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It is a commonplace to link Homer with tragedy. Plato calls Homer the first tragedian, Aristotle praises the dramatic concentration of his plots, and pseudo-Plutarch claims that in Homer we find ‘all elements of tragedy: great and unexpected deeds, epiphanies of gods, and speeches full of thought and representing all kind of characters’. Likewise, modern critics write studies on Nature and Culture in the Iliad. The Tragedy of Hector, ‘Tragic Form and Feeling in the Iliad’, ‘Homeric Epic and the Tragic Moment’, and Homer and the Dual Mode of the Tragic.
The verb βυσσο-δομεύω (Sc. 30 = Hes. Frg. 195.37 M.–W.), separated by Glenn Most in his translation as ‘planning in the depth’, appears to be composed of a noun βυσσός (‘depth’) and a verbal root *δέμ- (‘[to] construct’), thus literally meaning ‘(to) build in the deep’. There is no instance in our extant texts where this compound verb is employed literally in reference to an act of construction, and to the best of our knowledge it is exclusively used metaphorically in early epic diction to describe a mental process (see also Hom. Od. 4.676; 8.273; 9.316; 17.66, 465, 491; 20.184).
Aristophanes' Wasps is primarily a satire of the Athenian judicial system: the audience is particularly invited to laugh at ridiculous manifestations of this system and to reflect on its shortcomings. I argue here that the satire of Athenian justice in Wasps is intertwined with Aristophanes' treatment of sōphrosynē, the notion of ‘temperance’ and ‘sound-mindedness’ in both public and private life. I further show that the connection between sōphrosynē and justice in Wasps has implications for the characterization of the play's protagonists, as well as for our reading of its basic plot and its politics. Finally, I demonstrate that these two notions are central to the self-image projected by the poet in Wasps and in other comedies.
After the death of Alexander the Great in 323, his successors (diadochi) engaged in a series of internecine struggles to take control of the territory he had conquered. One of the most capable of these, Ptolemy, the son of Lagus (later to become Ptolemy I Soter), took control of Egypt, initially as satrap (323–306) and subsequently as king (306–283/282). Over several decades Ptolemy was able to seize Coele-Syria and parts of Asia Minor, and achieved leadership of the League of Islanders in the Aegean. The battles between the successors were fought with sizable infantry and cavalry forces. However, one of the most notable and highly valued components of these military forces were battle elephants.
In 1888 Rudyard Kipling published a collection of short-stories entitled The Phantom Rickshaw and Other Eerie Tales. Perhaps the most famous of these stories, ‘The Man Who Would Be King’, recounted the adventures of two British military veterans, Peachy Carnahan and Daniel Dravot Esq., played by Michael Caine and Sean Connery in John Huston's 1975 film of the same name. Both men have seen India's cities and jungles, jails and palaces, and have decided that she is too small for the likes of they. So, they set out to become kings of Kafiristan, a mountainous, isolated, and unstudied country beyond the Hindu Kush in north-eastern Afghanistan. They confide their plan to their recent acquaintance Rudyard Kipling (Christopher Plummer), then editor of the Northern Star, who calls them mad. No man, he says, has made it to Kafiristan since Alexander the Great, to which Peachy replies ‘If a Greek can do it, we can do it.’ What they find in north-eastern Afghanistan are the last remnants of Alexander the Great's empire, a local culture and religion part-Greek and part-Kafiri. The story is fiction, but aspects of its historical context are true. Alexander spent most of the years 330–325 campaigning in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, and he left behind Greek kingdoms and culture that flourished throughout the Hellenistic period and even later. Traces of these Greek kingdoms are continually coming to light and the archaeological, artistic, and epigraphic evidence coming out of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India reveals a prosperous and culturally diverse kingdom.
Education was the core activity of the Greek sophists, the πεπαιδευμένοι or ‘those who have received an education’, during the Roman period. Publius Aelius Aristides (c.117–180 ce) is by far the best known of them. He studied under the grammarian Alexander of Cotiaeum, received additional training from the sophists Polemo and Herodes Atticus, and then made a successful speaking tour through Asia Minor and Egypt. Aristides’ career seemed assured, with his good connections among the Roman intelligentsia, but a serious illness struck him on his way to the imperial capital. A series of health issues led him to a long period of convalescence at the Asklepieion at Pergamum until 147, which he combined afterwards with stays and brief appearances at Smyrna and other cities. It is therefore commonly believed that his career failed because of his poor health and also because he disliked teaching and performing in public. Aristides would rather be a pure lover of speeches, concerned with his literary afterlife and devoted to the production of exemplary speeches for future generations (especially after his retirement in 170), as he maintained at the end of his Sacred Tales (Or. 47–52): ‘it is more important for me to revise some things which I have written; for I must converse with posterity’.
Judging from its history of effect, the Wedding Cento produced by the fourth-century poet Ausonius is in fact not a poem about a wedding at all. It is a work about the ethics of textual recycling; about the impact of political power and patronage on literary production; about smut, or rather about where the responsibility lies when a reader sees smut when none was intended. It is also a poem about sexual violence, but this aspect of the text has been largely missing in its scholarly reception. Such an absence is perhaps to be expected. Sexual assault is a notoriously under-reported offence, and its invisibility tends to extend into the realm of artistic representation and its scholarly treatment. During the last couple of decades, for instance, film scholars have addressed the need to re-read cinematic portrayals of rape in order to unearth it from ‘metaphor and euphemism, naturalized plot device and logical consequence…restoring rape to the literal, to the body: restoring that is, the violence – the physical, sexual violation’. This issue must be addressed here, but first a few words about the Cento and the most prominent trends in its reception.
Let us begin, as is proper, with the gods rich in praise – or, more precisely, with The Gods Rich in Praise, one of three strikingly good monographs based on doctoral theses that will appear in this set of reviews. Christopher Metcalf examines the relations between early Greek poetry and the ancient Near East, focusing primarily on hymnic poetry. This type of poetry has multiple advantages: there is ample primary material, it displays formal conservatism, and there are demonstrable lines of translation and adaptation linking Sumerian, Akkadian, and Hittite texts. The Near Eastern material is presented in the first three chapters; four chapters examine early Greek poetry. Two formal aspects are selected for analysis (hymnic openings and negative predication), and two particular passages: the birth of Aphrodite in Theogony 195–206, and the mention of a dream interpreter in Iliad 1.62–4. In this last case, Metcalf acknowledges the possibility of transmission, while emphasizing the process of ‘continuous adaptation and reinterpretation’ (225) that lie behind the Homeric re-contextualization. In general, though, his detailed analyses tend to undermine the ‘argument by accumulation’ by which West and others have tried to demonstrate profound and extensive Eastern influence on early Greek poetry. Metcalf finds no evidence for formal influence: ‘in the case of hymns, Near Eastern influence on early Greek poetry was punctual (i.e. restricted to particular points) at the most, but certainly not pervasive’ (3). His carefully argued case deserves serious attention.
Mairéad McAuley frames her substantial study of the representation of motherhood in Latin literature in terms of highly relevant modern concerns, poignantly evoked by her opening citation of Eurydice's lament at her baby's funeral in Statius’ Thebaid 6: what really makes a mother? Biology? Care-giving? (Grief? Loss? Suffering?) How do the imprisoning stereotypes of patriarchy interact with lived experiences of mothers or with the rich metaphorical manifestations of maternity (as the focus of fear and awe, for instance, or of idealizing aesthetics, of extreme political rhetoric, or as creativity and the literary imagination?) How do individuals, texts, and societies negotiate maternity's paradoxical relationship to power? Conflicting issues of maternal power and disempowerment run through history, through Latin literature, and through the book. McAuley's focus is the representational work that mothers do in Latin literature, and she pursues this through close readings of works by Ovid, Virgil, Seneca, and Statius, by re-reading their writings in a way that privileges the theme, perspective, or voice of the mother. A lengthy introduction sets the parameters of the project and its aim (which I judge to be admirably realized) to establish a productive dialogue between modern theory (especially psychoanalysis and feminist philosophy) and ancient literature. Her study evokes a dialogue that speaks to theory – even contributes to it – but without stripping the Latin literature of its cultural specificity (and without befuddling interpretation of Latin culture with anachronism and jargon, which is often the challenge). The problem for a Latinist is that psychoanalysis is, as McAuley says, ‘not simply a body of theories about human development, it is also a mode of reading’ (23), and it is a mode of reading often at cross-purposes with the aims of literary criticism in Classical Studies: psychoanalytical notions of the universal and the foundational clash with aspirations to historical awareness and appreciation of the specifics of genre or historical moment. Acknowledging – and articulating with admirable clarity and honesty – the methodological challenges of her approach, McAuley practises what she describes as ‘reading-in-tension’ (25), holding on not only to the contradictions between patriarchal texts and their potentially subversive subtexts but also to the tense conversation between modern theory and ancient literary representation. As she puts it in her epilogue, one of her aims is to ‘release’ mothers’ voices from the pages of Latin literature in the service of modern feminism, while simultaneously preserving their alterity: ‘to pay attention to their specificity within the contexts of text, genre, and history, but not to reduce them to those contexts, in order that they speak to us within and outside them at the same time’ (392). Although McAuley presents her later sections on Seneca and Statius as the heart of the book, they are preceded by two equally weighty contributions, in the form of chapters on Virgil and Ovid, which she rightly sees as important prerequisites to understanding the significance of her later analyses. In these ‘preliminary’ chapters (which in another book might happily have been served as the main course), she sets out the paradigms that inform those discussions of Seneca and Statius’ writings. In her chapter on Virgil McAuley aims to transcend the binary notion that a feminist reading of epic entails either reflecting or resisting patriarchal values. As ‘breeders and mourners of warriors…mothers are readily incorporated into the generic code’ of epic (65), and represent an alternative source of symbolic meaning (66). Her reading of Ovid's Metamorphoses then shows how the poem brings these alternative subjects into the foreground of his own poetry, where the suffering and passion of mothers take centre-stage, allowing an exploration of imperial subjectivity itself. McAuley points out that even feminist readings can often contribute to the erasure of the mother's presence by their emphasis on the patriarchal structures that subjugate the female, and she uses a later anecdote about Octavia fainting at a reading of the Aeneid as a vivid illustration of a ‘reparative reading’ of Roman epic through the eyes of a mother (91–3). Later, in her discussion of mothers in Statian epic, McAuley writes: ‘mothers never stand free of martial epic nor are they fully constituted by it, and, as such, may be one of the most appropriate figures with which to explore issues of belatedness and authority in the genre’ (387). In short, the discourse of motherhood in Latin literature is always revealed to be powerfully implicated in the central issues of Roman literature and culture. A chapter is devoted to the themes of grief, virtue, and masculinity as explored in Seneca's consolation to his own mother, before McAuley turns her attention to the richly disturbing mothers of Senecan tragedy and Statius’ Thebaid. The book explores the metaphorical richness of motherhood in ancient Rome and beyond, but without losing sight of its corporeality, seeking indeed to complicate the long-developed binary distinction between physical reproduction (gendered as female) and abstract reproduction and creativity (gendered as male). This is a long book, but it repays careful reading, and then a return to the introduction via the epilogue, so as to reflect anew on McAuley's thoughtful articulation of her methodological choices. Her study deploys psychoanalytical approaches to reading Latin literature to excellent effect (not an easy task), always enhancing the insights of her reading of the ancient texts, and maintaining lucidity. Indeed, this is the best kind of gender study, which does not merely apply the modern framework of gender and contemporary theoretical approaches to ancient materials (though it does this very skilfully and convincingly), but in addition makes it clear why this is such a valuable endeavour for us now, and how rewarding it can be to place modern psychoanalytic theories into dialogue with the ancient Roman literature. The same tangle of issues surrounding maternity as emerges from these ancient works often persists into our modern era, and by probing those issues with close reading we risk learning much about ourselves; we learn as much when the ancient representations fail to chime with our expectations.
It is quite remarkable that the study of Greek economic history has been long pursued in the absence of any overall synthesis. The revised translation of Alain Bresson's The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy, originally published in French in 2007, is undoubtedly a major contribution that will have a significant impact on how the subject is taught and studied in the Anglo-Saxon world. The volume is effectively divided into two parts. The first situates Greek economies in their environment, by exploring demography, sources of energy, agriculture, pastoralism, and non-agricultural production. The second part focuses on the nature of ancient markets, by examining internal and external markets, the international division of labour, and the role of currency, credit, and taxation. While the first part is primarily a useful summary of current research, the second part is an original contribution to our understanding of Greek markets. Not only are we given for the first time a detailed analysis of how the agora and the emporion functioned, but Bresson is able to fully document the existence of complex networks creating an international division of labour. These are major advances, but the work has two major problems. Despite its size, it is a lopsided analysis. It is remarkable, for example, that there is not a single chapter devoted to labour, and that its nineteen-page index lacks any reference to terms such as wages, class, exploitation, poverty, or consumption. And, while Bresson offers an excellent description of many economic aspects, the book is distinctly unconvincing whenever it tries to explain patterns or the nature of Greek economic growth. It will be essential for any future work in Greek economic history, but for a comprehensive framework that can actually explain things, we will unfortunately have to wait.
Ancient history often seems to lag behind other areas of history when it comes to adopting new methodological and theoretical approaches. This crop of books, however, does offer contributions in two notable and significant areas of current scholarship: first in the area of memory studies, and second representing what we might call the ‘cognitive turn’. In addition there is a robust defence of a structuralist-informed approach to Greco-Roman religion, as well, of course, as books representing the more traditional areas of ancient history such as epigraphy and biography.
It is an obvious strategy of revisionism, in Classical archaeology: to see what J. J. Winckelmann said about this or that object, or sort of object, and then to measure ‘how far we have come’, in terms of interpretative enlightenment since the late eighteenth century. With the great Nilotic mosaic of Palestrina, that strategy looks at first sight promising enough. Winckelmann's theory was that it must represent a heroic narrative – specifically, the curious variant of Helen's abduction in which Paris carries off merely an eidolon, while the real Helen is secreted by the gods to Egypt and eventually retrieved from there by Menelaus (for details of the story, see Euripides’ Helen). Winckelmann proposed Menelaus to be the foreground figure in greenish armour holding up a drinking-horn, Helen the lady attendant with a ladle – but there was little else to support his reading, and so alternative theories have multiplied (naturally enough – since the date of the mosaic is not absolutely established). In this case, however, it seems we are still short of a satisfactory resolution. By including discussion of the mosaic in her survey of Egypt in Italy, Molly Swetnam-Burland admits that it could as easily post- as pre-date Rome's annexation of the Ptolemaic kingdom; and yet she does not want it to be generically categorized as a sample of nilotica. ‘Representations of Egypt were rarely if ever to be considered in isolation’ (154). This could be the motto of her study, which explores how objects and ideas from and about Egypt became ‘recontextualized’ by the Romans. We may not have a definitive account for the Palestrina mosaic, but overall the results of this approach are worth reading. Analysis of the process whereby the first two obelisks were brought from Egypt to Rome, for example, demands that we do not content ourselves with seeing these transplanted megaliths as simply the trophies of Aegypto capta, nor just signs of Rome's attempt to rival Alexandria, but part of a claim by Augustus to pharaonic/cosmic powers. The author does not confine herself to archaeology: a substantial section of the book is devoted to an analysis of Juvenal's Satire 15.
Does the discipline of classical reception studies shirk questions of distinctiveness and value? Such is the gauntlet thrown down by Michael Silk, Ingo Gildenhard, and Rosemary Barrow in their 2014 magnum opus, The Classical Tradition. Full consideration of this important work must be reserved for a later issue. It is nonetheless worth rehearsing its opening distinction between ‘the classical tradition’ and ‘reception’, since thinking about it has informed our reading of a number of the books reviewed below.