CJ Online Review: Green and Volk, Forgotten Stars

posted with permission:

Forgotten Stars: Rediscovering Manilius’ Astronomica. Edited by Steven J. Green and Katharina Volk. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. xix + 342. Hardcover, £79.00/$150.00. ISBN 978-0-19-958646-2.

Reviewed by T. H. M. Gellar-Goad, Wake Forest University

(Table of contents available at http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/ acprof:oso/9780199586462.001.0001/acprof-9780199586462)

The late-Augustan didactic poet Manilius has largely been eclipsed in the passions of Anglophone classicists by his predecessors Lucretius and Vergil. This enlightening volume—a fusion of philosophical, epistemological, literary-critical, and reception-studies approaches—endeavors to correct course by gathering some of the luminaries of Latin poetry to put Manilius’ Astronomica under the telescope. From my vantage point: mission accomplished.

Space here allows only a brief flyby of the 17 contributions to this rich constellation of Manilian scholarship, while homing in on a few of the work’s brightest stars. Katharina Volk’s introduction gives a structured, thematic overview of prior scholarship, keyed to the current essays, while Elaine Fantham provides a perfunctory précis of Roman thoughts about celestial phenomena. Thomas Habinek, in a dense but worthwhile chapter, sets Astronomica up as evidence for diachronic change in Stoic physical theories, against the scholarly conventional wisdom of a static Stoic physics. Daryn Lehoux starts strong, discussing Manilius’ embrace of scientific and mythological explanations simultaneously (he’s a Stoic “consciously writing allegory,” 50) as an exemplar of ancient discourses of knowledge, but her conclusion is rather nebulous.

John Henderson, presenting Manilius in control of both material and poetics, undertakes a stellar m(i/a)croanalysis of a problematic early passage (1.215–46). No gravity here: all fun and eccentricity, showing systematic linkages between Manilian words and “worldview,” Hender.’s jargon playing up the artistic value of Manilius’. Discontinuity isn’t proof of failure in Manilius’ imagery—it is his imagery. Hend., as only He. can, blasts off on a journey t(hr)o(ugh) the cosmos, where we voyagers can observe new horizons of Maniliness and Manilian curiosity.

Wolfgang-Rainer Mann, on the same wavelength but a different trajectory, offers two instances (both focused on the didact’s implied student) where repositioning a supposed Manilian “contradiction” within the mindset of a sophisticated but non-expert Stoic resolves the issue. Mann and Henderson diverge from Volk, who sees Manilius’ contradictions as “the unintentional … by-product” of his using traditional discourses and metaphors (107)—like Lucretius, but on accident. Volk constructs a useful typology of Manilius’ inconsistencies and suggests that Roman readers may not have experienced them as such. But her argument is essentially that Manilius isn’t in control of his text—and while skirting the black hole of authorial intent, I’d say that such assessments seem inconsistent with this volume’s overarching spin on Manilius as a poet equal to his (Augustan) age.

Stephen Green’s sociopolitical reading of Manilius’ didaxis strikes me as the book’s zenith, its most provocative, innovative chapter. Green—reading, frankly, from his own subject-position—argues that Manilius deliberately constructs a lesson doomed to fail, a didactic addressee prone to despair and resistance. Why? “[T]o ensure that astrology remains an … ultimately inaccessible craft” (135), thus unthreatening to the Emperor. This resolution of the failure of Manilian didaxis is better than merely attributing it to poetic/authorial inadequacy, but I’m not yet persuaded that didactic failure equals “a subtle form of imperial propaganda” (138). Missing from Green’s argument: the “Mega nepios” anthology (MD 31) focused on the addressee in didactic, particularly Mitsis on the rocky relationship between the Lucretian didact and his addressee Memmius.

Wolfgang Hübner’s imagery study shows that Manilius’ carmen and res are very closely related—figura is both a stylistic device and an astronomical entity. Duncan Kennedy, like Lehoux, uses Astronomica as an instance of competing narratives in science historiography. He furthermore identifies Manilius’ thematic interest in “the power of mathematical ratio to realize Rome’s faltering imperial fantasy” (186). Patrick Glauthier’s well-executed word study shows Manilius depicting his poetry as the stars’ remuneration for their services (viz., influence on earthly affairs).

Monica Gale argues persuasively that formal set-piece digressions (e.g.: the Myth of Ages) become a characteristic feature of didactic in which any predecessor, not only the most recent, is (by “accretion,” 206) a valid intertext. Manilius’ “anthropology” inverts Hesiod, Lucretius, and Georgics while contrasting with Aratus; his plague and war scenes in late Book 1 invert Lucretius and extend Georgics; his version of the seasons links Roman imperium with stellar influence. All three digressions are, for Gale, markedly pro-Augustan. Josèphe-Henriette Abry (whose essay was posthumously revised by Green) sees Manilius’ Milky Way, digression on the lengths of days, and description of the inhabited world as modeled on or in dialogue with (respectively) the Forum Augustum, the Horologium, and the “Map” of Agrippa, all in an exhibition of ancestral virtue, worldly power, and imperium sine fine. In other words: cosmos reflects Roman empire. James Uden presents Manilius’ anomalously unerotic Andromeda epyllion as a “‘figurative space’, where themes and motifs from the poem can be explored and recombined in new, metaphorical forms” (236).

Enrico Flores, the first of a small-but-super cluster on the reception of Manilius, uses allusions to Astronomica in Claudian’s In Rufinum as evidence that Manilius was writing about Augustus while Augustus yet lived. Manilian verses praising Augustus serve as a fitting intertext for Claudian’s praise of the Augustus Honorius. Caroline Stark explores how Lorenzo Bonincontri and Giovanni Pontano use Manilius’ “anthropology” and epistemological views in reconciling deterministic astrology with Christian free-will doctrine. Stephan Heilen investigates Bonincontri’s modification of Manilius to make comets, though ill-omened, nevertheless a possible agent of positive moral change (by scaring people into better behavior). Heilen also produces a partial edition of Bonincontri’s commentary on his own De Rebus Naturalibus et Divinis.

All told, Forgotten Stars is an admirable collection that opens fruitful new pathways for inquiry into Manilius’ Astronomica. This book—like Manilius himself!—is required reading for scholars of ancient philosophy, didactic poetry, and Augustan literature.

Catching Up With the Jordan Codices

I’ve almost got my inbox to zero and finally have a chance to give attention to some things that are a few weeks old. Back at the end of November, the BBC was hyping an exposeish show about David Elkington:

Questions have been raised over the claims of a self-styled archaeologist who is arguing that a set of supposedly ancient Christian books is genuine.

David Elkington, from Gloucestershire, has raised tens of thousands of pounds to support his work proving the authenticity of the Jordan Codices.

A BBC investigation found that academics have cast doubt on Mr Elkington’s claims the codices date back to the 1st Century AD.

Mr Elkington insists the codices are genuine and he will pay back any loans he has received.

Among his backers was Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia, who funded his work and trips to the Middle East.

Film planned

She now believes the codices are not authentic and has asked for the return of her funding.

Mr Elkington’s companies have also received thousands of pounds from investors over the years for a film project, which he says is now on hold.

He now plans to release a book about the codices, called Divine Revelation, and to produce a film based on it. He has also tried to raise sponsorship in America.

Mr Elkington, 50, claims to have previously published a “highly-acclaimed academic thesis” and to have trained under a curator of the Petrie Museum in London.

His book was a self-published work and the woman he trained under was never the curator of the Petrie museum.

He says he has a team of international experts working on the codices but was only prepared to offer the names of two academics currently advising him. They declined to comment.

The codices were found in Jordan but are currently held in Israel.

The Israel Antiquities Authority has examined some of the codices and a spokesman said: “They were shown to experts on the period; all the experts absolutely doubted their authenticity.”

The Jordanian government has yet to make an official announcement.

However, Dr Peter Thonemann, a lecturer in ancient history at Oxford University, said: “I’m as certain as it is possible to be that this entire body of codices are modern fakes. I would stake my academic reputation on it.”


Robert Feather, an author who has also seen the collection, is also sceptical about Mr Elkington’s claims the codices are ancient Christian texts.

He said: “While David Elkington continues to push the idea that these are incredibly important early Christian documents then speculation will be rife and the story will go on and on.”

In a statement, Mr Elkington and his wife said: “We acknowledge a small personal debt owed to (Princess) Elizabeth, which has never been disputed and will be paid back in full.

“David has never claimed to have had any formal qualifications and has been largely self-taught and has worked as an independent scholar. He has always been upfront about this.”

… since that time, the segment of the program (Inside Out West) has made it to Youtube and is definitely worth watching if you’ve been following this story:

In case that gets taken down, here’s the skinny/random notes I scrawled down as I watched:

  • Elkington is referred to as “Gloucester’s own Indiana Jones” … the IJ epithet increasingly seems to mark out folks making outlandish claims
  • Robert Feather and Elkington have had a “falling out” over how the codices were to be “exploited”
  • Feather shows a couple of the codices of the 70 or so he’s seen; he doubts the authenticity of these two in particular
  • Peter Thonemann is willing to stake his reputation that all of them are fakes
  • Apparently Elkington accepted that verdict, but thought that others were genuine
  • Elkington is clinging to the claim that the lead is old and has a team of experts
  • Philip Davis of Sheffield declined to be interviewed
  • Margaret Barker would only take part if she wasn’t edited in any way; the BBC declined
  • then we get all the ‘death threats’ etc., that was part of the story ages ago
  • Elkington was trying to raise money to get things moving
  • Nice segment questioning Elkington’s self-claimed credentials
  • Elkington’s “estranged son from a former marriage” comments on his father’s predeliction for story-telling and the sensationalization of the whole story
  • Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia apparently has lent Elkington “tens of thousands of pounds”, but now has had a falling out as well
  • Elkington declined to appear on camera but issued a statement which attempts to explain some of the discrepancies (not very well)

In other words, Elkington’s credibility seems to be completely and totally shot at this point. We should also point out that just prior to the airing of this program, a pile of photos and posts were taken down from the Jordan Codices facebook page (which undoubtedly was/is an Elkington production).

… and just to ‘catch up’ a bit more, here’s some bloggery worth reading:

JOB: Classics and Humanities Librarian, Penn State University

seen on various lists:

*Tombros Librarian for Classics and Humanities*
The Pennsylvania State University Libraries

The Pennsylvania State University Libraries seek an outstanding librarian to hold the endowed faculty position of Tombros Librarian for Classics and Humanities in the George and Sherry Middlemas Arts and Humanities Library on the University Park campus.


The Tombros Librarian for Classics and Humanities serves as a liaison subject specialist for Ancient History, Classics, Ancient Mediterranean Studies, Jewish Studies, and Religious Studies and possibly other humanities disciplines by developing and managing excellent collections, providing research consultation and reference services to those studying these disciplines , providing an engaging information literacy program, participating in scholarly communication initiatives, and actively collaborating in outreach initiatives with collegiate faculty in these disciplines. The successful candidate will engage in research and scholarly publishing, demonstrate leadership at the national/international level in professional or disciplinary associations, participate actively in local, national, and international digital humanities initiatives, and collaborate effectively with colleagues in the Arts and Humanities Library and throughout the Libraries. As a senior faculty member, the appointee will provide leadership for library and university-wide initiatives. Occasional teaching of credit-bearing courses is an option. This position reports to the Head of the George and Sherry Middlemas Arts and Humanities Library.

As an endowed faculty position, the Tombros librarianship provides ample support for programs, collection development, travel, and research. The University Libraries have extensive holdings in all areas of classical studies in general and ancient Greek civilization in particular. Because of the George P. Tombros Ancient Greek Collection, Penn State has developed a world-class collection of primary texts in ancient Greek. Other gifts, including the Tombros Libraries Endowment in Classics, support classical studies in general.

Required Qualifications:

Master of Library Science degree from an ALA-accredited institution or an advanced degree in a relevant discipline; record of significant contributions in collection development and research services at an academic or research library; proficiency in Latin; substantial academic background in classical literature, history, or related disciplines; knowledge of current trends and methodologies in humanities research and scholarly communications; interest in digital humanities initiatives; excellent written, oral, and leadership skills; evidence of an established reputation in scholarly achievement; strong record of service; a desire to work in a collaborative, student-centered environment.

Preferred qualifications:

Additional advanced degree in one of the relevant disciplines. Knowledge of Greek, Hebrew, or other language relating to Classics Experience participating in digital humanities initiatives.


Penn State, a land-grant institution, is a member of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), a consortium of the Big Ten universities plus the University of Chicago. The Penn State University Libraries are a strategic asset to Penn State, advancing intellectual discovery, information literacy, and lifelong learning, all in support of the University’s strategic goals in teaching, research, service, and outreach. Based on current Association for Research Libraries investment rankings, The Pennsylvania State University Libraries are ranked among the top ten research libraries in North America. A student survey completed in 2010 found overall student satisfaction with the University Libraries to be at the top of its category. Collections exceed 5.8 million volumes and include more than 102,000 current serial subscriptions. The University Libraries are located at University Park and 22 other locations throughout Pennsylvania, and they serve approximately 6,000 faculty and 45,000 students at University Park, and more than 96,000 students system-wide including 12,000 students enrolled in the World Campus, the online campus of Penn State.

The University Park campus is set in the State College metropolitan area, a university town located in central Pennsylvania. State College offers a vibrant community with outstanding recreational facilities, a low crime rate, and excellent public schools. The campus is within a half-day drive to Washington D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, or Pittsburgh. The University Park Airport is served by three major carriers with flights to Washington, Philadelphia, and Detroit. For more information, please visit http://www.libraries.psu.edu and http://www.cbicc.org.

Appointment and benefits:

This is a tenure-track faculty position. Based upon the University and Libraries’ standards in librarianship, research, service, and outreach, it is anticipated that the successful candidate will be appointed at the rank of Librarian with tenure. Salary will be commensurate with qualifications and experience. Fringe benefits include liberal vacation, excellent insurance and health care coverage, state or TIAA/CREF retirement options, and educational privileges.

Application Instructions:

Send a letter of application or nomination, resumé, and the names and contact information of three professional references to Search Committee, The Pennsylvania State University, Box TCL-CLL, 511 Paterno Library, University Park, PA 16802. Applications and nominations may also be sent to lap225 AT psu.edu. Please reference Box TCL-CLL in the email subject line. Review of candidates will begin on January 29, 2013 and continue until the position is filled. Employment will require successful completion of background check(s) in accordance with University policies.

Penn State is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workforce.

CFP: Beyond Words: Translation and the Classical World

[deadline extended]

APA Link:

Beyond Words: Translation and the Classical World
Friday, March 8th, 2013
The Graduate Center of the City University of New York
Keynote address: Emily Wilson, University of Pennsylvania

Translation played an important role in the ancient Mediterranean, with its
lively interaction of cultures and languages, and translated texts have
long been fundamental to the continuing influence of Greece and Rome.
Careful consideration of translation in theory and practice is thus
essential for an understanding not only of the past but also of our
relationship to it as scholars and readers. Moreover, as new generations of
classicists are trained, the place of translation in the pedagogy of
ancient Greek and Latin is a pressing question, as teachers weigh the
benefits and pitfalls of translation in the classroom and consider
pedagogical strategies that offer alternatives to translation.

We invite papers that investigate a range of issues surrounding translation
and the ancient Mediterranean. Since our definition of translation is broad
and inclusive — we are not limiting ourselves to words and texts — we
also welcome papers that discuss translations across media, such as Roman
“copies” of Greek statues. Abstracts can, but need not, belong to the
following categories:

Translation in the ancient Mediterranean
Translation and the reception of classical cultures
Translation and the pedagogy of ancient Greek and Latin
Translation theory and classical studies

We welcome submissions from graduate students representing various
disciplines, including classics, comparative literature, linguistics,
history, art history, archeology, religion, philosophy and education. We
ask that you submit an anonymous abstract of no more than 300 words as an
attachment to cunytranslation AT gmail.com by December 31st, 2012. Please
include in the body of your email your name and university affiliation as
well as your phone number and the email address at which you can best be
reached. Notifications will be sent out by January 20th, 2013. Questions may
be addressed to conference chairs Tim Hanford and Scott Weiss at
cunytranslation AT gmail.com.

CFP: Hermes/Mercury Conference March 2014

Seen on the Classicists list:

Tracking Hermes/Mercury: An interdisciplinary conference at the University of Virginia, March 27–29,

Keynote speakers: Henk Versnel (Leiden), H. Alan Shapiro (Johns Hopkins), Joseph Farrell (Penn), and
Deborah Boedeker (Brown).

Of all the divinities of classical antiquity, the Greek Hermes (= Roman Mercury) is the most versatile,
complex, and ambiguous. His functions embrace both the marking of boundaries and their
transgression, commerce and theft, rhetoric and practical jokes; he also plays the role of mediator
between all realms of human and divine activity, embracing heaven, earth and the netherworld.

This conference at the University of Virginia aims to bring together scholars of Greek and Roman
religion, art, literature, and history to assess this wide-ranging figure. We hope also to include
attention to early reception of the god and his myths outside of Greece and Rome proper—for
instance, Hermes as the Egyptian Thoth, the worship of Mercury in syncretistic forms in Rome’s
imperial provinces, and allegorical interpretations of the god in late ancient and early medieval

If you are interested in presenting a paper (20 minutes), please send an abstract of approximately
500 words by February 1, 2013.

Abstracts or requests for information may be sent to one of the organizers:

John F. Miller (jfm4j AT virginia.edu)
Jenny Strauss Clay (jsc2t AT virginia.edu)

It is our hope to furnish lodging and meals for all presenters at the conference.