HADRIAN

by James Morwood

Bloomsbury (2013) p/b 147pp £15 (ISBN 9781849668866)

Hadrian is the first emperor to feature in Bloomsbury’s ‘Ancients in Action’ series. Morwood produces an excellent and highly readable account of this fascinating emperor and includes enough background for the story to be fully comprehensible to anyone new to Roman history.

One particular strength of this book is that M. has an excellent eye for anecdotes which bring history to life, while another is that he does not eschew personal touches. These strengths combine when, for example, he uses Monte Testaccio to illustrate the importance of olive oil to Rome and Hadrian’s family, while talking about scrambling up its slopes and the view from the top. Here and throughout, M.’s enthusiasm for the subject communicates itself readily to the reader.

As a consequence this book provides an introduction to Roman history and society that goes well beyond just the emperor Hadrian. On the way it addresses many topics of obvious popular interest, such as attitudes to homosexuality and Roman entertainment. Nor is it a sanitized view: M. juxtaposes his account of the beauty and sophisticated architecture of Hadrian’s Villa with a ‘digression’ on slavery illustrated with examples ranging from Cato the Elder to Apuleius, but oddly, in my view, without any mention of manumission. The broad view is emphasized by provision of text-boxes for digressions mostly of sources longer than could easily be fitted in the text (though the inclusion of Pericles’ Funeral Oration from Thucydides seems to be stretching a point).

M. writes very well, with aptly chosen examples, and in language accessible to sixth-formers (even if ‘irenic’ and ‘rodomontade’ were better avoided). Occasionally items are omitted: M.’s excellent description of the Pantheon gives the diameter of the oculus, but not the dome itself; more strangely, M. makes no use of any of the letters of Hadrian surviving in various inscriptions or legal sources, which could have provided prime examples of Hadrian in action.

Hadrian does not feature on the syllabus for school exams at present, but this would be an excellent book to give to a sixth-former who might be thinking of reading a classical subject at university.

M.G.L. Cooley—Warwick School

THE OXFORD BOOK OF ANIMALS IN CLASSICAL THOUGHT AND LIFE

CfAR (March 2015)

by G.L. Campbell

OUP (2014) h/b 633pp £95 (ISBN 9780199589425)

Thirty-three chapters by experts in the field on everything from animals in Aesop, art, comedy, epic and tragedy; through domestication, husbandry and economics, fauna, insects, fishing and hunting; to the origin of species, communication (wide ranges of animals were credited with various forms of it, e.g. elephants warning a new wife that her husband had killed his ex-wife by leading her to the grave), pets, warfare (elephants were not keen on pigs, apparently), magic, sacrifice (no coherent theory of it emerges from ancient writings), games, racing, philosophy, fossil evidence, veterinary medicine (and much else)—what more could anyone want? Here is a flavour of what is on offer.

Animals in literature were identified by what were taken to be their most typical and unchanging features—the brave lion, the tricky fox and so on—usually to point up, in simile and metaphor, some degree of comparison with or contrast to humans in a whole range of different situations from the intensely active to the highly emotional, though in comedy animals are often indistinguishable from men. The ancients were keen on breeding subspecies of animal to meet human needs (long wool, racing forelegs etc.) and were well advanced in their understanding of animal needs (pasturing, fodder, astonishingly good veterinary care) while encouraging wide diversification of species. Much expertise went into poultry and the highly profitable game farming. Land-owning elites like to demonstrate their status by owning and trading high-end animals, especially horses and cattle, which cost a great deal to keep.

We learn much about the fauna across the Mediterranean from stray literary references, depictions and zooarchaeology but also dedicated ancient writings, such as Aristotle’s History of Animals (he invented biology), Strabo’s Geography, Pliny the Elder’s massive Natural History and Aelian’s Characteristics of Animals—aurochs, sheep, goats, boar, deer, hare, rabbits, bears, wolves, foxes, wildcats, hedgehogs, badgers, beavers, bats, rats, mole, gerbils, mice, fish, birds, reptiles, whales, dolphins and so on. As for insects, ants, bees, wasps and cicadas dominate literary pages: Martial associates an ageing whore with a cicada’s breast, while St Jerome recommends a young woman should be chaste as a ‘cicada of the night’. Hm. Insect products include honey, silk, dyes, and their use in medicine was widespread (burn centipedes to fumigate against bedbugs: ancients were into pest-control too).

As for the vegetarianism, a practice argued first by Pythagoras (6th C BC), it was a topic of debate down the centuries. Plutarch’s On the Eating of Flesh and Porphyry’s On Abstinence from Animal Flesh are the two key pro-vegetarian texts: one conclusion is that, if sentience is the crucial distinction between the edible and inedible, the case for vegetarianism is made.

There is much of great interest here both to the scholar and the layman.

Peter Jones

STATE CORRESPONDENCE IN THE ANCIENT WORLD & LIFE AND LETTERS IN THE ANCIENT GREEK WORLD

CfAR (March 2015)

STATE CORRESPONDENCE IN THE ANCIENT WORLD

by Karen Radner

OUP (2014) h/b 306pp £48 (ISBN 978019935477)

 

LIFE AND LETTERS IN THE ANCIENT GREEK WORLD

by John Muir

Routledge (2012) p/b 240pp £30 (ISBN 9780415518376)

 

Karen Radner’s collection of scholarly papers covers state correspondence from Egypt’s New Kingdom (1530-1069 BC), the Hittites, Neo-Assyrians, Babylonia, Persia, the Hellenistic world and Roman Empire from Augustus to Justinian (6th C AD). Much detail of importance to scholars lurks in these pages, but the broad thesis is one of great simplicity: that, if you wish to control a large tract of territory in the ancient world and keep it stable and coherent, you had better invest in efficient ways for the centre to communicate with the periphery, especially in times of trouble. That meant developing information networks by means of roads (or their equivalents), horses, mules and either envoys reporting back and forth or messengers carrying letters to and fro.

Xenophon made the point succinctly in relation to the huge Persian Empire: its messenger network was ‘the fastest land travel on earth’ with the result that the centre could be ‘informed of everything as quickly as possible and so deal with it at top speed’. The Greek (not Roman) orator Aelius Aristides made the same point about the Roman Empire: the emperor could stay put and rule the whole world by letters, ‘which arrive almost as soon as they are written, as if carried by winged envoys’. Pliny’s famous correspondence with Trajan about Christians and much else illustrates the point.

The Neo-Assyrian Empire was responsible for the major development in speed of delivery: instead of a single messenger or envoy making the whole journey on his own, a series of mounted couriers relayed the message, each responsible for one stretch of the route. If messages were confidential, however, the single messenger was preferred (that was always Augustus’ option). A further development was the Assyrian Royal Road, which by 670 BC connected the Mediterranean coast to the Persian Gulf. A message from the westernmost province (S.E. Turkey) to the centre would need to cover about 700 kms (430 miles). It would surely take a minimum of five days. Even so, it set the standard for that region till the advent of the Ottoman telegraph in 1865.

Given the speed of our communications, the problem of unintentional ‘crossed wires’ in the ancient world must have been severe. A lot could happen while a message from A was taking a month to reach B. A famous story—possibly invented by that imaginative fellow Ben Trovato—illustrates the point. In AD 40, Caligula wanted a statue of himself as Jupiter erected in the temple at Jerusalem. The local governor Petronius wrote suggesting this was really not a very good idea. At the same time, Herod Agrippa, a local tetrarch of the region, was in Rome, heard of Caligula’s plans and dissuaded him. So Caligula wrote to Petronius cancelling the project—and only then received Petronius’ letter. Seeing it as insubordination, he wrote back, ordering Petronius to top himself. The letter was delayed by storms, eventually arriving 27 days after news had already reached Petronius that Caligula had been assassinated. Phew! So there is something to be said for delays in the mail after all.

John Muir casts a wider net over a smaller pond: Hellenistic correspondence of all sorts, from the literary, religious and philosophical (mostly found in ancient texts that have survived down the millennia) to the business and private letters surviving on papyrus dug up from the desert. It makes for fascinating and highly accessible reading.

M. begins with a general introduction to the conventions of letter-writing, the materials used, the mechanics of sending letters and so on, and kicks off with the personal and family letters. They give a good flavour of the content and style of the whole book. M. notes that all these letters derive from papyrus finds among Greek communities in Egypt when it was a Roman province and describe a mixed culture, but do not suggest that Rome was a burdensome master (neither, for that matter, does most of the New Testament). There are letters about house-hunting, children sent away to school (the child is reading Iliad book 6), sons begging their father to visit the teacher (‘this is the fifth time I have written’), financial problems (no money to buy clothes), life in the army (at Ostia and preparing to go to Rome for a posting), romance (‘I die if I do not see you every day’), marriage (misunderstandings about who was providing the flowers), parties (‘send Zenobios the drag-artist’), building works (delays in completion), farm management (‘about the pig-food and the rest of the payment for the hay, settle the accounts until I come’).

Equally judicious and informative are the selected letters in the other chapters on business (a money order goes astray ‘eaten by mice’: mice found papyrus very tasty); letters of state (the anti-Roman king Mithridates writes to a local commander telling him to hunt down a wealthy Greek and his two sons sympathetic to Roman power in the area; ‘if anyone bring them in alive, he will receive 40 talents, and if anyone brings in a head of any of them, he will receive twenty talents’); letters as tracts for the purpose of persuasion and instruction (‘To the rich: hang yourselves…you are traitors, tyrants and murderers’); the New Testament letters (the bachelor Paul on marriage: ‘I wish you all were as I am’) and finally literary letters, especially those that tell a story, a forerunner of the letter in novels.

Here M. relays the glorious sequence of letters between the great doctor Hippocrates and the people of Abdera who are worried about their famous philosopher Democritus (he of the atomic theory), who spends his time laughing his socks off at everyone and everything; he has clearly gone bonkers; can Hippocrates please cure him? The story of Hippocrates’ journey is told—much incidental detail of finding lodgings and so on—and eventually the two meet. Democritus continues chortling away and the Abderites are in despair, but then Democritus explains why: how else can one respond to the follies and paradoxes of human behaviour, which he lists in great detail? Hippocrates is completely won over: far from being crackers, Democritus is the wisest of men!

All in all, a most enjoyable introduction.

Peter Jones

ARISTOPHANES & MENANDER: THREE COMEDIES (Peace, Money the God, Samia)

CfAR (March, 2015)

by Douglass Parker, ed. with intro. and notes, by Timothy J. Moore

Hackett (2014) p/b 230pp £13.50 (ISBN 9781624661853)

Douglass Parker was responsible for many translations including, with William Arrowsmith and Richard Lattimore, the Michigan series of Aristophanes from the 1960s onwards. At his death in 2011, he left unpublished complete (or almost complete) translations of these three plays which happen, fortuitously, to represent the three ‘periods’ into which scholars these days divide Greek comedy, the Old, Middle and New (the introduction gives a clear and simple account of the differences between them and thus how the genre evolved between the mid-5th and late 4th C BC).

It is difficult to know how to describe these translations. The single word that comes most readily to mind is ‘rollicking’. P. intended his translations for public performance to non-specialist audiences rather than for academics, and they were widely performed: his Lysistrata was apparently put on at least 150 times before 1988. He therefore has no inhibitions about transmuting his text into forms of expression which bring out the humour in ways which modern audiences can easily grasp. He gives stage directions throughout, and uses all sorts of devices (capital letters, italics, different fonts etc.) to indicate where he thinks there should be changes of emphasis or expression. He changes names when it suits him: for example, the protagonist in Peace is renamed ‘Jack the Reaper’ because Trygaios means `harvester’ (get the pun?); the goddesses who accompany Peace are called ‘Lady Bountiful’ and ‘Jamboree’. He has fun with different dialects representing ‘foreigners’. Needless to say, the scatology in the Old Comedy, both sexual and excremental, is given full rein.

Appendix B is the text of a lecture which P. gave in 1988 (the James Constantine Lecture at the University of Virginia) entitled ‘A Desolation called Peace: Trials of an Aristophanic Translator’. This is possibly the most interesting part of the book. In it he covers how the change of atmosphere in the 1960s made possible, and stimulated, the translation and staging of Aristophanes, and the peculiar difficulties faced by the translator. The key objective was ‘to create something like the experience of seeing and hearing the play for the first time’. He gives examples of the problems posed by puns and double entendres which would have been clear to Athenians but make no sense in English, and vice versa. He also discusses what he calls the ‘intruded gloss’. This is where a joke depends on Athenian local knowledge and is therefore meaningless to a modern audience: how do you explain it without using footnotes? P. attempts it by cunning insertions in the text; sometimes he can get away with just an extra word or two, sometimes the addition required makes the passage uncomfortably longer. Several enjoyable examples are given.

P. comes across, both in the translations and in this lecture, as an entertaining fellow who took his undoubted scholarship lightly. Apparently he described himself as ‘rarely thinking of himself as an academic, but rather as an itinerant trombonist who took a wrong turn about 1946’. This book is not a bad memorial.

Colin McDonald

PLUTARCH AND HIS ROMAN READERS

CfAR (March 2015)

by Philip A. Stadter

OUP (2014) h/b 394pp £80 (ISBN 9780198718338)

In the (useful) Introduction to this substantial book, S. comments that (roughly since 1971) the copious Greek essayist and biographer Plutarch (c. AD 46-120) has attracted ‘an explosion of books, commentaries, and articles, apparent in this volume’s bibliography’, in which S.’s own name appears 35 times. Donald Russell and Christopher Jones are singled out as pathfinders, but Christopher Pelling’s influence is also manifest. It should be noted that this not an ‘original’ work, since its contents have all appeared (or in three cases are about to appear) as articles published in a range of journals or books since 1992.

The 23 chapters fall into four headings: Two worlds—or One?; Writing for Romans; Statesmen as Models and Warnings; and Post-Classical Reception. S. is naturally looking at the many ways in which Plutarch’s Greek world interacted with the Roman one, especially via his important Roman friends—and patrons. However much Plutarch may have wished to emulate Plato’s (ultimately calamitous) attempt to create a philosopher-king, the brutal facts could not be escaped: statesmen had many other concerns besides philosophy, and all the material benefits of amicitia with, say, a senator flowed in only one direction. The relationship of Pliny to the emperor Trajan was on a different plane from that of Plutarch to the local Roman official Sosius Senecio.

Did Plutarch know Latin? Or, more precisely, how well did Plutarch know Latin? S. considers this important question in ‘Plutarch’s Latin Reading’, and concludes that Plutarch had a ‘comfortable knowledge of Latin, which could allow him to read Latin authors, even poets, which attracted his attention’. At the same time, while Plutarch ‘recognizes the particular beauty (Greek kallos) of Latin expression, he renounces the attempt to become expert’. (Some may think that kallos is not the most natural word to use about Latin, especially by comparison with Greek!)

This is just one example of what S. offers us, and those with an interest in any specific aspect of Plutarch’s works or career may well find that S.’s book satisfies their needs, though inevitably there is much repetition, and S. himself, in the modern manner, constantly draws on the work of others, whether for backing, praise, or (occasionally) disagreement; those less familiar should still start with Russell’s Plutarch of 1972.

For historians, individual commentaries on the Lives are essential (though arguments over his sources are unlikely to be resolved in a hurry: S. himself produced an edition of Plutarch’s Life of Pericles in 1989); philosophers note his opposition to the Stoics and Epicureans, as well as his veneration of Plato. Of all the authors featured in the Loeb Library, only Cicero has called for more volumes than Plutarch—and, even so, much has been lost: not bad for a Greek from Chaeronea who seems to have ridden out even the principate of Domitian with equanimity! Yet two questions remain unanswered: we know much about the intended readers of Plutarch’s works, but what S. cannot tell us, and what we cannot know is this: did the recipients actually read those works, and, if so, what did they think of them? This is an expensive book, with something of the characteristics of a ‘Companion’, and more for the university than the private library.

Colin Leach

ROME’S ECONOMIC REVOLUTION

CfAR (March 2015)

by Philip Kay

OUP (2014) h/b 384pp £80 (ISBN 9780199681549)

The ‘Oxford Studies on the Roman Economy’ series has already produced some first-rate volumes, Miko Florh’s The World of the Fullo and Annalisa Marzano’s Harvesting the Sea among them, and here is another. It is highly technical, grappling with very contentious problems arising from the meagre data available over the period in question from c. 200-50 BC, i.e. the second Punic War to the virtual demise of the Republic. But the speculative conclusion—that the Roman economy between 150-50 BC expanded by the real (i.e. inflation-adjusted), per capita average annual compound growth of 0.54%—is indeed a striking one, suggesting a revolution undreamt of in e.g. Moses Finley’s influential view of a ‘primitive’ ancient economy (compare also the review of Acton’s Poesis above).

Roman expansion across Italy from the 5th C BC saw enough of a rise in wealth for it to be able to start building e.g. roads and aqueducts. This was wiped out by the two Punic Wars against Carthage (over Sicily 264-212 BC and against Hannibal 218-202 BC); but there was still private money in the system since the Roman rich, to a large extent, bailed out Rome when the going got tough.

But the eventual conquest of Carthage and the provincialisation of Spain (with its fabulous silver mines), Greece and much of the Near East (the last two partly as a result of taking revenge on Hannibal’s supporters) saw great tsunamis of bullion rolling into Roman coffers in the 2nd C BC: booty, war indemnities and taxes. Roman income from 300-200 BC was about 5,000 talents; from 200-150 BC it was 45,000 talents, indemnities making up 27,280 talents of that amount. Over the next 50 years income from the mines came on-stream and more taxes from further provincialisation.

Surprisingly, this perhaps 10-fold increase in money supply from 150-50 BC generated only modest inflation, K. calculates: a compound rate of perhaps 0.67% per annnum over this period. This is even more surprising because K. argues that banks were also going strong in the 2nd C BC, lending out money, expanding money supply and so creating demand. The result was a huge expansion in building projects—buildings, roads and aqueducts—but even more on the military, making warfare self-perpetuating. Unlike today, war was seriously good business. When C. Gracchus in the 120s BC handed over tax-raising in Asia to the publicani, demanding up-front the total expected revenues from that source for five years (!), K. argues that this was the first attempt to produce a stable state budget for growth. Inevitably those involved in this expansion at home and abroad became very wealthy indeed, as the growth in e.g. specialised, investment farming, the wine trade, slaves and luxury goods indicates. Presumably it was the enormous general growth in economic activity that kept a lid on inflation.

K also sees a major change in the 1st C BC—the disappearance of bankers from our sources. Their function was taken over by seriously wealthy aristocrats, lending and borrowing among themselves to fund their own pet projects, especially their own private armies with which they attempted to win power by force, reducing the Republic to ashes in the process.

This is the briefest possible sketch of K.’s superbly marshalled, but as he emphasises conjectural, conclusions, which draw some confirmation from parallel developments in Europe in the 13th and 16th C AD when expanding money supply brought similar increased economic activity. It will create a great deal of further interest and even more argument.

Peter Jones

POIESIS: MANUFACTURING IN CLASSICAL ATHENS

CfAR (March 2015)

by Peter Acton

OUP (2014) h/b 384pp £47.99 (ISBN 9780199335930)

Moses Finley, finding no analysis of economics in our ancient sources, took the view that one could not apply modern economic concepts to the ancient world. A. sets out to demonstrate that this is nonsense. Following Keynes, he argues that the absence of economic analysis is neither here nor there. Humans were as (ir)rational then as now, and common sense about profit and loss was just as common. It does not require verbal theory to make it sensible.

he fact is, A. argues, that however contemptuous philosophers and the rich may have been about trade, the evidence shows that half the population was at it some of the time (for home use or sale, e.g. virtually all clothing was made by the women of the household), and probably a quarter of the free population manufactured things full time. Evidence of crafts, industry, manufacturing – metalwork (miners, blacksmiths, armourers, silversmiths etc.), woodwork (foresters, sawyers, carpenters, furniture makers, boat-builders), woolworkers, pottery – retailing, workshops and so on was everywhere. ‘Agriculture was the real capitalism, contributing to social inequality, and trade and industry the great levellers’.

Some businesses were one-man or two-man operations, a family man and woman with a slave/apprentice, everyone mucking in and learning on the job e.g. pottery and weaving. A small family pottery, for example, could produce enough to keep going, but no more: the size of the operation militated against competitive advantage. But this was not seen as an ‘investment opportunity’: it was a means of survival. Women too played a large part in this economic activity, supervising resources and contributing products. A. reckons it was the Industrial Revolution that alienated women from the management of production.

Bigger businesses employed slave gangs, and here competitive advantage came into the equation. These businesses would pay the slave-owners a fixed sum, and take the remaining profit. The 159 existing law-court speeches, many being about commerce (money bought the best advocates), reveal a great deal about such operations; they suggest a flourishing manufacturing sector.

A. submits each ‘industry’ to careful analysis from the evidence that survives: pottery, metalworking, textiles, woodworking, construction, and food and drink, and finally looks at the manufacturers in a supply-and-demand analysis, with an appendix quantifying manufacturing participation (A. reckons of 140,000 adult males, 63,000 would be working full-time [54,000 being slaves] and 40,000 part-time; of 110,000 females, 25,000 would be full time [20,000 of them slaves], and 58,000 part-time).

This is to scratch the surface of a beautifully written, fully documented work of the very highest importance—a real game-changer in our understanding of the ancient economy.

Peter Jones