CJ Online Review: Gray, Xenophon’s Mirror of Princes

posted with permission:

Xenophon’s Mirror of Princes: Reading the Reflections. By Vivienne J. Gray. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. vii + 406. £83.00/$150.00. ISBN 978-0-19-956381-4.

Reviewed by Richard Fernando Buxton, University of Texas at Austin

Gray’s provocative, lucid and erudite study develops key ideas that she has advanced throughout her career: Xenophon is primarily concerned with modeling good leadership, in achieving this he employs innovative literary skill, and the way individual passages advance his program is best understood by reading them against similar scenes across the author’s diverse corpus. Building on earlier studies of particular works, Gray offers a systematic presentation of Xenophon’s leadership theory and provides a catalog of the main literary devices that enhance its dramatization (explicit evaluative comments, allusion, inherited and invented type scenes, and constructive irony). Good leadership in all settings—oikos, army, Socratic classroom, polis and kingdom—is revealed as the selfless cultivation of the material and ethical increase of one’s followers in order to obtain their voluntary obedience and the rewards of praise and security this brings. As Gray brilliantly demonstrates, Xenophon even accommodates personal friendship within his paradigm as a situation in which two parties trade off the roles of leader and follower. Gray uses her detailed case for Xenophon’s sophisticated but univocal message to challenge ironic (i.e. Straussian) readings of several works, which posit the author subtly embeds deflationary details that unmask the manipulative and oppressive character of his “model” leaders for discerning readers. For Gray such readings fixate on how figures like Cyrus the Great “use” their dependents (χρῆσθσαι) while ignoring Xenophon’s qualification that both leader and follower “use” each other properly (καλῶς / εὖ χρῆσθσαι) by fostering an interdependent eudaimonia; a vision of human relationships that anticipates Aristotle.

The book’s most significant contribution is to document comprehensively the universalizing thrust of Xenophon’s leadership model, finding the cultivation of willing obedience emphasized in spheres as disparate as the estate mistress with her maid (Oec. 9.11-16) and the groom with his horse (Equ. 2.3). In all of these areas Gray is right to highlight Xenophon’s insistence that the leader display a genuine concern for the successful nurture of his followers, which ironic approaches have too often minimized. Particularly effective is the book’s final chapter, which surveys clear instances when Socrates in Xenophon employs irony in order to determine whether these offer any precedent for the subtle dissimulations that Straussians have attributed to the author as a product of Socratic influence. Instead, Socrates carefully signposts irony for his interlocutors, using it only to reinforce and enrich their appreciation for his surface message that the young kaloikagathoi of Athens practice an ethical form of leadership.

The risk of Gray’s approach, which seeks Xenophonta ek Xenophontos saphenizein, is that it becomes reductive. Particularly in the fourth chapter’s analysis of Xenophontic type scenes, each discrete narrative pattern is seen as carrying the same meaning in its every occurrence. But such repetition can also create meaning by subverting expectations. An instructive example from the Hellenica is Agesilaus’ controversial intervention on his son’s behalf in the acquittal of Sphodrias, the Spartan harmost guilty of succumbing to bribery and executing an ill-advised raid on Athens, but whose son is the lover of Agesilaus’ heir (5.4.20-33). Gray rightly shows (212–32) how the episode conforms to a stock narrative in Xenophon where a generous leader secures greater advantage for his community in forgiving a guilty man, whose consequent gratitude drives him to perform exceptional public service, than by enforcing the strict letter of the law (cf. Cyrus and the rebellious king of Armenia). In accordance with the pattern Xenophon does include a prolepsis indicating that Sphodrias’ son, grateful for his father’s acquittal, becomes a bulwark of Sparta who dies heroically at Leuctra (5.4.33). He thus neutralizes the charge that Agesilaus put personal interests before those of the state. But Xenophon is equally clear that Sphodrias’ acquittal drives Athens to abandon Sparta for Thebes (5.4.34). The lesson of the episode thus seems more complex than Gray allows inasmuch as the successful management of men within a polis by its leader (Agesilaus and Sphodrias) comes into conflict with the successful management of a hegemon over its allies (Sparta and Athens). Model leadership is still the central issue, but it is here one of complex dimensions. An avenue for future investigation might be the degree to which Xenophon maps his model of interpersonal leadership onto inter-polis dynamics, and the tensions that exist between these two levels. Helpful in this regard would be a greater consideration of the role juxtaposed narratives play in creating meaning, which has been fruitfully explored for Xenophon but does not appear in Gray’s catalog as a major literary device of the author.[[1]]

Such quibbles should only serve to demonstrate that Gray’s study is a highly stimulating point of departure for further discussion. This is the most important book on Xenophon in many years, the product of a sustained and deep engagement with his texts. Its many close readings deserve serious consideration and provide an indispensable basis for future conversations about the author in all of the many areas his encyclopedic output occupies.


[[1]] See in particular the “aesthetic of asyndeton,” proposed by E. Lévy, “L’art de la déformation historique dans les Helléniques de Xénophon,” in H. Verdin, G. Schepens and E. de Keyser, eds., Purposes of History (Louvain, 1990) 125–57.

Roman Ship From Antibes Redux

We mentioned this one last week when most of the coverage was in French … the story finally did hit the English papers, e.g., the Guardian (which picked up coverage from Le Monde)

It looks like the rib cage of a large marine mammal, whose bones turned black as it was fossilised. The wreck was discovered in May during a dig in Antibes, on the French Riviera, prior to construction of a car park on the site of the Roman port of Antipolis.

Archaeologists have gradually uncovered a 15-metre length of hull and structural timbers, in “exceptional” condition, according to Giulia Boetto, a specialist in ship design at Aix-Marseille University who is involved in the dig. Saw and adze marks are still visible on the wood. Luckily the ground in which it was found is always waterlogged so this prevented the timber from rotting and decomposing.

Sprinklers have kept the hull and its structure moist since its discovery. “Otherwise, in just a few weeks we would lose everything,” says Isabelle Daveau, an archaeologist at France’s Rescue Archaeology Research Institute (Inrap) and head of the project.

The ship – a merchant vessel from the imperial period – was probably about 22 metres long and six or seven metres across. It is thought to have sunk in the second or third century in the port at Antipolis. “It has a typical Graeco-Roman flat-bottomed design,” Boetto says, with a hold three metres deep and a square sail to drive it, suspended from a mast, which has not been found.

The archaeologists have made some touching discoveries, including a little 15-centimetre brush that must have been dropped by a shipwright busy caulking the hull. It most likely fell through a gap between the floor of the hold and the outer shell, only to be discovered 19 centuries later.

“A ship like this could carry a cargo of up to about 100 tonnes,” Boetto says. This may seem a lot, but it is well below the tonnage reached by other vessels. “At the time, the boats transporting Egyptian corn back to Rome could be as long as 40 to 50 metres, loaded with up to 400 tonnes of grain,” she adds.

The remains of the ship, which will be donated to Antibes by the state, will be dismantled and the timber treated for lasting conservation. “Just the process of treating the timber will take two years,” says Jean-Louis Andral, head of the Antibes museum. “Then the wreck will be reconstituted and set up in a centre for study and preservation, where it can also be seen by the general public.” It should be ready in three or four years.

How did the ship come to be lying at a depth of barely two metres in the port of Antibes? “We can’t be absolutely sure, but it’s possible, as sometimes happened, that it was deliberately scuttled to serve as a landing stage,” Daveau suggests. “It may also have been swamped by a freak wave.”

Another possible explanation is that it sank at its mooring, but this seems unlikely. Nowhere on the section of the vessel that has been uncovered have archaeologists found any signs of repairs, suggesting that it was not particularly old when it sank. In due course the timber itself will be properly dated.

The team of 20 or so archaeologists working on the dig have found no evidence of any cargo. When a ship went down, efforts would be made to salvage as much as possible. “At a depth of less than two metres it would have been fairly easy to raise goods,” Boetto says. “On the Roman shipwreck discovered in the 1970s off Madrague de Giens, at a depth of 20 metres, part of the cargo had been recovered.”

At the time underwater excavation of the great wreck, led by maritime archaeologists André Tchernia and Patrice Pomey, revealed gaps in the cargo. Heavy stones had been placed alongside the missing amphorae. It is thought that they were used to weight the divers who specialised in salvaging ship-wrecked goods. Such divers were often mentioned in ancient texts but the Madrague de Giens wreck provided the first material proof of their activity and daring.

In excavating the 5,000-square-metre site the archaeologists have uncovered more than just the remains of the vessel. The floor of the old Roman port holds a remarkable record of the diversity of sea trade between the late fourth and early sixth centuries, including amphorae dropped in the water during unloading, damaged crockery thrown overboard and the soles of leather shoes.

It is also testimony to far-reaching trade in the Mediterranean. Goods from so many different regions converged on Antipolis that “we often discover unknown objects from indeterminate sources”, Daveau says. Some finds reveal the identity of their owner. Here, for instance, is a ceramic bowl marked Rutili, probably the name of a sailor who dropped it in the water because it was broken or chipped.

Such finds are particularly valuable in the eyes of Inrap researchers as nine-tenths of the port was destroyed in the 1970s by the construction of a modern marina. In those days there was still no legislation requiring a preventive rescue dig.

All the excavated material will be kept and made available to the scientific community in appropriate premises adjoining the hall where the wreck will be on display. “We have found large numbers of amphorae from Italy and Marseille, dating back to the port’s earliest period,” says archaeologist Robert Thernot. “Then, as time passed, there were more and more items from North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean.” This suggests that the main centres of production shifted, just as is happening now with Asia’s growing importance and Europe’s industrial decline.

The cargo that the ship brought to Antipolis will probably remain a mystery but the odds are high that it would have sailed away loaded with garum, a fermented fish sauce that contributed to the prosperity and fame of the city for several centuries.

The article includes a photo of the ship …

CJ Online Review: Cleopatras (Review Essay)

posted with permission;

Antony and Cleopatra. By Adrian Goldsworthy. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010. Pp. vii + 480. Hardcover, £25.00/$35.00. ISBN 978-0-297-84567-6 (Weidenfeld); 978-0-300-16534-0 (Yale).

Cleopatra: A Biography. By Duane Roller. Women in Antiquity. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Pp. xi + 272. Hardcover, $29.95/£14.99. ISBN 978-0-19-536553-5.

Cleopatra: A Life. By Stacy Schiff. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010. Pp. 368. Hardcover, $29.99. ISBN 978-0-316-00192-2.

Reviewed by Prudence J. Jones, Montclair State University

In popular media, Cleopatra has long been one of the most compelling figures from the ancient world. From Cecil B. DeMille’s epic to the Monty Pythonesque “Carry on Cleo,” the Egyptian queen embodies the fascination we feel for the ancient and the mysterious.[[1]] Modern biographies of Cleopatra, directly or indirectly, must engage with Cleopatra’s considerable mystique. Rare is the work that does not delve, however briefly, into Cleopatra’s afterlife in art and literature. Lucy Hughes-Hallett made Cleopatra’s reception a focus of her book, Cleopatra: Histories Dreams, and Distortions (Harper-Collins, 1991). Even biographers who claim to eschew the image of Cleopatra as the femme fatale may not be able to resist the allure of legend. Michel Chauveau’s concise biography, Cleopatra Beyond the Myth (Cornell University Press, 2004; French orig., Paris, 1998), in which the author presents his task as uncovering the facts about Cleopatra, concludes with a section on later portrayals of the queen.

Three recent biographies of Cleopatra, Adrian Goldsworthy’s Antony and Cleopatra, Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra: A Life, and Duane Roller’s Cleopatra: A Biography—all well written and researched books that rely on much of the same evidence—present three distinct assessments of Cleopatra and her place in history. Goldsworthy and Roller appeal to a more scholarly audience than does Schiff. Goldsworthy and Roller also aim to debunk some of the popular ideas about Cleopatra (but do so with different aims), while Schiff strives to flesh out Cleopatra’s story by adding context.

Roller directly challenges the popular perception of Cleopatra as first and foremost a seductress. This approach is consistent with the context in which the book appears. Written as the first entry in a series on women in the ancient world, Cleopatra: A Biography presents Cleopatra as a female head of state.[[2]] By beginning with a chapter on Cleopatra’s ancestry, Roller emphasizes her political role. As a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, Cleopatra was born to rule. Roller’s second chapter, “The Ptolemaic Heritage and the Involvement with Rome,” details the pharaonic customs the Ptolemies adopted, including sibling-spouses ruling jointly (36). These chapters, along with a third, “Cleopatra’s Youth and Education,” introduce a series of chapters on Cleopatra’s political career (“Becoming Queen,” “Consolidating the Empire,” “The Peak Years,” and “The Operation of the Kingdom”).

Roller’s final two chapters, “Scholarship and Culture at the Court of Cleopatra” and “Downfall,” give insight into the cultural context in which Cleopatra reigned and offer some more personal anecdotes, such as Cleopatra consuming a pearl after destroying it using vinegar, and Antony massaging Cleopatra’s feet in public (132–3). An epilogue describes the fate of Egypt and of Cleopatra’s children after the queen’s suicide. Appendices contain useful information, such as a timeline and genealogy of the Ptolemies, as well as topics that spark debate, including the identity of Cleopatra’s mother and the possibility that Cleopatra may have been granted Roman citizenship. In addition, there are selected literary descriptions and portraits of Cleopatra.

In sum, Roller presents a fairly concise account of Cleopatra’s life—the main text is 150 pages—that is accessible to the general reader. Resources like extensive endnotes, an index of passages cited, and a substantial bibliography add value for Classics scholars.

Like Roller, Goldsworthy assumes the role of debunker. A major part of what he wants to debunk, however, is Cleopatra’s importance as a politician. The title of Goldsworthy’s book, Antony and Cleopatra, reflects this view of Cleopatra. Not only is this biography/history not devoted to her alone, her name is not even first. Indeed, Goldsworthy’s introduction reveals that he feels a more personal connection to Antony than Cleopatra: a coin of Mark Antony that had belonged to Goldsworthy’s grandfather reinforced an early fascination with all things Roman (1).

Goldsworthy’s attention to Antony produces a fascinating book nonetheless and brings much-needed attention to periods of Antony’s life that are often overlooked, such as his early life and career before he became involved with Cleopatra. Still, Goldsworthy concludes that Antony, with or without Cleopatra, did not have the impact Julius Caesar and Augustus had on history: “Antony and Cleopatra did not change the world in any profound way” (3); “Whether we like it or not, Cleopatra was not really that important” (10). It is worth noting that Goldsworthy has written a book on Caesar and is in the process of writing one on Augustus.

Just as Antony and Cleopatra are key figures in one another’s stories, the cultural and political background also is essential to understanding their lives. Goldsworthy elucidates Republican Rome and Ptolemaic Egypt admirably, while acknowledging the partial nature of the evidence with which ancient historians must work. Chapters on Egypt and Rome are interspersed with chapters on the lives of Antony and Cleopatra.

Antony and Cleopatra is a beautiful volume with a generous number of color plates showing the major historical figures discussed in the book as well as relevant locations and works of art. Several coins, including Goldsworthy’s grandfather’s Antony coin, also are included. Other supplementary materials, such as family trees, a chronology, a glossary, and, most interestingly, diagrams of major battles, help to orient readers and place Antony and Cleopatra in context. The glossary will be a great resource for students, as will the bibliography, which is concise, relevant, and up to date. The endnotes are unobtrusive to the general reader, yet extensive enough to be useful for scholars.

Of the three authors, Schiff most clearly targets as her audience the general reader. For Schiff, Cleopatra is unquestionably a key player in the politics of her day and Schiff is not afraid to indulge the fascination readers feel for Egypt’s last queen. The book’s first page contains the statements, “For a fleeting moment, she held the fate of the Western world in her hands,” and “She has lodged herself in our imaginations ever since.” After introducing Cleopatra as “among the most famous women to have lived,” (1) Schiff briefly summarizes her life. As all biographers must, Schiff confronts the deficiencies of the evidence concerning Cleopatra’s life. Unlike other biographers, Schiff expresses the historian’s eternal frustration in colorful metaphors: “The end result is a nineteenth-century British life of Napoleon or a twentieth-century history of America, were it to have been written by Chairman Mao” (6). Schiff’s approach to this uncertainty leaves room for the embellishing of Cleopatra’s story that characterizes this biography: “I have not attempted to fill in the blanks, although on occasion I have corralled the possibilities. … The irreconcilable remains unreconciled. Mostly I have restored context” (8).

In restoring context, Schiff incorporates details for which there is no direct evidence but are based on other information about the culture, time, and place. For instance, in describing banquets held by Caesar and Cleopatra, Schiff gives herself license to embellish: “Save that written by a poet who demonized Caesar and had less affection for Cleopatra, we have no account of her actual postwar banquets. We do know what a Ptolemaic feast looked like” (64). Schiff seems to want more than for the reader to understand Cleopatra; she wants her audience to be able to picture the people and places she describes. Rather than simply mention that Cleopatra met with Antony in Tarsus, Schiff sets the scene: “She could not have asked for a better stage set. Tarsus was surrounded on all sides by craggy, forested mountains, lush with wildflowers” (165). Some readers may prefer a more concise approach, like the one Roller takes, but a biography that reads a bit like a novel appeals to many readers, as evidenced by Cleopatra: A Life reaching number three on the New York Times best-seller list.

Schiff’s book is an attractive volume with many color plates and several maps. A genealogy of the Ptolemies or a glossary of names would have been helpful to the general reader, but perhaps would have interrupted the narrative. Endnotes and a selected bibliography provide resources for readers who wish to learn more. Interestingly, the notes reveal that Schiff conducted interviews with Classics scholars as part of her research (e.g. 309 n. 15). This thoroughness makes the fact that Schiff relies on translations of the Greek and Latin sources less of an issue. All in all, her book is well researched and a good read.

That three biographies of Cleopatra have been published recently and that one is aimed at a popular audience (and is being made into a movie starring Angelina Jolie) is a positive sign for the field of Classics. Topics like gladiatorial combat, the journey of Odysseus, and the life of Cleopatra capture the imagination and offer accessible entry points into the study of the ancient world. They also provide opportunities for community outreach by scholars—Schiff’s book is a popular book club selection—and a chance to bring Classical studies to a broader audience.


[[1]] Cleopatra (1934), Dir. Cecil B. DeMille; Carry on Cleo (1964), Dir. Gerald Thomas.

[[2]] The series is Women in Antiquity, edited by S. Pomeroy and R. Ancona, and published by Oxford University Press.

Love’s Labours Lost at the Milvian Bridge?

Slow news day so far, so we’ll squeeze in this item from the Guardian, which really has very little Classical content other than the location:

Thousands of “love padlocks” fixed to an ancient Roman bridge by passionate couples have been sliced off with bolt cutters and dumped in a warehouse to save the bridge from damage.

Teenage lovers in Rome have for years written their initials on padlocks, locked them to Rome’s Milvian bridge and sworn eternal love for each other before hurling the key into the Tiber, a habit that has caught on at bridges around the world, particularly in Paris.

The trend, which was inspired by characters in the 2006 cult Italian teen novel I Want You by Federico Moccia, first prompted Roman officials to set up posts for the padlocks to be attached to after a lamppost threatened to collapse under their weight on the bridge, which was first built in 206 BC.

But this week officials said enough was enough. “We decided to remove them to restore decorum to the bridge,” said local borough president Gianni Giacomini.

Since the trend took off, the residential neighbourhood has become a hub of late-night bars and on Monday police arrested 17 people suspected of supplying methamphetamine to revellers. City officials said that 86% of locals were keen to see the locks go. They promised to give the mass of metal that has been removed a place in a Rome museum and said they would designate a spot in a piazza beside the bridge where locks could be left in future.

“The bridge will be guarded day and night to stop more locks being attached,” warned local public works assessor Stefano Erbaggi.

Moccia, who has said teenagers are better off buying padlocks than scrawling graffiti, was nonplussed. “The removal of the locks is inconsiderate,” he told La Repubblica. “Rome is handing Paris the ‘bridge of love’ tradition, which was born here and should stay here.”

We’ve (sort of) followed the development of this ‘tradition’: