CJ-Online Review ~ Latin of New Spain

Latin of New Spain. By Rose Williams. Mundelein, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishing, 2015. Pp. xx + 280. Paper, $19.00. ISBN 978-0-86516-833-6.


Reviewed by Tom Garvey, The Meadows School


Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of extant Latin derives from later than, and not infrequently from places geographically outside, the historical core of the Roman Empire, the study of Latin is far too often confined to works from authors on a narrow list of canonical classical authors. Williams seeks to combat this trend by making available a well-rounded selection of Latin written about, and even sometimes in, the territories comprising a more recent empire, namely New Spain.

Three genres are represented in the volume: Erasmian prose (with selections from Jesuit José de Acosta, Columbus, and Cortés); epic poetry (Jesuit Rafael Landívar and Francisco José Cabrera); and dialogue (Francisco Cervantes de Salazar). Supplementary materials include a map of Columbus’s voyages, 36 generally well-chosen illustrations, and five separate appendices. Appendix 1 is comprised of 15 pages of background notes on significant persons, places, and terms ranging from Aristotle to Lactantius to Lake Texcoco. Appendix 2 is a historical timeline including what the author considers benchmark dates and events in both Europe and the Americas germane to the texts included in the volume. Especially helpful, appendix 3 provides concise definitions of 24 common figures of speech encountered in the text’s selections. Appendix 4 (on rhythm and meter in poetry) expands, perhaps unnecessarily, beyond the scope of what is immediately useful to the actual selections in the text, which are exclusively dactylic hexameter. Appendix 5 is a master list of Latin neologisms coined by the primary authors. There are also a 34-page Latin-to-English glossary and a short bibliography.

Each set of selections is prefaced by a biography of its author, and each individual Latin selection preceded by an introductory paragraph designed to provide the context necessary to allow the reader to dive directly into the text. Separate sections with vocabulary, neologisms, grammar and word use questions, comprehension questions, and poetry questions (for the verse selections) follow the Latin text, though not every Latin selection contains all of these. The introductory paragraphs and the Latin text always begin on the left-side page, but there seems to be precious little uniformity of formatting beyond that. When the text is longer than would fit on a single page, it sometimes continues on the facing right-side page, but sometimes picks up again on the next left-side page, with vocabulary for the first page of text facing it on the right instead. For shorter selections, the vocabulary can even begin on the selfsame page as the Latin text itself, though apparently not in order to maximize efficient use of space. (There are countless large blank spots throughout the edition.)

Unfortunately, predicting where exactly it will be relative to the Latin text is the least problematic aspect of the vocabulary section. As is true also (and perhaps most especially) of the ‘Grammar and Word Use Questions,’ the vocabulary section evinces a less-than-clear/-unified picture of the entire edition’s target audience (supposedly an intermediate reader, if the introduction is to be trusted). The words chosen for glossing beside/below the text don’t seem to have been chosen by any set of established criteria, but rather at the whimsy of the author. Very often, individual vocabulary sections will simultaneously contain one or more words that no intermediate reader should need, while conversely omitting many others that they are unlikely to know (quam and ut are glossed, e.g., but not improbare meaning “disprove” [22-23]; pater but not egregius [36-37]; eo and indigenus, but not vehemens [45]; praeeo and vinculum, but not ostrum or crista [52-53]; factum and foveo, but not vexare meaning “inspire” or the “indeclinable” frugi [58-59]; etc.).

And while most words used in the Latin text can be found in the master glossary at the back, several words (such as advento [67] and partio [82]) cannot be found there either. And while not often, occasionally a vocabulary word will be placed in the section before or after the one it belongs in (as with fluito [91]). I also noticed that an archaic dat./abl. ending in quercubus [91] was misconstrued as a nominative singular (despite being contextually impossible) and granted its very own dictionary entry as a 2nd-declension noun. More generally frustrating, the system of dots used to separate stems from endings is often misleading, representing not actual stems, but simply the point in the word up to which all forms are spelled identically (as tru·x -cis [67]). Questionable also is the choice to gloss a single case of a word rather than its standard dictionary entry, as with the genitive uniuscuiusque [passim]. Several of these choices seem to overlook, if not outright prevent, opportunities for learning.

Perhaps the single biggest frustration this reviewer found was with the lack of grammatical help/notes. While still somewhat useful, the ‘Grammar and Word Use Questions’ section often feels like a “now find this,” hunt-and-peck scavenger hunt. Many questions are asked, obviously, but without the direct guidance/oversight of a teacher, many (if not most) intermediate students will feel lost without confirmation that their answers are or aren’t right. Of much more use would be (even very short) explanations of exactly what is happening syntactically. Not all intermediate students will be able to follow the leading questions to the logical conclusions to which the author seeks to guide them. And to be completely honest, sometimes there aren’t even leading questions when you want them. Several constructions (especially the ones idiosyncratic to later Latin) for which there is little-to-no specific help will be outside even the more advanced high-school student’s ken. In brief, the bar is simply set too high for the alleged target audience.

In the end, Latin of New Spain’s major contribution to the field-and this is not to be underestimated-will be the access it grants large audiences to various texts that would most likely otherwise remain inaccessible. While this reviewer would hesitate to recommend the edition to students wanting to hack through the texts on their own, any teacher willing to put together a not-insignificant “grammatical notes” section will find herein a solid skeleton upon which to flesh them out.

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#classicaltwitter ~ March 26, 2017






CJ-Online Review ~ The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Greek Religion

The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Greek Religion. Edited by Esther Eidinow and Juilia Kindt. Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. xxii + 708. Hardcover, $150.00. ISBN 978-0-19-964203-8.

Reviewed by Corey Hackworth, The University of Iowa

This handbook contains 43 chapters, each a free-standing piece of scholarship, accompanied by its own brief bibliography. They range widely in topic, demonstrating the multi-faceted nature of the study of ancient Greek religion. Staples such as sacrifice and myth are discussed, but the diverse and interesting subject matter also includes areas such as papyrology, hero cult, healing, and the influences of the ancient Near East.  The overall quality of the chapters is quite high, striking a balance between accessibility and the necessary level of detail required to explore the ‘problems’ in each sub-field (e.g. the hazards of relying on etymology as genealogy when discussing the origins of the gods).

Most, but not all, chapters offer a concise history of scholarship and theory in each sub-field, with significant works of scholarship foregrounded for the reader. This discussion often includes a considered critique of prior methods/assumptions, culminating in an expressed need for future work using new approaches. Knowledge and critique of earlier scholarship is of utmost importance, as the contemporary state of the field is one of reaction:challenging the centrality of sacrifice, reconsidering the largely artificial category of lex sacra, and re-examining the lines drawn between prayer, cursing, and magic. It has become trendy (but also quite necessary) to wonder if Greek and Religion are the right words to be using at all.

Chapters typically include several brief illustrative case-studies, demonstrating the sort of work that is currently being done by outstanding scholars in their respective areas of interest; in these sections, readers are exposed to a rich trove of materials that have often lain neglected (e.g. Hellenistic cult in Bactria, India, and the Bosporos). The best chapters provide an excellent summative document that would serve well as a starting point on any given topic, provided that the reader is willing also to familiarize themselves with fundamental works-both those that established/represent the dominant critical theories, as well as any Greek primary sources and materials under discussion. Herein, I think, lies the greatest weakness (likely unavoidable) of this handbook, and indeed any handbook-there is no room for this material, and the reader must supplement to a degree dependent upon his or her prior expertise.

It might be helpful to think of each chapter as a sort of pro-seminar on a given topic. The value of the handbook lies here, in that it offers a fantastic resource for anyone needing to teach a graduate course on Greek Religion, or to bring their personal knowledge of the field up to date. Many university libraries will have access to Oxford’s online collection of handbooks, allowing for easy class assignment of specific content. Specialists will find themselves familiar with much of what they read-but the sheer breadth of content and diversity of approaches will surely bring awareness of new materials and suggest innovative theoretical models (e.g. the use of network theory to describe the dissemination and transfer of new cult).

On a more theoretical note, the chapters are grouped into nine roughly delineated sections: “What is Ancient Greek Religion?” “Types of Evidence,” “Myths? Context and Representations,” “Where?” “How?” “Who?” “When?” and “Beyond?” Question marks have been appended to most sections, adroitly reminding the reader that much of scholarship is an act of interpretation-a search for answers and explanations. We should begin by querying our questions, seeing as the nature and character of our search has significant impact upon our findings. It is noteworthy that the single section devoted to evidence, both textual and material, lacks this gesture, and the section on myth signals an intrinsic degree of ambiguity as to its nature. Much of the scholarship in this handbook calls for a questioning of our interpretive practices and assumptions, responding to issues raised and explored in Kindt’s recent and important work, Rethinking Greek Religion,[1] et alia. There is concern that the grand theories for ‘explaining’ ancient Greek Religion have been too successful for their own good. The Introduction and first set of chapters directly engages with this matter.

Models do us the service of helping to interpret the data we observe, but they run the risk of pre-determining which data we choose (or are able) to see. They certainly shape our conclusions. When we move from description to explanation, we need models, but we must refrain from allowing them to normalize our observational and interpretive practices. Therefore, it is not a matter of whether or not we should employ, say, the polis religion model, the sequence of three-step initiation, a structuralist interpretation of pantheons and myths, the shared guilt of ritual sacrifice, a political-geographical rational for sanctuary location, etc. These models have been, and are, productive and useful; however, they prevent us from asking whole sets of questions, and they privilege certain kinds of evidence or data over others.

It is necessary to ask, “How Else?” How else can we theorize and approach our materials? Eidinow and Kindt remind us that we must continue to search out other ways with which we might visualize and imagine this ‘thing’ that we are in the habit of calling Greek Religion. We need more models-not just different, but more. This is the theme of the handbook.

[1] Kindt, Juilia. Rethinking Greek Religion. Cambridge University Press (2012).

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CJ-Online Review ~ Der Neue Poseidipp

Der Neue Poseidipp. Edited by Bernd Seidenticker, Adrian Stähli, and Antje Wessels. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2015. Pp. 444. Hardcover, €79.95. ISBN 978-3-534-24356-3.

Reviewed by Paul Ojennus, Whitworth University

Fifteen years after the first complete publication of P. Mil. Vogl. VIII 309 (hereafter “The New Poseidippus”), Seidensticker, Stähli, and Wessels present a full-length commentary on the book of epigrams. The purpose of the new commentary is two-fold: first, to synthesize the prolific scholarship on the recently discovered poems, and, second, to present as far as possible texts readable by non-specialists with the contexts necessary for understanding and appreciation. To facilitate the timely accomplishment of these ends, the editors relied on a team of scholars, each assigned one of the ten divisions of the epigram book, with the exception of the long section Epitymbia (“Epitaphs”) which was divided among four scholars. A series of workshops sponsored by the Sonderforschungsbereichs 626 Ästhetische Erfahrung im Zeichen der Entgrenzung der Künste of the Freie Universität Berlin helped coordinate the work on the commentary, so that the scope and detail of the commentary are consistent across the sections and related discussions are appropriately cross-referenced. Der Neue Poseidipp is an impressive work of scholarship that will serve as a basic reference for those working on the epigram book and as a point of entry for non-specialists.

The editors’ introduction discusses briefly the few known facts of Poseidippus’ life and the textual history of his epigrams preserved outside of The New Poseidippus, but focuses on identifying overarching issues of the papyrus and its contexts that will be discussed in detail later, such as Poseidippus’ authorship and Ptolemaic context, and the arrangement of the book. Poseidippus’ relationship with Callimachus is also introduced here, both in that Poseidippus is named as one of Callimachus’ opponents in the Florentine Scholia on Aetia fr. 1, and that Callimachus provides the best parallel for understanding Poseidippus as a court poet of the Ptolemies. The editors take an agnostic stance on Poseidippus’ relationship to Callimachean poetics, given the lack of directly programmatic passages in the epigram book, but note that the poems engage typically Hellenistic concerns, such as philology and cultural history, the cultural programs of the Ptolemaic court, and ecphrasis and judgment of the visual arts. The introduction also raises the issues of whether Poseidippus himself arranged the epigrams in the form we have and what principles of arrangement can be discerned, and, further, whether the epigrams are universally actual inscriptions, or whether some should be read as purely literary creations. The editors do not take a strong stance on these issues, and note that authors of individual chapters will present their own views there.

Chapters on individual sections of The New Poseidippus (Lithika, Oionoskopika, etc.) begin with an introduction that typically focuses on the literary context and qualities of the section, for example that the epigrams on stones (Lithika) represents a virtually unique extension by Poseidippus of ecphrases of works of art in epigram, or that the epigrams on those lost at sea (Nauagika) are organized on a principle of alternating between epigrams on cenotaphs and on tombs proper. Individual epigrams are presented with a brief description, the Greek text, a thorough critical apparatus, translation, line-by-line commentary, a suggested reconstruction (and translation), and discussion. The comments, often of necessity, tend to focus on matters of textual criticism, identifying textual difficulties and weighing the merits of various emendations and supplements. The suggested reconstructions are meant to present a readable text that provides a handle for non-specialists, completing the likely sense of the epigram, but whose supplements lack textual support or continue to be the subject of dispute. The discussions are varied, often focusing on the literary qualities of the epigram, such as imagery, internal structure, or place within the organization of the section. A wide range of other topics are introduced or developed here also, such as philology (e.g. use of Homeric language or dialectical forms), political context (especially relations to the Ptolemaic court), or social context (e.g., comparing the epigrams on cures (Iamatika) to their non-literary counterparts from Epidaurus and other sites).

Final matters include appendices with text and translation of “The Old Poseidippus”, i.e., the epigrams and fragments known before the discovery of the Milan Papyrus, and an essay on literary geography in Poseidippus, e.g., how the organization of the stones described in the Lithika by their provenience suggests a movement from Asia, to Greece, and finally to Egypt, reflecting a Ptolemaic projection of the route of imperial power. A list of abbreviations, bibliographies of editions and literature on The New Poseidippus, and biographies of the authors, but no index, conclude the volume.

Der Neue Poseidipp is a monumental work that should serve as the authoritative text and commentary for this generation. The scholarship is thorough and extensive, and coordination between the individual authors is exemplary, so that the scope, quality, and cross-referencing in the individual chapters is consistent throughout the commentary. The primary focus of the commentary is on textual criticism, as is to be expected, but ample attention is given to literary matters, especially Poseidippus’ place in and development of the genre and the question of arrangement, and to historical context, especially Poseidippus’ relations with the Ptolemaic court. The approach to the text tends to be (appropriately) conservative, as the authors focus on evaluating emendations and supplements already set forth, only occasionally offering their own suggestions, and make a clear distinction in only accepting those with solid textual support into their texts, but admitting others that reflect the likely sense if not necessarily the original phraseology into the suggested reconstructions.

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#classicaltwitter ~ March 25, 2017