CJ Online Review: Heyworth and Morwood, Commentary on Propertius Book 3

posted with permission

CJ-Online ~ 2012.03.01

S. J. Heyworth & J. H. W. Morwood, A Commentary on Propertius Book 3. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Pp. xi + 377. Paperback, £31.00/ $49.95. ISBN 978-0-19-957149-9.

Reviewed by Barbara Weinlich, Eckerd College

Meant primarily as an edition for undergraduate students and especially for those who have not been studying the Latin language and literature for long, this book is more than a commentary on Propertius’ third book of elegies; it is a formative guide for the reading and interpretation of Roman love elegy and, moreover, of Latin poetry in general. Heyworth & Morwood have matched the text’s truly rich educational potential with a didactic approach that both enables and encourages the student of Latin on any level to explore and understand Propertian poetry beyond the literal level.

The commentary is based on the recently published OCT text and offers plenty of additional information, including the text’s critical apparatus. The 59-page introduction provides the reader with brief, yet comprehensive and comprehensible information on a number of related topics, such as the poetics of Propertius’ relationship with Cynthia in Book 1, the historical context, the nature of ‘Book 2’ both as text and as artistic program, the peculiarities of Book 3 in terms of structure, imagery, themes as well as words, and the Propertian text and its transmission. Valuable tools of reference are provided by a glossary and five maps. The material is explained with great clarity throughout the introduction, and the section on meter, scansion, and versification is particularly commendable.

The ‘Appendix of Significant Intertexts’ may be regarded as the most innovative addition to this extraordinary commentary. The segment comprises the 23 passages from Greek and Latin literature (in the original language as well as in English translation) that are most relevant for the interpretation of the Propertian text. Worth mentioning is also that, in contrast to many commentaries designed for students, no vocabulary is given in the back. Instead the reader finds a brief section on Book 4, a short bibliography, and two indices—one of the passages cited and scanned and one of the Latin words discussed in the commentary.

Philological diligence, emphasis on contextualization (historical, mythological, literary), and what may be called a “deliberate uncertainness” toward both textual problems and interpretation are the strengths of the actual commentary. They form a pedagogical approach that aims at raising a student’s interest in not just translating, but exploring a given text. A look at the entries on Elegy 3.1 tells the reader about the information that s/he can expect throughout the commentary. Detailed, and at times multiple, references to the OLD are provided for a word’s possible meaning (e.g., detraxerit, p. 103). A literal as well as an idiomatic translation is offered for a better understanding of certain phrases (e.g., exiguo sermone, p. 105). Variants in the text’s transmission are discussed (e.g., Pulydamas, pp. 104–5). Moreover, attention is given to the literary model(s) on which a poem draws (e.g., pp. 97–8). Yet, despite the amount of very specific information, Heyworth & Morwood manage to open up, rather than to limit the reader’s perspective.

The goal of encouraging the student to read Propertius with an open mind is also reflected in the type of information given at the beginning of the individual poems’ commentary. Each elegy is paraphrased, not summarized. Moreover, each paraphrase is followed by introductory remarks that do not convey to the reader a fixed perspective on the poem, but point to possibilities of (further) exploration. A brief comparison of Richardson (1976) with Heyworth & Morwood in regard to the introductory information to Elegy 3.9 in may illustrate the difference. Richardson rules out the possibility that the elegy is either a programmatic poem or a dedication based on the observation that neither of the two generic types would ordinarily be found in the middle of a poetry book. Heyworth & Morwood, in turn, suggest a more topic-oriented approach, according to which 3.9 may be interpreted either as a “jaundiced” reflection “on patronage in the Augustan age” (183) or as “a kind of recusatio [that] revisits themes of 3.1-3” (ibid.).

There is little doubt that Heyworth & Morwood have set a new standard for student-orientated commentaries—not only for Propertius’ third book of elegies but also for classical texts in general. By choosing to provide a commentary on the third book, the authors give impressive evidence of what is possible and what is needed for the study of classical literature these days.

CJ Online Review: Vandiver, Stand in the Trench, Achilles

posted with permission:

CJ-Online ~ 2012.03.02

Elizabeth Vandiver, Stand in the Trench, Achilles: Classical Receptions in the British Poetry of the Great War. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Pp. xvii + 455. Hardcover, £83.00/$140.00. ISBN 978-0-19-954274-1.

Reviewed by Adam J. Goldwyn, Uppsala University

Sitting in a quiet university library or in a classroom, we can all too easily forget that many of the Classics we read are narratives of war or of its aftermath: the Iliad and Odyssey, much of the surviving corpus of Attic tragedy, the histories of Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon. Indeed, many classical authors were, as citizens of Athens, soldiers themselves, as were their readers and spectators. In many ways, in fact, the lived experience of the academic is nearly opposite to that of the authors whose legacy she is entrusted to preserve. Elizabeth Vandiver’s Stand in the Trench, Achilles, which exhaustively details the use of classical themes in the verses of the British soldier-poets in World War I, is, therefore, a startling and welcome reminder that it was not always thus, that for most of history, the Classics were, if not more, at least as resonant on the battlefield as in the ivory tower. (I was recently reminded of this when I requested Marvel Comics’ Iliad through interlibrary loan and received a copy from the U.S. Marine Corps Library.)

In the first of the volume’s three sections, “Education, Class, and Classics,” Vandiver describes the ways in which the curriculum in British schools used the Classics to instill a specific set of ideological values among those social classes that would become Britain’s imperial administrative and military elite as well as its common soldiers. Vandiver neatly makes this distinction by dividing these two classes into those that had access to the primary sources and those that had to rely on an intermediary source. The primary insight that Vandiver elucidates in this perhaps too long section is that the pedagogical application of the Classics as they were taught in Britain at the time was—regardless of class—to instill in future imperial servants the value of personal sacrifice that made them not just willing but even eager to die for national honor. There seems to me, however, to be another possibility that Vandiver does not take into account: rather than instilling in these soldiers a desire for a kalos thanatos, the glorious death of the epic hero, it is equally possible that, to young men facing an early death, Classical models offered some consolation for this inevitability rather than the motivation to seek it out.

The much more interesting second and third sections, “Representing War” and “Death and Remembrance,” address more directly the poetic articulation of the experience of war and of its aftermath, respectively. In “Representing War,” Vandiver offers extracts from a variety of different poets writing about World War I. As one would perhaps assume, the Trojan War was one of the most frequent and compelling paradigms for these soldier-poets. Interestingly, however, the paradigm was constantly shifting. When the carnage described is being inflicted on British and Allied civilians on the Western front, the poets cast themselves in the role of Trojans suffering under Greek aggression. During the Gallipoli campaign on the Eastern front, however, when British forces sought to conquer the land on which Troy itself once rested and where now they faced off in some of the bloodiest contests the world had ever seen against determined Ottoman forces of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, they cast themselves as the Greeks re-enacting a second Trojan War.

The final section analyzes the ways in which active-duty soldiers used poetry and classical paradigms to cope with death, both that of their comrades and of their own imagined deaths. Of particular interest is Vandiver’s discussion of the problem of “corpselessness” in the sub-section entitled “Thwarted Nostoi.” Ancient Greek (and, to a lesser extent, pre-War British) military ideology placed great value on the treatment of the dead (the burial of Hector at the conclusion of the Iliad and the Athenian institution of the funeral oration being but two examples). During World War I, however, due in part to the sheer number of dead and missing persons and the complete destruction of many bodies (as the result of artillery, bombs and grenades rather than spear wounds), most soldiers and, more importantly, their surviving families and communities were denied customary funeral rites. It was during the war, in 1917, that the British addressed the problem of “corpselessness” through “the establishment of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the creation of memorials to the missing that listed their names [and] the burial of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey” (321). Vandiver offers an excellent discussion of the poetic counterpart to this commemorative act.

It is difficult to imagine another volume superseding this one on the subject of classical themes in the soldier poetry of World War I. Despite its many strengths, however, I could not help but wish that Vandiver had made some attempt to address certain closely related issues: was the use of classical paradigms a feature exclusively of British poetry, or did German, French, Australian and Turkish soldiers also make such comparisons? And if so, did their use of paradigms differ? And if so, in what ways? Was this phenomenon unique to World War I and its aftermath, or was it also a common feature of British soldier poetry in other periods? How do poems with classical themes compare to similar poems without such references (which, I imagine, must have been the vast majority of World War I soldier poetry). Some engagement with these questions would have offered a better understanding of the poems she does describe by locating them in their broader historical and literary contexts. It is impossible for any one book to address everything, however, and perhaps the highest praise that can be given to a book is that, in answering some questions, it raises far more that the reader did not even know he had. This is such a book.

CJ Online Review: Kunst and Várhely, Ancient Mediterranean Sacrifice

posted with permission:

CJ-Online ~ 2012.03.03

Jennifer Wright Kunst and Zsuzsanna Várhelyi, eds., Ancient Mediterranean Sacrifice. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. xviii + 330. Hardcover, £45.00/$74.00. ISBN 978-0-19-973896-0.

Reviewed by Fred S. Naiden, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

If a reviewer must deal with a volume of essays by 15 hands, about four societies (Egypt, Israel, Greece, and the Roman Empire), and about five religions (add Christianity to Roman paganism), he may be relieved that, to judge from the title, he has to deal with one period, one sea, and one rite, but this feeling is deceptive: the subject of this book, the rite of “sacrifice,” is controversial. David Frankfurter’s essay, “Egyptian Religion and the Problem of the Category ‘Sacrifice’,” shows that, if “sacrifice” means what Classicists commonly suppose, there was no such thing in Egypt. Frankfurter’s essay is in the first section of the book, entitled “Theorizing Sacrifice,” but the same evangel appears in an essay in the second part, “Negotiating Power through Sacrifice,” for here James Rives, in “The Theology of Animal Sacrifice in the Ancient Greek World: Origins and Developments,” shows that “sacrifice” was not an important subject for Greek and Roman writers until well into the Common Era, a conclusion that means that early objections to sacrifice, as by Xenophanes, were not objections to the rite, a subject that did not interest these writers, but objections to eating certain foods. At this point, the cautious reader (including the reviewer, sworn to caution) might wonder when or where “sacrifice” is to be found, but this volume has not yet reached its peak or nadir, its third section, “Imaginary Sacrifice,” in which Kathryn McClymond, in “Don’t Cry Over Spilled Blood,” shows how the Mishnah deals with “ritual errors” in the performance of sacrifice, but does so centuries after Israelite sacrifices ceased to occur.

McClymond raises the question of what “sacrifice” means. Does it mean animal sacrifice more than, or instead of, vegetal or liquid sacrifice? The ancient evidence says otherwise, and Stanley Stowers, in the lead essay in the “Theorizing” section, conveys as much through his title, “The Religion of Plant and Animal Offerings versus the Religion of Meanings, Essences, and Textual Mysteries.” Stowers is unfair to essences, which include incense, but his attack on meanings and mysteries is polemically understandable. A sacrificial offering was first of all a donative, not a mammal. If an offering need not be a mammal, it need not be violent, a conclusion that raises objections to the two best-known theories of sacrifice, those of Walter Burkert and the French duo of J.-P. Vernant and Marcel Detienne. When acts of violence are nonetheless associated with sacrifice, we ought to interrogate our sources, as emerges from Zsuzsanna Várhely’s “Political Murder and Sacrifice: From Roman Republic to Empire.” In “The Embarrassment of Blood: Early Christians and Others on Sacrifice, War, and Rational Worship,” Laura Nasrallah does likewise, too, but includes state-sanctioned violence. Roman and Christian writers who associate some killings with sacrifice are playing a prose version of the game that Albert Henrichs has shown that the tragedians play—the game of rhetorical transgression.

Then there is the other stand-by of recent theories—the notion that sacrifice consolidated communities. Once Christian emperors banned public pagan sacrifices, private pagan sacrifices were all that remained, and so a rite that once was sometimes communal (for it was never always so), became private, as noted by Michele Renee Salzman in “The End of Public Sacrifice: Changing Definitions of Sacrifice in Post-Constantinian Rome and Italy.”

If scholars using the term “sacrifice” have been too sure of what it means, they also have been too sure of the attitude of their sources—Henrichs’ lesson, again, illustrated in this book by Fritz Graf’s “ A Satirist’s Sacrifices: Lucian’s On Sacrifices and the Contestation of Religious Traditions.” About sacrifice as about other things, Lucian is funny because he is clear-minded. His image of Zeus walking about Olympus, looking out portals for sacrificial smoke, for prayers, and for hymns, captures the absurdities of communication with this anthropomorphic god better than any Christian polemic, if only because Lucian’s image could be turned against any such god. This image cuts too deep. Yet as Graf says, Lucian’s critique is neither destructive nor reformist. Here Graf links up with Rives’ point about the limits of ancient pagan interest in any theory of sacrifice.

If a writer like Philo uses thusia, “what burns,” in lieu of common Hebrew terms that mean “what ascends,” like holah, but that often mean something else, like zebah shelamim and minchah do, then, as William K. Gilders shows, we can trace the problem of defining sacrifice to several centuries before Christianity. In the same spirit, Philippa Townsend, in “Bonds of Flesh and Blood: Porphyry, Animal Sacrifice, and Empire,” shows that Porphyry was a relativist as well as polemicist.

If the circumcision of Jesus counts as a sacrifice (and Andrew S. Jacobs argues that it did, in “Passing: Jesus’ Circumcision and the Strategic Self-Sacrifice”) and if the rabbinic “Story of the Ten Martyrs,” victims of Hadrianic persecution, is one of sacrifice as well as martyrdom, as though the two terms were interchangeable, then “sacrifice” has become all too capacious a term. This book’s two studies that define sacrifice—“Symbol, Function, Theology, and Morality in the Study of Priestly Ritual,” by Jonathan Klawans, and “Contesting the Meaning of Animal Sacrifice,” by Daniel Ullucci, do not solve this problem. Read this book to learn why you do not need to read books on this subject.

Reviews from BMCR

  • 2012.03.09:  Thomas Baier, Geschichte der römischen Literatur. Beck’sche Reihe 2446.
  • 2012.03.08:  Paul Roche, Pliny’s Praise: the Panegyricus in the Roman World.
  • 2012.03.07:  David M. Johnson, Socrates and Athens. Greece and Rome: Texts and Contexts.
  • 2012.03.06:  Robert Parker, On Greek Religion. Cornell studies in classical philology, 60
  • 2012.03.05:  Florian Krüpe, Die Damnatio memoriae: über die Vernichtung von Erinnerung. Eine Fallstudie zu Publius Septimius Geta (198-211 n. Chr.).
  • 2012.03.04:  Ilaria Ramelli, Hierocles the Stoic: Elements of Ethics, Fragments and Excerpts. Writings from the Greco-Roman World.
  • 2012.03.03:  Thomas Schmidt, Pascale Fleury, Perceptions of the Second Sophistic and Its Times / Regards sur la Seconde Sophistique et son époque. Phoenix supplementary volumes, 49.
  • 2012.03.02:  Rachel Maclean, Timothy Insoll, An Archaeological Guide to Bahrain.
  • 2012.02.54:  Whitmarsh on Martzavou on Whitmarsh, Narrative and Identity in the Ancient Greek Novel. Response by Tim Whitmarsh.
  • 2012.02.53:  Sarah Broadie, Philoponus: On Aristotle Physics 4.10-14. Ancient commentators on Aristotle.
  • 2012.02.52:  P. G. Naiditch, The Library of Richard Porson.
  • 2012.02.51:  Anita Di Stefano, Arusiani Messi Exempla elocutionum. Bibliotheca Weidmanniana. Collectanea grammatica latina, 6.