CJ Online Review: Erskine and Llewellyn-Jones, Creating a Hellenistic World

posted with permission:

Creating a Hellenistic World. Edited by Andrew Erskine and Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones. Swansea and London: The Classical Press of Wales, 2011. Pp. xx + 355. Hardcover, £55.00/$110.00. ISBN 978-1-905125-43-2.

Reviewed by Scott Farrington, University of Miami

The studies in this book represent the kind of innovation driving the study of the Hellenistic world. For instance, most of the articles eschew traditional delineations to highlight the Hellenistic appropriation of Athenian history, culture, and art. On the other hand, in these studies the Hellenistic world belongs to Alexander and his successors. Perhaps one cannot expect to find Rome or Carthage in a book about the creation of the Hellenistic world, but even Agathocles’ Syracuse and the Aitolian and Achaean Leagues rate scant mention. In the end, these studies present innovative and provocative views of the world of the Antigonids, the Seleucids, and the Ptolemies.

Robin Lane Fox opens the collection with “The First Hellenistic Man.” He argues that the archetypical Hellenistic man, like Alexander or Hieronymos of Kardia, embodies “a new ‘Machiavellian’ ethic” (18). Lane Fox raises an interesting question: Polybius has long been charged with Machiavellian tendencies, and Arthur Eckstein has provided a thorough study of their relationship to the morality of the Hellenistic age.[[1]] It would be interesting to see Lane Fox consider Polybius’ morality in light of the (Machiavellian) Hellenistic man.

Several interesting studies in the book can only be summarized in the space given here: Stephen Colvin illustrates how, though the koine represents a standard that corresponds to no single spoken or written variety, speakers come to view the standard as their own mother tongue and consider the vernacular a corrupted version of it. Richard Hunter considers The Letter of Aristeas an imaginative reconstruction of Alexandria and the exercise of Alexandrian power in its heyday; though not historiography, the Letter creates a Hellenistic world and its “knowing anxiety about genre” establishes it within the mainstream of Hellenistic literature. Joseph Roisman identifies Hieronymos’ “elitist approach to history” as the origin of the favorable view of Eumenes in the sources and the opinion that the Silver Shields were traitorous mutineers. Such an argument could address whether the Silver Shields’ disregard of the soldier’s duty was a distinctive element of the Hellenistic world, but Roisman does not go far in that direction.

Alan B. Lloyd tracks Egypt’s development from satrapy to Hellenistic kingdom through oppressive Persian rule and the mediation between local tradition and governmental authority of Alexander and Ptolemy. Josef Wieshöfer reacts to Momigliano’s arguments in Alien Wisdom and argues that the silence of the sources reflect the success the fratarakā enjoyed by limiting their goals to present no obstacle to the Seleucids who in turn adopted a benevolent attitude towards unthreatening subjects. Hans-Ulrich Wiemer employs new evidence from Posidippus to reconsider the Colossus and the pillar at Delphi as Rhodian expressions of a desire for hegemony that began soon after 323. Shane Wallace examines how the memory of Plataia and its association with unity, eleutheria, and anti-barbarianism was appropriated by Philip and Alexander in their conquest, avoided by Hyperides in the Hellenic War, and revived again in the Chremonidean War. Andrew Erskine’s contribution explores the Macedonian court through the experience of Persaios of Kition, “a credible if not especially impressive” (180) philosopher to illustrate the tension between philosophy and the court. James I. Porter attempts to revise the “current ideology” which describes Hellenistic poetry as “miniaturist, pointillist, and precious” (272). Peter Schultz picks up the unstated theme of the collection by arguing that primary features of the Hellenistic baroque are rooted in the tradition of fifth-century Athenian sculpture.

Particularly interesting are three considerations of royal women. Elizabeth D. Carney defines the appearance of the title basilissa, a device used to legitimize the authority of royal women, as the critical event in the evolution of the position of royal women. The marriages between courtesans and kings in the Macedonian courts provides the subject of Daniel Ogden’s contribution. Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones and Stephanie Winder explore Berenike II’s construction of her royal image through associations with the Egpytian goddess Hathor: the lock of hair is only one of many appropriations of Hathor’s public imagery. Unfortunately, there is some confusion here regarding the coins Berenike II struck. The authors maintain that these coins bear the superscription “Queen Berenike and King Ptolemy,” but the coins in the figures read only ΒΕΡΕΝΙΚΗΣ ΒΑΣΙΛΙΣΣΗΣ (249, 253).

Like many collections, the final product could have benefitted from more collaboration and consideration by each author of the others’ arguments. For instance, Wieshöfer’s arguments of Achaemenid protocol and custom at Peukestas’ feast in honor of Eumenes (108–9) clash with Roisman’s assertions about Eumenes’ selfishness, lack of confidence in the Silver Shields, and the rationale behind his battle order (esp. 72). More jarring are the various definitions of βασίλισσα. For Carney, the term is “unclear, ambiguous,” and because it refers variously to royal wives or daughters and female regents or monarchs is best translated as “royal woman” (202). The authority of her statement is dissonant with Ogden’s assertion that Harpalos required Pythionike be addressed as “βασίλισσα (queen)” (225), but it positively undermines Llewellyn-Jones and Winder’s assertion that the superscription of Berenike II’s coins, ΒΕΡΕΝΙΚΗΣ ΒΑΣΙΛΛΙΣΗΣ, must have read to Ptolemy as “love letters” (249). If we are convinced by Carney’s arguments, the coins could have had a very different message from that.

Despite any shortcomings, this collection should stimulate and encourage new explorations of the successor kingdoms of the early Hellenistic period. It provides fresh considerations of the world of the successors directed at the scholar, not the student, and therefore fills a need more often felt than addressed.


[[1]] A. Eckstein, Moral Vision in the Histories of Polybius (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1995).

What Latin Do You Know?

I’m still trying to track down the official Papal Bull which established the Latin Academy which the pope recently decreed, but until then, this Rome Reports video is actually really good:

… I wonder what would happen if they asked the same question on the streets of some North American city (both knowledge-wise and ‘accent-wise’)

CJ Online Review: English and Irby, A Little Latin Reader

posted with permission:

A Little Latin Reader. By Mary C. English and Georgia L. Irby. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. xvii + 187. Paper, $15.95. ISBN 978-0-19-984622-1.

Reviewed by Jaime Claymore, Gainesville State College of the University of North Georgia/Mountain View HS, Gwinnett County Public Schools

English and Irby have collected excerpts from ancient texts and aligned them with typical modern grammatical assignations in this supplementary textbook. Designed for an enthusiastic high-school teacher or for a lower-level college grammar or survey course, the edition allows students to jump into un-adapted Latin from either inscriptional sources or from major Golden- and Silver-age authors. A majority of the text is devoted to excerpts organized by grammatical categories. The authors have nominally forged forty-six grammar topics, which cover a wide range: from simple case uses, tenses and clauses to more complex indirect statement, gerunds and conditionals. Each topic contains at least three (and as many as eight) excerpts ranging from Martial’s two-line epigrammatic jabs to lengthier periods of Ciceronian speech. The passages are prefaced by contextual remarks or a brief summary and heavily annotated for students lacking background knowledge or an extensive vocabulary. (Glossed text also can be found in the book’s glossary.) They also are formatted with macrons which may help with grammatical identification and Latin pronunciation for students and teachers who wish to read aloud.

For those students and teachers looking to supplement heavily adapted material of Latin for Americans, or the brief snippets of practice found in Wheelock’s Latin, the range of sources used for the grammar topics is very useful. This range is exemplified by use of texts usually absent from most classrooms: Virgil’s Georgics, Ovid’s Tristia, and Cicero’s Pro Milone. Nevertheless, the customary authors and works are present: Virgil’s Aeneid, poems of Catullus, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. As Caesar enters the AP Latin curriculum with the 2013 series of exams, the text offers a most-useful exposure to (syllabus) selections from Caesar’s de Bello Gallico. Further, the AP teacher will be able to utilize the selections for sight reading practice, as often various authors are utilized for the same grammar topic.

The second half of the text is divided equally for intermediate and advanced readers. Selections from Livy, Petronius, and Pliny fulfill the call for prose practice and Virgil and Ovid are tapped for poetry practice. Also included are selections from Sulpicia. The advanced prose selections borrow from Sallust, Tacitus, and Suetonius; the poetry from Horace, Germanicus and Statius.

In addition to a gradual increase in difficulty based on a typical grammar introduction to Latin, the text offers six excellent appendices. The authors have provided brief biographical sketches on Latin authors found in the text, a basic guide to Latin meter and scansion, a guide to Latin epigraphy (necessary for the numerous inscriptional excerpts), an index of Latin grammar, and a compilation of other supplemental Latin readers. Most impressive is the inclusion of an index to people and places as well as subjects utilized in the passages found in the text. Teachers will be able to quickly reference the brief, authentic sources to enhance classroom cultural experiences for students of any level. There is not present in the text any explanation of the grammar topics nor of the passages. The student or teacher should not use the text as a replacement for a textual commentary or grammar book.

With a plethora of ancient texts formatted by grammatical features, A Little Latin Reader provides an opportunity for students of all levels to supplement heavily-edited elementary texts for authentic Latin. The high-school teacher may use the text to aid in the transition from textbook Latin to authentic Latin. The college professor may provide additional practice through use of this reader. It is an excellent addition to any student or teacher library.

Afrikaans+ Iliad

This one’s getting quite a bit of press coverage in various venues … the Telegraph piece has been brought to my attention by myriad readers, so myriad tips o’ the pileus accrue:

Richard Whitaker, the Emeritus Professor of Classics at the University of Cape Town, said he wanted to celebrate South African English, a patois that takes in words from Afrikaans and the country’s 10 other official African languages, while helping his students to gain a clearer understanding of the polemic poem.

The 3,000-year-old text has been translated into virtually every language in the world, and there are more than 70 English versions, tackled by Greek scholars, poets and even British Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Smith-Stanley, the 14th Earl of Derby.

But Oxford and St Andrews-educated Prof Whitaker said that aspects in common between the traditional Greek and African societies was lost in European-centric translations.

“There are traditions that resonate far more for South Africans,” he said.

“The references to a bride price, where brides were sold for cattle, for example, is much more understandable to an African audience than a European elite.” The resulting translation took him 10 years to produce and sees European concepts such as kings, princes and palaces replaced with “amakhosi” (the Zulu and Xhosa word for chiefs and headmen), “kgotla” (the Tswana word for community councils), and “kraals” (Afrikaans for homestead).

Achilles, armed with his “assegai” (traditional spear), vanquishes many Trojan “impis” (the Zulu word for regiments), before he and his men celebrate with a feast of grilled meat which South Africans of all races refer to as a “braai”.

It took 61-year-old Prof Whitaker ten years to produce his South African version and, given the cold shoulder by the country’s university presses, he has published 300 copies of the 528-page text himself in the hope that it will be of interest both to scholars and ordinary South Africans.

He has already had some success: the respected Rhodes University in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape has put it on the curriculum for the next academic year, along with the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in Durban and Prof Whitaker’s own University of Cape Town.

Prof Whitaker now has his eyes set on a similar translation of Homer’s Odyssey. He hopes others will follow his lead in celebrating South Africa’s melting pot of languages, like all other aspects of race so fiercely kept apart previously by the apartheid government.

“It’s important for postcolonial countries to make their own connections with the classics – they belong to all of us,” he said.

CJ Online Review: Lolos, Land of Sikyon

posted with permission:

Land of Sikyon: Archaeology and History of a Greek City-State. By Yannis A. Lolos. Hesperia Supplement 39. Princeton: The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2011. Pp. xxviii + 635, 6 maps in back pocket. Hardcover, $75.00. ISBN 978-0-87661-539-3.

Reviewed by Dimitri Nakassis, University of Toronto

This much-awaited book by Yannis Lolos is a detailed survey of the history and archaeology of ancient Sikyon. It represents a tremendous amount of work: the archaeological field survey alone took place over 6 years, covered an area of some 360 km2, and yielded 225 sites of different types. The survey is complemented by introductory chapters on Sikyon’s physical environment and history. All in all, then, Lolos provides in this book a rich study of what is known about a key region of the Peloponnese from prehistory to the Ottoman period.

Lolos’ survey is not of the modern, intensive type. Rather it is informed by traditional topographic and historical approaches made famous by Vanderpool, Pritchett, and others. Lolos’ work is clearly influenced by the strong tradition of topographic studies at Berkeley, and by the “kafeneion” method of Yannis Pikoulas, which involves close collaboration with locals to find ancient sites. In contrast to his predecessors, however, Lolos systematically and intensively documents each of his sites. The extensive technique allows the researcher to examine a large territory—an intensive survey would require significantly more time, money, and personnel to achieve the same coverage—and, by tapping into the memories of local inhabitants, has the potential to include sites that have been destroyed by modern construction, like asphalt roads built over ancient cart roads. There are drawbacks to this method, however. Extensive surveys are less systematic, find fewer sites, and produce less robust data than their intensive counterparts. The payoff is that Lolos is able to talk about the entirety of the Sikyonia, in contrast to the increasingly small territories of modern surveys.

The book’s organization is clear and logical. A short introduction focused on methodology is followed by two chapters that detail the Sikyonia’s environment (Chapter 1) and history (Chapter 2). Four thematic chapters report the results of the survey and provide an analytic framework for understanding the territory of Sikyon. These chapters treat land communication (Chapter 3), defenses (Chapter 4), settlements (Chapter 5), and sanctuaries (Chapter 6). A brief synoptic conclusion describes the limitations of the evidence and paints in broad brush-strokes a long-term history of the Sikyonia. The register of sites (Appendix I) provides a catalog of all the sites investigated by the survey. Other appendices deal with special topics: roof tiles, aqueducts, three inscriptions, and excavations at the cave of Lechova.

Lolos treats the archaeological and historical sources carefully and sensibly, although he has a tendency towards relating historical texts and material remains in a very direct way. Many may be uncomfortable with his argument (pp. 318–19) that very small sites discovered in the archaeological survey can be identified as the habitations of κατωνακοφόροι, a class of Sikyonian serf sharecroppers. Lolos’ attention to the ancient sources can also result in the privileging of military interpretations over socio-economic ones. For instance, while the military functions of cart roads are considered at great length, other potential purposes are largely dismissed (p. 96: “This is not the place to discuss at length the impact of these various [non-military] activities on road construction; indeed, in most cases our evidence is too fragmentary to be conclusive.”) While ancient sources on road construction, and indeed on movements through the landscape, certainly do emphasize military activities, it is also the case that there is unambiguous evidence for road-building and road repairs for industrial and sacred purposes (e.g., Plut. Per. 12.7, IG II2 1126.40–3). Lolos himself presents evidence for non-military uses for roads: for instance, he plausibly hypothesizes that a mountainous road in the southwest Sikyonia may have been used to acquire and transport timber (p. 166, cf. p. 416).

This book occupies a distinctive place in the literature on Greek landscape archaeology. On the one hand, it clearly draws inspiration from topographic approaches and makes use of extensive methods for locating sites. On the other, the influence of intensive survey is evident from the use of the region as the lens of analysis and the detailed documentation of individual sites. These observations raise interesting questions about the wider impact of Lolos’ work. Certainly it will be crucial for historians and archaeologists of all types who are interested in Sikyon, and more broadly, the northeastern Peloponnese. This is already a significant achievement. But Land of Sikyon should have a much more far-reaching influence. Increasingly, archaeologists are interested in integrating data from different survey projects as the basis for regional and inter-regional studies. The northeastern Peloponnese is fertile ground for such work, thanks to the density of survey projects that have made it one of the best understood areas of Greece. Lolos’ work adds an important piece to this puzzle—the Sikyonia—and thus has the potential to contribute to comparative studies into Greek landscapes. Integrating Lolos’ extensive results with those from intensive surveys will be far from straightforward. Yet both intensive and extensive surveys are necessary if we are to understand the complexities of ancient settlement across time and space. By shedding new light on an important region of Greece, Lolos’ book takes a big step forward towards achieving that goal.