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


CJ-Online Review: The Museum of Augustus: The Temple of Apollo in Pompeii, the Portico of Philippus in Rome, and Latin Poetry

The Museum of Augustus: The Temple of Apollo in Pompeii, the Portico of Philippus in Rome, and Latin Poetry. By Peter Heslin. Los Angeles, CA: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2015. Pp. xiii + 350. Hardcover, $65.00. ISBN 978-1-60606-421-4.
Reviewed by Christina Kraus, Yale University
This fascinating, beautifully produced book is a terrific read putting forward detailed and sophisticated arguments that will certainly provoke productive discussion.  Disclaimer: I am not an art historian or archaeologist-but neither is Heslin.  All the more remarkable, then, that he has produced such an intriguing, archivally rich study, with a methodology combining close reading of architectural and archaeological drawings, ancient artistic representations, and poetry with historiographical research into the excavations of the Temple of Apollo in Pompeii and the area of the Portico of Philippus in Rome. He reveals his method in his preface (xi): “Most of the research for this book was … done online rather than in museums, at sites, and in archives”; he also relies on enlargements-only possible digitally-of scanned drawings, reconstructions, and photographs of his sites and paintings.  He was fortunate in his publisher, who has reproduced quantities of these in fantastic clarity. (Paradoxically, this is a book that is very much a physical pleasure to handle and to read.) Heslin, an expert on the possibilities raised by the digital revolution, is certainly right that his method of research in this project is one of the best ways forward, not only for scholars who cannot travel to see the sites themselves, but also in cases such as this one where the on-site material has been degraded past legibility, or destroyed altogether.

Heslin begins with a detailed analysis of the drawings and reconstructions made by early visitors to Pompeii, after the frescoes in the Temple were uncovered (1817) and before they were irretrievably damaged by exposure; he also makes heavy use of the mid-19th century cork model of the city. He then moves via a study of copies of the more popular paintings in private Pompeian houses to an analysis of the now-lost Portico of Philippus, including a lucid investigation of its development from the Republican Aedes Herculis Musarum. (This was physically incorporated into the later, larger complex erected by Augustus’ stepbrother and uncle, L. Marcius Philippus.) He wants both to decipher the original fresco cycle and to show that the Apolline temple decorations in Pompeii were based on-if not copies of-Theorus’s cycle of frescoes in the Portico. Heslin’s real target is that Roman cycle which-together with the Portico itself and the other art it contained-was “the public justification in the language of Roman architecture of Augustus’s patronage of poetry … his importation of the Museum of Alexandria into a Roman context” (2). Augustus in fact, Heslin argues, separated the Alexandrian Museum complex into two: as a rebuilding of the Aedes, the Portico continued its longstanding tradition as a prestigious meeting place for the guild of poets, while Apollo-a god less congenial to the Romans, who did not build a temple to him in Republican times-received his own home on the Palatine, with the new libraries, trumpeting Augustus as the principal patron of the arts (187).

I have by necessity vastly oversimplified Heslin’s argument, the beauty and challenge of which is in the details, from readings of the Marble Plan to the Tabulae Iliacae to 19th century German engravings. For literary scholars, the payoff will come in his final chapter, “Imaginary Temples,” on the poets who responded to this art. Heslin looks closely at the poems that clearly refer to the Aedes Herculis Musarum: Vergil’s prologue to Georgics 3, Propertius (though the promised discussion of 3.4-5 is missing [300]), Horace’s Odes, and-most intriguingly to me-the decorations on Juno’s temple in Aeneid 1.
I would especially like to believe the thesis that Aeneas is misreading those paintings not (as we have long recognized) because he sees glory for the Trojans where the Carthaginians must be celebrating their slaughter, but because, having only his own, subjective experience of the war to go by, he simply misidentifies the people represented. What Aeneas describes can be mapped onto the cycle of paintings that Heslin reconstructs, but he gets the names wrong: so, e.g., when Aeneas sees the tide of battle being turned by a person he identifies as Achilles (instaret curru cristatus Achilles, 1.468), Heslin suggests that Aeneas recognizes the armor because he has seen Achilles in it, but that because he has not read the Iliad, he does not know that it is in fact Patroclus wearing Achilles’ armor who turns the tide in Book 16. If Heslin is right (and he has many other examples), then the depth of the effect of art on the reader(s) in the Aeneid-and the map of misreadings we can construct around it-is even more remarkable than has previously been understood.
But that’s a big ‘if’. Heslin disregards too much recent scholarship on the Aedes (especially the important work of Alexander Hardie), and he is at times overly reductive. So, for example, in his treatment of pattern books (143), which is a mixture of assertion (“there is no evidence at all” for them-but then why do archaeologists appeal to them?) and oversimplification: assuming that local artists used pattern books “reduces [them] to more or less competent robots, slavishly attempting to imitate artistic forms that they scarcely understood”. Either the books existed or they did not; but (1) if they did, then one could profitably look at studies of 19th-century architectural pattern book use, which demonstrate that robotic copying is far from what was going on; and (2) if they did not, then this is simply a straw man, related to the straw men on whom Heslin depends far too much, of the art historian who looks at all Roman art as copies of Greek “originals,” hand in hand with the literary scholar who ignores material culture.  Both of those creatures are on their way out; Heslin doesn’t need them. Better to direct scholars to works like the new book by Vibeke Goldbeck, Fora Augusta, on the reception of the Forum Augustum in the West, including Pompeii; that book came out too late for Heslin to take account of, but it and similar studies support his strong argument that the Pompeian cycle was part of the imitatio Vrbis, a reinterpretation of a complex and influential building program at Rome.

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CJ-Online Review: Stealing Helen: The Myth of the Abducted Wife in Comparative Perspective.

Stealing Helen: The Myth of the Abducted Wife in Comparative Perspective. By Lowell Edmunds. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2016. Pp. xvii + 430. Hardcover, $49.50. ISBN 978-0-691-16512-7

Reviewed by Henry V. Bender, St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia

Fascination with the name, the person, and the myth of Helen is epic and universal. Inspirations, derivations, and adaptations abound in literally every medium from Mycenaean and Minoan artifacts through modern art and cinema. How did this “story” begin? Annually facing this query, professors and teachers of classical mythology invariably offer an unavoidable conundrum response. But that was before Edmonds’ extraordinary volume. Covering every possible substantive comment relevant in the slightest way to the subject of this work, the thirty-six page reference bibliography (in 10 point type) constitutes a lifetime of scholarly reading, reflection, and research. The vast variety of topics that comprise the book’s five chapters-each handled with great precision and depth-exceed the scope of this review. The paragraph numbering and titles of the subsets which constitute each chapter signal their thought lines. Throughout this review I have preserved their numbered sequence to convey to the reader the enormous breadth and depth of this book.

The Introduction traces the many cycles of analysis which have evolved throughout the study of the Helen myth. Edmonds is careful to distinguish between langue and parole (terms introduced by Saussure), the former to denote the most initial oral rendering of the myth or folktale, and the latter to denote its written re-performances. Relating this inquiry to the problems that attend the perception of and realization of oral tradition and written text traditions, Chapter 1 is composed of 15 numbered essays bearing titles which unfold a sequential exposition of the “The Abduction of the Beautiful Wife” as International Tale.”

The meticulously arranged, content revealing titles include: Typology in Folktale Studies (1), The Concept of Type (2), The Motif (3), The Emic and Etic (4-5), The Deconstructive Point of View (6), Variant and Version (7), The Ontological Point of View (8), and The Historical Basis of an Ontology of the Type (9). Consideration of How Old are Folktales? (10), leading into Proverb and Fable: Oral Wisdom Literature in Antiquity (10.1), informs Morphology and Structuralism (11). Typological Status of “The Abduction of the Beautiful Wife” (12) presages Motifs of “The Abduction of the Beautiful Wife” (13) which itself includes 8 subsets: Birth or Origin (13.1), The Swan Maiden (13.1.1), Childhood and Marriage (13.2), Perilous Beauty of the Wife (13.3), Abductor (13.4), Abduction (13.5), Recovery (13.6), Fate of the Abductor (13.7), Reunion of Husband and Wife (13.8), and Orpheus (13.8.1). Edmunds concludes with The Syntagma (14) and Methodological Reflections (15) in which he treats “hybrids not as curiosities of folklore but in order to establish a larger typological or perhaps metatypological context for defining the differentiae of “Abduction”.” (60).The extraordinary, tightly woven analyses of Chapter 1 are further augmented by an exhaustive Appendix 1 (247-301). This catalogues all text examples of “The Abduction of the Beautiful Wife” originating from Africa, Eurasia and Asia, Europe and Iceland, and North America.

Chapter 2, Dioscuri has ten subsets as it examines the myths involving the brothers of Helen and the different versions involving them in bride theft. Following an Introduction (1), Edmunds treats The Abduction of Helen by Theseus and Perithous (2) and Indo Europaean Cognates (3) as well as those in The Caucasus (4) and The Baltic Egg (5). He then examines Cults of Helen and the Dioscuri (6), and presents an interesting discussion on The Name Helen and The Nature of Names (7),  An Indo-Europaean “Abduction” (8) is further subdivided into The Abduction in Indo-Europaean Epic (8.1) and The Three Functions of Georges Dumezil and the Trojan Myth (8.2). Considerations of The Indo-Europaean “Abduction” and the Question of Origins (9) introduces a summary of the chapter’s findings, Conclusion (10).

Chapter 3 Helen Myth, asserts that in spite of its ubiquitous nature, the myth is really about her “life” story.  The multiple variants must receive attention in any effort to handle the literary sources such as Helen in Homer, Helen in Epic Cycle, Helen in Lyric as well as representations in media such as pottery, paintings and sculpture. The 14 subsets begin with Parentage, Birth, Siblings (1) and Childhood (2). An engaging discussion on Wooing of Helen and Marriage to Menelaus (3) is augmented by a brief comment on Helen’s Motherhood (4) and a transition to the core consideration of Helen’s interactions with Paris (5). The treatment of Helen’s Abduction (6) is expanded by a full discussion of her Abduction in Art (6.1). Following a brief commentary on Consequences in Sparta of Helen’s Abduction (7), Edmunds presents variants on Helen’s alleged Stay in Egypt and Eidolon (8) before treating the topic of Helen at Troy (9). Recovery of Helen by Menelaus (10) consists of six subsets including The Trojan Horse (10.1), Helen’s Role in her Recovery (10.2), Menelaus’s Happy and Unhappy Reunions with Helen (10.3), Helen Bares her Breasts (10.4), Himation (10.5), To the Ships, with His hand on Her Wrist (10.6), and lastly Reflections on the Reunions (10.7). Edmunds then turns to the topic of the Return of Menelaus and Helen to Sparta (11) and follows up with reflections on After the Return (12) and the Death of Helen (13). The Chapter ends with a Comparison of Myth of Helen with “Abduction” Type (14). This reviewer found Chapter 3 to be most informative, particularly because of frequent illustrations of art objects well integrated with text commentary. Appendix 2, coordinated with the subset titles throughout the chapter, lists objects, dates, places of find, episode and notes for all objects considered in the text.

Chapter 4, Hypostases of Helen, explores the literary and material evidence for the existence of Helen as a goddess. Citing various sources, Edmunds discusses The Cult at Patanistas (1) and that on the island of Rhodes, Helen Dendritis (2). Each sanctuary featured a special tree venerated in her honor, Back in Sparta, there was also the Cult at Therapne(3) explicitly referenced by Herodotus, Pausanias and others, and to which belong several artifacts inscribed with Helen’s name. A brief treatment, Herodotus’s Designation of Helen: “the goddess” (3.1), is followed by summary, Conclusion on Cults (4), and discussion of The Cults and the Indo-Europaean Goddess (5). Rooted inthe forgoing analysis, Helen as Pictorial (6) essentially addresses the question of how does a real Helen become a fictional Helen and vice versa. In the belief that epic poetry did not create Herlen but essentially preserved her memory, Edmunds further notes in The Discovery of a Real Helen (7):  “For ancient Greeks, however, down to a certain point in time, Helen was a real person who lived in the days of the Trojan War, whereas for the modern scholar Helen is the creation of poetry (or of poetic traditions)…”  (189). These points receive extended attention in Self Ancient and Modern (7.1) and The discovery of the Personality of Helen (7.2) with summary comments appearing in Conclusion (8).

Chapter 5 Helen in the Fifth Century and After does what it sets out to do. Opening with Helen in the Fifth Century (1), Edmunds examines commentary from Herodotus (1.1), Thucydides (1.2), Pindar (1.3), and discusses Helen in Spartan Charter Myth (1.4). Such recollectionsgenerate Consequences of Social Memory (1.5). Helen is then looked upon both as a Figure of Reference (1.6), and thereafter as a Figure of Song (1.7). The second half of Chapter 5, Helen from the Fourth Century to Goethe (2), critiques Eustathius’ observations on Helen, Pythagorean Helen (2.1). An informative discussion, Simon Magus (2.2), demonstrates how a mixture of magic and sophistication informs Simon’s Helen. One of the most engaging and stimulating essays in the book, Faust (2.3), meticulously unfolds Helen’s reappearance in Georg Faust’s writings of 1540, and subsequently its impact on Goethe’s Helen. Roman Reception of the Helen Myth and the First Fictional Helen (3) has three subsets: The Origin of Fiction in Antiquity (3.1), The Fictive and the Fictional (3.2), and A Fictive Helen: Ovid Heroides 16-17 (3.3). After Fictive Helen (Lucian, True History 2) and a Fictive Hermione (Colluthus) (4), Edmunds offers a summary Conclusion.

This comprehensive, holistic, well organized book is clearly a significant advance in scholarship on myth. Procedurally challenging, but rigorously engaging on multiple levels, all scholars, professors of mythology or comparative literature will find in this volume and indispensable companion to any serious study of the story of Helen.  Edmund’s informative scholarship packaged with his vigorous writing style has truly made it possible “to trace a narrative constant, persisting with remarkable tenacity, that could generate many new Helens” (xiii).

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