To save this undefined to your undefined account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your undefined account.
Find out more about saving content to .
To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure email@example.com is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
Josephus, cultural critic and chronicler of the Jewish revolt against Rome (66-73/4 CE), is one of the most polemical and compelling writers of the Roman Empire. He writes in Greek, as a Jewish leader of a revolt against Rome, who came over to the Romans. His extraordinary prose combines an extended self-justification, an explanation of Jewish culture to the Romans, through the medium of a culturally privileged Greek, and the riveting story of a failed rebellion against the dominant Empire of the Mediterranean, written now as an awkward insider of the corridors of power, recalling his own opposition to that power. Josephus, that is, writes on and through the boundaries of culture; if all history is written by victors, he writes as a defeated leader now with the triumphant new emperor: he crosses the boundary between victor and victim, insider and outsider. For the scholar interested in post-colonial writing, in cultural identity, in the rhetoric of self-fashioning, Josephus is a remarkable gift. What is more, the history he tells has powerful resonances today in the Middle East: it is he who gives us the authoritative account of Masada, the rocky desert fortress destroyed by the Romans and now a central icon of the state of Israel. The destruction of the Temple is a founding moment in the Jewish imagination, still rehearsed in ritual and political rhetoric. What more could one want from an ancient source? In 2003, Mary Beard invited us to imagine the euphoric reception classicists would give his work were it to be newly discovered today:
This is the kind of text that ancient historians and literary critics would die for. It is the kind of text that makes the study of Greco-Roman antiquity so much richer than that of almost any other ancient society. The kind of text we just can't get enough of.
Seneca's focus on comets in Natural Questions 7 concentrates our attention on a phenomenon that is in a sense familiar but so distant, known but so unknown; they are obscurities that ‘both fill and escape our eyes’ (7.30.4), and which challenge us to project the mind's eye beyond the limits of our ordinary vision as we seek insight into nature's mysteries. The broad aim of this paper is to argue that Seneca's treatment of comets shapes, and actively applies in inventive ways within the text, a mindset that moves restlessly from narrow, more ‘terrestrial’ ways of reflecting upon the universe towards an unfettered mode of investigation that looks daringly beyond the limits of the visible and known to speculate on what lies beyond. This mindset proceeds by conjecture and ‘neither with any assurance of finding [the truth] nor without hope’ (7.29.3), but it nevertheless follows the ‘right’ (Senecan) path even in possible error: it reaches dynamically beyond conventional confines—in this case, the zodiac—to engage with the universal immensity in ways that aspire to that main Senecan goal in the Natural Questions as whole, ‘to see the all with the mind’ (cf. animo omne uidisse, 3 pref. 10).
Believe me, good folks, this is not so inconsiderable a thing as many of you may think it;—you have all, I dare say, heard of the animal spirits, as how they are transfused from father to son &c. &c—and a great deal to that purpose:—Well, you may take my word, that nine parts in ten of a man's sense or his nonsense, his successes and miscarriages in this world depend upon their motions and activity, and the different tracts and trains you put them into, so that when they are once set a-going, whether right or wrong, ‘tis not a half-penny matter,—away they go cluttering like hey-go-mad; and by treading the same steps over and over again, they presently make a road of it, as plain and as smooth as a garden-walk, which, when they are once used to, the Devil himself sometimes shall not be able to drive them off it.
Claims about the physical substances and the reproductive processes of human bodies underwrite presuppositions about familial identities and roles in many cultures. The claim, for example, that the male is the true parent and the female a mere receptacle becomes part of a brief for justified matricide in Aeschylus' Eumenides (657-673). Roman declaimers often take up the question of whether blood is thicker than water. A would-be adoptive father finds his attempt to adopt a young man criticised as a symptom of the disease of luxury (Sen. Con. 2.1), while a foster father finds his argument for retaining his adolescent foster sons rebutted by the birth father's claim that his biological ties are more significant—even though the birth father has not seen the children since he exposed them shortly after birth (Sen. Con. 9.3). Depending on the observer, the birth of twins may be viewed as a source of family pride, as evidence of the mother's adultery, or as an abomination.
Like any good Greek historian, Josephus salted his BJ with rhetorically elaborate speeches in direct discourse in order to explore the psychological interior of important historical players and to provide insight into motivations for the characters' actions at critical junctures in the narrative. The earliest methodological statement about speech-writing in an historical narrative fairly describes Josephus' own method in the BJ. I refer of course to Thucydides' famous, if perennially debated and reinterpreted, declaration at the end of his so-called Archaeology:
Regarding the speeches which each speaker made either on the eve of war or when they were already in it, it has been difficult to remember with perfect accuracy the spoken words, both for me, of the speeches which I myself heard, being present, and for those who reported to me [speeches] given at different times and places; so that each speaker is made to say what seemed to me most essential for him to say, given the circumstances in each case, while I have tried to keep as close as possible to the overall intention of the actual speech.
Those who discard their weapons and surrender their persons, I will let live. Like a lenient master in a household, I will punish the incorrigible but preserve the rest for myself.
So ends Titus' address to the embattled defenders of Jerusalem in the sixth book of Josephus' Jewish War (6.328-50). It is the most substantial instance of communication between Romans and Jews in the work. Titus compares himself to the master of a household and the Jewish rebels to his slaves. Is this how we expect a Roman to describe empire? If not, what does it mean for our understanding of the politics of Josephus' history? The question is particularly acute given that this is not just any Roman but Titus himself: heir apparent and, if we believe Josephus, the man who read and approved this historical account. It is thus surprising that, while the speeches of Jewish advocates of submission to Rome such as Agrippa II (2.345-401) and Josephus himself (5.362-419) have long fascinated readers, Titus' speech has received little or no attention. Remarkably, it is not mentioned in any of three recent collections of essays on Josephus. This paper aims to highlight the rhetorical choices that Josephus has made in constructing this voice for Titus—particularly his self-presentation as master—and the interpretive questions these raise for his readers. It should go without saying that the relationship of this text to anything that Titus may have said during the siege is highly problematic. (Potentially more significant, but unfortunately no less speculative, is the question of how it might relate to any speech recorded in the commentaries of Vespasian and Titus that Josephus appears to have used as a source.) What we have is a Josephan composition that is embedded in the broader narrative of the Jewish War.
Victorian art, particularly in the latter decades of the 19th century, turned to classical subjects obsessively. Alma-Tadema, Poynter, Leighton, Watts, and a host of less celebrated figures, produced a string of canvasses especially for the Royal Academy but also for other galleries in London and for exhibition around the country, which drew on the passion for the classical world so much in evidence in the broader cultural milieu of nineteenth-century Europe. Classics was an integral part of the furniture of the Victorian mind, through the education system, through popular culture, through architecture, through opera, through literature. The high art of the Royal Academy, viewed by thousands and extensively discussed in the press, is a fundamental aspect of this classicising discourse. This era was self-consciously a great age of progress, but it is striking to what degree the rapidly changing culture of Britain expressed its concerns, projected its ideals and explored its sense of self through images of the past—medieval, and early Christian, as much as classical. In this article, I want to look at one artist, J.W. Waterhouse, who was at the centre of this artistic moment—a discussion which will also involve us in investigating the Victorian perception of less familiar classical authors such as Josephus and Prudentius (as well as Homer and Ovid), and less familiar classical figures—St Eulalia, Mariamne—as well as the most recognisable classical icons such as the Sirens and Circe. My first aim is to show how sophisticated and interesting the art of Waterhouse is, a figure who has suffered markedly from the shifts of taste in the twentieth century. His classical pictures in particular show a fascinating engagement with the position of the male subject of desire, which has been largely ignored in the scant discussions of his work, and is strikingly absent from the most influential attempts to see Waterhouse's art in its Victorian context. Waterhouse's visualisation of classical subjects goes to the heart of Victorian anxieties about sexuality.
Josephus, the Judean general, Roman captive and Flavian protégé, devoted the last twenty-five years of his life, as a privileged resident in Rome, to the redescription of Jewish identity and to the strategic placement of his cultural tradition on the controverted map of the late first-century empire. After writing his delicately poised account of the Judean War, and the large-scale ‘autoethnography’ known as the Jewish Antiquities, his final and most intricate literary endeavour is his apologetic work, Against Apion. Here Jewishness is constructed and positioned in carefully nuanced dialectic with images of ‘Egyptian’, ‘Chaldean’, ‘Greek’ and (to some degree) ‘Roman’ cultural tradition. The rhetorical flamboyance of this piece and its predominantly polemical tone give Josephus considerable licence to manipulate the tropes that suit his argumentative needs. His eye-catching exordium and the opening vilification of ‘Greek’ historiography (1.1-56) start this treatise with a familiar antithesis between Eastern antiquity and the comparative youth and fickleness of the Greeks. But as the discourse develops we find Josephus deploying his considerable knowledge of the Greek literary and historical tradition to place his Jewish tradition both outside and inside ‘Greekness’, indeed also above (superior to) and behind (historically earlier than) what may be variously labelled ‘Greek’. What gives this manipulation of Greek historical and literary tropes particular interest is not only that Josephus writes explicitly as a Jew, and in defence of his own Jewish tradition, but that he does so in Rome, aware of how ‘Greekness’ may be variously bought and sold in the Roman market-place, ‘displayed or excoriated for its decadence’. It is within this triangulation of Jewish, Greek and Roman—the last always implicit if not explicit in Josephus' text—that the subject of Sparta becomes a particularly interesting topic of discussion.
Esther is the only book of the Hebrew Old Testament never to allude to God, and to refer to neither the Covenant, the sacred institutions of Israel, nor to Jewish religious practice. The book has long engendered a fascinated revulsion in many of its readers, not only for its notable lack (or writing-out?) of God, but also for its overt celebration of genocide and the dubious moral qualities of its protagonists. Luther famously wanted the book excised from the Christian canon altogether, and the nineteenth-century biblical scholar Heinrich Ewald declared that the story of Esther ‘knows nothing of high and pure truths’, and that on coming to it from the rest of the Old Testament ‘we fall, as it were, from heaven to earth’. Humphreys terms Esther one of the ‘most exclusive and nationalistic units within the Bible’, and for Anderson, writing in the aftermath of the Second World War, the tale resonates horribly with twentieth-century history and ‘unveils the dark passions of the human heart: envy, hatred, fear, anger, vindictiveness, pride, all of which are fused into an intense nationalism’.
Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish, on the other hand, placed the Book of Esther on a par even with the Torah, a sentiment echoed, centuries later, by Maimonides, who famously declared that when the Prophets and Hagiographa pass away, only Esther and the Law would remain. And this triumphant assertion of the scroll's worth is reminiscent of the attitude of Josephus, who specifically includes Esther in his list of the twenty-two Jewish records, and who devotes the extensive central section of AJ 11 to the Esther pericope. The dating, both relative and absolute, of the texts of Esther has been fiercely disputed, and need not concern us here; it should suffice to note that two extant Greek translations, or rather adaptations, of the Book of Esther—the Septuagint (LXX) and the highly variant Alpha Text (AT)—offer countless minor variations on the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT), and insert six extended passages into the narrative.
The challenge to classicists to read Josephus ‘as literature’ is an awkward one, because it throws into relief the crooked, appropriative practices we undertake in the name of literary criticism. If Josephus' works are to be seen as ‘literature’—a category closely associated with specifically Hellenic literary ideals, in much of the ancient world as well as the modern academy—then we are also avoiding looking at them as documents of early Jewish cultural history or belief. ‘Literature’ is far from a neutral category.
Josephus would, however, have probably approved, at any rate up to a point. In the proem to the Jewish Archaeology—on which this article will focus—he promises a work of ‘universal usefulness’ (κοινή ὠϕέλειαν, 1.3), which will appear ‘worthy of study to the whole Greek world’ (ἅπασι…τοῖς Ἕλλησιν ἀξίαν σπουδῆς, 1.5). Unlike Against Apion, which denigrates Greek historiography in relation to Jewish and other near-eastern narrative traditions (see esp. 1.6-56), the Archaeology seeks to translate biblical discourse into a Greek-friendly register. In terms of communication, ‘universal’ necessarily means ‘Greek’, a point of which the translators of the Septuagint were aware (as much as Cicero and Paul). Moreover, the tralatitious language (Thucydidean ὠϕέλεια, Dionysian σπουδή) coupled with the direct allusion in the work's title to Dionysius' Roman Archaeology reinforce the already clear impression that Josephus is inscribing his project into the Greek cultural tradition, marking its intelligibility within the conceptual framework that we would call ‘literature’, and Josephus and his contemporaries called paideia. The Archaeology converts the fragmented and at times self-contradictory narrative of the Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the Old Testament) into a coherent chronological narrative, seeking to confer on it the legitimacy (as gentile Greeks would see it) of historical narrative.