CJ Online Review: Sens, Asclepiades of Samos

posted with permission:

Alexander Sens, Asclepiades of Samos: Epigrams and Fragments. Edited with Translation and Commentary. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Hardcover, £100.00/$150.00. Pp. cxvi + 354. ISBN 978-0-19-925319-7.

Reviewed by Valentina Garulli, University of Bologna

This long-awaited work fully satisfies the reader’s expectations. Sens’ new edition with English translation of and commentary on Asclepiades’ epigrams proves page by page to be the result of thorough research and profound meditation on this text, and will provide much to consider for both those specifically interested in Asclepiades’ poetry and those concerned with epigram as a whole.

The book’s contents are as follows: after a list of abbreviations (xiii–xxiv), a wide and comprehensive introduction, rich in ideas and clever suggestions, which treats the main topics and problems concerning Asclepiades’ life and work (xxv–cix); text, critical apparatus and English translation of the testimonia (cx–cxiv); critical edition, English translation of and commentary on 52 poems, including 5 fragments at the end (1–345); subject index (347–50) and index of Greek words and phrases discussed (351–3). A final comparatio numerorum would have been welcome, as well as a complete word index. For the latter one must refer to the work of L. A. Guichard (Bern 2004), which is the most important edition (with Spanish translation and commentary) of Asclepiades’ epigrams prior to Sens’.

Throughout the book constant attention is paid to Asclepiades’ literary past, present and future. Such a perspective implies the conviction that collections in which poetry was “treated as a written form separate from its original performance context” helped to “blur the boundary” between other genres and epigram (xliv). This is a productive approach to epigram, which must be examined with other genres in the background but also with regard to its own subgenres and history (see xxxviii–xlii). Sens is always careful to detect in the texts the distinctive features of different kinds of epigram, whether they be funerary, dedicatory, ecphrastic, or other types, even when such generic clues consist only of a single word, or when they are mixed up. This allows him to catch Asclepiades’ intent in each text and to cast light on the genre as a whole. An excellent example is given by his analysis of ep. XV (96–102). As Sens well observes, the opening words establish the expectation of an epitaph, in which the first-person speaker is the dead person. But the poem “disappoints this expectation and inverts the traditional lamentation of the mors immatura, since … the speaker is still alive, and his point is … that the pain of his life leaves him ready for death”; moreover, “the final couplet … resonates against the common funerary convention that the death … profoundly affected the lives of surviving friends and family,” because “the speaker’s death changes nothing for the Erotes” (97). Sens’ reading brings to light further intriguing aspects of the poem, such as the change of tone from the pathetic seriousness of the beginning to the cool playfulness of the final line, and the ironic effect of the emphasis placed by the speaker on his age. Also in ep. IV the first-person amatory narrative of the lyric tradition combines with the voice of the inscribed epigram (20–1), whereas in ep. VI (36–7) funerary, dedicatory and equestrian epigrams play with one another.

This interest does not lead the author to neglect other aspects of the subject matter: textual criticism, language, metre, and style. Sens’ welcome concision never excludes a substantial discussion of the problems and a survey of the best arguments. His book is a rare combination of scholarly acumen and light, pleasant writing. Such clarity makes this book suitable for teaching: the pages describing Asclepiades’ literary context (li–lxv), especially the chapter focusing on the relationship between Asclepiades and Posidippus (lvii–lx), as well as the limpid description of the manuscript tradition of Asclepiades’ epigrams (c–cvii), should be recommended to all students of Greek poetry.

Sens has the virtue of prudence in his treatment of uncertain questions. The language of Asclepiades (lxv–lxxii), as well as that of other epigrammatists, presents thorny problems; the manuscript tradition is unreliable on this matter, because the original dialectal coloring is likely to have been distorted (lxv–lxvi). Sens reasonably notes that “any editor who seeks to regularize in one direction or another in passages where forms from different dialects coexist must proceed with great caution” (lxvi). In his edition and commentary Sens makes his choices on a specific basis text by text (see, e.g., 4, 55–6, 106), and in his introduction to Asclepiades’ language he illustrates the main tendencies in the corpus, such as Ionic dialectal coloring strongly influenced by Attic, features common to most Doric dialects, and the avoidance of markedly epic forms. In general, he admits that Asclepiades’ language may give examples of “dialect ‘mixing’” and follows the reasonable principle that “in the absence of more information, it seems best to preserve the dialectal inconsistency rather than to regularize in one direction or the other” (lxx). As a result, we cannot use dialect to help us decide whether or not a given poem is by Asclepiades.

The question of authorship is also difficult (xcvi–c). Like Guichard, Sens marks texts from XXXIV onward with an asterisk, as poems doubtfully ascribed by ancient sources alternatively to Asclepiades and other authors, especially Posidippus; unlike Guichard, he excludes from the corpus of Asclepiades’ fragments Ath. 594d (fr. 2 Guich.), a couplet transmitted as Archilochus’ and conjecturally ascribed to the Samian by M. L. West (Studies in Greek Elegy and Iambus (Berlin–New York 1974) 140). In Sens’ opinion not only dialectal coloring but also “[t]heme, style, and metre […] are unreliable indexes” for accepting or rejecting an ascription to Asclepiades, because his corpus is small and influenced by Meleager’s editorial work (xcvii). As a general rule, the question of ascription must be considered open and in most cases Sens wisely confines himself to merely admitting that “the scales incline in one direction or another” (xcvii). Discussing the texts ascribed alternatively to Asclepiades and Posidippus, Sens first pays attention to the fact that an epigram has a specific subject-matter in common either with another epigram of the corpus or with an epigram by Posidippus, and then wonders whether the epigrams in question must be regarded as companion pieces composed by the same author or as texts responding to each other and composed by different authors. Nonetheless, even such a criterion may sometimes appear too subjective. For example, Sens inclines to attribute ep. *XXXV to Posidippus: its subject is too similar to that of Asclepiades’ ep. VI to be the work of the same author, and the competition between courtesans described in *XXXV would be “a metaphor for literary rivalry” between Posidippus and Asclepiades (236). Guichard too regards the ascription to Posidippus as more plausible: he observes that the similarity of epp. VI and *XXXV cannot be compared with that of other pairs in Asclepiades’ corpus. This argument is questionable: as Guichard admits (389), Asclepiades might have composed pairs of epigrams on a similar subject, and, although the two epigrams play with the same sexual metaphor, they describe two different scenarios, a courtesan in one case (ep. VI) and two women competing in the other (ep. *XXXV). Moreover, the humorous engagement with Posidippus’ ἱππικά identified by both Guichard (390–1) and Sens (235–6) seems to make less sense as self-parody, if we regard Posidippus as the author of ep. *XXXV. However, even considering Posidippus as the author of that poem, one can hardly find arguments for reading the competition between two courtesans as a metaphor for literary rivalry.

Sens provides his readers with only a select bibliography: this is apparent in both the critical apparatus and the commentary. Whatever the reasons for this choice are, scholars will find it annoying not to be provided with complete bibliographic information. The readers deserve to know, for example, in what publication the “Martorelli” mentioned in the critical apparatus of ep. *XXXIV conjectured ἐρχομένην instead of the transmitted ἐρχόμενοι at line 2 (226). Moreover, a compendious list of the most important discussions of each of these epigrams would have been welcome, allowing readers go back to the sources of the editor and form their own opinion. For this purpose too, one must still use Guichard’s edition.

The texts edited and commented are enumerated following Hellenistic Epigrams by Gow and Page (Cambridge 1965), which includes only 47 texts (see p. xcv); like Guichard, Sens adds ep. *XLVII (and Gow–Page’s XLVII turns into Guichard’s and Sens’ *XLVIII), and, unlike Guichard, adds 4 fragments (XLIX–LII) instead of 5. Sens’ textual choices are led by a rare sensitivity to, and familiarity with, Asclepiades’ work: as a result, in several cases his text is the best available. Sens’ lines—as well as Guichard’s—contain far fewer obeli than those of Gow–Page: Sens improves a text obelized by both Gow–Page and Guichard in VIII 4 (Sens’ good conjecture ἔδακεν gives the epigram an interesting final point and is palaeographically plausible), XX 3 (the transmitted text can be understood without emendation following Sens’ interpretation), *XLV 3 (Jacobs’ χερί instead of the transmitted περί makes a good sense) and reasonably keeps Gow–Page’s cruces at least in XXIV 2 (although ἃ μήτ’ ἄνθει μήτε γένει γ’ ἐν ἴσῳ—printed by Guichard as a combination of conjectures found in the apographs G and V—“seems on the right track semantically,” as Sens admits, it is stylistically rather problematic) and XXV 8 (the hapax θέσμυκες which produces the only case of a pentameter with a spondaic foot in the second hemistich cannot be accepted as such). In ep. V 1 Sens prints Wilamowitz’s conjecture τὠφθαλμῷ, rightly refusing τῷ θαλλῷ of the manuscripts (obelized by Gow–Page, regarded as sound by Guichard and many other editors), which does not give acceptable sense.

Sens’ translations deserve consideration for their effort to adhere to the Greek text: see e.g. ep. V (27). This makes Sens’ book even more suitable for students. Many readers will also appreciate that he does not indulge in peculiar English idioms in translations, or in the book as a whole.

The structure of the commentary is clear: after text, critical apparatus and English translation, readers are given a brief summary of the epigram’s contents and point, which helps them to focus immediately on the implications of the epigram. An overall commentary on the poem as a whole follows, giving much space to intertextual remarks: in particular, attention is consistently paid to later Greek and Latin texts and authors influenced by Asclepiades or alluding to his epigrams, within both the literary and the epigraphic traditions (see, e.g., 22–3 on ep. IV; 69–70 on ep. XI; 83 on ep. XIII; 113–14 on ep. XVII; 121–2 on ep. XVIII; etc.). A line-by-line commentary closes the discussion on each epigram.

Sens’ commentary contributes to a deep understanding of the texts: his attention to every nuance makes him at ease with such a refined poet. Of course, one might disagree about a few interpretations. In the second couplet of ep. V, for example, in Sens’ opinion, the point is that “the speaker, having been burnt by Didyme’s heat, sees her as a lovely rose, even while those who have not been scorched … do not” (28): the active voice of the transitive verb θάλψωμεν, with ἄνθρακες as direct object, may suggest that we regard the black Didyme not only as the person who excites the narrator’s passion, but also as a passive victim of love’s passion herself; the topos of a man “melting like wax by the fire” for a woman’s beauty seems to be unexpectedly completed by the less usual image of the woman burning like coals heated by a man.

Sens’ interpretation is balanced with regard to possible sexual double entendres: it seems wise, for example, to reject (137–8) the interpretation of πέτασος (ep. XX 4) as referring to Dorcion’s genitals; on the contrary, at the end of ep. V (ῥόδεαι κάλυκες) an obscene allusion does not seem to be “out of place here,” as Sens claims (35), given the erotic contents of the poem and the attested use of the term ῥόδον for the female genitals (as Sens records ad loc.).

Scholars will certainly benefit from this volume: it provides many novel and well-founded answers, but it also raises as many questions and provides plenty of direction for further research. We are dealing with a very important book in scholarship on Asclepiades, which works in synergy with Guichard’s edition. Those interested in Asclepiades have now at their disposal two major scholarly works, which, taken together, mark a great advance on Gow–Page and the other editions, and will support further work in the fields of both textual criticism and exegesis.

CFP: Preternature ~ Old Gods

An edited version of a note from Debbie Felton (Associate Professor of Classics, University of Massachusetts Amherst):

I am writing as a member of the Advisory Board for the Penn State University Press journal “Preternature: Critical and Historical Studies in the Preternatural” (http://preternature.org), and am wondering whether you might be willing to post a CFP that might be of particular interest to classicists: We have an upcoming issue on Old Gods, and are looking for papers focused on the study of gods across diverse temporal and geographic regions (e.g. Egyptian, Greek, Norse, Mesoamerican). But we are essentially aiming to have this issue be heavy on the Classics/Near Eastern side. Information about the CFP, our submission policies, and our peer-review process can all be found at the above website, and inquiries can be addressed to me at felton AT classics.umass.edu

More From Debelt

Last week we mentioned a find of some Roman burials which were found when a truck broke through the pavement near Debelt (ancient Dueltum): Roman Tombs from Debelt. Today we get a followup, with a slightly different version of the circumstances of discovery … from the Sofia Globe:

Golden medallions featuring inscriptions and images found in a gravesite dating to the Roman era in Debelt, a village in the region of Bourgas on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, have been identified by archaeologists as being from the second century CE.

According to archaeologists, the graves are those of veterans of the eighth legion of Augustus. They are in the western part of the ancient Roman colony of Deultum, according to a report on July 17 2012 by public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television.

Today the gravesite is next to a street in the latter-day village of Debelt. Deultum, in its time, was known as “Little Rome in Thrace”, the report said.

The find was made by accident while people were pouring concrete for construction. The vibration of the concrete mixer caused the surface to crack and a tomb was found.

Krasimira Kostova, director of the Archaeological Museum in Debelt, said that the find was of extremely high value. The valuable gifts were evidence that the people who lived there were of high status.

The finds included golden jewellery and a needle, beads and scrapers used by the ancient Romans for bathing and massage and in medicine as a means of inserting medication in the ears and throat, the report said. All of these were signs of urban life in what was then an important place in the Roman empire.

An inter-ministerial committee will decide what will become of the site. According to the report, Debelt archaeological reserve is the only one in Bulgaria to have “European archaeological heritage” status.

And just to add my own followup, we have heard of finds in the region of Bourgas before, and I speculated (if it needs speculation; as often, it might just be left out of the Bulgarian coverage)  it might be the location of one of a string of forts established by Vespasian and the connection with the Legio VIII Augusta might support that. See Further Thoughts on that Bulgarian Site Near Bourgas. On the movements of the Legio VIII Augusta, see the informative article at Livius.org: Legio VIII Augusta

Stoa of Attalos Open to Public!!

… after 30 years!! Tip o’ the pileus to Diana Wright for passing on the Kathimerini coverage:

For the first time in 30 years, the first floor of the Stoa of Attalos in the Ancient Agora next to the Acropolis in Athens, has opened to the public

The Stoa of Attalos is among Athens’s finest monuments. It was fully reconstructed and made into the Ancient Agora Museum, by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. But the first floor had remained closed to the public until Wednesday.

Archaeological research has revealed that the ancient shopping mall was built in 150 BC by Attalos II, king of Pergamon, who gifted it to Athens.

Most recently, the Stoa of Attalos hosted the 2003 European Union Summit, where Cyprus’s accession to the EU was signed.

The opening of the first floor of the Stoa is part of an initiative for the revival of the Ancient Agora run jointly by the ASCS, the Culture Ministry and the First Ephorate of Antiquities. The project has a total budget of 964,000 euros and is co-funded by the European Union and the Public Investment Program of the Development Ministry.

The first floor of the Stoa it will house an exhibition of sculptures found during excavations at the Ancient Agora, representing Athenian art from the Late Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods. The 56 objects that comprise the permanent exhibition are a rare treat as they have never been shown to the public before.

See also:

CJ Online Review: Hall, et al., Ancient Slavery and Abolition

posted with permission:

Edith Hall, Richard Alston, and Justine McConnell, eds., Ancient Slavery and Abolition: From Hobbes to Hollywood. Classical Presences. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. xviii + 509. Hardcover, £90.00/$150.00. ISBN 978-0-19-957467-4.

Reviewed by Fábio Duarte Joly, Universidade Federal de Ouro Preto

The reception of ancient slavery in modern culture has been the subject of growing academic interest in recent decades. Ancient Slavery and Abolition: From Hobbes to Hollywood reinforces this trend by bringing together papers presented at an international conference held at the Centre for the Reception of Greece and Rome at Royal Holloway, University of London, in 2007, on the occasion of the bicentenary of the parliamentary act that abolished the slave trade in the British colonies. Within the domain of cultural history, the aim of the book is to provide studies of the non-academic reception of ancient slavery. After an introduction by Edith Hall, highlighting the themes and methodologies covered by the book, there are eleven chapters which deal with the appropriation of Greco-Roman ideas in debates about slavery in England, the United States and South Africa, in literature from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, and even in Hollywood. A postscript by Ahuvia Kahane on “Slavery, Abolition, Modernity, and the Past” concludes the book.

The first chapter, by Richard Alston, draws attention to a central point of the reception studies throughout the book. If, on the one hand, the appropriation of ancient ideas of slavery by various social agents during the modern period helped to minimize the otherness of the ancient slave system vis-à-vis modern ones, it also represented, on the other hand, a substantial rupture between Antiquity and modernity, since the respective notions of freedom and slavery were located in quite different socioeconomic and ontological contexts. Examining the concepts of freedom in Pliny the Younger and Hobbes, Alston indicates that while for the former, slavery and freedom were embedded in a web of social and status relations, for the latter freedom meant the absence of impediment to action, something inherent in every individual regardless of status. By reinforcing this liberal perspective, the insertion of transatlantic slavery in the capitalist system prevented any actual recovery of the intellectual background of ancient slavery. However, such a rupture did not prevent the generalized use of classical ideas in the debates about slavery triggered by abolitionism. This is illustrated by the numerous citations of the first book of the Politics of Aristotle by pro-slavery writers of the antebellum United States, a subject analyzed by S. Sara Monoson, and by appropriations of the image of Spartan helotage by British abolitionists, which reveal, as Stephen Hodkinson and Edith Hall argue, both positive and negative evaluations of this historical phenomenon according to the political interests and actors on scene. This ambivalence of the modern reception of ancient ideas about slavery is also noted in the chapters by John Hilton and Margaret Malamud, who treat the use of classical ideas in the abolition debates in South Africa and the antebellum U.S., respectively.

In this sense the figure of Prometheus, bound and unbound, analyzed by Edith Hall, proves to be a fine example of the difficulties of the appropriation of classical culture by the abolitionist movement, since it involved selecting some aspects akin to the abolitionist cause (such as victimhood and suffering) and discarding others related to social disorder (such as the desire for revenge). The presence of Greco-Roman culture in poetry, novels, historical accounts, and films related to abolitionism and its legacy is treated in five chapters. Brycchan Carey points out the relations between classical form and content in eighteenth-century abolitionist poetry and Emily Greenwood examines the work of Phillis Wheatley, an enslaved African poet in late eighteenth-century Boston. The novel The Last Days of Pompeii (1834) by Edward Bulwer is analyzed by Leanne Hunnings, who focuses on the characterization of Nydia, a blind slave. Lydia Langerwerf addresses L. R. James’ portrait of Toussaint L’Ouverture as influenced by the representation of two ancient slave rebels (Aristomenes of Messene, as depicted by Pausanias, and Drimakos, whose story is preserved in Athenaeus), while Justine McConnell demonstrates how the script of the film Sommersby (1993) was inspired by the plot of Homer’s Odyssey to represent the impact of slavery and abolition in the Deep South.

All these chapters have some points in common: the present-mindedness of the representation of ancient slavery, the tensions between the “outsideness” of slaves and their possibilities of actual agency, and the classical education of the modern writers. This latter theme is well explored in the chapter by David Lupher and Elizabeth Vandiver on Basil L. Gildersleeve, one of the founders of the professional study of Classics in the United States, who illustrates the close link between the development of classical studies and pro-slavery ideology.

In general, by its range of topics and insightful analysis of different sources, the book will surely give new impetus to reception studies. However, its focus on the Anglophone world suggests that future research should also consider the cultural framework of both pro- and antislavery movements in a broader Atlantic perspective. The Iberian slave system, for example, in which Brazil and Cuba played a central role, was strongly affected by the emergence of the British antislavery movement, the Revolution of Saint-Domingue, and the American Civil War. The debates on the abolition of slavery throughout the Iberian system also mobilized images of ancient slavery, and a comparison of them with those circulating in England, the United States, South Africa and the Caribbean would allow a more interconnected view—and one, therefore, less restricted to national boundaries—of what David Brion Davis has called the “problem of slavery in Western culture.”

CJ Online Review: Cavafy, Selected Prose Works

posted with permission:

C. P. Cavafy, Selected Prose Works. Translated and annotated by Peter Jeffreys. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2010. Pp. xix + 163. Paperback, $24.95. ISBN 978-0-472-05095-6.

Reviewed by James Nikopoulos, Rutgers University

Despite the numerous translations into English of C.P. Cavafy’s poetry that have appeared in recent years—no less than seven in the last decade alone—Cavafy’s prose output has been ignored by translators. Peter Jeffreys has stepped in to fill this void. The result is an admirable compilation of a notoriously idiosyncratic body of work. Among the forty pieces included in this volume one finds essays and reflections on such diverse subjects as The Elgin Marbles to Shakespeare to Lycanthropy, written both in English and Greek. Jeffreys provides enough notes to allow the reader to contextualize each piece, and his translations of Cavafy’s Greek are accomplished and clear.

Thus the goal of introducing the non-specialist to heretofore neglected work has been achieved. However, as the one who has taken upon himself the responsibility of introducing Cavafy’s prose to a larger English-speaking audience, Jeffreys also takes on the responsibility of explaining it. To be more precise, Jeffreys is left with the unhappy task of trying to justify the presence of what is essentially mediocre work by one of the twentieth century’s greatest poets.

That this is a task the book feels obliged to perform comes across clearly in the introduction, in which the reader is presented with what amounts to a series of excuses for why the Alexandrian’s prose is so inferior to his poetry. My problem is not that Jeffreys does this, for it needs to be done. Any reader of Cavafy’s poetry expecting to come across the same caliber of thought and style in these pieces as one habitually finds in the poems will be strongly disappointed; therefore some explanation is in order. My problem then is not the presence of a defense but how Jeffreys goes about formulating it.

The Introduction begins by pinning the blame on necessity:

Cavafy’s Greek readership expected a peculiar style of learned journalism that consisted of a formulaic blend of encyclopedic dilettantism interspersed with choice translations of foreign authors and foreign journalists.

Many of these pieces are journalistic, thus Cavafy had to keep an eye firmly fixed on the requirements of the job, but to pin the blame on an expected readership is an inadequate explanation for lackluster work, especially when one considers that many of these pieces were either never published or remained fragments. Jeffreys continues in this vein in the following sentence:

The fact that the literary preferences of late nineteenth-century fin-de-siècle readers diverged greatly from those of the early twentieth century and post-World War I era—the period during which Cavafy found his mature poetic voice—surely induced Cavafy to view his early prose as unfashionably dated and even embarrassingly pretentious.

It is as though the zeitgeist is more to blame for a writer’s immature work rather than the author’s immaturity itself.

Jeffreys’s comments also speak negatively of Cavafy’s use of katharevousa—the artificial language that emerged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with a view towards “cleansing” modern Greek of its foreign impurities. He writes:

As nearly all prose during this period was written in puristic Greek, Cavafy had to display his journalistic mastery of this cumbersome idiom for the public while simultaneously satisfying his more private creative impulses, attempting in the process to craft a lucid, effective and learned prose.

It is true that Cavafy progressively moved away from katharevousa in his writing, both in his prose and his poetry, but Jeffreys implies that Cavafy’s early use of it was a kind of necessary evil, as though forced against his will to cultivate an unwanted idiom. Cavafy, however, is not like the many Greek writers of the twentieth century who argued against the unnatural language. He is even recorded to have been disgusted by the debate between katharevousa and demotic, stating that both sides aimed to “throw half our language away.”[[1]] Jeffreys himself admits that Cavafy did not consider katherevousa to be such a horrible thing. The lead note to the essay, “Professor Blackie on the Modern Greek Language,” reads: “John Stuart Blackie, Professor of Greek at the University of Edinburgh, was, like Cavafy, favourably disposed towards the purist ‘katharevousa’.”

Professor Jeffreys’s best means of defending these pieces is also the most obvious. As he writes, the prose “remains fertile ground for furthering our critical understanding and evolving appreciation of the poet.” Thus, whenever possible, the notes seek to connect the piece at hand to Cavafy’s verse. For example, we learn that the essay, “Coral from a Mythological Perspective,” testifies to Cavafy’s lifelong interest in ancient mineralogy, which can be seen in the poems “Indian Image” and “The Footsteps” as well as in the prose poem “The Ships.” Why Jeffreys would fail to mention that coral also appears in perhaps Cavafy’s most famous poem, “Ithaka,” I do not quite understand.

Despite these flaws, there is much that deserves praise here, especially considering the lackluster material Jeffreys is presenting. The defense he offers may be flawed, but the spirit behind it is commendable. Overall, for those seeking that quintessential Cavafy voice, the prose works are sure to disappoint. However, anyone seeking a deeper understanding of Cavafy’s development as a thinker and as a writer will surely find much to his liking in this volume.

NOTE

[[1]] See Roderick Beaton, An Introduction to Modern Greek Literature (Oxford 2004) 338 n. Beaton’s note also mentions a review Cavafy never published in his lifetime of the second edition of H. Pernot’s Grammaire du Grec Moderne (1917), in which Cavafy makes his most overt comments on the “Language Question.” This review can be found in the standard edition of Cavafy’s prose: Πιερής, Μιχάλης. Κ.Π. Καβάφης: Τα Πεζά (1882–1931) (Athens: Ikaros, 2003). The review is not included among Jeffreys’s translations.

Hellenistic Harbour from Akko/Acre/Ptolemais

This appears to be the big news of the past few days, and all the coverage seems to stem from the MFA coverage, so ecce:

In archaeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting at the foot of Akko’s southern seawall, installations were exposed that belong to a harbor that was operating in the city already in the Hellenistic period (third-second centuries BCE) and was the most important port in Israel at that time.

The finds were discovered during the course of archaeological excavations being carried out as part of the seawall conservation project undertaken by the Old Akko Development Company and underwritten by the Israel Lands Administration.

The first evidence indicating the possible existence of this quay was in 2009 when a section of pavement was discovered comprised of large kurkar flagstones dressed in a technique reminiscent of the Phoenician style that is characteristic of installations found in a marine environment. This pavement, which was discovered underwater, raised many questions amongst archaeologists. Besides the theory that this is a quay, some suggested this was the floor of a large building.

According to Kobi Sharvit, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority Marine Archaeology Unit , “Among the finds we’ve discovered now are large mooring stones that were incorporated in the quay and were used to secure sailing vessels that anchored in the harbor c. 2,300 years ago. This unique and important find finally provides an unequivocal answer to the question of whether we are dealing with port installations or the floor of a building. In addition, we exposed collapse comprised of large dressed stones that apparently belonged to large buildings or installations, which was spread of a distance of dozens of meters. What emerges from these finds is a clear picture of systematic and deliberate destruction of the port facilities that occurred in antiquity”. Sharvit adds, “Recently a find was uncovered that suggests we are excavating part of the military port of Akko. We are talking about an impressive section of stone pavement c. 8 meters long by c. 5 meters wide that was partially exposed. The floor is delimited on both sides by two impressive stone walls that are also built in the Phoenician manner. It seems that the floor between the walls slopes slightly toward the south, and there was a small amount of stone collapse in its center. Presumably this is a slipway, an installation that was used for lifting boats onto the shore, probably warships in this case”. According to Sharvit, “Only further archaeological excavations will corroborate or invalidate this theory”.

The bottom of the ancient harbor was exposed at the foot of the installations. There the mooring stones were found as well as thousands of fragments of pottery vessels, among which are dozens of intact vessels and metallic objects. The preliminary identification of the pottery vessels indicates that many of them come from islands in the Aegean Sea, including Knidos, Rhodes, Kos and others, as well as other port cities located along the Mediterranean coast.

These finds constitute solid archaeological evidence regarding the location of the Hellenistic harbor and perhaps the military port. According to Sharvit, “It should be understood that until these excavations the location of this important harbor was not clear. Remains of it were found at the base of the Tower of Flies and in the region of the new marina in excavations conducted in the early 1980s by the late Dr. Elisha Linder and the late Professor Avner Raban. But now, for the first time, parts of the harbor are being discovered that are adjacent to the ancient shoreline and the Hellenistic city. Unfortunately, parts of the quay continue beneath the Ottoman city wall – parts that we will probably not be able to excavate in the future.

Nevertheless, in those sections of the harbor that extend in the direction of the sea and the modern harbor the excavation will continue in an attempt to learn about the extent of the ancient harbor, and to try and clarify if there is a connection between the destruction in the harbor and the destruction wrought by Ptolemy in 312 BCE, the destruction that was caused by the Hasmonean uprising in 167 BCE or by some other event.

All the coverage includes the same (it seems) three photos which are kind of underwhelming, given the obvious importance of this find. For the coverage from 2009, see: Hellenistic Harbour Remains from Ptolemais/Akko/Acre (ours) or A Pier from the Hellenistic Period was Discovered in Akko (the full IAA coverage mentioned there; it has moved as Joseph Lauer predicted).

Other coverage:

Stolen Sarcophagus Recovered

This one’s interesting, given that we were pondering the origins of that sarcophagus in the sea near Antalya t’other day … from the Local:

A Roman sarcophagus, believed to have been excavated illegally from an archaeological site close to Turkey’s Antalya, has been seized by authorities from a Swiss warehouse, a customs official said on Monday.

The marble tomb, bearing carvings depicting the 12 labours of Hercules, dates to 2 AD.

It was found by customs officials who were carrying out inventory checks at Geneva’s tax-free warehouses, said Jean-Marc Renaud, who heads Switzerland’s central customs services, confirming a Swiss television report.

According to Swiss television, Ankara is seeking restitution of the sarcophagus believed to have originated from the Greek-Roman archaeological site of Perge, about 22 kilometres from Antalya.

Swiss customs are currently holding the object, and have brought the case to Geneva prosecutors which opened a probe last year.

Roman Cemetery from Norfolk

Scouring my email box still … from the BBC a couple of weeks ago:

Archaeologists have discovered 85 Roman graves in what has been hailed as the largest and best preserved cemetery of that period found in Norfolk.

The site at Great Ellingham, near Attleborough, has been excavated over the last four months and the findings have now been revealed.

Among the skeletons, which have been exhumed for further study, there were some which were beheaded after death.

The cemetery is thought to date from the 3rd/4th Century.

The excavation was part of a planning process following an application for the residential development of a site in Great Ellingham.

Complete burials and isolated finds of human bones have been recorded at, and immediately adjacent to, the site since the late 1950s.

An archaeological evaluation by trial trenching in November 2011 by Chris Birks Archaeology revealed Roman burials and isolated finds of human bone, confirming the cemetery extended into the proposed development site.

The works have been co-funded by the landowner and developer.

Chris Birks said: “Even from the results of the evaluation, we never expected to find 85 burials, the most previously being recorded in Norfolk was about half this amount.”

He said one particular feature that had been identified from the excavations is the seemingly deliberate placement of flints around the skull.

One burial represents a decapitation burial where the head has been placed by the feet, which Mr Birks said was “surprisingly not an unknown type of burial from other Roman cemeteries”.

“Analysis and research by a human bones specialist will no doubt shed more light on these and the other burials,” said Mr Birks.

The only grave goods found at the site was an iron finger ring.

“The population represented by this cemetery was most probably a rural settlement reliant on farming practices though, at present, we don’t know where this settlement was,” said Mr Birks.

David Gurney, historic environment manager at Norfolk County Council, said: “Only 300 Roman burials have been found in Norfolk. This discovery is a fantastic opportunity to look at these skeletons, to find out clues about their life and diets.”

All the burials at Great Ellingham have now been removed.

The original BBC item does include a photo of the decapitation burial …

CJ Online Review: Potter, The Victor’s Crown

posted with permission:

David Potter, The Victor’s Crown: A History of Ancient Sport from Homer to Byzantium. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. (First published in the UK by Quercus, 2011.) Pp. xxx + 416. Paperback, $24.95. ISBN 978-0-19-984275-9.

Reviewed by Stephen Brunet, University of New Hampshire

The last decade has seen a series of introductions to ancient sports, all by authors possessing both extensive experience teaching this subject and substantial scholarly achievements to their credit.[[1]] To this collection can now be added The Victor’s Crown, which reflects the many years David Potter has spent researching Roman entertainment and teaching classes on ancient sports. Potter is particularly concerned with presenting the history of the ancient games in a way that will be readily understandable and appealing to non-specialists. Yet when considered as a potential textbook (as is the focus of this review), this approach can represent a drawback. In trying to make the story of the ancient games straightforward and compelling, Potter sometimes glosses over cases where students need to be informed that the evidence presents us with problems or that scholars hold widely divergent opinions about significant phenomena.

After an introduction pointing out how ancient and modern society share an interest in watching competitive sports, Potter proceeds in the first three chapters to cover the various topics involving Greek athletics that students would normally encounter in a sports course, such as Homeric sports and what it was like to attend the Olympics. A few subjects, notably athletic nudity, are treated in less depth than some teachers might like. This is balanced out by the fact that others, notably the gymnasiarchical law of Beroia and athletics under the Ptolemies, receive more attention than in similar books. Not surprising given his research interests, Potter devotes the last two chapters, nearly half the work, to the Roman games including some less commonly treated topics like the fate of the games as Constantinople became the center of the empire. While the nature of the evidence used to reconstruct the history of the ancient games is not specifically discussed, a student would get a good sense of the written sources from the many passages quoted, including from some less familiar authors like John Malalas. Visual evidence is not particularly prominent but the twenty-three nicely reproduced color illustrations include the “before and after” of the Minoan bull-jumping fresco (the re-restoration removed any evidence for the participation of women) and two wall paintings from Paestum with early evidence for gladiatorial combat and chariot racing.

More than other introductions to Greek and Roman sports, Potter’s arrangement of topics appears to be governed by his sense of how best to convey the story of ancient athletics to readers with little prior knowledge of the ancient world. So instead of treating all the Olympic events in a separate section, as is standard in most books, Potter combines his description of the various events with a discussion of nudity and of the agony of competing in the Olympics under the heading “Winning.” In the process of trying to show readers that the history of ancient athletics does not just involve technical details, he brings to the fore some interesting features of the ancient games. For example, his thoughts on the parallels between the diets of modern and ancient athletes (139–44) would certainly provoke some discussion among the kinesiology students I have taught. As well, his extensive list of tombstones set up by the wives of gladiators (259) suggests that we may have underestimated the number of gladiators who were free men or were freed during their careers. Above all, Potter constantly has his eye on making sure the reader realizes that ancient sports did not develop in a vacuum, as he does in his lively section on athletics and the polis (“Sport and Civic Virtue”).

Potter is largely successful in his attempt to tell the story of Greek and Roman sports in a compelling fashion. In the process, however, students do not always receive an adequate overview of the field, as can be seen with Potter’s discussion of the role of women in ancient sports (Chap. 25). First, some of his suggestions are sufficiently controversial that he needed to explain more fully the basis of his views. Contrary to his assertion (255), Domitian did include women in his Capitoline games, unless Potter has some unexpressed reason to disbelieve Dio (67.8.1–9.1) and Suetonius (Dom. 4). Conversely, Potter is the first scholar, to my knowledge, to assert that Nero imported female Spartan wrestlers to compete in his Greek games (255). However, the evidence he cites needed to be discussed in some detail; otherwise students will be in the dark about why some scholars might have reservations about his claim.[[2]] A more important gap is that no mention is made of the Heraia at Olympia. As a result, students would not realize that scholars have long debated whether these races were truly athletic or constituted a ritual like the ceremonies for Artemis at Brauron.

While the average reader is likely to find The Victor’s Crown an enjoyable account of the ancient games, it probably does not represent the best choice as a textbook for a sports or classical civilization class. Because Potter tends to be discursive and to eschew technical terminology wherever possible, students would find it hard to determine quickly, say, the dates individual events were introduced in the Olympics or the parts of the Roman circus. Yet I could see assigning or suggesting particular sections to students, since Potter is successful in conveying the sense that understanding the Greeks and Romans requires understanding why their games developed as they did.

NOTES

[[1]] Some of these introductions deal solely with Greek athletics: S. Miller, Ancient Greek Athletics (2004) and Z. Newby, Athletics in the Ancient World (2006); others like Potter treat the Roman world as well: D. Kyle, Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World (2007) and N. Crowther, Sport in Ancient Times (2007); and some just the Roman world: A. Futrell, The Roman Games (2005) (strictly a source book but with a substantial amount of commentary interspersed among the selections). This list is not exhaustive but includes those works which I have had the most experience using with students.

[[2]] He cites the scholium to Juvenal 4.53 but that note simply says that Palfurius Sura wrestled [it may mean “competed”] during the reign of Nero. It is the less than trustworthy Gregorius Valla who says that Palfurius wrestled during the reign of Nero with a Spartan girl in some unspecified contest, not specifically in Nero’s games. Potter also needs to explain why Suetonius would have ignored such a remarkable event.

Classical Words of the Day

Latinitweets:

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem xv kalendas sextilias

ante diem xv kalendas sextilias

¶ Mercatus

¶ 477 B.C. — 300 members of the gens Fabia die in the battle of the Cremera

¶ 390 (or 387) B.C. — Gauls defeat the Romans at Allia

¶ 64 A.D. — the Great Fire of Rome begins

¶ 69 A.D. — Vitellius is given the titles of Augustus and pontifex maximus

¶ 1374 — death of Petrarch