Friday, August 30, 2019


Daniel King (ed.), The Syriac World. Routledge worlds. London; New York: Routledge, 2018. Pp. 842. ISBN 9781138899018. $176.00.

Reviewed by Yulia Furman, Institute for Oriental and Classical Studies, National Research University Higher School of Economics (

Version at BMCR home site


The present volume 'The Syriac World' has been published in the series of the Routledge publishing house 'Routledge Worlds', which offers comprehensive and magisterial overviews of principal historical epochs written by established experts. 'The Syriac World', edited by Daniel King, is dedicated to various aspects of Syriac culture, including history, literature, language and arts. It is intended primarily for scholars and students of Syriac studies and related fields. The book covers a vast variety of topics ranging from the birth of Syriac Christian culture and its pagan past to the modern descendants of the ancient Syriac churches spread all over the world. Thirty-nine contributions are divided between five major parts.

The first part, 'Backgrounds' (pp. 11-43), is concerned with the historical and political preconditions in which Syriac culture emerged and developed over the centuries: the socio-political situation in the eastern provinces of the Roman and later of the Byzantine Empire (Muriel Debié) and a brief outline of the history of Sasanian Iran (Touraj Daryaee).

The second part, 'The Syriac World in Late Antiquity' (pp. 47-201), deals with various topics on religion in the Syriac-speaking world. The reader can familiarize herself with pre-Christian beliefs (of both Aramaic and Greco-Roman provenance) in Edessa and North Syria, which are reconstructed mostly from inscriptions, theophoric elements in personal names, and images on coins (John F. Healy). Legendary accounts on the coming of Christianity to Mesopotamia (Teaching of Addai and Acts of Mar Mari) and a critical assessment of them can be found in the contribution by David G.K. Taylor. The author offers a fresh view on the role and function of the Teaching of Addai, which he argues was aimed at establishing the supremacy of Edessa and its elites (as opposed to Nisibis) in bringing the new religion into the region. A number of papers discuss the complex history of the Syriac Churches and the religious life of their adherents: the factors which influenced the establishment of the Churches and the history of these processes (Volker Menze); various forms of active religious practices in the Syriac-speaking community (daughters and sons of the covenant, stylites, solitaries, semi-coenobitism) (by Florence Jullien); an overview of numerous, both actual and already non-existent, denominations of the Syriac Churches (Dietmar W. Winkler); the history of the Church of the East under the Sasanian dominion (Geoffrey Herman) and during the 'Abbasid Caliphate (Geoffrey Herman); Syriac Orthodox Christians in the Roman Empire and the formation of their identity (Nathanael Andrade). Finally, two chapters contribute to the intriguing theme of interactions between the local forms of Christianity and the other religions of the region. The much-debated topic of the influence of Judaism and its ideas on Syriac literature and vice versa is covered in the contribution of Michal Bar-Asher Siegal. Of no less importance and interest are the early accounts of Christian Syriac writers on the Arab conquests and the rise of Islam (Michael Penn).

The Syriac language and related aspects are presented in the third part of the volume (pp. 205-289). The opening chapter by Holger Gzella describes the emergence of Syriac as a literary idiom in the first years of the common era (the so-called Old Syriac), its connection to literary Aramaic idioms of the preceding epoch and the establishment of Classical Syriac as a written standard language of Syriac Christianity. The contribution of Aaron Butts sets the Syriac language into the context of the Aramaic language family and outlines its four successive periods in the Syriac literature (Old Syriac, Early Syriac, Classical Syriac and Post-Classical Syriac). The modern representatives of the Aramaic subgroup, not being directly related to Syriac and mostly spoken by Christian and Jewish communities in parts of modern Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran, are covered by Geoffrey Khan in the sixteenth chapter. Finally, Françoise Briquel-Chatonnet discusses material means of the transmission of the Syriac language (inscriptions and manuscripts) and the culture of writing.

The Syriac literature and the material culture of Late Antiquity are covered in the fourth, most extensive, part (pp. 293-580). The chapter by Jonathan Loopstra provides an introduction into the field of biblical translations into Syriac and traditions of biblical interpretation in West and East Syriac literature. Early Syriac literature, which includes anonymous writings (Odes of Solomon, Acts of Thomas), as well as The Laws of Countries by Bardaiṣan and his circle, and works of famous Ephrem the Syrian and Aphrahat, are presented in the contribution of Ute Possekel. Apart from this, the volume offers chapters on literature of various genres and content: Syriac hagiography (Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent) and historiography (Philip Wood), poetry (Sebastian P. Brock), the mystical movement in the Church of the East and its mystical literature (Adrian Pirtea), perception and further transmission of Greek philosophy in the Syriac world (John W. Watt), and translated and original works on medicine (Grigory Kessel). Material manifestations of the Syriac religious and secular life are discussed in contributions on the liturgical rites in the Syriac churches (Fr Baby Varghese), the architecture of Syriac churches (Widad Khoury), fine arts (Emma Loosley), and Syriac agriculture (Michael J. Decker). A very distinct chapter by Susan Ashbrook Harvey studies the role of women and children in Syriac Christianity. Syriac Christology and theological debates around it are outlined by Theresia Hainthaler.

The fifth and final part, with a somewhat misleading title 'Syriac Christianity Beyond the Ancient World' (pp. 583-796), deals with the history of the churches which came to exist as the result of the missionary activity of the Syriac churches in Central Asia (Mark Dickens), China (Hidemi Takahashi) and India (István Perczel) as well as with the history of Maronite Church (Shafiq Abouzayd). Beside that, the final part includes the contributions on a fruitful period of the Syriac literature, the so-called 'Syriac Renaissance' (12-13th centuries), by Dorothea Weltecke and Helen Younansardaroud, the history of Syriac communities and literature under the Mongols and the Ottoman Empire (Thomas A. Carlson), Syriac Christian minorities in the modern era (Heleen Murre-van den Berg) and the contemporary history of Christians in Iraq (Erica C. D. Hunter). The first editions of the Syriac Bible and the early centers of Syriac studies in Europe are covered in the chapter by Robert J. Wilkinson.

The volume is supplemented with three appendices (the list of the patriarchs of the Church of the East, the list of West Syrian patriarchs and maphrians; online resources on Syriac studies), index of maps and subject index.

'The Syriac World' is without a doubt a valuable and welcome contribution, which provides a summary of the current state of Syriac studies. The contributions are written by the scholars who specialize precisely in the subjects in question. The volume fills a gap in modern scholarship, since there are no comparable surveys. Le Monde syriaque (2017) by Françoise Briquel-Chatonnet and Muriel Debié 1 is considerably smaller than the present volume and covers a smaller range of topics. Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage (2011) 2 provides concise entries on key persons and phenomena of the Syriac world and, thus, is more of a reference book for Syriac studies rather than a comprehensive survey.

The present volume includes chapters not only on relatively well-known and studied subjects such as biblical translations, exegesis, early Syriac literature or historiography, but also makes such underrepresented topics as Syriac mystical literature or medicine accessible for non-specialists.

The diachronic maps developed by David A. Michelson and Ian Mladjov deserve a special mention. Each place marked on the maps has its own identification number, which is provided in the index of maps on pp. 824-834. With this number, the reader can find further information on a particular place through the online resource The Syriac Gazetteer. Moreover, the maps are issued under an open license and can be freely used and re-published.

The collection of academic online resources dedicated to Syriac studies and related fields in Appendix III promises to be very useful: not all of them are widely known among specialists, not to mention general readers.

However, it is perhaps not entirely honest to label the volume as "the complete survey of the Syriac culture". The selection of topics looks a bit random, and the content is distributed unevenly. Thus, certain subjects are addressed in several chapters, while other are treated only in passing or altogether neglected. For example, the history of the Church of the East is discussed in two chapters (8 and 12), but no contribution deals with the history of the Syriac Orthodox Church (Chapter 10 is concerned with another problem). Only one small section in Chapter 34 (pp. 700-701) mentions Syriac grammatical tradition. Syriac scientific and astrological writings are also almost completely ignored. Although the bibliography in some chapters is quite enough to satisfy the readers' curiosity, other chapters list but a few entries (e.g. Chapter 12 refers to ten works, half of which are primary sources).

There is no standard transcription of Syriac and Arabic words applied consistently throughout the book, which can be confusing for the untrained reader. Thus, we have an accurate scientific transcription as in kāṯoḇā (p. 223), a reduced one without denoting long vowels and/or spirants as in makkika (p. 91), gmīrūtā (p. 356) or suryaye (p. 157), a non-standard one as in maphryânâ (p. 124) or even a transliteration as in ḥbysh' (p. 92). Occasionally, a wrong transcription also occurs: malkā zkāyā wenasīhā (p. 37) should be malkā zakkāyā w naṣṣīḥā; qatolīqā demadnhā (p.37) should be qatolīqā d maḏnḥā.

The lack of standardization can also be observed in renderings of geographical and personal names. Cf. Jundishapur (p. 191) vs. Gundeshapur (p. 570) vs. Gondēshāpūr (p. 449); Ja'qub (p. 93) vs. Jacob (elsewhere) etc.

A book of 842 pages cannot be entirely devoid of typos and layout errors. I list some of them here. The name of the famous East Syriac monastery Beth 'Abe is mistakenly written as Beth 'Ebe on p. 197. Diatessaron, the Syriac gospel harmony, is placed under Old Testament translations on p. 296, which must be a layout issue. The proper title of an apologetic treatise of Eliya of Nisibis named on p. 703 as Kitāb Kitāb al-Mağālis should be Kitāb al-burhān 'alā ṣaḥīḥ al-̓īmān. This looks like a copy-paste issue.

Despite the critical remarks made above, 'The Syriac World' is a very significant and valuable work, which is certainly recommended to students of Syriac studies, to specialists in related fields, and to all who have genuine interest in this fascinating subject.

Authors and titles

Diachronic maps of Syriac cultures and their geographic contexts
Introduction (Daniel King)
Part I: Backgrounds
1. The eastern provinces of the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity (Muriel Debié)
2. The Sasanian Empire (Touraj Daryaee)
Part II: The Syriac world in Late Antiquity
3. The pre-Christian religions of the Syriac-speaking regions (John F. Healey)
4. The coming of Christianity to Mesopotamia (David G. K. Taylor)
5. Forms of the religious life and Syriac monasticism (Florence Jullien)
6. The establishment of the Syriac Churches (Volker Menze)
7. The Syriac Church denominations: an overview (Dietmar W. Winkler)
8. The Syriac world in the Persian Empire (Geoffrey Herman)
9. Judaism and Syriac Christianity (Michal Bar-Asher Siegal)
10. Syriac and Syrians in the later Roman Empire: questions of identity (Nathanael Andrade)
11. Early Syriac reactions to the rise of Islam (Michael Penn)
12. The Church of the East in the ʿAbassid Era (David Wilmshurst)
Part III: The Syriac language
13. The Syriac language in the context of the Semitic languages (Holger Gzella)
14. The Classical Syriac language (Aaron Michael Butts)
15. Writing Syriac: manuscripts and inscriptions (Françoise Briquel-Chatonnet)
16. The Neo-Aramaic dialects and their historical background (Gefforey Khan)
Part IV: Syriac literary, artistic, and material culture in Late Antiquity
17. The Syriac Bible and its interpretation (Jonathan Loopstra)
18. The emergence of Syriac literature to AD 400 (Ute Possekel)
19. Later Syriac poetry (Sebastian P. Brock)
20. Syriac hagiographic literature (Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent)
21. The mysticism of the Church of the East (Adrian Pirtea)
22. Theological doctrines and debates within Syriac Christianity (Theresia Hainthaler)
23. The liturgies of the Syriac Churches (Fr. Baby Varghese)
24. Historiography in the Syriac-speaking world, 300-1000 (Philip Wood)
25. Syriac philosophy (John W. Watt)
26. Syriac medicine (Grigory Kessel)
27. The material culture of the Syrian peoples in Late Antiquity and the evidence for Syrian wall paintings (Emma Loosley)
28. Churches in Syriac space: architectural and liturgical context and development (Widad Khoury)
29. Women and children in Syriac Christianity: sounding voices (Susan Ashbrook Harvey)
30. Syriac agriculture 350-1250 (Michael J. Decker)
Part V: Syriac Christianity beyond the ancient world
31. Syriac Christianity in Central Asia (Mark Dickens)
32. Syriac Christianity in China (Hidemi Takahashi)
33.Syriac Christianity in India (Istvan Perczel)
34.The renaissance of Syriac literature in the twelfth-thirteenth centuries (Dorothea Weltecke and Helen Younansardaroud)
35. Syriac in a diverse Middle East: from the Mongol Ilkhanate to Ottoman dominance, 1286-1517 (Thomas A. Carlson)
36. The Maronite Church (Shafiq Abouzayd)
37. The early study of Syriac in Europe (Robert J. Wilkinson)
38. Syriac identity in the modern era (Heleen Murre-van den Berg)
39. Changing demography: Christians in Iraq since 1991 (Erica C. D. Hunter)
I The patriarchs of the Church of the East
II West Syrian patriarchs and maphrians
III Online resources for the study of the Syriac world


1.   F. Briquel-Chatonnet, M. Debié. Le monde syriaque: sur les routes d'un christianisme ignoré. Les Belles Lettres, 2017.
2.   The Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage. Ed. Sebastian P. Brock et al. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2011.

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Alan Kim, Brill's Companion to German Platonism. Brill's companions to philosophy. Ancient philosophy, volume 3. Leiden: Brill, 2019. Pp. xi, 388. ISBN 9789004250673. €180,00.

Reviewed by William H. F. Altman (

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Publisher's Preview

This is a remarkably cohesive collection, and when its editor says at the start that since he could always gain clarity from his contributors' "patient 'defenses'" of what they had written—presumably in response to his "challenging comments" (cf. 349 n. 1)— and thus that "the relationship between editor and writer, I have found, may elude Plato's critique [sc. of writing in Phaedrus; see 187 n. 106]," we should probably take him literally when he cites Theaetetus 143a4-5 in Greek: "so that almost the whole discourse has been written by me." Alan Kim has already distinguished himself with Plato in Germany: Kant—Natorp—Heidegger (Sankt Augustin: Academia, 2010), an illuminating study of, in particular, the Marburg School's reading of Plato (with "the Marburg School," cf. 328 and 217 on the alleged topographical anomaly of "the Tübingen School") and if this collection's aim had been only to show the historical roots of its distinctive way of reading the dialogues and not of "German Platonism" generally, its cohesion would be welcome. Unfortunately, the collection aims to be broader than that, and as a direct result, its cohesion ends up becoming its principal weakness, not its strength.

Central to Kim's editorial conception are three divisions, the first and most important of which is subdivided in two. Ten of the collection's fourteen essays concern "the philosophical interpretation of Plato," organized around the distinction between "transcendent" and "transcendental" interpretations (2-3). The former views the Forms as "substances that really exist in a separate, higher, transcendent 'realm,'" while the latter—which the thinkers considered in six of this division's essays are espousing—holds, with Marburg, that "the Forms are a priori concepts akin to categorical functions, the transcendental conditions of possible experience." As if the 6-4 ratio were not revealing enough, two of the "proponents" of the "transcendent" view are Nietzsche and Heidegger, both of whom famously attacked Plato for holding it. But the collection's second division shows that Kim's is no simple brief for Marburg Neo-Kantianism (along with its historical antecedents), for it is the Tübingen School that emerges as the culmination of this division's attempt "to exhibit ways in which reflection on the activity of interpretation, on the one hand, and the substantive interpretation of Plato's dialogues, on the other hand, mutually determine each other; this is mainly pursued in the chapters on Schleiermacher, the Tübingen School, and Gadamer" (1). Since one of the chapters on Schleiermacher is Kim's translation of an essay by Thomas A. Szlezák, now the living lion of Tübingen, the unwritten writing was probably already on the wall when Kim claimed that "Plato criticized writing" in his Acknowledgements; in any case, the only thing that prevents the collection from being completely cohesive is an explicit claim that "the Great and the Small" and "the One" are, if not fully "transcendental" in the operative sense, then at least are not transcendent (more on this at the end).

Finally, the third division is confined to a single footnote in the Introduction, qualifying the editor's claim that "this volume provides an overview of how the German tradition varies the basic theme of soul knowing Forms." The note (at 2 n. 3) is to the phrase "provides an overview" and reads: "Unfortunately, one that is not exhaustive. Many other scholars, like Tennemann and Tiedemann, Trendelenburg, Hermann, Fischer, Zeller, and Wilamowitz . . . all deserve further exploration." What I am calling "the third division" is what is hereby excluded. What makes this exclusion disingenuous as well as unfortunate is that Tiedemann, Tennemann (165-84), Trendelenburg (334-5), and Hermann (187 and 335 n. 19) will be absorbed into the book's Tübingen-friendly cohesion, while the giants of Germany's post-Schleiermacher reception of Plato, none of whom would have embraced Natorp's famously tendentious "transcendental" reading (230; cf. 229 on Cohen), really are excluded. Ast, Socher, Gomperz, Pohlenz, and von Arnim are not even mentioned in this exclusionary footnote, while Zeller, Usener, Wilamowitz, Friedländer, and Jaeger are rarely mentioned outside of it. Were it not for the collection's programmatic cohesion, this would be understandable given the vast topic under consideration, but here the exclusion is unfortunate.

And all the more unfortunate because the scholarly quality of the individual chapters in the collection is remarkably high, and three of them are magisterial. Of the three chapters translated by Kim, those by Manfred Baum ("Kant and Plato: An Introduction") and Karl-Heinz Lembeck ("Plato-Reception in the Marburg School") constitute the collection's highpoint. Already illuminating on Hermann Cohen, Lembeck reaches an even higher level in discussing the later phase of Paul Natorp's encounter with Plato and, especially at the nodal point where the collection's first two divisions might be said to converge (243-45), he sheds light not only on how the transcendental approach of Marburg might have prepared the way for Tübingen—as opposed to the School's own historical self-fashioning (see 335, especially on Robin and Stenzel)—but also offers a refreshingly candid critique of the transcendental approach (244): "it misconstrues the ontological and metaphysical sense of the highest form in one-sided favor of its epistemological sense." And especially in the light of the common claim that Kant scarcely knew Plato at first hand (cf. 218 n. 5), Manfred Baum's essay, with its culminating proof that seminal passages in the first Kritik were inspired by Kant's reading of Phaedrus (125-30), shows that this brilliant expositor of Hegel is equally sensitive to his no less famous predecessor.

Against so high a standard, it is difficult to decide how to treat the other contributions, but after remarking that all of them are interesting and will be of value to those interested in their titular topics, I will note only that Richard Bett's "Nietzsche and Plato" is required reading for revisionists who try to find a Platonist in Nietzsche (or worse, a Nietzschean in Plato); that Bruce Rosenstock, the creator of "the revenant reading" of Plato's Menexenus , remains as original as ever (although for referring to Socrates in Phaedo as "a body-hating Pythagorean mystagogue," 89, he cannot be praised); that Claudia D'Amico's work is once again distinguished by her amazing capacity to create the most impressive bibliographies in the business; and that it is regrettable—but only in the context of the collection as a whole, for both essays are valuable in their own right—that the temporal appendix (or the third division, if you prefer) of the second part of the Parmenides figures so prominently in two of the four chapters, those of Robert Wicks, on Schopenhauer, and Francisco J. Gonzalez, on Heidegger (309-315). As for André Laks's essay on "Schleiermacher on Plato," I will remark only that it needs to have been considerably more sympathetic to the literary elements of Schleiermacher's reading of Plato than it is to serve as anodyne to what follows it, and that one of its several merits is the inclusion of Gunter Scholtz's "Schleiermacher und die Platonische Ideenlehre" in its bibliography (164). Kim would have done better to invite this unparalleled authority on Schleiermacher to contribute a chapter in place of Szlezák's tendentious contribution (see especially 179, 185, and 187 n. 106). Speaking as one who came late to Scholtz with "the vain repetitions" of Tübingen on Schleiermacher ringing in my ears as the unchallenged truth, his careful analysis of the Introduction to Sophist in particular (for its salutary influence on Laks, see 153-55, including 154 n. 40) was a revelation, and casts the school's programmatic enmity to Schleiermacher in an entirely new light.

Having made the dubious decision to invite Szlezák to write about Schleiermacher—anybody who has read anything by the scholars of Tübingen already knows full well what he will say about both Phaedrus and Schleiermacher, for they say the same things about both ad nauseam —Kim needed to be very careful in deciding who should write the chapter about the Tübingen School. In truth there is no shortage of German Plato scholars—Michael Erler springs to mind at their head—who could have done so in an informed and even-handed way. Despite his own adherence to the School (341-2), there are clearly excellent and disinterested aspects of Vittorio Hösle's essay on this topic. Among those that stand out are: a useful observation about "Plato's Use of Fallacy" at 337 n. 29, the just appraisals of the unique importance of H. J. Krämer's Arete bei Platon und Aristoteles (Heidelberg, 1959) (336-9), along with the equally unique but very different strengths of K. Gaiser (339-40), and especially his triadic typology of Socratic, Parmenidean, and Pythagorean influences on Plato as embodied in the characters Socrates, the Eleatic Stranger, and Timaeus (339-40). But another triad, borrowed from G. Reale, outweighs these excellences: the party-line division between Ancient Platonists, Schleiermacher's Romanticism, and the Tübingen School (331-2; cf. Szlezák's reference to "the temporary victory of the anti-esoteric Plato- picture" at 185). As indicated by Hösle's best insight, one of the great contributions of German Platonism is the post-Schleiermacher attention to Plato's use of characters, and a chapter on this development would not only have been very useful, but necessary. Unfortunately, it is its absence that becomes necessary in the light of an ongoing valorization of Tübingen. Hösle begins his last paragraph (345; emphasis mine): "These are the strongest arguments against the Tübingen School and their rebuttal." (And worse is still to come, when "incapacity," "mistrust," "dislike," and "lack" are used to show that "resistance against the Tübingen School is not exclusively rational.") Here, the special pleading embodied in the collection as an integrated whole becomes obvious. As a result, its final essay—a splendid and path- breaking analysis of Gadamer's tergiversations on Plato in historical context by François Renaud, which for originality and insight equals the contributions of Baum and Lembeck—although magisterial in itself, is turned by its position into an inadequate response to the apparently irrefutable claims of Tübingen.

What Kim has offered us is best understood in the context of Hösle's party-line triad. By helping us to see the historical roots of the transcendental reading (this is the collection's indisputable merit as a collection) while surrendering half of the much smaller space allotted to its transcendent alternative to two of its avowed enemies, he has suggested that it is Tübingen, despite its metaphysical trappings, that is the culmination and marks the triumph of the transcendental reading.1 In response to Szlezák, Hösle, and Kim, then, I will close by drawing attention to the most significant frame-breaking moment in the book, where the editor—in his otherwise excellent essay "Phenomenological Platonism: Husserl and Plato"—steps out of mere "reception" and tries to make the case that Husserl and Plato see things the same way (284-8). Of the two texts from Plato that Kim uses to make his "transcendental" case, the passage from the arithmetic lesson of Republic 7 is especially important in relation to the Prinzipienlehre and thus to Hösle's alleged "rebuttal" of "the strongest arguments" against Tübingen. Much stronger than the claim that "τιμιώτερα at Phaedrus 278" refers to "the One and the Great and the Small" (338) is the fact that the words ἀχώριστά γε δύο, ἀλλ' ἕν at Republic 524c1 do so much more plausibly, for what Kim (see 285 nn. 93 and 94) and Tübingen miss is that "the Great and the Small" is the dyadic indistinctiveness of the un-synthesized manifold of sense perception—and once having been made objective, the direct ancestor of Aristotle's material principle (339 n. 35)—while "the One" is not a transcendent Form, but rather the humble monad of arithmetic, which, however useful it may be for cultivating in the student a transcendental awareness , is merely a springboard toward the transcendent Idea of the Good.


1.   In Hösle's essay, note "quasi-transcendental" (342) and "renders the world intelligible" there and on 344. On the other hand, compare Szlezák's rejection of "infinite progression" (also the comment on C. J. Rowe at 187 n. 196, and on "Italian scholarship" at 187 n. 107) with the last sentence of Hösle (345).

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Paul T. Keyser, John Scarborough (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Science and Medicine in the Classical World. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. Pp. xv, 1045. ISBN 9780199734146. $175.00.

Reviewed by Jane Draycott, University of Glasgow (

Version at BMCR home site

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

The ancient history of STEMM can be a challenging subject to pursue at an undergraduate or postgraduate level, and even experienced classicists or ancient historians can struggle to engage with the more obscure and arcane corners of the myriad fields involved. For starters, many of the relevant ancient texts are not easily accessible; most have yet to be translated into English, let alone made readily available as a volume through the Loeb Classical Library or any other entry-level imprint such as Penguin Classics or Oxford World Classics, although a translation and commentary may be available in another modern language. Looking beyond translations and commentaries, in-depth scholarly treatments of these texts are not abundant, at least in comparison with more canonical authors and their works, and a scholarly consensus regarding the question of how to treat them has not yet been satisfactorily reached.1 Thankfully, over the last decade there has been a concerted effort to attempt to render this sub-discipline of Classics more accessible, despite these ongoing significant impediments to the enterprise. As of 2014, the Oxford Bibliographies Online initiative now includes entries on Greek and Roman Science, and Greek and Roman Technology. Wiley Blackwell now offers A Companion to Science, Technology, and Medicine in Ancient Greece and Rome in two volumes (published in 2016). Oxford University Press first brought out the Oxford Handbook of Engineering and Technology in the Classical World (published in 2008), and now seeks to complement it with the Oxford Handbook of Science and Medicine in the Classical World (published in 2018).

The Oxford Handbook of Science and Medicine in the Classical World showcases the work of forty-six scholars from around the world, and comprises an Introduction followed by forty-nine chapters, and concluded with a general index. Each individual chapter is followed by an often quite extensive bibliography featuring multilingual academic work published up to 2016. In the review that follows, due to the large number of chapters, I shall not attempt to cover each one individually but rather focus on particular points of interest.

The volume's stated aim is to appraise science and scientific thinking across thirteen centuries, approximately 650 BCE to 650 CE, although individual chapters, particularly those in the first part of the volume, cover much broader time periods than that. It takes a rather different approach to the subject than its predecessors (and competitors) and in doing so carves out a substantial niche for itself in this newly crowded marketplace: despite the chronological and geographical parameters imposed by its title, it covers the theory and practice of science and medicine far beyond the borders of ancient Greece and Rome and makes a concerted effort throughout the volume to trace the spread of ideas between neighbouring civilisations and their development through time. A brief introductory chapter (Keyser) sets out the scope of the volume and offers a series of justifications for the approach taken, starting from the position that there is such a thing as science in classical antiquity and it is not anachronistic to approach it as such, and seeks to be inclusive regarding its coverage of anything that might reasonably be classed as a science or science-adjacent (e.g. geography, philosophy in respect of Epicureanism and Stoicism and ideas about nature).

The first part of the volume – Ancient Scientific Traditions beyond Greece and Rome – comprises four sections that focus on Mesopotamia (three chapters – Hoyrup; Rochberg; Scurlock), Egypt (three chapters – Imhausen; Quack; David), India (two chapters – Knudsen; Yamashita) and China (two chapters – Volkov; Fengxian). While the varied and problematic nature of the literary and documentary evidence that survives from these periods, and the consequential difficulty in attempting any sort of reconstruction is noted in each section and chapter, the continuity between the sciences of these civilisations and those of the classical ones is consistently highlighted. All of these chapters do a creditable job of synthesising their material and making it readily comprehensible for classicist or ancient historian readers venturing far outside their own disciplines, perhaps for the first time.

The second part – Early Greek Science – comprises four chapters (Gregory; Zhmud; Kaplan; Craik). The somewhat problematic tendency of both ancient and modern scholars working on ancient science to lump all early Greek scientific thinkers together, something particularly prevalent in contemporary narrative accounts of the development of ancient Greek science found in entry-level textbooks and sourcebooks, is flagged up immediately, and in an attempt to rectify this, the authors, their works, and the evidence for both that survives is presented systematically, with particularly significant and influential treatments of them (e.g. Littré's foundational work on the Hippocratic Corpus; Kennedy's recent theories regarding Plato's works) highlighted.

The third part – Hellenistic Greek Science – comprises sixteen chapters (Althoff; Tieleman; Acerbi; Bowen; Rihll; Cooper; Keyser; Geus and King; Hagel; Thibodeau; Webster) with four devoted to aspects of medicine (Stok; Scarborough; Grant; Bliquez). It is the most extensive section of the volume, and contains contributions that one would not necessarily expect to find included under such a section heading (e.g. agronomy, pharmacology, surgical instruments). The approaches taken by the chapters vary. For example, in one particularly successful chapter, astrology is comprehensively covered in a way that manages to include not just a general overview of the subject itself, but also the main surviving sources, a potted history which incorporates key episodes in which astrology was highly influential, ancient negative opinions of astrology and its veracity, and a detailed case study in the form of the emperor Hadrian's horoscope (Cooper). In the chapter focused on alchemy, the materials involved are the centre of attention, while in the chapter focused on agriculture, the practical application of the theory is foregrounded, and in the chapter focused on surgical instruments, the literary and archaeological evidence are presented in tandem.

The fourth part – Greco-Roman Science – comprises eleven chapters (Thibodeau; Gordon; Tieleman; Fraser; Leunissen; Evans; Keyser) with four devoted to aspects of medicine (Caldwell; Beagon; Scarborough; Johnston). As with the second part, the fourth part opens by advising caution in approaching ancient and modern scholarly accounts of scientific thinking in this period and their presentation of Roman science as unoriginal, and highlighting the Roman tendency toward 'inverse plagiarism', which enabled Roman scientists to undertake innovative work while claiming an intellectual precedent for it. Attempts are made to undermine persistent stereotypes and provide more nuanced portrayals of ancient Roman thinkers (e.g. Epicureans, physicians).

The fifth and final part – Late Antique and Early Byzantine Science – comprises eight chapters (Siorvanes; Bernard; Griffin; Kuelzer; Viano; Slaveva-Griffin; Paniagua; Cilliers). This section focuses predominantly on the scholarship of the late antique period and the way that late antique scholars engaged with the works of their predecessors, such as through the reception of ancient theories and the production of commentaries on ancient texts. The chapter on Byzantine geography is particularly illuminating in its coverage of the expansion of geographical writing beyond the standard geographical treatises, such as exploration literature written by merchants, pilgrims, and missionaries, travel guides in the form of itineraries, periploi, and maps (Kuelzer), while the chapter on medical encyclopaedias opens with the note that to date medical encyclopaedias have not received much (or any) attention from scholars working in Byzantine studies, whereas they have received a considerable amount of attention from scholars working in the history of medicine, and then proceeds through a survey of the authors and their works, before concluding with a proposal of future directions for their study (Slaveva-Griffin).

While the volume seeks to be broadly consistent in its coverage, inevitably some types of science are better attested than others (e.g. mathematics, astronomy and astrology, medicine), both in particular historical periods and geographical locations, and across the period in its entirety. Perhaps unsurprisingly, different chapters take rather different approaches to their subjects —in some, certain significant individuals receive extensive coverage (e.g. Pythagoras, Plato, Hippocrates, Epicurus, Scribonius Largus, Galen); in others certain collections of texts are surveyed. Some chapters concentrate on particular individuals (e.g. Aristotle, Ptolemy). Some chapters are significantly more technical than others (e.g. several of those dealing with mathematics, astronomy, music, and optics go into considerable detail and incorporate explanatory case studies supplemented by a range of diagrams). There is also considerable variation in the breadth and depth of bibliographies that accompany each of the chapters; for example, Craik's chapter on Hippocrates and early Greek medicine is prefaced by a useful bibliographic survey of work that has been undertaken on the Hippocratic Corpus, while Webster's chapter on optics and vision is helpfully divided into sections. By noting this variety, I do not mean to criticise; the nature of the surviving evidence makes uniformity across all sections and chapters impossible, and the editors have done an excellent job producing as cohesive a volume as this which can be read in its entirety or dipped into as required.

It is clear that certain points of commonality can be observed running through the entire period of thirteen centuries, and these themes have been highlighted accordingly – for example, the interplay between theory and practice, or the importance of personal observation, or the role of methods of transmission. The importance of approaching and appreciating ancient science on its own terms, rather than attempting to judge it by contemporary standards with the inevitable result of finding it wanting (this is particularly pertinent in respect of types of ancient science, such as astrology or alchemy, that have fallen out of favour over the course of the centuries, and as a result been unfairly maligned), is reiterated throughout, rightly and helpfully so, bearing in mind the potential undergraduate and postgraduate student users of this handbook. I shall certainly be adding this to the essential reading sections of the bibliographies of the courses on ancient science, technology, and medicine that I teach at the University of Glasgow, and I enthusiastically recommend that others in similar positions do the same.

Authors and titles

'Introduction' - Paul T. Keyser
Part One: Ancient Scientific Traditions beyond Greece and Rome
A1. Mesopotamia
'Mesopotamian Mathematics' - Jens Høyrup
'Astral Sciences of Ancient Mesopotamia' - Francesca Rochberg
'Mesopotamian Beginnings for Greek Science?' - JoAnn Scurlock
A2. Egypt
'Mathematics in Egypt' - Annette Imhausen
'Astronomy in Ancient Egypt' - Joachim Friedrich Quack
'Egyptian Medicine' - Rosalie David
A3. India
'Mathematics in India until 650 CE' - Toke Lindegaard Knudsen
'Sanskrit Medical Literature' - Tsutomu Yamashita
A4. China
'Ancient Chinese Mathematics' - Alexei Volkov
'Astral Sciences in Ancient China' - Xu Fengxian
Part Two: Early Greek Science
'Pythagoras and Plato' - Andrew Gregory
'Early Mathematics and Astronomy' - Leonid Zhmud
'Early Greek Geography' - Philip G. Kaplan
'Hippocrates and Early Greek Medicine' - Elizabeth Craik
Part Three: Hellenistic Greek Science
'Aristotle, the Inventor of Natural Science' - Jochen Althoff
'Epicurus and His Circle: Philosophy, Medicine, and the Sciences' - Teun Tieleman
'Hellenistic Mathematics' - Fabio Acerbi
'Hellenistic Astronomy' - Alan C. Bowen
'Hellenistic Geography from Ephorus Through Strabo' - Duane W. Roller
'Mechanics and Pneumatics in the Classical World' - T. E. Rihll
'Medical Sects: Herophilus, Erasistratus, Empiricists' - Fabio Stok
'Astrology: The Science of Signs in the Heavens' - Glen M. Cooper
'The Longue Durée of Alchemy' - Paul T. Keyser
'Paradoxography' - Klaus Geus and Colin Guthrie King
'Music and Harmonic Theory' - Stefan Hagel
'Ancient Agronomy as a Literature of Best Practices' - Philip Thibodeau
'Optics and Vision' - Colin Webster
'Pharmacology in the Early Roman Empire: Dioscorides and His Multicultural Gleanings' - John Scarborough
'Dietetics: Regimen for Life and Health' - Mark Grant
'Greco-Roman Surgical Instruments: The Tools of the Trade' - Lawrence J. Bliquez
Part Four: Greco-Roman Science
'Traditionalism and Originality in Roman Science' - Philip Thibodeau
'Science for Happiness: Epicureanism in Rome, the Bay of Naples, and Beyond' - Pamela Gordon
'Roman Medical Sects: The Asclepiadeans, the Methodists, and the Pneumatists' - Lauren Caldwell
'Science and Medicine in the Roman Encyclopedists: Patronage for Praxis' - Mary Beagon
'Stoicism and the Natural World: Philosophy and Science' - Teun Tieleman
'Scribonius Largus and Friends' - John Scarborough
'Distilling Nature's Secrets: The Sacred Art of Alchemy' - Kyle Fraser
'Physiognomy' - Mariska Leunissen
'Galen and His System of Medicine' - Ian Johnston
'Ptolemy' - James Evans
'Science in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries CE: An Aporetic Age' - Paul T. Keyser
Part Five: Late Antique and Early Byzantine Science
'Plotinus and Neoplatonism: The Creation of a New Synthesis' - Lucas Siorvanes
'Greek Mathematics and Astronomy in Late Antiquity' - Alain Bernard
'The Greek Neoplatonist Commentators on Aristotle' - Michael Griffin
'Byzantine Geography' - Andreas Kuelzer
'Byzantine Alchemy, or the Era of Systematization' - Cristina Viano
'Byzantine Medical Encyclopedias and Education' - Svetla Slaveva-Griffin
'Late Encyclopedic Approaches to Knowledge in Latin Literature' - David Paniagua
'Medical Writing in the Late Roman West' - Louise Cilliers


1.   On the issue of how best to engage with ancient scientific writing, see most recently Liba Taub (2017) Science Writing in Greco-Roman Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 1-17.

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Thursday, August 29, 2019


Tayfun Bilgin, Officials and Administration in the Hittite World. Studies in Ancient Near Eastern records, Volume 21. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2018. Pp. xv, 507. ISBN 9781501516627. €94,95.

Reviewed by Trevor Bryce, University of Queensland (

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This monumental work of Hittite scholarship has evolved out of a PhD dissertation by its author, Tayfun Bilgin, on the topic of bureaucracy in the administration of the Hittite world. Bilgin's primary objective in the current book is a comprehensive investigation of the administrative organization of the Hittite state throughout its 500-year history. He seeks to achieve this through an analysis of the most important offices of the Hittite administration by means of a prosopographical examination of their incumbents, and linked with this, an overall evaluation of the state's administrative structure. As he notes in his Introduction, a number of studies have already been devoted to the high offices of the Hittite state and their occupants, but his is the first that undertakes so comprehensive a study of the state's administrative organization, as well as providing some important updating of the data, especially textual data, and scholarship on which the earlier studies were based. Textual sources are used from all periods of Hittite history, with particular emphasis on (but by no means confined to) those of direct relevance to various groups of officials, offices, and titles, and the roles and responsibilities assigned to the office-bearers. An analysis of the social structure of the state lies outside the scope of this study, as does a discussion of the Hittite vassal system.

After setting out in his Introduction the book's chief parameters, the methodologies which are used, a brief survey of the source material on which the study is based, and the period encompassed by the study, Bilgin divides his book into six chapters. Confusingly for the reader, the chapter numbers are misaligned with their titles. For example, 'Chapter 2' on p. 9 should read 'Chapter 1' and for 'the sixth chapter' on p, 10, read 'the fifth chapter'. All chapter numbers referred to in the Introduction should thus be shifted up one. I have done this in the discussion that follows. A brief Chapter 6, 'Summary Conclusions' should be added to Bilgin's list. (All chapter numbers and titles are correctly aligned in the Table of Contents and in the main body of the text.)

Chapter 1 discusses, briefly, the role of the royal family within the state's administrative structure. The main intention of this chapter is to pave the way for the officials of the state dealt with in Chapter 2. Discussion in Chapter 1 is restricted to the King, Queen, and Crown Prince. Chapter 2 deals with the state's provincial system, beginning with an account of the rulers of the 'Appanage Kingdoms'. Defined as several regions bordering the central territory of the state, each of these kingdoms was ruled by a member of the royal family, bearing the title 'king' and typically a son of the Great King. The second half of the chapter is devoted to officials defined as Governors of the Hittite administration. These were officials who were assigned authority over administrative units within the central territory. Both parts of the chapter are rounded off with tables providing summary lists of the attested officials.

Chapter 3 discusses the 'Top-level Offices of the Hittite State Administration', in a roughly hierarchical order, beginning with the extremely important office of GAL.MEŠEDI. An account of all known holders of the offices is followed by a general discussion of the offices. The chapter ends with a study of Hittite military commanders, through the Old Hittite, Early Empire, and Empire periods. As Bilgin notes, 'Warfare being an integral aspect of not only the Hittite state but of most of the political entities of the second millennium BCE, it is not surprising that the military positions are the most prominent offices within the administrative system' (p. 345).

Chapter 4 is devoted to a study of the state's administrative documents, divided into Old Hittite and Empire period texts. The content of each text is summarized, with attention focused on its purpose and significance, including, for example, the different types of information the texts provide about how state officials conduct, or should conduct, their portfolios. Among the best known texts of the Old Hittite period texts are the Palace Chronicle (CTH 8-9),1 the Telipinu Edict (CTH19), and the Instructions for the Royal Bodyguard (CTH 262). A discussion of the substantially more numerous Empire Period texts follows. These include a range of oaths and instructions for various officials. The chapter concludes with a treatment of the often very instructive Land Donation Texts (CTH 222) and a group of Inventory Documents (CTH 240- 250).

Chapter 5, 'A Collective Analysis of the Offices and Officials', brings together the results of the analyses in the previous chapters. It deals first with the 'Dual Offices', i.e. the attestation of a number of offices in pairs, which Bilgin notes was a feature of the administrative organization that seems to have appeared in the late Old Kingdom. This section is followed by one on Continuity and Discontinuity in Hittite Offices, an account of changes that took place in the Hittite state as the administrative structure developed and grew substantially beyond the confines of the Old Kingdom administration. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the evolving hierarchy of the Hittite court, and Hittite administration as a patrimonial organization.

Chapter 6 provides three pages of Summary Conclusions.

Of a total of five Appendices, all in Table form, three provide Witness Lists derived from texts discussed by Bilgin, one a Tribute List from the city of Ugarit, and one a list of frequently mentioned titles/designations of office-bearers. These tables supplement the thirty which appear throughout the book, listing for the most part various officials and title-holders. The nine Figures itemized at the beginning of the book include seal impressions, family trees, and a map of Hittite geography.

This meticulously researched study, greatly aided by Bilgin's access to the Chicago Hittite Dictionary catalog, provides an extremely useful research tool for all subsequent studies not only of the bureaucratic structure of the Hittite state, but, more indirectly, of Hittite political and social studies in general. While acknowledging earlier accounts of Hittite officialdom and the state bureaucracy, Bilgin rightly claims that his new book is much more comprehensive than these, and frequently provides important updates to data on which they are based. He does not underestimate the complexities of his task, particularly with regard to establishing the extent to which certain offices were tied to specific periods and the difficulty in establishing for many offices any form of diachronic patterns. The lack of a firm dating system for Hittite chronology is obviously a core problem for comprehensive studies of the Hittite world.

This last point needs to be stressed to any scholars for whom Hittite studies is peripheral to their main field of research. Several chronological systems have been proposed for Hittite history,2 and the absolute dates given by Bilgin throughout his book reflect but one of these (the so-called Middle Chronology), albeit the most commonly accepted one. This will be obvious to Hittite scholars. However, a short section on the problems of Hittite chronology would be useful for non-specialists – especially those who may attempt to align the dates in the book with the chronologies of other Bronze Age civilizations.

The range of dates suggested by palaeographic analysis are, as Bilgin states, often very broad and still open to debate. These frequently lead to problems in the dating of the script of texts, and thus the texts themselves and the information they contain.3 There is also the problem of homonyms, which crop up many times in the texts. With a number of these homonyms and without secure dating in many cases, we often cannot be sure whether repeated attestations of a particular homonym reflect multiple references to a particular individual, or separate references to two or more individuals, perhaps of different periods. Bilgin is well aware of this problem and discusses each case as it arises. To make a general point here, Bilgin's book goes much further than merely recording information. Wherever appropriate, he engages in a balanced debate on alternative opinions on a particular problem before reaching a conclusion of his own.

The name Kuruntiya provides one of the most problematic instances of determining whether two or more persons shared a particular homonym. The name appears in the Annals of the Hittite king Mursili II, in the so-called Tawagalawa letter, and in various documents relating to Tarhuntašša and the reign of Tudhaliya IV. Bilgin in his treatment of the persons so called (pp. 58-62) settles for two Kuruntiyas. The first he identifies as the man referred to in Mursili's Annals, and all other references he ascribes to a second Kuruntiya, treaty partner of Tudhaliya IV and ruler of Tarhuntašša. The correct attribution of all references, from the Tawagalawa letter on, to one Kuruntiya obviously depends on the time gap between the letter and the later references to Kuruntiya. If Muwattalli rather than Hattusili (III) was the author of the letter, as Oliver Gurney has argued (contra general scholarly consensus),4 it is more likely that the Kuruntiya referred to in it was the same person mentioned in Mursili II's Annals rather than the later appanage ruler. We might also note that as an alternative to the common view that Kuruntiya's 'Great King' inscription at Hatip, and in three seal impressions found in Hattuša, indicate a rebellion by Kuruntiya against the Hittite Great King (p. 61), Itamar Singer5 suggests that Kuruntiya's apparent use of the title of Great Kingship indicates a power-sharing arrangement, a kind of diarchy, between himself and Tudhaliya.

The book contains only one, very basic, map of Hittite political geography (Fig 1, p. 37). Much more useful would have been a small series of maps illustrating various stages in the Hittite world's development from a small kingdom to an empire, which at its peak extended from Anatolia's west coast through northern Syria to the Euphrates. These could have been inserted at appropriate places within the text, with different regions of the administrative system distinguished from each other by lighter and darker shades of grey or by various hatch patterns. Depending on the periods to which they are dated, the maps in question would cover Hittite home territory, the larger territories bordering on it (e.g. the Upper Land), the smaller border territories (e.g. Tapikka), the appanage kingdoms, the vassal states, including those that shifted into and out of Hittite control and influence, the independent Anatolian territories, and the foreign powers whose rulers were of equal status with the Hittite Great King.

Tayfun Bilgin's book makes an impressive contribution to scholarship on the Hittite world, as studies of this important Near Eastern Bronze Age civilization enter their second century. It should become a well-used reference tool by all students and scholars of Hittite history – social and political as well as purely administrative. In broader terms, it provides a valuable source of reference for all students and scholars engaged in comparative studies of the Bronze Age Near Eastern world.


1.   E. Laroche, Catalogue des textes hittites. Paris, 1966.
2.   For a concise account of Hittite chronology, see T. R. Bryce, The Kingdom of the Hittites, Oxford, 2005, 375-82.
3.   On the basis of changing palaeographic data, Hittite texts are divided into Old, Middle and New Scripts. See Th. van den Hout, 'A Century of Hittite Text Dating and the Origins of the Hittite Script', Incontri Linguistici 32, 2009, 11-35.
4.   O. R. Gurney, 'The Authorship of the Tawagalawas Letter', Silva Anatolica. Anatolian Studies Presented to Macief Popko on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday, ed. P. Taracha, Warsaw, Agade, 2002, 133-41. Note that Bilgin's reference to Gurney's article (p. 59, n. 149 and p. 473 in the Bibliography) is wrong, and needs to be corrected as in my reference here.
5.   I. Singer, 'Great Kings of Tarhuntašša', Studi Micenei ed Egeo-Anatolici 38, 1996, 63-71.

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Mauro Tulli, Poesia e prosa di età ellenistica: In ricordo di Roberto Pretagostini. Consulta Universitaria del Greco. Seminari, 1. Pisa; Roma: Fabrizio Serra Editore, 2017. Pp. 88. ISBN 9788862279604. €28,00 (pb).

Reviewed by Jan Kwapisz, University of Warsaw (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review. The reviewer wishes to apologize for its tardiness.]

The slim volume under review is one of a number of Gedenkschriften dedicated to the memory of the internationally renowned Hellenist Roberto Pretagostini (1949–2006), one resulting from a workshop held on the tenth anniversary of his premature demise. Like probably all contributors to it, presumably with the exception of its editor, I did not get to know Roberto Pretagostini in person, thus I obviously have nothing to say about his compelling personality. Yet perhaps the main reason why his memory is still cherished by his many friends and disciples, and certainly why it is so dear to me, is—let me begin with a programmatic statement—that his scholarly output has come to embody a certain ideal of doing philology; a philology that starts with years-long efforts to learn enough Greek and Latin to make some actual sense of Pindar or Tacitus—and never really becomes anything else. In a world in which one can make a career as a scholar of classical literature without actually taking pains to master one of the classical languages (that is, beyond familiarizing oneself with a bunch of catchy phrases in Greek or Latin and knowing classical authors from what they print on the right side of those convenient volumes that come as handsome green and red hardbacks), or without even getting to study the literature of the Greeks and the Romans, such an 'old-fashioned' way of practising philology is at times regarded as unexciting pedantry. Yet there is nothing unexciting, (overly) pedantic or old-fashioned about Roberto Pretagostini's scholarship on Hellenistic poetry, which never loses sight of a broader picture, and even his more technical studies on the metre of Greek poetry, besides showcasing his brilliant philological skills, hold broader relevance for those interested in ancient poetry insofar as they explain the mechanisms of how it worked. The volume under review furnishes clear testimony to the lasting force of the intellectual charm of doing philology the old way, and what is quite remarkable is that it does so by exclusively comprising the work of scholars at an early stage of their careers.

In a more practical sense, this volume is the first in a series founded to showcase the impact of the Consulta Universitaria del Greco, an association created in 1981 to promote the study of Greek language and literature in Italy; Roberto Pretagostini was its president in 1995–1999 and 2001–2005, and the current president is Mauro Tulli, the editor of the volume under review. The book collects six papers presented at a workshop held at La Sapienza on 2nd December 2016. These essays attempt to fulfil a double function of addressing some specific issues related to Hellenistic poetry or prose and at once introducing the authors' broader projects from which these studies stem.

As such, when viewed as a whole they allow some broader reflection even despite treating an array of largely unconnected themes. Even if these will not necessarily become a must-read for specialists in the respective fields, these are six fine pieces of philology, each not without its merits. They exhibit a number of appealing approaches and/or bring a number of fine, and at times important, observations on various aspects of Hellenistic literature, although one would expect some of these points to receive a fuller treatment in the larger projects that these relatively brief discussions herald. Altogether, this elegant libellus nicely illustrates both the persisting robustness of Hellenic studies in Italy and the stunning fertility of the upsurge in interest in Hellenistic literature in the last three decades—the relatively few veterans of the revolution are now being followed by quite a crowd of strenuous successors. From the viewpoint of the academy, this is as much a promise as a challenge, for this aspiring group will need somewhere to do the job they have been taught to do.

Further general points. I find it noteworthy that whereas in his work on Hellenistic poetry, Roberto Pretagostini focused mostly on Callimachus and Theocritus, the two big names are all but absent from the collection under review. One paper is devoted to Aratus and two to Apollonius of Rhodes, but even within the latter pair one also explores medical prose, and the remaining three essays deal with texts rarely approached by scholars of Hellenistic poetry (though this volume proves that they have clear relevance to it): treatises on musical theory, the pseudo-Platonic Eryxias, and the epigraphic Erythraean Paean to Asclepius. Rather than seeing here a dawning 'kill your idols' movement, I suspect that these approaches result from the recognition of the fact that new insights into long-familiar texts are possible either when these texts receive careful attention from one trained in the use of a battery of modern exegetical tools (not to mention expert knowledge of the classical languages) or, more spectacularly, when their contextualization is deepened through introducing a new text into a picture.

The first and the last essays in the collection apply the former methodology. In the opening discussion, Pietro Massari makes a contribution to the study of the intratextuality of Apollonius of Rhodes by (successfully) attempting to link two geographical passages (2.1207–15 and 4.514–21) and also arguing (less convincingly, to my mind) for their Dionysiac allusiveness. I note that two notable features of the poetics of Lycophron's Alexandra, namely its geographical erudition and numerous fancy parallelisms,1 are strongly reminiscent both of the learned geography of the Argonautica as characterized by Massari and in particular of the way in which the two passages he discusses are linked. Thus his paper becomes an invitation to broader reflection on Hellenistic poetics.

In the volume's closing discussion, Matteo Rossetti's concern is with second-person utterances in Aratus; in its few pages, which deal solely with Arat. 1–732, the author manages to offer a number of fine observations on the fascinating topic of the Hellenistic text-reader dialogue. Again, this should be viewed as a tantalizing opening to something more. For instance, I would be curious to learn what function Rossetti would assign, within the strategy of Aratus' didacticism that he sets out to characterize, to Aratus' famous acrostich at lines 783–7.

The appeal of the remaining four contributions is, as I said, in how new approaches to Hellenistic literature, including its canon, result here from exploring little-studied sources. Martina Peloso revisits Apollonius of Rhodes by discussing those passages of the Argonautica that are somehow concerned with the physiology of puberty. I wonder whether the fact that this is poetry about adolescents makes it also an ancient contribution to the young adult fantasy genre—how much do Medea and Katniss Everdeen have in common? At any rate, this paper is at its best and most novel where it fruitfully confronts Apollonius with Greek medical prose—another recent instance of simultaneously exploring ancient scholarship and Hellenistic poetry.2

Marco Donato affords us a glimpse into his Paris–Pisa PhD thesis (completed last year), which provides an edition, with commentary, of the pseudo-Platonic Eryxias. This dialogue has been dated to the third century BC, which means that it was conceived in a milieu shared with the greatest cultural creators of the Hellenistic age. Is this fact somehow reflected in Eryxias? Yes, it is; by unveiling the literary history behind the imagery of wasps and a wasps' nest in Eryxias, Donato shows that a characteristically Hellenistic poetics of blending literary traditions was not unfamiliar to its author. This is an exciting approach, and if more of it is to be found in Donato's disseration, every scholar of Hellenistic poetry should be hoping it will soon appear in print.

Ambra Tocco discusses, by aptly embracing the currently in-vogue concept of letteratura sommersa, the little we know, owing to later sources (mostly Porphyry's commentary on Ptolemy's Harmonics), about the Hellenistic theory of harmonics. The topic may not have universal appeal, but the essay offers a tantalizing if concise glimpse into a significant aspect of Hellenistic intellectual life and invites a reflection on how its vibrant traditions came to be lost and forgotten. As such, this discussion has broader relevance for those interested in Hellenistic culture.

Finally, Antonella Fusari's concern is with the Erythraean Paean to Asclepius, a piece of cultic poetry attested by several epigraphic testimonies dating from, on the one hand, the fourth century BC and, on the other, the Imperial age. Strictly speaking, therefore, we have no straightforward evidence of Hellenistic interest in the Paean, although its relevance to the study of Hellenistic poetry (and hence the volume under review) is obvious. A part of this paper that feels particularly fresh is where Fusari suggests that the cultic context in which the Paean may originally have been composed was that of Epidaurus. To my mind, this proposal deserves recognition, even though the discussion, like a large part of the volume, feels as if it was meant to whet one's appetite for more rather than provide definitive solutions to the problems posed.3

The volume boasts the usual elegance of Fabrizio Serra's publications. There is no index, but none is necessary in a miscellaneous collection of less than a hundred pages. The quality of the editing is on the whole very high, I noticed only a few typos; my only quibble is that the Greek is not always translated. I note that the series' second volume, also edited by Mauro Tulli, appeared last year; it is titled In dialogo con Omero and deals with various aspects of the reception of Homer in Antiquity and Byzantium.

Authors and titles

Pietro Massari, 'Il fulmine e il Caucaso in Apollonio Rodio'
Martina Peloso, 'Mania erotica e crisi puberali nelle Argonautiche di Apollonio Rodio'
Marco Donato, 'Socrate e le vespe siracusane: epos e commedia nel proemio dell'Erissia'
Ambra Tocco, 'Pensare i suoni, descrivere la musica: logos e aisthesis nella scienza armonica di età ellenistica'
Antonella Fusari, 'La lunga fortuna di un inno: il Peana di Eritre e i suoi contesti di esecuzione'
Matteo Rossetti, 'La funzione didascalica degli appelli al lettore nei Fenomeni di Arato'


1.   For the latter, see E. Żybert, 'Symmetry and verbal parallelisms in Lycophron's Alexandra', Eos 106 (2019), forthcoming.
2.   For this trend cf., e.g., the essays collected in M. A. Harder et al. (edd.), Nature and Science in Hellenistic Poetry (Leuven, 2009).
3.   P. LeVen's succinct commentary on the Erythraean Paean to Asclepius is now available in D. Sider (ed.), Hellenistic Poetry: A Selection (Ann Arbor, 2017), 18–24, which appeared around the time when the book under review was published. The absence of the same author's The Many-headed Muse: Tradition and Innovation in Late Classical Greek Lyric Poetry (Cambridge, 2014) from the bibliography of Fusari's paper is more difficult to explain.

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Monika R. M. Hasitzka (ed.), Koptische dokumentarische Texte aus der Papyrussammlung der österreichischen Nationalbibliothek. Corpus Papyrorum Raineri Band XXXIV​. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2018. Pp. viii, 262; 76 Tables. ISBN 9783110580693. €129,95.

Reviewed by Christian Barthel, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt a. M.; Leibniz project "Polyphony of Late Antique Christianity"​ (

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The present volume of the Corpus Papyrorum Raineri (CPR) continues the steady stream of documentary sources emanating from the vaults of the Austrian National Library in Vienna. Here the editor, Monika Hasitzka, publishes 83 Coptic texts, chronologically ranging from the sixth-seventh century to the eleventh, preserved on papyrus, paper, and a single one on parchment. Their provenance can often only be broadly attributed through the Coptic dialect used. The majority of the documents were written in Sahidic, a good quarter in Fayyumic. But there is also the occasional Greek passage or signature (No. 82-83) and—duly noted by Hasitzka—a list of garments (No. 56) that was predominantly written in Greek. 1

The documents are otherwise divided into two sections: 1. Lists (No. 1-56) and 2. Letters (No. 57-80) and Legal Contracts (No. 81-83). Each edited text is accompanied by a paleographical description, a German translation, a short synopsis of the content and possible context of the document, and a primarily philological commentary. But on ocassion, the commentary can contain historical notes (No. 19, 27, 32, 35, 41, 43, 53, 71). Section 1 contains a wide array of documents that not only include the (usual) lists of taxes (No. 12, 18, 19-22), expenses (No. 13, 25-27, 29-40,42-43), and inventories (7-10), but also more unique items such as a monthly roster of ships that docked (?) at Ma-n-pindrat (No. 1), and two registers (No. 52-53), possibly from the ninth century, of offerings (προσφορά) connected to the Christian mortuary cult. Many of the lists published in section 1 contain previously unknown or unattested variants of Coptic names as well as a series of new ones. This section notably expands the valuable list of Coptic names already published by the same author. 2 A few documents, dated between the seventh and ninth century, also mention late Roman offices such as the pagarch, komarch, and the dioiketes (No. 19; 70-71) and thus add to our growing understanding of the administrative structures of (early) Islamic Egypt in the context of village institutions.3

Highly unusual for a book of this scope, but a welcome addition nonetheless, is the inclusion of an appendix (p. 186-191) devoted to the history of the discipline. Hasitzka here publishes the correspondence of Walter E. Crum and Walter C. Till pertaining to a letter of a certain Phoibammon that is addressed to Theodose (No.70), which she discovered in the storage box of the one parchment document published in this collection. Crum's letter discusses the various issues and difficulties of this text as well as his Sahidic translation and Till's annotated transcription of the Fayyumic text. The reader is therefore presented with a rare opportunity to delve into the various stages of the editorial process of such a complex text prior to its initial publication. The book closes with the usual indices and 76 tables of high quality.

A major strength of this volume is the insertion of discursive notes within the commentaries. Even if one is inclined towards a different reading, Hasitzka's willingness to elaborate on why she chose a specific reading, while at the same time giving possible (and plausible) alternatives, is highly illuminating.4 These discursive notes can occasionally become overabundant, but in general provide a sense of clarity and serve as a guide for specialists and non-specialists alike. A case in point is a contract (No. 81) containing a series of signatures of witnesses, where 15 possible readings for πλ() are discussed. These minor blemishes of course do not stain the overall value of this work, which is certain to aid and facilitate further work on Coptic papyrology.


1.   In the same vein the last volume of the CPR (XXXI) dedicated to Coptic documentary and literary sources also included a Greek text (No. 5).
2.   M. R. M Hasitzka, Namen in koptischen dokumentarischen Texten. Available online.
3.   In addition to the references provided by Hasitzka, see now L. Berkes, Dorfverwaltung und Dorfgemeinschaft in Ägypten von Diokletian zu den Abbasiden (Philippika 104), Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz 2017; P. M. Sijpesteijn, Shaping a Muslim State: The World of a Mid-Eighth-Century Egyptian Official, Oxford, OUP 2013.
4.   Such extensive discursive notes are not always common in Coptic text editions. Compare for instance the different format of the "Koptisches Sammelbuch (KSB)" in Gesa Schenke's review of KSB III. BMCR 2008.02.53. ​

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Wednesday, August 28, 2019


Harry O. Maier, New Testament Christianity in the Roman World. Essentials of Biblical Studies. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2019. Pp. xvii, 238. ISBN 9780190264406. $24.95.

Reviewed by Heidi Wendt, McGill University (

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For a research area as crowded as New Testament studies it is surprisingly difficult to identify works both accessible and useful for acquainting students or curious readers to this literature's Greco-Roman milieu. Textbooks abound but these do not always satisfy discriminating general readers, nor do they serve the aims of different New Testament courses. For example, I regularly teach an introduction to the New Testament excluding the gospels and struggle to find resources that are not disproportionately focused on gospel literature. Moreover, few books strike the right balance between drawing New Testament material into broader considerations of religion and social life in Mediterranean antiquity without constraining how students will then read the primary sources. And while there are many high quality publications having to do with the New Testament's social context,1 these tend to be organized around specific themes or perspectives that can align imperfectly with the objectives of a given instructor or reader.

Harry O. Maier's New Testament Christianity in the Roman World manages to fill a lacuna in a subfield that is, by other measures, exceedingly well populated. As a title in Oxford's Essentials of Biblical Studies series, the book is pitched to the student level and aims to synthesize recent methodological, theoretical, and exegetical developments in the study of the New Testament as the product of a wider Greco-Roman environment. Maier manages this balance deftly: readers familiar with the scholarship on which he draws will detect subtle inflections and nuances—Jörg Rüpke's lived ancient religion approach is especially influential—but the lucidity of the world that he depicts is never clouded by the sophistication undergirding it. Just as impressive is the light hand with which he garnishes a concentric exploration of social life under the Roman Empire with New Testament and contemporary Jewish and Christian sources. Whereas similar publications gaze upon the Roman world from a fixed New Testament vantage-point, Maier presents this material as an unexceptional series of snapshots of ancient life more broadly.

One feature that makes the book conducive to a range of curricular scenarios is its organization. In Maier's words, his objective is "to orient readers to overarching social phenomena that constituted the Roman world and invite them to consider ways in which each aspect presents important contexts for understanding the contents of the New Testament and the emergence of Christianity" (2). The units of analysis that he selects—religion, empire, city, household, and self— emerge as overlapping but distinct spheres of activity, the particularities of each throwing into relief a cacophony of concerns and social entanglements expressed even within a single New Testament text, to say nothing of the canon as a whole. Each chapter is subdivided further to qualify terminology, to address conceptual challenges, or to accentuate consequential events, social developments, and themes. The dynamism within and across each chapter is a testament to how carefully Maier has selected his evidence and staged the conditions of greatest relevance to a critical understanding of earliest Christianity. Maps and occasional images aid in fleshing out the complexion of the first centuries.

A substantive introduction signals the interpretive stakes of historicizing (or dehistoricizing) New Testament writings before acquainting readers with the canon's internal diversity and the complex processes that led to its formation. This is followed by a sketch of the Hellenistic and Roman imperial periods that foreshadows how these historical frames will resonate through New Testament writings. A turn to spatial considerations, including distinctions between empirical, imagined, and practical spaces, acknowledges Maier's theoretical debt to Michel de Certeau's elaboration of practices, strategies, and tactics in imagining how early Christians inhabited the different contexts that he will delimit. The introduction concludes with a welcome caveat about the anachronisms and homogeneity that Christianity/Christian and Judaism/Jewish can project onto antiquity, along with a suggestion of the highly interested and deeply problematic opposition of these categories in Christian theology.

Certain methodological choices receive less justification. For instance, Maier's geographic focus on the Roman world of the eastern Mediterranean makes sense in light of the received wisdom about Christianity's origins and early expansion but may inflate the confidence with which such things can be known from sources at pains to mask or misdirect their authorship, dates, and compositional settings. Moreover, the framing of the book as an introduction to the New Testament writings that follow the gospels implies the latter's literary priority when the Pauline Epistles not only predate the canonical gospels as writings but may have even influenced the author of Mark, regarded by most as the earliest of the four and a source for Matthew and Luke.2 Notwithstanding, Maier's tendency is to deprivilege New Testament evidence and he is adept at comingling canonical and noncanonical sources so as to normalize their commonalities.

Chapter 2, "The Gods and the Cosmos," contrasts the secular world of Western modernity with an ancient one in which religion was embedded in all aspects of society.3 Although I am wary of how starkly this contrast is now drawn in scholarship on ancient Mediterranean religion,4 Maier does well to highlight the different resonance of belief in a nondoctrinal setting and to complicate the opposition between Greco-Roman "polytheism" and the "monotheism" of Judaism and Christianity. Exploring such topics as theology and cosmology, types of divine beings, and the spaces, occasions, and personnel of religious practice, he pieces together a vivid backdrop that anticipates his New Testament examples. One might quibble about minor matters—the section on "magic," for instance, seems to affirm its opposition to "religion" while dismissing as polemic characterizations of Christians as "magicians" in a manner that implicitly sets them apart from other recipients of the label—but the chapter grounds nicely subsequent discussions of religious practice.

Chapter 3, "The Emperor and the Empire," dissects the political armature of the Roman world with sections on networks and religious traffic that are especially germane to understanding the Mediterranean itineraries that frame much New Testament literature. Once again, Maier strikes an ideal balance between describing the mechanisms of empire and tracing their vectors through these writings. A section on imperial cult disabuses readers of common misconceptions about emperor worship while demonstrating echoes of this political idiom in key New Testament terms and concepts. Here, he stresses that imperial iconography might have filtered how Christians heard language such as evangelion or encountered an image of Christ as a vanquishing savior in 1 Corinthians or Revelation. Readers should thus consider the intended function of these choices as well as "when, how, and in what situations imperial terms and acclamations were most salient" (93).

Chapter 4, "The City and Its Residents," narrows from empire to its urban nodes to underscore the centrality of cities in imperial administration. Granting the relatively low percentage of the population that resided in urban settings, Maier nevertheless affirms their significance for most New Testament authors and implied audiences. Nearly all the places mentioned in these texts were either ports or lay at junctions of Roman roads (a valuable reiteration of an earlier point about apostolic movements tracking with maritime trade routes). He also expands on the demographic realities of Roman life, informing readers about urban size, density, and economies, about distinctions of civil status, kinds of civic assemblies, and wealth distribution, among other important details. A focus on voluntary associations invites comparison with the organizational forms and gathering spaces of urban Christian groups. This is followed by an even more detailed section on the civic situations of Jews in Greco-Roman cities that also touches on the matter of god-fearers. Throughout the chapter Maier continues to query how Christians would have navigated the complex urban matrices in which they were embedded.

In Chapter 5, "The Household and Its Members," Maier trains his lens on domestic life, parsing the composition of ancient families and devoting more attention to the material remains of houses, apartments, tabernae, and insulae. The chapter is attuned to how gender mapped onto domestic spaces and to the circumstances of women, children, and slaves (the last receive extensive treatment). Naturally, given the preoccupations of certain New Testament texts, this includes a discussion of idealizing conceptions of family relations that covers household codes and the leges Juliae. Maier also carves out room for education and apprenticeship, paying close attention to the possibilities available to children of varying socio-economic locations. The chapter concludes with additional sections on practices involving the dead and the concept of fictive kinship in New Testament literature.

The sixth and final chapter, "The Self and Others," foregrounds the individual. Maier begins with an overview of philosophical theorizations of the self and its regulation, a discussion that includes a useful note about the absence in ancient thought of Cartesian distinctions between body and mind or physical and spiritual realms. Discussion of the body drifts into ancient models of medicine that furnish useful context for New Testament discourses, real and metaphorical, about health, suffering, and healing. As in the preceding chapter, Maier highlights the gendered dimensions of medical reasoning and shows how similar logic rippled through other areas of Greco-Roman society. Yet he is equally attentive to the diversity of positions about self and body, reminding readers that "there is no single model of the self in the New Testament, nor even, it appears, within the literature directly from Paul" (191). The latter observation winds back to the influence of philosophical anthropology—Stoic and Platonic in particular—on Paul and other New Testament writers, as well as on Philo and other Jewish intellectuals. Necessarily cursory introductions to such topics as Paul's apparent reliance upon a Stoicizing conception of pneuma and the cultural currency of self-mastery offer a nice preamble to more technical work on the New Testament's many points of contact with Greco-Roman philosophy.

Overall, Maier's is an immensely learned, readable, and productive introduction to New Testament writings as artifacts of the sociocultural context in which they took shape. He is to be commended both for how he enlists these sources to accentuate, rather than mandate, a broader investigation of the Roman world and also for doing so in a manner that is suggestive but not determinative of their interpretation. The book is an excellent resource for curious readers and students alike and I see it especially working well as the backbone of a course that favors extensive engagement with primary sources. Or so I intend to use it.


1.   E.g., Dietmar Neufeld and Richard E. DeMaris, eds., Understanding the Social World of the New Testament (London and New York: Routledge, 2010).
2.   Particularly Luke, which some now date in the early to mid-second century. For Pauline influence on Mark, see Ian J. Elmer, David C. Sim, and Oda Wischmeyer, Paul and Mark: Comparative Essays. Part I, Two Authors at the Beginnings of Christianity (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2014); Troels Engberg-Pedersen, Mogens Mueller, and Eve-Marie Becker, Mark and Paul: Comparative Essays. Part II, For and against Pauline Influence on Mark.
3.   Although Maier is not representative of the assumptions he critiques, see Brent Nongbri, "Dislodging 'Embedded' Religion: A Brief Note on a Scholarly Trope," Numen 55 (2008): 440–60.
4.   For the position that the religious landscapes of antiquity and modernity are incommensurable, see, e.g., Greg Anderson, "Retrieving the Lost Worlds of the Past: The Case for the Ontological Turn," American Historical Review 120 (2015): 787–810; Carlin A. Barton and Daniel Boyarin, Imagine No Religion: How Modern Abstractions Hide Ancient Realities (New York: Fordham University Press, 2016). For a critique of the notion of a disenchanted modernity, see Jason Ā. Josephson-Storm, The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017).

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Keith Andrew Stewart, Galen's Theory of Black Bile: Hippocratic Tradition, Manipulation, Innovation. Studies in ancient medicine, 51. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2018. Pp. ix, 178. ISBN 9789004382787. €94,00.

Reviewed by Courtney Roby, Cornell University (

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This brief and focused monograph seeks to explain the details of, and resolve some questions about, Galen's characterization of black bile and the mechanisms by which it causes disease. With admirable clarity, Stewart states explicitly at the beginning of the book both the shortcomings of the (considerable) prior scholarship on black bile he seeks to remedy (5) and his plan for doing so (6). The shortcomings outlined here are attributed to scholars (most centrally Jacques Jouanna 1) who exaggerate the influence of the Hippocratic Nature of Man on Galen's theory of black bile, consequently find inconsistencies among Galen's several accounts of its production and bodily effects, and end up sweeping those inconsistencies under the rug in an effort to "save the phenomena" of Galen's dependence on the single Hippocratic text.

The remedy Stewart proposes here is a four-part plan. He begins by demonstrating that Nature of Man is but one influence on Galen's theory, then moves on to study the features of Galen's theory of black bile in more detail, and shows how Galen manipulates evidence from the Hippocratic corpus and elsewhere. He finishes by demonstrating how Galen's opinions on the authenticity of various texts (and parts of texts) in the Hippocratic corpus influenced his theory-making. Stewart does not follow this plan in chapter-by-chapter order, but rather incorporates elements of each of his four steps into several of the chapters in the book; the first, third, and fourth steps are most thoroughly explored in the first two chapters, while the remaining five chapters are more completely dedicated to explaining Galen's own theory.

The book begins with a brief history of humoral theory, unsurprisingly with a particular focus on black bile. Stewart is keen here to emphasize the importance of the Aristotelian distinction between "elements" and "residues" for Galen's discussion of black bile (8), and categorizes Galen's use of Aristotelian language in On the Elements According to Hippocrates as one of the titular "manipulations" (18), though he notes further that "Aristotle is relegated by Galen to being someone who has continued the work of Hippocrates on elements by providing some demonstrations of Hippocrates' theoretical framework" (16). A quick review of a few other authors (e.g. Diocles and Theophrastus), who might have participated in the debate about humoral theories versus theories predicated on elements or qualities, rounds out the first chapter.

The second chapter reviews the most important influences on Galen's theory of black bile. Stewart argues that philosophical authors may have served as implicit influences on Galen's logical argumentative structures and his teleological views, but the early influences on Galen are dominated by the Hippocratic corpus, notwithstanding Galen's retrospective "manipulation" of those texts to make them appear to share his teleological commitments (28). A brisk history of the fortunes of the Hippocratic corpus at Alexandria and elsewhere in the late Hellenistic period and the first century CE, with a particular focus on earlier assessments of the authenticity of the various Hippocratic texts, paves the way for a more detailed consideration of Galen's own opinions about the authenticity of the various relevant Hippocratic texts (notably Nature of Man) in the second half of the chapter.

The remaining chapters take up Galen's own theory of black bile in more detail, beginning in the third chapter with his explanations of its essential structural properties. Galen draws much of this material from Nature of Man, but Stewart takes care to point out where he expands on the Hippocratic theory to label black bile "earth-like" (63) or compare it to wine-lees or other sediment (67), physical features which will turn out to be important for black bile's physiological effects in causing disease. The fourth chapter furnishes the heart of Stewart's innovation on past scholarship on black bile; Stewart draws not only on Galen's On Black Bile and On the Natural Faculties, the texts of interest in Jouanna's discussion of the problem, 1 but also some of his Hippocratic commentaries, On the Causes of Symptoms and others. Jouanna finds inconsistencies in Galen's theory, notably that whereas black bile is associated in Nature of Man with the qualities "cold" and "dry," Galen reports in On Black Bile that it can be aggravated by hot and dry conditions. Stewart, on the other hand, suggests on the basis of his wider sample of Galen's texts a threefold distinction between different types of black bile, namely ideal natural, non-ideal natural, and unnatural or altered forms (75). Differences in the constitution and physiological effects of black bile can then be explained by recourse to the differences between the various types, rather than attributing them to inconsistency on Galen's part.

The remaining chapters of the book examine the properties of harmful black bile, the ways it can be cleansed from the body, and the diseases it causes. The fifth chapter, which is a brief 10 pages, examines the properties of altered black bile that make it harmful for the body. The sixth focuses on the generation of non-ideal natural black bile by the liver and of ideal natural black bile in the blood vessels, and its removal by the spleen under non-pathological circumstances. The chapter concludes with a concession that Galen might not always deploy clearly the neat differentiation developed earlier, that instead Galen uses language situationally "without having a systematic framework of nomenclature that could hinder his use of different sources for his refutation of the theories of his rivals" (128). While this might seem disappointing after the attractive neatness of the threefold division proposed in the fourth chapter, Stewart demonstrates that it is necessary in light of the complexity and variety of the treatises in which Galen analyzes black bile. Finally, the last chapter looks at the familiar diseases associated with black bile: melancholy in its various forms, epilepsy, and quartan fever.

The book builds on the author's 2016 University of Exeter dissertation, What factors influence Galen's development of a theory of black bile for his explanation of health and disease in the body? In general, modifications are few, and mainly involve moving some chapter headings around, while the samples I examined suggest the text has largely remained the same. The introduction has been slightly modified, but the conclusion has not. The stability of the project from dissertation to book is not so much a flaw as a feature that readers should keep in mind when building expectations for the work: this is a highly focused study, as dissertations often are. The subtitle "Hippocratic Tradition, Manipulation, Innovation" might be taken to indicate a broader engagement with questions of how medical authors in antiquity transformed the traditions in which they worked, such as is found in the papers collected in the 1999 volume edited by van der Eijk. 2 In fact, however, when it comes to "tradition and manipulation," Stewart is intently focused on the specific question of which Hippocratic treatises (and, to a lesser extent, other medical and philosophical texts) seem to have furnished concepts adopted by Galen in his own explanations of black bile and its effects on the body.

Stewart argues that Galen constructs the three varieties of black bile in a self-conscious manipulation of the Hippocratic tradition, but that he does not advertise himself as creating a brand-new theory (149-150). The resulting blend of old and new theory, and the creation of a new typology to reconcile possible theoretical inconsistencies, is perhaps a fair reflection of Stewart's own work. Readers already interested in the subject will find Stewart's treatment clear and ecumenical, while those new to the questions surrounding black bile will benefit from the introductory literature review.


1.   Jouanna, Jacques. "Bile Noire et Mélancolie Chez Galien : Le Traité Sur La Bile Noire Est-Il Authentique?" In Antike Medizin im Schnittpunkt von Geistes- und Naturwissenschaften: Internationale Fachtagung aus Anlass des 100-Jährigen Bestehens des Akademievorhabens "Corpus Medicorum Graecorum/Latinorum", edited by Christian Brockmann, Carl Wolfram Brunschön, and Oliver Overwien, 235–57. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2009.
2.   van der Eijk, Philip. Ancient histories of medicine : essays in medical doxography and historiography in classical antiquity. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 1999.

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Signe Krag, Funerary Representations of Palmyrene Women: From the First Century BC to the Third Century AD. Studies in classical archaeology, 3. Turnhout: Brepols, 2018. Pp. xii, 422. ISBN 9782503569659. €100,00 (pb).

Reviewed by Anja Slawisch, University of Cambridge (

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In this book, Krag aims to offer new insights into a selected corpus of Palmyrene sculptures, dating from the 1st century BC to the 3rd century AD and composed mostly of female funerary representations. The book contains exhaustive and careful commentary on the pieces and categories under study, but gleaning wider insights is hampered by the verbose writing style and lack of clarity over research agenda.

Based on the author's PhD dissertation submitted to the Department of Classical Studies at Aarhus University in 2015, the work forms part of the wider 'Palmyrene Sculpture Project', henceforth PSP.1 Inaugurated by Rubina Raja and Andreas Kropp in 2012 in order to catalog and investigate all extant Palmyrene funerary portraits, of which over 3700 examples are currently known, PSP and its outputs are bound to attract interest, not least because Palmyrene portraits have found their way into numerous museums and private collections across the world.

This particular study concentrates on 905 pieces from this database, of which 884 are female funerary reliefs, and the remaining 21 are civic and religious reliefs and sculptures (assembled on pp. 162–405). A total of 35 of the reliefs have a secure date based on epigraphic data (a list is given on pp. 408-9).

The volume is organized into seven main chapters. Chapter 1 (pp. 1-8) gives a brief overview of the history of Palmyra and the history of research, including the extensive corpus of earlier studies on Palmyrene portraits. This is important since Krag depends heavily on earlier works, especially for dating and grouping the reliefs (see below). Chapter 2 (pp. 9-25) addresses the methodological, theoretical and chronological frameworks used in the rest of the book. Krag follows Colledge, Ingholt, and Parlasca2 by organizing the material into four chronological groups: Early Portraits (late first century BC–AD 50), Group I (AD 50–150/60), Group II (AD 150/60–200/20) and Group III (AD 180/200–273). While epigraphic investigation is not central to the work, and no attempt to systematize the relationship between images and text is made (most are Aramaic, 11 are in Greek, and two in Latin), Krag nonetheless makes an effort to include information from the inscriptions on the pieces where translations were available (e.g., pp. 123–128). The data seem to show a preference for inscriptions placed next to the head (p. 15). Discussion of potential workshops and sculptors, techniques of manufacture, or of materials and their sources are explicitly excluded from the work; instead Krag points to ongoing research by colleagues (p. 16) as part of PSP. The final sub-section of the chapter (pp. 17–25) examines the contexts where the sculptures were found, and stresses that funerary buildings (e.g. tower tombs, temple and house tombs, hypogea, etc.) were erected to house multiple generations, providing private and shielded space for commemoration, rituals and grave customs (e.g., incense burning and libations) for long-lived familial lineages.

Chapters 3 to 5 (pp. 27–110) discuss the main body of material evidence drawn from the project's database. Each includes copious, detailed comments on the style and iconography of the sculptures, as well as basic statistics about the presence/absence and quantity of features within different chronological groups. Chapters 3 and 5 both examine the entire corpus; chapter 4 focuses only on group portraits. The motivation or logic behind the selection and sequence of particular topics within these chapters is sometimes difficult to understand. For example, Chapter 3, entitled "Female Funerary Portraits," is divided into three main sections, nominally into three chronological groups. Within the second and third of these sections, the text is further divided into a number of categorical sub-sections: these sub-sections do not appear on the contents page, which makes them difficult to find, and the selection of categories seems rather inconsistent and occasionally repetitive, making it difficult for the reader to perceive any overall patterns or arguments (2nd subsection: Sarcophagi and Banquet Reliefs, Statues, Movement, Hand Gestures, Colour, The Tunic, The Himation, The Veil, Depictions of Breasts; and 3rd subsection: Movement, Portraying Faces, The Tunic, The Himation, The Veil, Depicting Breasts, Wall Painting and Statues, Sarcophagi and Banquet Reliefs, and Reclining Woman). Although the main sections are chronologically organized, these discussions often roam across different chronological groups.

Chapters 3 to 5 are the most important, but they are also the chapters that suffer most from a number of frustrating shortcomings. Krag is scrupulously careful to weigh alternative interpretations, but unfortunately this manifests itself in opaque verbosity: e.g.

"These four sarcophagus lids are quite different to each other. The differences could perhaps be partly ascribed to different workshops, although not exclusively, especially as the last sarcophagus lid finds strong parallels in another sarcophagus lid from the same hypogeum and the two were probably made by the same workshop, or even sculptor. However, the execution of the sarcophagus lids cannot merely be ascribed to workshop or sculptors. The sarcophagus lids may be from different points in time in the period, they are ascribed to a dating span from AD 200 to 273, but this is not the only reason for their different appearances." (p. 63)

Such impenetrable prose is characteristic of the whole book.

Krag's uncritical application of basic statistics is also very problematic: for any particular graph or cited percentage, only rarely is the total number of objects for the particular quality in discussion given; pie and bar charts show quantities only in percent and colors are not used consistently (e.g., Group II can appear in light blue, light green, pink, beige, etc.). Text and graph do not always seem to match, e.g., "In Group II, nineteen necklace types can be observed, ..." (p. 101) but the associated graph (p. 102, graph 5.3) assembles only 7 types spreading over Group II and III. It is also unclear how fragmentary pieces are treated within the statistics. An attempt to model uncertainties and provide clarity over what these statistics really tell us is sorely missing.

Chapter 6 (p. 111–128) involves a detour into sculptures from civic and religious contexts, apparently to gain a broader view on the representation of women than the one available from funerary works alone. Krag opens with a discussion of Zenobia (pp. 111–114), who reigned over Palmyra during the years AD 267/68 to AD 272, arguing that no influence on the portrayal of woman in the city can be directly connected with her. (Given the dating of the rest of the material, however, this reviewer wonders whether the idea might be turned around to ask whether the ascent of Zenobia could be due to the place women had already acquired, and whether that might be visible in the earlier representations.) The examination of funerary epigraphy in individual foundation inscriptions and cession texts (pp. 123–128) is particularly useful here, if arguably presented in the wrong chapter.

Finally, in chapter 7 (p. 129–132), Krag summarizes her observations and results regarding the Palmyrene portrait tradition. First, she highlights the overall diversity between portraits, and the influence of individual choices and the creativity of workshops on the manufacture of each portrait. Most interestingly, she argues that the increasing trend toward visually more arresting styles (decreased static, frontally posed figures; increased forward 'acquisition' of space by hand, arm and head gestures) as an effort to capture viewer's attention in an increasingly overcrowded funerary space—as a competition with older images. Krag concludes by describing the Palmyrene woman as an esteemed member of society with access to a number of roles, that of mother included (see sub-section on Portrayals of Women and Children on pp. 82–85).

The catalogue entries (pp. 162–405) are concise and the images of mostly high quality. It is a pity that particular typologies discussed in the text (e.g., types of necklace) are not included as part of the catalogue, and there is no cross-referencing from catalogue to main text (and vice versa: the catalogue numbers are provided in the main chapters, but as footnotes, which adds an extra step of navigation). The book also contains useful indices of topics, places and relevant mythological figures.

This book is simultaneously full of interesting details but frustratingly difficult to follow. While part of this may be due to insufficient editorial input, one wonders whether the material itself requires a radically different approach. What makes the Palmyrene representations so interesting and puzzling is the paradoxical degree of standardization at the general level combined with endless small-scale and highly individualized details of depiction. This finicky quality makes any attempt to come up with general interpretations very difficult. To my mind, this book shows that basic statistics are simply not enough to make sense of such a corpus, and that we need to seek different methods in the future. That said, the detailed comments, the illustrations and catalogue will no doubt be useful to those interested in the depiction of women, in the Palmyrene corpus and in funerary representation more generally.


1.   Palmyra Portait Project Aarhus University.
2.   Krag provides an extensive bibliography on pp. 133–159.

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