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.]

CJ~Online Review of Littlewood, Silius Italicus’ Punica 7

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A Commentary on Silius Italicus’ Punica 7. By R. Joy Littlewood. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. xcix + 276.Hardcover, $150.00. ISBN 978-0-19-957093-5.

Reviewed by Alison Keith, University of Toronto (akeith AT

Silius Italicus is enjoying a sustained revival of interest in European and Anglo-American scholarship, after centuries of scholarly disdain. His increasing appeal to scholars of Latin epic is perhaps most decisively confirmed by the publication of Antony Augoustakis’ Brill’s Companion to Silius Italicus in 2010; but the same year also witnessed the appearance of two Oxford monographs on Silius as well as the proceedings of a 2008 Innsbruck conference.[[1]] Although François Spaltenstein has authored a full-length commentary on the Punica in French-and other European scholars have produced commentaries on individual books-these volumes are not widely available in the UK and North America.[[2]]

Indeed, as the first commentary on an individual book of Silius’ Punica to appear in the English language, Littlewood’s commentary on Book 7 constitutes a welcome landmark in Anglo-American scholarship. [[3]] For the volume finally makes a book of the poem available to English-speaking scholars and graduate students (if not, at that price-point, to undergraduate students) as a self-contained example of Silius’ epic style, and thereby allows Silius to be studied in conjunction with his younger Flavian contemporaries, Valerius Flaccus and Papinius Statius. This is all the more important, because the most recent translation of the Punica available in English is that by J. D. Duff in the Loeb series. [[4]]

An excellent Introduction offers wide-ranging discussion of such standard features of the commentary genre as the author’s life; the poem’s literary models; protagonists of Punica 7; epic style; and the transmission and reception of the epic. Silius’ biography is well known, but is of particular interest because he lived through signally turbulent times and yet enjoyed a public career spanning three imperial dynasties and a literary career that brought him to the attention of the leading contemporary men of letters, including Martial, Statius, Tacitus and the younger Pliny (the latter two, of course, also important politicians contemporary with, though younger than, Silius). In her discussion of the younger Pliny’s obituary notice (Epist. 3.7), Littlewood unpacks its biases, which she attributes to the younger politician’s rivalry with Silius in the Centumviral courts; apparently there was no literary rivalry.

The centerpiece of the Introduction, however, is her discussion of Silius’ literary models in the poem both in general and, especially, in Book 7 (xix-lxii). Here Littlewood makes a substantial contribution to our understanding of Silius’ poetic project in the Punica by documenting his narrative, thematic, and stylistic debts to a wide range of authors and genres, including the prose genres of rhetoric and historiography and the verse genres of epic and didactic poetry. She sensibly charts Silius’ navigation of the famous accounts of the second Punic war by Polybius and Livy, but it is to Silius’ poetic tastes that she is particularly sensitive throughout, showing that he drew not only on Homer and Vergil (in the Aeneid), but also on Ennius, Lucan, Statius and Valerius Flaccus amongst Roman epic poets and, further afield from martial epic, on Vergilian didactic (in the Georgics) and Ovidian aetiology (in the Fasti).

Littlewood is especially helpful in elucidating Silius’ narrative and thematic debts to the Georgics and the Fasti, and she carefully articulates these poems’ definitive structural importance to the shape of Punica 7. Given her sensitivity to Silius’ Vergilian and Ovidian antiquarian verse, it is a pity that she does not devote a separate section in the Introduction to Silius’ metre and prosody. Over forty years ago, Duckworth’s studies definitively demonstrated Silius’ metrical commitment to the composition of dactylic hexameters in accordance with Vergilian norms,[[5]] but it would have been very interesting to bring that evidence into line with Littlewood’s analysis of Silius’ metrical use of the Georgics by comparison with that of the Aeneid and the Fasti, the latter composed in elegiac distichs. Throughout, Littlewood is well up-to-date with contemporary bibliography and literary scholarship on Silius and the Punica.

The Latin text is taken unchanged from that of J. Delz’s 1987 Teubner edition,[[6]] and, although there is no facing commentary she translates every lemma in the commentary proper, with the result that this volume provides an excellent modern translation of Punica 7. Littlewood has a sure sense of Silius’ Latinity and a very good ear for his poetry, and her translation is both accurate and idiomatic. The commentary itself focuses, like the Introduction, on literary and, to a lesser extent, historical issues, and Littlewood offers throughout a wealth of information about Silius’ engagement with his literary sources and the artistic design of his narrative.

The one omission from the otherwise admirably thorough coverage of Silius’ intertextual debts is Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Her extensive treatment of the impact of Ovidian mythmaking in the Fasti on Punica 7 made this reviewer all the more alert to the almost casual Ovidianism in Silius’ references to a variety of myths familiar from the Metamorphoses. Stephen Hinds has recently noted that “for any formal Roman poet of the mid- to late-1st century ce, the whole system of Greco-Roman myth has an important and inescapable post-Ovidian dimension,”[[7]] and several important articles have shown that to be the case even with the arch-Vergilian Silius.[[8]] Littlewood also tends to eschew commentary on Silius’ metapoetics (as, for example, at 7.239ff.), though she has a nice note on the so-called “Alexandrian footnote” at 7.177. These are very minor blemishes, however, and more than compensated for by the provision of so much useful information throughout the Introduction and Commentary.

The occasional misprint has crept into the volume, but these are nugatory and in no way confusing for the reader, worth noting only because of the expense of the volume, as with other Oxford University Press commentaries. Littlewood’s exemplary work on Punica 7 offers English-speaking students of Silius an opportunity to move beyond the opening Saguntine books of this complex poem and constitutes an attractive point of departure for the study of Hannibal’s epic campaign in Italy. It is very good news that she is now preparing a commentary on Punica 10, which will afford an entrée into the Capuan campaign and advance our understanding and appreciation of the Punica still further.

[[1]]A. Augoustakis, Motherhood and the Other: Fashioning Female Power in Flavian Epic (Oxford, 2010); B.Tipping, Exemplary Epic: Silius’ Italicus’ Punica (Oxford, 2010); and F. Schaffenrath, ed., Silius Italicus (Frankfurt am Main, 2010).

[[2]] F. Spaltenstein, ed., Commentaire des Punica de Silius Italicus, 2 vols. (Geneva, 1986 and 1990); E. M. Ariemma, ed., Alla vigilia di Canne: commentario al libro VIII dei Punica di Silio Italico (Naples, 2000).

[[3]] But note that Elizabeth Kennedy Klaassen is preparing a commentary on Punica 14 for publication with Bryn Mawr in 2014.

[[4]] J. D. Duff, ed., Silius Italicus, 2 vols. (Cambridge Mass., 1934).

[[5]] G. E. Duckworth, Vergil and Classical Hexameter Poetry (Ann Arbor, 1969), 100-10; cf. id. “Five Centuries of Latin Hexameter Poetry: Silver Age and Late Empire,” TAPA 98 (1967) 77-150, at 88-100.

[[6]] J. Delz, ed., Sili Italici Punica (Stuttgart, 1987).

[[7]] S. Hinds, “Seneca’s Ovidian Loci,” SIFC 9 (2011) 5-63, quotation at p. 9.

[[8]] See, e.g., R.T. Bruère, “Color Ovidianus in Silius’ Punica 1-7,” in N.I. Herescu (ed.), Ovidiana: Recherches sur Ovide (Paris 1958), 475-99; id. “Color Ovidianus in SIlius’ Punica 8-17,” CP 54 (1959) 228-45; and M. Wilson, “Ovidian Silius,” Arethusa

37 (2004) 225-49.

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


CJ~Online Review of Kamen, Status in Classical Athens

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Status in Classical Athens. By Deborah Kamen. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2013, Pp. xiv + 144. Hardcover, $35.00. ISBN: 978-0-691-13813-8.

Reviewed by Peter Liddel, University of Manchester

 It was Moses Finley who suggested that there existed a “spectrum” of status-groups in ancient Greece; this book sets out and assesses the implications of this perspective in classical Athens. Kamen identifies ten distinct groups, devoting a chapter of this meticulously-organized book to each of them. The groups are as follows: chattel slaves, privileged chattel slaves, freedmen with constitutional freedom, metics, privileged metics, bastards, disenfranchised citizens, naturalized citizens, and both female and male citizens. In her introduction, Kamen outlines some of the challenges facing her approach: the Marxist critique which points to the hermeneutic limitations of the idea of status, and the fact that ancient writers tended to focus on the tripartite division between citizens, metics, and slaves.

 Combining succinctness with attention to detail and controversies, Kamen describes the rights, duties, privileges of, and restrictions on, members of each of the status groups; she judiciously weighs up the possibilities where certainty is impossible (for instance, on the extent to which disenfranchised citizens may have faced military obligations). Accordingly, Kamen provides a learned but highly accessible guide to the experience of the individual in ancient Athens.

 At the same time, this book assesses the workings of status at Athens, analyzing the relationship between civic ideologies and historical dynamics: as she observes in her chapter on chattel slaves, one reason why the de-socialization of slaves was emphasized in Athenian literature was that their status appears to have been physically invisible. But social experiences sometimes undermine the ideologies of legal status: the existence of privileged slaves, who may have enjoyed economic conditions better than those of the poorest citizens, made ancient beliefs about the value of freedom and citizenship highly problematic. Moreover, some freedmen, regarded simply as “freed slaves,” suffered contempt equal to that of a slave.

 Kamen, in a sensitive way, demonstrates how experiences of status would have depended on gender, wealth, and other factors including the ability of the individual to negotiate the challenges and burdens they faced; indeed, as she observes, metroxenoi may well have wanted to highlight their pedigree, at least until the mid-fourth century when the ideology of the pureblooded Athenian was at its strongest. Kamen also highlights the significance of social mobility within (and sometimes) across the social groups; such mobility, Kamen makes clear at several points, was downward as well as upward.

 Despite the tidiness of her classificatory scheme, one of the things that Kamen succeeds in doing is showing that status-groups were far from being clear-cut: the existence of freedmen with conditional freedom, for instance, explodes the neatness of the distinction between free person and slave. Kamen acknowledges that there may well have been finer distinctions between different types of nothoi (bastards) than the sources allow us to securely draw; her Chapter 5 makes a good case for hierarchies within the broad set of privileged non-citizens.

 The message of the book-that there was a discrepancy between the rigidity of Athenian ideologies about status and the flexibility of status boundaries-is convincing. The book raises wider implications, too, leading its readers to ask whether Greek thought (about status, and other subjects too) was as binary as it is sometimes reputed to have been. This is a book that deserves to be read closely and can be recommended to historians of every status.

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


CJ~Online Review of Cairns, Tragedy and Archaic Greek Thought

posted with permission:

Tragedy and Archaic Greek Thought. Edited by Douglas Cairns. Swansea and London: The Classical Press of Wales, 2013. Pp. liv + 262. Hardcover, $100.00. ISBN 978-1-905125-57-9.

Reviewed by Justina Gregory, Smith College

This volume of essays sets itself apart from much current Anglophone scholarship on Greek tragedy. In his introduction, Douglas Cairns notes that from the 1980s on many critics focused on the genre’s “contemporary civic, political, ritual, and performative contexts” (ix; I would be inclined to date this development to the 1960s, when J.-P. Vernant’s initial publications appeared). The 1990s brought increasing critical attention to the afterlife of tragedy as manifested in performance and reception studies, and that trend continues to this day. Without rejecting these approaches, Cairns aims to direct attention to the archaic thought-world of the plays-a staple of earlier scholarship.

The work under review originated in a conference, jointly organized by Cairns and Michael Lurje, that took place in Edinburgh in 2008. Cumulatively its eight essays suggest that even as the performance and reception waves are cresting, a revisionist counter-movement has begun. This counter-movement focuses on “questions of the role of the gods and fate in human action; of the justice or otherwise of the gods and of the world over which they preside; of the causes of human suffering and of the stability, indeed of the nature and possibility of human happiness” (x). These questions are raised either explicitly or implicitly in every tragedy that has survived, and they repay the attention they receive here.

More than many collections, this volume reflects the editor’s influence and conveys a unified point of view. Cairns’ introduction does not merely weave together the essays that follow, but also features a discussion of atê in Sophocles’ Antigone that could easily have been a freestanding article.  Additionally, he contributes a polemical chapter on the decisive role of Apollo in Oedipus Tyrannus.

 Cairns never equates archaic belief with intellectual backwardness; he is at pains to distinguish his approach from the “progressivist and teleological” (x) assumptions of earlier studies (such as Bruno Snell’s Discovery of the Mind [English translation New York, 1960] or A. W. H. Adkins’ Merit and Responsibility [Oxford, 1960]), and his contributors follow suit.  In “‘Archaic’ Guilt in Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus and Oedipus at Colonus,” Bill Allan argues against the easy assumption that Sophocles updated his thinking about guilt and responsibility between Oedipus Tyrannus and Oedipus at Colonus.

 Two subsequent critics deal with intellectual development and replacement: in “Atê in Aeschylus,” Alan Sommerstein considers the evolution of the term atê from a secular to a religious concept, and in “Aeschylus, Herakleitos, and Pythagoreanism,” Richard Seaford argues for a shift over the course of the Oresteia from a Heraclitean- to a Pythagorean-inflected cosmology. Neither discussion, however, suggests that a primitive outlook is giving way to a more advanced one.

 Within his thematic framework, the editor leaves room for fruitful divergences of opinion. In “Divine and Human Action in Oedipus Tyrannus,” Cairns excoriates E. R. Dodds, while Michael Lloyd opens his essay (“The Mutability of Fortune in Euripides”) with a virtual homage to that influential scholar. As Lloyd sketches the chronological parameters and the characteristic thought patterns of the archaic age, he quotes from The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1951) three times in succession.

 The distribution of articles is revealing. Three focus on Aeschylus, four (not counting Cairns’ introduction) on Sophocles, and one on Euripides. Aeschylus is the most obvious candidate for inclusion, since his archaic credentials are taken for granted. Euripides is perhaps the hardest sell because, as Lloyd observes, “a long tradition of interpretation treats him as an innovator both in thought and in dramatic style, whose commitment to the ideas of the sophists implies a corresponding rejection of earlier modes of thought” (207).  Sophocles was presumably the most appealing to the contributors because his affiliations are contested: side by side in his plays can be found pessimistic assumptions about the mortal condition that hark back to archaic determinism, and optimistic views of human agency that evoke the fifth-century enlightenment. Although Cairns claims Sophocles for the archaic view, his arguments are not without their difficulties, as we shall see.

 Two essays set themselves the limited task of identifying the archaic precursors of specific passages from tragedy. As noted above, Seaford detects similarities to Presocratic cosmology in the Oresteia, finding special significance in Aeschylus’ predilection (shared with Pythagoras) for the number three.  Since three is also a number ubiquitous in mythology and folk-tale, this explanation may be unnecessarily elaborate.  In an article (“Sophocles and the Wisdom of Silenus”) reprinted from a hard-to-find Festschrift, P. E. Easterling displays her characteristic gift for close reading as she disentangles intertextual references in the third stasimon of Oedipus at Colonus. In particular, she traces the Chorus’ claim that “not to be born trumps every consideration” (OC 1224-5) to the counsel of an unlikely wisdom figure-Silenus, father of the satyrs-as filtered through Theognis and Bacchylides.

 The most far-reaching of the articles on Aeschylus is Fritz-Gregor Herrmann’s discussion of “Eteocles’ Decision in Aeschylus’ Seven against Thebes.” Herrmann minutely analyzes the shield scene in that play and makes the intriguing suggestion that Eteocles chose the warriors for each gate by lot and that (as in Eumenides) the process of drawing lots was enacted on stage. Such a tableau brings fifth-century Attic military and democratic practice into visual juxtaposition with archaic belief in the inevitability of destiny (59-60).

 The essays on Sophocles, all of which concern the three Oedipus plays, can sometimes be tendentious in their focus on the archaic substratum.  Bill Allan astutely notes the rhetorical considerations that underpin Oedipus’ revised explanation of his crimes in Oedipus at Colonus, but he might have given more weight to the mental alterations brought about by time, which Oedipus in the play’s opening lines identifies as his teacher.  Both Cairns in his introduction and Vayos Liapis in “Creon the Labdacid” judge Antigone with unwarranted severity.  Liapis characterizes her as immoderate in her loyalty to her doomed family and transgressive in her behavior. Although he recognizes that by the end of the play Antigone has been vindicated, while her adversary Creon has deteriorated until he becomes a virtual Labdacid himself, Liapis fails to acknowledge Antigone’s lovableness. That quality is not the projection of sentimental modern readings, but attested in the play by her sister, her fiancé, and even the Theban citizens.

 In “Divine and Human Action in Oedipus Tyrannus,” Cairns proposes that Apollo motivates not only Oedipus’ parricide and incest, but also his self-blinding. At OT 1331-2, however, and again at OT 1369-70, the text makes it clear that this act is not over-determined, as Cairns argues (“Oedipus’ self-blinding is … something that Apollo causes; but it is also something that Oedipus … causes,” 136), but Oedipus’ alone. It is he who improvises this unexpected, drastic, but efficacious punishment-cum-remedy, and he vehemently defends his choice to the horrified chorus.

 Equipped with an index locorum as well as a subject index, the volume lends itself to rapid spot-checking as well as to sustained perusal. Its emphasis is productive not only because the most popular approaches to tragedy may now be starting to wear thin, but also for practical reasons that bear on the survival of classics as a discipline. As any instructor quickly realizes, it is the existential questions posed by tragedy that draw students in-and inspire some of them to study ancient Greek and become classicists in their turn.

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


CJ~Online Review of Seaford, Cosmology and the Polis

Posted with permission:

Cosmology and the Polis: The Social Construction of Space and Time in the Tragedies of Aeschylus. By Richard Seaford. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Pp. xiii + 366. Hardcover, $110.00. ISBN 978-1-107-00927-1.

Reviewed by Vayos Liapis, Open University of Cyprus

This bold and complex book develops a line of argument that Seaford has been pursuing since Reciprocity and Ritual (1994) and Money and the Early Greek Mind (2004). It shows how essential elements of the Greek polis-ritual, money, spatio-temporal structures-are also reflected in Greek drama and philosophy, with particular emphasis on Aeschylus.

Essential to Seaford’s analysis is the notion of the chronotope, a spatio-temporal unity that correlates socially constructed conceptions of uniform and analogous spatial and temporal frameworks. These frameworks are cognitive structures corresponding to communal and socially integrative practices, such as ritual, which articulates both space (in the form of, e.g., space covered by sacred processions) and time (through, e.g. sacred calendars). Earlier (Homeric) chronotopes, configured by reciprocity and plunder rather than by spatially fixed (landed) property as the basic means for wealth acquisition, show little interest in consistently articulating spatial relations, and construct time principally in terms of genealogies and of reciprocal relations between ruling families.

By contrast, the ascendancy of the “aetiological” chronotope in the context of the polis foregrounds the interconnection of cultic, political, and cosmic space, by emphasizing comprehensiveness (it embraces all components of the cosmos) and collectivity (the community appropriates and structures space). Aetiological time, too, unites mythic past and cultic present, especially as ritual regularly re-enacts events of the mythic past in the present, and homogenizes, through repeated circularity, the perception of time as a linear sequence.

Finally, in the “monetized” chronotope, time and space are imagined as potentially unlimited, insofar as money has the same purchasing power at any place or time, and also (unlike pre-monetary wealth) the capacity to accumulate unlimitedly, as well as being unlimited in scope qua universal standard (it can be exchanged with all things). This is the chronotope informing some Presocratic philosophy (esp. Anaximander and Heraclitus) but also the political reforms of Solon.

Seaford is particularly interested in the tension between the (socially integrative) aetiological chronotope on the one hand and the (potentially disruptive) monetized chronotope on the other. By articulating distinctions, ritual imposes order on mythic or social chaos, and thus limits the potentially unlimited. Money, on the contrary, by collapsing distinctions through its imposition of a universal standard, permits unlimited exchanges and unlimited accumulation over space and time.

Seaford’s insights into the tension between these two chronotopes are subsequently applied on Aeschylus, in what is perhaps the most engaging part of his book. In Supplices, he argues, the multiple crises caused by the Danaids’ rejection of marriage-and their interstitial state as reflected in the location of their supplication at an altar that is neither in the royal abode nor in the agora-would have been resolved at the end of the trilogy, with the establishment of polis cult ordering gender relations, as well as relations between oikos and polis.

In Septem, the tension between the chorus’ ritual lament, which integrates the polis, and its rejection by Eteocles, who embodies the introversion of the royal household, is resolved by the annihilation of the latter but also by its subsequent commemoration in hero cult and concomitant lamentation. Especially stimulating here is the discussion of how the new frame of thought represented by monetization is grafted onto older mythico-religious patterns, so that the ancestral curse is conceived (as it is in the Oresteia) in terms of a debt to be exacted in due time.

In Agamemnon, Clytemnestra’s initial control both of ritual and of geographic space (through the beacon sequence) perverts these into instruments of the royal house’s destruction. Likewise, in Choephori, allusions to mystic ritual at the climactic scenes surrounding the tyrannicide are again perverse, since they facilitate matricide in a distinctly non-public context (the introverted royal house). In Eumenides, however, Orestes’ supplication of Athena’s image takes place in civic space, in contrast to his earlier supplication in the god’s “house” in Delphi. Likewise, the Erinyes, who had threatened to pursue Orestes over limitless space, are eventually contained, through public ritual in civic space, within the confines of the earth, thereby linking polis and cosmos.

The same ritual also distinguishes and imposes order on the perverse unity of opposites represented earlier in the trilogy by the unending cycle of violent reciprocity. This unity has a parallel in the non-differentiation inherent in monetary transactions and in the accumulation of monetary wealth. It is embodied by the Erinyes, who stand for both chronological homogeneity (their power to exact punishment is equally valid at all times) and spatial homogeneity (they can exact punishment anywhere). In moments of crisis in tragedy, spatial and temporal homogeneity are emphasized: the remote space brings crisis into the immediate space (royal house), and structurally similar actions (e.g. violent revenge) are cyclically repeated. Ritual brings resolution by differentiating the opposites: space is reclaimed by the community, and cyclical, repetitive suffering gives way to permanent well-being.

The book also offers a wealth of insights into a variety of topics related to the interplay between the limitedness of ritual and the unlimitedness of monetized wealth. I single out the discussion of “form-parallelism”-the juxtaposition of words or phrases that are parallel and often antithetical-as a vehicle for conveying ideas both of antithesis and of a deeper unity. For instance, in Septem 911-14 form-parallelism in lamentation for the fratricidal brothers assimilates their unnatural opposition to their unnatural unity in both origin (incest) and death. In Aeschylus, this rhetorical device signifies the deferral or subversion of completion by emphasizing that the opposites are bound together in a relationship of endless tension- a conception (also Heraclitean) associated with the homogenizing power of money, which assimilates different commodities by remaining in itself always the same.

This is an important work that redefines our conception of central categories of early Greek thought: space, time, ritual, and money. It will be of interest to scholars and advanced students working in the areas of classical Greek literature, Greek history, philosophy, and theatre.[[1]]

[[1]]Though generally well produced, the volume has a high number of typos. Most are relatively unobtrusive (e.g., “facilated,” p. 119; Κύκλο<ϋ and στεφάνο for Κύκλō and στεφάνō, p. 227). In a few cases, however, they may hinder comprehension (e.g., “seeing gain,” p. 198; “penalties imposed the polis,” p. 251; “benefaction combined with hostility,” p. 268). On p. 211 delete n. 22 (it reappears, correctly, as n. 23). The coinage “endophony” (= intrafamilial murder, from endon and phonos) can be misleading, esp. since “antiphony” is also used in the book.

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