ROMAN BRITAIN: A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION

by Peter Salway

OUP (2nd edn, 2015) p/b 122pp £7.99 (ISBN 9780198712169)

This book is a concise, clear and readable history of Roman Britain across four centuries. It is ideal for the general reader, including one who comes to the subject with no previous knowledge.

The book is divided into four chapters. Chapter 1 (‘The beginnings of British history’) covers the Iron Age and Caesar’s invasions. Chapter 2 (‘The Roman conquest’) takes the reader from Claudius’ invasion in AD 43 through to the late third century. This is the longest chapter. It includes Boudicca’s revolt; the subsequent reconstruction of the province; the Hadrianic revival; the construction of the Antonine Wall followed by the retreat from Scotland; the reign of Severus and the division of Britain into separate provinces by his successors; the curious saga of the Gallic Empire. The chapter also covers social issues, such as urban development, life in the countryside, the villa culture and the mining industry. Although long, this chapter is orderly and each topic is well sign-posted. There are numerous helpful maps and illustrations.

Chapter 3 (‘Britain in the Late Empire’) tells the story from Diocletian’s accession through to the reign of Theodosius. The period between the late 3rd C and 4th C was one of momentous change both for the British provinces and for the Empire as a whole. This chapter gives a clear account of the reforms under Diocletian and Constantine. Chapter 4 (‘The end of Roman rule’) covers the fifth century. It deals with the ‘Brexit’ in AD 409, about which tantalisingly little is known, and also with the period after Britain had left the Empire.

The history of Britain in the first five centuries AD is far from straightforward. The volume of available information is vast and is expanding every year. Salway succeeds in packing a surprising amount of detail into his narrative, without ever becoming boring or confusing. Not every historian achieves that feat.

Although the book is intended to serve as an introduction for the novice, it is much more than just a ‘Noddy guide’. Salway is a distinguished scholar in the field and the author of a 550 page history of Roman Britain (OUP, 2001), which is widely regarded as a classic. Even in this slim paperback, Salway finds space to discuss several controversial issues, such as why town walls were built so early in Britain and the extent to which Christianity was adopted in the fourth century. It is questionable whether the famous mosaic at Hinton St Mary is a depiction of Christ, as Salway confidently asserts (see Susan Pearce, ‘The Hinton St Mary mosaic pavement: Christ or Emperor’, Britannia 39 (2009) 193-218). But even where one disagrees with Salway’s views, they are always stimulating. I particularly enjoyed his analysis of economic conditions in the late 3rd C and his discussion of the theory that there was a ‘flight of capital’ from Gaul to Britain during that period.

This book does not take long to read. One summer afternoon sitting in the garden should suffice. Yet it has much to offer both the general reader and the expert.

Rupert Jackson—Court of Appeal

LATE SOPHOCLES: THE HERO’S EVOLUTION IN ELECTRA, PHILOCTETES, AND OEDIPUS AT COLONUS

By Thomas Van Nortwick
Michigan (2015) h/b 160pp £56.95 (ISBN 9780472119561)

Written in Sophocles’ ninth decade (V.N. places Electra close to 410 BC), Electra, Philoctetes and Oedipus at Colonus are far from being the mellow reflections of old age. Instead, they are contentious and innovative, redefining the rules of Greek tragedy, reimagining the role of the tragic hero and even re-evaluating the place of drama within Athenian society.

This short, clear and elegantly-written study considers how ‘the Sophoclean tragic hero—lonely, defiant, and self-destructive—undergoes a crucial transformation in the last three plays’. Assuming little technical knowledge, V.N. devotes a chapter to each play, outlining how the tragedy unfolds, developing cogent arguments illustrated with quotations in his own English translations (where appropriate including the original Greek, transliterated and in parentheses), and always taking care to set the drama firmly within the context of late-5th C BC society and beliefs.

Thus he argues that the tension between action (ergon) and argument (logos), a polarity beloved of the sophists, permeates the plays, embodied on the one hand by their stubborn yet curiously impotent protagonists, and on the other by deceitful characters such as Orestes, Odysseus and Creon. At the same time, each play includes an element of metatheatre: in Electra the Paedagogus and Orestes utilise the urn and Clytemnestra’s covered corpse as props to help play out the false drama of Orestes’ death; in Philoctetes, Neoptolemus and Odysseus’ false messenger urgently improvise their fraudulent account of the Greek generals’ decision to steal the hero’s bow; and in OC the dramatically unexpected scene between Oedipus and Polyneices becomes a ‘tragedy in miniature’ in which Sophocles portrays ‘his central character banishing entirely a vision of the world and the hero’s place in it that has informed tragedy on the Athenian stage’.

Other themes, too, are explored, including Sophocles’ experiments with the role of the chorus even in these late works and the use of the performing space, but central is the way in which Sophocles draws on, but ultimately rejects, earlier characterisations to transform expectations of what constitutes a tragic hero. In the final chapter, V.N. sketches the historical background to these plays of ‘abused women, wounded soldiers, old men cast out of their homes’, convincingly bringing together the arguments which permeate the preceding chapters.

Aimed primarily at older school students, undergraduates, and their teachers as well as at drama practitioners, the book is well written, cogently argued and compelling, a valuable addition to any library.

David Stuttard—Freelance

VIRTUE AND REASON IN PLATO AND ARISTOTLE

By A.W. Price

OUP (2015) p/b 356pp £22.50 ISBN 9780198709350

This is a book which focuses almost entirely on Plato and Aristotle, and covers a wide range of material from the two philosophers, seeking to point the similarities and the differences, as well as including appraisals of a number of modern commentators. P. offers a balanced and non-partisan account. He adduces an impressive array of textual material, offering clear analyses. His discussion is well structured, so that by the end the reader has a clear picture of this complex and multilayered subject.

The book is divided into four sections, in each of which Plato’s thoughts are presented first, followed by those of Aristotle. The sections deal with (A) eudaimonia (happiness); (B) virtue; (C) phronêsis (practical reasoning); and (D) acrasia (weakness). There is a full bibliography, an index locorum, an index nominum and a general subject index.

Section A demonstrates the teleological approach of both philosophers to happiness; the ultimate goal of human life is happiness, which is equated to ‘doing well’; P. summarises as ‘a mode of living that is achieved in, rather than through, acting well’. (The ambiguity of the Greek phrase eu prattein (do/fare well) is discussed elsewhere.) This goal is desirable in itself, and all else is subsumed under it, each item such as health or virtue playing their part in the achievement of happiness.

But the two philosophers differ in their metaphysics of action, Plato seeking values located outside action, Aristotle within action. P. teases out the distinctions, showing how Aristotle developed rather than opposed Plato. P. gives a lucid account of what ‘doing well’ means for Plato; he ranges over a variety of texts, e.g. Gorgias, Symposium and Euthydemus, with discussions of the conditional nature of ‘goods’ such as wealth, of degrees of happiness, the place of wisdom, good fortune, and pleasure.

There follows an analysis of Aristotle’s concept (or rather concepts) of happiness. Again P. adduces a wide range of texts, especial Eudemian Ethics and Nichomachean Ethics, as well as discussion of a number of modern commentators. There are accounts of holistic as opposed to atomistic views of happiness, choice, deliberation, desire, the ambiguity of the term eu prattein, pleasure, and the complete life.

Part B deals with virtue and the virtues which, both as guiding and executive qualities, enable the individual to put resources to good effect in achieving happiness. P. starts with an account of Plato’s views, with an informed discussion of the unity of virtue, with three options offered: (a) virtue as simple and unitary, (b) each virtue as relative to its field, and (c) the reciprocality of virtues. This leads to a general discussion of emotions and desires, with a detailed analysis of them as portrayed in Republic.

For Aristotle P. shows how virtue lies at the interface between (affective) perceptions, which are common to non-rational and rational animals, and judgments made on those perceptions, which belong only to rational animals. This leads to a discussion of (a) the virtues and the mean, and (b) the unity of the virtues; an individual needs to calculate just where the mean lies in any one situation; to possess virtue entails possession of all virtues (a point contested by Peter Geach). For Aristotle, habituation is important in the formation of a virtuous person and therefore for the acquisition of happiness.

Part C concerns practical reasoning, typically that employing inference from the end desired to the means of achieving it. In the absence of universal guiding principles that can be applied to all situations, there is a need for judgement that takes into account all the circumstances, so that each individual situation can be evaluated—which is the thrust of the Socratic dialogues such as Lysis and Euthyphro. Plato’s curriculum proposed for the philosopher-kings in Republic presents some difficulty, in that it might seem that only the philosopher-king(s) can acquire happiness. P. offers a good analysis of Plato’s discussion of the measurement of pleasures and pains in Protagoras before returning to the education in dialectic outlined in Republic VII, and finally to the evaluation of pleasure in Philebus. Aristotle focuses more closely on practical wisdom (phronêsis) as opposed to Plato’s broader concept of wisdom (sophia) and his own contemplative wisdom (theôria). P. takes issue with Broadie and McDowell.

Part D deals with acrasia (weakness of judgement and/or weakness of perseverance), the factor which is most likely to inhibit the combination of virtue and reason which is the surest route for both Plato and Aristotle to human happiness. P. discusses at some length Plato’s views put forward in Protagoras and Republic, pointing to the change apparent in Plato’s thought between the two dialogues. For Aristotle, P. gives a clear analysis of the main text, Nichomachean Ethics VII.1 (his numbering of passages from Nichomachean Ethics and Eudemian Ethics can be a little confusing, since he chooses to designate overlapping passages as AE) and then goes on to defend his own rationalist account against difficulties raised by, inter alios, David Charles.

All-in-all this is masterly work that embraces and assimilates an impressive amount of material in a clearly argued sequence, straightforward where the issues are less controversial, even-handed where their interpretation is ambiguous. It adds much to previous work on the subject, and is to be recommended for advanced students of Greek philosophy and of the moral philosophy in general.

Barrie Fleet—Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

THE VIENNA EPIGRAMS PAPYRUS: CORPUS PAPYRORUM RAINERI Band XXXIII

Edited by P.J. Parsons, H. Maehler, F. Maltomini

De Gruyter (2015) h/b 153pp (incl. 7 plates) £109.95 (ISBN 9783110354522)

For those with a special interest in the tradition of Greek epigram or in the continuing and important developments in papyrology, this is a major new contribution to our knowledge. The material covered in the fragmentary papyrus—twenty or more pieces originally torn up to construct a mummy-mask—consists of just the first lines of 226 epigrams written in Greek during the Hellenistic period (probable date the late third century BC). Only one of the lines can be attributed with any confidence to a named poet—Asclepiades. All three editors acknowledge their debt to the multispectral imagining team of Brigham Young University, which has greatly aided the decipherment of the original fragments; colour scans of these will eventually be accessible on the website of Österreichische Nationalbibliotek (ÖNB), which owns the papyrus.

P.’s Introduction covers the details of the papyrus, the scribes, the format, the selection and the anthology, the types of epigrams and their authorship. Much of this is speculative or hesitant, but it is invaluable background to the detailed study of what follows. Each text is first transcribed without word-breaks or punctuation (but with ellipses and brackets); then again with them; and finally followed by a translation into English (where this is possible) and a line-by-line, word-by-word commentary of impeccable scholarship.

Here are some examples of the translation of these first lines:

col. i 14 reads              ουκειμουδετεωνδυοκεικοcι

thus               οὐκ εἴμ’ οὐδ’ ἐτέων δύο κεἴκοιcι

trans              I am not even twenty years old

In the Palatine Anthology (12.46) this is the first of an epigram by Asclepiades; though ‘whether the [letters most difficult to decipher and speculative] would have been so read if the text were unknown, is another matter’ (P. on p. 35).

col. i 17 reads              cιλφιονεγλιβυηcμε .. υμηττε

thus               cίλφιον ἐγ Λιβύηcμε .. υμηττε

trans.             Silphium from Libya …

The reference to the herb silphium, famous from Catullus 7.4 (‘silphium-bearing Libya’), and the possibility that the last word relates to Hymettus, famous for its honey still, make this an interesting culinary or medicinal conundrum which P. explores with characteristic thoroughness.

col. vi 13 reads            γυμνοcμενζηνηcοκαλοcκαλοc

thus                 γυμνὸc μὲν Ζήνηc ὁ καλὸc καλόc

trans.               Handsome Zenes is handsome when naked

This reversal of ‘clothes make the man’ seems to be a unique theme in Greek epigrams, though the final juxtaposition of καλόc has parallels which P. lists.

fr.1 col. ii 27    reads    εγλελοπιcθημορινηcκαινενακταικυμβ . υ .

thus     ἐγλελόπιcθ’ ἡ μορίνηc καὶ νένακται κύμβ . υ .

Of this example on p. 111, H.M. writes, ‘I have no clue what it could mean in this context’. The first word means ‘has been peeled’, the third ‘mulberry-coloured’ and the fifth ‘has been piled up’; is the last word κύμβοc, ‘a cup’? I have plenty of sympathy with H.M.

There will be scope for further discussion of individual lines, their decipherment, meaning and authorship, but the editors have done an outstanding job in presenting the material to scholars and the interested wider world, a marvellous example of laboratory detective work and classical scholarship.

Stephen Chambers – Balliol

INTRODUCING GREEK PHILOSOPHY

By M.R. Wright

Acumen Press (2009) p/b 244pp £19.99 (ISBN 9781844651832)

(Online publication [2013] ISBN: 9781844654390)

This volume offers a ‘concise and accessible introduction to ancient Greek philosophy…aimed at beginning students of classical studies and philosophy who wish to find their bearings in what can seem a complex maze of names and schools’. An introductory chapter , ‘Mapping the territory’, sets the time frame chronologically, from the sixth to the first centuries BCE, and outlines the social and political background against which philosophical thinking emerged, with brief biographies of significant thinkers. Thereafter W. chooses to abandon a chronological in favour of a thematic approach. Chapter 2, ‘Language, logic and literary form’ has sections on prose as opposed to poetry as a vehicle for philosophy; dialectic and dialogue (with some discussion of the so-called Socratic question); eristic; rhetoric; Platonic myth; and philosophy as expounded in Latin. The remaining chapters deal with areas of Greek philosophy such as cosmology, religion, soul, epistemology, politics and ethics—although within each topic the treatment is broadly chronological.

Compressing so much material into so short a span inevitably leads to some weaknesses and omissions. Two areas that were important both at the time and in subsequent centuries, both inside and outside Christian thought, do not receive sufficient space: (a) ontology: Parmenides’ ‘Way of Truth’ receives scant attention, as does Plato’s riposte in the ontology of the Republic—W.’s treatment of the Divided Line is sketchy, as is her discussion of Aristotelian substance, and of his metaphysics in general; (b) psychology: W. does not make enough of the fundamental difference between Platonic and Aristotelian (and Stoic) soul—we could, for example, have some demonstration of the immortality and separability of Platonic soul to set against an explication of Aristotle’s definition of soul at de Anima 2.1.

That apart, the strength of the book is that W. identifies fundamental and persisting philosophical questions, and sets them firmly in their historical context. But the ambitious scope of the book means that the material is often presented in too great brevity to do it justice, so that the effect is sometimes little more than a Wikipedic summary. Secondly, and more importantly, answers given to the questions are framed in a cut-and-dried fashion, with little indication of the complexity of the questions, and of the problems posed by the texts and their interpretation. There is no invitation for would-be students to ‘do’ philosophy.

But the book is full of information, succinctly offered, and would be suitable for anyone seeking a general outline to Greek philosophy of the period. It provides a useful starting point for anyone wishing to pursue the subject further, or for anyone wanting no more than a summary of the main issues of the philosophical thought of the Greeks.

Barrie Fleet—Corpus Christi College, Oxford

ODES : HORACE

translated by David R. Slavitt.

Wisconsin (2014) p/b 184pp £10.50 (ISBN 978029854 8)

In his introduction to The Penguin Book of Modern Verse Translation, George Steiner refers to Borges’ story of a man toiling his life away translating Don Quixote into the original Spanish. We all know that complete translation is an impossibility, and that a mode of expression as unique as a poem just adds to the difficulties. This is why the reader needs to know what the translator is trying to achieve with his or her approximation.

Slavitt has no doubt about his job, and reveals in his brief notes the additions, subtractions and changes he made ‘to get to what I believe Horace wrote’: so no historical and literary notes to align the English with the Latin. What readers get are the poems on the page, and no more, to render an Horatian experience. He hopes that his versions will speak particularly to the virginibus puerisque who don’t get the chance to learn Latin, but who are curious. The continuous decision-making process for the translator happens, says S., between a rock and a hard place. His versions, then, are vividly clear, and usually won’t need a second reading to understand what’s going on—the cultured Epicurean loving his rural estate, the company of his friends¸ and the freedom from pain he might expect from Augustus’ vision of a settled Rome.

It is instructive to compare S. with David West’s approach in his Odes III (Oxford). In W.’s foreword we read, ‘The purpose of this book is to explain the Latin and suggest how the poetry works’. To achieve this W. must tell us who’s who, the historical and social setting of the ode, and debts to earlier writers. These are poems of praise, a rare genre these days (laureates excepted), and we have, with W.’s help, some work to do to fully understand them.

S.’s translations reduce the conceptual distance between poem and reader as far as he can, whereas West cherishes that distance, seeing it as an opportunity for the reader to understand the whole context that will render up the deep meaning of the poem. S. is for the ‘naïve’ reader, W. for the interested/committed learner who wants to know more about what Horace was thinking about at the time.

So in the one (III 18), we get:

‘O Faunus, randy runner after the nymphs,
Come gently to grace my sunny bit of land….’

In the other:

‘Faunus, lover of fleeing nymphs,
Come gently over my borders and my sunny fields…..’

Again (III.1), compare:

‘Why would I ever think about big houses
With imposing doorways impressing the passerby?
I have my Sabine farm
Where I can be carefree.’

With:

‘Why should I raise a lofty entrance hall
in a new style with doorposts for all to envy?
Why should I give up my Sabine farm
For riches which bring more labour?’

W. and S., of course, are addressing virginibus puerisque of different experiences and needs, and one audience might prefer, for instance, ‘randy runner after the nymphs’ to ‘lover of the fleeing nymphs’.

Most of S.’s versions seem to me to hit the mark, and perhaps to compensate those who had no chance to learn Latin. Get some in as charming gifts to interested friends.

Adrian Spooner

TURIA: A ROMAN WOMAN’S CIVIL WAR

By Josiah Osgood

OUP (2014) p/b 215pp £18.99 (ISBN 9780199832354)

Trying to gain real insight into the character of Roman women can be a challenge: filtered through the lens of their menfolk, Roman women can fade until they are mere shadows. In that light, the Laudatio Turiae—a lengthy, eulogising tombstoneboth charms and intrigue: the woman who earned it from a grief-stricken husband strikes us as remarkable by any standard. O.’s fascinating book takes this Laudatio and sets about bringing this woman (whatever her name actually was) back to life: a woman, we read, who among much else avenged her parents’ murder (!) and offered her husband a divorce because was unable to bear children. O. begins with the painstaking gathering of the fragments. Frustratingly, since none of the fragments mention either the wife’s name or that of her husband, O. elects to refer to the couple without specific names. This usefully distracts the reader from the debate about who the couple were, and allows instead a real engagement with the eulogy.

O. then weaves the story of the couple through the threads of other contemporaneous lives: Caesar and Pompey, Cicero and Clodius, Tullia and Terentia. The reader is led to understand the husband’s eulogy through a series of well-devised exemplifications that not only clarify the eulogy but give an easily-digested overview of late Republic/early Principate Rome. O.’s methodical journey through the eulogy would make this book indispensable for anyone studying it; however, to suggest that this is only of interest to students would do it a great disservice. O. includes charming details that would capture the stoniest of hearts, such as the Roman tradition of a husband capturing his dying wife’s final breath with a kiss. The eulogy’s carved letters evoke a couple whose vitality makes them (ironically, of course) seem utterly alive. The husband freely admits that he has lost the power of self-control through the overwhelming nature of his grief; thus, the stereotypical image of the Roman Stoic is given a tweak, and we find that maybe, they are not so very different to us.

O. provides a wealth of information, culled from written sources as well as funerary monuments; in addition, there is a helpful chronology, a copy of the text with translation, detailed end-notes and a wide-ranging bibliography. Whoever the wife was, she is as well-served by O.’s commentary as she was by her devoted husband’s eulogy.

Cath Milnes—Sandbach High School