Monday, November 11, 2019


Christopher Moore, Christopher Raymond (trans.), Plato. Charmides. Indianapolis; Cambridge: Hackett Publishing, 2019. Pp. xlii, 124. ISBN 9781624667787. $13.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Thomas Miller (

Version at BMCR home site


Both in antiquity and today, the Charmides has been largely ignored as a text for classroom use. This is a shame, for the dialogue is one of Plato's most enchanting and enigmatic creations. The availability of this new, inexpensive edition by Moore and Raymond may make it more attractive to teachers introducing students to Plato.

Moore and Raymond's translation is probably now the best available, being more accurate and readable than both the 1973 version by Sprague (reproduced in Cooper's Hackett Complete Works) and the Straussian version by West and West in the 1986 stand-alone Hackett edition of the dialogue. With respect to the elusive term σωφροσύνη that the dialogue's participants seek to define, Moore and Raymond innovate by opting for "discipline," which seems at least as good as the alternatives used elsewhere ("self-control," "moderation, "temperance," "sound-mindedness"). The rendering captures well the vaguely martial resonances of a virtue championed by conservative aristocrats, although it misses the cognitive nuance suggested by the Greek word's etymology. While "discipline" can read oddly in the dialogue's discussions exploring the possibility that σωφροσύνη is some kind of ἐπιστήμη, the other options do not fare much better in this respect. Raymond and Moore also produce a smoother text than their predecessors in the thorny second half of the dialogue by rendering γιγνώσκειν, εἰδέναι, and ἐπίστασθαι all as "know" and ἐπιστήμη as "knowledge" (or "kinds of knowledge" in the plural).1 The text used is Burnet's, with a handful of wise but minor departures mostly based on the textual work of David Murphy.2

The translation itself is only 34 pages long. It is accompanied by a brief preface, a 27-page introduction, a 71-page "Analysis," and a five-page concluding essay entitled "The Charmides in Reflection." All this is additionally accompanied by a total of 364 footnotes. Assuming that undergraduates are a principle audience for Hackett's inexpensive paperback editions, this strikes me as simply an excessive (undisciplined?) amount of commentary, liable to either overwhelm students or to preempt insights that they could have reached by reading and considering the dialogue on their own. The footnotes also reference a large volume of secondary literature (the bibliography runs to ten pages and includes many works not in English). The paratextual environment in which students encounter Plato matters, and that which Moore and Raymond provide unfortunately suggests that he must be approached with a forbiddingly extensive scholarly arsenal.

While overly prolix, the commentary material does make good points. In contrast to earlier translators, for example, Moore and Raymond in their introduction follow the current scholarly consensus in giving the dramatic date for the dialogue (based on Socrates' opening reference to his return from Potidaea) as 429, not 432—meaning that the opening erotic banter and the ensuing conversation about σωφροσύνη must be imagined as taking place not amidst the heady optimism of the early days of the Peloponnesian War, but in an Athens already chastened by several major defeats and the onset of the plague. I also appreciate Moore and Raymond's general approach to thinking about the relationship of argument and dramatic action in the Charmides. When Socrates' method appears sophistic, they focus on why Socrates proceeds in the way he does and why his interlocutors accept it (if they do), i.e. what the exchange reveals about the participants' underlying views and characters. For instance, Moore and Raymond interpret Socrates' "feeble" refutation of Charmides' proposed definition of σωφροσύνη as a kind of "shame" through an appeal to a line from Homer as primarily revealing something about Charmides himself, namely how his own sense of shame holds him back from criticizing traditional values and thus from adequately caring for his soul (64). Such an approach can become speculative, yet seems to me often productive of the kind of thoughts that the dialogue is intended to provoke.

The need to think about character as much as or more than about argument sensu stricto explains why using the Charmides in the classroom would be both rewarding and possibly daunting. Although it is often categorized alongside the Euthyphro as a "definitional dialogue," the two texts are in fact very different in character: the Charmides cannot be read as offering a sequence of failed attempts that together build up a neat negative illustration of what a "Socratic definition" should be. But χαλεπὰ τὰ καλά, and students may benefit from first meeting Plato in stranger (and more charming) form.


1.   Sprague uses "science" and "sciences" for the noun, West and West "knowledge" and "knowledges"—in both cases with unnatural results. West and West also scrupulously distinguish γιγνώσκειν from other verbs of knowing by translating it as "to recognize," resulting in the odd rendering of γνῶθι σαυτόν as "recognize yourself." I do not mean to imply that nothing hangs on the variation between different verbs of cognition in the Charmides (perhaps part of the dialogue's point is that "self-knowledge" by definition lacks the kind of technical systematicity possibly suggested by the term ἐπιστήμη) but the cost of literal fidelity in English is too great. Moore and Raymond in any case signal shifts between terms in the footnotes and discuss the issue the "Analysis" (see esp. 84-85), which seems to me the most elegant way of handling the problem.
2.   There were, inevitably, instances where I thought that the translation missed the precise nuance (although the choice was often clarified in a footnote). These included: "think" for ἐννοήσας at 160d, "give a defense" for διδόναι λόγον at 165b (as if the Greek was ἀπολογήσασθαι), "have a hunch" for μαντεύομαι at 169b (missing the religious connotation), "was embarrassed" for ἠσχύνετο at 169c (obscuring the connection to 160e), and "impression" for προφαινόμενον at 173a (a surprisingly rare term).

(read complete article)

Friday, November 8, 2019


Hans Beck, Kostas Buraselis, Alex McAuley (ed.), Ethnos and Koinon. Studies in Ancient Greek Ethnicity and Federalism. Heidelberger Althistorische Beiträge und Epigraphische Studien 61. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2019. Pp. 415. ISBN 9783515122177. €64.00.

Reviewed by Roy van Wijk, University of Fribourg (

Version at BMCR home site

Publisher's Preview
[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This volume is the product of a conference held at Delphi in May 2015. And just as Apollo's sanctuary must have been an inspiring setting to discuss and deliberate how the bounds of ethnicity could stretch beyond the immediate scope of political boundaries and the expansion thereof, so too is this collection of articles a rewarding read that challenges our way of looking at the interconnection between the internal mechanics of the koinon and its external foreign policy.

Some of the papers treat the usual suspects when it comes to koina. Boiotia receives attention in three papers, just as Aitolia does, while the Arkadians get two. The Achaians stake a claim as the most discussed koinon, with four authors deciding to dedicate time and space to them.

The Boiotian triptych starts with Albert Schachter, who uses his incomparable knowledge of Boiotia to detail the friction between the Boiotian ethnos and its political exponent, the koinon. He argues that the creation of this political union was the result of the Thebans' will, rather than the natural expression of a shared sense of belonging. The next piece, by Angela Ganter, is an exquisite attempt to integrate the study of emotions in ancient Greece—a movement spearheaded by Angelos Chaniotis 1—into the history of the Hellenistic Boiotian koinon and its pan-Boiotian festivals, such as the Pamboiotia, Ptoia and Basileia . She masterfully shows the potential of investigating emotions in a federal context, especially for the reinforcement of communality in times of fading glory in comparison with the koinon's more grandiose past. Finally, Ruben Post tackles the question of the integration of non-Boiotian poleis in the Hellenistic koinon. He argues that the political context in which the koinon expanded—a department in which rival koina were more successful—prevented a permanent expansion of the koinon. Additionally, the history of the Boiotians, marred with internal discord and military interference, created an unstable foundation on which to build a true powerhouse in Central Greece.

Achaia is the topic of two comparative papers. One by Kostas Buraselis sets the Achaians against the Aitolians, whereas Athanassios Rizakis draws similarities and distinctions between the Achaians and Lykians. Buraselis reveals some strong dissimilarities between the koina in his piece, with the Achaians more flexible and ready to compromise in their foreign policy, while the inner workings of the Aitolians were more integrative and democratic. Rizakis convincingly argues that we should view the Achaians as the blueprint for the later Lykian koinon and more generally, sees a gradual appreciation during the Hellenistic period of the institutions a koinon comprised and of what it could achieve in a changing world.

The Achaians are also the focus of two other investigations. Catherine Grandjean demonstrates how Achaian silver coinage in the Peloponnese can reveal the inner workings of the koinon, with some emissions clearly the work of the higher institutions of power. At the same time, her numismatic acumen also allows her to draw the convincing conclusion that one of the Achaians' keys to successfully integrating the Peloponnesian communities, as compared with earlier attempts by the Spartans, was indeed the distribution and regulation of coinage. The other paper on the Achaians stems from the pen of Sheila Ager. In an eye-opening piece she explores the limits of ethnicity and institutionalism through the example of Sparta's membership of the Achaian League between 192 and 148 BCE. By employing the theory of enduring international rivalries, which originates in international relations, Ager shows how the Spartans clung to the memory of their domination over the Messenians and other Peloponnesians—and with it their rivalries with their neighbours—and how this emotional attachment prevented the Achaians from ever fully quelling the Spartans into submission, or subduing them into a friendly co-existence with their neighbours.

The Aitolians receive special attention in the articles by Jacek Rzepka and Claudia Antonetti. Rzepka tackles the question of expansion and concludes, after tracing Aitolian attempts to expand in the late 4th and 3rd centuries BCE, that negotiation was a more successful tool for expansion than the exercise of sheer power. Antonetti, in a wonderful exhibition of scholarly acumen, demonstrates how the Aitolians employed their cult network and connection to the Kalydonian Hunt as a force majeure for the strengthening of ties with new members of the koinon, who wished to partake in the mythological glory, a willingness the Aitolians were eager to exploit.

Up next are the Arkadians. The doyen of Arkadian studies, James Roy, adds an insightful piece that delimitates the difficulties of speaking of a pan-Arkadian feeling, since these ethnic claims were only promoted by cities when they served their own purposes. More commonly, it was local identity, and interests, that dominated the political landscape of Arkadia. Cinzia Bearzot follows up on this line of investigation by elaborating on the foreign policy of the Arkadians. She stresses that their policy was mostly dictated by old dividing lines such as between oligarchs and democrats, rather than any overarching dedication to other koina.

Other areas under the microscope include both eastern and western Lokris. The latter especially enjoys the spotlight through the treatment of archaeological material by Nikolaos Petrochilos, as he explores the interaction between the Lokrians through the prism of grave goods and other goods exchanged through the "Doric corridor". Giovanna Daverio Rocchi argues that the difference between local and federal proxenies reflects regional and local attitudes, instead of a homogenised foreign policy. She makes a compelling case, but a striking omission from the bibliography is William Mack's book on proxenia, from which Daverio Rocchi's investigation might have profited 2.

In a similar vein, the friction between local and regional identities is treated by Nikos Giannakopoulos, who deals with the Euboians in the 2nd century BCE. His insightful treatment of Euboian unity shows how local identities—and the politics attached to them—were the dominant force on the island and that even Roman intervention could not promote the ethnic cohesion the Romans may have found desirable to establish.

Further north, Selene Psoma traces the history of the Chalkidike. The collaboration between smaller poleis against the Athenian threat that kickstarted the development of this koinon into an eventual powerhouse was founded on federalist principles aimed at enticing new members to join and subsequently be integrated. Its short-lived history, however, was mostly due to the rise of a new force in the north, Philip II of Macedon and his interventions. Katerina Panagopoulou, in her article on Macedonia, tackles the question whether Philip was indeed responsible for forming the koinon Makedonōn that continued to exist until Roman times, to which the answer is a probable no, as responsibility for its formation should be assigned to Antigonos Gonatas. She furthermore shows how the Macedonians developed federalist institutions under the guise of their ethnos, which eventually transformed the region from strict adherers to monarchy into federal champions under the last Macedonian kings.

Remaining in the north, Adolfo Domínguez investigates the Thesprotians and their relationship with Dodona. This panhellenic sanctuary plays an important part in the formation of a Thesprotian identity, through the contacts with the outside world that triggered a desire among the elites to coagulate into a more coherent ethnos. The centrality of the sanctuary can be seen in the subsequent history of Thesprotia, which as a region declined after control of Dodona was lost to the Molossians.

Other northern regions examined are Thessaly and Achaia Phthiotis. In a wonderful exploration of Thessaly's federal and statehood credentials, Maria Mili demonstrates how previous scholarship has always tended towards a Manichean interpretation of Thessaly. Either it was a full-fledged federation or it was a loose ethnic affiliation. Whatever the outcome, its foreign policy was a failure. Contrariwise, Mili finds a common identity for the Thessalians in the ancient sources and argues that the Thessalians, far from being a failed state, were incredibly flexible. The constant competition between various dominant groups, each with its diverging policies, was actually at the core of Thessalian foreign policy and remarkably enabled it to persevere until Philip II put an end to the region's independence. Similarly, Margriet Haagsma, Laura Surtees and C. Myles Chykerda offer a stimulating reading of the history of Achaia Phthiotis, which was equally marred by divided political loyalties. These were the main stimulus in the early Hellenistic period for the creation of a common identity, in combination with the interventions by Hellenistic successor kings, whose alterations of the landscape ultimately created the political and urban shape of the region that lasted for centuries. These changes were also a conscious effort by the inhabitants to differentiate themselves from their more powerful and famous neighbours such as Thessaly. The conclusions reached by the authors are convincing, and more importantly the article is a perfect example of the proper integration of archaeological material into a historical narrative and demonstrates how these varying sources can complement each other.

I end this review with what perhaps can be termed two odd commodities in a volume about koina.

The first is the article by Alex McAuley, who bravely dives into the complex case that is the Argolid and offers a hesitant yes to the question of whether there was an Argolic ethnos and whether it had a political dimension akin to other koina. Following a brief survey of Argolic history, McAuley makes a convincing case for discarding notions of archaic continuity in cult and other practices in the region, and instead advocates a later development of Argive ethnicity and identity that started in the 5thcentury BCE. Based on epigraphic evidence from the Heraion, it seems plausible that the inhabitants of Argos stimulated the creation of an Argive ethnicity both financially and politically. McAuley then follows that up with a comparison between the Nemean theoric lists from Argos and those of the Asklepieia in Epidauros. The similarities between the lists are striking and his argument that these lists were deeply connected is convincing. Despite political differences, the utilisation of Argive contacts by the Epidaurians to expand their theoric network is unsurprising. One note of criticism I would wish to provide here relates to his treatment of Epidaurian coinage. McAuley remarks, "it comes as little surprise that Epidaurian coin types from this period bear portraits of Asklepios and Apollo—the latter being the chief deity of Argos itself" (p. 139), as a possible indication of Argive financial support for the expansion of the Asklepios sanctuary in Epidauros. Yet that overlooks the fact that Apollo had been regarded as Epidauros' father, supposedly since Hesiod's time and the connection between the two deities is attested from the early 5th century BCE.3 Another would be that an engagement with the new editions of the Epidaurian Building Inscriptions by Sebastian Prignitz concerning the date of the refurbishment of the Epidaurian sanctuary would have thrown a different light on McAuley's tentatively proposed Argive sponsorship for this Epidaurian project and the chronological gap between this building project and the new Argive Heraion that is normally assumed to have existed.4 Nevertheless, these are only minor footnotes to an otherwise provocative but masterfully crafted thesis.

Hans Beck closes off the volume with an article on the Aiolians. Beck meanders through the long-standing history of this intriguing group, who, as it appears, have always been lodged together with the Dorians and Ionians but have never truly found their political exponent to the same extent as their brethren did. He analyses the archaeological and linguistic evidence normally put forward for assuming the existence of the Aiolians, and in the process deconstructs the assumption that the Aiolians migrated from the Greek mainland to Asia Minor. Instead, Beck demonstrates it was precisely the other way around, with the Greeks of later times wishing to tie them into the migration myth of other areas and thereby creating a homeland called Aiolis. The repercussions of this proposal are far-reaching, as it allows us to understand better why the Aiolians, unlike the Dorians and Ionians, seem to have been more loosely associated in the first place. In most cases, Aiolian sungeneia was the result of personal ties among the aristocracy and there seems to be little or no evidence for the existence of a political affiliation revolving around the Aiolians, despite Thucydidean and Pindaric descriptions of genealogical legacies on a par with other groups of Greeks. This leads to Beck's conclusion that the Aiolians were indeed a phantom ethnos. He therefore shows how the notion of ethnic togetherness does not necessarily translate to a political expression, whether in the form of a koinon or otherwise.

All my positive comments notwithstanding, they do not mean that this is is an easy book to tackle for the uninitiated. The lack of an overall introduction—although one could plausibly argue that Emily Mackil's insightful initial chapter serves as a basis for the later papers—and the absence of a general conclusion could make it difficult to trace the fil rouge of this volume. The lack of maps for most papers could make it less accessible for scholars and students less acquainted with the material or the regions in question. The same goes for some used abbreviations in the articles, such as IPArk on page 245. An overview of these abbreviations would have been helpful. Ideally, the book would therefore be read in conjunction with earlier work on the koina. 5 Finally, there are various typos throughout the book. 6 More worrying are the references to books that are then not mentioned in the bibliography or vice versa. 7 Nevertheless, these minor errors form no impediment to the overall quality of the contributions.

In sum, this is a collection of rewarding articles that merit detailed attention and study and will bring fresh insights into the interaction between ethnicity and foreign policy.

Authors and titles

1. Emily Mackil: "Ethnic Arguments"
2. Giovanna Daverio Rocchi: "Lokrian Federal and Local Proxenies in Interstate Relations: A Case Study"
3. Nikolaos Petrochilos: "The Archaeological and Epigraphic Testimonies for the ethnos of the Western Lokrians"
4. Albert Schachter: "The Boiotians: Between ethnos and koina"
5. Angela Ganter: "Federal Based on Emotions? Pamboiotian Festivals in Hellenistic and Roman Times"
6. Ruben Post: "Integration and Coercion: Non-Boiotians in the Hellenistic Boiotian League"
7. Nikos Giannakopoulos: "Euboian Unity in the 2nd Century BCE and the Chalkidian Embassy at Amarynthos: The Limits of Roman-Sponsored Greek Federalism"
8. Alex McAuley: "Sans la lettre: Ethnicity, Politics, and Religion in the Argive theōria"
9. Claudia Antonetti: "Spearhead and Boar Jawbone—An Invitation to Hunt in Aitolia: 'Foreign Policy' within the Aitolian League"
10. Jacek Rzepka: "Federal Imperialism: Aitolian Expansion between Protectorate, Merger, and Partition"
11. Sheila Ager: "The Limits of Ethnicity: Sparta and the Achaian League"
12. Catherine Grandjean: "Internal Mechanisms, External Relationships of the Achaians: A Numismatic Approach"
13. Kostas Buraselis: "Dissimilar Brothers: Similarities versus Differences of the Achaian and Aitolian Leagues"
14. Athanassios Rizakis: "Achaians and Lykians: A Comparison of Federal Institutions"
15. James Roy: "The Dynamics of the Arkadian ethnos, or poleis versus koinon"
16. Cinzia Bearzot: "The Foreign Policy of the Arkadian League: From Lykomedes of Mantinea to staseis among homoethneis"
17. Maria Mili: "Ἄπιστα τὰ τῶν Θετταλῶν: The Dubious Thessalian State"
18. Margriet Haagsma, Laura Surtees and C. Myles Chykerda: "Ethnic Constructs from Inside and Out: External Policy and the ethnos of Achaia Phthiotis"
19. Selene E. Psoma: "The League of the Chalkideis: Development of its External and Internal Relations and Organization"
20. Adolfo J. Domínguez: "The ethnos of the Thesprotians: Internal Organization and External Relations"
21. Katerina Panagopoulou: "Between Federal and Ethnic: The koinon Makedonōn and the Makedones Revisited"
22. Hans Beck: "The Aiolians—A Phantom ethnos?"


1.   For its application in Ancient History, see A. Chaniotis (ed.) Unveiling Emotions. Sources and Methods for the Study of Emotions in the Greek World (HABES 52). Stuttgart 2012; A. Chaniotis and P. Ducrey (eds.) Unveiling Emotions II. Emotions in Greece and Rome: Texts, Images, Material Culture (HABES 55). Stuttgart 2013.
2.   W. Mack, Proxeny and Polis. Oxford 2015.
3.   Hesiod, Catalogue of Women, fr. 90. For this early attestation of a common cult, see V. Lambrinoudakis 1990 ,'Un réfugé argien à Épidaure au Ve siècle avant J-C.' CRAI 134-1, 174-185.
4.   S. Prignitz, Bauurkunden und Bauprogramm von Epidauros (400-350): Asklepiostempel, Tholos, Kultbild, Brunnenhaus. Vestigia Bd. 67 . Munich 2014.
5.   H. Beck and P. Funke (eds.) Federalism in Antiquity. Cambridge 2015; E. Mackil, Creating a Common Polity: Religion, Economy, and Politics in the Making of the Greek Koinon. Berkeley 2013, among others.
6.   For instance, in the preface: "The editors of this volume along with many of its contributors were involved in the recent project Federalism in Greek Antiquity published by Cambridge University Press in 2015, whose various systematic and case studies demonstrated in striking detail…"
7.   This is not a conclusive list, but I will offer several examples here. 1. Schachter's bibliography mentions Rousset, Camp and Minon (2015) but this is not mentioned in the footnotes; 2. Haagsma, Surtees and Chykerda mention Batziou- Efstathiou 2002 at p. 292 n. 58, but this is not in the bibliography; 3. Bearzot refers to Beck 2000 at p. 268 n. 26, but this cannot be found in the bibliography. If these omissions were the result of bibliographical overlap between articles, a general bibliography would have prevented confusion.

(read complete article)


Massimo Raffa, Theophrastus of Eresus: Commentary Volume 9.1. Philosophia antiqua, 149. Leiden: Brill, 2018. Pp. x, 135. ISBN 9789004362277. €149.00.

Reviewed by Angelo Meriani, Università di Salerno (

Version at BMCR home site

This book comes as a part of the series of commentaries which were planned to serve as exegetical tools for all the Theophrastean texts included in FHSG, the two-volume, and now standard, collection edited by W. W. Fortenbaugh, P. M. Huby, R. W. Sharples and D. Gutas, together with other scholars, in 1992.1 It is dedicated to the sources on music, which in FHSG had been edited by Andrew Barker,2 and can be regarded not only as a critical synthesis and remarkable completion of the subsequent research on different aspects of Theophrastus' musical thought,3 but also as a new starting point in the study of it. In fact, Massimo Raffa gives here a number of original contributions that cannot be properly discussed or even catalogued in a brief review, while they will be highly appreciated by learned readers. The volume consists of four chapters; the first is the 'Introduction'; the other three, according to the editorial custom of the series, are: 'The Sources', 'Titles of Books', 'The Texts'; there follow a rich and up-to-date Bibliography and three useful Indexes. In general, the material has been studied with extreme thoroughness, and in particular the discussion on specific technical issues reflects Raffa's great competence in the field and his breadth and depth of understanding of the sources and the secondary literature.4

Though deeply interested in music, Theophrastus can hardly be considered as a specialist in the field. While he shows a remarkable competence on some technical details,5 from the list of his works compiled by Diogenes Laertius (V.42-50), which includes as many as 224 items, we know of only three closely connected to music: a Περὶ μουσικῆς in three books, and an Ἁρμονικά and a Περὶ τῶν μουσικῶν in one book each; some important considerations on music are to be found in a work whose title, depending on the sources, is Περὶ ἐνθουσιασμοῦ or Περὶ ἐνθουσιασμῶν. Unfortunately, apart from one long excerpt from the second book of the Περὶ μουσικῆς, due to 'the unpredictability of the manuscript tradition or the fact that after him harmonic science would take such a direction as to render his approach somehow peripheral to mainstream conceptions – or perhaps both' (p. 1), we have only a handful of short and very problematic fragments from his works on the topic. But however scanty, this material suffices to make us realize 'how outstanding and, in hindsight, extremely modern his contribution was, if compared not only to ancient musical thought, but also to Western reflection as a whole on music, its origin, nature and aims, as well its relation to the human soul, passions, and states of mind' (p. 1).

Chapter 1 outlines lucidly the debate on music in Theophrastus' time and gives background information for understanding the texts; intended also for non-specialist readers, it is divided into three sections. In the first, Raffa explains briefly the main subjects, the methods and aims of ancient harmonics (harmonikē), taking into account the results of the most recent and authoritative studies in the field. He underlines the fact that the mathematical and the empirical approaches to the discipline, with all their differences, were both firmly grounded in the observation of sonorous reality, and makes clear how it was that Plato played a crucial role in distancing the one from the other, and in creating the conditions for the former to prevail over the latter. Raffa also explains briefly the basics of the ancient theories on the nature of sound, its attributes such as pitch and volume, and its production and propagation, giving convincing reasons why timbre, one of the most important characteristics of sound, was disregarded by the ancient musical theorists; emphasis is given to the fact that Theophrastus radically criticised any quantitative approach to acoustics, and in particular to the nature of pitch. The second section 'covers the intriguing territory between psychology and rhetoric, perhaps reaching as far as the theory of acting and healing' (pp. 1-2). The piece is well set out, and the readers will certainly appreciate the succinct account of the theories regarding the relationship between music and the soul. What in my opinion deserves a special mention here is the discussion aiming to show that not only can the idea that music can affect the soul, notoriously picked up by Plato, be traced back to Damon in the first part of fifth century BCE, but so can the view that music can be affected by the soul of those who produce/compose/perform it. In his brilliant analysis of Damon Test. C 1 Wallace (Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 14, 628c), Raffa rightly considers Athenaeus' testimony reliable,6 and resolves convincingly the alleged syntactical ambiguities of the passage. Thus, Athenaeus' text should be construed in the sense that the soul affects the music it produces, not the other way round, and on this basis Raffa develops acute considerations on musical composition and performance in order to interpret texts of Theophrastus such as 718 and 721B in a line of thought originating with Damon; he also explains convincingly why Plato does not say a single word on this idea (pp. 11-15). In the third section, Raffa emphasizes the relationship between Theophrastus' musical thought and the early, pre-Socratic stages of Pythagoreanism (pp. 16-17), as well as the points of contact with the doctrine of Aristoxenus (pp. 20-1).

Chapter 2 deals with the sources for the extant Theophrastean texts on music. A concise account is given of each author in whose work each text is quoted, and the material is arranged in chronological order; the information provided is up to date throughout, and appropriate references are given when further details on the same sources can be found in other volumes in the series. The importance of these pages can hardly be overestimated by any reader of the book, who will certainly keep them at hand while using the commentary in Chapter 4.

Chapter 3 contains a critical assessment of the testimonia for the three titles of Theophrastus's works connected to music (FHSG 714). After an overview of the sources and the arrangement of Diogenes Laertius' catalogue, Raffa resolves the alleged ambiguity of the title Ἁρμονικῶν α', arguing that the work must have been a treatise on harmonics, not on musical theorists, and discusses the attractive hypothesis that Περὶ μουσικῆς is the cumulative title of three individual monographs (Περὶ μέτρων, Ἁρμονικῶν, Περὶ ῥυθμῶν), giving good reasons to consider it untenable (pp. 33-4). After all, our sources assign only three texts to a specific work (716 to book 2 of the Περὶ μουσικῆς, 726A and 726B to his Περὶ ἐνθουσιασμοῦ/ἐνθουσιασμῶν). Thus Raffa, well aware that every decision on which (unattributed) text one should assign to which work can only be highly speculative, points out that the uncertainties about the attribution of texts such as 715 and 717 to a work on music or on harmonics can hardly be removed, and cautiously proposes, mainly on the basis of their content, to read 719A, 719B and 721B as parts of the Περὶ μουσικῆς. He might have added here that it is very probable that 726C too belong to the Περὶ ἐνθουσιασμοῦ/ἐνθουσιασμῶν, as he implies on p. 107. As for texts 722-725, handed down through the devious routes of the Arabic tradition, Raffa expresses serious doubts that they can have conveyed genuine elements of Theophrastus' thought, while he looks more confident in attributing 718 to the Περὶ (τῶν) μουσικῶν, without ruling out other possibilities and, above all, wisely recalling that 'in such cases, a profession of ignorance appears sensible' (p. 36).

Chapter 4, arranged under four headings, which mirror the disposition of the material in FHSG, contains a rich, clear and well-grounded commentary. As there is no room for a full discussion here, I will make only a few notes on specific points. Raffa analyses the source contexts and the loci paralleli given in FHSG in detail; on occasion, other passages not included in FHSG are added and commented on, and this proves extremely useful, as for 715 and 717 (pp. 41-3, 67-70); for 715, Raffa observes that Plutarch borrowed also from Theophrastus' CP 6.4.7 and 6.5 (pp. 40 n. 9, 41 n. 10). The discussion of texts 716 and 717, quoted by Porphyry, is founded on the critical edition recently produced by Raffa himself, while texts 720 and 721A, handed down by Philodemus, are printed according to the Delattre's critical edition, which supersedes that in FHSG.7 Now, while Raffa's conjecture at 717.2 (τῇ διὰ πασῶν) is convincingly motivated, his suggestions for 720.4-5 (τινα] κολακίαν and συνερ|[γεῖν ἄιδο]ντας) remain unexplained. As for 716.35, again from Porphyry, expunging ἡ φωνή would produce an awkward position for the δέ at the very beginning of the clause. Other textual problems are usually taken into consideration and discussed, except for the thorny one at 715.17, concerning the received reading δι' αὐλῶν.

As a remarkable piece of scholarship, this book should be read from cover to cover not only by scholars interested in the musical side of the Theophrastean thought, but also by those interested in ancient Greek music in much broader sense. 8


1.   W. W. Fortenbaugh, P. Huby, R. W. Sharples and D. Gutas, Theophrastus of Eresus, Sources for his Life, Thought and Influence, Leiden: Brill, 1992.
2.   Cf. FHSG 2, 714-726C, pp. 560-83; FHSG 1, p. 4.
3.   Cf. mainly A. Barker, The Science of Harmonics in Classical Greece, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007, pp. 411-36; A. Barker, Psicomusicologia nella Grecia antica, Napoli: Guida, 2005, pp. 131-41.
4.   Cf. e.g. the discussions on the names of the concords and the structures of the ancient ἁρμονίαι (pp. 16-17), and on the structure of the chromatic and enharmonic genera (p. 42 and n. 19); the explanation of the allegedly corrupt participle δοκοῦσα, based on considerations of the relationship between tension and thickness of the strings (pp. 63-4); the notes on Ismenias (p. 39 n. 7), on the capacity of articulation of the instruments compared to the voice (p. 94 n. 166) and on the expressive use of the reeds regarding HP 4.11 (p. 113 n. 234).
5.   Cf. the famous passage regarding the fabrication of the aulos reeds (HP 4.11.1-7), and the two passing references to musical contexts (ibid. 5.10, 19.10).
6.   Contrary to Barker, Psicomusicologia, p. 71.
7.   Full references to these editions are given in the Bibliography, pp. 121 and 117 respectively.
8.   Although the book is very well produced, I have come across the following misprints and inaccuracies: p. 10.14, delete 'are'; last line, read 'songs'; p. 11.2, read 'become", "to'; n. 43, last line, read 'Herodotus' Histories'; p. 19.8, read πανουργικὸν; n. 73, last line, read '2010'; p. 33.11, delete 'on'; 33.15, read 'as a sort'; 33.29, read 'text 1.213'; p. 36 n. 19. 2, read 'text 1.260'; p. 37.10, read 'qualitative' instead of 'quantitative'; p. 41 n. 15.2, read 'φθέγγεται "why of pipes of equal length does the narrower'; p. 42 n. 16, penultimate line, delete 'to'; p. 44.17, read 'on the list'; p. 46 n. 37.6, read 'philosophers'; p. 53.7, read 'πορρωτέρω' (for 'πορρωτέρῳ'); n. 52.17, read 'in [Aristotle]'; n. 54.1, read '69-72'; p. 55.6, read 'It is'; p. 57 n. 62.16, read 'variation, such as tongues and mouths,'; p. 62.1, read 'every note'; p. 63.18, delete 'or'; 63.24, read 'θάτερον'; p. 64.12, read 'πορρωτέρω'; 64.28, read '1969'; p. 66.7, delete '6'; p. 69 n. 79, read 'Hagel (2010)'; p. 72 n. 86, read 'τε τίθενται'; p. 73 n. 95.1, read 'Jan'; p. 77, last line, read 'as it seems'; p. 84 n. 139.3, read 'the ears'; p. 87 n. 147.3, read 'numeros'; n. 148.2, read 'congruos'; p. 89 n. 156, read '2016'; p. 92.8, read 'δὲ'; 92.13, read 'εἰπ]ό̣ντος'; p. 107 n. 210.1, read 'cantilenas'; p. 112 n. 232.2, read 'p. 74, n. 99'; p. 113 n. 234.7, read 'perhaps'; last line, delete 'the'; p. 117, add the reference to I. Düring, Ptolemaios und Porphyrios über die Musik, Gøteborg: Elanders 1934, which is quoted on p. 66.23; p. 118, last line, read '2010'; p. 133, at the end of the Theophrastus passages, add '712, 77n117'.

(read complete article)


B. D. Hoyos, Rome Victorious: The Irresistible Rise of the Roman Empire. London; New York: I.B. Tauris, 2019. Pp. xiv, 256; 8 p. of plates. ISBN 9781780762746. £25.00.

Reviewed by Georgina Longley (

Version at BMCR home site


In his opening paragraph, Hoyos speaks of 'the power of Rome's memory' (p. 1), later noting how it 'remains an eventful and instructive theme of study' (p. 5). Not only does it remain a topic full of questions, it also remains one that fascinates. Investigation into the nature of the Roman empire has been a prominent trend in recent scholarship, for example Woolf's Rome: An Empire's Story and The Roman Empire: Economy, Society, and Culture.1 Rome Victorious: The Irresistible Rise of the Roman Empire makes a detailed, insightful, and informative contribution to the field. Like Woolf, Hoyos does not focus on a single period, but is narrower in scope, ending in AD 212. The choice is an interesting one. Not only had the empire reached its greatest extent by this point, but the year also saw the enfranchisement of the majority of the empire's freeborn population by Caracalla. Hoyos even questions whether the term 'empire' can really be used from this point, as Rome effectively ceased to rule subject peoples (p. 199).

Hoyos does justice to the complexity of the topic. Chapters 1-6 combine chronological narrative with analysis and chapters 7-10 draw together wider themes. Chapter 1, 'Rome Before Empire: Hegemony Over Italy' explores Rome's rise to power over Italy down to 264 BC. Chapters 2-4 deal with the empire under the Republic. Chapter 2, 'Mediterranean Hegemony and the First Provinces' explores the expansion of Rome across the Mediterranean, and beyond, down to Caesar's death. Chapter 3, 'The Provinces of the Republic' discusses the development of the provincial system and its implications for both Rome and her subjects. Chapter 4 'The Political Impoverishment of the Imperial Republic' looks at the more negative consequences of empire for Rome, including how issues of empire sharpened the internal conflicts of the late Republic. Chapter 5 is devoted to Augustus, looking at the challenges he faced internally and externally, and his own policy regarding the empire. Chapter 6, 'Imperial Takings and Leavings, AD 14-212' examines how the empire fared under the different emperors after Augustus down to Caracalla. Chapter 7, 'The New Romans' focuses on how citizenship was used to secure and spread Roman influence throughout the empire. Chapter 8, 'Governing and Misgoverning' describes the nature of Roman government of the empire, painting an ambivalent image of life under Rome. Chapter 9, 'Judging the Empire: Romans and Others' looks at perceptions of the Romans and their empire from both sides. Chapter 10, 'Resistance' more closely explores the different types of resistance Rome encountered. Chapter 11, 'How Roman was the Roman Empire?' describes how Roman culture spread and how diverse the empire remained. The Conclusion draws together Hoyos' observations and makes a brief comparison between Rome and later empires. The book also contains maps of Rome under the Republic and under the Caesars (pp. x-xiv) and a useful Appendix on the literary and material sources of the period. Hoyos' use of evidence is very good throughout, citing ancient sources appropriately, particularly when discussing peoples' perceptions of the empire or portrayals of Roman rule or the Romans.

Five key themes are central to Hoyos' investigation: (1) the motives that lay behind the empire's formation, (2) the inextricable tie between the difficulties that arose from governing the empire and internal politics, (3) the perceptions held by Romans and provincials of the empire, (4) modes of expansion, (5) the challenges Roman rule faced and the consequences of governing so vast an empire for both Romans and provincial subjects.

(1) 'Roman motives for expansion, like the circumstances and the personalities, surely varied over the centuries' (p. 3). Hoyos sees individual striving for gloria and the lust for booty on the part of the elite and ordinary Romans as a key driving force in the early days of expansion, a picture similar to W. V. Harris'. 2 The Romans may not have set out to gain their huge empire, but they in no way acquired it passively (p. 193). In chapter 1, Hoyos draws a connection between Rome's military drive and the competitive elite that emerged with Rome's new Republican system of government. Military gloria was the key to achieving popularity. Nor did gloria disappear as a motive among the emperors, as he shows in chapters 5 and 6. For Augustus, Claudius, Trajan, and Septimius Severus, gloria served to legitimize their power. However, Hoyos gives a nuanced analysis of Roman motives. Strategic and defensive concerns could govern their actions. He argues that the aim of the First Punic War was to keep a check on Carthaginian power (p. 40). Hoyos argues that a more aggressive expansionist drive appeared with Pompey's campaigns in the 60s, continuing into the 50s. The first century AD saw a greater shift towards consolidation and development, although expansion continued (p. 111; p. 199). Chapter 5 gives a complex view of Augustus' motives which included gloria and expansion, as well as securing Roman imperial power.

(2) Hoyos importantly emphasises the link between Rome's internal politics and problems related to governing and maintaining the empire, particularly under the Republic. Towards the end of chapter 2, Hoyos describes how Rome's Eastern wars had brought great riches to victorious generals, which they used to strengthen their power back in Rome (p.38). The link between empire and politics went deeper. He argues that issue over the empire's revenues and their deployment fuelled and sharpened the conflict between the optimates and populares that escalated from 133 BC onwards, when Tiberius Gracchus directly challenged the senate by using the Attalid bequest to fund his land grants, raising the question of who should benefit from the rewards of empire. Nevertheless, it was members of the elite who amassed vast fortunes (pp. 66-67), while ordinary soldiers could find themselves dispossessed or crushed by debt (p. 77). Hoyos rejects the traditional view that the conflicts of the late Republic revealed the inadequacy of Rome's city-state government, arguing rather that excessively wealthy individuals 'lacked willingness to abide by the norms under which they had grown up' (p. 81). Struggles between these wealthy individuals eventually culminated in Augustus. Hoyos shows how as Roman politics and government came to focus on the power and person of Augustus, so did the empire. Senatorial control over senatorial provinces 'went as far as the emperor wished' (p. 89).

(3) Throughout Hoyos keeps a consistent focus on the perceptions of the Romans and their empire from both sides. An ambivalent picture emerges; Rome appears as both exploitative, yet at times benevolent. The Romans perceived their empire as justified and Hoyos concedes that some conflicts could be perceived as such, for example, the Aetolians in 192 BC. However, he in no way depicts the Romans as defensive or reluctant in their imperialism. He rightly observes a sense of entitlement which became part of Roman self-identity early on, accompanied with a belief in divine favour, using literary and epigraphic sources in support (pp. 160-163).3 Roman extortion of the provinces reflected Roman belief that the revenues of empire were for their benefit (p. 69). Attempts to establish a system of redress under the Republic largely failed. Hoyos points out how this led to feelings of resentment among Rome's allies, resulting in serious conflicts, such as the wars with Mithridates that followed the Asiatic vespers (p. 36). Corruption did not completely disappear under the emperors, as Nero's extortions for his building project show (p. 147). Nevertheless, the image is not completely gloomy. In chapter 8, Hoyos shows how some areas saw an improvement in urban infrastructure (pp. 149-153) and that scrupulous governors did exist, citing examples of more conscientious individuals (pp. 155-157).

(4) Hoyos' definition of expansion is significantly not confined simply to increasing territorial gains, but also includes the spread of Greco-Roman culture and conferral of statuses, such as citizenship. Expansion could be achieved in several ways. 'It was through influence, though, not control' writes Hoyos about the nature of Rome's early power. Rome would further use that influence to enrich those that favoured her hegemony, for example, Pergamum (p. 26). The Romans were initially reluctant to take on direct control through annexation, but Hoyos notes an increasing harshness in Rome's approach during the 160s-140s BC, starting with the Third Macedonian War (pp. 27-32).4 However, he also shows that expansion did not occur only through military action or diplomatic interventions. As the empire grew territorially, Roman control was spread and strengthened in other ways. Migration and colonies were one, planting Roman influence directly in the provinces (pp. 56-60). He sees citizenship as an important way the empire 'expanded', and grants increased during the late Republic and under the emperors. An important consequence was the widening participation and integration of provincials in Roman society; they became consuls, emperor's staff, and even emperors. Provincial citizens even came to outnumber Italians in the army (p. 138). In chapter 11, Hoyos shows that, although locals were actively encouraged to adopt Roman ways as Tacitus' Agricola shows; Roman culture could, nevertheless, be adopted willingly at the local level. He also points to the religious and linguistic diversity of the empire. Religions were generally left alone unless perceived as a threat, for example, Christianity (pp. 188-190). Hoyos also shows the imperial cult to have been important in affirming Roman power: 'Across the vast empire … the worship of the ruler … constituted one of the key bonds of overt loyalty' (p. 192).

(5) The final theme 'Resistance' is explored throughout the narrative of chapters 1-6 and forms the focus of chapter 10. Chapter 10 recounts the different forms of resistance Rome encountered. 'With its mix of virtues and vices, Roman imperial rule was never free from challenge or defiance' (p. 170). New conquest often met with resistance, for example, in Spain, Gaul, Pannonia and Dalmatia, and it would resurface. Resistance could be a reaction to Rome's own conduct, for example, extortion, excessive demands, or border encroachments (pp. 171-172). The chapter goes on to focus on particularly serious revolts: the revolt under Boudicca AD 61, the revolts in the Rhineland and Gaul in AD 69, and the Jewish revolt in AD 66. All these saw a period of relative quiet following successful suppression by Rome. Despite their success, funding the army was a strain for the later emperors and Hoyos implies this was why legion numbers rose only slightly after Augustus, although these numbers made fighting on different fronts simultaneously a risky venture (p. 115).5

The reviewer has only two criticisms which by no means hamper the overall success of the book. Chapter 6 feels rather compressed, covering all the remaining emperors after Augustus down to Caracalla. Individual emperors cannot be discussed in the same detail as Augustus' in chapter 5. Nevertheless, the point and focus of the chapter is clear, namely the victories and struggles of the empire, the differing motivations and abilities of different emperors, and their impact on the empire. This may in fact be Hoyos' point in dealing with them all in one chapter, to make the contrast between the different personalities and approaches clear. Secondly, although Hoyos describes the varying opinions of modern scholars on key issues, these scholars could more usefully have been named in the main body of the text, footnotes, or in bibliographic sections at the end of chapters. However, Hoyos, as the above shows, has achieved a rich account of the rise of the Roman empire, both chronologically and thematically. The book offers an excellent introduction to and overview of the subject. His lucid style also makes this a highly enjoyable read.


1.   Woolf, G., Rome: An Empire's Story (Oxford, 2013); Garnsey, P., Saller, R., et al., The Roman Empire: Economy, Society, and Culture (Oakland, California, 2014 edition).
2.   See Harris, W. V., War and Imperialism in Republican Rome 327-70 BC (Oxford, 1985).
3.   On this issue, see Brunt, 'Laus Imperii' repr. in P. A. Brunt Roman Imperial Themes (Oxford, 1990): 288-323.
4.   Traditionally dubbed Rome's nova sapientia. See for example, Briscoe, 'Q. Marcus Philippus and Nova Sapientia', JRS vol.54 (1964): 66-77.
5.   For more detail, see Luttwak, The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire: From the First Century CE to the Third (Johns Hopkins, 2016 edition): 94-98.

(read complete article)

Thursday, November 7, 2019


John Boardman, Alexander the Great: From his Death to the Present Day. Lawrenceville: Princeton University Press, 2019. Pp. 152. ISBN 9780691181752. $29.95.

Reviewed by Timothy Howe, St. Olaf College (

Version at BMCR home site


In Alexander the Great: From his Death to the Present Day, John Boardman offers an engaging study of the evolution of the Alexander the Great mythos from antiquity down to the present day through art, literature, music, and film. Pitched as a story of the afterlife of Alexander of Macedon, Boardman has crafted with intelligence and clarity an account to engage specialist and non-specialist alike. As Boardman acknowledges in the preface, the goal of the work is to map the wider path of the Alexander story, rather than to offer a systematic and detailed investigation of the various traditions. And as one might expect from such a well known scholar of material culture, the book abounds with colour and monochrome plates of paintings, sculpture, mosaics, coins, figurines, and tapestries. Alongside this rich vein of creative material, Boardman also offers a survey of recent Alexander scholarship, though this reflects more his focus on the artistic and literary afterlife than Quellenforschung or the academic quest for the historical Alexander.

The nine chapters of the book trace the story of Alexander's afterlife in roughly chronological order. Chapter One considers the extant Greek and Roman sources but singles out two, Plutarch and Arrian, because, in Boardman's view, their works most influenced the shape of Alexander's afterlife, such as his signature 'yearning' and his quixotic, unstoppable drive. Chapter Two digs into the traditions surrounding Alexander's end to show that a perennial fascination with his death and burial keeps the Alexander story both continually relevant and controversial. Chapter Three surveys the portrait of Alexander, focusing on signature features such as tousled locks, lion skin/elephant's head cap, Macedonian armour and hat and diadem. Chapters Four, Five and Six return to literature and tackle the less 'historical' narratives of the Alexander Romances (Four), the Persian Romance (Five), and the Indian Romance (Six). The next three chapters explore Alexander in post-antique art, literature, music, and film. Chapter Seven surveys the Renaissance, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France and Britain, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe, and finally twentieth-century Britain. Chapter Eight deals with the twentieth century in general and the introduction of new media for the Alexander mythos—the silver screen and pulp fiction. The final chapter assesses Alexander's influence on later travellers from Marco Polo to Napoleon, Wellington, Arnold Toynbee, and Michael Wood and other recent documentary filmmakers.

Alexander the Great: From his Death to the Present Day is a delightful read and has much to offer anyone interested in the story of the Alexander. Of course, a large benefit of the book is that it draws the readers in so deeply that they are left wanting more. For example, this reader might have wished for more attention both to the reasons why the Alexander story took the particular turns it did through art and literature and to what such turns might mean to us 2350 years after the Great Man's death. But then Boardman would probably say that such questions are themselves simply part of the ongoing, ever twisting and turning Alexander story, a story that Boardman tells and illustrates well.

(read complete article)


David Frankfurter, Christianizing Egypt: Syncretism and Local Worlds in Late Antiquity. Martin Classical Lectures. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018. Pp. xix, 314; 8 p. of plates. ISBN 9780691176970. $39.95.

Reviewed by Michael Beshay, The Ohio State University (

Version at BMCR home site


Since the publication of Religion in Roman Egypt (Princeton University Press, 1998), David Frankfurter has produced an impressive body of scholarship oriented around the challenge of characterizing Egypt's transition from a pagan society centered on its temples to a Christian landscape of churches, monasteries, saints' shrines, and a variety of Christian actors. His latest book, Christianizing Egypt, is in many ways the culmination of these decades of study of Roman Egypt at the local and regional levels, as Frankfurter acknowledges (xiii); yet it also represents a significant step further, which readers of his past work will be delighted to find. Much like his 1998 book, Christianizing Egypt is not a comprehensive survey, but rather a series of interconnected studies of particular aspects—in this case, "discrete religious worlds or 'social sites'" (xiv)—of late antique Egyptian society and culture, each applying important insights from anthropological and sociological models to the analysis of ancient artifacts; but whereas the former stressed the continuity of Egyptian religious tradition among Christians and their institutions over the course of the Roman period, the present volume seeks to clarify the process by which certain forms of religious expression in Egypt became Christian up to the seventh century. How, and to what extent, does an ancient culture such as Roman Egypt render an object, text, place, or practice as "Christian"?

Thus, the goal of Frankfurter's project is to explore Christianization in Egypt by questioning the very nature of religious transformation, with the express hope of providing a model for the study of other periods and places in history (xv). At the core of this undertaking is Frankfurter's rehabilitation of the term "syncretism," discussed in chapter one. Far from its much-criticized use in classifying religions as mere combinations of pure traditions—a view implied by related notions like "conversion" and "pagan survivals"—Frankfurter focuses on the process by which indigenous symbols, discourses, and practices are assembled into novel religious idioms. Frankfurter's version of religious "syncretism" concerns the interworking of agency (of people, materials, and environment), gesture (equivalent to Mauss and Bourdieu's habitus), and landscape (the local context and medium through which agency and gestures are translated) (20–24). Of the three, agency, which permits "a range of degrees of deliberate or self-conscious action," carries the most weight for Frankfurter's theoretical reconstitution of "syncretism" (21); and while the present reviewer is convinced of his success in this regard, readers will most likely judge the value of Frankfurter's model based on his conceptualization of agency over its two siblings, gesture and landscape.

In terms of evidence, Frankfurter prioritizes archaeological and documentary materials—such as votives, textiles, papyri, and architecture—discerning instances of Christianization embodied in monumental structures such as temples, all the way down to everyday items such as lamps and bread stamps. The rich collection of materials surveyed in this book, in combination with literary sources and apart, alone provides a satisfying journey through the Egyptian landscape, shedding light on the coordination of people and objects moving between homes, workshops, and holy sites. As for Christianization, Frankfurter is particularly interested in cases where "seemingly archaic religious elements appear in Christian form," much like the seventh-century Coptic spell invoking "Jesus Horus" that opens chapter one (1–2). These objects are viewed as repositories of the multidirectional flows of agency that make up Christianization.

The picture of Christian Egypt that emerges from Frankfurter's analysis is a network of people, places, and materials linked through channels of agency—a vibrant tapestry of interlocking threads seized in motion. A woman who seeks a cure for her ailing child at a martyr's shrine is herself shaping perceptions of efficacy attached to this environment and the material blessings it produces, no less than the holy man or cleric who fashions an amulet or consecrates an ampule of oil. The concerns she harbors brings to bear the domestic sphere on the martyr's sanctuary, while the votive she purchases translates the agencies of the cult site and the workshop into her dwelling. Thus, Christianization unfolds as a dynamic process combining interconnected streams of cultural expectations, both familiar and new, rendering objects, texts, gestures, and places as Christian—or better perhaps, "as Christian as any premodern culture could be" (5).

Each chapter that follows examines a different social site as part of this broader network. Chapter two explores the domestic sphere, expressed chiefly through the activities and concerns of women. These include fertility, family relations, health, safety, good fortune, and the veneration of ancestors. For Frankfurter, the domestic sphere encompasses much more than the physical house; rather than isolating its occupants, the home creates a nexus point of relationships extended across households and between villages, linked through participation in regional activities like festivals. As members of the household traverse the landscape in pursuit of material blessings, they function as creative agents shaped by domestic concerns, thus generating a productive tension between private and institutionalized Christianity. In this way, the facility of the family, and women especially, to manage domestic problems by traditional means—for example, lamp- lighting or apotropaic charms—frames the parameters within which Christian efficacy is constructed.

Chapter three shifts focus from the petitioner to those petitioned—to the agency of the local "holy man" of late antique Egypt. According to Frankfurter, this figure should be understood as a type of "regional prophet," situated at the intersection between traditional and modernizing perceptions of efficacy with regards to the spirits, places, and materials they manage. As the ritual specialist who offers protection, assistance, and divinatory support, the "holy man" adapts new forms of Christian power and holiness to familiar materials and gestures. The "holy man" is a syncretistic agent, above all, in his capacity to interpret ancient customs according to new religious standards, better understood as reordering native concepts rather than replacing them.

In chapter four, Frankfurter examines such acts of local and regional integration as they coalesce around the saint's shrine. At this social site, the physical environment meets with various gestural components of Egyptian devotional life—including pilgrimages, processions, feasting, and dancing—furnishing the backdrop against which the creative agency of the Christian "holy man" can be discerned. Frankfurter emphasizes the inherent materiality of such devotional acts, and the architectural agency of spaces, that make shrines not only important loci of Christian myth, literature, and communal identity, but also redistributors of the sacred qualities associated with such institutional functions through customary mediums like votives, oracle tickets, and consecrated oils.

The next two chapters continue with the theme of materialized expressions of religious innovation by focusing on workshops and scribes. In chapter five, Frankfurter examines workshops as crucibles of "material Christianity," where craftsmen construct iconographic scenes, weave textiles, paint portraits, whittle figurines, and carve stelae. These craftsmen practice a "magic of craft"—that is, the construction of potent objects with traditionally efficacious designs. Such motifs convey ritual, social, and economic power, given the workshops entanglement in a web of various social sites and their functions. Craftsmen thus synthesize archaic elements with new Christian idioms, generating amalgamated works through acts of creative redeployment.

Much the same applies to the work of scribes in late antique Egypt, the subjects of chapter six. Frankfurter analyzes a broad range of literate figures, from institutional types such as the monastic scribe, to peripheral figures such as the freelance expert. As craftsmen in their own right, scribes are treated as syncretistic agents of the written word, with due consideration for the material efficacy of writing and the documents scribes produce. Such works include literary and liturgical texts, divinations, incantations, and songs. Frankfurter accounts for traditional efficacies intrinsic to the act of writing in Egypt as well as the elevation of scribes and their medium through their elaboration of Christian genres, as demonstrated in the ways Egyptian afterlife traditions (of Amente) are deployed in Christian apocalyptic visions.

The final chapter provides a sweeping overview of the Egyptian landscape—a living environment of spirits, ghosts, and hotspots of efficacy—as the setting for the social sites explored thus far and beyond. Frankfurter spends considerable space theorizing the responses of Christians to Egyptian temples, preferring an approach comprising a set of purposeful reactions that helped shape Christianity (as opposed to generalized theories of Christian violence towards pagan sanctuaries). The natural landscape also receives attention, as Frankfurter discerns the impress of the Nile's rhythms on the liturgical and processional life of Christians; these ceremonial activities, marching through time and space, (re)construct the very landscape and its structures as Christian.

Frankfurter has produced a sophisticated and thought-provoking study of Christianization in Egypt that offers as much to the scholar of religion as it does the historian of ancient Christianity. A book like this, brimming with illuminating insights and a wide assortment of sources, will no doubt provoke further questions. For example, given the largely synchronous nature of Frankfurter's analysis, one is left pondering the methods by which craftsmen develop their facility with archaic motifs, or how a temple's various administrative uses may have altered perceptions of it over time—questions to which admittedly there may be no clear answers. One might also interrogate the roles that social and political dynamics among Christians play in the syncretistic process vis-à-vis the Egyptian landscape, both within Egypt and beyond. How do historical interactions between Christians—for example, delegitimization and censorship among political rivals—shape and reshape "native" Egyptian religion and alter processes of Christianization? At what point does the reordering of indigenous concepts, especially by people with translocal affiliations, produce things "native" or "Christian" no longer intelligible to their erstwhile mediators?

These are by no means criticisms of the book; on the contrary, the potential of this book to invite further questions in light of its nuanced arguments and ample evidence earns its place as a standard in future studies of Christianization in Egypt and religious transformation writ large.

(read complete article)


Justina Gregory, Cheiron's Way: Youthful Education in Homer and Tragedy. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2019. Pp. xxiii, 313; 8 p. of plates. ISBN 9780190857882. $85.00.

Reviewed by Paul Ojennus, Whitworth University (

Version at BMCR home site


Justina Gregory uses educational practices of Archaic and Classical Greece as a framework for approaching literary characters in the Homeric epics and Attic tragedy. She looks at education in terms of its role in socializing young people into their future roles as warriors and leaders. The core of Gregory's approach consists in a "crisis of disillusionment" and "crisis of empathy", where characters reflect on the contradictions in the role formed by their education, and progress to empathy with other characters, learning to navigate social expectations and obligations to others based on a shared humanity. The book is stimulating and approachable, since discussions take place primarily at the level of literary character and passages from the original works are presented in translation, so that those without Greek can readily follow the argument. Gregory uses the educational framework to identify tensions and insights in the epics and dramas, but she does so without becoming schematic and keeps the literary works at the center of the discussions.

Gregory begins by exploring education in Archaic and Classical Greece, identifying themes such as age roles, kinds of verbal instruction, peer-group influence, mentoring, nature versus teaching, and learning through suffering. Since the evidence is largely from the kinds of literary texts Gregory uses her framework to explore, there is some risk of circularity, which she mitigates by surveying the broader literature (Hesiod, Theognis, the pre-Socratics), demonstrating that these themes were widespread concerns and likely reflected contemporary practice. Treatment of individual themes can be uneven. For example, her note on the relationship of early Greek education to rites of passage quickly sidelines ritual or mythological approaches in favor of a literary one and defers further discussion to the chapter on the Philoctetes. A more substantial justification for this division would be welcome here, as it recurs throughout the book. The discussion of nature versus teaching, however, is sustained and nuanced, touching on the physis/nomos antithesis and the interests of aristocrats and sophists while avoiding reductive chronological or political dichotomies.

Next, Gregory examines the figure of Cheiron as encapsulating early Greek thought on education. Since Homer passes over the centaur, like many fantastic elements, Gregory focuses on Pindar's presentation, supplemented from later authors and iconography. Gregory finds Cheiron's dual status as centaur and model teacher—civilized yet biform, divine yet mortal, culture hero yet inhabitant of wild Pelion—problematic. She notes the interpretation of these contradictions as evidence of his liminal nature (which should reflect his protégés' liminal status, figuring education as an initiation), but finds this dissatisfying in light of the tendency of the Greek poets to minimize his bestial aspects. The impulse to avoid assimilating Greek literature to schematic theories is understandable, but I would have welcomed a more sustained engagement, since Cheiron seems a natural fit for this approach. Gregory engages more substantially with Jeanmaire's historicizing approach, that Cheiron's cave on Mount Pelion was an initiatory location and that Cheiron recalls a prototypical master of initiation, a shaman along the lines of Orpheus and Melampus.1 Gregory shows that Jeanmaire overplays the evidence, that Cheiron is a complex figure whose link to initiation is only one facet, and that his prophecies are a literary device common to other Pindaric characters. Gregory addresses Jeanmaire's approach as an important earlier treatment of her central figure and identifies its limitations, but she misses an opportunity to explore the relation between initiation and education more constructively. The chapter addresses other facets of Cheiron's character: surrogate father, kourotrophos, and teacher of skills. Finally, the chapter surveys Cheiron's students (Achilles, Jason, Asclepius, Actaeon, and Hippo), anticipating later developments: in Pindar, Cheiron's pupils forget or ignore his lessons at their own cost, serving as a foils for the heroes in Homer and tragedy, who transgress their youthful instruction not out of error but on principle.

Gregory's treatment of the Iliad is divided into two chapters. The former explores the epic showing that the primary goal of education is socialization in the heroic code, and identifies the methods of delivery: precept, maxim, and example. The argument is focused and persuasive: heroic talent is often described as god-given, but this is compatible with instruction and characters' responsibility to use their skills appropriately. Father-figures lead instruction, given the heroic imperative that sons magnify and not tarnish their ancestral renown. Practical skills are important, especially speaking in assembly and martial skill, but the primary goal is acculturation into the heroic code. The code's content is familiar, exemplified by Sarpedon's exchange with Glaucus in Iliad 6. The champions normally accept the code, but also remind themselves or each other as a form of encouragement or persuasion. They thus replay their education, employing the methods of precept, maxim, and example, figuring one hero as a "father" to another. This reframing of the heroic code in the Iliad as educational content, and its deployment using the tropes of education convincingly models how the characters express their values to one another.

The next section presents the heart of Gregory's approach. Achilles provides the model for the crisis of disillusionment, coming to question the code he has been socialized into, and the crisis of empathy, where fellow-feeling based on a common humanity becomes paramount. Gregory builds on this familiar approach: Agamemnon's behavior compels Achilles not just to question whether the heroic code is applied appropriately, but whether the code (i.e., the exchange of life for imperishable glory) is an equitable deal at all. The lack of reciprocity (charis, 9.316–7) between Achilles and Agamemnon points to a lack of correlation between life and glory in the code. This "crisis of disillusionment" gives way to a "crisis of empathy". When Priam comes to supplicate him, Achilles no longer defers to the heroic code, which does not oblige him to pity an enemy, but makes his own way, with the result that he can identify emotionally with Priam on the bases of their common mortality and vulnerability. With this breakthrough, Achilles takes on the role of the teacher, using the strategies of precept, maxim, and example to convey his insight to the king.

Turning to the Odyssey, Gregory considers Odysseus' formative experience of the boar hunt (in Book 19) before focusing on Telemachus. She sees this as emblematic of a safe, nourishing educational environment that accounts for Odysseus' emotional maturity, his empathy with characters such as Penelope and Laertes, and control over impulses to reveal himself too soon. Gregory asks us to imagine an education compromised by Odysseus' absence to account for Telemachus' immaturity: he can play the role of host but not guest, relies overly on a sense of aidos and cannot judge when it is appropriate, and values the family's kleos but is diffident about his worthiness. Through a succession of mentor figures (Mentes, Mentor, Nestor, Pisistratus, Menelaus), Telemachus' heroic education is completed, though untested. By the end of the epic he appears on the verge of maturity, sometimes fulfilling the heroic role, sometimes falling short or overstepping. Gregory refines this familiar approach with the frame of education: Telemachus' early tendency to rely on maxim rather than precept or example derives from his upbringing by Penelope, who tends to do the same. Further discussion of method might be welcomed here, especially why (or whether) we are justified in hypothesizing facts about Telemachus' youth that lie outside the poem.

Chapters five and six examine Sophocles' Ajax and Philoctetes respectively. Gregory applies the Iliadic model to these plays: for the first half of his eponymous tragedy, Ajax inflexibly applies the heroic code learned from his father and expects to pass it on to Eurysaces. Sophocles enriches these educational relationships with the nomos/physis language familiar from contemporary discourse. Then, in the "deception speech", Gregory suggests, Ajax questions this teachings' universality; though he intends to deceive his comrades and Tecmessa to keep them from interfering with his suicide (and to soften its impact), his insights about the need to be flexible are genuine. Finally, Ajax's ability to empathize with Tecmessa is limited; rather, Odysseus exemplifies the kind of empathy modelled in the Iliad. Again, for the Philoctetes, Gregory frames Neoptolemus' experience according to the Iliadic model: he experiences crises of disillusionment with his ideal of honor and Odysseus' pursuit of advantage, leading to a crisis of empathy, where he identifies with Philoctetes through their shared vulnerability. Like Ajax's, Neoptolemus' identification is limited and temporary. Gregory also considers the trope of biou hairesis, the "choice of life", familiar from Hippias and Prodicus. Thus, Neoptolemus' decision to help Philoctetes is figured as a choice about how to live his life as a whole; though foreshadowing of his ruthless behavior in the fall of Troy complicates his choice of pity over expediency here. These chapters show effectively how Sophocles updates Homeric education in terms of fifth-century concerns. The application of the Iliadic model is less fruitful; Ajax and Neoptolemus each have a complex relationship with Achilles, but it is less clear how this model develops our appreciation of those relationships.

The final chapters examine Euripides' Hippolytus and Iphigeneia in Aulis. The fifth-century debate whether virtue is teachable or innate features in the Hippolytus. Hippolytus takes an aristocratic stance, rejecting suggestions that he needs further lessons, and Euripides emphasizes his sophrosyne as inheritance from Hippolyte and training by Pittheus. Theseus similarly sees Hippolytus' "vices" as inborn and irremediable, but Phaedra explains her accusations as an attempt to teach her stepson sophrosyne, representing a democratic view. Countering "initiatory" and "puritanical" approaches, Gregory relates the play to her model of disillusionment and empathy in a negative sense: Hippolytus does not become fully disillusioned with his code of purity or empathize with others, reflecting his failure to reach emotional maturity. This application is less compelling; verbal parallels that might activate recognition of an Iliadic intertext, or discussion of passages that point to those expectations would solidify the approach. With Iphigeneia in Aulis, Gregory examines women's socialization, supplementing the heroic code that previous chapters thematize. Using the model of Nausicaa in the Odyssey, Gregory identifies themes of marriage, hospitality, and decorum. Next, she argues that Iphigeneia and Achilles each follow the pattern of disillusionment (with their respective codes) and empathy. This is again contrasted with prominent approaches; most importantly, Gregory argues that Iphigeneia's change of mind should not be understood, as in Gibert's approach,2 as parallel to those of Agamemnon and Menelaus, who change their minds out of weakness of will, but as her working through her educational crisis. Inclined to accept her father's orders and maintain decorum, she becomes disillusioned with this passivity, engaging Achilles and Agamemnon to try to save herself. Her final decision to die, then, is born of empathy with the impossible situations of those two but becomes an active, heroic decision. Achilles' trajectory mirrors that of Iphigeneia: his initial obsession with appearances parallels Iphigeneia's with propriety and their interaction prompts a sense of empathy so that he is willing to defy Agamemnon; that the young Achilles' dilemmas foreshadow his Iliadic path demonstrates Euripides' economy in evoking these crises in his characters.

In conclusion, Gregory presents sensitive and insightful readings of the Homeric epics and tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides. Achilles' movement from adolescent self-centeredness to mature empathy is evergreen; Gregory's frame of socialization into the heroic code deepens our understanding of how the theme pervades the epic. In the tragedies, particularly rewarding are the examinations of engagement with fifth-century debates on education. Other aspects seem less successful. The focus on Cheiron and childhood education in the introduction and first chapter fades quickly; the centaur largely disappears and the works seldom engage childhood education directly. As a result, Gregory demands much from the few explicit references and asks us to reconstruct the characters' upbringing (e.g., p. 201). Gregory's treatment of existing approaches sometimes appears brusque. For example, she points to the weaknesses of Vidal-Naquet's initiatory reading of the Philoctetes,3 and then proceeds to her own approach. A rapprochement might be more productive: Sophocles would not reproduce initiation mechanically, but references to initiation could reinforce educational themes. Similar engagement with Gibert on the Iphigeneia (see above) would be welcome: perhaps the changes-of-mind theme contrasts Agamemnon's and Menelaus' lack of principle with the young characters' earnest search for values. Despite some missed opportunities, the work provides engaging readings of the literature and contributes to our sense of how the language of education helps communicate the heroes' crises.


1.   Jeanmaire, H. 1949. "Chiron." Annuaire de l'Institut de philology et d'histoire orientales et slaves. 9: 255–65.
2.   Gibert, J. 1995. Change of Mind in Greek Tragedy. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht.
3.   Vidal-Naquet, P. 1988. "Sophocles' Philoctetes and the ephebeia." In Myth and Tragedy in Ancient Greece, edited by J.-P. Vernant and P. Vidal-Naquet, translated by J. Lloyd, 161–79. New York: Zone Books.

(read complete article)

Monday, November 4, 2019


Emanuele Berti, Lo stile e l'uomo: quattro epistole letterarie di Seneca (Sen. epist. 114; 40; 100; 84). Testi e commenti, 22. Pisa: Scuola Normale Superiore, 2018. Pp. 546. ISBN 9788876426339. €30.00.

Reviewed by Claudio Camacho Rodríguez, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

Emanuele Berti, che negli ultimi anni si è concentrato sui temi di retorica imperiale, ci offre un commento a una raccolta di quattro lettere di Seneca, (Ep. 114; 40; 100; 84) nelle quali si osservano le riflessioni del filosofo su temi di teoria retorica, stilistica e letteraria. Fin dalla selezione delle lettere commentate si avverte che l'opera prosegue una linea di studio aperta agli inizi del secolo scorso da studiosi come Merchant1 e approfondita negli anni successivi da diversi specialisti, fra cui Setaioli,2 linea che intende rivalorizzare gli elementi di una teoria stilistica in Seneca.

Il lavoro esordisce con una premessa (7-11), suddivisa in due sezioni. Segue una nota al testo (13-15) in cui l'autore riassume lo stato della tradizione manoscritta delle epistole e riporta i sigla codicum. Berti segue il testo latino e l'apparato critico di Reynolds (1965) arricchendolo di varie congetture. Alla fine, il volume riporta l'elenco delle varianti rispetto al testo di Reynolds.

Nella parte centrale del lavoro, Berti suddivide le quattro epistole in tre nuclei tematici: I Seneca e la corrupta eloquentia: l' epist. 114 (17-209); II Seneca e lo stile filosofico: le epist. 40 e 100 (211-380) e III Seneca e l'imitazione: l'epist. 84 (381-478); ogni nucleo contiene un'introduzione seguita dal testo latino di ciascuna delle epistole, da una traduzione in italiano e dal rispettivo commento. Alla fine di ciascuna introduzione c'è una nota bibliografica. Il volume si conclude con la bibliografia e gli indici (Luoghi citati (511-531), Indice delle parole (533-539) e Indice dei nomi e delle cose notevoli (541-546)).

Lasciando da parte l'analisi complessiva, che sarà oggetto del commento, nell'introduzione ai singoli capitoli Berti espone in modo generale le problematiche delle lettere sulla base della teoria antica che connette con finezza ai presupposti teorici di Seneca e alla sua idea filosofica (non tratta problemi relativi alla struttura, ecc.; presenta solamente un breve sommario della lunga epistola 114).

Di seguito, riporto alcune note divise in sezioni che mettono in luce la qualità del commento di Berti e le caratteristiche del commento stesso.

Il commento ai problemi testuali è esaustivo nella sua selettività, con una discussione delle lezioni e congetture con attenzione a quattro passi in cui Reynolds appone le croci ((243) 40. 2 non effundit †ima† e (285) 40. 10 dic, †numquam dicas†?). Si veda in particolare (61) 114. 2 uniuscuiusque actio †dicendi† [Bφ: dicenti ψς]

In questo caso, Berti ritiene che nessuna delle congetture proposte dai vari studiosi chiarisca il problematico dicendi. Una possibile soluzione dovrebbe essere ricercata partendo dal senso di actio, che, a parere di Berti, andrebbe inteso qui come "modo di agire" e non come "modo di porgere dell'oratore," come lo interpreta J. Pigeaud;3 la comparazione servirebbe ad evitare un'applicazione dell'equazione oratio = vita (postulata dal proverbio greco citato da Seneca nell'ultima parte del paragrafo precedente: talis hominibus fuit oratio qualis vita) limitata alla collettività. Al contrario, tale equivalenza si applica tanto a ogni individuo (unuscuiusque), come all'intera società (publicos mores). Berti per tal motivo suggerisce, come possibilità, che al posto di dicendi si potrebbe leggere dictis oppure dictioni (dictio, inteso come genus dicendi, cfr. ThlL 5. 1. 1007. 15) o con Alexander (AJPh 60 (1939) 470-472, a 472), che propone actio[ni ratio] dicendi o Russell (apud Reynolds) che inserisce dicendi <generi>) si potrebbe ipotizzare che parte del testo è caduto. Così, anche se pone le cruces, traduce: "D'altra parte, come il modo di fare di ciascuno è simile al suo modo di parlare."

Il testo stampato da Berti si allontana da Reynolds in 7 punti. Berti recupera lezioni tràdite considerate corrotte dall'editore.

(448-449) 84. 8 ex quo velut exemplari [ex quo velut exemplaria Qγδ]

Berti, accogliendo la correzione exemplari presente nei recentiores, difende con buoni argomenti velut del textus traditus (sull'uso diexemplar con paralleli in Hor. Ep. 1. 19. 17; Sen. Ep. 33. 3; Ep. 58 e 65, e, per l'uso "enfatico" di uelut, Ben. 5. 6. 5 e Cl. 1. 6. 1) contro la congettura voluit proposta da Rubenius (apud Gronovius) e seguita da Schweighaeuser e Reynolds (proposta indipendente da Summers CQ 3 (1909), 40-43, 180-188, a 180) e ex quo velit di Kroneberg (CQ 1 (1907), 205-215, a 207).

(438-439) 84. 7 alioquin [Qb: alioqui VP]

Berti presenta una difesa convincente del textus traditus di Qb con rimandi ai diversi paralleli senecani.

(238) 40. 1 desiderium absentiae [absentiae pαγ]

Reynolds, seguendo Gemoll (apud Reynolds), elimina dal testo absentiae, genitivo che dipende da desiderium, considerandola una glossa inserita nel testo. Berti, invece, come anticipa in MD 73 (2014) 157-164, a 158, n. 2, preferisce mantenere "il nesso pleonastico" sulla base di un testo parallelo che presuppone sicuramente il passo senecano (Hier. epist. 60. 7 desiderium absentiae eius ferre non possumus) e la proposta di Castiglioni (RFIC 52 (1924), 350-382, a 374) che suggerisce abstractum pro concreto, utilizzato per ragioni di variatio (desiderium [amici] absentis; richiamando come possibile parallelo a Sen. Contr. 10. 1. 8).

(353-354) 100. 8 non habet … debet dignitatem [Bφψ: dabit dignitatem Lipsius]

Reynolds stampa la congettura di Lipsius; Berti invece difende con buoni argomenti e richiamo a diversi testi senecani il testo tràdito.

Un'attenzione particolare merita il difficile passo che Berti analizza minuziosamente (96-97) 114. 6 in mimo fugitivi divites solent [Bψ: divites fugitivi φ]. Reynolds, conservando l'ordo verborum di B, accoglie la congettura di Lipsius fugitivi divitis, Berti al contrario difende il testo di B sulla base degli ottimi argomenti di Müller e Mazzoli.4

In tre passi, accoglie congetture che vengono discusse in maniera ottimale.

(122-123) 114. 10 modo <nova> fingit et ignota ac deflectit [Rossbach: modo fingit et ignota ac deflectit Bφψ]

La difficoltà principale consiste nel senso irrelato di et. Il testo tràdito è considerato irrimediabilmente corrotto da Reynolds; Berti invece presenta buoni argomenti a favore dell'integrazione nova di Rossbach.5

(279-281) 40. 9 ut P. Vinicius dicere †qui itaque† [ut P. Vinicius dicere Madvig: vel P. Vinicium dicere qui itaque pαγ]

Berti, nel suo commento, tratta il passo in due sezioni separate, introdotte dai lemmi ut P. Vicinus dicere e †qui itaque†. La lezione tràdita è ritenuta corrotta da Reynolds (et alii); Berti, invece, accoglie il testo suggerito da Madvig6 e appone unicamente fracruces qui itaque; la lezione è conservata da molti editori (altri intervengono, p. es. Gummere: qui titubat), ma scartata da Berti sulla base dell' usus scribendi senecano e del fatto che "la formula non risulta altrimenti attestata in latino". La congettura si adatta meglio all'ipotesi esplicativa suggerita per qui itaque; Berti ipotizza che "dietro queste parole si celi un secondo termine di comparazione", cioè il nome dell'oratore Q. Aterio che appare corrotto nel seguente paragrafo, ma restituito da Lipisus (cfr. (285) 40. 10 nam Q. Heteri), la cui congettura è seguita da altri editori. Il testo si dovrebbe leggere quam ut Q. <Haterius>. Ad ogni modo, si tratta di un passo complesso che continua a rimanere oscuro.

Il commento presenta una particolare attenzione all'esame della terminologia retorica utilizzata da Seneca, messa a confronto con i principi teorici degli studiosi greci e latini ((276-277) 40. 8: adfectus impotens sui; (342) 100. 6 ex horrido; (453) 84. 9: acuta…gravis…media), p. es. la nota (56-57) 114. 1: in quibus…audiendum, in questo caso ritiene che la formulazione corrisponda al termine βραχύτης, la cui definizione è data da Trifone (Trop. ed. Spengel, Rhet. III p. 202: βραχύτης ἐστὶ φράσις πλέον τι τοῦ ἀκουμένου νοούμενον ἔχουσα)

L'originalità del pensiero di Seneca rispetto alle teorie stilistiche e retoriche, e anche il suo debito rispetto alla tradizione è ben illustrato nel commento, p. es.:

(332-333) 100. 5 contra naturam suam

La communis opinio ritiene che in questa formulazione, riferita allo stile di Fabiano, ci sia un'allusione alla teoria stoica del sermo naturalis, "un linguaggio conforme alle leggi di natura"; Berti, invece, seguendo Garbarino,7 ritiene che qui l'espressione si ricolleghi alla natura verborum (cfr. Orat. 115; 162; Quint. Inst. 9. 3. 7), cioè il significato naturale delle parole.

Berti mostra e analizza efficacemente gli aspetti fondamentali dalla prosa di Seneca, come le metafore (p. es. (186) 114. 23: rex noster est animus); i neologismi (p. es. (197) 114. 25: sumministrator … testisque; (301) 40. 14: tardilocum; (339) 100. 6: concisura; (424) 84. 4: conditura); le iuncturae coniate da Seneca (p. es. (251) 40. 3: nec extendat aures nec obruat) e le citazioni poetiche (p. es. (419) 40. 3: liquentia mella…cellas). Nel commento si discute altresì la struttura stilistica e retorica della frase adoperata da Seneca (p. es. (75) 114. 4: notius est quam … ut debeat; (262ss.) 40. 5: lenienda … fallunt; (327 ss.) 100. 4: et scio promittere).

Anche le interpretazioni e l'analisi degli aspetti filosofici presentano ricche discussioni, p. es.:

(187-188) 114. 23 artes… conatus est

Berti afferma che in questa espressione c'è un possibile riferimento ai concetti stoici di τόνος e ἀτονία basando la sua affermazione su un frammento di Crisippo (SVF III 473) in cui il filosofo greco riconosce l'esistenza di una facoltà negli animi degli uomini responsabile delle passioni.

(237-238) 40. 1 imagines… amicorum absentium

"Se ci riescono gradite le immagini degli amici lontani:" contro la tradizione che ha interpretato imagines come "ritratti" (p. es. Gummere e Noblot), come già anticipato in MD 73 (2014) 157-164, a p. 154, Berti ritiene che il termine si deve intendere nel senso di φαντασίαι (oppure φαντάσματα) "rappresentazioni mentali di un oggetto o persona presente", con richiamo a Quint. Inst. 6. 2. 29 e Sen. fr. 93-94 = Vottero p. 59).

Le discussioni che Berti dedica alle citazioni dei frammenti di Mecenate ((85-92) 114. 5), come già anticipato in Prometheus 40 (2014) 224-240), e Sallustio ((162-174) 114. 17-19) sono particolarmente ricche e interessanti.

Nel commento non ci sono, a mio avviso, errori di stampa; la bibliografia è ampia e aggiornata, soltanto aggiungerei due studi monografici e un articolo che mi sembrano rilevanti: Fisck, G. C. (1920), Lucilius and Horace, a Study in the Classical Teory of Imitation; Timpanaro, S. (1994), "Sulla tipologia delle citazioni poetiche in Seneca," in S. Timpanaro, Nuovi contributi di filologia e storia della lingua latina, Pátron Editore, pp. 299-316 e Sklenář, R. J. (2017), "Plant of a Strange Vine:" Oratio Corrupta and the Poetics of Senecan Tragedy, Berlin/Boston, De Gruyter, 2017, il cui primo capitolo (Letter 114 and the Poetics of Decadence), riguarda per interno l'epistola 114 (probabilmente Berti non ha potuto consultare questa monografia pubblicata quando il suo commento era già in stampa).

Per concludere, il commento di Berti è un ottimo contributo alla comprensione degli aspetti fondamentali del pensiero senecano e dello stile dell'autore, espone dettagliatamente l'ampio contenuto teorico presente in ogni lettera e illustra i contributi teorici di Seneca nella materia in un modo chiaro e dettagliato; chiunque sia interessato tanto all'opera di Seneca quanto ai temi di retorica e letteratura dell'antichità deve avvicinarsi a questo lavoro.


1.   F. I. Merchant, Seneca the philosopher and this Theory of Style, in AJPh 26, 1905, pp. 44-59.
2.   A. Setaioli, Seneca e lo stile, in ANRW II, 32/33, 1985, pp. 776-858.
3.   J. Pigeaud, L'écart et le travers. Quelques remarques sur la suite des raisonnements dans la lettre 114 de Sénèque, in R. Chevallier e R. Poignault (ed.), Presence de Sénèque, Paris, 1991, pp. 203-220, a p. 208.
4.   G. H., Müller, Animadversiones ad L. Annaei Senecas epistulas quae sunt de oratione spectantes, Weiddae Thuringorum, 1910, p.109, n. 1; G. Mazzoli, Seneca e la poesia, Milano, 1970, p.145 n. 85.
5.   O. Rossbach, De Senecae philosophi librorum recensione et emendatione, Vratislaviae, 1888, p. 159 n. 39 (rist. Hildesheim, 1969).
6.   J. N. Madvig, Adversaria Critica ad scriptores grecos et latinos, II, Emendationes latinae, Hauniae, 1873, pp. 475ss.
7.   G. Garbarino, "Lo stile del filosofo secondo Seneca: una rilettura dell'epistola 100", in a Cura di F. Gasti, Il latino dei filosofi a Roma antica, Atti della V Giornata ghisleriana di filologia classica, (Pavia, 12-13 aprile 2005), Pavia, 2006, pp. 57-54.

(read complete article)


Lucia Raggetti, ʿĪsā ibn ʿAlī's Book on the Useful Properties of Animal Parts: Edition, Translation and Study of a Fluid Tradition. Science, technology, and medicine in ancient cultures, 6. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2018. Pp. xxxvi, 591. ISBN 9783110549867. $218.99.

Reviewed by Geoffrey Moseley, Deerfield Academy (

Version at BMCR home site


Prof. Raggetti (University of Bologna) has produced an editio princeps with facing English translation of a pharmacological text, On the Useful Properties of Animal Parts, attributed to ʿĪsā ibn ʿĀlī, reportedly a student of the great translator and physician Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq (807/8-873 C.E.) and a prominent physician himself. Thousands of Arabic medical works remain in manuscript, unedited and mostly unread; Raggetti has ventured into one corner of this vast, largely uncharted territory and returned with findings.

Raggetti's introduction surveys the sparse Arabic evidence for the author's biography (XI-XIII) and offers reflections on the meanings of the technical terms منافع manāfiʿ 'uses, benefits,' خواصّ ḫawāṣṣ 'properties, peculiarities,' and مجرّبات muǧarrabāt 'tried-and-true (remedies)' (XIV-XVI); a survey and structural analysis of the text, which she argues marks a significant formal innovation within the genre in its organization by thematic chapter (e.g. 'badger,' a chapter under which are collected all the pharmacological uses of badgers and their body parts) (XVI-XXVI); a discussion of her editorial principles and the manuscript tradition (XXVI-XXXVI); and a brief bibliography (XXXV-XXXVI). According to Raggetti, the textual tradition of the work is "fluid" in that copyists took the liberty of adding, omitting, transposing, or otherwise altering textual material, sometimes in dealing with ambiguous Arabic consonantal skeletons (e.g. زىبق z-x-b-q could be rewritten as زنبق znbq = zanbaq 'lily, iris' or as زيبق zybq = zaybaq 'quicksilver, mercury'). Amidst so much "fluidity," Raggetti argues, three distinct branches of transmission nonetheless emerge. Each of these branches she has edited separately and printed in a parallel column with facing English translation, sometimes rearranging the chapters for ease of comparison (pp. 1-557). Following the editions and facing English translations are a 'synoptic table of the manuscript tradition' that enables the reader to determine where in each of Raggetti's seven primary manuscript witnesses a given chapter appears (559-572), a thematic index (573-575), and a pair of thematic glossaries, Arabic-English and English-Arabic (576-591).

Classicists and Arabists alike may wish that Raggetti had assembled a preliminary list of parallels that might shed light on ʿĪsā's influences and sources (ostensibly, according to the work's introduction, such ancient authorities as Hermes, Democritus, Euclid, and Hippocrates!). Raggetti herself notes in the preface that such 'annotation...with the loci similes in Arabic literature as well as in other traditions, would have occupied several other volumes and years' (V). Nonetheless, comparing the work's remedies with those found in at least one other pharmacological collection (e.g. the Ḥāwī/Liber Continens of Rāzī/Rhazes, the Kitāb al-ṣaydana of Bīrūnī, or the Graeco-Arabic Dioscorides) would have enriched Raggetti's introduction, edition, and translation and enabled her to contextualize ʿĪsā ibn ʿAlī's work with greater specificity. In Manfred Ullmann's dictionary of the Graeco-Arabic translation literature (WGAÜ), for instance, I came across one very close Graeco-Arabic parallel: in a Galenic work, eating goose tongue (duck tongue in ʿĪsā ibn ʿAlī) is said to be useful for preventing involuntary urination. 1

Further study of On the Useful Properties of Animal Parts, including the collection and analysis of parallels and analysis of its reception, will require a reliable edition and translation of the work. Unfortunately, the edition and translation printed here are unreliable; at times, typographical errors even make the Arabic text difficult to read. Below is a selection of the significant errors I have noted in the introduction and first chapter, approximately 4% of the work in Raggetti's edition.

l. 3: for وصبحه read وصحبه
l. 4: for شيخ الإمام read الشيخ الإمام
l. 5: for عسى read عيسى

Translation: for 'may God be pleased with him' (conventional as a translation of the honorific formula رضي الله عنه) read 'may God have mercy on him,' i.e. 'may he rest in peace,' translating رحمه الله.

l. 3: for عنى يجمعه read عُنِيَ بجمعه

l. 2: for الحمد الله read الحمد لله
l. 4: for الظهره read أظهره
l. 9: for اصاحبه read أصحابه
l. 13: for المطبب read المتطبّب; for فرائد القوائد read فرائد الفوائد
l. 15: for العلاماء read العلماء
l. 16: for بحسنة read probably بحسنه
l.17: for عنا هذا الشأن read probably عُنِيَ بهذا الشأن

Translation (3c): Raggetti translates قلائب as 'hearts,' i.e. قلوب; I have not found قلائب attested in any lexicon as a plural of قلب 'heart.' Raggetti translates قيمته من المال انفس as 'its value comes from the wealth of the spirits, vocalizing the consonantal skeleton ʾ-n-f-s as anfus, plural of nafs 'soul'); as printed, the sentence must mean 'its value is more precious (anfas, elative of nafīs 'precious') than physical possessions/money.' Ragetti does not translate the verb انتخبه: [sc. Democritus, Hermes, and others] selected it (i.e. as choice material).

l. 4: for الرقاء read الرقى
l. 7: delete و in وعلى

l. 1-2: for مرتبة برتبها read probably مرتبة ترتيبها

l. 1 & l. 4: for both يؤخد and يؤجد read يؤخذ

Translation: إن شاء الله تعالى (at l.12-13) 'if God, the Exalted, (so) wills' is not translated.

l. 4: forالذي في الناسور 'which is in the fistula' read الذي <فيه> الناسور 'in which the fistula is,' i.e. 'which contains the fistula' (Raggetti: '(the nose) affected by a fistula')

l. 1: for لبن read لمن (Raggetti: 'to whomever')
Translation: عسل النحل 'bee's honey' is not translated.

Translation: القروح التي يسيل منها الماء (l. 10) 'ulcers from which water flows' is not translated

l. 5: for والامر او read والأمرا(ء) و
Translation: عتيق ('old,' 'aged') (l. 4) is not translated.

l. 5: for الجيع read الجميع

Translation: شربا ('as a drink') at 12c l. 2 is not translated; in parallel passages, the phraseعند النفاس is translated in three different ways, one inaccurate: (1) 'at the moment of delivery,' (2) 'when she breathes' (sic, as if the text read عند التنفّس) and (3) 'at the moment of the labour'. In segment 1.18, 'then this will be useful' does not correspond to the Arabic printed.

l. 12: لحم الدواب, perhaps to be read as لحمرة الدواب ('for the erysipelas of beasts'), is translated as 'against the suffering of beasts,' which does not correspond to the Arabic printed.

l. 3 : ويكرمك 'and [he] will honor you' is not translated.

Translation: في) بعض الأوقات) 'sometimes, at times, on some occasions' is twice mistranslated - at least as printed (at 1.33 and 1.34) - as 'a few ounces' ('a few ounces' would be بعض الأواقي)

The translation of 1.38 (column c) is mistakenly reprinted under 1.39 (column c).

وهذا أعلى ما يكون 'this is the most exalted thing that exists' (?) is omitted in the translation of 1.43 (column a).

Raggetti's analysis of the work's structure and its manuscript tradition is the first step towards a critical edition and annotated translation of the text, which promises to illuminate both the reception of (late) ancient pharmacological material in Arabic and the later Arabic tradition of 'magical' remedies (Raggetti argues on the basis of marginalia that once obsolete as a pharmacological work, the text began to be read as a collection of wonders) (XII). Unfortunately, Raggetti's edition and translation as here printed are not reliable for scholarly purposes and should be consulted with caution until a new edition appears.


1.   See M. Ullmann, Wörterbuch zu den griechisch-arabischen Übersetzungen des 9. Jahrhunderts (Wiesbaden, 2002) s.v. χήνειος [764.16-19], on the basis of Galen De remediis parabilibus II 25: πρὸς ἐνουροῦντας ἀπροαιρέτως...χηνείας γλώσσας ἑφθὰς δὸς φαγεῖν = al-iwazzu....wa-aklu lisānihī yanfaʿu min taqṭīri l-bawli (Ar.: Goose: eating its tongue is useful against urine dripping). Cf. Raggetti 409b6: lisānuhū (sc. lisānu l-baṭṭi) iḏā ukila nafaʿa min taqṭīri l-bawli (Raggetti: "Its [sc. duck's] tongue: if it is eaten, this will be useful against urine dripping.")

(read complete article)