Poussin’s Hannibal Coming to Auction

This one’s interesting inasmuch as I’ve never seen this work before. The intro to a piece in Lebananon’s Daily Star:

Auction house Christie’s will offer an unconventional painting by French classical artist Nicolas Poussin, depicting Carthaginian general Hannibal astride an elephant, in July, expecting it to fetch 3-5 million pounds ($4.5-7.5 million). The early work is not considered one of the artist’s best and was little known until it appeared in public at an exhibition in Rouen in northern France in 1961.

But the auction house is hoping that its provenance – the painting was originally in the collection of Poussin’s greatest patron in Rome, scholar Cassiano dal Pozzo – will help boost interest when it goes under the hammer in London July 2.

“It was painted right after he arrived in Rome and he obviously developed as his career progressed,” said Georgina Wilsenach, head of old master and British paintings at Christie’s.

“I don’t think that takes away its appeal,” she added. “It is quite unusual. In terms of [Poussin] works coming up for auction, I think that most are religious paintings or mythological subjects.”

The canvas, dating from the mid-1620s and measuring around 1 by 1.35 meters, depicts Hannibal on an elephant leading his troops on the fabled journey from Iberia into northern Italy via the Alps to attack Roman forces in the Second Punic War. […]

And since it’s so unusual (I’ll bet most of you have never seen it either):

via the Daily Star

Very unPoussinish … clearly an early work.


CJ Online Review: Frakes, Compiling the Collatio

posted with permission:

Compiling the Collatio Legum Mosaicarum et Romanarum in Late Antiquity. By Robert M. Frakes. Oxford Studies in Roman Society and Law. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. xiv + 368. Hardcover, £80.00/$150.00. ISBN 978-0-19-958940-1.

Reviewed by Shaun Tougher, Cardiff University

This book turns a spotlight on a mysterious late antique text. Known also as the Lex Dei quam praecipit Dominus ad Moysen (its original title is lost) this text compares ordinances from the Hebrew Bible (all associated with Moses) with Roman law and legal opinion. It is organized under 16 titles: 1. Assassins and Murderers; 2. Severe Injury; 3. The Law and Cruelty of Masters; 4. Adultery; 5. Those Engaged in Illicit Sexual Intercourse; 6. Incestuous Marriages; 7. Thieves and their Punishment; 8. False Testimony; 9. Not Admitting the Testimony of Family Members; 10. Deposit; 11. Cattle Rustlers; 12. Arsonists; 13. A Moved Boundary Marker; 14. Kidnappers; 15. Astrologers, Sorcerers, and Manichees (De Mathematicis, Maleficis et Manichaeis); and 16. Legitimate Succession. The book marks the culmination of Robert Frakes’ study of the text and is designed to be accessible (it is aimed at both specialists and non-specialists). The book is divided in two parts, the first discussing the Collator and his text, the second providing an edition, translation and commentary. The edition is based largely on that of Mommsen, and the English translation is “the first one in nearly a hundred years.” The book is also supported by four Tables, Bibliography and Indices.

After a brief Introduction, Part I provides a series of chapters about the Collator and his text. Chapter 1 places the Collator in his historical context, tracking the Roman empire from Diocletian to Theodosius I and emphasizing political, legal and religious developments. This is for the benefit of the non-specialist in particular; specialists will probably want to jump to Chapter 2 which considers the date of the work. Frakes favours 392–395, the end of the reign of Theodosius I, who he argues is seen by the Collator as the “sole powerful legitimate ruler.” Chapter 3 addresses the sources of the Collator. These comprised the five major jurists (Paulus, Ulpian, Modestinus, Papinian and Gaius), law codes (the Codex Gregorianus and the Codex Hermogenianus), and (rarely) contemporary laws (one of two is a constitution of 390 concerning homosexual prostitution which was posted in Rome in the atrium of the temple of Minerva). As for the Collator’s Bible, it seems he used a version of the Old Latin Bible. Chapter 4 turns to the Collator’s method, setting out to show that this is more systematic than has been thought. While it has been recognized that the text owes something to the Ten Commandments (namely Commandments 6-10: 6. You shall not murder; 7. You shall not commit adultery; 8. You shall not steal; 9. You shall not bear false witness; 10. You shall not covet) Frakes argues that the apparently anomalous titles 15 and 16 (the inclusion of the Manicheans being the most problematic element to accommodate) also fit with the Ten Commandments theory, falling under the 10th Commandment. This chapter is also concerned with the Collator’s working practices; emphasized are his editing of Biblical passages “to exaggerate the similarity between biblical law and Roman law,” and his tendency to use runs of quotations. The chapter ends somewhat prosaically with reflections on how the Collator physically conducted his work (did he use tables to lay his books on?). More urgent and central is Chapter 5 which ponders the identity and purpose of the Collator, and no doubt many will turn to this chapter first. As the text contains no stated purpose there has been much academic debate about the author and his aims. It is argued that he was a Christian lawyer of middling social status, probably living in the western half of the Roman empire, possibly in Italy, maybe in Rome itself (Frakes spends much time rejecting the notion that the author was a Jew). It is also argued that the author was writing for other jurists and legal experts, in particular pagans. Fundamental for Frakes is that the Collator “is attempting to show pagan jurists that his religion … has intrinsic worth in that such laws anticipated similar legislation of the Romans.” For him the text has an apologetic purpose, and is revealing of “middle level” views rather than the elite views which dominate so much of our thinking about religion in the fourth century. Frakes does recognize that his argument “stands against current scholarly opinion” but still considers it “the most likely probability” that “a Christian collator attempted to draw pagan lawyers to Christianity through demonstrating the connections between the divine laws of Moses and the historic jurisprudence of the Romans.”

Overall this book is to be greatly welcomed. It provides an admirably accessible and useful guide, edition and translation of a fascinating if enigmatic late antique text. It provides an intriguing window on to late Roman law and religion. The picture of a “non-elite” fourth century Christian lawyer with a particular interest in sexual deviance is an arresting one. Whether its arguments (particularly its central thesis regarding the purpose of the text) convince remains to be seen. Points can be debated and questions remain. It is not clear to me why a pagan audience should be considered the sole target, or why they might be convinced by it. The text itself seems too matter of fact to have an apologetic purpose, and it does not attempt to conceal all differences. It seems more utilitarian, no doubt part of the explanation of its survival. Nevertheless, in the ongoing debates about this mysterious text this book will have a central place.

Mary Beard at Town Hall

From the New York Review of Books:

On February 5, The New York Review celebrated its 50th anniversary at Town Hall in New York City. In this recording from the event, Mary Beard discusses the Review’s coverage of the classics from its first issue through to the present day, and the “inextricable embeddedness of the classical tradition within Western culture.”

The audio is here:

Ancient Applause

Interesting feature in the Atlantic on the origins of applause … plenty of Classics fodder in this one. Here’s a bit in medias res as a bit of a tease:

[…] As theater and politics merged — particularly as the Roman Republic gave way to the Roman Empire — applause became a way for leaders to interact directly (and also, of course, completely indirectly) with their citizens. One of the chief methods politicians used to evaluate their standing with the people was by gauging the greetings they got when they entered the arena. (Cicero’s letters seem to take for granted the fact that “the feelings of the Roman people are best shown in the theater.”) Leaders became astute human applause-o-meters, reading the volume — and the speed, and the rhythm, and the length — of the crowd’s claps for clues about their political fortunes.

“You can almost think of this as an ancient poll,” says Greg Aldrete, a professor of history and humanistic studies at the University of Wisconsin, and the author of Gestures and Acclamations in Ancient Rome. “This is how you gauge the people. This is how you poll their feelings.” Before telephones allowed for Gallup-style surveys, before SMS allowed for real-time voting, before the Web allowed for “buy” buttons and cookies, Roman leaders were gathering data about people by listening to their applause. And they were, being humans and politicians at the same time, comparing their results to other people’s polls — to the applause inspired by their fellow performers. After an actor received more favorable plaudits than he did, the emperor Caligula (while clutching, it’s nice to imagine, his sword) remarked, “I wish that the Roman people had one neck.”

Caligula was neither the first nor the last politician to find himself on the business end of an opinion poll — just as Shakespeare was neither first nor last to see the world and its doings as an ongoing performance. In Rome, as in the republics that would attempt to replicate it, theater was politics, and vice versa. There, “even being a ruler is being an actor,” Aldrete points out. “And what he’s trying to gain is the approval of the audience.” The dying words of Augustus, the legend goes, were these: “If I’ve played my part well, then clap your hands, and dismiss me from the stage with applause.”

So savvy politicians of the ancient world relied on the same thing savvy politicians of the less-ancient often do: oppo research. Cicero, the ur-politico, would send friends of his to loiter around the theater, taking notes to see what kind of greeting each politician got when he entered the arena — the better to see who was beloved by the people, and who was not. And his human clap-o-meters had a lot of information to assess. “Ancient crowds tended to be more interactive than they are today,” Aldrete points out. “There was a lot of back and forth between speakers and crowds. And particularly in the Greco-Roman world, crowds — especially in cities — were really good at communicating messages through rhythmic clapping, sometimes coupled with shouts.” The coding was, he says, “a pretty sophisticated thing.” […]

Folks who want to see the major effect applause had in various Roman situations might want to check out Csapo and Slater, The Context of Ancient Drama and/or David Potter’s paper in Slater (ed.), Roman Theatre and Society … keywords there and elsewhere would be claqueurs and/or fautores. [the latter volume was ‘assistant edited’ by yours truly]