DEMOSTHENES: SELECTED SPEECHES

by Robin Waterfield

Oxford World’s Classics (2014) p/b 528pp £11.99 (ISBN 9780199593774)

Numbed by the stumbling, bumbling repetitive rhodomontade of modern electioneering rhetoric, the reviewer found himself delighted to be plunged into Demosthenes, a statesman and orator whose speeches seemed, at school, to hit the depths of tedium. Here, Demosthenes’ appeals to the Athenians to resist the gradual military advance of Philip II of Macedon in the 4th C BC; his attacks on his pro-Philip political rival Aeschines; his public cases against (for example, if it is by Demosthenes) the woman Neaera for a life-style that threatened the security of the Athenian city state; and private cases on behalf of clients bringing suits for assault and battery, or for flooding to a property by a diverted water-course—all, however self-serving, impress with their emotional intensity, brilliance and variety of argument (dishonest or not), irony, forceful imagery, wit and general sense of mastery of the spoken word, in Robin Waterfield’s fine new translations.

They also tell one a very great deal about ancient Greek life and values. As Sir Kenneth Dover argued in his wonderful Popular Morality in the Time of Plato and Aristotle (Blackwell), there is nothing like a speech in court designed to win the votes of a jury of ordinary Athenians-in-the-street to reveal everything you ever wanted to know about the prejudices of the common man (there was no presiding judge, no rules of evidence). Can one imagine the reaction of a court today to a speaker saying that he had brought a case ‘to seek revenge for what [my opponent] has done to me’? But in 4th C Athens, no motive could be more praiseworthy. Again, if Demosthenes often seems to spend too much time talking about himself, modesty in public life was not a quality widely admired by the populace.

The excellent historical introduction and notes by Professor Christopher Carey locate each speech firmly in its wider context and help to make this selection of speeches the ideal introduction to one of the ancient world’s greatest orators. Camilibeggfarurgeon, however unlettered in ancient Greek, could profitably make up some of the leeway here.

Peter Jones

PLATO: THEAETETUS

by John McDowell

Oxford World’s Classics (2014) p/b 161pp £9.99 (ISBN 9780199646166)

The translation provided here dates from 1973, but is preceded by a new, lengthy, detailed and valuable introduction by the Oxford philosopher Lesley Brown. The dialogue is one of notable difficulty, and addresses the subject generically known as ‘Theory of Knowledge’, or epistemology. Modern philosophers who have been concerned with the dialogue include F.M. Cornford, Wittgenstein, Gilbert Ryle, and Heidegger; more recently, D. Sedley and Myles Burnyeat have been notably prominent. (This book contains an admirable brief bibliography, of a kind which should put joy into the heart of any undergraduate studying Plato and/or epistemology). There are other translations available, but the one in the Loeb Library series—which of course includes the Greek text, and includes Sophist—by H.N Fowler dates from 1921, and, for this reviewer, reads less well than McDowell’s. Textual problems are very few, seven of them being touched on in the notes. Stylometric analysis places Theaetetus among Plato’s later works, perhaps soon after The Republic, from which, however it differs in ways that are too complex to be considered here.

Inexpensively priced, this book, especially its Introduction, is strongly recommended for undergraduates and anyone with a serious interest in Plato.

Colin Leach

ERATOSTHENES and HYGINUS: CONSTELLATION MYTHS, with Aratus’s Phaenomena

by Robin Hard

Oxford World’s Classics (2015) p/b 210pp £8.99 (ISBN 9780198716983)

Eratosthenes of Cyrene was a polymath scholar of the 3rd century BC who, among much else, became chief Librarian at Alexandria. But here, a word of warning: nothing survives of his ‘Catasterisms’ (placing constellations in the sky), and what we have here are epitomes of them—which were labelled by the late Peter Fraser as by pseudo-Eratosthenes. Indeed, the evidence for Eratosthenes as author of the Catasterisms is very slender.

The work under notice starts with a useful Introduction, followed by, for any given constellation (48 in all), the epitome mentioned above, then an account by Hyginus of the constellation as seen in the sky, and its relevant mythology, and finally a commentary by the editor. For good measure, we then have a translation of Aratus’s (contemporary with Eratosthenes) Phaenomena, and extracts from an astrological handbook by Geminos (1st century AD). Explanatory notes (distinctly helpful) and an Index follow. For the sake of consistency, the editor has sensibly Graecised the Latin forms used by Hyginus. Regrettably, the two maps that are provided are too small to be of much use.

This adds up to a useful, inexpensive, and comprehensive vade-mecum of the mythology that surrounds the constellations, and for his commentary the editor has also drawn on Apollodorus’s Library. Of course, no Latin or Greek text is provided (Aratus can be found in a rather ancient volume of the Loeb Library series, combined with Callimachus and Lycophron, and there is a recent Budé edition of the Epitomes.) The subject is of necessarily specialist interest, but it seems fair to say that the answer to any query that one may have is more than likely to be found here.

Colin Leach

HOMER

by Jonathan S. Burgess

I.B. Tauris (2015) p/b 209pp £12.99 (ISBN 9781848858633)

This volume appears in the estimable ‘Understanding Classics’ series from I.B. Tauris, aimed at those preparing students for the Homeric content of GCSE and A level (linguistic and non-linguistic) and undergraduates but suitable for a wide general audience too. Briefly, it gathers together and summarises the best of Homeric scholarship from antiquity to the present day (including M.L. West’s invaluable The Epic Cycle [2013] which discusses the fragments of other epics).

B. looks at background and content of the epics, and then, about halfway through, turns his attention to The Homeric Question, Theory and Reception. This is where the reader’s brow might begin to knit. For a start, theory always has been, is, and shall continue to be associated with the f-word (fashion). Theory also tends to be (to me, anyway) complicated. Whilst one theory will uncover gems of comprehension that another might miss, I can see that the reader, unaided, could get pretty anxious about interpreting Homer. There are, after all, more theories than you can shake a stick at, so which should you (not) pursue? Further, the meta-language of theory can be quite daunting, and the last thing we need is to set up barriers to appreciation.

But B. is up to the task of clarification. He brilliantly subjects two passages, Hector and Andromache, and Polyphemus, to examination by a range of theories. And then, in his final chapter on reception (an enjoyable trot through, amongst other things, the novels and movies that draw on the epics), he uses the same passages to consider the understanding that different generations have brought to them.

This book, with its copious notes and a generous bibliography, serves a real purpose and will be welcome to students and interested Homerists alike.

Adrian Spooner

HOMER ON THE GODS & HUMAN VIRTUE: Creating the Foundations of Classical Civilization

by Peter J. Ahrensdorf

CUP (2014) h/b 271pp £30 (ISBN 9780521193887)

Plato’s Socrates cites Homer frequently, often with irony (Rep. 599b-e), and from his ideal state he finally rejects Homer’s poems, his heroes, and the ‘poetic tribe’ of imitative poets. These are ‘childish passions of the many’ (Rep. 377d-e, 600c-601b, 608a), since their narratives fail to improve citizens. Ahrensdorf (A.), au contraire, oddly assumes that compassionate Homer was the first moral philosopher. He analyzes the ‘proto-philosophical’ heroes’ views on virtue, piety, duties, glory, etc., as though Achilles and Odysseus, even Ajax, were tarrying in Socrates’ Athens. He systematically translates the aretê (usually ‘excellence, prowess’) of Homer’s warrior culture as ‘virtue’—anachronistic retrojection in all Homeric passages. He leaves unexamined this complicated word’s original, more concrete, semantic range (including horses’ or a garden’s aretê) and overlooks its developments, as if language, values, and cultural contexts never change. He slaloms around problems of genre, post-Christian translating, focalization (who speaks? Narrator, berserker battler?), and context (bivouacs, not drinking parties). When two characters use the ‘exact same words,’ he seems oblivious to oral poetics—formular epithets and type-scenes. His tendentious translations produce results like ‘Virtue [aretê] means, in [Achilles’] eyes, sacrificing for others.’ A., then, nods at but ignores a century’s progress in philology and ancient history.

A. usefully summarizes views on Homer’s controversial educational value from early modern philosophers and philologists—Vico to Nietzsche. Four chapters follow on Homer’s Theology, Achilles compared to Hector, the ‘virtuous warrior’ Achilles, and Odysseus compared to Achilles. A. ignores Adam Parry’s insights into existential Achilles’ eloquence and insights. The political scientist puzzles over heroes’ inadequate sense of duty, as though these men lived in nation-states that we take for granted, and by rules of war that diplomats still debate. But Homer’s soldiers inhabit a combat-fatigued, genocidally inclined Achaean camp—a fragile coalition commanded by the inept Agamemnon. A. wonders, logically but inappropriately, what Achilles would do were the Achaeans to abandon their campaign (Agamemnon’s advice thrice!).

A.’s deconstruction of Homeric gods demonstrates anew their comic imperfections—even if Homeric characters (and A.) incline to judge them ‘providential, wise and just beings.’ He gathers examples pro and contra in a conscientious manner. Like Plato, he abhors Zeus’s deceptive dream sent to Agamemnon; when it backfires, Homer has exposed the folly of Zeus. So capricious, lower-case gods don’t care about us anyway, because gods don’t ‘get it’ [tragic mortality].

A.’s strategic wisdom posits that the Trojan alliance, had the troops stayed inside their walls, could have survived or eventually won. Hector’s faults include rashly moving them and himself out into battle. Hector emerges poorly indeed, not only as commander but as a cowardly person, ‘breathtaking[ly] selfish,’ foolish, and shallow—also reckless, over-confident in Zeus’s favour, clumsy, and brutal to Andromache. On the other side, A.’s Agamemnon has shown sufficient ‘contrition’ to placate anger-enjoying Achilles (cf. the honey simile, Il. 18.108-12). Further, Achilles’ ‘attendant’ Patroclus wants to show his ‘virtue,’ (i.e. martial prowess), but Achilles stunts his career so as to appear ‘Most Virtuous’ in a zero-sum game.

Oddities multiply, e.g. Achilles thinks ‘the noble deserve everlasting life,’ while he hopes Achaeans will ‘renew their devotion to Justice.’ ‘Odysseus’s curiosity is focused on one… question … the question of divine providence.’ Odysseus is humble and pious. Agamemnon seems especially pious. Odysseus imprudently kills all the suitors in ‘pious zeal.’ Since the suitors fail to assassinate Telemachus, they did no harm to Odysseus’s family; therefore, he rationally should accept contrite Eurymachus’ promise of suitor reparations.

The book’s blurb finds A.’s study provocative; it clearly provoked me. General readers may dismiss this book that misspells the names of Hecuba, the savage Laestrygonians, and George Dimock, and that cherishes clichés like ‘tender mercies.’ A. finds Achilles’ rejection of fighting ‘simply baffling,’ but this exceptional youth’s actions were neither simple nor baffling to those acquainted from birth with Homer’s understanding of honour and status (cf. Walter Donlan and Hans van Wees’s studies). To what extent did fifth-century hoplites internalize earlier epochs’ collective standards? Did Homer intend the self-interested basileus Achilles to serve as model for polis-inhabitants? A.’s close readings extract significant questions, but one cannot equate all Bronze Age and Twitter Age dilemmas. A. seeks to honour Homer, but the blind poet is deaf to these praises.

Donald Lateiner—Ohio Wesleyan University

TWELVE VOICES from Greece and Rome: Ancient Ideas for Modern Times

by Christopher Pelling and Maria Wyke

OUP (2014) h/b 274pp £18.99 (ISBN 9780199597369)

In 2008 Chris Pelling, Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford, and Maria Wyke, Professor of Latin at UCL, worked with the BBC and the Open University to produce The Essay: Greek and Latin Voices. They invited many of the great and good to make a 15-minute contribution expressing their response to individual writers from the ancient world. This book constitutes another series of essays, written not broadcast, in which the authors take up their own invitation. There are six 20-page essays on Latin and six on Greek writers, set out in chronological order from Homer, author of epics (c. 700 BC), to Lucian, man of universal culture of the 2nd C AD. Before each essay is an introductory paragraph summarising the career of the author. At the end of the book is a very useful assembly of suggestions for further reading. The object of the essays is not to elicit ‘eternal truths’ from them but to have a ‘conversation’ with them—‘the ways in which texts speak to us and invite us to respond’.

‘Conversation’ is perhaps not an apt word in the same way throughout. It works relatively well with Virgil, whose different ‘voices’ are so familiar (‘Tell us, Virgil, who is your Aeneas: he of the shield in book 8 or the murderous conqueror of the end of book 12?’) With Thucydides it is more like chuntering to one’s neighbour in a lecture hall while the speaker pontificates. And with Sappho the conversation is not so much with Sappho as with all the different moderns who have tried to tell us what Sappho Really Liked. I have a slight regret that all the Greek authors are covered by Pelling and all the Latin by Wyke: one could have had a little more evidence of conversation between them, especially on a subject like Sappho, where Wyke’s experience on gender studies might have been valuable. But: these are delightful essays by very intelligent and approachable scholars, capable of looking at ancient authors through modern eyes and of appreciating the risks of doing just that. Well worth reading, whether you think you know something about Homer or know you know nothing.

Keith Maclennan

ANCIENT GREEK AND CONTEMPORARY PERFORMANCE: Collected Essays

by Graham Ley

University of Exeter Press (2014) h/b 270pp £70 (ISBN 97880859898911)

The essays assembled in this collection straddle a period of over thirty years and cover a wide and often unrelated range of topics. Divided into four sections, each with an introduction contextualizing the essays within a personal odyssey through academic research and practical dramaturgy, all are written or co-authored by L. (himself one of the editors of the Exeter ‘Performance’ Series). The first seven deal more-or-less with Greek drama, the remaining ten with theatrical theory and performance from the mid-nineteenth century, culminating in a triad of essays focusing on contemporary black, minority and ethnic (BME) drama in the UK.
Classicists interested in the practicalities of classical performance will find much to engage them in L.’s exploration of Greek staging based on his own experimental productions in the Antipodes. He not only argues convincingly that 5thC BC actors performed in the orkhêstra rather than on the skênê, but writes cogently about the chorus, as well as considering the broad diversity of people who must have been involved in productions at the Dionysia, from costume-makers to crane-operators. Even in ‘Greek’-related essays, however, there is much that will be of real value only to specialists. This ranges from an attempt to define the word hupokritês (‘actor’) by studying the use of the word hupokrinesthai in Homer and Herodotus, to a comparison of Aristotle’s Poetics, Bharatamuni’s Natyasastra and Zeami’s Treatises, and a closely argued essay on ‘Performance and Performatives’, referencing a comprehensive body of previous critical literature.

The second half of the book belongs on the shelves of Theatre Studies. Here L. dissects notions of modernism and post-modernism, ponders adaptation and is enthusiastically discursive on British BME theatre companies. Alongside essays, L. includes examples of his reviews and assessments of the work of other academics and practitioners. These tend to be characterized by an unattractively combative tone, which makes for uncomfortable reading, whether the discussion be about books, articles or people.

This, then, is a book not only of two halves but of many fragments, only some of which will appeal to the general (or even specialist) classicist. Its writing is at times withering, at times closely-reasoned and at times oddly sweeping: ‘In the case of Greek tragedy, with the discursive embodiment comes a critical state of emotional consciousness that cannot and will not exist without it. People do not think and act like Athenians without Athenian tragedy; they think and act like Spartans.’

David Stuttard