HINDSIGHT IN GREEK AND ROMAN HISTORY

by Anton Powell

Classical Press of Wales (2013) 228pp £50 (ISBN 9781905125586)

Hindsight in ancient historiography has received considerable attention, especially of late. This highly attractive volume pursues a different, if inevitably cognate angle: the contribution that hindsight can make to our understanding of crucial moments in ancient history. Such a project does of course require a robust engagement with historiography, but considerably (and excitingly) exceeds its remit. Its agenda is not just to restate the importance of ‘what if’ history: it is predominantly, as Anton Powell makes clear in his crisp introduction, about writing history by asking ourselves what alternatives—real and perceived—were open to those who experienced certain historical events, how they went about predicting their future, and how they shaped their choices accordingly.

Christopher Pelling’s paper offers a second introduction to the whole theme that is also a most enjoyable tour de force, from Robert Harris’s Fatherland to the perils of Great Man history and the surprisingly strong explanatory power of virtual history. More specific contributions ensue: Emily Baragwanath on Herodotus’ selective avoidance of hindsight in his assessment of Athens’ contribution to the struggle against Persia; Roger Brock on the Sicilian expedition, the distinct possibility of an Athenian success, and the surprisingly fortunate consequences that defeat at that crucial junction had for Athens, as it tempered the revenge of her enemies after 404 BC; Lisa Hau explores the place in Thucydides and Xenophon of what Garry S. Morson has called ‘sideshadowing’, i.e. the authorial choice to alert the reader to the outcomes that certain events may have had in the past. Helen Roche deals with the place that hindsight has had in the historiography (ancient and modern) on the decline of Sparta after 371 BC.

The Hellenistic period is an age of change and frustration on a large geographical scale: Alexander Meeus explores the ambitions of the successors of Alexander the Great to universal hegemony, and Felix Maier discusses the weight of counterfactuals in Polybius’ narrative of the Punic Wars, which was so deeply preoccupied with the major historical changes of his time. A. Powell and Katherine Low close the proceedings with two moments of major political change and painful choices in Roman history: the 30s BC, in which the prospect of Eastern domination was regarded as more realistic than often recognised; and the days following Caligula’s death, in January AD 41, when a concerted effort to restore the Republic was made, and arguably came close to succeeding.

The volume displays the distinctive standards of elegance and exactitude to which Classical Press of Wales has accustomed its readers for the last couple of decades—as well as the idiosyncratic choice of using endnotes, even in papers where the reader would like to follow and test the unfolding of the argument by taking a close and frequent look at the references. This invaluable collection should belong in any serious Classics library, will splendidly serve the needs of research and teaching alike, and will feed the curiosity of many a general reader.

FEDERICO SANTANGELO—Newcastle University (federico.santangelo@ncl.ac.uk)

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CALIGULA: THE ABUSE OF POWER

by Anthony A. Barrett

Routledge (2015) h/b 384pp £105 (ISBN 9780415658447)

This book forms part of the Routledge series ‘Roman Imperial Biographies’. It is a second edition, published with a slightly revised subtitle: Abuse of Power (rather than Corruption of Power). The text has been revised by its author and the new edition takes into account scholarship published since the first edition appeared in 1989. The structure is largely unchanged. Essentially it is chronological, with a focus mainly on the succession from Tiberius and the years of Caligula’s short reign as Roman emperor (AD 37-41).

The book is aimed at the professional scholar as well as the intelligent general reader. On this spectrum, I would say that the book is positioned more towards the scholarly end. It seems that the author might not himself have chosen the biographical format, which ‘imposes undeniable limitations on the serious study of any historical period’. But scholars like Professor Barrett must accept that ‘perversely or not, people are fascinated by figures like Caligula.’ The scholar is therefore asked to address this popular fascination and can offer ‘a study that seeks to take proper account of scholarly research and archaeological evidence.’

There is some excellent detective work in the book, such as the careful use of literary, epigraphical and archaeological evidence to conclude that the legions XV Primigenia and XXII Primigenia were formed by Caligula as part of his preparations to invade Britain (which he never did). Barrett thoroughly examines his sources, if only to conclude that they are ‘of limited value’. The result is the most secure outline of events that can be achieved.

The inevitable downside of this sober and scholarly approach is that very little can be said about Caligula with any confidence. Barrett successfully argues that there is too little evidence to conclude with certainty that Caligula was insane. Similarly, he probably did not bankrupt the empire. He probably did not commit the atrocities that are attributed to him. He probably did not kill as many people as one might have thought (the list of his named victims is not particularly long) and some of them probably deserved it (e.g. Gaetulicus). The lurid figure who may have attracted our interest in the first place, the incestuous, sadistic maniac, in this book turns out to be an ordinary, run-of-the mill autocrat such as the world has seen many times over.

Giles Gilbert—Woodbridge School

DEFINING BEAUTY: THE BODY IN ANCIENT GREEK ART

by I. Jenkins, with C. Farge and V. Turner

The British Museum Press, London (2015) 256pp £30 (ISBN 9780714122878)

This book, with its 200+ illustrations, accompanies the British Museum exhibition of the same title running from 26 March to 5 July 2015. The book consists of four introductory essays, followed by ten thematic sections (roughly three-quarters of the book). These are essentially pictures of objects and accompanying explication, constituting a catalogue of the exhibition. The writing is for the general reader rather than the specialist.

Arguably the most interesting sections of the book present some of the latest thinking about the use of colour in ancient (classical) sculpture. Unlike the new Akropolis Museum in Athens, say, the classical galleries of the British Museum normally present Greek and Roman statuary with little accompanying comment on the original coloration. It is all the more breath-taking, then, to contemplate illustrations of the clutch of brightly-painted casts displayed in the exhibition. The impact of these reconstructions is visually stunning. The disconcerting unfamiliarity of the overlay of joyous polychromy on stone and metal requires a new art-historical narrative, one which classical archaeologists, it is perhaps fair to say, have yet to provide. At any rate, the British Museum’s decision to include the painted casts—brought over from Germany—is another step forward in this process of re-education, as is the emphasis in the essay by German classical archaeologist Vinzenz Brinkmann, a well-known specialist in this area, on the quality of lifelikeness—as opposed merely to realism—apparently so sought after by the ancient Greeks (and Romans).

Also illustrated in the book (pp 66-67) is another highlight of the exhibition, the life-size bronze of a naked athlete found fairly recently in the Adriatic off the Croatian coast. The head in particular, the lips inlaid in copper, is a minor masterpiece, and the figure as a whole raises well-known, but still puzzling, questions about the cultural significance of male nakedness in the public arts of ancient Greece. Ian Jenkins, the chief curator of the exhibition, addresses these questions in the first of the essays (‘The human body in Greek art and thought’), and offers plenty of food for thought.

As in the exhibition itself, some of the catalogue perhaps shades into a discourse on Greek and Roman life (arms and armour etc.) rather than keeping a sharp focus on the ‘body in ancient Greek art’. Clear exceptions are the selected Elgin marbles (complemented by a very interesting essay by Athena S. Leoussi on their nineteenth-century reception). In all, the book, beautiful to handle, offers a valuable commentary on, and amplification of, the significance of the classical collections of the British Museum, to which the vast majority of the objects illustrated belong.

Tony Spawforth—a.j.s.spawforth@ncl.ac.uk

THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF SANITATION IN ROMAN ITALY: TOILETS, SEWERS, AND WATER SYSTEMS

by Ann Olga Koloski-Ostrow

North Carolina (2015) h/b 286pp £53.98 (ISBN 9781469621289

Lucan the poet, according to Suetonius, once let rip in latrinis publicis to such effect that he cleared the room of his fellow sitters, as K-O relates, but it might have been Lucan’s quotation of half a verse of Nero’s (sub terris tonuisse putes—you would think it had thundered beneath the earth) that caused the evacuation: with no u-bends, Roman public latrines were open to the sewers, the gases that emanated from them were probably more than a match for Lucan, and no one in their right mind joked about Nero in public.

But this is one of many assumptions about Roman hygiene that we make because the evidence we have is so elusive. Sanitation heads the Monty Python list of what the Romans did for us, but there are many indications that Roman cities may not have been as salubrious as we are sometimes led to think. The cloaca maxima is more drain than sewer, the sewer recently excavated at Herculaneum went nowhere, and despite over 300 toilets known in private property in Pompeii, ‘the woefully inadequate number of toilets available to the public both in Herculaneum and Pompeii in the theater, near the amphitheater, in the forum, and in baths remains a problem for us to consider.’ (p.12) K-O’s approach is to present a selection of the evidence first before subjecting it to analysis. A hundred figures (plans and b/w photographs) illustrate the text, and her notes contain extensive quotations from ancient sources with translations. These are both particularly useful inclusions since the evidence is drawn from a wide variety of sources, many probably not immediately to hand.

K-O limits her investigation to Italy in the late republic and early empire and, although she considers aspects of hygiene beyond the mere disposal of waste, the topic of sanitation is too broad for a comprehensive survey in 122 pages (the size of her basic text). K-O is self-consciously academic in her approach and writes with frequent reference to the extensive scholarship that has mushroomed in recent years, but despite talking of ‘theoretical frameworks’ there is no obfuscation: ‘formation processes’ for example are ‘human behaviors and activities’ determining the toilet’s ‘construction, use and ultimate abandonment’. The evidence (both physical and written) for Roman toilets raises questions about their design and function. For example, the painting in the Baths of the Seven Sages depicts a multi-seat forica with all the seats occupied (in the surviving part) and Romans busily discussing the business at hand. Does this fine example of Roman humour give a false impression of the social use of the toilet? No women are shown. Did they have separate facilities? The word xylosphongium appears among the dipinti. Though a Greek word in origin, it describes the sponge on a stick we commonly associate with Roman toilet habits in particular. It is difficult to determine just how widespread the use of sponges was, but perhaps it’s time we naturalized the word in English: after the xylophone comes the xylosponge?

K-O, while being wittily self-deprecating (she envisages references to her book taking the form ‘K-O on the toilet’), can certainly expect her book to provoke more thinking and serious engagement with this topic of universal interest.

Alan Beale

http://www.eurospanbookstore.com/the-archaeology-of-sanitation-in-roman-italy.html

WAR: ANTIQUITY AND ITS LEGACY

by Alfred S. Bradford

I.B. Tauris (2015) p/b 176pp (ISBN 9781848859357)

Writing in the I.B. Tauris ‘Ancients and Moderns’ series, Professor Alfred Bradford, a Vietnam veteran (1968-9), covers the field from Homer to the Roman Empire and up to the Vietnam war. Chapters follow on the study of war (theorists on the rights and wrongs), writing war (the Old Testament to novels and the modern memoir) and images of war (the Narmer palette to cartoons and video games).

Homer’s Iliad, the West’s first work of literature (c. 700 BC), has war at its heart, and already there are procedures and issues with which we are familiar today: the justice of going to war, parleys, treaties, treatment of the dead and setting up of monuments to them. Classical Greeks made peace under treaty by means of sacred oaths and exchange of hostages, vowing ‘to have the same friends and enemies’. Romans instituted their own official procedure of surrender—handing oneself over into Roman good faith. Cicero (1st C BC) defined the two big questions as ius ad bellum (justification for declaring war) and ius in bello (rightful conduct on the battlefield): retaliation and self-defence, under the appropriate authority, were at the heart of the former. St Augustine thought war should punish wrongdoing, vengeance was not permitted and the defeated should be converted to Christianity. Machiavelli argued that all war was just. Others argued that war could be pre-emptive: fear along could justify it. The Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius (17th C) was most influential in arguing for a true ‘law of nations’ and the concept of international intervention.

Writing about war began with Homer and became a staple diet of ancient Greek and Roman poets and historians. Xenophon left a memoir of his expedition to help the Persian Cyrus, and Julius Caesar left diaries of his wars in Gaul and the civil against Pompey: the personal account was born, and flourishes today. One of the most important books on Roman battle tactics was written by Vegetius, and was used widely up to the 17th C.

Depictions of war on pottery were commonplace in the Greek world, and soldiers, both the living and the dead; decorated marble monuments were also put up to them. Romans followed suit. Trajan’s column celebrates that emperor’s victories in Dacia, depicting the army in all its various activities; the arch of Titus celebrates a victory parade after the capture of Jerusalem. The tradition continues today, expanded into film, photography, cartoons and so on.

This excellent account lives up to the reputation of the series: engaging, accessible and written by experts with non-specialists in mind.

Peter Jones

WOMEN IN REPUBLICAN ROMAN DRAMA

by Dorota Dutsch, Sharon L. James, and David Konstan

Wisconsin (2015) p/b 260pp, £34.93 (ISBN 9780299303143)

There are eleven essays in this anthology, as well as an excellent introduction which establishes the reasons for, and purpose of the collection, the state of current scholarship in the subject, and a summary of each of the contributions. The three sections into which the chapters are divided are entitled Females in Performance, Women in Roman Drama and Society, and Receptions.

There was a gap in the shelves of Latin Literature, Roman Social History and Theatre Studies which this book goes a significant way to fill with a generally accessible volume (most of the Latin, if quoted, is translated) which combines theoretical insights with breadth of coverage. It is interesting to see what the editors have chosen to exclude and what to include: ‘Republican’ means that there is no chapter on Seneca’s tragedies, for instance; ‘Drama’ means that the focus is not exclusively on the comedies of Plautus and Terence, although the surviving texts mean that these inevitably feature most prominently; but the most important word in the book’s title is its first—all the essays have the female characters as their main theme, either as individuals or, more commonly, in relationships as daughter, lover, wife, mother, courtesan, etc.

The ‘Receptions’ section contains contributions on Machiavelli, whose Mandrogola combines aspects of the Greek and Roman New Comedy with Lucretia from Livy’s Book 1; on Shakespeare—the influence of the Roman meretrices or brothel keepers on plays such as All’s Well That Ends Well and Comedy of Errors—filtered through the new (to me) concept of the theatergram (sic) which is defined as ‘a dramaturgic element that exists within a common repertoire and is subject to permutation, combination and gradual evolution’; and on a puppet opera by the Brazilian playwright, José da Silva, called Anfitrião ou Júpiter e Alcmena, based on Plautus’s Amphitruo, and giving Juno a role that undercuts the male domination and creates a female triumph for a change. Particularly enjoyable were the two essays which dealt with women in genres other than the Greek-inspired comedy of Plautus and Terence: Jarrett Welsh on fabulae togatae (comedies in Roman settings) in which the female characters have more varied and different lives with a greater range of possible outcomes; and Gesine Manuwald on fabulae crepidatae (Roman tragedies) in which characters from Greek myths and legends are depicted with contemporary Roman values. However, the nature of the surviving material means that these topics are handled with much speculative interpretation of fragmentary quotations from later authors; this may go some way to explain why there has only previously been one article specifically devoted to women in Republican tragedy.

For the rest there are interesting discussions of the language used by female characters and how it reflects their status (by Sharon L. James), on the way that pairs of women work collaboratively in some plays (by Anne Felovitch), on issues concerned with the portrayal of female characters by male actors (by Amy Richlin), among other engaging themes. ‘The youthful wild oats of sons, the violent passions of mercenary soldiers, the lecherous wanderings of husbands’ (p. 102) are themes which continue to interest novelists, screenwriters and playwrights and which are discussed from the female (victims’?) perspective in this valuable and important study.

Stephen Chambers—Balliol

http://www.eurospanbookstore.com/women-in-roman-republican-drama.html

PERSIUS: A STUDY IN FOOD, PHILOSOPHY AND THE FIGURAL

by Shadi Bartsch

Chicago (2015) h/b 260pp £35.00 (ISBN 9780226241845)

This highly readable study gives us a fresh view of the Roman satirist Persius, a writer whose work, composed during the reign of Nero, offers some of the most interesting (and difficult) Latin to have survived. His satires are dense, colloquial and pungent: full of striking imagery and wordplay and, above all, they come with a stark Stoic message: they are a mile away from the eclectic ‘committed to no school of thought’ of a Horace (Epistles 1.1.14) and closer to the fundamentalism of a poet like Lucretius.

Satire often plays with philosophy as part of the persona of ‘wise man’ looking benignly at the fools around him, with a nod towards Horace’s aim to ‘tell the truth with a smile’; but Persius interestingly does not take the route of presenting us with glowing imagery of the templa serena of wisdom, but seems more preoccupied with the vile bodies, the dirt and disgust, as the divine element in us is swallowed up by being attached to scelerata pulpa (2.64) – which B. nicely calls the ‘too too sullied flesh’ (p. 211).

There is controversy lurking behind all this which we also find in studies of Lucretius: is he a philosopher using verse or a poet using philosophy? If Stoics were so averse to emotional language and poetic decorative poikilia, why choose to write in verse at all? B.’s conclusion is that Persius has an ‘apotreptic’ aim to make us leave behind our feelings about the ghastly world of bodies, along with poetic cosmetic charm, and get into the real world of philosophy. In other words, Persius uses satire to put itself out of a job. If the reader is convinced by the venom and passion of his verse, then (s)he will throw away books of poetry like this and be a full-time Stoic.

Chapter one goes straight for the literary jugular—’cannibal poets’ who ‘eat’ their predecessors. Texts can be seen in this light as ‘a body of poetry’ to be consumed by others. Bad poets feed on each other and on the dismembered corpses of other poets’ work. You are what you eat—and Persius is keen to improve our poetic diet away from forcemeat and processed poetry/food towards his own vegetarian poetic, riper decoctius diet. B. discusses the term satura itself and sees it as a ‘mixed smorgasbord of foodstuffs’ (61), asking why Persius composed this sort of literary dogs’ dinner when he jibes at dogs’ dinners. B. answers that he could not use loftier genres to write what he wanted to describe (using Horace’s Ars Poetica as evidence of generic propriety): and what better form to embody this disgust of his than this alimentary art-form? Furthermore, his satura will be cooked properly and cure the stomach-ailments caused by (other poets’) bad poetry.

Chapter Two (‘Alternative Diets’) starts off with the famous passage in Plato’s Gorgias (465c) where cookery is equated with rhetoric as opposed to the ‘medicine’ of philosophy. Cooks aim to please, while doctors do not: the sweet is fake, while the truth hurts. B. gives us an exhaustive list (in an appendix) of medical prescriptions drawn from Pliny’s Natural History (including tasty remedies like children’s urine, hyena’s eyeballs, goat’s dung) which makes one thank the gods for the NHS. Persius’ work is good medicine: it is rough vegetables to keep us regular, rather than the grotesque literary sausages we generally consume.

Chapter 3 deals with sex, and here B. examines Satire 4: a curious poem largely based on the ps-Platonic Alcibiades and looking at the links between the pederast and the pedagogue: here we finally have something of a positive picture of the Stoic teacher Cornutus who apparently ‘straightened Persius out’. Chapter 4 returns to the ‘poet vs. philosopher’ argument with an examination of the famous imagery used by Lucretius to describe his verse as the ‘honey on the cup’ of philosophy and the way didactic verse seeks to be both utile and dulce. Persius is different: he tells us not to expect honey from him but acris iunctura. The journey is rough and so is the food.

Stoics, of course, mistrusted poetic metaphor and argued for what B. calls ‘language degree zero’ where there is a one-to-one correspondence of words and things (cf. Manilius 3.38-9). Poetry (such as Homer) could be salvaged as allegorical wisdom, but the audience of a Greek tragedy would need a Stoic guide to explain why and how the wise man deals with suffering, and even Plato presents the world as one of beauty and richness wrapped up in an elegant prose style: whereas Persius offers us the grim truth, devoid of charm.

The final chapter shows again how Persius does not lure us into Stoicism with attractive idylls of the wise man enjoying an enviable Zen-like state of ego-loss. The poet still keeps his focus on the scelerata pulpa, and lots of his material is deliberately shocking. B. looks again at cannibalism, seen as the ne plus ultra of excess (cf. Plato Republic 571c-d, quoted p. 202), and argues that for a Stoic sage to ‘eat some human flesh without gagging’ shows that you have ‘mastered a view of the world which is supremely rational’ (p. 206) and anyway (reason dictates) it is better than starving to death. Stoics can look at: ‘reeking breath, obese corpses, semen, ulcers, saliva, guts, mud, jaundice, gout and dropping hairy genitalia’ (207-8), rather as the good Epicurean can read the end of Lucretius 6 without losing his ataraxia. For Stoics such as Persius, as for Nietzsche (in Nietzsche contra Wagner Epilogue 2), tout comprendre, c’est tout mépriser and the poet neatly elides the need to be callidus with the Stoic growing of a callum (‘hide’) and becoming dispassionately ‘callous’. Appearances mislead, and value-laden statements built on them are shifting and unreliable. Seen thus, the poet gives us a world-view which debunks itself, and the ‘medicine’ which the poet offers is both something to be eaten and something to be ultimately discarded.

B. has given us a truly inspiring guide to a difficult poet, and her book is both astonishingly free of errors and remarkably hard to put down. Persius is not an easy bedtime read, but B. makes one see how rewarding he can be. B., like her subject, pulls no punches, and you might not give it to one’s maiden aunt or ten-year-old pupils: but then you would not give them Persius either. This fine book deserves to be widely read and to be put in all serious libraries where Latin is studied.

Dr John Godwin—Moreton Hall School, Oswestry