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Despite early imperial portenta being largely ignored in secondary literature, the reports of such incidents demand increased scholarly attention. This paper contends that decoding reports of portents from the early empire can give us fundamental insights into key moments of identity negotiation in this period. This paper will primarily focus on two such reports, signs of divine displeasure reported in Athens and in Camulodunum. This paper contends that within such reports we can glimpse complex and contested issues of identity creation and redefinition at intra-local, trans-local, and global levels.
In the tale-within-tale ‘Cupid and Psyche’ narrated in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses, the female heroine Psyche goes through a series of wanderings and tasks as punishments for seeing her husband Cupid's real form out of curiosity. Psyche's curiosity connects this internal tale with the external narratives in Metamorphoses, the protagonist of which, Lucius, shares a similar curiosity that leads to his downfall. While scholars attribute favourable qualities to Lucius’ curiosity despite its negative consequences, they deny the same value to Psyche's curiosity. In this paper, I argue against the condemnation of Psyche's curiosity due to the stereotype of transgressive females. Instead, I propose to view her curiosity as the drive for her awakening, empowerment, and growth, which transforms her into a fully powered agent and leads to her final reunion with Cupid in immortality.
It is known that various members of Constantine's family, of his own generation and the generation before, were Christian. It is often taken for granted that Constantine encouraged or required their Christian faith. However, in fact there is only evidence for Constantine's influence on the faith of his mother Helena. This paper examines the evidence for Christianity in the imperial family before Constantine became publicly Christian, and suggests that some of these women may even have been Christian independently of Constantine's influence.
The idea that the sea is a dangerous and alien element in which one is at the mercy of higher powers, is deeply imbedded in Mediterranean culture, and has many parallels in Greek and Roman literature. From an Epicurean point of view, however, such higher powers belong to the realm of irrational beliefs which could threaten one's ἀταραξία (‘peace of mind’). What counts in Epicureanism is the rational calculus of all factors in order to minimize the influence of τύχη (‘chance’) on one's endeavours. This article explores how the Epicureans thought about the sea and its many dangers. It tries to establish under which circumstances the sage will travel by sea and gives special attention to Diogenes of Oenoanda's letter (fr. 71 + NF 214 + fr. 72 + fr. 70) about the shipwreck of Niceratus and his friends’ failure to minimize the agency of chance.
This article examines scatology in Aristophanes Assemblywomen, and argues that the play sets out to subvert comedy's normal scatological poetics. Old Comedy is usually a genre characterized by corporeal and scatological freedom. The constipation scene in Assemblywomen 311–73 is therefore highly unusual, since, while its language is scatological almost to the point of excess, it spotlights not scatological freedom but scatological obstruction. This article argues that this inversion is expressly linked to the play's reversal of gender roles as part of its ‘women on top’ plot, which is in turn conceived as a direct challenge to Old Comedy's normative poetics. The article further suggests that recognizing the Assemblywomen's less than straightforward relationship to the norms of Old Comedy may help us to reassess how, and indeed whether, we should use Aristophanes’ plays to make conjectures about the genre as a whole.
This article brings together two well known literary readings: the obscene interpretation of Catullus’ passer, and the interpretation of Ovid, Amores 2.6 as a self-conscious, creative imitation of Catullus 3. It will first offer a further reason to think that Catullus’ contemporary readers understood c.3 as a poem about impotence, and then go on to suggest that Ovid had some fun with this interpretation in his psittacus-poem.
In Catullus 50, after an enjoyable day writing poetry with Licinius Calvus, the poet warns his friend not to ignore him lest Nemesis punish him for it, ne poenas Nemesis reposcat a te (‘lest Nemesis demand punishment from you’). It will be proposed in this article that, in keeping with neoteric ideals, Catullus is playing on the phrase a te to create a bilingual pun on the Greek word ἄτη ‘delusion’, ‘mental blindness (often divinely sent)’.
This article seeks to offer some considerations on Telemachus’ journey to Pylos and Sparta (Hom. Od. 1–4), interpreting it in the light of his social position as heir of a basileus. Can the beginning of the Odyssey represent a sort of formation for the young prince? And how does the text support this reading? After a brief review of the features of a Homeric basileus, it will be argued that the narrative presents the growth of Telemachus as that of a young prince who needs to comply with those features, and become acquainted with the heroic world he lives in at peace.
If you cast your mind back to 2016 you may (or may not) recall Brill's Companion to Nonnus of Panopolis: a substantial volume, comprising thirty-two chapters in 754 pages of text, together with twenty-six pages of preliminaries, seventy-seven pages of bibliography, and forty-one pages of indices. Prudent readers should be cautious when handling a blockbuster volume on this scale; the risk of dropping one and a half kilos of scholarly text on one's foot is not to be treated with careless abandon. There is, then, something to be said in favour of less demanding but more accessible starting points for the exploration of the Nonnian landscape. For most readers, Robert Shorrock's The Challenge of Epic. Allusive Engagement in the Dionysiaca (2001) and The Myth of Paganism. Nonnus, Dionysus and the World of Late Antiquity (2011) would provide a more readily accessible resource. Admittedly, accessible guidance is not easy to find when it has been swamped by a tsunami of impressive editorial scholarship: for example, Konstantinos Spanoudakis, Nonnus of Panopolis in Context; Camille Geisz, A Study of the Narrator in Nonnus of Panopolis’ Dionysiaca. Storytelling in Late Antique Epic; Herbert Bannert and Nicole Kröll's Nonnus of Panopolis in Context II. Poetry, Religion, and Society; and Filip Doroszewski and Katarzyna Jażdżewska's Nonnus of Panopolis in Context III. Old Questions and New Perspectives. As for Nonnus’ Paraphrase of John's Gospel, I confess that I have barely had time to glance at it in its entirety. Perhaps I should have been paying more selective attention to Nonnus, and less to everything else.
Let me start with a fascinating volume that Paolo Felice Sacchi and Marco Formisano have edited on Epitomic Writing in Late Antiquity and Beyond, the first volume in the new series sera tela, devoted to ‘Studies in Late Antique Literature and its Reception’, edited by Marco Formisano. This inaugural volume gets the new series off to a very good start. Sacchi and Formisano offer a new approach to epitomic writing, seen as a typical product of late antique literary culture. The aim of the volume is to focus not so much on what is lost and cut out in the process of condensation, but on the value of the epitomic as a hermeneutic category as well as on its aesthetic value, both textual and visual. The individual contributions follow this editorial lead admirably closely, examining the interplay of repetition, fragmentation, dismemberment and re-composition, cutting and re-uniting, and defamiliarization, and showing how epitomic writing can be playful and entertaining, how it can represent a sophisticated act of interpretation, and serve as a ‘tool for investigating the very borders and paradoxes of language’ (12), even for conveying a spiritual experience.
I commence this review with a major contribution to the study of women in the ancient Greek world. The public invisibility of women in the poleis of the archaic and classical period is a well-known phenomenon; equally well-known is the fact that this starts to change from the Hellenistic period onwards, when developments in the culture of evergetism and in honorific practices created a niche for women to be publicly visible and honoured by their communities. Przemysław Sierkierka, Krystyna Stebnicka, and Aleksander Wolicki have published a two-volume collection of all public honorific inscriptions for Greek women from the classical to the Roman imperial period. The work excludes honorific inscriptions for Hellenistic queens and female members of the Roman imperial family, thus focusing on honours for Greek citizen women and foreign women. The first volume includes a book-size introduction to the history of public honours for Greek women, examining diachronic changes and offering an overview of the language of inscriptions and the repertory of honours provided. At the same time, the introduction offers an extensive discussion of the role of women in the public life of Greek cities in the long term. The first volume also includes the corpus of inscriptions from Aegean Greece, the Balkans, and Sicily and Italy in the West; the second volume largely focuses on Asia Minor, while also including the few relevant inscriptions from Cyprus, Syria, Egypt, and Cyrenaica. Each inscription is described in detail, while the Greek text is accompanied by an English translation and followed by a focused commentary. In line with the other major corpus under review here, this editorial choice to provide translation, bibliography, and commentary will make these volumes an impressive research tool for both specialists and non-specialists. I admit that I was really surprised by the quantity of the surviving material: the volume includes 1128 inscriptions from 238 communities. While many of these inscriptions are short, formulaic, and repetitive, the information provided on a substantial number is truly fascinating for Greek social history and the history of women.
The figure of the Roman emperor – ubiquitous yet ever-elusive – remains the flame to which Roman historians are ever drawn. And Fergus Millar's The Emperor in the Roman World remains the yardstick against which all subsequent efforts are judged, and with which they are all inevitably in dialogue. That is true too of Caesar Rules, the major new offering from Olivier Hekster, a one-time doctoral student of Millar's, and now one of the leading contenders for his crown. Hekster's core interest is what the emperor was; in particular, how this institution could survive and adapt to changing circumstances despite the fact that formally it did not exist, certainly was not defined, and practically existed in a society antithetical on principle to both monarchy and change. Hekster finds the key for this long-worried lock in ‘the presentation and perception of power’ (10), and in particular the expectations – from all sides, and at all times – that both consolidated and constrained emperors’ authority. To demonstrate this he conceives a largely unprecedented ambition in this context: to consider source material in all media from the late Republic to the reign of Justinian.
The most significant book of this review is Richard Beacham and Hugh Denard's Living Theatre in the Ancient Roman House, a volume in which the authors’ previous accomplishments, expertise in theatre and leading roles at Kings Visualisation Laboratory (which is reflected in the use of digital visualizations throughout the volume, both to recreate architectural spaces and to test the viability of painted architecture), is brought to bear on domestic space. The subject, epic length, and format of the book immediately evoke the memory of Cambridge University Press's last major publication on wall painting, Eleanor Leach's 2004 The Social Life of Painting in Ancient Rome and on the Bay of Naples and the comparison shows up very sharply the development of attitudes towards both wall painting and its theatrical referents in the last twenty years. In Leach's book, much was made of the theatrical influence on Pompeian interiors, particularly in the architectural Second Style and the Fourth Style. Leach relied on the theatre in order to search for signs of actual theatrical influence on frescoes painted in these styles, for example discussing whether their scenographic ‘sets’ were based on permanent or temporary theatres, and then to tie the way the two styles presented theatrical performance to the political circumstances of the times in which they flourished. Leach saw Second Style as a reflection of the active competition of elites during the late republic whilst Fourth Style was symptomatic of the tyranny of the Neronian age, in which these same elites were now largely reduced to passive spectators of the emperor's performance.
The Ancient Commentators of Aristotle series has recently published three important volumes. The first two are the last instalments of Simplicius’ commentary on Aristotle's Physics, the culmination of a monumental endeavour that started in 2001 and now comprises twelve books. One of these two final volumes contains the translation of Simplicius’ On Aristotle Physics 1.1–2, the other is a detailed General Introduction to the whole commentary, both authored by Stephen Menn. In his acknowledgements, Menn explains that the translation began as a joint work with Rachel Barney, who contributed, among other things, by revising early drafts, composing the paragraph summaries, and collaborating on the endnotes. Unfortunately, we are told, she had to withdraw from the project, leaving Menn to finish it and take all responsibility for the final product. The translation is accompanied by an eighteen-page preface by the series editors, Michael Griffin and Richard Sorabji (which, in fact, offers a shorter version of Menn's General Introduction), and a twelve-page note on the text and translation. The translation is, of course, careful and beautifully assembled, supplied with diagrams by Henry Mendell.
Over the last few years, much of public discourse has been concerned with the rise of populist movements across the world. Hindu nationalism, Brexit, and the rise of Le Pen are just some of the phenomena that have garnered attention and concern. Although, in Rome and America, classicist and political scientist Dean Hammer does not start with this topic, contemporary populism is his destination, specifically in the shape of Donald Trump and the conditions in which his presidency arose. As Hammer investigates several aspects of both the creation and undoing of self-identity and political norms in the United States, he cites templates, points of comparison, and, finally, warnings in both Rome's founding myths and the history of its transition from republic to principate.
Two splendid Oxford Handbooks deserve the opening slot of my review. The Handbook of Greek and Roman Mythography contains forty chapters, each of which closes with a helpful section on recommended further reading. The editors have organized the material in five very well-conceived parts. The first section, ‘Mythography from Archaic Greece to the Empire’, naturally wrestles with the question: When does mythography start? Two initial chapters provide their answers, and the rest of the contributions in this section offer an overview of mythography in Greek (Hellenistic and Imperial period) and Latin. The second section aims to provide an overview of individual mythographers: the stars of this section are Apollodorus, Antoninus Liberalis, Parthenius, Conon, and Hyginus. The eighteen chapters provide informative and concise introductions to authors who specialized in mythography, but also to the mythographic tendencies in authors such as Pausanias or Ovid, as well as in the scholia and even mythographical papyri. The third section is on the typical genres or interpretative models with which mythography tends to intersect: rationalizing historical approaches, philosophical allegoresis, etymologizing, catasterism, local historiography, paradoxography, creative approaches to mythography in ancient education, the role of mythography in political discourse, geography, and, finally, an investigation of the ancient terms used to designate the activity and the writings of a mythographer. The fourth section, ‘Mythography and the visual arts’, is a provocative and highly interesting experiment in viewing visual representations of myth as a mythography of sorts: can vases, frescoes, and sarcophagi be seen as visual pendants to literary mythography? These three contributions are all highly rewarding and thought-provoking. The closing, fifth, section offers richly rewarding discussions of the role of mythography in the age of Christianity, starting with the way early Christian writers draw on Greek and Latin mythographers, followed by chapters on mythography in the Byzantine Empire, the Latin West, and in the Renaissance.