Monday, September 30, 2019


Matthew V. Novenson, The Grammar of Messianism: An Ancient Jewish Political Idiom and Its Users. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017. Pp. xvi, 361. ISBN 9780190255022. $78.00.

Reviewed by D. Clint Burnett, Johnson University (

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It has long been axiomatic among nineteenth- and twentieth-century scholars of Second Temple Judaism and earliest Christianity that most Second Temple Jews held to some form of "the messianic idea," i.e., that God would send a messiah to redeem the present age in which Jews lived under foreign domination and usher in a new better one. Although most modern historians have complicated any simplistic attributions of messianic leanings to Second Temple Jews, they still subscribe to vestiges of it and the Ideengeschichte approach to Jewish and early Christian messianism. In this volume, Matthew Novenson marshals an exegetical tour de force with the express purpose of sounding the death knell for the messianic idea in modern scholarship.

His work is not based on new data, but on a new way of perceiving ancient Jewish and early Christian messianic texts, namely unencumbered by the messianic idea and with fresh contextual exegeses of messianic texts that probe their inner logic. He shifts the conversation about messianism from the general to the particular and from the realms of politics and history into that of particular texts, contexts, and exegesis. Adopting Ludwig Wittgenstein's theory of language game—the "theory that human language is best conceived not as a set of symbols corresponding to things in the world, but rather as a set of rules for participation in various kinds of discourse" (12)—Novenson claims that words derive their meanings from context. Therefore, scholars must avoid preconceived notions or ideas about what words mean, especially in ancient texts. It is clear that Jewish and Christian authors' use of messianic language is part of "one great Mediterranean language game" that can be traced to their contextualized interpretations of the Hebrew Bible. In short, Novenson concludes "ancient messiah texts constitute one example . . . of the vast, sprawling ancient Jewish and Christian project of scriptural interpretation" (17). The purpose of this book is to map the rules of this language game or the grammar of messianism. (21).

In the introduction, Novenson describes the most common approach to messiah texts by past scholars. He argues that scholars forced a preconceived definition of a messiah onto messianic texts and labeled any deviations as aberrations: even though most scholars currently focusing on messianism highlight its diversity, they still rely to some degree on aspects of the messianic idea. The result is that the study of messianism is "organized around an artificial concept, not a corpus of texts" (8). Due to differences between the messiah of the earliest Christians, Jesus, and the most common Jewish messiahs, he says scholars too easily elide details into one overarching notion, and misunderstanding original concepts, for example, failing to take early Christian messianism as a form of Jewish messianism (22-24). Novenson's solution is to read these ancient messiah texts as evidence of a "language game" (12-21), which highlights the diversity of understandings of the term "messiah" and its deployment in ancient Judaism and early Christianity (28-29). His dataset are Jewish and Christian texts dating from the sixth century BCE to the sixth century CE (25) that use the term messiah, either the Hebrew משיח or its equivalents in other ancient Mediterranean languages, e.g., Aramaic (משיחא), Greek (μεσσίας; χριστός), and Latin (Christus; unctus), etc. (29-30). To demonstrate his thesis, Novenson tackles six "classic problems" of ancient messianism, attempting to show that these difficulties disappear with his approach to them (21).

The first chapter addresses the problem of the formal definition of the word messiah. Throughout the history of discussion, there have been two schools of interpretation. The maximalist approach dominated eighteenth to mid-twentieth century scholarship; these scholars found messianism all over the Hebrew Bible, whereby they argued that Second Temple Jews anticipated the coming of a human messiah whom God would send to redeem his people (37-40).1 The minimalist approach defined a messiah more narrowly as a eschatological, redeemer figure. These scholars found little evidence for messianism in the Hebrew Bible (40-42).2 The main problem with both approaches, Novenson argues, is that many Second Temple messianic texts do not conform to preconceived definitions. Novenson's solution is to return to the root definition of messiah in the Hebrew Bible. A messiah is simply a political figure anointed with water or with oil (46-47) and it is this simple definition, he argues, that Second Temple Jewish and Christian messianic texts adopt (63).

The second chapter tackles the problem of messiahs in ancient sources: how some messiahs are born and others made. Taking several Jewish "messiahs" (anointed leaders) as text cases—Zerubbabel (69-72), the Hasmoneans (72-77), Herod the Great (77-82), Jesus of Nazareth (82-91), Simon bar Kosiba (91-96), and the Jewish Patriarch and Exilarch (96-104)—Novenson points out that some ancient Jewish and Christian texts connect messiahs explicitly to David's bloodline (e.g., Zerubbabel, Jesus of Nazareth), while others do not (e.g., the Hasmoneans, Herod the Great, and Simon bar Kosiba). Therefore, ancient messiah texts attest to two types, "upstarts" who became messiahs because of their actions and "bluebloods" who possessed Davidic lineage. David, however, functions as an archetype for both because, according to the Hebrew Bible, David himself was both an upstart and the progenitor of a dynasty (105). Thus, Novenson concludes, "For persons who had a plausible claim to Davidic descent, the texts could say: Behold the son of David. And for persons who had no such claim, the texts could say: David did it. Why not our man?" (113).

The third chapter addresses the lack of references to messiahs in certain ancient Jewish texts from 500 to 200 BCE, which past scholars have called the messianic vacuum (119). Attempts have been made to explicate the significance of this absence vis-à-vis the authors' views of messianism. Novenson points out the logical fallacy of this approach (123) and instead examines the historical contexts of the authors, arguing that there are good, contextual reasons for lack of messianic references in the works of Philo of Alexandria (124-35), Josephus (135-48), and in the Mishnah (148-58). He argues that Philo's and the Mishnah's literary program was to expound the Torah, which has little to no references to messiahs in it (126, 157). Josephus's literary purpose was to mount an apologia for Judaism to non-Jews. In the process, he transforms those individuals whom some Jews probably hailed as messiahs into the vernacular of his audience calling them insurgents (139-46). Therefore, there is no problem with the lack of references to messiahs in Jewish texts and the messianic vacuum is a modern scholarly problem (116).

The fourth chapter tackles the topic of the first messiah, which scholars have searched for, most often to shed light on Jesus of Nazareth and the supposed un-messianic aspects of his messiahship (162-63). Novenson argues that this method presupposes the messianic idea and it is unsustainable from the ancient evidence. This quest must be abandoned because all messianic texts, both Jewish and Christian, reinterpret scripture in the light of historical circumstance (185).

The fifth chapter addresses the problem between the supposed distinctions between Jewish messiahs and Jesus of Nazareth. In reductionist terms, scholars have seen Jewish messiahs as political, focused on outward, external matters, public, national, corporate, natural, and earthly, while Jesus's messiahship is spiritual, focused on matters of the heart, private, universal, individual, supernatural, and heavenly (192). Novenson notes that there is some validity in these distinctions because of certain New Testament texts. However, he argues that these distinctions result from the experiences of early Christians trying to understand what happened to their messiah Jesus in light of what the Hebrew Bible says about messiahs (193-94). This approach is not unique to Christianity, for all messiah texts "negotiate" the "mythical tradition" with historical circumstance (196-207). Novenson proposes that the supposedly un-messianic portrait of Jesus in the New Testament is not entirely accurate because the earliest Christians put off the more traditional, political aspects of his messiahship to his parousia (208, 210-13). Therefore, he proposes that the earliest Christians did not re-define what the messiah is. They expanded its identity to fit their experiences (209), which means that the problem of a Jewish messiah versus a Christian messiah is a problem modern scholars create (216).

The sixth chapter examines the modern scholarly claim that by the second century CE messianic discourse disappears among Christians. Relying on his earlier work, in which he concluded that "Christ" in Paul's undisputed letters retained its titular meaning of "anointed," Novenson proposes that messiah language did not disappear in later Christianity.3 He examines the translations of Christ in Greek, Latin, Coptic, Syriac, Ethiopic, Arabic, and Slavonic, among the texts of Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians, demonstrating that these works do not have one word for the Christian messiah and other for the Jewish messiah (224-32). In fact, Latin, Greek, and Coptic texts show a connection between Christ and the verb "to anoint," which suggests that while messianic language may have evolved, at least some Christians still worked with the definition of messiah derived from the Hebrew Bible (262).

The final chapter offers further evidence for the grammar of messianism and summarizes his work. Novenson argues that ancient messiah texts, especially those from the fourth century BCE to the sixth century CE, did not "track with contemporary anointing practices." Rather, these texts adopted an outdated, archaic idiom from the Hebrew Bible to refer to messiahs, which he sees as evidence that messiah texts are part of an exegetical political discourse (266). Like the Persians, Greeks, Romans, and other Mediterranean peoples, the messianic language of ancient Jews and Christians articulated "who is and who should be in charge" (272). Novenson's takeaway is that the future of the study messianism lies in a fresh engagement with primary sources that is totally divorced from the concept of the messianic idea (276).

Novenson's overall work is persuasive and its merits too numerous to list in the confines of this review. His detailed attention to and breath of familiarity with primary messianic texts, from Second Isaiah to Sefer Zerubbabel, is impressive. Novenson's ability to penetrate and to deconstruct scholarly constructs is insightful and perceptive. There are, however, minor points with which some, including myself, would take exception, the biggest of which is his argument that because the Hebrew Bible only records anointings of upstart kings anointing is a symbol of usurpation (105). This statement leaves the impression that rightful political heirs were unanointed. The issue is how to interpret the silence of the Hebrew Bible on the anointing of rightful kings. Long ago, Gerhard von Rod established, to the satisfaction of many, that anointing was an important part of the Judahite enthronement ceremony. It is for this reason that the royal psalms refer to the reigning king as "the anointed one" (Ps 2:2; 18:51; 20:7; 28:8; 84:10; 89:39, 52; 132:10, 17). 4 Novenson's conclusion seems to be is an overstatement and puts too much weight on the silence of the text. This minor disagreement notwithstanding, Novenson's conclusion that messiahs are both upstarts and bluebloods is convincing. In sum, Novenson's work is a must read for anyone focusing on ancient messianism and I anticipate that his approach to ancient messianic texts will lead to further refinement in the study of ancient messianism.


1.   Hengstenberg, Ernst Wilhelm. Christologie des Alten Testaments und Commentar über die messianischen Weissagungen der Propheten. 3 vols. (Berlin: Oehmigke, 1829-1835).
2.   Mowinckel, Sigmund. He That Cometh: The Messiah Concept in the Old Testament and Later Judaism. Translated by G.W. Anderson. (New York: Abingdon Press, 1956).
3.   Novenson, Matthew V. Christ among the Messiahs: Christ Language in Paul and Messiah Language in Ancient Judaism. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).
4.   von Rad, Gerhard. "The Royal Ritual in Judah." Pages 222-31 in The Problem of the Hexateuch and Other Essays. Translated by E.W. Trueman. (London: SCM Press, 1967).

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Francesco Iacono, The Archaeology of Late Bronze Age Interaction and Mobility at the Gates of Europe: People, Things and Networks around the Southern Adriatic Sea. London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019. Pp. xvi, 286. ISBN 9781350036147. €102.60.

Reviewed by Emma Blake, University of Arizona (

Version at BMCR home site


Iacono's book offers something new in anglophone scholarship: a study of Bronze Age Apulia and the southern Adriatic that does not privilege encounters with Mycenaeans. The book traces the evolving connections within and beyond the region through the Middle Bronze Age, Recent Bronze Age, and Final Bronze Age, recentering the focus onto what has been a peripheral region in traditional scholarship of the Mediterranean Bronze Age. As an examination of this region through the lens of interaction and connectivity, the book showcases the decades of excellent fieldwork at south Italian sites such as Coppa Nevigata and Roca Vecchia, well known in Italy but less so elsewhere. This focus on one of the microregions of the Mediterranean is particularly welcome, taking up, as others have done, the mantle laid by Horden and Purcell.1 It is in these close examinations of local dynamics that we expand our understanding of the Mediterranean as a whole.

Chapter 1 puts forth the theoretical grounding and methodological toolkit of the book, that interactions shape societies, and so by documenting the material traces of interactions—their nature and intensity—within and between groups we can understand social structures and why they change. In this respect Iacono's approach is informed by the current scholarly interest in networks in archaeology, with an emphasis on how connectivity, rather than say, identity or resources, can shape behavior. Indeed, Iacono employs formal network analytical methods to characterize the links between people within Apulia. He interprets his networks through a neo-Marxist lens, applying such concepts as capital, means of production, and relations of production, while introducing the connectivity-specific concepts 'Modes of Interaction' and 'Relations of Interaction.' In their application to a prehistoric context, the terms sit oddly, as when the author interprets shared ceramic decorations at various settlements as evidence of some form of 'capital exchange.' Nonetheless the emphasis on interaction at various scales is timely.

Chapter 2 provides the geographic and historiographic background to the book, presenting the Apulian landscape and the Adriatic Sea. Although the coasts of Apulia and Albania are separated by as little as 70 km at the Strait of Otranto, Iacono deftly explains why the conditions of winds, currents and landing points made cross-Strait connections tenuous, particularly with Bronze Age maritime technologies. This point becomes relevant in later chapters when the reader is confronted with the seemingly surprising low frequency of contacts across this narrow body of water. A regional chronology and brief summary of earlier periods in the region set the reader up for the chapters that follow.

Chapters 3, 4, and 5 examine the Apulian societies and their interactions in the Middle, Recent, and Final Bronze Ages in turn. Each chapter works at several scales, from the scale of a site (which Iacono terms 'individual community'), to the regional level networks in Apulia; and finally to longer distance Mediterranean-wide interactions. It is only at the regional scale that Iacono employs network analysis, a choice which may make practical sense but made this reader long to see formal networks of ties across the Adriatic and beyond. Of greater concern, Iacono's regional scale networks themselves are not fully convincing proxies of connectivity. Iacono constructs his networks using common decorative motifs on indigenous pots as his ties between sites (the nodes), rather than actual goods moving between sites. Are shared motifs on ceramics a valid proxy for interaction between settlements? I am not convinced. The common motifs may represent interaction between potters only, working in linked communities of practice. This matters because the inferential scaffolding of the book depends on accepting that ceramic decorations repeated across multiple sites reflect interactions beyond the potters themselves. Iacono contends that women are likely producing the pottery at the household level and were thus integrated into the community at large, but this is also speculative. The motifs may tell us more about production than about consumption and interaction around the region at large.

Even more problematic is how the motifs themselves are interpreted as revealing social structure. Thus, on p. 110 Iacono writes, "We can tentatively assume that the number of motifs can stand as proxy for the number of social units (more motifs, more pottery, more variability and thus more people) and therefore of the relative prosperity of the communities (more people, more agricultural surplus)." I do not find the initial assumption in this line of reasoning persuasive. However, looking beyond this highly speculative means of assessing a community's wealth, some interesting patterns emerge from his networks. In particular, the analysis reveals that the sites that were central in local networks in the Middle Bronze Age were often the ones to become important findspots of Mycenaean pottery later. This observation suggests that local agency did play a role in how the contacts with the Aegean played out, a point that Iacono goes on to develop effectively in the subsequent chapters.

Iacono is at his strongest when giving detailed descriptions of the key sites and their assemblages, which he knows extremely well. His discussion of the broader Mediterranean connections seems unnecessary at times, as in Chapter 5's digression into the Cypriot-west Mediterranean metal exchange, which bypassed the Adriatic. Indeed, even more on the Adriatic itself would have been welcome. To return to a point made earlier, what the book reveals about interactions across the Adriatic is particularly significant. There is little evidence of direct contact across this rather narrow and island-dotted strait. While similar pottery motifs on both sides of the southern Adriatic suggest interactions, these motifs are not always synchronous in occurrence, so Iacono rightly hesitates to infer close contacts from them. Bitumen sourced from Albania did apparently circulate in Apulia, and shared bronze object types indicate trans-Adriatic encounters, but the overall impression is intermittent contacts at best. This contrasts with Apulia's contacts with the more distant Mycenaeans over many centuries, and with movement up and down the Adriatic itself in some periods (notably the Final Bronze Age). The southern Adriatic, therefore, exemplifies Broodbank's claim that in the Mediterranean proximity alone is not always sufficient to engender connections.2

To conclude, Iacono's informative book offers a fresh picture of the Apulian region over 700 years of the Bronze Age. While I may quibble with the some of the analysis, the book serves as a valuable account of the key sites and, as inferred, the society of the region. This centering of the often neglected Adriatic contributes to a growing literature that questions the inherent superiority of Aegean pots, seafaring, and culture in the Bronze Age, and seeks other explanations for their circulation that grants agency to the societies the Mycenaeans encountered. While the theoretical terminology and the networks are not always convincing and the writing is dense, the overall premise that multiscalar interactions shaped these communities is well-placed.


1.   Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell, The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean Prehistory. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000.
2.   Cyprian Broodbank. The Making of the Middle Sea. Thames and Hudson Limited, 2013.

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Carlos Steel, Steven Vanden Broecke, David Juste, Shlomo Sela (ed.), The Astrological Autobiography of a Medieval Philosopher: Henry Bate's Nativitas (1280-81). Ancient and Medieval Philosophy Series 1, 17. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2018. Pp. 320. ISBN 9789461662699. €85,00.

Reviewed by Justin Lake, Texas A & M University (

Version at BMCR home site


The volume under review contains the first complete scholarly edition of the Nativitas of Henry Bate as well as a collection of seven introductory chapters that provide background material about Bate's biography, working methods, and astrological learning. The Nativitas was a natal horoscope that Bate cast in 1280, possibly in response to anxieties about the course of his career. Rather than restricting himself to astrological technicalities, however, Bate used the horoscope as a frame on which to hang a detailed narrative of his own life and engage in introspective self-analysis. The result is a unique and fascinating work that combines technical astrological analysis with a revealing exploration of Bate's career, personal proclivities, and physical health, among other subjects.

In the opening chapter of the introduction David Juste and Carlos Steel survey the manuscript tradition of Bate's work. Five complete manuscripts of the Nativitas survive, as well as four fragments. The textual tradition is divided into two branches, one represented by a single fifteenth-century manuscript from Segovia, the other by four manuscripts all deriving from a lost exemplar that may have belonged to William of Saint-Cloud, who appended his own nativity in imitation of Bate's in his copy of the manuscript. All significant variants are included in Steel's apparatus criticus. The most noteworthy divergence between the Segovia manuscript and the four others is that the former uniquely preserves Bate's autobiographical report on the series of events that took place in his 35th year (March 1280-March 1281), whereas the other manuscripts contain an astrological prediction of what would happen during that year.

The second chapter, by Steel and Steven Vanden Broecke, provides a biographical sketch of Bate's life. Born in Mechelen (Malines) in the Low Countries in 1246 to a prominent local family, he studied at Paris in the 1260's and obtained the degree of master. Bate later returned to Mechelen and acquired a series of ecclesiastical benefices, culminating in the position of cantor at the cathedral of Liège. He served as a tutor in some capacity to the young nobleman Guy of Avesnes, and after Guy became bishop of Utrecht in 1301, he dedicated to him the Speculum divinorum, a massive philosophical encyclopedia. Bate wrote widely on astronomy and astrology; his works (usefully summarized by David Juste) include a treatise on the astrolabe dedicated to William of Moerbeke and a work on astrological medicine (the De diebus creticis). In addition, the planetary tables that he devised for the coordinates of Mechelen, the Tabule Machlinenses, were the earliest set of original astronomical tables compiled in the Latin West. 1 Bate also collaborated in translating several of the astrological treatises of the Spanish Jewish scholar Abraham Ibn Ezra (c. 1089-c. 1161) into Old French and Latin, and he would go on to make liberal use of Ibn Ezra in his work. Shlomo Sela, who has edited a number of Ibn Ezra's works, details the relationship between Bate and Ibn Ezra in a separate chapter.

Bate was one of the most learned and accomplished astrologers of his era, and the sophisticated techniques that he used to cast and analyze his natal horoscope will presumably be unfamiliar to non-specialist readers. Steven Vanden Broecke provides a partial summary of Bate's techniques, including reproductions of four astrological charts that Bate compiled, in an introductory chapter; this is one area in which the book might have been usefully expanded. In casting a natal horoscope, it was of the utmost importance to know the precise hour and minute of the subject's birth. Bate relates (p. 128) that he questioned his mother and other women who were present at his birth, all of whom agreed that he was born slightly after midnight on the Saturday before Palm Sunday in 1246. Even this knowledge was insufficient for his purposes, however, since Bate needed to know the precise degree of the ecliptic that was rising at the moment of his birth (the ascendant). The various methods employed to determine the ascendant with greater precision were known collectively as 'rectification.' Bate relied upon a method (the trutina Hermetis or 'balance of Hermes') derived from the Sefer ha-Moladot (or Book of Nativities) of Ibn Ezra, which established that the position of the moon at birth was the same as the ascendant at conception, and vice versa. This method required the astrologer to know the moment of conception of his subject, which, as Sela points out in his edition of the Sefer ha-Moladot, rendered its utility limited. 2 In any case, as Vanden Broecke describes, Bate worked backwards from the information he had about the time of his birth to arrive at a precise date for his conception. Then, having determined that the ascendant degree at his conception was Gemini 17°, he calculated the positon of the moon as Sagittarius 12° 20'; according to the trutina Hermetis this was also his ascendant degree at birth. This is one of several places where a more detailed discussion of Bate's astronomical methods would have been useful. Since a precise knowledge of the time of birth was needed to generate the ascendant degree of the ecliptic, it is difficult to see how any amount of mathematical shuffling could result in a more accurate number for the ascendant if the hour of birth had not been carefully observed; and indeed, the process of rectification was open to all kinds of abuse.

After establishing the ascendant, the astrologer divided the 360 degrees of the ecliptic into twelve houses. This was not usually done by simply assigning 30 degrees to each house (though Bate does refer to a hypothetical house division secundum gradus equales at various points), but typically by dividing each of the four great arcs (those bounded by the ascendant, the lower midheaven, the descendant, and the midheaven) into three arcs with equal rising times. This could be done using a table of ascensions, which calculated the rising times of the signs of the zodiac for different latitudes; the editors do not discuss Bate's methodology in detail here except to say that he must have composed tables of ascension for the latitude of Mechelen. The intrepid reader can use Ptolemy's Almagest (2.9), which contains an entry for latitude 51°30 (quite close to Mechelen) to get a very rough confirmation of the accuracy of Bate's house cusps (i.e., the boundaries between houses).3 The astrologer next used planetary tables to calculate the longitude of the planets (including the sun and moon) in the ecliptic for the moment of his birth and assign them to their proper houses. The application of the information contained in such tables was by no means simple, since the astrologer had to take into account not only the deferents and epicycles of Ptolemaic planetary theory, but also factors such as the gradual movement of the longitude of the apogee of the deferent circle over time due to the precession of the equinoxes, and the necessary adjustments caused by Ptolemy's use of the equant, i.e., a point equidistant from the earth and the center of the deferent circle, from which the angular speed of the epicycle appeared to be uniform.4 Ptolemy had included tables of planetary motion in the Almagest - later revised and separated out in the Handy Tables - and in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries The Tables of Toledo, which were compiled in Islamic Spain in the second half of the eleventh century, became a standard tool in the Latin West. Bate, however, maximized the accuracy of his own natal horoscope by composing his own tables for the longitude of Mechelen, and correcting them in accordance with his own observations down to the end of his life.

Once the technical work of dividing up the houses and assigning the planets to them had been completed, the equally complex, but more creative, work of astrological analysis began. Each of the twelve houses had its own particular signification; the first house, for example, determined 'the complexion and form of the body' and 'the quality of the soul,' while the eighth house presaged the time and manner of death. The relationship ('aspect') between planets was of paramount importance as well. Bate devotes the most attention (some 26 pages of Latin text in this edition) to the first house, which stretched from Sagittarius 12° 20' to Capricorn 19°. Because Sagittarius, the sign under which Bate was born, was governed by Jupiter, Bate interpreted his complexion as sanguine. The fact that the malign planet Saturn, however, stood in a sextile aspect to Bate's ascendant (i.e., it was separated by approximately 60° of ecliptic longitude) meant that he was also characterized by slowness (tarditas) and lethargy (pigritia). Bate proceeds through each of the twelve houses in order, citing a wide variety of astrological authorities to justify his interpretation of the data (indeed, as David Juste notes in his discussion of the astrological context of the Nativitas, there is virtually no contemporarily available astrological source that Bate was not aware of). Of particular interest are his descriptions of various medical afflictions that he suffered from throughout his life. Naturally, because Bate was analyzing his natal horoscope thirty-five years after he was born, there was ample room for him to adjust his interpretation of the data to correspond with the known events of his life.

This is the first complete Latin edition of Bate's Nativitas, and it is an impressive scholarly achievement whose depths can only be hinted at in this review. Not only have the editors produced the definitive edition of Bate's text, they have also written what amounts to a separate monograph to contextualize it. The audience for this work will probably be restricted to readers who know Latin and have some knowledge of the techniques of medieval astrology. It thus provides an opening for a scholar willing to translate the Nativitas and explain its techniques to a broader readership.

This is a very clean book, especially considering the labors involved with publishing a text of this kind. A few minor suggestions are noted below, none of which should be seen to detract from an impressive piece of scholarship that will help to make Bate's work much more and accessible, and which also serves as a fine example of the benefits of working in scholarly teams.

On pp. 19 and 37 the Latin Responsum autem ultimo facere ardenti petitioni conveniens protelando amicis imponebatur is translated 'For it is incumbent upon friends to finally give a suitable response to an urgent request by delaying it,' but that cannot be what this passage means. The Latin is inelegant, but perhaps 'Ultimately, because of his delaying, the [obligation] to provide a suitable response to [Bate's] urgent entreaty fell upon his friends.'

p. 20: 'conjunctives' for 'subjunctives' may confuse Anglophone readers.

p. 21: something has gone wrong with the translation 'that the revolutions of the year to not add many force to the nativity,' which is translated correctly three pages earlier.

p. 28: should be 'similar [to] the text'

p. 32: 'we have no that evidence' should be 'we have no evidence that'

p. 42: in a passage translating Nativitas 1308-1320 on Bate's proficiency with various musical instruments, a number of corrections need to be made. Bajulare means not 'carry' but 'regulate' or 'control' (See Du Cange, s.v.); in reference to the playing of the viella ('viol' or 'fiddle'), tactum cordarum should be fingering or touching of 'chords' rather than 'snares'; fides ('strings') is left untranslated in the phrase cistri fides ('strings of the citola'); For the Latin Novit... delectabile murmur tubisoni Licii penne plectro replicare ictibus timpanizando vicissim replicatis the translation '[he knew how ]to replicate the delightful sound of the Lycian trumpet by playing the tympan with beats replicated in turn' does not make sense. The three previous references have all been to stringed instruments (the viella, the citola, and the psaltery) and the words penne plectro - left out in this translation - refer to the use of a quill pick or plectrum to strike strings. Though admittedly obscure, it seems to mean something like '[he knew how] to replicate the delightful sound of the resounding lyre with a quill plectrum, striking with beats replicated in turn.'


1.   Philipp E. Nothaft, 'Henry Bate's Tabule Machlinenses : the earliest astronomical tables by a Latin author,' Annals of Science 75.4 (2018).
2.   Shlomo Sela, Abraham Ibn Ezra on Nativities and Continuous Horoscopy (Leiden, 2013), p. 43.
3.   See John D. North, Horoscopes and History (London, 1986), pp. 9-10.
4.   By far the most useful introduction to the complexities of Ptolemaic planetary theory is found in James Evans, The History and Practice of Ancient Astronomy (New York, 1988), pp. 289-392.

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Sunday, September 29, 2019


Vayos Liapis, Antonis K. Petrides (ed.), Greek Tragedy After the Fifth Century: A Survey from ca. 400 BC to ca. AD 400. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019. Pp. xiv, 415. ISBN 9781107038554. $125.00.

Reviewed by Martin Cropp, University of Calgary (

Version at BMCR home site

[Contents are listed at the end of this review.]

This book offers a survey of Greek tragedy from the deaths of Euripides and Sophocles to late antiquity, aiming to provide a comprehensive overview of the history of the genre in all its aspects — as literature, as performance art, and as one of the most influential and persistent cultural properties of the Greco-Roman world. A central purpose, as set out by Antonis Petrides in his Introduction, is to insist on the vitality of 'postclassical' tragedy and to reject the orthodoxy of a long and sad decline from a fifth-century zenith which dominated scholarship until quite recently. Eleven chapters are focused on Texts (1–4), Contexts and Developments (5–9) and Reception and Transmission (10–11). The book's admirable ambition is limited, of course, by the scarcity and unevenness of the available evidence. Nearly half of it is focused on the fourth century BCE, a quarter on the Hellenistic period, and one chapter on the era of the Roman empire, while two chapters provide more expansive surveys of, respectively, tragic music and dance and the scholarly tradition. Given this structure, it is not surprising that some topics, such as the diffusion of theatres through the Greek world, the persistence of choruses and the professionalization of dramatic performance are addressed more than once. Such overlaps are usually signalled by the editors, and unadvertised minor contradictions are rare (on p. 54 it is 'perhaps unlikely' that Theodectas produced a tragedy Mausolus on the occasion of the satrap's funeral, whereas on p. 187 he apparently did so; on p. 185 Carcinus II produced 'a startlingly innovative version of the Medea myth', but on p. 254 he 'reverts to an older version').

After Petrides' Introduction, Chapter 1 summarizes what can be said about the best-known fourth-century tragedians, Theodoros Stephanopoulos writing on Carcinus II and Chaeremon and Vayos Liapis on Astydamas, Theodectas and several others (I missed mention of Sophocles II and the Ashmolean fragments of an Achilles which was probably his rather than his grandfather's).1 The authors stress that the evidence shows considerable variety, with both derivative and innovative elements, a point explored further in the contributions of Dunn and Carter and in Almut Fries's chapter on Rhesus (Ch. 2). Fries draws on the introduction to her 2014 edition (see BMCR2016.10.29) in a sympathetic account of the play's literary context and dramatic novelties. Pierluigi Lanfranchi's chapter on Ezekiel's Exagôgê (Ch. 4) similarly draws on, and updates, the introduction to his 2006 edition (which surprisingly seems to have been reviewed only in a few journals of theology and Judaic studies) and will be helpful to readers more comfortable with English than French. Lanfranchi stresses what the Exagôgê owes to the conventions and language of classical tragedy as well its peculiarities as a drama composed (probably) for performance in connection with a Jewish festival in Alexandria. The only other extant tragic work from the Hellenistic period, Lycophron's Alexandra, is the centrepiece of Simon Hornblower's chapter (Ch. 4), which again summarizes the essentials of his 2015 edition (see BMCR 2017.03.54, 2018.09.18) with emphasis on its tragic affinities and its likely historical context and significance. This occupies nearly half of Hornblower's chapter and is accompanied by brief but stimulating comments on the pervasive influence of tragedy in this period contrasted with the scant remains of actual tragic and satyric texts.

Part 2 ('Contexts and Developments') opens with B. Le Guen's survey (Ch. 5) of the archaeological and epigraphic evidence for the diffusion of tragedy in the Greek world in the fourth century and the Hellenistic era. Le Guen illustrates in detail the variety of occasions for tragic performances (new and old plays, excerpts and complete productions, competitive and non-competitive contexts, Dionysiac and non-Dionysiac festivals) and gives particular attention to the Artists of Dionysus and the persistence of tragic choruses in various forms. Three lists tabulate the relevant epigraphic or literary evidence (with some confusing headings: Table 1 'Aegean and Ionian cities' actually lists Aegean islands and Corcyra, while Table 2 'Cities in continental Greece and Asia Minor' lists five Ionian cities and Carian Iasos). Duncan and Liapis's chapter on theatre performance after the fifth century (Ch. 6) covers some similar ground in sections on the theatrical environment and the chorus in fourth-century tragedy, adding material on theatrical equipment, the formation of a literary canon and a repertory tradition, and aspects of performance and acting. It is perhaps slightly unfortunate that the chapter is framed by references to the epigram supposedly composed by Astydamas for his statue in the Theatre of Dionysus, in which the poet complains about not being ranked with the great tragedians of the fifth century. This is often said to typify a kind of inferiority complex amongst fourth century tragedians, but it should be observed that the whole story of the epigram's composition by Astydamas and rejection by the Athenian boulê is anecdotal and highly suspect (or as Denys Page put it, 'It would be an act of blind faith to accept the truth of the tale or the authenticity of the epigram').2 The first-person style is inappropriate for a public honorific statue and much like that of Hellenistic epigrams impersonating great literary figures of the past (e.g. Homer, Sappho, Alcman, Thespis: AP 7.5, 7.15, 7.709, 7.410); so the epigram probably tells us more about Hellenistic literary attitudes than those of the mid-fourth century.

Mark Griffith provides an informative survey of music and dance (Ch. 7) ranging broadly through the period covered by the book and through evidence which is largely comparative and drawn from music history in general (specific evidence for the continuing importance of music tragedy comes mainly from inscriptions recording festival arrangements, and for dance there is vanishingly little). Griffith includes a helpful basic description of technical developments in musical styles and instrumentation, and argues convincingly that the music and choreography composed for early performances is unlikely to have survived to be re-used in later times.

The last two essays in this section confront the question of how, if at all, fourth-century tragedy differed from what went before. Francis Dunn (Ch. 8) takes soundings in several areas (song, plot-types, diction and rhetoric, characters and character-development, theatrical self-reference and allusion) and finds that the evidence, where there is any, is quite mixed, not least because late fifth-century tragedy itself was far from uniform in these respects. David Carter (Ch. 9) looks more specifically at the social and political attitudes detectable in the remnants of fourth-century tragedy and finds, firstly, no evident difference in the expression of 'Athenian' values (concerning suppliants, burial and freedom of speech, for example), and secondly no real evidence that tragedy became less (broadly) political and more rhetorical in the fourth century. The first point is probably right: the evidence is slight (mainly three fragments of Moschion from the tail-end of the fourth century if not later), but the civic rhetoric of fourth-century Athenian tragedians is not likely to have differed much from that of fourth-century Athenian orators. The second point is, I think, less cogent. Carter points out that tragedy was already a highly rhetorical art-form in the mid-fifth century, but Aristotle's distinction between 'the early poets' whose characters express themselves 'politically' (πολιτικῶς) and 'those nowadays' whose characters do so 'rhetorically' (ῥητορικῶς) is about style rather than substance and suggests (to me at least) that Aristotle thought of the latter as talking more like people trained in rhetorical schools, in scenes increasingly designed to showcase rhetorical confrontations.

The book ends with two chapters on reception and transmission. Ruth Webb (Ch. 10) explores attitudes to tragedy in the period of the Roman empire, emphasizing tragedy's 'double life' — a thriving but increasingly stylized and eccentric performance art and a profound influence, through its texts, in the realms of literature, rhetoric, and moral and practical education. This prominence, Webb points out, along with its mythical subject-matter, made tragedy peculiarly vulnerable to criticism and distrust, especially in Christian circles. Finally, Johanna Hanink (Ch. 11), provides a clear and concise survey of the study of tragedy — historical, philological and philosophical — from the fifth century BCE to the scholars of Byzantium.

The book as a whole is amply documented and makes a valuable addition to the now burgeoning study of 'postclassical' tragic theatre. It should be widely consulted, and for that reason I add a few comments on minor points. p. 29: The tragedian Antiphon was not visiting Syracuse 'as an ambassador' when Dionysius had him executed; πρεσβευτήν in the ps.-Plutarchan Life of the orator Antiphon is a mistake for πρεσβύτην 'an old man', which would apply to the orator but not to the tragedian. p. 30: The only text-fragment of Patrocles of Thurii (on whom see now Cropp and Storey, JHS 138 (2018), 50–54) does not seem to me to express 'obvious Schadenfreude' and 'gleeful relief' at the death of the man whose funeral urn the speaker (surely a relative) holds. pp. 37, 253, 281: Astydamas F 8.1–2 is mistranslated in all three places: not 'The surest praise of a family is to praise an individual', but 'the surest praise of birth (i.e. of commending a man's eugeneia) is to praise with regard to the man (i.e. his personal conduct, not his heredity)'. pp. 54, 56: Theodectas was not a pupil of Aristotle, who was about fifteen years his junior; nor was Heraclides of Pontus (p. 181), who was acting director of the Academy when Aristotle was twenty-three years old. p. 55: In Theodectas F 1 it is Ajax, not Diomedes, who claims that Diomedes chose Odysseus so as to be sure of having a companion inferior to himself. p. 102, '[O]ne could…make a case for [the assassination of] Jason [of Pherae]' as the subject of Moschion's Pheraioi: Meineke actually proposed the assassination of Jason's brother and successor Polyphron by his son Alexander, before Ribbeck fixed on the assassination of Alexander himself.3 p. 121: Satyr- plays were not necessarily dropped from the tragic competition at the Dionysia "in 341 BC"; the didascalic record for 341 is just the earliest record we have of a non-competitive satyric production. p. 167: The same record does not mean that the production of an 'old drama' only became a regular feature of the programme in the late 340s. p. 151, n. 13: Carcinus II has nothing to do with Acragas; the Carcinus of Acragas named in Suda κ 394 is clearly a different person. p. 154: The tragedian executed because of his association with Callisthenes of Olynthus and the 'Page's Conspiracy' was not Neophron (Suda ν 218) but Nearchus (cf. Suda κ 240). p. 247: Snell's tentative identification of galliambics in Astydamas F 1h (the Hibeh papyrus) is very uncertain, as Liapis has pointed out (AJPh 137 (2016), 75f.). p. 248: Some uncertainty should be signalled about the identification of the plot of Sophocles' Chryses in Hyginus, Fab. 120–1. p. 253: In Aristotle, Rhet. 1399b31, 'for he could have done it for this reason' is Aristotle's comment, not part of Ajax's argument.

Table of Contents

Introduction (A. Petrides, 1–21)

1. Greek tragedy in the Fourth Century: The Fragments (V. Liapis, Th. Stephanopoulos, 25–65)
2. The Rhesus (A. Fries, 66–89)
3. Hellenistic Tragedy and Satyr-Drama (S. Hornblower, 90–124)
4. The Exagôgê of Ezekiel the Tragedian (P. Lanfranchi, 125–146)

5. Beyond Athens. The Expansion of Greek Tragedy from the Fourth Century Onwards (B. Le Guen, 149–179)
6. Theatre Performance after the Fifth Century (A. Duncan, V. Liapis, 180–203)
7. Music and Dance in Tragedy after the Fifth Century (M. Griffith, 204–242)
8. The Fifth Century and After: (Dis)continuities in Greek Tragedy (F. Dunn, 243–269)
9. Society and Politics in Post-Fifth-Century Tragedy (D. M. Carter, 270–293)

10. Attitudes to Tragedy from the Second Sophistic to Late Antiquity (R. Webb, 297–323)
11. Scholars and Scholarship on Tragedy (J. Hanink, 324–349)

Bibliography (350–391)
Index Locorum (392–402)
General Index (403–415)


1.   See M. L. West, ZPE 126 (1999) 43–65; R. Kannicht in TrGF 5, 1109–11.
2.   D. L. Page, Further Greek Epigrams (Cambridge, 1981), 33.
3.   A. Meineke, Ueber der tragischen Dichter Moschion, Bericht…der Königl. Preuss. Akademie…zu Berlin, philosoph.-histor. Klasse (1855), 102–114 at 106.

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Friday, September 27, 2019


Rafael Domingo, Roman Law: An Introduction. London; New York: Routledge, 2018. Pp. 238. ISBN 9780815362753. $150.00.

Reviewed by Nephele Papakonstantinou, University of Athens (

Version at BMCR home site

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Rafael Domingo provides an introduction to the essentials of Roman legal culture, namely private law as developed and implemented by the Romans in the Late Republic and Principate. The textbook belongs to a tradition of Anglophone introductory volumes on Roman law, but ranges more widely, aiming in novel fashion to cater more globally to undergraduates in pre-law.

The volume opens with a preface (viii-xi) and a chronological table of major actors, laws and institutions (xiii-xiv). It maintains strict symmetry between two parts, each of which is further subdivided into six chapters. Part I, "Roman Law in its Historical Context", outlines the most distinctive Roman legal concepts and values, the legal institutions of the Roman state, the legal sources, the evolution of Roman jurisprudence, Justinian's compilation, and the subsequent impact of Roman Law on the legal and political systems of the West. Part II, "Roman law in action", is devoted to the branches of private law : actions (civil litigation), persons (family), property (ownership, succession), and obligations (contracts, delicts). Although criminal law is absent, the second part of the law of obligations adresses the penal nature of delicts. Every chapter is equipped with an introductory paragraph and a selective bibliography of secondary literature for further reading. The volume concludes with a list of bibliographical references (218-230) and an index locorum.

The textbook is conceptually divided into two sections : "context" and "substance", i.e. historical background (chapters 1-6) and the content of law (chapters 7-12). Chapter 1 (3-26) reviews some of the key concepts of Roman legal thought and is vital for a fuller comprehension of Roman legal culture. Chapter 2 (27-46) describes ancient Rome's administrative and juridical control in the city of Rome and in the provinces ; here the focus is the structure of Roman jurisdiction, not the issues underlying the blending of Roman and local law. Chapters 3 (47-61) and 4 (62-77) deal with the surviving evidence of Roman law and the development of secular jurisprudence. Chapters 5 (78-87) and 6 (88-107) summarize in an accessible manner the rediscovery of Roman law from the eleventh century into the modern era. Chapter 7 (111-126) covers civil litigation, whilst Chapter 8 (127-143) considers the family and its key institutions. Chapter 9 (144-161) focuses on private property and the limited real rights operating in that context. Chapter 10 (162-179) gives an account of the rules governing the devolution of estates upon death. Chapter 11 (180-202) discusses the types of contracts, based on how they were concluded, as well as the methods by which a creditor could guard himself against the possible insolvency of his debtor. Chapter 12 (203-217) addresses civil and praetorian delicts (furtum, rapina, damnum iniuria, iniuria) along with the delicts resting purely on the ius honorarium (metus, dolus).

The textbook is structured in a pedagogically sound way. Despite its brevity, it offers a careful review of the entire field of Roman private law. Being mindful of the uninitiated, it does not presume familiarity with Latin nor does it require a working knowledge of Roman history (viii). Although many Latin technical terms are given in parenthesis, the reader is generally encouraged to think broadly about Roman law without having to engage closely with the original sources or their historical context.

Few criticisms can be offered. Given the highly technical character of Roman legal thought, simplification may not always be fruitful, for example, when the terminology of classical law does not correspond to subsequent terms or concepts, as is especially evident in the case of the law of contracts and the law of succession. The decision not to discuss, or even mention, socio-legal scholarship (viii) may have the unintended effect of turning students away from potentially productive avenues of research. The very few references to primary sources and the absence of notes cannot be overlooked, either ; this is an unconventional choice for a textbook designed to be "deeply embedded in the Romanistic tradition" (viii). The result is a descriptive narrative that admittedly reads more fluidly 1, but that also tends to neglect the ancient authors' reasoning, the significant historical practices, and the principles of interpretation in a legal context.

In an otherwise elaborate discussion of Roman law of statutes, Professor Domingo argues rather obscurely (viii ; 9 ; 88 ; 105) in favour of the interplay between Roman law and global constitutionalism. Here is a particularly striking quote : "Roman law constitutes a perennial model for the appropriate development of legal systems for all times, as well as a foundational pillar of emerging global law. Roman law offers a good example of how a legal system can be developed and modernised based on equitable ideas and principles" (4). It is hard to see how that can be the case, and according to which criteria. First of all, Roman law is no longer viewed as a static source of doctrine, but instead as the product of a historical development and its reception by a variety of audiences of different cultural backgrounds. Second, our best surviving sources of and for Roman law largely reflect the culture-specific interests of a landed élite. Third, an important element in Roman law is the long-established mos maiorum that regulated conservative ways of legal and daily life, as Professor Domingo acknowledges himself on page 15. This means that, although there were certain sensitive cases where the praetor came to reform civil law in an innovative way (for example, with regard to succession), Romans were rather suspicious of any kind of modernisation. Finally, one must bear in mind the way in which the law actually operated in Roman society : because of the extremely complex relation between iustitia and aequitas, the Romans enjoyed neither social equity nor gender equality.

Professor Domingo's textbook is a concise and learned synthesis whose great merit is not only that it represents an important effort in making Roman law meaningful in the present for readers everywhere, but also that it emphasizes the unifying influence of Roman law in legal history. Nevertheless, scholars, teachers and students must be careful not to overstate this influence, knowing that Roman law can and has been used as a political tool. 2


1.   A similar style of writing has been adopted by A. M. Riggsby in Roman Law and the Legal World of the Romans (Cambridge, 2010).
2.   Mayali, L. (2015). The Legacy of Roman Law. In D. Johnston (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Roman Law (Cambridge Companions to the Ancient World, pp. 374-395).

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Katharina Schmidt, Glass and Glass Production in the Near East during the Iron Age Period: Evidence from Objects, Texts and Chemical Analysis. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2019. Pp. viii, 312; 68 p. of plates. ISBN 9781789691542. £50.00.

Reviewed by Katherine A. Larson, Corning Museum of Glass (

Version at BMCR home site

The professed goal of Katharina Schmidt's new book, Glass and Glass Production in the Near East during the Iron Age Period is "to contribute to the history of glass and close the gap between the Late Bronze Age and the Hellenistic period" (1). The current volume is the first synthetic book-length treatment of Iron Age glass since the classic 1970 Glass and Glassmaking in Ancient Mesopotamia.1 It makes a significant contribution to glass studies by being the first work by a single author that draws together the evidence from archaeology, texts, and archaeometry.

Chapters 1 and 2 provide background on the general framework of the book and the properties of glass and other vitreous materials, respectively. The core of the book is Chapters 3–7, which cover the archaeological (Ch. 3–5), textual (Ch. 6), and archaeometric (Ch. 7) evidence for glass in Iron Age Mesopotamia (ca. 1000–539 BCE), spanning the regions of Assyria, Babylonia, and the Levant. The conclusion in Chapter 8 summarizes the major findings of the study, with comments on the role of the palace institution in Neo-Assyrian glass production and the value of glass in the Iron Age. The end matter consists of a glossary of technical terms, a bibliography, a catalogue of objects arranged by archaeological site, the color plates, an edition of a cuneiform text recipe for blue glass, tables of chemical data, and an index.

While much of Schmidt's evidence is well known among glass specialists, it has not previously been brought together in a systematic and cohesive way, and therein lies the real merit of the book. Schmidt examined most of the catalogued objects in person, and so was able to provide new, cohesive insights into manufacturing techniques; the identification and experimental recreation of three different methods for producing blue and white rosette inlays is especially informative (68–73). Of note within the newly published material are several glass objects from Hasanlu, now in the collection of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and from Khorsabad, now at the Oriental Institute and the Musée du Louvre.

Schmidt identifies three major groups of Iron Age glass, distinguished primarily by manufacturing technique: mosaic, cast- and-cut, and core-form. This categorization in turn governs the interpretation of objects by typology, function, chronology, geographic distribution, and even within the ancient mind. While we might today group this variety of objects under the single material-based category of "glass", Schmidt shows that the meaning of glass was quite variable in the Iron Age mind, and "glass cannot be considered a uniform material" (157).

Schmidt's emphasis on and attention to the archaeological data led her to several important conclusions and revisions to the established canon of the Iron Age Mesopotamian glass narrative.

1. Mosaic glass was probably not made during the Iron Age. Schmidt interprets the Iron Age examples, including the mosaic glass inlays set in the alabaster vessel from Hasanlu (now in Philadelphia), as reused Late Bronze Age fragments. Other examples, such as the mosaic bowls from Aššur, may have continued to be used into the Iron Age as heirlooms.
2. Major innovations in Assyrian glass production included transparent glass, the slumping and sagging technique, and the use of glass bowls in royal banqueting. The vast majority of cast-and-cut vessels and inlays come from palatial contexts in the Assyrian heartland. Although Nimrud heavily dominates this material, the lack of glass found in Assyrian domestic spaces helps validate this pattern as historical reality, not an artifact of differential archaeological recovery (103).
3. Not all glass carried the same symbolic value. While transparent bowls were closely attached to the palace at Nimrud, polychrome core-form perfume vessels were used outside the royal sphere, in religious, domestic, and funerary contexts. Core-form vessels largely seem to be a Babylonian phenomenon, and, unlike cast vessels, relate closely in shape and function to contemporaneous ceramic and stone vessels.

Another benefit of Schmidt's approach is the consideration of the diversity of glass inlays produced during the Iron Age, including inlaid vessels, painted inlays, rosette inlays, small and large monochrome inlays, and attachments for statues. Although such artifacts generally fall into her "cast-and-cut" category, the technological variation in manufacturing methods for the rosettes alone is remarkable. Cast-and-cut inlays were also used in "Phoenician (style) ivories", for which Schmidt again asserts the importance of the palace in their production rather than of any specific ethnic affiliation of the craftsmen.

Perhaps most astonishing is just how few glass objects (excluding beads, which Schmidt did not consider for this study) can be positively attributed to Iron Age Mesopotamia over a period of almost five centuries—a total of 389 objects in the catalogue, including 55 without archaeological provenience. More than half (199 catalogued items, plus over 250 uncatalogued fragments of cast vessels) come from Nimrud. Poor preservation must be a factor, as glass makers increasingly used natron soda rather than plant ash as a flux in the glass batch, resulting in an unstable, water-soluble mixture that may have been viable during its use-life but did not include enough stabilizing lime to survive two and a half millennia. The significant early-10th-century-BCE natron glass beakers from the burial of Nesikhons at Thebes, which are highly susceptible to moisture and deteriorating, may be emblematic of this sparsely populated chapter in glass history. 2

Chapter 6 provides a commentary and edition for one of the "Nineveh glass recipes", a group of five cuneiform tablets from the 7th-century BCE library of Ashurbanipal related to the primary production of glass from raw ingredients. The recipe translated is the one for blue zagindurû glass, considered to be representative of the other recipes. Schmidt's commentary makes clear that a multi-stage process of heating, crushing, and melting was necessary to produce a pure glass product. Schmidt considers the texts to be true recipes, indicative of glassmaking processes from the 2nd millennium BCE, not the literary or administrative 'lexical lists' of Moorey (119).3 Remarkably, as was demonstrated almost 50 years ago, the recipe is comprehensible and produces a viable glass (130; see also Brill in Oppenheim et al 1970, 110-114), although the problem of circularity, by which modern glass chemistry is used to translate the more esoteric terms in the text, and the text in turn followed to produce recipes consistent with contemporary understanding of glassmaking processes, remains.

The final category of evidence is chemical analysis. In addition to helpful summary sections on raw glass ingredients and colorants (along with the worthy reminder than glass coloration is not strictly governed by additives, but also depends on furnace conditions, heating and cooling cycles, and impurities), Schmidt discusses previously published analyses of Iron Age glass from Hasanlu, Nimrud, Pella, and Gordion. Only 11 of the 183 objects subjected to chemical analysis also appear in the catalogue, a caution for correlating the two lines of inquiry. The main story of chemical composition in Iron Age glass is the introduction of natron as flux, a shift in raw ingredients which Schmidt considers to be gradual and not nearly as widespread or immediate as it is often claimed (142). However, the combined lack of chronological control, scarcity of analyzed material, and the instability of early natron glasses means that a model for the adoption of natron should still be considered an open question. Plant ash continued to be the primary flux used in Near Eastern glasses through the first millennium CE (e.g. in Sasanian glass4), in marked technological contrast to Roman natron glasses. The persistence of plant ash as a flux in Mesopotamia may reflect the absence of a local source of natron soda and/or a conservative manufacturing enterprise.

Schmidt leans heavily on evidence from the late Bronze Age to understand the Iron Age, even though an apparent gap in glass production during the 12th and 11th centuries calls the mechanics of continuity into question. In many cases, especially in chemical analysis, this is more indicative of the paucity of study and lack of evidence for Iron Age glass compared to the earlier period rather than of any oversight on Schmidt's part. The compression is most pronounced, however, in the discussion of the Nineveh glass texts, which Schmidt understands to be copies of 2nd-millennium originals. Granted, the glass texts are the extent of written evidence about glass making from the Iron Age, but their relationship to actual glassmaking in the Iron Age could be further problematized. Also potentially misleading is the inclusion in the catalogue and plates of the mosaic bowls and inlays from Aššur and Hasanlu, which are dated by Schmidt to the Middle-Assyrian period

By contrast, Schmidt very seldom refers to material that postdates the end of the Neo-Babylonian empire in 539 BCE. Core-form kohl tubes and head pendants, characteristic objects which begin in the 6th century BCE, are not catalogued and only summarily discussed (116, fig. 5.3). Schmidt provides a brief excursus on the so-called "Achaemenid" glass bowls which are the successors to the Neo-Assyrian cast-and-cut bowls (63), but she does not mention the important work of Despina Ignatiadou, who has argued that the type is a product of the 4th century Greek world.5

Certainly, the information Schmidt has gathered is vast and diverse. But with 200-year gaps isolating the classical Iron Age from the Bronze Age and the Hellenistic period, it does leave open many outstanding questions about the role of Iron Age Mesopotamia in the historical arc of glass. Nevertheless, thanks to its updated and synthetic catalogue, revised typology and chronology, functional analysis, and refined geographic distribution, Schmidt's work will help inscribe the major innovations of Iron Age Near East into a comprehensive history of glass.


1.   A. Leo Oppenheim, Robert H. Brill, Dan Barag, and Axel von Saldern. Glass and Glassmaking in Ancient Mesopotamia: An Edition of the Cuneiform Texts Which Contain Instructions for Glassmakers: With a Catalogue of Surviving Objects. Corning, NY: Corning Museum of Glass, 1970 (reprinted 1988).
2.   Birgit Schlick-Nolte and Rainer Werthmann. "Glass Vessels from the Burial of Nesikhons." Journal of Glass Studies 45 (2003): 11–34.
3.   P.R.S. Moorey, Ancient Mesopotamian Materials and Industries: The Archaeological Evidence. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994, pp. 210–211.
4.   Robert H. Brill, "Appendix 2: Chemical Analyses of Some Sasanian Glasses from Iraq." In Sasanian and Post-Sasanian Glass in the Corning Museum of Glass, 65–88. Corning, NY: Corning Museum of Glass, 2005.
5.   Despina Ignatiadou, "Achaemenid and Greek Colourless Glass." In The World of Achaemenid Persia, edited by J. Curtis and J. Simpson, 419–26. London: British Museum, 2010.

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Matthew Adam Cobb (ed.), The Indian Ocean Trade in Antiquity: Political, Cultural, and Economic Impacts. London; New York: Routledge, 2018. Pp. xi, 237. ISBN 9781138738263. £115.00​.

Reviewed by Matt Gibbs, University of Winnipeg (

Version at BMCR home site


Matthew Adam Cobb's edited collection, based on a panel held at the Ninth Celtic Conference in Classics in 2016, considers the "impact of the Indian Ocean trade on various societies in the age of Antiquity" (1). Given the time frame considered here—roughly from 300 BCE–700 CE (and much later, in fact, in chapter eight)—this is a bold project, melding interdisciplinary analyses from Classics, Near Eastern Studies, and South Asian Studies, as well as various methodological approaches. But it is certainly a timely one too. As Cobb notes (1–2), there has been a burgeoning interest in Indian Ocean Studies across all historical periods. Given the expanding range of evidence from ancient Indian, East African, and several Arabian sites, academics from a range of disciplines are now in a position to ask new questions and to re-examine earlier theories.

Flanked by an introduction, a brief conclusion, and an index, there are ten chapters. Those chapters, with their own endnotes and bibliography, are divided into three thematic sections: the first deals with developing trade and geographic knowledge in the "western" Indian Ocean; the second considers "cross-cultural engagement" by examining the movement of particular products and concepts, and how these would have affected socio-economic and cultural developments within the societies touched by them; the third and final section assesses the Indian Ocean's influences on literary culture, and considers the extent to which trade across this expanse influenced cultural and intellectual exchange between particular societies.

In chapter one, which acts as the volume's introduction, Cobb considers the aims of this collection: first, "to facilitate interdisciplinary exchanges in a range of fields" (1); second, to provide new perspectives for those working on aspects of the Indian Ocean; and third, to allow discourse across disciplinary lines. He explains the chronological parameters of the volume, arguing that 300 BCE–700 CE represents a period of sustained growth across the ocean in terms of travel, in an unprecedented quantity of goods traded, and in the resulting effects on cultural developments in various societies (3–4). A brief foray into the different theories and approaches used by the contributors is followed by a longer discussion of globalisation, which Cobb notes could be redefined—namely by focussing on long distance travel and trade, and the impacts on particular societies—and then applied to the ancient world. The chapter concludes with summaries of the remaining chapters.

The first section begins with chapter two, once again by Cobb, who examines the Hellenistic and early Roman periods of trade between Egypt and India. Basing his argument on an analysis of the development of trade, on the evidence for infrastructure to support trade in Egypt's Eastern Desert and on the eastern coast, and on the development of officials responsible for administering this trade, Cobb suggests that there was broad continuity between Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt. He notes that while trade contacts already existed by the late Ptolemaic period (24–25), the Roman period did see major developments in construction (at Myos Hormos, for example, [28]) and in administrative and fiscal reforms (30–33). Cobb states that the trade in this area, and Egypt's transition between Hellenistic kingdom and Roman province, should be seen as one of expansion and progression rather than transformation (32–33).

Leonardo Gregoratti examines the role of the Parthian Empire in the Indian Ocean trade in chapter three. Using evidence from Cassius Dio, the Periplus Maris Erythraei, and several Chinese sources, Gregoratti considers the points of contact across the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf (55–59), noting that the most important trading posts in the region were Apologos, due to its connection to Charax Spasinou (the capital of the Parthian client kingdom of Characene) and its proximity to the Euphrates river, and Ommana, on the southern shore of the Persian Gulf. Ultimately, Gregoratti argues that the Parthian Empire was not simply a facilitator of trading endeavours that originated in the west, but that such trade was actively promoted between east and west (60–61), with the albeit limited archaeological evidence representative of this. Moreover, he believes this trade should be seen as a form of "synergy" (64) between the Arsacids, Palmyrene, and the Characene administration.

The foci of chapter four, by Himanshu Prabha Ray, are the individuals involved in trade. Here Ray examines the significant role that particular communities played in the development of the Indian Ocean trade through their movement between the Red Sea and the Bay of Bengal, both on land and sea. Dealing with a wide chronological scope from the first–ninth centuries CE, Ray aims to "underscore the concept of ritual economy" (74); maintaining that economic development must be contextualised with existing social structures, she argues that the Indian Ocean trade routes were based on earlier socio-economic and religious activities, including visits and donations to religious establishments. Considering the geography of the west coast of India, then the smaller maritime and coastal communities, and traders and travellers, Ray concludes that the Indian Ocean trade was built on a maritime network that involved a wide range of artisans, craftworkers, and transporters, and that this network cannot be separated from the diverse religious landscape that existed in the regions touched by this trade.

The final chapter in this section, Federico De Romanis studies the evidence for the west coast of India within the Periplus Maris Erythraei. Considering the possible profession and experience of the author of the text, De Romanis examines internal differences between different sections of the text and compares them with other geographical treatises of the Roman period, namely those of Pliny the Elder and Claudius Ptolemy (97–106). Sections of the Periplus, he concludes, were the product of experiences not only of the author, but also fellow merchants who travelled to the emporia and communities on the western coast of India.

The first chapter (chapter six) of section two, by Raoul John McLaughlin, focusses on the "Eastern Commercial Revenue Model." Arguing that Rome's greatest gains were the revenues derived from taxes on international trade (using the tetarte—the quarter tax on eastern imports), he suggests that Roman prosperity was sustained by "international commerce and… the eastern economies" such as India and China (120). In support of this, McLaughlin uses the evidence from the Muziris papyrus, the Periplus Maris Erythraei, and archaeology from the Egypt's Red Sea coast as well as data from Indian sites, ultimately concluding that "international commerce supplied the Roman government with up to a third of the revenues that sustained their Empire" (129).

In chapter seven, Pierre Schneider focusses on the Roman consumption of a specific luxury item, in this case, pearls. He examines the historical demand for them and their origins, before considering the social perspective of their consumption, which spread among the Roman middle classes and freed-people (146–48). He argues that the available evidence, ranging from Greek and Latin literature through to documentary papyri, reveals a strong demand for pearls following their discovery. Schneider proposes that this demand was the motivation behind the appearance of specialised craftworkers and retailers (148–52).

In the last chapter of this section, Frederick M. Asher considers the trade links between India and other regions, with particular reference to South East Asia. While his primary focus is generally the latter half of the first millennium CE and the early second, he begins with the admonitions against sea travel that appear in the Brahmin texts (157), before considering documentary evidence dating to between the second and sixth centuries CE, such as that appearing on Socotra Island, in the south Kedah region of Malaysia, and in other regions of South East Asia, confirming the movement of Indian mariners (158). Noting that there is ample literary evidence dating to between 600–1300 CE for Hindu and Buddhist expatriate communities in the eastern part of the Indian Ocean, Asher concludes that, despite religious warnings to the contrary, there was significant movement by Indians, who established communities in the region, and in doing so affected the visual culture of the region.

The third section begins with chapter nine, in which Fiona Mitchell argues that the cultural and intellectual exchange between ancient Greece and India can be seen in specific mythological aspects. Her examination is centred on creation myths involving the splitting of an egg. Suggesting that these represent an underlying narrative, Mitchell argues that elements of this appear prior to direct contact between Greece and India (172), and that post-contact, particular texts which mirror each other closely are evidence of a closer relationship between these areas. She undertakes a detailed examination of two pre-contact texts, the Rigveda and Aristophanes' Birds (173–77), and then four post-contact texts, namely the Orphic theogonies, the Laws of Manu, the Vishnu Purana, and the Matsya Purana (177–87). In sum, Mitchell deduces that while that the transmission of these mythological ideas is difficult to date, the ever-increasing similarities between the traditions is demonstrative not only of "a sustained level of direct contact" (187), but also an intellectual link through which mythological traditions could influence one another.

Next Juan Pablo Sánchez Hernández examines the effect of the Indian Ocean trade on the ancient novel. He suggests that ancient authors writing in this genre in the first and second centuries CE made use of information from "well-articulated narratives on India" (191) as well as commercial contacts. Comparing Petronius' Satyrica, Apuleius' Metamorphoses, Achilles Tatius' Leucippe and Clitophon, Xenophon of Ephesus' Ephesiaca, and Heliodorus' Aethiopica (193–201), Sánchez Hernández proposes that the Roman authors' conception of the East was linked not only to an array of exotic products that became more commonly available, but also to the notion of decadence through luxury. Such associations he believes were a way for the Roman authors to emphasize their protagonists' perils and degrading sexual ordeals through allegory. Meanwhile the Greek authors, he supposes, were "more idealistic" (201) and provided a more positive conception of the East.

Finally, Marco Palone discusses the similarities between the ancient Greek and Indian novel. Beginning by considering the allusions to India and Ethiopia in the Greek novels of the Roman Principate, he suggests that the fables underpinning this genre were the result of maritime trade and overland travel (214–15). By examining the structural similarities between the Greek novel and the Indian kathā, he considers the existence of the hierarchical or vertically embedded narratives within both (218–23). Palone determines that both the Greek and Indian genres share these embedded narratives, that there are typically five narrative layers, and that in both cultures narrators within these layers speak in the first person and refer to their experiences of travel and trade across the Indian Ocean. The result, he believes, is that the genre likely originated in "an Indo-Greek cultural and commercial koinè" (225) that flourished under the Pax Romana.

The volume ends with short conclusion by Cobb. He brings together the diverse conclusions and reminds us that the study of the Indian Ocean should not be confined to the sphere of economics alone: networks of exchange do facilitate "the expansion of conceptual horizons… often within the cultural framework of a particular society" (229).

This is an ambitious, wide-ranging collection. The breadth and depth of material is considerable, and this in itself is commendable. But given the broad disciplinary nature of the volume, overall conclusions across some chapters are difficult to draw together, and some conclusions are rather more positivist than one may expect, given the evidence; this is, however, likely the point, and does nothing to detract from the scholarship herein. While the text is accessible, there are several obvious typographical errors and some figures are unclear. Nevertheless, these issues do nothing to hamper the authors' arguments, and this remains an important contribution to the interdisciplinary study of economic and cultural exchange across the Indian Ocean.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction: The Indian Ocean Trade in Antiquity and Global History. Matthew Adam Cobb

Part 1: The Western Indian Ocean: A Developing Trade
Chapter 2: From the Ptolemies to Augustus: Mediterranean Integration into the Indian Ocean Trade. Matthew Adam Cobb
Chapter 3: Indian Ocean Trade: The Role of Parthia. Leonardo Gregoratti
Chapter 4: Ethnographies of Sailing: From the Red Sea to the Bay of Bengal in Antiquity. Himanshu Prabha Ray
Chapter 5: Patchworking the West Coast of India: Noes of the 'Periplus of the Erythaean Sea'. Federico De Romanis

Part 2: The Indian Ocean and Cross-Cultural Engagement: People, Commodities, and Society
Chapter 6: Indian Ocean Commerce in Context: The Economic and Revenue Significance of Red Sea Trade in the Ancient World Economy. Raoul John McLaughlin
Chapter 7: Erythaean Pearls in the Roman World: Features and Aspects if Luxury Consumption (late second century BCE – second century CE). Pierre Schneider
Chapter 8: India Abroad: Evidence for Ancient Indian Maritime Activity. Frederick M. Asher

Part 3: The Indian Ocean Influence on Literary Culture
Chapter 9: The Universe from an Egg: Creation Narratives in the Ancient Indian and Greek Texts. Fiona Mitchell
Chapter 10: The Impact of the Indian Ocean Trade on the Ancient Novel. Juan Pablo Sánchez Hernández
Chapter 11: Between Egypt and India: on the Route of the Ancient Novel. Marco Palone
Chapter 12: Conclusion. Matthew Adam Cobb
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Thursday, September 26, 2019


Georgia Tsouni, Antiochus and Peripatetic Ethics. Cambridge Classical Studies. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019. Pp. xi, 233. ISBN 9781108420587. $105.00.

Reviewed by John Dillon, Trinity College Dublin (

Version at BMCR home site


This most useful monograph is, as is frequently the case with Cambridge Classical Studies, a revised version of the author's doctoral thesis, in this case under the expert guidance of David Sedley, with whom she also cooperated on the organisation of a major conference on Antiochus of Ascalon, resulting in the collective volume, The Philosophy of Antiochus, in 2012.

The present volume offers an analysis of key aspects of the philosophical activity of Antiochus of Ascalon, with a focus on his prowess as an historian of philosophy, and in particular his engagement with the Peripatetic tradition in ethics—primarily the position of Aristotle himself, but also that of Theophrastus. After an introduction, the book falls into two (unequal) parts. The first, entitled 'Antiochus in Rome and Old Academic History of Philosophy', comprises two chapters, each covering one half of this composite title. First, Tsouni gives us a survey of the historical and social context within which Antiochus is operating—both his personal situation, as a philosophical refugee from Athens in Rome in the early 1st century BCE, and the broader context of the desire of Roman intellectuals, not least Cicero, for an 'authoritative' tradition in philosophy (though Cicero likes to claim loyalty to the New Academic position, at least for literary purposes!). After this, she gives a persuasive account of Antiochus' views on the history of philosophy, centering on his position that the truth reposes in the joint heritage of the Old Academic and Peripatetic traditions (the latter at least down to Theophrastus, with even Theophrastus being criticized as somewhat unsound on the status of the 'lower' goods!), while the Stoics, though borrowing a lot of truth from this source, introduce a number of untoward innovations, in particular the unrealistic downgrading of the lower goods to the status of 'indifferents'.

The second section, 'The Ethics of the Old Academy', comprising seven chapters, turns to a study of the ethical aspect of Antiochus' philosophical position, analyzing the main themes that emerge from Cicero's De Finibus book 5, where M. Pupius Piso serves as a spokesman for Antiochus. Indeed, her work largely constitutes a protracted exegesis of the book.

One of the chief features of Academic/Peripatetic ethics discerned by Antiochus is a version of the oikeiosis argument normally credited to the Stoics, and ch. 3 is devoted to the reconstruction of that. Certainly, Antiochus feels that he has ample warrant for attributing the doctrine of the inherent desire of human nature to fulfill its bodily and psychic capacities as the metaphysical foundation of eudaimonia to a combination of Aristotle and the Academics Xenocrates and Polemon (though Tsouni contrives largely to suppress the latter pair in this work!). She proceeds, in Ch. 4, to offer an analysis of Antiochus' arguments for self-love as the main psychological argument for self-appropriation, along with discussion of Aristotelian passages which might serve to justify such views, such as Politics 2. 5, 1263a40-b5 or Eth. Nic. 9, 1168b28-1169a6—though one must also consider the possibility that Antiochus is drawing on lost 'exoteric' works, as well as Old Academic sources.

Ch. 5 turns to the topic of 'cradle arguments' and the objects of oikeiosis. It would seem to have been the Epicureans who first used the behaviour of human babies and young animals to buttress their claims of the natural impulse to pleasure, but, if so, later Stoics, and Antiochus himself, took such arguments over to good effect, taking children to possess in effect 'the seeds of virtue'. Tsouni sets the story out very well here.

In chs. 6 and 7, 'Oikeiosis towards Theoretical Virtue' and 'Social Oikeiosis', Tsouni continues the story with an analysis of our natural appropriation towards the perfection of our psychic capacities, showing Antiochus' commitment to theoretical virtue as the highest kind of excellence. Here she discerns some influence from Aristotle's Protrepticus', and she may well be right. In the case of social oikeiosis, she shows how our appropriation towards justice is structured around a multiplicity of personal relationships (philiai), the most general of these encompassing humanity as whole, as philanthropia.

In ch. 8, 'The Antiochian Conception of the Happy Life', Tsouni turns to an examination of Antiochus' distinctive take on the sufficiency of virtue for the happy life (vita beata). This he grants, but with the (notorious) proviso that for 'the supremely happy life' ( vita beatissima) one requires a modicum of the 'lower' goods as well. She regards this as a 'Peripatetic' qualification, whereas I would see it as most closely reflecting the position of Polemon, last head of the Old Academy. Either way, however, it is an important modification of the Stoic position.

The final chapter ('Animals and Plants in the Antiochian-Peripatetic Account'), most interestingly, suggests links between Antiochus' (sc. Piso's) remarks in De Finibus 5 and Aristotelian and Theophrastean natural science. Emphasizing the recognition of cognitive features in animal behaviour and also to the botanical example of the vine, Tsouni highlights the interaction between nature and techne in living organisms, showing how Antiochus places ethics within a wider naturalistic context.

All in all, this book is a fine piece of scholarship, providing as it does an accurate analysis of Antiochus' distinctive position in ethics, and specifically his reclaiming oikeiosis-theory for Aristotle and the Peripatetic tradition. My only quibble, as I have said, is that I would lodge a claim for the Old Academic tradition as well—as indeed does Antiochus himself!

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Wednesday, September 25, 2019


Alex C. Purves, Homer and the Poetics of Gesture. Oxford studies in late antiquity. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2019. Pp. xiii, 214. ISBN 9780190857929. $74.00.

Reviewed by Michel Briand, Université de Poitiers (

Version at BMCR home site


Dans la riche série The Senses in Antiquity, on pouvait regretter l'absence d'une étude spécifique de la kinesthésie, voire de la proprioception.1 Sur ce thème qu'abordent aussi diverses recherches récentes, l'excellente monographie d'Alex C. Purves offre plusieurs pistes de recherche suggestives, d'autant que l'auteur réfléchit aussi, en plus du rapport poésie /geste, au toucher, à la synesthésie, aux rapports objets / personnages et temps / espace dans l'épopée.

Selon l'Introduction (1-35), assez longue pour un volume de 200 pages (complété de listes de figures et abréviations, bibliographie, indices), est appliquée à l'Iliade et à l'Odyssée une approche croisée de l'expression non-verbale, justifiant le sous-titre (Poetics of Gesture) (6 sqq.) : Purves pratique un "bricolage" maîtrisé, au sens lévi-straussien, associant études de danse, histoire des images et études cinématographiques, phénoménologie, sciences cognitives, anthropologie (de M. Mauss et M. Merleau-Ponty à J. Butler, par M. Foucault, P. Bourdieu, G. Agamben), poétique et philologie homériques (D. Lateiner, B. Fenik, M. Parry, A. Lord, P. Pucci …).

Du poème (An Ancient Gesture (St. Vincent Millay, 1954), Purves déduit qu'un geste devient tel grâce à une re-performance par le même corps ou d'autres. S'inspirant de Muybridge et Marey sur la décomposition photographique du mouvement, chaque chapitre part d'une formule cinétique/gestuelle pour analyser ses reprises et variations, en lien avec les diverses temporalités homériques. Pour le geste comme mouvement du corps plus que du visage et des mains, Purves se réfère surtout à C. Noland. La notion de schēma pourrait être développée encore : associant figures corporelles, cognitives, linguistiques, poétiques, l'histoire critique de cette notion confirme un primat du sensoriel sur le conceptuel, du kinesthésique sur le visuel, de l'émotif sur l'éthique.2 Les corps homériques, as a whole (5), non fragmentés, sont formulaires, comme les vers (Formulaic Bodies, 7-13) : les gestes sont comme des formules (gestures as formulas), en termes de perception proprioceptive et allocentrée, induisant une empathie. Le style et la gestualité homériques combinent ainsi répétitivité et autonomie, tradition et originalité (11). Suivant E. Bakker, Purves évoque une échelle d'interformularité (scale of interformularity), complétée par les notions de répétition incongrue (rebellious repetition) et d'hapax poioumena.

Ensuite (Habit, Gesture, and Freedom, 13-17), par les notions de kinetic spontaneity et kinaesthetic background, on confirme que les formulaires verbal et gestuel fondent la cohérence dynamique du poème. Une troisième partie (Bodies in Motion, 17-26) tente une synthèse sur l'invention de l'image en mouvement, au tournant du XXe siècle, et la figuration du geste comme "phrase or wave" (20). Les photos de Muybridge sur la locomotion animale et celles de Marey sont comparées à des représentations vasculaires archaïques de courses athlétiques ou de cérémonies de deuil, comme dans le Mnemosyne Atlas de l'historien de l'art Aby Warburg et ses Pathosformeln : cette "iconologie des intervalles" juxtapose des figurations d'époques variées d'un même geste émotivement chargé.3 Après un Chapter Outline, 26-29, vient la partie conclusive de l'introduction (Homeric Bodies, 29-35), qui élargit l'étude au corps en performance des rhapsodes, surtout dans l'Ion de Platon.4 Les gestes des personnages homériques dynamisent leur "incarnation" ou "mise en corps" par le rhapsode (embodiment, non "représentation", re-enactment, selon l'opposition formulée par Purves, probablement à mieux préciser). Enfin, Purves réfute Snell : le corps homérique serait sans centre ni parties, produit par les mouvements des articulations plutôt que des organes.5 Et la pensée contemporaine s'intéresse à des effets similaires, mettant en scène l'énigme même de la vivacité du geste (liveliness of gesture, 35).

Ce compte-rendu s'est concentré sur l'introduction, dont Purves suit ensuite les principes. Les chap. 2 et 6 concernent l'Iliade et les autres à la fois l'Iliade et l'Odyssée. Les chapitres 2 et 3 concernent plutôt des passages médians des épopées :

2. Falling 37-65. La chute au sol des combats iliadiques caractérise une temporalité humaine liée à la mort, au vieillissement et à la naissance. Dans Mortal Falls (40 sqq.), Purves analyse les verbes πίπτω et ἐρείπω, l'enchaînement des chutes comme moteur de l'intrigue, et leur similarité avec des cycles végétaux. Le paradoxe des morts prématurées figure la fuite du temps, plus rapide sur terre. Dans Immortal Falls (54 sqq.), la chute de divinités, Héphaistos (chant 1) et Arès (chant 5), trouble la frontière immortels/mortels. Pour Purves, contrairement à Vernant, leur corps les contraint à un seul endroit à la fois, d'où la notion paradoxale d'immortal death et les divinités blessées. À part Zeus, elles sont en état d'almost-falling, propice à une expérience provisoire du temps humain (39).

3. Running 67-91. La course au combat, aux Jeux, dans un nostos, implique de rattraper et dépasser. Purves étudie dans l'Iliade ce qu'impose à Achille "aux pieds rapides" et à Hector, chants 20 à 22, la poursuite d'un ennemi, à pied ou en char, et, chant 23, aux jeux pour Patrocle, avec un Antiloque plus rusé que fort (Running and Catching Up in the Iliad, 69 sqq.). Dans l'Odyssée (Overtaking Odysseus, 80 sqq.), l'action de dépasser et d'arriver premier (ou dernier) définit Ulysse, chants 8-9, chez les Phéaciens. Outre l'attitude du héros évitant la course, mais gagnant au disque, Purves observe, dans le récit de Démodocos, la capture d'Arès par Héphaistos : le meilleur chemin peut être plus lent (Iliade 10, Dolon, Odyssée 11, Elpénor, et 9, Polyphème). Le temps corporellement vécu diffère du temps de l'intrigue, et le style des courses distingue les deux poèmes, fondés sur la biē (force) ou la mētis (cunning). Dans l'Iliade la course a une tonalité tragique subvertie dans l'Odyssée par Ulysse polytropos.

Les trois derniers chapitres se concentrent sur les débuts et fins des deux épopées :

4. Leaping 93-116. Reliant Iliade 22.308 et Odyssée 24.538, Purves voit le dernier saut d'Ulysse comme une rebellious repetition (102) : l'élan du héros poursuivant son combat, malgré Athéna, s'oppose aux exigences du récit, et semble inspiré de deux passages de l'Iliade : chant 1, Achille tentant de dégainer son épée contre Agamemnon, et 22, dernier saut d'Hector (cf. Turnus, Énéide 12). Le héros, performeur conscient, se construit par ses actions et gestes, comme par ses paroles. L'action de s'accroupir puis sauter (ἀλείς) marque souvent un nouveau début ou une accélération de l'intrigue (cf. Pindare, Néméenne 5), et οἶμα "saut" et οἶμος "chemin (du chant)" sont liés.6 Dans ce suspens final, ambigu, Ulysse abandonne sa posture odysséenne, accroupi, pelotonné (πτώσσω, d'où πτωχός), retrouvant son agentivité iliadique.

5. Standing 117-152. La station debout, entre deux actions, est déterminante : notant le lien paradoxal entre ἵστημι et στάσις (mouvement/stase), Purves se concentre (121 sqq.), à partir de Iliade 1.7 (διαστήτην), sur la séparation d'Achille et d'Agamemnon, puis des Achéens, chant 3, 16 (16.2 παρίστατο) et 17. Les préfixes, surtout dia- par opposition à para-, amphi-, anti- et ana-, montrent le caractère relationnel du geste et de la posture du guerrier, et sa solitude au combat. Se tenir debout indique une résistance au temps aussi dans l'Odyssée, quand Pénélope se tient près de la porte (chants 1, 2, 6, 21): sa gestuelle répétitive, à la fois épique et statique, s'oppose aux événements d'Ithaque, même au triomphe meurtrier d'Ulysse, chant 23, aussi debout sur le seuil. Cette seconde partie du chapitre (138 sqq.), sur le brouillage des postures en mouvement, se réfère à la danse contemporaine (Yvonne Rainer et Trisha Brown), aux études de genre (héroïsme masculin/féminin) et à l'art moderne (Duchamp, Nu descendant un escalier, et Richter, Ema, Nu sur un escalier).

6. Reaching 153-180. L'action de tendre les mains vers autrui caractérise, à la fin de l'Iliade, le rapport entre Achille et Priam, qui porte à sa bouche les mains du meurtrier de son fils (24.506), et cet hapax poioumenon (175) fait écho à la difficulté de porter un corps mort (Bearing the Body, 153-160). Purves s'intéresse ensuite au verbe ὀρέγεσθαι (avec λύω, ἀνέχω, ἵημι), typique de la relation ambivalente des deux protagonistes, croisant supplication et réconciliation, hostilité, intimité, admiration, dégoût, empathie. L'expression du deuil est indissociable de la cinétique du cadavre (traîné, soulevé, lavé, oint, rapporté à Troie), comme un pantin (cf. Kleist, 155), et rappelant les Pathosformeln de Warburg, formule impliquant "passion" et "distance", ou encore P. Merleau-Ponty et J. Butler, sur la non-coincidence of touch. Voir aussi Lycaon suppliant Achille, chant 21. La référence aux études cognitivistes pourrait être complétée.7

7. Conclusion 181-183. Les gestes "function simultaneously as kinetic reflexes for the hero and aesthetic reflexes for the poet". Il ne s'agit pas d'un simple code social : "in Homer the body is the essential core or sum of the self » et les Homéristes gagnent à discerner « an underlying poetics of form and feeling that is integral to epic's positioning of the body in space".

Les figures, présentées au début et à la fin du volume, ne sont jamais simplement illustratives. Le travail d'édition semble parfait et les coquilles sont très rares. Le style de l'auteur est clair, pédagogique, parfois un peu répétitif. Cet assez bref ouvrage, concentré sur un ensemble limité d'études de cas, intéressera aussi les comparatistes et historiens de la danse et du rapport texte / image : suivant une perspective à la fois rigoureuse et ouverte il atteint parfaitement son but, renouvelant les études homériques classiques par celle du geste et de ses effets sur la caractérisation des personnages, leur style, l'intrigue, ainsi que sur le lecteur / spectateur ancien et moderne. On attend avec grand intérêt l'application d'une telle approche à l'ensemble de la kinesthésie chez Homère, et surtout à d'autres corpus littéraires anciens.


1.   On dispose des volumes Synaesthesia …, Smell …, Sight …, Taste …, Touch …, Sound and the Ancient Senses en version paperback : Mark Bradley & Shane Butler (eds.), The Senses in Antiquity. Oxon : Routledge, 2019.
2.   Maria Luisa Catoni, La communicazione non verbale nella grecia antica. Gli schemata nella danza, nell'arte, nella vita. Torino: Boringheri, 2008, et Sophie M. Bocksberger. "Dance as Silent Poetry, Poetry as Speaking Dance: the Poetics of Orchesis". In Gianvittorio, Laura (ed.). Choreutika. Performing and Theorising Dance in Ancient Greece. Pisa: Serra, 2017, 159-74, ainsi que Anastasia-Erasmia Peponi, "Dance and Aesthetic Perception". In Pierre Destrée & Penelope Murray, (eds.). A Companion to Ancient Aesthetics. Oxford : Wiley – Blackwell, 2015, 204-217; Karin Schlappbach. The Anatomy of Dance Discourse: Literary and Philosophical Approaches to Dance in the Later Graeco-Roman World. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2018, et, encore important, Frits G. Naerebout. Attractive Performances. Ancient Greek Dance: Three Preliminary Studies. Amsterdam: Gieben, 1997.
3.   Michel Briand. "Paradoxes of Spectacular/Political Performativity: Dionysiac Dance in Classical Greek Theatre, Olivier Dubois' Tragédie, the Femen's Sextremist Protests, and Trajal Harrell's Antigone SR". In CORD Conference Proceedings, Cut and Paste : Dance Advocacy in the Age of Austerity, Cambridge UP, 2016, 27-37, et "Gestures of grieving and mourning : a transhistoric dance-scheme". In Ken Pierce (ed.), Dance ACTions – Traditions and transformations., NOFOD/SDHS, Trondheim, 2013, 73-87. Sur Warburg et les notions de figure, schème, formule : Pour un atlas des Figures.
4.   Le dialogue empathique performance/public pourrait être approfondi : A. P. David. The Dance of the Muses. Choral Theory and Ancient Greek Poetics . Oxford : Oxford UP, 2007 ; Pierre Destrée & Fritz-Gregor Herrmann (eds.). 2011. Plato and the Poets. Leiden : Brill, 2011 ; Anastasia-Erasmia Peponi. Frontiers of Pleasure: Models of Aesthetic Response in Archaic and Classical Greek Thought. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012.
5.   Guillemette Bolens. La logique du Corps articulaire. Les articulations du corps humain dans la littérature occidentale. Rennes: PU de Rennes, 2000.
6.   Phoebé Giannisi. Récits des voies. Chants et cheminements en Grèce archaïque. Grenoble : Million, 2006.
7.   George Lakoff & Mark Johnson. Philosophy in the Flesh. The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic Books, 1999. Pour les cognitive poetics d'autres poètes : Sarah Olsen. "Sappho's kinesthetic turn : agency and embodiment in archaic Greek poetry". In Peter Meineck, William Michael Short and Jennifer Devereaux (eds.). The Routledge Handbook of Classics and Cognitive Theory. London : Routledge, 2019.

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