Bryn Mawr Classical Review ~ 05/16/14

  • 2014.05.28:  Riccardo Chiaradonna, Gabriele Galluzzo, Universals in Ancient Philosophy. Seminari e convegni, 33.
  • 2014.05.27:  Jeroen Poblome, Daniele Malfitana, John Lund, HEROM. Journal on Hellenistic and Roman Material Culture, vol. 1.
  • 2014.05.26:  Giovanna De Sensi Sestito, Stefania Mancuso, Enotri e Brettii in Magna Grecia: modi e forme di interazione culturale. Società antiche: storia, culture, territori.
  • 2014.05.25:  Owen Hodkinson, Authority and Tradition in Philostratus’ ‘Heroikos’. Satura, 8.
  • 2014.05.24:  Ennio Sanzi, Iuppiter Optimus Maximus Dolichenus: un “culto orientale” fra tradizione e innovazione: riflessioni storico-religiose.
  • 2014.05.23:  Lin Foxhall, Studying Gender in Classical Antiquity. Key themes in ancient history.

Reviews from BMCR ~ 05/14/14

  • 2014.05.22:  Robert Mondi, Peter L. Corrigan, A Student Handbook of Greek and English Grammar.
  • 2014.05.21:  Euangelia N. Mimidou, Ευριπίδη Αίολος: ερμηνευτικός σχολιασμός των αποσπασμάτων της τραγωδίας Αίολος του Ευριπίδη.
  • 2014.05.20:  Carolina López-Ruiz, Gods, Heroes, and Monsters: A Sourcebook of Greek, Roman, and Near Eastern Myths in Translation.

Bryn Mawr Classical Reviews ~ 05/13/14

  • 2014.05.19:  Alexander Riddiford, Madly After the Muses: Bengali Poet Michael Madhusudan Datta and his Reception of the Graeco-Roman Classics. Classical Presences.
  • 2014.05.18:  Phillip Sidney Horky, Plato and Pythagoreanism.
  • 2014.05.17:  R. W. Burgess, Michael Kulikowski, Mosaics of Time: The Latin Chronicle Traditions from the First Century BC to the Sixth Century AD. Volume I: A Historical Introduction to the Chronicle Genre from Its Origins to the High Middle Ages. Studies in the Early Middle Ages, 33.

Bryn Mawr Classical Review ~ Catching up a bit …

[n.b. I'm resuming including these ... they might be a daily thing so I don't fall behind]

  • 2014.05.16:  Sandrine Dubel, Alain Montandon, Mythes sacrificiels et ragoûts d’enfants. Mythographies et sociétés.
  • 2014.05.15:  John Nicols, Civic Patronage in the Roman Empire. Mnemosyne supplements. History and archaeology of classical antiquity, 365.
  • 2014.05.14:  Gudrun Klebinder-Gauß, Keramik aus klassischen Kontexten im Apollon-Heiligtum von Ägina-Kolonna. Denkschriften der Gesamtakademie, 70; Contributions to the chronology of the eastern Mediterranean, 30.
  • 2014.05.13:  Nathan Rosenstein, Rome and the Mediterranean 290 to 146 BC: The Imperial Republic. The Edinburgh history of ancient Rome.
  • 2014.05.12:  Francesca Murano, Le tabellae defixionum osche. Ricerche sulle lingue di frammentaria attestazione, 8.
  • 2014.05.11:  Valéry Berlincourt, Commenter la Thébaïde (16e-19e s.): Caspar von Barth et la tradition exégétique de Stace. Mnemosyne supplements. Monographs on Greek and Latin language and literature, 354.
  • 2014.05.10:  Michael C. Hoff, Rhys F. Townsend, Rough Cilicia: New Historical and Archaeological Approaches. Proceedings of an international conference held at Lincoln, Nebraska, October 2007.
  • 2014.05.09:  Richard Stoneman, Tristano Gargiulo, Il Romanzo di Alessandro, Volume II. Scrittori greci e latini.
  • 2014.05.08:  Gregory Recco, Eric Sanday, Plato’s ‘Laws': Force and Truth in Politics. Studies in continental thought.
  • 2014.05.07:  Walter Burkert, La religion grecque à l’époque archaïque et classique. Traduction et mise à jour bibliographique par Pierre Bonnechere. Antiquité/Synthèses 13.
  • 2014.05.06:  Anthony Kaldellis, Ethnography after Antiquity: Foreign Lands and Peoples in Byzantine Literature. Empire and after.
  • 2014.05.05:  Carlos R. Galvão-Sobrinho, Doctrine and Power: Theological Controversy and Christian Leadership in the Later Roman Empire. Transformation of the classical heritage, 51.
  • 2014.05.04:  Ludwig Koenen, Jorma Kaimio, Maarit Kaimio, Robert W. Daniel, The Petra Papyri II. American Center of Oriental Research Publications, 7.
  • 2014.05.03:  Carl Deroux, Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History, XVI. Collection Latomus, 338.
  • 2014.05.02:  J. van der Vliet, J. L. Hagen, Qasr Ibrim, Between Egypt and Africa: Studies in Cultural Exchange. (NINO symposium, Leiden, 11-12 December 2009). Egyptologische uitgaven, 26.
  • 2014.04.60:  Richard Sorabji, Perception, Conscience and Will in Ancient Philosophy. Variorum collected studies series, CS 1030.
  • 2014.04.59:  David L. Kennedy, Settlement and Soldiers in the Roman Near East. Variorum collected studies series, CS 1032.
  • 2014.04.58:  Alain Blanchard, Ménandre, tome II: Le Héros; L’Arbitrage; La Tondue; La Fabula incerta du Caire. Collection des Universités de France. Série grecque, 495.
  • 2014.04.57:  Caroline Vout, Sex on Show: Seeing the Erotic in Greece and Rome.

CJ~Online Review of Falcon, Aristotelianism in the First Century BC

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Aristotelianism in the First Century bc: Xenarchus of Seleucia. By Andrea Falcon. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Pp. xi + 227. Hardcover, $95.00. ISBN 978-0-521-87650-6.

Reviewed by Han Baltussen, The University of Adelaide

This is an engaging and scholarly study which illustrates that fragmentary texts can be studied coherently and profitably. Falcon manages to bring to light the importance of Xenarchus, a neglected philosopher active in the first century bc when Aristotelian thought made a come-back. As with the other evidence for Peripatetics from Theophrastus (d. 287 bc) down to Aspasius (fl. 100 ad) the evidence is mostly fragmentary, extant in much later sources.

Recent decades have seen a lively debate on what constitutes a “fragment” in ancient philosophy (and other areas). Many standard editions produced in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century by, e.g., Diels (Vorsokratiker) and von Arnim (Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta), operated with a cut-and-paste method, ignoring the philosophical entanglement of quoted and paraphrased passages, often leaving out the context when it came to identifying “quotations.” Falcon offers an interpretation fully sensitive to the historical, philological and conceptual context. For this to be possible, he makes good use of other recent scholarship: the increased study of the Neoplatonists (sources for Xenarchus’ thought), and his own wider study of Aristotle and his interpreters.

The three separate parts of the book do justice to the material and its particular problems: Part 1 is an introduction on Xenarchus’ life and work, conveniently collecting together for the first time what we know about him in one place. (I note that this Xenarchus is not mentioned in the OCD.) Part 2 presents the fragmentary texts with translation and brief commentary, a meticulous and important undertaking which requires knowledge of much of the tradition from Aristotle’s successors down to the Neoplatonists. Lastly, Part 3 offers three short essays on the reception of Xenarchus. This arrangement -biography, texts and translation, and reception-creates a stimulating example for others to interpret the fragmentary remains of an ancient author. Its clear argument, balanced judgment and original structure make this an invaluable study for Aristotelianism.

Interestingly, Xenarchus is a very vocal critic of Aristotle, but Falcon aptly explains that this does not necessarily mean that his loyalty as a Peripatetic is at stake (2). To understand the historical and philosophical significance of Xenarchus we need to be aware that the study of Aristotle’s works had waned and ongoing debates between schools had led to syncretistic tendencies. The renewed interest now focused on exegesis of written materials, leading to canonization (a pre-condition for evaluative commentary). Falcon argues forcefully for the literary diversity of works that engaged with Aristotle.



Xenarchus, it emerges, is not a commentator in the strict sense. His evaluation of Aristotle is critical and philosophical rather than purely explanatory and philological. Falcon suggests at the outset that Xenarchus is called “Peripatetic” as “an indication of his commitment to a careful study of Aristotle’s works” (2-3). But later he adds, “critical engagement with Aristotle’s works … did not imply a commitment to his doctrines” (40). Thus the criticism of Aristotle cannot be fully understood “unless we dissociate fidelity to Aristotle’s ideas from critical engagement with his works” (2).

Falcon also raises some important issues with regard to the modern approach to this period. The disruption to philosophy resulting from the Mithradatic wars must have been considerable. The capture of Athens and Sulla’s transportation of Aristotle’s library to Rome (Plut. Sulla 26; cf. Cic. Att. 4.10.1) also changed the approach to philosophy. For the analysis of the renewed study of Aristotle, Falcon warns that we should adopt a perspective “that does not project what we know about Alexander of Aphrodisias back onto the first century bce” (21). Falcon points out that we need to be sensitive to the differences in exegetical style among those who studied Aristotle and to the fact that “Xenarchus is a counterexample to any monolithic account of the origins of philosophical exegesis” (ibid.).

The most significant point of criticism concerns the fifth substance, which Aristotle allocated to the heavens to account for celestial motion, thus adding one to the standard set of four substances. These criticisms resemble those by other Peripatetics (Theophrastus, Strato). Simplicius provides six assumptions on which the argument in Aristotle may be based (the framework is neither Simplicius’ nor Philoponus’, but probably also not Xenarchus': 27-32). The material is complex and cannot be repeated here, but Falcon’s conclusion is significant: “the long and tortuous discussion that Simplicius offers in his commentary on the De caelo indicates that the ancient debate on these arguments never stopped in antiquity” (31). Xenarchus seems to have offered a positive alternative as well, arguing that there is no need to introduce a fifth simple body that naturally performs circular motion.

Falcon is right to highlight Xenarchus’ importance for the development of Aristotelianism in the post-Hellenistic era (though his title should not be taken to suggest that Xenarchus was the most important Peripatetic in the first century bc). The overall significance of this original study lies in the rigorous method, the well-thought out structure and the tightly argued and insightful discussion of the fragments for Xenarchus. It not only fits well into current scholarship to analyze the complex evidence for Peripatetic thought after Aristotle on the basis of fragments, but also creates a new format which goes beyond a standard edition (text and translation). The book sets a new standard for contextualized scholarly analysis of philosophical fragments.

[©2013 by The Classical Association of the Middle West and South. All rights reserved.]

CJ~Online Review of Ruppel, Absolute Constructions

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Absolute Constructions in Early Indo-European. By Antonia Ruppel. Cambridge Classical Studies. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Pp. xiv + 255. Hardcover, $99.00. ISBN 978-0-521-76762-0.

Reviewed by D. M. Goldstein, Institut für Sprachwissenschaft der Universität Wien

Absolute participles are a prominent feature of archaic Indo-European morphosyntax: the ablative absolute of Latin, the Greek genitive absolute, and the locative absolute of Sanskrit are notable both for their functional overlap as well as their divergences. Ruppel’s study, which is based on her 2008 University of Cambridge dissertation, takes an amphichronic approach to this family of constructions. Synchronically, she offers a new definition of what constitutes an absolute participial phrase (discussed briefly below). Diachronically, she argues that the absolute constructions of the daughter languages developed from a Proto-Indo- European locative absolute (208). This is a useful volume written in an accessible style, and equipped with an ample collection of data and rich bibliography. Its success is, however, limited by some unreliable syntactic and semantic generalizations, which range from unclear to untrue.

Chapter 1 justifies the need for a study of absolute constructions by demonstrating that their basic properties have not yet been established. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 form the empirical heart of the work, and are devoted to expositions of absolute constructions in Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit, respectively. One of the more notable claims of chapter 2 (33, also earlier at 21) is that the genitive absolute has grammaticalized (my term, not Ruppel’s) further than its Latin or Sanskrit counterparts.

Building on this tripartite foundation, chapter 5 then looks back in time to consider the absolute construction in Proto-Indo-European. Ruppel argues (210) that “the development toward ACs started from nouns referring to time-day, night, year, months, dusk, dawn, etc.-standing in a case through which they expressed the notion ‘at [that time]‘.” The construction was then extended to other classes of lexical items. This original temporal meaning also motivates the view that the original case of the absolute construction was locative.

This book has an anachronistic feel (as witnessed for instance by the bibliography: about 25% (94/373) of the literature antedates the First World War). Although it investigates a linguistic topic and aims to answer linguistic questions, there is little engagement with any of the methods or theories developed within modern linguistics, be it syntax, semantics, typology, grammaticalization, or corpus linguistics.[1] Ruppel’s study would have benefited from the insights into absolute participles (as well as various other adverbial constructions) achieved in these fields.

On the methodological side, for instance, it would have been helpful if Ruppel had laid out a dossier of diagnostics for the question of when an absolute participle has independent clausal status and when it does not (e.g. the presence of certain discourse particles, the distribution of pronominal clitics, scopal properties, etc.). To be sure, Ruppel does this when discussing individual passages but more in this direction was necessary. As it stands, the new definition of the absolute construction that Ruppel offers (206) does not make clear predictions: “an ‘absolute’ construction is a nominal phrase of temporal dimensions whose head noun does not have such dimensions, or for short: a temporal expression with a non-temporal head.” This pseudoparadox is more likely to confuse than aid the reader.

While the diachronic portions of the book are to my mind the more successful, here too the reader should be cautious. On page 41, I do not understand why Ruppel equates innovation (specifically, of a non-adnominal participial phrase) with ungrammaticality. On p. 207 we read: “Given the nearly one-to-one relation between formal and functional case that we can reconstruct for PIE especially on the basis of Vedic…” but The form-function relationship of Vedic case morphology is anything but one-to-one. The remark that “The number of cases we can reconstruct for PIE survives unaltered into Sanskrit” glosses over the facts, for which see, e.g., the recent discussion of Kim (216).[2] The title of the book is broader than its empirical scope, since branches of archaic Indo-European other than those mentioned above are not considered.[3]

In sum, this book offers a number of interesting observations on absolute constructions in the languages investigated, and provides a foundation for the further exploration of absolute constructions in archaic Indo-European.

[1]                Cf. e.g. the recent dissertation of Lowe on Sanskrit participles, which one can now add to the bibliography: John J. Lowe, “The syntax and semantics of tense-aspect stem participles in early Ṛigvedic Sanskrit” (Diss. Oxford, 2012).

[2]                Ronald Kim, “The Indo-European, Anatolian, and Tocharian ‘secondary’ cases in typological perspective,” in Jeremy Rau, Adam I. Cooper, and Michael Weiss, eds., In Multi Nominis Grammaticus: Festschrift for Alan J. Nussbaum (Ann Arbor: Beech Stave Press, 2012) 121-42.

[3]                For absolute constructions in Gothic, see recently Tonya Kim Dewey and Yasmin Syed, “Case variation in Gothic absolute constructions,” in Jóhanna Barðdal and Shobhana L. Chelliah, eds., The Role of Semantic, Pragmatic, and Discourse Factors in the Development of Case (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2009) 3-21; for Slavic, Daniela Hristova, “Absolute constructions in Slavic: Case diversity and originality,” Journal of Indo-European Studies 32 (2004) 297-317 and Daniel E. Collins, “The pragmatics of ‘Unruly’ dative absolutes in early Slavic, in Erik Welo, ed., Indo-European Syntax and Pragmatics: Contrastive Approaches (Oslo: University of Oslo, 2011) 103-30.).

[©2013 by The Classical Association of the Middle West and South. All rights reserved.]

CJ~Online Review of Elmer, The Poetics of Consent

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The Poetics of Consent: Collective Decision Making and the Iliad. By David F. Elmer. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013. Pp. x + 313. Hardcover, $55.00. ISBN 978-1-4214-0826-2.

Reviewed by Dean Hammer, Franklin and Marshall College

David Elmer’s book addresses two interpretive strands of the Iliad: one that explores its politics, the other the poetics of its transmission. Noting the fluidity of the “collective dynamics” of decision making, Elmer contends, “The formalization of these dynamics is rather a matter of the language and conventions of Homeric poetry,” conventions that permit the reader to see “more deeply into the process of collective decision making than the actors themselves seem capable of doing” (2-3).

Elmer addresses attempts to situate the Iliad in a particular historical context, critiquing the view of the poem as providing some window into, or reflecting on, the archaic or pre-polis world (9-10). Elmer, instead, draws on Nagy’s evolutionary model to understand the processes of “composition and textualization” (11) that both extend the poem’s composition into the sixth century and suggest the importance of this later reception in organizing the theme of consensus in the Iliad. The Iliad’s “representation of politics,” Elmer claims, does not reflect any particular historical context but is the result of a “long-term collective decision-making procedure” by which the poem is itself shaped by different audiences and performers. That is, the politics of the Iliad reflects its “implicit theory of reception” (12). To the extent that there is a political context, it is the Panhellenic festivals that provided “a real-life occasion for the assembly of large groups of people with divergent interests” (12).

The book is divided into three sections. The first section (comprised of four chapters) focuses on the formulaic conventions that govern scenes of collective decision making. In the first chapter, Elmer identifies five constituent elements of what he calls the “grammar of reception,” that is, the collective responses of others: silence, approval (by Achaeans), shout (by Achaeans), shout (by Trojans), and praise (26). Elmer situates these phrases within broader linguistic and cultural patterns to identify how formulaic discourse reveals ingrained patterns of speech and thought. Elmer extends the analysis in Chapter 2, focusing on the importance of epainos as not just a statement of praise, but also connected to notions of consensus.

In the third chapter Elmer argues that the opening scene frames the importance of collective decision making. In this chapter, provocatively titled, “Achilles and the Crisis of the Exception,” a reference to both Schmitt and Agamben in their respective discussions of the “state of exception,” Elmer contends that the opening scene operates as an exception to “traditional norms of decision making” (67). Elmer argues that while the state of exception does not apply to the politics since there is not “a formally constituted set of legal rules and governmental powers” that can be suspended, it does apply to the suspension of “the grammar of reception” (67).

In the suspension of a rule, the norm is reasserted (68-9). But in the meantime there is a crisis of interpretation: in how to respond and how to interpret those responses. Imposing “the state of exception” on the epic feels strained at times. Elmer, for example, contends that the “initial state of exception is, at its core, a failure of language” that extends to the disruption of poetic language “to the point that the ability of the formulaic medium to communicate the meaning of political action is undermined” (77). But the poetic language is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do; namely, communicating the disruption of political understanding and, most of all, trust. And it is doing so in a way not uncommon for social dramas, which function by revealing tensions or breakdowns in norms that are then reaffirmed or critically reassessed.

In the final chapter of this first section, Elmer reads the turmoil of Book 2 as a narrative trajectory for the crisis of the poem as a whole. There are moments where Elmer’s fusion of the poetic with the political leads him to treat the formulae as the foundation of community life. For example, Elmer argues that the “danger posed by Thersites” is “not just that he will undermine the stability of the Achaean confederacy but that he will undermine the poetic conventions that support the narrative of their expedition against Troy” (95). One of Elmer’s interesting insights in this chapter is a political (more than a poetic) one, though. He argues that quieting the “noise” of someone like Thersites is a precondition for opening up a space for “properly political speech” (97).

In the second section, Elmer explores the development of the epainos motif in the context of the Iliad’s three political communities: the Achaeans (Chapter 5), the Trojans (Chapter 6), and the gods (Chapter 7). He argues that consensus is never reached in the Achaean community but is displaced to the Trojans (in which there is consensus about an innovation that seals the fate of the Trojans) and the gods, who, Elmer suggests, function as “a kind of stand-in for the poem’s real-world audience” (173). It is this “fourth community,” the real-world audience, onto which “the Iliad projects the ultimate fulfillment of the epainos motif” and “which bears ultimate responsibility for the Iliadic narrative, just as the gods appear to do within the narrative itself” (173).

In the final section, Elmer seeks to provide evidence of how the epainos motif is resolved. In Chapter 8, Elmer interprets the final scene of Trojan mourning as “some indication of the perfected experience it projects onto its implied audience, but it cannot situate it among those [the Achaeans] who must remain imperfect” (203). It is “only in the later world of the poleis that their potential is fulfilled” (203).

In the final chapter, Elmer provides evidence for how we are to understand the audience or the dynamics of the transmission of the text, which is what the argument largely hinges on. Elmer explores aspects of the Iliad as a Panhellenic epic: the role of “passive tradition bearers” (206) as a check on tradition as performed, as well as what traditions go forward; interesting allusions in Plato to the epainos motif as referring to the role of collective values in the reception (and shaping) of the poem; and some suggestions about how this motif plays itself out in the Odyssey.

The book is remarkably well written and engaging, always seeking clear explanations of complex concepts. The book also synthesizes and extends the current state of scholarship on the Iliad, addressing, as well as any recent book, the different (often divergent) approaches to the politics and poetics of the epic. The argument is ultimately about the politics of poetics in which the Iliad appears as a meta-poem, reflecting more on the act of making poetry than on organizing political communities. To that extent, the analysis (and the themes) might be applied to all performances. Elmer even notes, “From this point of view, any performance can be thought of as a collective decision, insofar as its success-its ability to embody the tradition and so to shape future performances-requires the approval of the audience” (207). The claim is true in many respects, underlying how both politics and poetics are types of performances. But it is a much stronger claim to argue that the poetic themes of the Iliad emerge as a reflection on its own transmission. The reader will judge the plausibility of that connection but will be stimulated by the claim.

[©2013 by The Classical Association of the Middle West and South. All rights reserved.]