Translating Pliny’s Letters

I finally got a chance to check out Pedar Foss’ latest blog-related project … here’s an intro from his very self:

This begins a series of posts that will translate and comment upon Pliny the Younger’s two letters (6.16 and 6.20) about the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79–the disaster that buried Pompeii, Herculaneum, and other sites. These posts are part of a book project that intends to understand the scholarly and popular reception of those letters. I am also teaching these letters in LAT 223 at DePauw this Fall term, so this is a good time to do it.

I will provide the Latin (using Mynors’ 1963 Oxford Classical Text [OCT]), and then work through it with a translation, dissection of grammatical constructions, and discussion of what the letters tell us. I will doubtless make mistakes as I proceed, and will be grateful for comments and corrections; the essence of scholarship is rectification through better evidence, arguments, or questions.

… the posts are being gathered under the Pliny category at [quem dixere chaos] … definitely worth a look

CJ Online Review: Alexander’s Successors (Review-Discussion)

posted with permission:

Review–Discussion: Alexander’s Diadochs and their Destructive Wars

Dividing the Spoils: the War for Alexander the Great’s Empire. By Robin Waterfield. Ancient Warfare and Civilization. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. xv + 273. £18.99/$27.95. ISBN 978-0-19-957392-9 (UK); 978-0-19-539523-5 (US).

Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the War for Crown and Empire. By James Romm. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Pp. xxii + 341. US$28.95/CAD$35.00. ISBN 978-0-307-27164-8.

Alexander’s Veterans and the Early Wars of the Successors. By Joseph Roisman. Fordyce W. Mitchell Lecture Series. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2012. Pp. xiv + 264. $55.00. ISBN 978-0-292-73596-5.

Reviewed by Carol J. King, Grenfell Campus Memorial University (cking).

The approach to the early Hellenistic period has long tended toward “individual” studies: studies of the individual Successors, of the separate dynastic kingdoms they formed, and of thematic topics. Sorely missing has been a historical synthesis of the Diadochs and their virtually uninterrupted warfare in the generation after Alexander. In the preface to his influential study, The Legacy of Alexander: Politics, Warfare, and Propaganda under the Successors (Oxford 2002), Brian Bosworth rightly expressed the “urgent need for a full historical coverage of the half century after Alexander” (v). But coverage of that half century, the confusion of shifting alliances, daring bids for power, and mounting regal ambitions that raged across three continents, ultimately until no Successor was left standing, is indeed a daunting task, especially given the paucity of sources and surplus of biases. Now, after nearly a decade, the three recent monographs under review here attempt to fulfill the urgent need. These books shed welcome light on this “neglected” period of history.[[1]]

At first glance the book titles suggest works near alike in content. Yet these are three very different approaches to the legacy of profound consequences of Alexander’s death without an heir and of the dozen years of unrelenting world conquest that left his seasoned veterans hankering for more, and his skilled generals in bitter rivalry. Discussion of Alexander himself is minimal, for these books aim to bring to light less famous men, such as Craterus and Eumenes, and the almost entirely anonymous veterans known collectively as the Silver Shields. Waterfield covers some forty years in a balanced military and cultural overview, aiming for a broad scope of readership by downplaying scholarly debate while at the same time serving up an erudite narrative that will engage scholars as much as non-specialists. Romm offers a detailed synthesis mainly of the military action of the Successors and the impact of their early wars on the Greek world—namely Athens—in a fast-paced narrative aimed at the general reader. Roisman’s thought provoking coverage centered just on the movements of the veteran heavy infantry and its role in the early Successors’ wars, with a strong emphasis on source analysis, is aimed at the specialist who already knows the players, events, and sources.

Waterfield covers the time period 323 to 281 bce, from the death of Alexander to the death of the last of Alexander’s successor generals, Seleucus, defining this span of time as the “natural parameters” of the wars for Alexander’s empire. His stated main purpose is “to revive the memory of the Successors” by focusing on individuals in keeping with the notion of the “great man” in history (xii). To this end ten of the book’s sixteen chapters include the name of one or more of the Successors. As one would expect, this is an account of military action, yes, but it is also “an outline of its cultural impact” (x). His cultural excursuses almost seamlessly lead the reader away from the main military narrative to offer that all too rare “breathing space in war”: “Menander was writing at a time when thousands of lives were being lost on the battlefields of Asia and Europe … It was all a far cry from war” (86–8). While this approach necessitates abandonment of strict chronology, the narrative nevertheless flows smoothly from Successor to Successor and from one theater of war to another.

With its interweave of military action and cultural developments this book, part of the Oxford University Press series “Ancient Warfare and Civilization,” serves as a solid introduction to the period for undergraduates and general readers. The inclusion of a convenient time line, list of “characters” and genealogy charts at the end of the book, as well as a center section of black and white plates along with ten prefacing maps, add to its suitability for Hellenistic history and civilization courses. Scholars and instructors may be disappointed, however, that Waterfield has chosen not to discuss scholarly controversies, although to the specialist it will be obvious where the author stands on many of these. For example, on the controversy over constitutional authority, throughout Waterfield refers to trials for treason as “show trials” (e.g. 64–5, 90–1, 113, 134, 159 with n.). The book is also short on notes, making it less edifying for upper level students and scholars. Yet Waterfield asks, and offers answers to, critical questions (e.g., “Why was Cassander … passed over [to succeed Antipater]?” (73), “Could a balance of power emerge … [following
the death of Eumenes]? (106)), and makes assessments that almost certainly will provoke scholarly responses. His final assessment, for example, of Alexander and the Successors as “forces of greed and destruction” (212) seems to disregard the author’s own excursus on the Museum of Alexandria (136–9) as “a vast extension of [the Macedonian] kingly function” of patronizing “Greek artists, philosophers, and scientists” (138). His claim that “[h]eredity was irrelevant to the Successors” (144) also finds contradiction in the prompt establishment by Antigonus, Ptolemy and Seleucus of hereditary monarchies through naming their sons co-rulers (not to mention almost every Successor’s bid to marry Cleopatra!). Provocative too is his statement that the attempt to emulate Alexander “died along with those who had actually known him” (210).

Romm covers the period from Alexander’s illness in Babylon in June 323 to the defeat and death of Eumenes in 317/16 in a vivid, dramatic narrative that is essentially a collation of Diodorus, Plutarch, Justin, and what fragments we have of Arrian’s Events After Alexander. The sources are introduced in the Preface, where Curtius is notably omitted; the explanation comes on p. 37: “Curtius’ readiness to see Roman patterns in Macedonian history … calls his reliability into question.” This is a curious statement, given that the reliability of Justin may just as well be called into question—Romm (following Bosworth) favors Justin over Curtius for events in Babylon—and the “unconventional” sources Polyaenus and Athenaeus are used without censure for the sake of “insights, however unverifiable, into the personalities that dominate this age” (xv). Also curious is the narrative shift from detailed annalistic chapters of the first seven years of warfare to condensed summary in the final chapter of the next eight years—arguably the “war for crown”—down to the death of the last Argead king Alexander IV c. 308 (a short Epilogue covers the deaths of Heracles and Cleopatra). Nowhere is the intended scope made explicit, although Romm does argue in the Preface that the term “Successors” is anachronistically applied to the “first seven years” after Alexander’s death because these men were vying for Alexander’s power only, not for his throne, being that they were not Argeads.[[2]] The death of Eumenes is in fact pivotal—the point beyond which the surviving Successors “owed no loyalty except to themselves,” according to Waterfield (102), and it is Roisman’s explicit terminus. To continue only in summary to the end of the Argeads, and not even to the crowns of the Successors, leaves the book unbalanced. Furthermore, two of the ten chapters are devoted to Athens’ relationship with Macedon. One cannot help but be moved by Romm’s description of the condemnation, sentencing, and death of Phocion (221–6!); however, this Athenocentric focus—apparent even in non-Athenian chapters—seems extraneous to the ghost on the throne.

This book’s greatest appeal is Romm’s exhilarating prose. From the “bookend” brief introduction “The Opening of the Tombs,” in which Romm describes Andonikos’ exciting discovery of Tombs II and III at Vergina in the late 1970s, to the final Chapter 10, “The Closing of the Tombs,” when the very tombs opened by Andronikos were closed in antiquity, the pace is seldom less than breathtaking. As a taste of what the reader can expect in terms of narrative tension, the opening sentence gives a good indication: “‘Be as calm as possible,’ Manolis Andronikos told his assistants as he slowly widened a hole leading down into darkness” (3). Readers new to this period of history will surely appreciate Chapter 1 devoted to introducing the main players, Alexander’s “Bodyguards and Companions,” before being swept narratively along into the “living history” of their internecine wars. Romm’s endnotes will prove useful too for inquisitive readers and specialists, although more so for the former since many are merely general comments on scholarly consensus, often with references to the ancient sources but few citations of the scholarship. The book contains six maps, a couple of diagrams, and some sixteen black and white photos throughout. What seems lost in the breathtaking narrative in my view, however, is the ghost on the throne. “Little Eumenes” (e.g., 91, 141, 208, 252), one of many epithets employed for various main players (Antipater is “old man” passim), is Romm’s lead character, and Eumenes of course most directly evokes the ghost in that he devised the “Alexander tent” strategy after declaring Alexander had instructed him to do so in a dream. But apart from Romm’s discussion of Eumenes’ final eastern campaigns in 318–317 when the tent was employed (Chapter 9, “Duels to the Death”), “the spectral presence of Alexander” (245) is scarcely felt. Also problematic, I think, for scholars and students are Romm’s reconstructions for the sake of story telling: e.g. “I have somewhat expanded on Plutarch’s inferences about the thoughts of Leonnatus and Eumenes” (303). This makes for exciting narrative, but it does not contribute to our understanding of the period.

Roisman begins with reference to troop behavior in the Indian campaign in 326 and concludes with the dispersal of the Silver Shields following the death of Eumenes in 316. The title is apt and explicit: the book’s focus is on the Veterans, the heavy infantry phalanx, and in the Introduction the elite 3000 Silver Shields are singled out as having the most prominent role. Almost in polarization with Waterfield’s book, Roisman aims to counter the tendency of both ancient and modern historians to deal with “prominent individuals,” the careers, ambitions, and perspectives of Alexander’s great Successors, by illuminating the “overshadowed” veterans’ experience. To this end he examines the “behavior” of the veterans: in their relationships with their generals (Ch. 2 contrasts the non-confrontational behavior of the troops in revolt at the Hyphasis with their defiant mutinous reactions at Opis two years later); in army assemblies (Ch. 3 explores the veterans’ exploitation of internal strife in Babylon to promote Arrhidaeus as king in a wish to correct injustice); in battle (Ch. 5 discusses the reluctance of the veterans to fight other Macedonians and their changing sides); and on the march (Ch. 8 describes the “race for food and shelter [that] resulted in the battle of Paraetacene” (215))—all leading to the climax of the Silver Shields’ betrayal of their general Eumenes at Gabene. Despite the overall aim to downplay the great Successors, Eumenes’ name headlines in half the chapter titles as Hellenistic individualism becomes unavoidable even for Roisman: “It is by observing the fortunes of the individual commanders, tied by the sources to those of their troops, that we shall best be able to follow the veterans’ divergent paths” (145).

Roisman devotes the first of his eight chapters to source criticism: “Motives and Bias in the History of Hieronymus of Cardia.” This is critical for any serious scholarly assessment of the period, given that by consensus, and Roisman agrees (10–11), Hieronymus is “identified as the direct or ultimate source” not only for Diodorus Books 18 to 20, but also of Arrian’s Events After Alexander, Plutarch’s Eumenes, Nepos’ Eumenes, and Justin’s Epitome. Roisman argues that Hieronymus’ “elitist approach, which often privileges the perspectives and interests of leaders while devaluing those of their followers” (11), has not been adequately recognized. But when the sources describe the actions and reactions of the soldiers almost exclusively in the most general terms of mob behavior—shouting, banging spears on shields—in juxtaposition with the “individual, articulate voices” of the leaders (25), the scholar’s task of ferreting out the soldiers’ perspective seems impossible. Even so, I have come away from reading this book with a much better sense of the veterans’ experience than I had before: in assembly they were most powerful in a crisis situation, when their leaders were divided as at Babylon and Triparadeisus; their loyalty depended on multiple factors, both practical and moral; and despite their reputation for invincibility, they could not “decide a battle” (125, 216). The book has thorough footnotes and bibliography, one map but no illustrations or charts, and a couple of typos in dates (71, 215). As a book for specialists it makes a significant contribution to on-going debates, such as the nature of kingship and the power of army assemblies, and it should spawn further discussion.

Roisman’s book originated in conference participation and an invited lecture series, and it is at least in part a response to the arguments of Bosworth’s Legacy. In his thorough discussion and source analysis of the Babylonian conflict and settlement Roisman challenges Bosworth (Legacy, Ch. 2) foremost by favoring Curtius over Justin, and also by offering several convincing counter arguments on points of textual interpretation. His focus precludes, of course, coverage of “the half century after Alexander.” Like Bosworth, Waterfield considers the history of the forty years following Alexander’s death to be, to a large degree, the history of Alexander’s influence (9). His “chronological thrust” (xii) begins with Alexander’s immediate legacy (Ch. 1), “the seeds of the civil wars that followed his death” (15), and continues through the Babylon conferences (Ch. 2) and rebellions in various outposts as well as in Athens and Aetolia (Ch. 3), to Ptolemy’s abduction of Alexander’s corpse (Ch. 4) and then the first civil confrontations on two fronts, between Ptolemy and Perdiccas in Egypt and Craterus and Eumenes in Asia Minor (Ch. 5). From there he covers Polyperchon’s brief moment in the limelight (Ch. 6) before, in another civil war, being overshadowed by Cassander’s rise to dominance in Macedonia (Ch. 7). He moves on to the “pivotal” civil war between the loyalist Eumenes and the brutally ambitious Antigonus (Ch. 8), “one of the great forgotten campaigns of world history” (93). He continues with Antigonus’ subsequent dominance in Asia (Ch. 9) and ongoing rivalry with Seleucus (Ch. 10), and then with the “increasingly obvious ambitions” (129) of the Successors and the elimination of the last of the Argeads—Alexander IV and Cleopatra—who stood in the way of their own kingly aspirations (Ch. 11). Waterfield views the assumption of kingship by the Successors c. 305—here making reference to Bosworth’s “big bang” (143)—as “the beginning of the model of absolute kingship that was inherited, via the Roman principate, by medieval and early modern European kings,” thus a long-term legacy of Alexander’s “autocratic blend of eastern and Macedonian kingship” (144). The climax of the clash of imperialist ambitions at Ipsus (Ch. 12) “was the greatest battle of the Successors numerically, and the most significant” (154) in that Ptolemy and Seleucus were able to solidify control in their respective kingdoms (Ch. 13). The source dearth post-Ipsus does not deter Waterfield from assessing Demetrius’ rise and fall (Chs. 14 and 15): “[he] was as addicted to warfare as Alexander the Great” (190); or from narrating the final of final showdowns between the long-in-the-tooth Lysimachus and Seleucus, as well as the subsequent murder of Seleucus and prelude to the rise of Gonatas (Ch. 16). In historical coverage, if not in analysis and detail, Waterfield has come closest to fulfilling the need for a synthesis of the Diadochs.


[[1]] Several edited collections of essays have also appeared: P. Wheatley and R. Hannah, eds., Alexander and his Successors: Essays from the Antipodes (Claremont, CA: Regina Books, 2009); H. Hauben and A. Meeus, eds., The Age of the Successors (323–276 b.c.) (Studia Hellenistica 53; Leuven: Peeters, 2011); E. M. Anson and V. Alonso, eds., After Alexander: The Time of the Successors (323–281 bc) (Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2012). Also B. Bennet and M. Roberts, The Wars of Alexander’s Successors 323–281 bc, Vol. 1: Commanders and Campaigns; Vol. 2: Battles and Tactics (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2008/2009).

[[2]] My italics. Successors or Diadochs: διαδοχή and διαδέχομαι are frequently used in a military context to indicate successive, in turn, relieving of a guard; by no means are the terms restricted to royal “inherited” succession.

[[3]] In the Preface Romm explains his citation (or not) method, and for his readers “who want to carefully trace the evidence” (xvi) he refers them to W. Heckel’s Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great (Malden, MA and Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2006). Readers will benefit also from reference to source commentaries and criticism, a few of which are listed in Romm’s bibliography p. 323.

CJ Online Review: Meier, A Culture of Freedom

posted with permission:

A Culture of Freedom: Ancient Greece and the Origins of Europe. By Christian Meier. Translated by Jefferson Chase. With a Foreword by Kurt Raaflaub. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. xviii + 315. Hardcover, £18.99/$29.95. ISBN 978-0-19-958803-9.

Reviewed by Paul Cartledge, Clare College, Cambridge (pac1001 AT

There was, we are assured by the highly distinguished author, an unbridgeable divide between antiquity and the middle ages and so by extension modernity—and yet Greece was the “origin” of “Europe.” Is this a paradox? Or a contradiction? Meier too likes posing questions, as a matter of principled method. Indeed, it’s his constant self-reflexive alertness to problems of method, and of theory—most unusual in an ancient historian—that makes all his work such a challenge and at the same time a delight to read.

The present book, though, is a head minus the body, being the first two parts of a seven-part German series on the history of Europe. It was originally published in 2009, under the characteristically “winged formulation” title of Kultur, um der Freiheit willen: Griechische Anfänge—Anfang Europas?, and has been on the whole very well rendered into English by Jefferson Chase and brilliantly introduced by Meier’s former student Kurt Raaflaub (to whom is owed the phrase “winged formulation”). Professor Meier’s treatment of the somewhat forced origins-of-Europe problematic is also often brilliant, being both highly stimulating (even to a somewhat jaded reviewer) and surprisingly original in its empathetic penetration. Which makes the shortcomings on the technical production side only all the more regrettable—and hopefully corrigible in a swiftly to be issued paperback version. Examples of inadequacy or error are rather frequent—I mention only “Acharnians” for “Acarnanians” (Map 1), “Mars” for “Ares” (37), and most amusingly “Caledonian” for “Calydonian” (86).

The author’s freely chosen emphasis on freedom, which is highlighted in the title both of the German original and of the English translation, could hardly be an original leitmotif. Orlando Patterson, for example, another great comparativist historian, sees it as key to understanding ancient Greek culture and its world-historical contribution. But though it is regularly flagged up throughout (e.g. 58, it was “truly from a foundation of freedom” that “Greek culture was to arise”), it is not always flagged up as it might or surely should have been. For instance, it is seriously underplayed in connection with Solon’s abolition of debt-slavery at Athens in c. 600 bce and his outlawing for the future of the securing of loans on the person, thereby drawing the sharpest possible line between slavery (highly developed by the Athenians in the ultimate form of chattel slavery) and citizen freedom. This was in the city which was, not coincidentally, to go on to invent the world’s earliest version of direct citizen democracy, and about which Meier has himself written tellingly for a wide public. That freedom for some was bought at the heavy price of unfreedom for many others is not perhaps as inspiring a message as could ideally be wished.

On the other hand, the emphasis on culture is properly strong throughout. This is above all an admirable cultural history of early Greece, from the pre-polis world of the Mycenaean Bronze Age through the early or proto-polis world of Homer and Hesiod down to the early 5th century bce, although it is also a discontinuous history since “There is no road that leads from Mycenaean to polis-based culture” (49, unnumbered). Hence the major emphasis is placed on trying to understand and to assess the world-historical significance of the emergence of precisely that uniquely innovative and influential social-political formation. Given the available sources of evidence, the exercise of reconstruction necessitates a very great deal of informed empathetic speculation—but fortunately this is something at which Professor Meier excels.

So too does he address the dominant “Greece and its debt to the Orient” problematic with great adroitness. On the one hand, “The Greeks obviously pored over the narrative treasures of the Orient, appropriating elements at will”; on the other hand, “no matter what individuals may have dreamt of, or even tried to achieve, very little of it could become reality in the world of the Greek poleis” (both quotations from 71); thus the “influence of the Orient on Greece was less a matter of imitation than inspiration” (73). That seems to me to get the balance just right, and if there is one quality that pervades the book as whole it is precisely balance, what the Greeks might have called, in great praise, harmonia or summetria. I echo that laudation.

Latin Today

Tip o’ the pileus to Joseph Yarbrough for alerting us to this item in the Gyrene Gazette:

“Salvus sīs!” says your classmate, walking into the room.

You smile as you respond, “Salvē! Ut valēs?”

“Bene. Et tū?”

“Nōn male.” Soon, the room is sparkling with foreign chatter—before the professors have even arrived. Sermo Latinus Hodiernus has begun.

Latin Conversation Today, as the class is known to English speakers, is a living challenge to the assumption that the language of Caesar and Augustine is dead and gone. Every Friday, members meet under the instruction of Dr. Ritter and Dr. Yarborough for an hour of linguistic gymnastics that includes everything from telling time to describing objects—all conducted in Latin.

In the past, AMU students have gathered informally for the same purpose, but this is the first year the school is offering the course for credit.

Latin Today is not what Dr. Ritter would call a “typical” language class. By getting an inside look at the mechanisms of the language, students are able to step outside the normal pattern of learning and see Latin as more than a two-dimensional puzzle.

The course is geared toward taking the passivity out of studying Latin and turning it into an active experience through immersion and a diversity of exercises—in the words of Dr. Ritter, “doing Latin without really realizing you’re doing Latin.”

“It’s very hard to say, ‘What does it mean?’ at the end of the day,” Dr. Ritter says about straightforward memorization and translation. His goal is to “take a Latin class and do something a little bit more.”

Still, the class is more than a cryogenic experiment. Up until the nineteenth century, Latin pervaded everyday communication; indeed, for medieval Europe, it was a way of life. A working knowledge of the language, then, provides an inlet to philosophical, theological, and even historical goldmines. In order to cultivate an appreciation for classical writers, Dr. Ritter hopes to eventually have his students working with ancient texts, such as Genesis, the Gospel of John, and St. Augustine. He agrees with Pope John XXIII, who saw Latin as that link between past and future which allows us to read into other cultures and prevents ideas from growing stale. Dr. Ritter himself objects to the view of Latin as a “dead language” when it continues to enrich so many lives. “It would be naïve to sell it short in that way,” he says.

But let’s not forget the element of fun involved: namely, what Dr. Ritter calls “the joy of naming”—the rush of life that accompanies learning, for the first time, how to express oneself in a new language.

“It’s that delight of ‘I’ve found something,’” he says, experienced only when you learn how to say “window” as Aquinas might have, or the connection you make when you realize that Romans furrowed their brows when we ourselves frown.

Dr. Ritter recalls how “shocked” he was the first time he heard anyone speaking Latin for any length of time. But he acknowledges the sense of accomplishment that comes with “passing on with great ease what you learned with great difficulty.” It Dr. Ritter’s hope to imbue his pupils with this skill.

While the Latin language certainly wasn’t born yesterday, one thing remains certain: at Ave Maria, students and faculty continue to show that Latin today is very much alive.

For more inforamation about Latinus Hodiernus and the Classics and Early Christian Literature department of Ave Maria University, please visit their web page:

via: Dead or Alive? They Say Alive (Gyrene Gazette)