Thursday, August 22, 2019


Anabelle Thurn, Rufmord in der späten römischen Republik: Charakterbezogene Diffamierungsstrategien in Ciceros Reden und Briefen. Philologus. Supplemente, 11. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2018. Pp. x, 321. ISBN 9783110598483. €99,95.

Reviewed by Anthony Corbeill, University of Virginia (

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Character assassination can be an effective tool; this held true especially for ancient politics, when a critic was allowed more than 280 characters to express disapproval. In this revision of a 2015 Darmstadt dissertation, Anabelle Thurn analyzes the modes of defamation practiced by its most notorious practitioner from Roman antiquity, Cicero. While recent studies have approached Ciceronian invective from various angles, Thurn wishes to interrogate the truth-value of Cicero's characterizations of those figures upon whom he unleashed some of his most abrasive attacks: Catiline, Piso, Clodius, and Marc Antony. Two particular issues interest her: what traits typify Ciceronian character sketches, and what do these traits say about Roman republican society? Since independent evidence for these figures is limited, one of her innovations is to compare the "biographical" details in the orations with the characterization of these same figures in the different genre of Cicero's correspondence.

An opening chapter distinguishes Thurn's approach (12-42). She proposes to apply to Cicero's text the tools of discourse analysis and narratology. An intriguing passage supports her claim that Cicero, as both orator and letter-writer, employs established tropes that allow him to construct a reality that can persuade his audience, by assembling a factitious ("fingierten") account in which truth is not so important as that the account resembles truth (Font. 37). Following another lead of Cicero pursued in recent scholarship, she considers the influence of emotions of equal importance to the manufacture of believability (fides; cf. part. or. 71). This attention to constructed truths drives the book's main arguments. Chapter 2 (43-57), after reviewing recent scholarly work, treats three specific areas: how Cicero's status as homo novus influenced his invective against members of the established elite; the role of ethos, of both speaker and opponent, in defamation; and lastly the "rhetoric of crisis" that Cicero adopted during the fall of 44.

"Diffamierungen in der griechischen und römischen Literatur" is the professed theme of Chapter 3 (58-85), but the treatment is fortunately more narrowly circumscribed. After cursory treatment of the limits on poetic invective prescribed in Plato's Laws and of the allegedly independent tradition of mockery in early Rome, Thurn discusses a passage from Rhetorica ad Herennium essential to the book's argument: regardless of whether an orator treats a feigned or factual set of circumstances, he must adhere to audience expectations (1.16). In other words, it is the probable, not the true, that the rhetorical schools encourage a speaker to use to win over hearers. Thurn relies on this notion for her claim throughout the book that the similar catalogues of vices found in invective passages are unreliable for reconstructing the biographies of the individuals that Cicero attacks. The chapter closes with an excellent discussion of a set of passages from Cicero's correspondence composed twenty years apart from each other. A tense exchange with Q. Metellus Celer in early 62 allows Thurn to trace the limits of verbal abuse—one should consider, for example, a family's dignitas and the service offered the state (fam. 5.1-2)—, while a letter to Caecina in 46 discusses how variable have become the boundaries of verbal attacks allowed under a dictatorship (fam. 6.8, mistakenly ascribed to Caecina).

Three central chapters supply the meat of the book, at last turning to analyze Cicero's defamatory language at work. Thurn's divisions correspond roughly to those recommended in ancient treatises that outline the categories toward which praise and blame are directed (e.g., inv. 2.177): character (in animum; Chapter 4); personal behavior (in corpus: Chapter 5); and a target's social or political associates (in extraneas res: Chapter 6). Analysis in Chapter 4 principally involves isolating categories of vices—audacia, turpitudo, etc.—and listing where these charges are applied to her chosen individuals. This can lead to interesting observations—e.g., that charges of audacia and amentia/furor are applied more to Clodius and Catiline than to the others—but it can also lead to peculiar misstatements, such as that libido plays only a peripheral role in the attacks on Clodius in the 50s (95 n. 45; seemingly contradicted by 123-129). Perhaps the actual word libido and its cognates occur rarely (but at har. resp. 42 libido describes the young Clodius's submission to Cilician pirates and rich Roman layabouts); nevertheless, charges of inappropriate sexual behavior concerning Clodius's conduct at the Bona Dea festival, his alleged incest, and cunnilingus proliferate. The chapter concludes with accusations against Piso and Antony, where Thurn does not point out that charges of bibulousness and stupidity seem particularly appropriate to Antony, indicating that Cicero's invective can serve to individualize opponents. The chapter closes by showing that the same basic vocabulary of abuse occurs in the letters, although, given the genre, its application is more concise.

The following Chapter 5 constitutes by far the longest chapter (115-235), and aims to isolate the cultural dimensions underlying five common topics of abuse: 1) sexual practices; 2) financial mismanagement; 3) banqueting behavior, including excessive drinking; 4) clothing and other aspects of external appearance; and 5) the use of violence, in both personal and political interactions. As elsewhere, Thurn's professed goal is to show that these elements are determined by convention and do not characterize the historical targets. In the first part she devotes many pages to the impugning of an opponent's sexuality, marshaling examples drawn predominantly from Anglophone scholarship, with emphasis on the opponent playing the passive role in a male-male relationship and its implications for that person's lack of self-control. Here again Thurn's interest in (non-)historicity can cause her to ignore possible rhetorical effects, as in her treatment of Cicero's reference to Tongilius, an otherwise unknown associate of Catiline, "whom Catiline, while still a boy, had begun to love" (Catil. 2.4). Thurn highlights well the ambiguity. Do they remain lovers? Is Tongilius freeborn, making the relationship particularly problematic? Are they coevals? She cannot decide among these options, but in all likelihood the lack of specificity is precisely the point. Hearing this provocative innuendo involving the seemingly insignificant Tongilius, the senators must choose among the options that Thurn has presented, thereby allowing all to occupy their thoughts. Thurn nicely links similar attacks on Clodius (involving incest in particular) and Antony (as passive partner to elite men, wives, and actresses) to show how nonconforming sexual behavior reveals danger to the state. But she then proceeds to cite Cicero's alleged incest with his daughter Tullia from a late declamation (Ps. Sall. in Tull. 2) and the clearly fictional speech of Calenus in Dio (46.18.6) to support the claim that the charges against Clodius and Clodia are not to be trusted (123 n. 39). The nature of the primary sources in Cicero's case militates against using them as evidence, and she would have done well to consider the more balanced assessments for the historicity of the charges against Clodius offered by Kaster.1

The chapter's second section outlines the implicit connection between managing affairs of home and state, a connection that becomes particularly clear in Thurn's discussion of Cicero's allegation that debt motivated Catiline and his co- conspirators. Antony, particularly in the Second Philippic, emerges as another suitable subject for this form of defamation. The subsequent section on drunkenness and banqueting has the analogous task of showing how these activities, often mentioned in tandem, mark a target as unfit for government. Antony again provides the best example, notoriously described as vomiting in public in an official capacity (Phil. 2.63). Of special note is Clodius's seeming immunity to this charge, save for an elliptical posthumous reference (Mil. 56). The section concludes by analyzing the motif in the letters where, in addition to attacks on Antony, Thurn discusses Cicero's playful reflections on his often problematic relationship with the elite-centered banquet.

The third section notes that the topos concerning clothing and other external adornment, frequent in the speeches, seems absent from the letters. Instances could carry different connotations: for Catiline, new fashion in dress and facial hair threaten traditional values; for Clodius, sartorial deviance indicates religious impropriety; Antony's dress characterizes him as a Greekling. Piso's unassuming appearance, by contrast, presents a problem. Thurn suggests that the orator's emphasis on the foppish appearance of Gabinius, Piso's co-consul, acts as a kind of proxy, since Cicero feared attacking directly a member of the Calpurnian gens. She does not consider a more economical solution: that perhaps Piso really did sport a dour demeanor, thereby offering a challenge to Cicero's reliance upon the external to reveal internal character.

Chapter 5's final section begins from Lintott's observation that Romans deemed most reprehensible that violence driven by libido. The form varies according to the target: Catiline and his adherents are typically branded as violent lawbreakers (latro, gladiator), as is Clodius in the final stages of his life (earlier invective emphasizes his inhumanity, as beast and prodigy); Piso's physical impressiveness recalls animals, his consulship tyranny; finally, for Antonius violence emerges as a dominant motif, with accusations of being a bandit (latro) and gladiator occurring more than a dozen times each. In the letters, by contrast, this category of invective is uncommon; when it does occur it has a wider range, denoting, in addition to Clodius and Antony, figures such as Julius Caesar and Dolabella (in a letter of Lentulus). There remains open the issue of how wide a public would have been privy to these epistolary remarks.

A series of chapter-length summations follow, with Chapter 6 considering oratorical invective against the allies of the figures under consideration, a subject treated previously only piecemeal (236-248). There is much repetition from previous chapters, both in the passages considered and conclusions drawn. Nevertheless, Thurn makes new points, such as in Cicero's description in pro Milone of the makeup of Clodius's band on the night of his murder where, in a kind of praeteritio, the orator lists the types of deviants who normally accompanied him but could not on that particular night (243-246; Thurn misses earlier instances, such as the maidservants who helped Clodius violate the Bona Dea, or Sextus Cloelius of the notorious os impurum). By contrast, the concluding section on the letters has a number of interesting observations about invective-style language in the Atticus collection that touches upon how adherents of Cicero's enemies display a complete spectrum of those negative characteristics analyzed in the previous three chapters.

In Chapter 7 Thurn briefly reviews three factors that may have driven Cicero to adopt differing defamation strategies for different opponents (258-263). First is the audience of the speech (jury, senate, people, readers); the contio should contain the flashiest rhetorical displays (de orat. 2.334), whereas senatorial speeches tend toward harsher invective. A second consideration is the immediate historical context regarding the figure being attacked; the third factor takes into account his family and individual auctoritas, which she deems the most important. Once again Thurn's emphasis is on the orator finding a plausible argument, with actual facts being secondary. In such a situation, the internal character of an alleged evildoer constitutes crucial evidence of guilt or innocence.

The brief Chapter 8 (264-268) promises to review the later development of these personae, but, in fact, Thurn restricts herself to Antony. Although such a brief survey can hardly cover much, there is surprisingly no mention of the declamatory tradition pitting Cicero against Antony (Sen. suas. 6-7), always to the latter's disadvantage, a tradition likely to have influenced perceptions of Antony more than Vergil's depiction of Aeneas in Aeneid 4. A concluding Chapter 9 offers a detailed summary of the book (269-280), and the end matter includes a helpful index locorum.

Rufmord in der späten römischen Republik offers a select discussion of the types of abuse directed toward four of Cicero's most prominent enemies. Although there is a limited amount of close textual exegesis, much repetition between chapters, and the notes with frustrating frequency cite not primary texts but secondary works or handbook discussions, nevertheless, Thurn does accumulate parallels to show that Cicero orients invective motifs not toward the circumstances of each individual, but toward the cultural and social concerns of late-republican society, and that the abuse arises from an Italic tradition about public shaming. The difficult question of "why", although occasionally broached (e.g., 278), remains unanswered. That is, what is gained for a society when abuse is dictated largely by generic considerations, rules in handbooks, and some aberration in the Italian psyche? Much of the scholarship until the late twentieth century imagines an arena of public discourse entirely separate from the version of reality that it claims to represent. If Romans were indeed insensitive to concerns of truth, what was it in their given audiences that not only tolerated but welcomed claims that we judge as irrelevant or even demonstrably false? The abundant evidence presented by Thurn about Romans exercising rhetorical topoi suggests that they serve to pinpoint ethical concerns. Certain behaviors and appearances, she has amply shown, receive repeated attention in schools, the courtroom, personal correspondence, and the public stage. The ubiquity of the charges marks certain behaviors as potentially dangerous to the state. In such a situation, I would argue, Cicero equips himself not simply with a powerful rhetorical tool, but with guidance in determining moral behaviors in a quickly collapsing world.


1.   R. Kaster, Cicero: Speech on behalf of Publius Sestius (Oxford 2006) 409-411, absent from bibliography.

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Alexander Smith, Martyn Allen, Tom Brindle, Michael Fulford, Lisa Lodwick, New Visions of the Countryside of Roman Britain, Volume 3: Life and Death in the Countryside of Roman Britain. Britannia monography series, 31. London: Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, 2018. Pp. xviii, 419. ISBN 9780907764465. £32.40 (pb).

Reviewed by Liana Brent, Cornell University (

Version at BMCR home site

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

Of the 2-3 million people who lived in Roman Britain, it has been estimated that 80-90% lived in the countryside (p. 243). Yet our understanding of rural spaces is largely limited to military and villa contexts, and we know relatively little about the other people who lived and died in rural areas. The third book in the New Visions of the Countryside in Roman Britain series redresses that imbalance. The series is the result of a project by Cotswald Archaeology that draws on published archaeological evidence from traditional site reports and developer-funded excavations since 1990.1 The first volume defined eight regions and various settlement types in rural Roman Britain and the second addressed the rural economy. The third volume applies a regional approach to those who populated the countryside in life and death, as Fulford explains in the Introduction.

Chapter 2 ("Personal Appearance in the Countryside of Roman Britain") presents a typological and geographical analysis of the distribution of objects that were associated with dress and personal display: brooches, bracelets, finger rings, hairpins and personal grooming equipment. Because of their abundance and prominence in scholarship, brooches dominate the analysis. Brindle finds regional differences in the use of these objects: notably, dress accessories were more common in the South and East, but they were rare at farmsteads and rural areas in the North and West, even when they were found at military sites and towns in those areas. This observation points to the conclusion that rural populations were not as integrated into 'Roman' styles, and they may have adhered to archaeologically-invisible ways of dressing. Chapter 2 stands out for being the most narrowly typological in focus, although the author does relate some of the observed patterns to changes in metal production and distribution, as well as to wider debates about 'Romanization' or Britain's integration into the Roman market economy.

Chapter 3 ("Lifestyle and the Social Environment") considers the heterogenous nature of lifestyles in domestic environments through evidence for eating and drinking, recreation, security, lighting, and literacy. Throughout the chapter, the approach is to consider the distribution of objects at different types of rural settlements and to assess the presence or absence of various features, including both structures and portable material culture. The chapter emphasizes inequalities in access to certain amenities and the diversity of lifestyles associated with nucleated communities and isolated dwellings. The authors give prominence to defended 'small towns' and nucleated roadside settlements where there is the most evidence for security, lighting, literacy, bathing and entertainment. From the limited evidence for literacy, it seems likely that Latin never fully replaced Celtic as the main language in the countryside, and the authors argue that bilingualism was more widespread than traditionally thought. The road network was of critical importance for the dissemination of Roman structures and material culture.

Chapter 4 ("The Social Context of Animals and Exploitation of Wild Resources") investigates human-animal relationships through five avenues of inquiry: livestock farming, the social role of horses, companion animals, the introduction of new species, and the exploitation of wild animals. In all five sections, Allen notes the changes that can be documented in faunal assemblages between the late Iron Age and Roman periods, which he then relates to broader social, cultural and economic developments in the countryside. Changes in the size of cattle or horses, for example, may be related to their use as draft animals for arable farming. Meat processing and cleaver marks on cattle bones are interpreted as evidence for professional butchers in towns. The importation of non-native species like fallow deer and exotic birds corresponds to the establishment and use of parks, gardens, fish ponds, and formal gardens that were harnessed as a demonstration of wealth and social power. Overall, zooarchaeological evidence for many species in the countryside is sparse. The author respects the limits of what can be said in light of recovery biases, and the difficulties of identifying animal bones and dating the introduction of various species into Britain.

Chapter 5 ("Religion and the Rural Population") addresses the ways in which archaeological evidence can contribute to our understanding of religion in the countryside, even if many aspects of 'religious experience' remain unknown. The identification of sacred sites is based on the morphological features of temples or 'shrines' (a catch-all term for sacred sites that are not temples), and the presence of certain types or quantities of associated material culture in unusual concentrations or structured deposits. After a review of religious practices in the Iron Age, the bulk of the chapter is divided into two main parts: the first reviews evidence for the morphology and distribution of Romano-Celtic temples, shrines, religious enclosures, and sacred spaces at different sites (farmsteads, villas, nucleated settlements, etc.). The second part explores votive assemblages, religious objects, and structured deposits from Romano-British sacred sites. The analysis focuses on geographic patterning and social context in a chronological framework, in order to link changes like the emergence of specialized shrines to socio-political developments. Certain patterns and regional differences are evident: in the North and West, there were few shrines or religious objects but more structured deposits, whereas the East had greater numbers of religious enclosures with architectural embellishment. The chapter closes with a brief review of Christianity, which was one among many cults in the late Roman countryside.

In an impressive analysis of 15,579 rural burials from 1160 sites, Chapter 6 ("Death in the Countryside: Rural Burial Practices") reviews the archaeologically-visible aspects of funerary practice: the treatment of the body; non-normative rites; the provision of grave furnishings and containers across regional and chronological parameters. The discussion of minority burial practices (i.e. decapitation, prone and flexed burials) is particularly interesting in light of common assumptions about 'deviant' burials in Roman Britain. Though such practices have similar distribution patterns in central England, there are identifiable variations: decapitated burials were mostly late Roman in date and found within cemeteries, whereas prone burials had a longer temporal span and also appeared outside formal cemetery contexts. Grave goods were not as common in Roman Britain as they were in Italy: approximately two-thirds of the burials in the study were not equipped with grave goods, and there was a general decline between the early and late Roman periods, when the percentage of graves with assemblages waned. The discussion of plant and animal remains in burials—whether they were offerings, fuel for a cremation pyre or the remains of a ritual meal—is one of the most innovative aspects of this volume. Too often 'specialist' studies are found only as an appendix, rather than considered alongside more visible aspects of funerary practice, and this chapter illustrates the benefits of integrating such data into broader syntheses.

The authors acknowledge problems with the dataset: the chronological resolution is fairly coarse, since only 13% of burials have radiocarbon dates, and the few datable objects are used to date entire burial groups. Another issue pertains to excavation and recovery strategies: burials have been recorded at only 33% of villa sites, where excavations tend to focus on the main buildings, rather than the associated property where isolated burials and formal cemeteries were most likely to be situated. No attempt to quantify the grave goods or analyze their positions was made on account of the differences in inter-site recording practices, which seems like a missed opportunity to further develop the discussion about cultural attitudes to the dead. These issues notwithstanding, a narrative of gradual change emerges: from traditional 'invisible' funerary rites towards formal deposits in defined burial zones or cemeteries that become larger over time, and towards inhumation instead of cremation. Such a narrative still allows for a degree of variation and heterogeneity across different regions and landscapes.

Turning from the burials to the human skeletal remains, Rohnbogner in Chapter 7 ("The Rural Population") presents a paleopathological analysis of trauma and disease. In order to determine how rural life affected the wellbeing of those who lived and worked in the countryside, the author explores evidence for pathology, joint degradation, age-at-death, sex distribution, reported cases of enamel hypoplasia, and tuberculosis. The reader who is unfamiliar with paleopathology will appreciate the overview of various diseases, deficiencies and degeneration that can be observed on the skeleton (pp. 284- 287). Rohnbogner limited the initial dataset (of 5043 inhumation burials from 135 sites) to burials that were recorded after 1995 in the three largest regions (the Central Belt, South and East), for a total of 2717 burials from 102 sites. She then analyzed crude prevalence rates of pathology by age and sex as a percentage of the number of individuals affected by region, site type, and age category.

Attention to the relationship between burial context and paleopathology helped to elucidate a number of interesting trends. For example, decapitated individuals in the Central Belt area had higher rates of skeletal trauma, enamel hypoplasia and caries, which may suggest the lower social status of these individuals. Osteological evidence for malaria and higher levels of cribra orbitalia in the South region may reflect the migration of adult individuals born outside of Britain. The spread of infections like tuberculosis was more widespread than anticipated, especially in the South. Overall, the elevated frequency and variety of pathological lesions suggest that, compared to Iron Age populations, health declined in the countryside of Roman Britain. More surprisingly, Rohnbogner found that populations in the three study regions had higher rates of infections, metabolic disease, and joint degeneration than contemporary urban populations at Lankhills and Winchester. Through her analysis of bio-cultural stress, changes in diet, and rates of infection, Rohnbogner concludes that living in the country may not have led to better standards of health than living in towns, at least in the South, East and Central Belt regions.

This volume is well illustrated with 246 images and 35 tables, and it is almost entirely free from errors. Where the book is at its strongest is in the authors' collective ability to elicit regional and chronological patterns from vast amounts of data, and to present a nuanced analysis of how life in the countryside changed over four hundred years. In the Roman period, rural life was heterogenous, with major differences and cultural divisions between the North/West and South/East regions. Regional diversity gradually broke down and there were increasing levels of "broad cultural conformity, as expressed by the built environment, material culture, religious behavior and burial practice, albeit still with considerable individuality" (p. 351).

This book establishes a new standard for the integration of environmental and osteological data into the study of the Roman countryside. Chapters 6 and 7 are, in this reviewer's opinion, the most important contributions of the volume, not only because they situate the people of the countryside at the forefront of the investigation, but because they articulate a new way to synthesize data that will be invaluable for other areas of the ancient world.

Authors and Titles

Chapter 1: Introduction (Michael Fulford)
Chapter 2: Personal Appearance in the Countryside of Roman Britain (Tom Brindle)
Chapter 3: Lifestyle and the Social Environment (Alexander Smith, with Tom Brindle, Michael Fulford, and Lisa Lodwick)
Chapter 4: The Social Context of Animals and Exploitation of Wild Resources (Martyn Allen)
Chapter 5: Religion and the Rural Population (Alexander Smith with Martyn Allen, Tom Brindle and Lisa Lodwick)
Chapter 6: Death in the Countryside: Rural Burial Practices (Alexander Smith with Martyn Allen and Lisa Lodwick)
Chapter 7: The Rural Population (Anna Rohnbogner)
Chapter 8: Conclusions (Alexander Smith and Michael Fulford)


1.   Data from the project is available online: "the Rural Settlement of Roman Britain: an online resource at the ADS Archaeology Data Service.

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Demetra Kasimis, The Perpetual Immigrant and the Limits of Athenian Democracy. Classics After Antiquity. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018. Pp. xvii, 206. ISBN 9781107052437. £75.00.

Reviewed by Sara Forsdyke, University of Michigan (

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This is a challenging, but ultimately rewarding, book. The basic argument is that citizenship in the Athenian democracy was deeply implicated in the contrasting figure of the immigrant or metic. More specifically, Kasimis argues that Euripides' Ion, Plato's Republic and Demosthenes 57 Against Euboulides are concerned to show the essential instability of membership criteria in the democratic polis. In making this claim, she challenges many mainstream readings of these texts. While not all of her readings will convince, Kasimis certainly provokes serious reconsideration of some of the main tenets of modern interpretations and raises some interesting broader claims about the politics of membership in democracies across time.

The first substantive chapter (2) analyzes Euripides' Ion. Contrary to scholars who see the tragedy as a 'romance' and the ending as happy (Ion is reunited with his autochthonous mother, Creusa, and reinstalled in Athens), Kasimis suggests that the play problematizes the role of autochthony in Athenian civic ideology. Kasimis suggests that most scholars are distracted by the reunion between Creusa and Ion and consequently tend to overlook the fact that Ion will live as a metic in Athens, since he is required by Apollo to conceal his relation to Creusa and pretend that her husband, the foreigner Xuthus, is his father. By ignoring or deemphasizing Ion's status as a metic, she argues, scholars mistakenly read the ending as a homecoming that "reproduces Athens' self-conception, an idealized vision in which the demos…is invulnerable to contamination by the metics who are otherwise everywhere" (p. 40).

Kasimis makes clear that she is not particularly interested in how the original audience understood a text, or even what its author intended. Rather, she aims to open up some interpretative possibilities and expose the critical blind spots of orthodox scholarly interpretations. Accordingly, Kasimis analyzes the play as a political theoretical text, rather than a performance (on p. 40 she refers to "readers"). We might well ask whether in a live performance, the audience would be more likely to overlook the detail of Ion's pretended metic status, since he is in fact autochthonous and will become part of the royal family of Athens. In other words, reading the play as a performance rather than a text might better support interpretations of the ending of the play that see it as celebratory, rather than problematizing, at least for its original audience.

Chapter Three turns to Plato's Republic and reads particular significance into the fact that the dialogue is set in the Piraeus, the port district in which many metics lived. Indeed, the dialogue takes place in the house of a metic, after the participants have watched a celebration of the Thracian goddess Bendis. She observes that this context underlines the fact that metics perform the sacred rites of city just as do citizens, since there are processions of both Thracian metics and Athenian citizens in honor of the god. For Kasimis, Socrates' comments on the equal excellence of the two processions draws attention to the arbitrariness of the distinctions upon which citizenship in the democratic city is built. Similarly, the metic Cephalus' exhortation to Socrates to treat him as kin draws attention to the constructedness or artificiality of kinship ties. In this chapter and the next, Kasimis is explicit about her method of reading Plato. Citing John Seery, she argues for an approach that pays attention to the "dramatic cues" that "invite us to think beyond the apparent logic of the text itself."

A prime example of the tension between text and context is the fact that Socrates states that metics will be banned from the ideal state of Callipolis, yet he makes this statement in the home of a metic, with metics present. Similarly, in Chapter 4, Kasimis argues that the Noble Lie must be read as a critical reflection of the Athenian myth of autochthony and its role in determining membership in the polis. Whereas many scholars interpret Plato as asserting the importance of natural distinctions in contrast to the disordered flux of democracy described in Book 8, Kasimis stresses the fact that Plato himself calls attention to the deception needed to make the reality of flux and change conform to the idea of a natural order. Powerfully, Kasimis writes, "The ignorance Socrates demands of his future citizens . . . he does not ask of his listeners" (p. 97). She further observes that, as in the case of the Bendis procession, Socrates acknowledges that in Callipolis, the difference between supposedly natural categories fails to materialize in practice.

Kasimis finds other productive parallels between the content of the dialogue and its Athenian context. For example, Kasimis observes that the scrutiny of children to determine which ones will be classified as gold and hence rulers is parallel to the Athenian scrutiny of citizens to determine who is born from two Athenian citizen parents. Kasimis suggests that the Athenian examination of citizens did not simply verify a natural status but generated it, just as the testing and subsequent classification do in Plato's Republic. She justifies this bold claim in Chapter 5 by arguing that in Book 8 Plato calls attention to boundary-crossing performances of identity that democracy enables (metics act as citizens and citizens as metics, at 562e–563b, remarkably the only explicit reference to metics in the entire Republic). In doing so, Plato provides a critical perspective on the fragility of democracy. In sum, the Republic is "challenging, not endorsing, the necessity and naturalness that democracy gives its own distinctions" (p. 107).

Kasimis puts particular emphasis on the role of performances or mimesis in Plato's account of democracy in Book 8. Kasimis notes that the exchange of roles (citizen/metic; parent/child; husband/wife) is bidirectional and involves performances of identity. Moreover, each performance is an imperfect imitation of a model. Kasimis asserts that "therefore" even the original identities are performances (p. 130). Here the idea seems to be that because the reversal is bidirectional, there is no "original" or true status of which the other is an imitation. Contrary to scholars who read the passage as concerned with the inversion of natural categories, Kasimis suggests rather that Plato's point is that through its myths, the polis makes status seem "original" or "true" but in reality this is a matter of imitation of behaviors. The chapter ends by drawing a comparison between the democratic citizen in Republic 8 and Thucydides' representation of Athenian civic ideology in Pericles' Funeral Oration. Kasimis suggests that Thucydides affirms the self-evidentness or naturalness of Athenian greatness even while oscillating between a presentation that suggests Athenian qualities are on the one hand innate and on the other hand actualized through performance. Finally, in a short appendix to the chapter, Kasimis explores the implications of Socrates' voicing (mimesis) of a funeral oration composed by the metic woman Aspasia in Plato's dialogue, Menexenus. She argues that this dramatic artifice exposes the dependence of the citizen on the metic in the production of the very speech by which difference is constructed. This observation "reminds us of the necessary contribution of metics and women" to the citizen ideal. Moreover, for Kasimis, the dialogue is a critical exploration of how membership works and leads us to the idea that identity is unstable and ambiguous.

Chapter 6 turns to Demosthenes 57 Against Euboulides, a defense speech in a legal trial concerning the citizenship claim of one Euxitheus. Kasimis argues that this text also reflects the performative nature of identities in historical Athens, and hence the instability of the democracy's "natural" distinctions between citizen and metic. As Kasimis notes, the speaker Euxitheus does not rely on "natural" facts but rather performative enactments: he did things that citizens do and did not do things that metics do (e.g., pay the metic tax). More importantly, for Kasimis's thesis, Euxitheus points out the ambiguity or polysemy of certain behaviors that are taken by his opponent as indicative of metic status: speaking with a foreign accent, selling ribbons in the agora, and working as a wet nurse. The fact that these behaviors are not decisive proof of status underscores the instability of natural distinctions that rely on such performances in practice. In sum, Kasimis reads this legal speech as a political theoretical text centering on the claim that the blood-based regime of the Athenian democracy allows for contestation of membership and a precariousness of membership since individuals can always be challenged as acting or "passing" as citizens rather than being citizens. Whether or not we agree that Demosthenes is forwarding such critical and theoretical perspectives on democracy (rather than just trying to win the case), Kasimis is concerned only with exploring the critical possibilities of the text in its Athenian context.

Despite the fact that this book appears in Cambridge's Classics After Antiquity series (which is devoted to classical receptions), texts from the classical period form the core of the work. Nevertheless, as Kasimis suggests in the final pages, the insights she draws from ancient texts have implications for how modern democracies think about and manage the boundaries between insiders and outsiders. Readers in Classical Studies and in Political Science will find much to ponder in this stimulating book.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2019


Alexander O'Hara (ed.), Columbanus and the Peoples of Post-Roman Europe. Oxford studies in late antiquity. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. Pp. xx, 320. ISBN 9780190857967. $85.00.

Reviewed by Giovanni Alberto Cecconi, Università degli Studi Firenze​ (

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The history of late antique and early medieval monasticism undergoes a profound transformation thanks to the extraordinary personality of Columbanus. This book derives from the conference held in Vienna in November 2013, which inaugurated a three-year project on the Columbanian Network, funded by the Austrian Academy of Sciences-Austrian Science Fund.

The specific theme of the conference and the book are the activities carried out by Columbanus on the European continent; his relations with the ecclesiastical and civil authorities of Merovingian Gaul; the arrival of Columbanus in France; his peregrinatio begun in 591 with a handful of volunteers from the Bangor monastery to which he had adhered; and his travels and monastic foundations in areas governed by different gentes and barbarian kingdoms.

The volume is organized in five parts, for a total of fifteen contributions. The introduction is by A. O'Hara, the author with Ian Wood of a 2017 English translation and historical commentary on the Vita Columbani and two other Vitae attributed to Jonas of Bobbio (Translated Texts for Historians, 64, Liverpool University Press). In this introduction the architecture and objectives of the book are outlined, emphasizing the characteristics of the "world" of Columbanus, and the interactions with the societies and cultures of the Roman-Germanic kingdoms in which he and his collaborators established the monastic foundations, from Annegray and Luxeuil onwards; mention is also made of relations with Pope Gregory the Great (for a broader development of the theme cf. C. Stancliffe, The Irish peregrinus between Gildas, Gaul, and Gregory, esp. 114-123). Special attention is devoted to the writings of Columbanus, and O' Hara does well to evoke some precious formulations, in their cultural context, present in the letters of Columbanus (e.g., tota Europa occurs twice). Columbanus' epistolary, a source relatively seldom used by historians, is here very well tilled in various other articles (cf. also T. Leso, Columbanus in Europe: The Evidence from the Epistulae, in "Early Medieval Europe" 21, 2013, 358-389). Some possible views on his literary education are highlighted (that Columbanus was a reader of Ovid, however, is a rather aleatory hypothesis, 14). Included also is his general vision that Christian universalism was able to unify the various populations established in the West.

In the first part, entitled Columbanus in Context, the paper by D. Bracken focuses on the Christian formation of Columbanus and the ethical and rhetorical model of the concordia. This topic can be linked to the second part of the volume (The Insular Background), from which there is much to learn, especially among readers who are outside the privileged circle of specialists in the history of late antique and early medieval Ireland. In the second part, the profile of Columbanus' character, his youth and his theological education (A. Woolf, Columbanus's Ulster Education, 91-99) is presented, and Columbanus' familiar connections to the prince Cormac mac Diarmata are put in evidence: the article by Dáibhí Ó Cróinín (a great expert on the Irish High Middle Ages and Hiberno-Latin), The Political Background to Columbanus's Irish Career, 53-68, is among the most appreciated for the elegance of the writing and the richness of the content. E. Johnston examines Columbanus' attitude regarding the female sphere; some pages deal with the question of how a "sexist" mentality, spread in Irish society, influenced Colombanus ("his cultural identity had been forged in Ireland" 69), while most of the same contribution is set in Europe and dedicated to the relationships of the saint with some famous queens, such as Brunhild or Theodelinda.

Parts III to V complement one another: following the routes of Columbanus and his companions and disciples, the focus is here placed on Columbanus as a monk and leader of foundations in the Merovingian, Alemannic and Lombard areas, and the terminal point of his extraordinary activities in the institution of the monastery of Bobbio, near Piacenza. Moreover, in these contributions the theme of paganism, with popular magic and superstitious behavior, emerges several times, attested in various regions of the Latin West and to some extent rekindled, with grafts and syncretisms of new morphology, from the barbarian migrations. And it is in our opinion legitimate to speak, for Columbanus and his collaborators and heirs, of an itinerant monasticism with missionary purposes too (not only in the most technical sense of the conversion of pagans but also that of heretics). This applies to the Warasqui (A. Fischer, Orthodoxy and Authority. Jonas, Eustasius, and the Agrestius Affair, 143-163, esp. 143-146), considered more than a group of devotees to idolatry, a group characterized by mixed beliefs, heretical, syncretistic, pagan. This also applies to the Bavarians, for example, in the contribution of H. Wolfram (Columbanus and the Mission to the Bavarians and the Slavs in the Seventh Century, 165-173), which starts from the discovery of the Herrenchiemsee monastery, datable to the late 7th century, to trace a synthetic profile of the religious situation in early medieval Bavaria; this concerns the Alemanni in general, in relation to the famous transfer and installation of Columbanus in Bregenz, on Lake Constance: Wolfram has no doubt that it was a context of coexistence and interaction between groups of Christians and pagans of varying identity and conviction.

The interaction of Columbanus with the alemannic society at Bregenz, narrated in the first book of the Life written by Jonas of Bobbio towards the middle of the 7th century, is one of the most extensively treated moments of Columbanus's biography. This can be explained by the suggestiveness of the events described, both because here the missionary component of the action of the Irish monk takes on greater prominence in the sources, and because of the internal tensions in the movement that it lets us see, flowing into the friction of dark genesis with his disciple and future bishop, Gallus. B. Maier (Between the Devil and the Deep Lake Constance, 177-187) reviews the famous episode of the encounter / struggle with a community of beer drinkers devoted to Woden (this is also important for the very rare mention in the literary sources of a Germanic divinity, without interpretatio, namely Woden); Maier doubts, especially on the basis of the lack of positive archaeological evidence, the reality of alemannic paganism, at least with regard to the specific ceremonial form described by Jonah of Bobbio:

"the true significance of Jonas's story about Columbanus and the pagan Alemanni would not reside in its preservation of any authentic details of Alemannic ritual, but rather in the fact that this is the oldest example of interpretatio Christiana in the Germanic-speaking world" (184).

If we take into account the history of the gens or of the gentes defined in our documents concerning the Alemanni, it offers, in our opinion, a prevailing picture of a long persistence of traditional and not Christian faith: it is not easy to see why we should minimize it for our historical phase. Y. Fox (Between Metz and Ueberlingen. Columbanus and Gallus in Alemannia, 205-223), analyzes the stay of Columbanus in Bregenz and in nearby Alemannic areas and centers, especially regarding relations with political authorities and those controversial relations with his disciple Gallus (the latter also reconsidered in P. Doerler, Quicumque sunt rebelles, foras exeant! Columbanus's Rebellious Disciple Gallus, 225-240).

F. Borri ("Drinking with Woden. A Re-examination of Jonas's Vita Columbani I.27", 189-203) is more open to an acceptance - that is certainly not uncritical but not even hypercritical - of the episode's ritual nucleus. It is a valuable article, in which Woden is linked, as is nowadays preferred based on a series of cross-references in the sources, to the identity and to the traditions of Lombard Italy, 191-194; furthermore, useful observations are made concerning another text by Columbanus, the Paenitentiale, composed significantly in Burgundy, a further region where Columbanus had been living for a period. Indeed, Burgundy was not exempt from pagan presences and behavior: the customs of the Christians stigmatized by Irish monks are regarded as depraved behaviors—or, not merely depraved, but depraved as would be the behaviors of pagans.

In these chapters, interesting hints are to be grasped here and there in relation to the problem of persuasion and vernacular languages, which often had to be drawn on to fit fully into regional contexts and to proceed with conversions: so for Gallus's activities in Alsace (contribution of Y. Fox, 217 with note 70); so for the Slavs and the Avars, a pagan outpost in the heart of the Balkans and of Europe itself ("the language problem caused by an even greater impediment to the mission to the Slavs," Wolfram, 171).

Part V concerns the cultural and religious heritage of Columbanus, after the foundation of the Bobbio monastery. Here we limit ourselves to recalling chapter 14, by S. Gasparri, Columbanus, Bobbio, and the Lombards, 243-258; the last paper of the volume, written by A. Diem, 259-301, deals with the structuring of the monastic community in the light of the Regula cuiusdam patris, reporting a commentated translation of this work (though we miss the integral Latin original, which would have allowed a more conscious judgment on the translation itself). The article by Gasparri is the only one in which the question of the purpose and functioning of the monastery of Bobbio is more directly addressed by providing a secure state of the historiographical debate. Gasparri underlines the close relations between the Lombard royal family and Bobbio Abbey. He starts from the presentation of a diploma with which the Lombard king Agilulf grants Columbanus and his companions (of course before the death of Columbanus, probably dating back to 613) the privilege of settling down in Bobbio and becoming owners of the monastery they established. The reconstructed picture also embraces the relationships between the Lombard powers and the Church of Rome, which in turn showed in various ways the recognition of the great importance of Bobbio. In this rapid but effective panorama of Bobbio's history in the Lombard age, Gasparri examines religious dynamics as well: he considers irrelevant a perspective that focuses on the struggle between Aryans and Catholics, in that way counterarguing against a part of previous Italian historiography (above all, the works of G. Bognetti) that continued to consider it a politically significant element in Lombard Italy, in the 8th century; similarly for Gasparri (250), Bobbio—as well as the Irish monasticism that presupposes it—did not have a missionary role, in Italy, neither with respect to the Aryans nor with respect to the pagans (which Gasparri evidently believes remained alive in some measure in Longobard Italy of the 7th century). The scholar is also skeptical of the theory of the strategic military function of the monastery. At the end of the article, the pars construens lies in recognizing the experimental nature of a monastery under royal patronage and in the monastery as a tool of a new policy by the Lombard kingship. This part, although it structurally rejoins the article to the initial part, could perhaps have been more developed, but this does not detract much from the interest in one of the most effective and stimulating contributions of the volume.

On the methodological plan, it seems to us that the authors freely regulate themselves in their approach to hagiographic sources, with diversified tendencies to accept more or less the "narration" and the "narrative," the substance of them, or even details, or vice versa to reject them in their entirety as an invention, without a predetermined, projected direction. The choices of the various positions in this regard are naturally motivated (e.g. I. Wood on Vita Gildae, 106; C. Stancliffe on Vita Columbani, 131-138, Maier on Vita Vedastis, 182-183).

To conclude, this is a volume that has only minor weaknesses. Published with elegance and editorial accuracy—there are very few misprints—it represents an improvement not only for knowledge of the historical Columbanus and early medieval Irish history, but also for knowledge of those populations of post-Roman Europe that constitute, as the title announces, the non-negligible social, religious, and cultural background of monasticism in the tradition of Columbanus.

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Bruce Ware Allen, Tiber: Eternal River of Rome. Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England, 2018. Pp. 330. ISBN 9781512603347. $32.95.

Reviewed by Krešimir Vuković, Catholic University of Croatia (

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Recently there has been a surge of interest in the environmental history of Rome, exemplified by Kyle Harper's bold and stimulating (if controversial) The Fate of Rome,1 but the Tiber has received (comparatively) little attention in these discussions. The Tiber valley has been extensively studied in a range of publications stemming from the British School at Rome's Tiber Valley Project,2 and more recently in Montero and Campbell,3 but a holistic study of the river itself and its role in the history of Rome is lacking. It was last attempted by Le Gall in 1953, in a valuable study that is, nonetheless, desperately in need of updating, especially considering the potential use of paleoclimatic evidence, technological advances and new theories on the relationship between humans and the environment in ecohistory and ecocriticism. The present book comes nowhere near that goal, but it is a very interesting attempt to synthesize a most varied body of stories about the Tiber through the centuries. It is written in the style of popular history with references in endnotes and goes from the beginnings of Rome down to the modern period. The style is very accessible, entertaining and sometimes humorous. Divided into six chapters following a chronological schema (with five interludes on each of the Tiber tributaries), the book offers a treasure trove of "half-submerged curiosities and oddities" ranging from archaeological finds to medieval and modern legends, some of which are only tangentially related to the Tiber. For instance, the story of queen Zenobia (78-81) is most interesting, but hardly relevant (even if one accepts that Aurelian gave her a villa on the Anio), and the same applies to Marozia, who ruled Rome in the 10th century. Much more relevant are mythohistorical nuggets such as Papstesel ("the pope's ass") or donna asino (149-51), a snakelike creature with the head of a donkey that was said to appear after the flood of the Tiber in 1495 and was used by Protestant propaganda to illustrate papal corruption.

Given the wide scope of the work and its target general audience one can hardly expect it to satisfy stringent scholarly criteria (the author is an independent scholar with a BA in Classics). Hence there are a number of shortcomings, only some of which I can comment on as a classicist who has had a research project on the mythology of the Tiber.

"The historian Pliny" appears in the introduction as referring to the floods of AD 105 (p. x), but the work cited is Naturalis Historia by Pliny the Elder, who died in the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. In telling the story of the salvation of Romulus and Remus at the hands of the flooding river the author seems to take the myth at its word and imagines Alba Longa being "upstream" from the site of Rome (5). In fact, the Alban lake is nowhere near the Tiber. The Cloaca Maxima is rightly given five whole pages (11-16), but no mention is made of the god Vertumnus turning back the floodwaters, a most interesting Roman myth, well known in classical scholarship, that Ovid (Fasti VI. 395-416) and Propertius (4.2) place at the time when half the Forum was still a marsh. The expulsion of Tarquin is linked to Horatius Cocles' defense of the Sublician bridge (17-20), but in no source do Romans hold "the high ground" of the Janiculum (the Etruscans do). Surprisingly, no mention is made here of the myth of the formation of the Tiber Island, linked to Tarquin's grain on the Campus Martius, or better yet the benefaction of a virgin called Gaia Taracia.4 The ludi Saeculares at the Tarentum (20) are not "annual games", but centennial (hence their name) and have nothing to do with the votive offerings found around the Tiber Island (21). Cicero does not sneer at these votives, but those of the sailors on Samothrace and the passage is not N.D. 3.37, but 3.89 (23). Claudia Quinta is "a matron" on one page (25) and "a vestal" on the next, with no discussion of how the mythic transformation occurred in the sources and why it matters. Augustus did not dedicate a temple to Cybele (26); it was dedicated in 191BC and Augustus merely restored it. After making excellent use of allusions to the Tiber in Cicero's Pro Roscio and Pro Caelio (29-34), the author digresses to the tributary of Cremera to tell the episode of the 306 Fabii (37-8) who died there. This is relevant, but it is unclear how "the first kings of Rome had been Etruscan" and how the Fabian camp could have been placed "outside Veii". We are talking myth, fair enough, but the camp is an outpost somewhere on the Cremera (now 37km in length), not a siege of Veii.

The work on Augustus' mausoleum did not begin "shortly after… the battle of Actium" (45), but before it so the young Caesar could boast that he (unlike Antony) was staying in Rome.5 The story of the Milvian bridge is misleadingly placed in the chapter "Christian Tiber" and the conclusion has Constantine move to his new city and suddenly "Rome's pagan temples began to turn into churches" (84), which is simply incorrect regardless of how one takes the Christogram legend. The "fanciful" illustration of the Tiber island as a boat is followed by a caption that implies that an obelisk was erected in the middle to make it resemble a boat. In fact only the southern portion of the island was made to resemble a ship's prow and the obelisk was too small to function as a mast. The terms "left" and "right" bank of the river are used inconsistently as Campo de' Fiori is placed "on the right" (182) and soon we read that the Pons Fabricius connected the "left bank" to the Tiber Island (184). The two-man commission that Tiberius appointed to look into Tiber floods did not find the waters split between Clanis (a Tiber tributary) and Arno (200), but they did suggest diverting the Clanis to feed the Arno.

Climate change plays a major part in river flooding, but is given short shrift: the republican period was "cool and humid" and the empire "warmer and drier", a state that lasted until 1200! (193) No mention of the Roman Climate Optimum, no awareness of regional variation or specific periods such as the so-called "Little Ice Age" in the 6th century. 6

Sometimes the author picks up on terms used in Italian sources without explaining them or rendering them into English. For instance, a "Sclavonian wood merchant" (presumably Slavic?) is a witness to many bodies dumped in the Tiber (158-9). "Marco Antonio de Dominici" of "Spalato" (167) is in fact Marcus Antonius de Dominis, archbishop of Split, Croatia. We are told that "Illyrian Christians" turn up in Rome after the battle of Kosovo in 1389 (207) and restore an old church on the ripetta. It is unclear who these people are; perhaps the Croats with their church of Saint Jerome (for both appear as such on the next page), but then this has nothing to do with the battle of Kosovo. In fact, in 1453 Pope Nicholas V gave the so-called "Illyrians" (people coming from the eastern Adriatic where the Roman province of Illyricum had been) the decrepit church of Santa Marina and they rededicated it in the name of Saint Jerome, the Dalmatian saint. Most translations of Latin are correct, but there are some errors that I cannot ignore. The citation from Ammianus Marcellinus has the grain ships prevented "from entering the Porta of Augustus" (85; RG 19.10). The author uses John C. Rolfe's translation, but this is hardly an excuse for not recognizing Portus (Latin porta Augusti), which he had already discussed at length. Amusingly, the Latin urinatores is linked to the feeling on the part of divers of the urge to urinate (and not derived from urinor).

There are a number of interpretations that I could contest, but I restrict myself to an obvious one. The author may be forgiven (I also fell for this back in 2013) for indulging the widespread belief that one of the two second-century AD statues of rivers now on the Capitoline represents the Tiber. The statue in question (the other is the Nile) is in fact the Tigris, given that the paws of the damaged animal are not those of a she-wolf but a feline (tigress), and there is a 16th century sketch that shows this. The twins are not ancient and were added much later when the statue was reworked.7

When it comes to La Divina Commedia, Dante and Virgil do not emerge from hell at Ostia nor does Dante meet his old friend Casella there (128). They meet in purgatory and Casella tells him that souls of the saved wait at Ostia to be taken to purgatory.

Infelicities of spelling and typographical errors are understandable and I only mention a few major ones that caught my eye: "Tithys" instead of Tethys (2), the year of founding the Republic is printed as "598BC" instead of 508. The Portus harbour is hexagonal not "sexagonal" (51). "Panegyrici Latin" (264) should read Latini and Ammerman's article (2004) is entitled "Dal Tevere al Argileto" not "Argelito" (256). The venerable institution that had me as Fellow in 2017/18 is called the British School at Rome (not "of Rome"), though the error is understandable given the strange British grammar applied at its founding (in 1901).

All of these notwithstanding, the book is a most enjoyable read for anyone interested in the history of Rome, and I confess to learning a lot from it regarding the Middle Ages and the modern period (though I wonder what the experts on those periods would have to say). In the end the author has managed to achieve a most valuable aim in proving that no history of Rome can be told without the Tiber. Let us hope that classicists and ancient historians follow suit in their research.


1.   K. Harper (2017) The Fate of Rome (Princeton).
2.   F. Coarelli and H. Patterson (eds. 2004) Mercator Placidissimus (Rome); H. Patterson (ed.), Bridging the Tiber (London). R. Cascino, H. Di Giuseppe and H.L. Patterson (eds.) Veii: The Historical Topography of the Ancient City (London). The final publication of this project is still awaited.
3.   S. Montero (2008) El emperador y los ríos (Madrid), J.B. Campbell (2012) Rivers and the Power of Ancient Rome (Chapel Hill).
4.   See D. Nečas Hraste and K. Vuković 'Virgins and Prostitutes in Roman mythology', Latomus 74.2 (2015): 329-338.
5.   L. Haselberger (2002) Mapping Augustan Rome (Portsmouth), s.v. mausoleum Augusti.
6.   See M. McCormick et al. (2012) 'Climate change during and after the Roman Empire: reconstructing the past from scientific and historical evidence', Journal of Interdisciplinary History 43.2: 169-220.
7.   See M.E. Titoni (1994) La facciata del Palazzo Senatorio in Campidoglio (Pisa), 110-117. I owe this observation to a discussion with Fabio Barry.

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Katherine M. D. Dunbabin, Theater and Spectacle in the Art of the Roman Empire. Townsend lectures / Cornell studies in classical philology. Ithaca; London: Cornell University Press, 2016. Pp. xiv, 328. ISBN 9780801456886. $45.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Marden Fitzpatrick Nichols, Georgetown University (

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In July 2017, news broke that an extraordinary Roman tomb, with the longest epitaph ever found, had been discovered near the Porta Stabia, a gateway to the ancient city of Pompeii.1 This funerary monument of an unnamed city magistrate celebrates the role of the deceased in sponsoring gladiatorial contests, which are mentioned in the inscription and depicted in a large and lively marble frieze, long since a part of the Naples Archaeological Museum and now recognized as belonging to the tomb (MAN inv. 6704, Dunbabin fig. 7.4). Much of the press coverage to date has focused on the epitaph's corroboration of Tacitus' account of riots (c. 59 CE) in the Pompeian amphitheater (Annales 14.17). For students of Roman art, culture, and social history, however, such a tour de force of posthumous self-presentation offers much more to explore. As analysis of this remarkable discovery proceeds, scholars will benefit enormously from the timely appearance of Katherine M. D. Dunbabin's Theater and Spectacle in the Art of the Roman Empire, a magisterial evaluation of how entertainments of various kinds were depicted across the visual arts, over hundreds of years and throughout the Roman empire.

Artistic representations survive for all of the most popular varieties of Roman theater and spectacle. Yet the frequency with which they appear in the material record, the iconographic conventions that govern their representation, and their regional and temporal distribution vary widely. Dunbabin's monograph, the fruit of decades of careful research and synthesis, should be the first port of call for anyone interested in locating individual works of Roman art on theatrical or spectacular themes within their broader art historical context. Throughout the book, Dunbabin elegantly summarizes the history, parameters, and geographic distribution of each type of entertainment before delving into its iconography. While her treatment is selective, rather than exhaustive, the breadth of information reviewed and synthesized is truly magnificent. Readers of this substantial work will be rewarded, on every page, with both new insights about specific objects and careful bibliographical documentation. Moreover, Dunbabin's study raises important questions about the use of works of art as documentary evidence: When and why can we hazard that a representation is meant to commemorate a particular occasion, such as a performance or contest? How much should two-dimensional images be trusted to convey a sense of the visual experience of ancient spectacle? Should the prevalence or absence of artistic representations be interpreted as an index of the frequency with which such entertainments were staged? On many occasions, Dunbabin judiciously avoids definitive answers to these questions. After all, the materiality of performance is, by definition, ephemeral and thus frustratingly difficult to reconstruct. Nevertheless, one of the many virtues of Theater and Spectacle in the Art of the Roman Empire is the author's unwillingness to gloss over the thornier aspects of her topic; the stakes and ramifications of studying this corpus of material are always in full view.

In Chapter 1, which functions as an introduction to the book, Dunbabin outlines, in broad strokes, the differences between the entertainment cultures of the Greek East, where competitive agones showcased performances ranging from foot races to concerts, and those of Rome and the Latin West, where there were two major originating contexts, the munera, for gladiatorial games and animal hunts, and the ludi, for most everything else. These distinctions are essential background to Chapter 2, which traces the movement of agonistic imagery from East to West over the duration of the Roman Empire. Central to the argument are works of art in which the constituent parts of a typical Greek agonistic festival, including athletic, musical, and theatrical scenes, appear collectively. (Readers of this book who have not spent time with Dunbabin's 2006 article on the round, disk-shaped objects with projecting knobs that seem to have indicated the progress of a play through its various acts will want to read that earlier piece, because Dunbabin's identification of these objects with theatrical spectacle is a lynchpin for the identification of many scenes.2) Few of these pan-theatrical and -spectacular compositions survive. Nevertheless, analysis of their distribution supports what becomes a sustaining argument of the monograph: that in the Greek East, where high-status individuals participated in agones themselves, theater and spectacle were absorbed into the visual culture of monuments and public spaces, while in the Latin-speaking West, where the elite kept such festivals at arm's length, participating merely as patrons and spectators, this iconography was considered appropriate for humbler or more private settings, such as tavern floors and domestic interiors (31-32).

Chapter 3, on the "traditional theater," is chiefly concerned with depictions of performance, rather than with the theatrical motifs and evocations of stage sets that appear across Roman mosaics and wall paintings of many periods. Scenes of comedy are far more prevalent than scenes of tragedy. When the playwright responsible for the drama in question is identifiable, it is often Euripides or Menander. Owing to Dunbabin's stated focus on the second to fourth centuries CE, the old chestnut of ancient Roman wall painting's relationship to scaenographia and stage design, for which the richest trove of evidence predates the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE, is only briefly addressed. Dunbabin argues that images of performances in progress "act as assertions of culture and devotion to the Greek classics," rather than as records of or responses to contemporary stagings (62). Nevertheless, she credits a vigorous performance culture with inspiring the vogue for theatrical scenes in Roman houses during the second and third centuries CE (82-83) and interprets the large number of illustrations in the Vatican Terence as proof of the continued vibrancy of traditional theater into the fourth century CE (77).

In the next chapters, it becomes clear that the equation between frequency of performance and prevalence of representation is not a fixed one for Dunbabin. Pantomime, the subject of Chapter 4, was mythologically themed rhythmic dancing, often by a solo performer. Imperially commissioned pantomime performers, who travelled to the provinces as "a means of cultural diffusion," help convince Dunbabin that the cultural significance of pantomime was roughly similar to that of more conventional tragedy, from which it could be difficult to distinguish (109-110). Mime, discussed in Chapter 5, refers to a loosely related group of entertainments, often unmasked, which could feature female performers. Unlike tragedy, comedy, or pantomime, mime did not bear connotations of cultural education and was instead stigmatized as vulgar, regardless of how many persons of high status might be seated in the audience. During the Empire, pantomime and mime far outstripped traditional comedy and tragedy in popularity (53), yet their depiction in the visual arts is rare. Dunbabin offers two possible reasons for the discrepancy: either these types of performance were considered less amenable to depiction (96), or they were illustrated more often than we can discern. For example, sometimes pantomime performers can be identified by their closed-mouth masks and the long hair knotted atop their heads, but not all pantomime performers are thus portrayed, and not all figures endowed with such features relate to pantomime (91-94). Mime, if one looks beyond a few recognizable stock characters, presents even greater challenges to identification: how can a group of co-ed performers, unmasked and lacking distinctive costumes, be easily distinguished from any other group of figures? (120)

For Chapters 6 and 7, Dunbabin moves from what may broadly be called theatrical entertainments to feats of strength, speed, and violence. Images of circus races and charioteers, the subject of Chapter 6, are among the most popular subjects in all of Roman art. The images are of two main types: figures of individual charioteers and/or horses and more complex scenes of races in progress, the latter of which are most commonly seen in mosaics. Whereas in Greece, wealthy owners entered chariots in their own names, in Rome, chariots were sponsored by the state in the person of the magistrate (138-139). Dunbabin locates numerous portrayals of the rivalry among the Blue, Green, Red, and White factions (organizing bodies), around which chariot-racing fans rallied. Across the material record, some drivers and horses are identified by name, suggesting the representation of individual persons, animals, or events, though in many cases the names may be conventional, or even allegorical (158-160). By and large, Dunbabin argues, chariot racing scenes and motifs in Roman houses do not commemorate specific events. Rather, this décor was emblematic of inclusion within the social circles of the magistrates who sponsored and organized the games (155).

Amphitheater spectacles, the topic of Chapter 7, originated in funerary contexts and showcased the power of the editor who produced and financed the spectacle. As in the case of circus-imagery, Dunbabin deems the large quantity of surviving images of gladiatorial contests and wild beast hunts an index of the popularity of such events (176). One striking difference between images of amphitheater spectacles and circus races, however, lies in the representation of architectural features within the composition. While it is customary for depictions of horse races to include the built structures of the track, amphitheater architecture does not receive the same attention. Sometimes doors in an arena wall are illustrated, but seldom anything more (229). Dunbabin notes that funerary monuments of gladiators display little sign of embarrassment at their occupant's low social status and take special pride in identifying the specialty of the deceased (for example, as a thraex or a murmillo [187]). These categories of fighter persist over a vast expanse of the Roman empire, from the reign of Augustus to the third century CE (226). While some representations of gladiatorial shows or animal hunts were undoubtedly commissioned to memorialize the staging of particular spectacles on distinct occasions, the images themselves are not illustrations from life, but rather conventional, schematic compositions, even if adjusted to convey individuality.

The final chapter reveals aspects of continuity during the period of transition to Christianity. While the late Empire saw the demise of gladiatorial contests almost everywhere but the city of Rome itself, many elements of the age-old festival culture endured. Jonas Barish famously identified the Christian authors Dunbabin scrutinizes in this chapter, including Tertullian and John Chrysostum, as well-springs of an "anti-theatrical prejudice," which he traced in an unbroken line from classical antiquity to his own time.3 Though Dunbabin does not engage directly with this strain of criticism, she provides some important correctives to Barish's narrative: by comparing images with texts, Dunbabin demonstrates that the church fathers inaccurately portrayed contemporary entertainments as uniquely lewd and debased, and that the voices of these men were not nearly as representative of prevailing opinion as is sometimes believed.

Throughout the book, Dunbabin's prose is thick with visual analysis, and both her notes and images are geared towards fellow scholars. Thus more familiar photographs, such as the athlete mosaics from the Baths of Caracalla, have been left out in favor of less widely published works of art, some of which, like the spectacular mosaics from Wadi Lebda, have been discovered only recently (193-194). The apparatus is extensive and generous, which facilitates the use of this book by scholars and students pursuing a wide range of subjects. Dunbabin's exhaustive research and careful distillation of key themes and trends make her book an invaluable resource that will stand the test of time.


1.   la Repubblica
2.   Dunbabin, Katherine M. D. (2006) "A Theatrical Device on the Late Roman Stage: The Relief of Flavius Valerianus," Journal of Roman Archaeology 19: 191–212.
3.   Barish, Jonas. (1981) The Antitheatrical Prejudice. London, esp. 38–65.

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Hélène Casanova-Robin, Giovanni Pontano. L'Éridan/Eridanus. Les classiques de l'humanisme. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2018. Pp. 480. ISBN 9782251449142. €45,00 (pb).

Reviewed by Michael Fontaine, Cornell University (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

In the days when the earth was young, Zeus shot Phaethon out of the sky; he had lost control of the Sun's chariot, was running amok, and threatened to burn up creation. The boy fell in flames into the Po River. His sisters, the Heliades, gathered on its banks and mourned so incessantly that they turned into poplar trees and wept amber.

Eons later, in Roman times, the river—which flows eastward through Italy from Turin to Venice—became the border between Cisalpine and Transalpine Gaul. And in those days, poets called it not Po but "Eridanus," a name shared by the constellation known today as "The River."

Time passed, and, in the Renaissance, the humanist Giovanni Pontano took the Eridanus and all these rich mythological associations as the inspiration for an unprecedented collection of Latin poetry. For anyone who has suffered heartbreak or loss after adolescence and dared find love again, it is something you can really relate to. Eridanus is love poetry for grown-ups.

Giovanni Pontano (1429-1503) ranks among the greatest of the Italian humanists. He lived mostly in Naples, and in his early 60s he found himself widowed after 30 years of happy marriage. He had loved his wife, Arianna, dearly, but life goes on, and, like Dido, he eventually felt the veteris vestigia flammae (Aeneid 4.23). He took up with a new companion, a young courtesan of Ferrara he calls by the pseudonym Stella. The poems collected in Eridanus are alternately addressed to both women, Stella and the dead Arianna, and they give voice to all the confusing emotions you might expect.

The bulk of the poems, to Stella, are pure love poetry. Many are rhapsodic, and some can be pretty steamy stuff (see 1.9 or 1.17). They give us a glimpse of happiness as an adult understands that word, and on the whole, they offer an effective rebuke to the bleak view of old age advocated by Maximianus, the Late Antique poet whose own romantic elegies I recently discovered in a new translation by A. M. Juster.1

Nevertheless, Pontanto's collection is shot through with touching images or turns of phrase that reflect on the embarrassment and self-consciousness of his situation, an old man madly in love with a much younger woman. Here is 1.22.5-6, titled De se ac de Stella (On Stella and himself, i.e. making love), along with the French translation of Casanova-Robin from the volume under review and the English translation of Luke Roman, whose superb 2014 edition was evidently not reviewed in BMCR.2 Here, Stella is depicted in girlish innocence:

Risit, et argutos dextra compressit ocellos,
     delicias nosset ne qua puella suas.

Elle rit et de sa main droite, cache ses yeux babillards,
     De peur qu'une amante puisse connaître les siennes jouissances.

she laughed, and hid her lively eyes,
     lest any girl should know her own delights.

The two lines capture the clumsiness, the uncharacteristic effusion of passionate feelings, the realization by them both that others will think they look ridiculous. Even better are 1.38.11-4:

Cur non e terra, sed de spumantibus undis,
     nata sed irato sit Cytherea mari?
Fluctuat an semper miseri quia pectus amantis,
     aestuat et variis mens agitata modis?

Pourquoi n'est-elle pas née de la terre mais des ondes écumantes
     Et de la mer en furie, la Cythéréenne?
Parce que le cœur du malheureux amant fluctue sans cesse,
     Il bouillone, l'esprit agité de mille façons?

Why was the Cytherean goddess born from foaming waves
     while the sea raged, and not from land?
Because the heart of the poor lover ever sways,
     his mind at sea, storm tossed in diverse ways?

Given the candor with which Pontano admits to these feelings, what really sets the collection apart are his verses to his deceased wife—and especially the guilt and ambivalence his new feelings of romance engender. Take for example 2.1, the crown jewel of the collection. In it he addresses Arianna (Ariadne) in death, asking her permission to find a new love until the two of them meet again:

dum nos fata vocent, dum te, mihi cara, revisam,
     Elysiusque iterum vincula nectat Hymen.
Nec mora longa quidem. Quanquam brevis, ipsa molesta est:
     iam venio; cupidos, o mea, pande sinus,
et thalamos, formosa, para, dulcisque hymenaeos;
     iam propero; solitos sterne, Ariadna, toros.
Nec tamen ignoro quae sint suspiria amantum,
    exspectata tamen gaudia longa manent….

en attendant que les destins m'appellent et que je te retrouve, ma chérie,
     et que l'Hymen Élyséen noue une nouvelle fois nos liens.
L'attente ne sera pas longue. Certes, même brève, elle est douloureuse:
     Déjà, j'arrive. Découvre pour moi, ma vie, tes seins pleins de désir,
Et prépare, ma toute belle, notre lit pour un doux hyménée;
     Déjà, je me hâte. Étends, Ariadna, notre couche familière.
Si je n'ignore pas ce que peuvent être les soupirs des amants,
     Je sais aussi les longues voluptés attendues…

…until the fates
shall summon us; until, my love, I come
     to you again, and Hymen of Elysium binds
our ties again. The wait is short, it's true,
     but though it's short, it's difficult. I'm coming now:
open your yearning arms, my love, prepare,
     my beautiful girl, the bedroom and sweet marriage rites.
I hurry now: arrange, O Ariadna,
    The bed to which we are accustomed. Nevertheless
I know what kind of thing are lovers' sights,
     For pleasures long delayed are long enjoyed…

This ambivalence (let me suggest) surely explains that Pontano chose the mournful title he did for his collection because Eridanus evokes both women simultaneously: Stella as a star, and Eridanus as near an echo—or as haunting a ghost—of Ariadne as you can get.

In the present volume, Hélène Casanova-Robin, Professor of Latin at the Sorbonne, clads these poems in full scholarly apparatus. It begins with a 100-page introduction to Pontano the man and Stella the woman, the date and contents of Eridanus, the mythological and naturalist background of the poetry and of Padua, to the genre of consolation, and much else. These materials are excellent and a sure guide for making sense of the basic background.

After the introduction comes a bilingual text of the poems, with the Latin on one page and the accurate French translation on the other. Then follow the 200 pages of Casanova-Robin's huge commentary. These pages analyze compositional structures and style, identify historical and mythological figures and places, quote or note parallels in Latin and vernacular writing, and cite bibliography in full, even though the same citations are repeated in the separate bibliography that follows. There is a great deal of learning in these pages.

To my taste, the notes are a bit excessive and uneven, both in the amount of attention they lavish on each poem and in what they choose to quote rather than cite. For example, Pontano's first poem, which is 66 lines long, receives 17 pages of comments, and his second poem (32 lines) gets nearly 16 pages, and many of the remarks are interesting and germane. But poem 2.4 (20 lines) merits just five sentences, and poems 2.19 (42 lines) and 2.7 (8 lines) receive only two sentences each. Some of the swelling in the longer sections is due to the quotation of material that used to be simply cited. For example, a page of notes on poem 2.1 is occupied by a French translation of Plato's Alcibiades (132e-133c). This unevenness suggests the ideas that most interested Casanova-Robin might have been better presented in a monograph than a commentary, since it is, indeed, in the introduction that Casanova-Robin's erudition really shines.

Classicists will be glad that the commentary is especially attentive to the classical background (Ovid, Virgil, Martial, etc), an approach that is typically regarded as a cardinal virtue of Neo-Latin commentary.3 That said, I am not certain most of these materials really inform our interpretation of Pontano's poems on their own merit; on the evidence of the poems in Eridanus, Pontano was a peer rather than an imitator of the best classical poets. Hence, while scholars will surely find Casanova-Robin's new edition indispensable, those who simply want to read the poems alongside basic notes may find Roman's 2014 edition a more comfortable choice.


1.   A.M. Juster (tr.). 2018. The Elegies of Maximianus. University of Pennsylvania Press. I reviewed that collection here.
2.   Luke Roman (ed., tr.). 2014. Giovanni Gioviano Pontano: On married love; Eridanus. I Tatti Renaissance Library.
3.   "The basic principle of nearly the whole Neo-Latin literature is the imitation and emulation of ancient predecessors. It is of vital importance, therefore, always to keep in mind the classical authors and their influence." So write Jozef Ijsewijn and Dirk Sacré in Companion to Neo-Latin Studies, vol. 2: Literary, Linguistic, Philological and Editorial Questions (Leuven: Leuven University Press 1998), 2.

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Jonathan Wallis, Introspection and Engagement in Propertius: A Study of Book 3. Cambridge classical studies. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018. Pp. x, 241. ISBN 9781108417174. £75.00.

Reviewed by Christian Lehmann, Bard High School Early College - Cleveland (

Version at BMCR home site


Jonathan Wallis has written a study of Propertius 3 brimming with interpretations that are rooted in close textual readings, an awareness of the rich bibliographical and textual tradition of Propertius' text, and a concentrated attention to the poet's engagement with Horace and Vergil and introspection (Wallis's word) of his own body of work. Anyone interested in the study of the Roman poetry book, Latin poetry, or Propertius specifically will find much to consider in these pages.

Wallis opens the volume with a succinct introduction that offers a review of bibliography, an overview of the book's structure, and a brief textual note. He bases his analysis on Fedeli's 1984 Teubner with a recusatio concerning Heyworth's OCT: "it will take some time longer for the editorial decisions it makes to be assessed fully by Propertian scholars" (p. 20). Throughout the book, Wallis makes judicious use of footnotes to discuss important points of difference and agreement with Heyworth.

Wallis begins his analysis of Propertius' thematic, poetic, and societal interests with his understanding of the book's structure. "The current study proposes a new way of reading the arrangement of poems in Book 3—as a broad structure consisting of three series of eight poems" (p. 5). The three narratives Wallis identifies are 3.1-8, 9-16, 17-24, and he suggests that each narrative begins with a programmatic elegy that underscores the major theme explored in the sequence. Thus, 3.1-8 show Propertius re-engaging with a Latin poetic tradition that spans Ennius, Horace, Vergil, and his own elegies. 3.9-16 explore a series of prominent Augustan themes. Finally, 3.17-24 explore Propertius' renewed confidence in himself to write about the important issues of his age. Regrettably, for a single-book monograph, several poems (4, 5, 7, 14, 19, and 21) are left undiscussed or mentioned merely in passing.

Chapter 1, "Turning Elegy Upside Down: Propertius 3.1-3," suggests that the first three poems are a direct response to contemporary literary developments: "Propertius Book 3 appears hot on the heels of Horace's Odes 1-3, and with Virgil's Aeneid looming on the literary horizon" (p. 22). In 3.1 Propertius announces his new elegiac project by borrowing Horace's claim of being a sacerdos (Odes 3.1.3) in the same place as his predecessor (last word of the third line of the first poem in the third book)1 along with triumphal language taken from Vergil's Georgics. This poem develops the potential of elegy for political commentary while 3.2 engages with Horace's lyrics and explores elegy's erotic dimensions. Finally, 3.3 takes the different themes of the first two poems and places them in alternating focus through the injunction of Calliope that elegists stick to drunken and amorous themes. Wallis raises an interesting idea when he points out that the reader suddenly becomes aware "of how long it has been since elegy has looked as Calliope describes it" (p. 45).

Chapters 2, 4, and 8 unpack the changing representation of fides over the course of the collection. In chapter two, "Seeking Fides in Poets and Poetry" Wallis uncovers a Propertius in 3.6 who simultaneously desires fidelity from his mistress, friends, and go-betweens while he himself does not hesitate to dissimulate. Throughout the second chapter, Wallis usefully imagines a variety of readers. There is the "gullible reader" (p. 46) who reads Propertius on the surface, and there is the "suspicious reader" (p. 49) who questions Propertius in the same way that the poet questions Lygdamus. The "suspicious reader" is a particularly valuable construct because it allows Wallis to discuss the plurality of ways that readers may have encountered ancient texts.2

Chapter 3, "Thematic Experimentation" introduces the second sequence (poems 9-16) by focusing on 9-11. The first of these introduces Maecenas as both "an intervening outsider" and "an internalized 'elegiac' figure" (p. 64). In this poem, Propertius offers an explanation of his poetic interests (not epic) to a figure who has become an important symbolic addressee for Latin poets, especially Horace and Vergil. For Propertius to address him, after these others have already done so, means that "Maecenas also represents an internal marker of a dialogue between poets about literary development itself" (p. 69). This identification of Maecenas with both metapoetic reflection and societal observation keenly underscores the strategies at play in Propertius' third book. This chapter also contains an important reflection on the reception of the Georgics in the late 20s BCE. Wallis next offers a reading of 3.10 (a genethliakon to Cynthia), about which he says, "the announcement of a 'birthday' provides an ideal opportunity to reflect on the past while looking to the future... 3.10 becomes a poem that remembers the birth of Cynthian verse as much as that of Cynthia herself. Mostly, Cynthia's birthday becomes a device through which Propertius can reflect upon his own third anniversary as a poet" (p. 76). Propertius' Cleopatra poem, 3.11, ends the chapter where "Propertius offers a paradoxical celebration both of his submission to his mistress and of Octavian's victory at Actium (p. 83). This analysis forms a crucial strand in Wallis' argument that Book 3 contains a variety of poems that weave the poet's personal erotic experience together with the theme of imperialism.

Chapter 4 expands upon the theme of fides in Book 3. "Marriage and the Elegiac Woman," presents us with a poem (3.12) that honors Aelia Galla as a model wife for her husband Postumus. At the start of this analysis, Wallis references another arrangement of poems when he notes that 3.12 is the middle poem (of 24) and therefore "negotiates the reader's passage into the second half of the book" (p. 93). (At this point it can feel as if every poem has some structural significance, and I was left wondering what happened to the three-part structure). He argues that by beginning with Galla, Propertius shifts elegy's focus from the mistress' infidelity toward the wife's fidelity. Wallis shows the way in which Propertius places this poem in dialogue with Horace Odes 3.7 and his own 1.11 to establish this new emphasis.

Chapter 5, "Delays and Destinations," examines 3.16 and the larger theme of travel in book 3. The chapter opens with a nuanced discussion of "middles" as measurements of time and space. This poem returns us to the three-part structure as it concludes the middle set of poems, 9-16. As Wallis observes, "the poem's metaphorical drive also serves to highlight the transience of 'middleness' in subjects as linear as life and poetry" (p. 122). Wallis suggests, via a discussion of membra, that 3.16 expresses a variety of anxieties. In addition to the surface concerns about journeying in general, the poem conflates the threats to a body with the fear of assault on textual bodies after publication. This is a particularly elegant chapter that would work well as a model for close reading in the classroom.

Chapter 6, "A Hymn to Bacchus," begins the final sequence of eight poems. Wallis reminds the reader that they should read 3.17 as a programmatic poem that introduces a sequence of poems that will "flirt with bringing elegy into alignment with an Augustan mainstream" (p. 133). This chapter features some of Wallis's most intricate, and enjoyable, intertextual readings, and throughout he carefully explains what he finds pertinent in such connections. Wallis' discussion of "these resistant Horatian reverberations" is consistently illuminating and a useful consideration of Horace's importance for Propertius (p. 153). For Wallis, 3.17 is also deeply concerned with Vergil's Georgics, and he patiently shows that any similarities between the two are deliberate rather than "coincidental," (p. 157). Wallis ends the chapter with an important consideration of Propertius standing outside the doors of Bacchic temple (ante fores templi, 3.17.37). He makes the obvious connection to Vergil's famous temple in Georgics 3 but adds that "at an intertextual level he occupies a position from where—ike all Roman poets who write after Virgil—e will view, interpret and critique the literary edifice that will soon lodge at the heart of the Augustan cultural landscape" (p. 162).

Chapter 7, "In Lament for Marcellus," treats 3.18 and is one of Wallis's most successful moments of thinking about how Propertius interacts with his cultural milieu and with himself.3 I found the chapter especially compelling for considering how the poem engages with Aeneid 6: "by sending Marcellus back to the underworld after his death, Propertius returns us to where Virgil had introduced Marcellus before he was born" (p. 182).

Wallis' trio of chapters on the theme of fides concludes with chapter 8, "Renewing the Elegiac Contract." In 3.20 Propertius seeks to change his habits and take a new lover with whom he will mark his fides in a foedus (contract). Wallis pairs 3.20 with 3.12 because both feature a husband leaving. When he triangulates these poems with Odes 3.7, he can assert that "Propertius qualifies what had been a (Horatian) idealisation of constancy in 3.12" (p. 196). One of the great pleasures of reading Wallis's diachronic study is the way he draws attention to the Propertian strategy of presenting the reader with something that feels familiar from other Latin poets and himself before destabilizing such comforts.

Chapter 9, "Breaking up with Cynthia," investigates the final poem of Propertius's book, 3.24, which Wallis reads as a single poem. Here the poet is engaged in "an established game of elegiac brinkmanship" in which the reader wonders if the poet will succeed in quitting love elegy (p. 202). Wallis indulges in a welcome "Ovidian Reflection" (p. 209-213) where he shows us an Ovid steeped in Propertius. I would have liked to see a more dynamic reading of a Propertius who may well be reacting to hearing a young Ovid.4

Wallis concludes with a brief epilogue focused on 3.22. The decision to end his book with a poem that is not the end of Propertius' collection underscores a difficulty of assessing Wallis' undertaking namely, the importance of his structural argument to his larger claims. Wallis explains his decision as follows "When Propertius reached the end of the twenty- second elegy, Book 3 contained the same number of poems as Book 1…Propertius uses this moment of symmetry to signal ostentatiously that he was wrapping things up" by addressing Tullus, who had last appeared as an addressee in 1.22 (p. 217). Although this is a compelling use of symmetry, nevertheless it, like many of the most compelling points that Wallis makes in other chapters, is not related to the tripartite division he has identified. Wallis' structural discussions in no way enervate his success in defending his primary thesis about Book 3. I am fully persuaded that Propertius engages with his own material (introspection) and that of Horace and Vergil (engagement) in order to explore the potential of elegy to talk about personal narratives and contemporary public affairs. Occasionally these arguments are bolstered by structural observations, but they neither begin with, nor fully depend upon, the structural argument.

Wallis writes in a lively manner and ends with a succinct and polyglottal bibliography, although references to works after 2013 are rare. The reader will in no way be hindered by any errors in the text.


1.   Although he does not use a specific term for this kind of line-counting, others have. Hinds calls it "stichometric intertextuality" (Stephen Hinds, Allusion and Intertext: Dynamics of Appropriation in Roman Poetry (Cambridge: CUP, 1998), 92 n.10). Wills calls it "allusion by line-number" (Jeffrey Wills, Repetition in Latin Poetry: Figures of Allusion. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 159 n.82). Vergil employs this method in naming Maecenas in the Georgics: 1.2, 2.41, 3.41, 4.2. An elaborate example occurs between Aen. 10.475 (vaginaque cava fulgentem deripit ensem) and Met. 10.475 (pendent nitidum vagina deripit ensem).
2.   For a similar use of a suspicious reader, I recommend Stephen Hinds, "Ovid among the Conspiracy Theorists," in Classical Constructions: Papers in Memory of Don Fowler, Classicist and Epicurean, eds. S. J. Heyworth, P. G. Fowler, S. J. Harrison (Oxford: OUP, 2007), 194-220.
3.   In using the word "interacting" I am thinking about Alice König, and Christopher Whitton's Roman Literature under Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian: Literary Interactions, AD 96-138 reviewed recently in BMCR 2019.02.51.
4.   For a recent reflection on the timeline, see Stephen Harrison, "The Chronology of Ovid's Career," in Dicite, Pierides: Classical Studies in Honour of Stratis Kyriakides, eds. A. N. Michaelopoulos, S. Papaioannou, and A. Zissos (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017) 188-201.

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