Bryn Mawr Classical Reviews

In the hecticity of the last couple of weeks of school, I fear I’ve fallen far behind with these, so here’s  a random grab of the most recent in the hopes I get most of what I’ve missed:

  • 2012.06.54:  Dominique Charpin, Reading and Writing in Babylon. (Translated by Jane Marie Todd).
  • 2012.06.53:  Jean-Christophe Couvenhes, Sandrine Crouzet, Sandra Péré-Noguès, Pratiques et identités culturelles des armées hellénistiques du monde méditerranéen. Hellenistic Warfare 3.
  • 2012.06.52:  Donald Fairbairn, Understanding Language: a Guide for Beginning Students of Greek and Latin.
  • 2012.06.51:  Marek Winiarczyk, Die hellenistischen Utopien. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde, Bd 293.
  • 2012.06.50:  Christine Mauduit, Pascale Paré-Rey, Les maximes théâtrales en Grèce et à Rome: transferts, réécritures, remplois.
  • 2012.06.49:  François Hinard, Rome, la dernière République: recueil d’articles. Scripta antiqua, 32.
  • 2012.06.48:  Anne Friedrich, Anna Katharina Frings, Claudius Claudianus, Der Raub der Proserpina. Edition Antike.
  • 2012.06.47:  Claude Calame, Sentiers transversaux: Entre poétiques grecques et politiques contemporaines. Collection Horos.
  • 2012.06.46:  Simon James, Rome and the Sword: How Warriors and Weapons Shaped Roman History.
  • 2012.06.45:  Zachary P. Biles, Aristophanes and the Poetics of Competition.
  • 2012.06.44:  Cinzia Bearzot, Franca Landucci, Luisa Prandi, L’Athenaion politeia rivisitata: il punto su Pseudo-Senofonte. Contributi di storia antica, 9.
  • 2012.06.43:  Ian P. Haynes, Early Roman Thrace: New Evidence from Bulgaria. Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series, 82.
  • 2012.06.42:  Katja Wedekind, Religiöse Experten im lokalen Kontext: Kommunikationsmodelle in christlichen Quellen des 1.-3 Jhs. n. Chr. Pietas, Bd 4.
  • 2012.06.41:  Nicolas Wiater, The Ideology of Classicism: Language, History, and Identity in Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Untersuchungen zur antiken Literatur und Geschichte, Bd 105.
  • 2012.06.40:  Daniel Orrells, Gurminder K. Bhambra, Tessa Roynon, African Athena: New Agendas. Classical Presences.
  • 2012.06.39:  Licia Landi, Luigi Scarpa, Meeting the Challenge: Bringing Classical Texts to Life in the Classroom. Proceedings of a SSIS conference in Venice, July 2008. Institutio, 4.1-3 (2008).
  • 2012.06.38:  Hans Beck, Antonio Duplá, Martin Jehne, Francisco Pina Polo, Consuls and ‘Res Publica’: Holding High Office in the Roman Republic.
  • 2012.06.37:  Francesco D’Andria, Ilaria Romeo, Roman Sculpture in Asia Minor. Proceedings of the International Conference to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Italian excavations at Hierapolis in Phrygia, held on May 24-26, 2007, in Cavallino (Lecce).

Documentary of the Day: Secrets of the Gladiators

One of my summer projects is to get as many of these documentaries lurking in Youtube on rogueclassicism (and possibly in some form of revived AWOTV newsletter) … I’m not sure how long they’ll be available, so I’ll provide a bit of added value in the form of a semi-review. So here goes:

When Rome Ruled: Secrets of the Gladiators (IMDB)

This one is excellent and really is one of the better made-for-tv-documentaries on this subject; it does have the now-common reenactment sort of stuff, but it isn’t the main focus. There is much presentation of artifacts with scholarly, rather than sensational, explanations … the talking heads are very high quality folk:

Here’s my outline of sorts (with less detail as it goes on):

– the focus will be on opening of the Colosseum
– political/social setting of Vespasian’s and Titus’ time
– Colosseum engineering (including the geometry of the amphitheatre)
– image consciousness of the Flavians
– plenty of building stats; funded with spoils from Jerusalem

– the origins of gladiatorial bouts; Rome borrows from other cultures
– importance of games for politicians
– nice treatment of the naumachia question
– nice treatment of the awning question (and the recreation is how I actually imagined it)

– gladiator life (training, weapons, etc.)
– 1/6 chance of dying << whence that statistic?

– social groupings in the stadium
– “damnio ad bestios” << ouch!

– concludes with Martial’s ‘eyewitness account’ (a translation of the relevant section of de spectaculis)

** the above video abruptly ends, but it doesn’t sound like there was more than a sentence or two left.

Treebanking Greek and Latin at Alpheios

Not sure if we’ve mentioned the Alpheios project before, but they’ve sent me this little missive, which should be of interest:

The Alpheios Project should like to announce the availability of sentence diagrams for selections from book one of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the entire Iliad and Odyssey, five of the plays of Aeschylus, the Theogony and Shield of Heracles of Hesiod and the Ajax of Sophocles. We hope to be able to provide several more plays of Sophocles and examples of diagrammed prose in both Latin and Greek in the near future, beginning with Plato’s Euthyphro.

The diagrams have been fully integrated into the Alpheios tools and are available from an icon in the browser window. As always, the tools remain free and open source.

Sentence diagrams are an invaluable tool for close study of a text as well as learning its language, and when collected into “treebanks” have become a basic resource for contemporary corpus linguistics.

Creating sentence diagrams has proven to be pedagogically effective and popular with many students, and anyone interested in contributing their work to the ongoing project is encouraged to visit:

CJ Online Review: Goldhill, Victorian Culture and Classical Antiquity

Posted with permission:

Simon Goldhill, Victorian Culture and Classical Antiquity: Art, Opera, Fiction, and the Proclamation of Modernity. Martin Classical Lectures. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2011. Pp. viii + 352. $45.00/£30.95. ISBN 978-0-691-14984-4.

Reviewed by Robert J. Rabel, University of Kentucky

The relationship between the Victorian Age and the discipline of Classical Studies is complex and, according to Goldhill, can be understood through a variety of narratives. One narrative sees Classics as the preserve of conservatives concerned with training gentlemen in the service of British imperialism. Meanwhile, Shelley and others issued the battle cry of philhellenic Romanticism. Classics and sexuality comprise a third narrative in the full story: figures like Oscar Wilde set about trying to construct a revolutionary sexual world with Classics as a weapon in the struggle. Next, Classics was used in the defense of democracy: Grote’s history challenged Victorian perceptions of ancient Athens. While acknowledging the importance of these different narratives, Goldhill is concerned with a topic that has received little attention: the role of Classics in undermining the dominant place of Christianity in Britain (p. 6). Some mourn this decline. In The Rage Against God, for example, Peter Hitchens, committed Christian and brother of atheist Christopher, traces the decline of Christianity in Britain and Europe to World War I, when the leaders of national Churches gave their support to the war-making of democratic politicians. Goldhill traces the decline further back to the imperialist, political, sexual, and educational battlefields of the Victorian Era. His approach to Reception Studies is nuanced and carried out in relation to a number of artistic genres: visual art, music and cultural studies, and fiction, and he deals with both high culture, popular culture, and the “slippage” (p. 15) between them. He is not concerned with a simple tale of how artists, composers, and authors engaged on a personal level with the Classical past. The approach he takes includes the larger study of how meaning takes shape within society: that is, within “the frames of comprehension—the social, political, intellectual contexts” (p. 45) in which artworks are produced, viewed, and read. The book demonstrates an astonishing breadth of knowledge I imagine few Classicists can match. Scholars and students of the Classical past and those with an interest in nineteenth-century studies will learn much from this lucid and entertaining study.

Part 1 deals with “Art and Desire.” Chapter 1 considers a number of paintings by J. W. Waterhouse. In keeping with Goldhill’s method, the viewer’s reception—not just the artist’s conception—contributes to an understanding of the meaning of a work of art. (He finds significance also in the lines of sight displayed by the figures within the paintings discussed.) The employment of Classical subjects, he says, worked to shape the general Victorian discourse regarding sexuality. Chapter 2 (“The Touch of Sappho”) looks at the Sappho (often called Sappho and Alcaeus) of Alma-Tadema and describes not only what viewers and critics made of it when it was painted but also how it invites us to see ourselves reflected in its mirror.

Part 2 is concerned with “Music and Cultural Politics.” “Who Killed Chevalier Gluck?” is the question asked in Chapter 3. The storm of controversy aroused by Strauss’ Elektra relegated Gluck to the realm of the safe and respectable: Goldhill tells the story of the reception of Gluck that evolves through a process whereby a musical revolutionary eventually became an icon of a traditional, conservative view of Greek antiquity. Chapter 4 (“Wagner’s Greeks”) deals with the reception of Wagner by contrasting the composer’s own production of The Ring with that of grandson Wieland in the 1950s. Goldhill sees Richard Wagner’s Greeks as being at heart Germans, so that through this route Wagner’s Hellenism became linked to his anti-Semitism. The resolutely Germanic-looking nature of costumes and settings in the composer’s original production thus carried with it overtones of the composer’s feelings about Jews. Wieland’s production, with its aesthetic of what has been called “empty space,” is dismissed by Goldhill as “bad faith,” an attempt to re-write and disguise the unpleasant aspects of his grandfather’s production (p. 150). Music critic Patrick Carnegy, however, sees Wieland’s production, which removed many of the trappings of Germanic saga, as an attempt both to overcome all the practical problems inherent in realistic productions of The Ring and, in addition, to penetrate to the mythic core of the operas.

Part 3 takes up the subject of Victorian novels set in the Greco-Roman world, over 200 of which were published between 1820 and World War I. Goldhill seems to have read them all or most of them! In this era, Classics served as a bastion of conservative religious ideology and at the same time, he says, as a vehicle through which religion could be challenged. Much of nineteenth-century fiction can be viewed in terms of the Victorian reaction to Gibbon’s history of Rome. “In fiction,” Goldhill says, “Gibbon’s hard gaze is softened…” (p. 168). Walter Scott also has an important place in the background story.

Readers will surely admire the amazing depth and breadth of Goldhill’s knowledge. However, while much is implied in Parts 1 and 2 about challenges to Christianity made through Classics in the Victorian Age, little is actually said until Gibbon ushers in the age of Victorian fiction dealing with Greece and Rome. But even here, the extent to which Christianity was being undermined is not made very clear. Particularly relevant to Goldhill’s study, but largely ignored, is the story of the so-called Victorian “aesthetes” (Pater, Field, Lee, and others), who were satirized by Gilbert and Sullivan in Patience. The aesthetes used Heinrich Heine’s theme of “the gods in exile” to construct a Victorian-Age view of the gods as exiles from Olympus, who were toppled from their thrones as the artistically and sexually liberated paganism of antiquity was overthrown by the repressive forces of Christianity. This theme of “the gods in exile” long survived the Victorian Age. Aestheticism itself went into exile but has reemerged in modern guise, I think, as recently as Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, where Dionysus appears to be the revenant god.

CJ Online Review: Cameron, The Last Pagans of Rome

Posted with permission:

Alan Cameron, The Last Pagans of Rome. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. xi + 878. 18 Illustrations. Hardcover, $85.00/£55.00. ISBN 978-0-19-974727-9.

Reviewed by Dennis Trout, University of Missouri

Encyclopedic in its learning and relentless in its argument, Alan Cameron’s Last Pagans of Rome is a landmark in late Roman studies. Cameron’s mission here is to topple once and for all the “myth” of a concerted resistance movement coordinated by a select group of late fourth-century pagan aristocrats to oppose Christianity’s infiltration of state and society. For more than four decades Cameron’s scholarship has been edging that romantic vision of the religious, literary, and social history of late fourth-century Rome to the brink of destruction. With the publication of this book the classic formulation of paganism’s fourth-century “revival” lies well beyond reconstitution. Although other scholars, often indebted to Cameron’s work on Macrobius, contorniate medallions, or manuscript subscriptions, have for some time been helping to dismantle the “conflict between paganism and Christianity” constructed by (among others) Andreas Alföldi and Herbert Bloch, Cameron’s Last Pagans stands firm as a monumental summation of an academic lifetime of tough thinking about a moment in history crucial to the telling of Rome’s story. Yet, while the political careers and literary endeavors of a relatively few “arrogant” Roman nobles provide Cameron’s narrative thrust, The Last Pagans may do its finest service as a breath-taking sortie across the cultural landscape of fourth- and early fifth-century Rome. In fact, in the years ahead, Cameron’s assessment of the troublesome Carmen contra paganos, his analysis of the Saturnalia, and his treatment of the classicizing turn in figural representation are but a few of the topics that will lure readers back to this meticulously documented study. The Last Pagans, in other words, is a book whose parts may be more revelatory than its whole.

The narrative line and interpretive payoff can be briefly rehearsed. Against a version of events that credits certain noble Romans of now familiar name—Q. Aurelius Symmachus, Vettius Agorius Praetextatus, Nicomachus Flavianus—with engineering a revival of pagan cult and culture whose aim was to thwart the advance of Christianity and its agents at court, in the senate, and in the ritual and artistic life of Rome, Cameron offers a far more sober assessment of the qualities and agenda of the city’s last pagans. From the early 380s, imperial policy did indeed target traditional civic religion at Rome. Gratian’s withdrawal of state subsidies and Theodosius’ legislation of the 390s spelled the end of Rome’s long-standing public cults, denied the funds they needed to survive. But the new religion, Cameron argues, had made marked inroads among the Roman aristocracy well before Gratian severed the revenue stream. With the fade out of the priestly colleges (never more than political appointments anyway), the end of sacrifice, and the closing of the temples, the so-called champions of paganism were left to indulge their taste for literary archaism and play a game of politics wherein religious affiliation had seldom been a decisive factor in the quest for preferment. Revival of cult was simply not a pressing issue; political survival was. The Battle of the Frigidus River in 394, therefore, whatever else it may have been, was not paganism’s heroic last stand; Roman civic cult exited history with a whimper and a sigh. Moreover, neither their literary dilettantism, their patronage of classicizing ivory diptychs, nor their alleged fondness for Livy and Vergil can be used to transform these philistine “last pagans” into militant propagandists for old fashioned values or prescient conservators of the classical heritage. Christian aristocrats, it seems, were more often in the vanguard of the age’s literary and artistic revivals—and were no less enamored of the epic hexameter and neo-classical realism than their non-Christian peers. In fact, it was not until the 430s that Macrobius, poorly informed about the real men whose literary ciphers populate his dialogue, put into the mouth of Rufius Albinus the oft quoted “to be sure, we must always revere the days gone by (vetustas)” and created the genteel images of Praetextatus, Symmachus, and Flavianus so long revered by classical scholars. In any case, the Saturnalia served up for its readers (almost exclusively Christian now) merely the lukewarm paganism of Vergilian antiquarianism. There simply was no pagan cultural front in the 430s, as there had not been one in the 380s.

All that, of course, is heady stuff and a stiff challenge, but it rests on a series of interrogations, many “inescapably” detailed, that breach the walls of virtually every shred of evidence ever called upon to document the fourth-century pagan revival. Fortified by prosopography, epigraphy, codicology, and paleography, Cameron re-dates several anti-pagan poems, pins the Carmen contra paganos on Damasus (with Praetextatus as his target), dismisses the (lost) Annales of Nicomachus Flavianus as a “trivial epitome” (690), and writes off the author of the Historia Augusta as “a frivolous, ignorant person with no agenda worthy of the name” (781)—incapable even of conceiving his fiction as a plea for toleration. With equal flair, he dissolves the “circle of Symmachus,” dislodges Macrobius from the only decades that matter, and construes the much touted “text editing” of Roman aristocrats (Christian as well as pagan) as nothing more than (very) occasional proof reading. Pagan scholarship fares no better; nor does patronage of the visual and minor arts. Neither in style nor in content do the miniatures of the Vatican Vergil or the panels of the Symmachorum/Nicomachorum diptych embody pagan sympathies; the former are “simply illustrations” (711) and the latter “nostalgic mementoes” (737). Above all other characters, however, it is Macrobius, author of the “relentlessly antiquarian” Saturnalia (255), who often represents for Cameron the “sentimental, literary paganism” (272) that was the best Rome’s last pagans could muster following the Frigidus, if not well before it. Indeed, Macrobius may be the only figure to challenge Symmachus for starring role in the The Last Pagans. In that light, Cameron’s suspicion (265) that Macrobius himself was unlikely to have been a pagan, and certainly not a committed one, would be ironic were it not in fact the telltale point.

There is, of course, little justice in summary and perhaps even less in short review of a book that weighs in with this much erudition and argument. The Last Pagans does entertain ambiguities and acknowledge tensions. Cameron denies paganism’s militancy but accepts its tenacity, not least among Christians, in multifarious form (783–97). Although he works so effectively to situate the Saturnalia in the more accommodating context of its composition rather than the moment of its dramatic setting a half-century prior, he concedes that some mid-fifth-century Christians “must have been horrified” at what others saw as only “harmless antiquarianism” (626). The veneration of classical literature, especially Vergil, was not the equivalent of paganism, but running too close to the grain could even then arouse suspicion. Certainly in its classic formulation the pagan revival has run its course. Nevertheless, the unresolved tensions that linger above all around Cameron’s Macrobius suggest the next and necessary stages of this project. The Last Pagans often wins its points by characterizing its losers as purveyors (and victims) of nostalgia, insipid sentimentality, and antiquarianism. Yet cultural conservatism can also be a signpost of identity and, sometimes, even a badge of resistance. One remaining task, then, is to continue hard pursuit of that “vital and continuing role” (801) played by the myriad manifestations of Roman tradition in this Christianizing world.