributors do not agree on the difference, if there is one, between 'space' and 'place.' However, the 'and language' part of the title is also well represented. A preface indicates directions for further study and an introduction by the editors summarises contributions and describes the position of the book within the 'spatial turn' in the study of ancient Greek and Latin literature (p.2). The book includes theoretical approaches but is more focused on philological approaches. It is collected into nine sections of two to four short (about ten pages or shorter) chapters each; the introduction and most papers are in English with some in French, Italian, and Spanish. The volume is nicely produced with few typographical errors.

In the first section, Christopher Pelling's chapter uses examples from On the Oracles of the Pythia and the Alexander to juxtapose two ways Plutarch presents travel through space and life, namely hodologically (in On the Oracles) and 'in the mind' for Alexander. Mark Beck's contribution is a narratological approach to (first) time and (then) space in Plutarch's Lives, based on his contributions to books already published.

In section two Françoise Frazier argues that Plutarch's use of Athens (always in the Lives, apart from one passage in De E) is the inverse of that of Pausanias: i.e. where Pausanias starts in the present and goes to the past, Plutarch starts in the past and overlays the present onto it, so that the monuments (especially tombs) of Athens make it a landscape of living memory. Timothy Duff's chapter examines Plutarch's 'grammatical hierarchy' and how two uses of the imperfective tense affect perspective and speed in the narrative: 'backgrounding' and creating a slow-motion tableau. The examples, mostly drawn from the Lives, are compared with a passage from Were the Athenians more glorious in war or wisdom? to show that Plutarch knew what he was doing. Lucy E. Fletcher's chapter concentrates on narrative structure in the Nicias, considering both the individual Life and the whole book (i.e., the Nikias with the Crassus and their σύγκρισις), using narratological theory. Fletcher approaches the book as a unit that imparts meaning to the Life and emphasises the importance of the parallel structure.

Section three deals with religious locales, with four chapters orbiting around Delphi. Frederick E. Brenk argues that On the Oracles of the Pythia is typical of the Second Sophistic when it privileges the past over the present, but also 'defeats expectations in surprising ways' when it turns out that the change is not for the worse but for the better, and Lawrence Kim focuses on one passage of this essay (24.406C E) to bring out a similar theme: Theon's unexpectedly rosy view of the (prosaic) present as less decadent than the (poetic) past. Michele A. Lucchesi's chapter examines Delphic connections in Lycurgus and Lysander, arguing that 'place and time cannot be separated' in the interrelation of Delphi and Sparta. Katerina Oikonomopoulou's chapter considers the Greek Questions and spatial experiences, such as sea voyages, discussing in particular 'space' as opposed to 'geography.'

Section four concerns memory and history. Joseph Geiger argues that Plutarch is too politically cautious to make contemporary Roman references. Joseph Pugh Ginn elucidates Plutarch's Greek perspective on the common theme in Roman historiography that moral decline and political collapse occurs in Rome as a result of the geographical movement towards/contact with Greece. Susan Jacobs asks whether Plutarch's Lives provide lessons for the statesman of his own time, 'bridging the gap' between two very different political arenas. Eran Almagor looks at the pair Agesilaus– Pompey and argues that their 'misperceptions' of time and space cause their respective failures: Agesilaus being continually drawn back to Sparta and Pompey forever on the move and never finding a 'centre.'

In section five, Geert Roskam argues that Plutarch's purpose in On the malice of Herodotus is not, as has been claimed, primarily patriotic, but is in fact ethical, springing from Plutarch's moral approach towards literature: Plutarch's problem with Herodotus is with Herodotus' character, not his method. Paolo Desideri's chapter considers the travels of Solon as an important framing device of Plutarch's Life of Solon, ending by reinterpreting the purpose of the meeting of Solon with Croesus. Elisabetta Berardi discusses the literary register of Plutarch in two essays, De Gloria Athenensium and the De audiendo, arguing that Plutarch achieved a kind of 'high koine' in his language, and that these two texts show an evolution from a close connection with classical culture to a more independent expression of the Greek literary past. Myrto Aloumpi discusses the concept of philotimia in Plutarch's Lives, and compares it with the same concept in democratic Athens, finding that in the older sources, especially Demosthenes and Thucydides, philotimia is a generally positive quality that relates to behaviour, but that in Plutarch it is more of a character trait that is good or bad according to the person.

Section six comprises two papers on Plutarch's view of the Greek and the non-Greek. Bram Demulder discusses Plutarch's dualism, in the second part loosely applying the framework of space (Greek vs non-Greek) and time (pre-Platonic and Platonic). The texts used to discuss dualism are On the Tranquillity of Mind, On the generation of the soul in the 'Timaeus', and On Isis and Osiris. Also looking to Egypt, Michiel Meeusen's chapter on 'Egyptian knowledge' considers what Table Talk shows about Plutarch's attitude to Egyptian culture.

The three chapters of section seven explore 'notions of community.' Evangelos Alexiou's chapter explores the ways Plutarch uses 'cultural topoi' of both space/place (e.g. Sparta, Athens) and time (Spartans now, Spartans then) as a characterising technique in the Lives. Alexiou argues that these topoi add to characterisation (sometimes by drawing a contrast with what we would expect from someone from that place) in a way that is related to, but not quite the same as, Gary Farney's concept of 'ethnic identity.'1 Maria Vamvouri Ruffy's chapter reads Plutarch's On Exile and finds that its originality lies in its construction of a cosmopolitan space, questioning Athenian myths and promoting 'the idea of a unified space where there are neither autochthonous nor exiled people.' Paola Volpe Cacciatore finishes this section with a chapter on the complexity of the term xenos in Plutarch, using the On Exile and other works to think about cosmopolitanism and consider Plutarch's unusual position between Greek, Roman, and foreigner.

Section 8 considers 'sympotic spaces' with four chapters connected with Table Talk. Anastasios G. Nikolaidis's focus is on the cross-cultural interactions between Greeks and Romans and Plutarch's intellectual world. David Driscoll narrows down to Table Talk 1.2, especially the ending (617D-E), arguing both that Plutarch has misread (or more probably intentionally misrepresented) a passage from Iliad 23, showing possible familiarity with the scholion, and that this section of Plutarch's treatise can be read ironically. Johann Goeken's chapter stays with the banquet, using The Symposium of the Seven Sagesand Table Talk to consider the presence of Plato's Symposium in the 'symposiastic' works of Plutarch, especially in the direct discussion of rhetoric. José Antonio Fernández Delgado and Francisca Pordomingo use progymnasmatic theory to propose that, rather than being simple 'why' or 'what' questions, many of the quaestiones convivales are formulated as 'whether… or' questions, and that this fits the model of a rhetorical exercise (thesis).

Section nine comprises the last four chapters. Michael Lipka's chapter finds that when Plutarch names 'individuated gods' those gods are intrinsically connected with sacred spaces, such as temples, altars, etc., whereas the more abstract 'God' or 'Daimon' is 'spatially indifferent.' Examples are drawn from the Lives and the Moralia and particularly concern Delphi and Apollo. Carlos Alcalde-Martín approaches space and place through an investigation of autopsia, the times when Plutarch professes to have seen something (especially a monument) in person, and discusses the concept of philotimia. Sophia Xenophontos considers the pair of Pyrrhus–Marius and the way Plutarch uses paideia (often the lack thereof) to characterise his subjects, beginning with Pyrrhus and, appropriately, comparing it with Marius. Of all the chapters, Andrea Catanzaro's goes most literally into (outer) space, using the To an uneducated ruler of Plutarch and Dio Chrysostom's Third discourse on kingship to address the (un)limited power of the princeps, represented in Plutarch and Dio Chrysostom by an astronomical metaphor of the course of the sun.

Table of Contents

Aristoula Georgiadou and Katerina Oikonomopoulou, Introduction: Reading Plutarch through space, time and language
1: Moving through space and time in Plutarch
Christopher Pelling, Space travel and time travel in Plutarch
Mark Beck, Time and space in Plutarch's Lives
2: Time manipulation and narrative signification
†Françoise Frazier, Espace mémoriel et paysage monumental. Plutarque et l'Athènes de son temps
Timothy E. Duff, Plutarch and tense: The present and the imperfect
Lucy E. Fletcher, Narrative time and space in Plutarch's Life of Nicias
3. Religious Locales as places of reflection on language, discourse and time
Frederick E. Brenk, Space, time, and language in On the Oracles of the Pythia: '3,000 years of history, never proved wrong'
Lawrence Kim, Poetry, extravagance, and the invention of the 'archaic' in Plutarch's On the Oracles of the Pythia
Michele A. Lucchesi, Delphi, place and time in Plutarch's Lycurgus and Lysander
Katerina Oikonomopoulou, Space, Delphi and the construction of the Greek past in Plutarch's Greek Questions
4. Models of the past I: configurations of memory and history for Plutarch's imperial readers
Joseph Geiger, Greeks and the Roman past in the Second Sophistic: The case of Plutarch
Joshua Pugh Ginn, Plutarch and the advent of Hellenism in Rome
Susan Jacobs, Creating paradigms for the politikoi: Bridging the gap in political space and time with pre- imperial heroes
Eran Almagor, Greatness measured in time and space: The Agesilaus-Pompey
5. Models of the past II: Plutarch and the classical era
Geert Roskam, Discussing the past: Moral virtue, truth, and benevolence in Plutarch's On the Malice of Herodotus
Paolo Desideri, Solon on the road
Elisabetta Berardi, Modelli del passato in due conferenze di Plutarco: De Gloria Atheniensium e De audiendo
Myrto Aloumpi, Shifting boundaries: Philotimia in democratic Athens and in Plutarch's Lives
6. Philosophy and religion between past and present
Bram Demulder, Is dualism a Greek word? Plutarch's dualism as a cultural and historical phenomenon
Michiel Meeusen, Egyptian knowledge at Plutarch's table: Out of the question?
7. Space, time and notions of community
Evangelos Alexiou, Divisions in Greek culture: Cultural topoi in Plutarch's biographical practice
Maria Vamvouri Ruffy, The construction of a cosmopolitan space in Plutarch's On Exile
Paola Volpe Cacciatore, Il significato del termine ξένος in Plutarco: lo straniero nella realtà dell'Impero cosmopolita
8. Sympotic spaces: forging links between past and present
Anastasios G. Nikolaidis, Past and present in Plutarch's Table Talk
David Driscoll, Sympotic space, hierarchy and Homeric quotation in Table Talk 1.2
Johann Goeken, Plutarque et la tradition rhétorique du banquet
José Antonio Fernández Delgado and Francisca Pordomingo, Theseis rather than quaestiones convivales
9. Space, place, landscape: symbolic and metaphorical aspects
Michael Lipka, Individuated gods and sacred space in Plutarch
Carlos Alcalde-Martín, Espacio monumental y autopsia en las Vidas Paralelas de Plutarco
Sophia Xenophontos, Military space and paideia in the Lives of Pyrrhus and Marius
Andrea Catanzaro, Astronomical and political space: The sun's course and the statesman's power in Plutarch and Dio


1.   BMCR 2008.04.25 Gary D. Farney, Ethnic Identity and Aristocratic Competition in Republican Rome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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