A HISTORY OF ANCIENT GREECE IN FIFTY LIVES

By David Stuttard

Thames & Hudson (2014) h/b 288pp £19.95 (ISBN 9780500252055)

On opening this book I was whisked back over half a century to those beloved reads which first drew me into the world of classics: Mary McGregor’s Story of Greece/ Rome, Men and Gods, and Charles Kingsley, for here we have the lives, in three or four pages each, of key players in Greek history, from c. 700-150 BC (Homer to Polybius via Pericles, Socrates, Alexander and all the usual suspects). Not that there is anything dated about this book, or cutely retro, nor does it suggest that history is about what the ‘great’ do and say. Rather, there is nothing current in the market, as far as I know, that takes this portmanteau approach to Greek history. It will, however, be noted that, of the fifty lives, only two are women. That’s (ancient) historiography for you.

But what S. has done is far cleverer than package fifty lives. This is a chronological narrative history of Greece, within which these lives are milestones. This does mean that there is a degree of toing and froing at the beginning of some of the lives in order to shuffle us to the right spot on the timeline, but that does not upset the overall flow. Further, there may be nothing new in these lives, but then a book like this is not the place for that. It is the place, however, for a retelling of these great lives with the verve to keep the general reader turning the pages.

One must say something of the volume itself, too. The production values are high, as you would expect of a T&H book. Under the dust cover showing the Deer Hunt mosaic from Pella are beautiful cream coloured boards blind impressed with two dolphins counterpoised. The flyleaves are the colour of red figure ware, and the content is printed on heavyweight ivory stock in a crisp, clear serif font. The 78 illustrations are excellent, and the colour plates exemplary. They are high resolution prints direct onto the ivory paper, so that the texture enhances their wonderfully true colour.

There should surely be a copy in every school library, as there should be in the Christmas stocking of everyone, young and old alike, with enquiring minds and an appreciation of quality. This book will give great pleasure to all who dip into its riches.

Adrian Spooner

VERGIL’S POLITICAL COMMENTARY IN THE ECLOGUES, GEORGICS AND AENEID

By Leendert Werda

De Gruyter (2015) h/b 175pp £52.99 (ISBN 9783110426410)

The author (‘W.’) lays out his programme clearly (p. 4): in the first part (ch.1 and 2) are the ‘theoretical cadre’ and the literary and socio-political context; in the second (ch. 3 on Ecl. and Geo.; ch. 4 on Aen; ch. 5 was V. independent?) is considered whether V. ‘expressed political opinions and whether it is likely that he wrote propaganda.’

W. sets out to show that Virgil was an independent and dispassionate political commentator. ‘One of V.’s objectives in writing the Aeneid was to give his views on contemporary political issues’ (p. 137). For example ‘V. was much concerned about the disappearance of farming and smallholdings in Italia’ (p.57). ‘It is likely that [V.] remained as convinced as he was before of the need to restore the land and to bring order and stability, and that he saw that the changing world required a more efficient authority’ (p. 146). ‘…by referring to Cleopatra in his portrait of Dido he showed his approval … of (!!) the extension of women’s activities’ (p. 133).

W. describes V. as writing his poetry with the use of two types of model, the ‘literary’ and the ‘functional.’ ‘Literary’ models are all those authors by reference to whom V. puts himself within the tradition of Graeco-Roman poetry. As for ‘functional model’, the idea is set out in pp. 11-13, but I confess that I never fully understood the idea. It seems to refer to a process whereby V. identifies some person or feature of the contemporary world and then invents, or discovers in previous literature, a character in whom he can invest some of the characteristics of the contemporary person, then using this to express an evaluation of contemporary events. On p. 13 we have Horace Odes 1.12 used as an example. This poem starts by imitating an ode of Pindar that praises the Syracusan tyrant Theron. Now Horace does not mention Theron at all, only a list of gods and Roman heroes, culminating in a reference to Marcellus who married Augustus’ daughter Julia in 25 BC. It’s not clear to me whether the ‘functional model’ is the Horace poem itself, the character of Theron in the Pindaric ancestor of the poem, or Augustus who, W. claims, is the ‘model’ for Theron.

This is a treatment of ‘further voices’ in a way which brushes aside the subtleties of the Harvard School. It is not that Augustus will like the Aeneid because he has failed to see the negative side of his New Rome in it, or even that V. and Augustus are getting together to say ‘nice omelette, pity about the eggs’. No, V. is setting this negative side out plainly for Augustus to see, and telling him he should do something about it. The trouble is, what should he do? You can’t really be a ‘political’ commentator just by noticing what’s wrong; you need to have a scheme for putting things right and a suggestion for how to go about it. V. has neither of those. ‘Is V. a propagandist?’ is also dealt with less than satisfactorily. ‘Propaganda’ is never clearly defined, and at least one argument that V. was no propagandist (pp. 31-43: ‘literature reached too narrow an audience to be described as propaganda’) is surely off-beam.

In short, this is an approach to Virgil which has not been around for a very long time. It probably has its use, in focusing our minds on the historical context. But as an aid to appreciating Virgil the poet, it will not appeal to many.

Keith MacLennan

DYNASTY: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE HOUSE OF CAESAR

By Tom Holland

London (2015) h/b 482pp £25.00 (ISBN 9781408703373)

This book is the fruit of a tremendous blend of skills. The mastery of sources and the political insight of a Ronald Syme, the narrative drive and storytelling style of a Robert Graves, and the racy candour of a televisual bonkbuster like Rome or Spartacus: that combination packs quite a punch and H. is by now (after Rubicon, Persian Fire, Millennium and Shadow of the Sword) something of an old hand at the recreation of the ancient world in the printed word. Like Syme, H. stresses the power politics and has no false respect for ‘the crooks, the adventurers, the opportunists’ (as Louis Macneice called them [Autumn Journal ix]) who ran much of the Roman empire in the period from 27 BC to AD 69. H. is alert to their schemes and stratagems, using the primary sources with astonishing fluency and accuracy and presenting them as the mafiosi they undoubtedly were.

His book begins with the founding of Rome (the ‘Children of the Wolf’) before moving swiftly on to the late republic and the career of Julius Caesar. The second chapter (‘Back to the Future’) sees the focus move to Livia, the future wife of Augustus and the mother of the dynasty which gives the book its title. We are taken skilfully through the lives and the careers of Augustus (the ‘Padrone’) and his dynastic successors Tiberius, Caligula Claudius and Nero, and the forward thrust of the narrative is matched by the panoramic view H. also affords us of the wider Roman scene in areas such as religion, literature and sex.

There is much that is confusing and dubious in Roman history but H. manages to illuminate the shadows above all with his vivid eye for metaphor. The monuments which suddenly appeared just before Caesar crossed the Rubicon are described memorably thus (p. 86):

‘These rival developments, set as they were against the squalor and decay general in the rest of the city, had glittered like gold fillings amid a mouthful of bleeding gums.’

Those of us who have taught this period know how hard it can be for students to remember who is who (‘who? oh, that Agrippina’); H. is alive to this and overcomes it with vivid characterisation—Maecenas is seen as ‘perfumed and smooth’, Claudius had the reputation of being a ‘pliable dolt’, Tiberius was ‘notoriously stingy’ and so on—and he also gives us a wealth of illustrations and family-trees just where we need them. The style of the narrative prizes clarity above all else and this book (like its predecessors) will make a splendid audiobook in due course.

Much of H.’s material is familiar ground but quite a bit of it is not the usual fare served up to students in traditional schools and colleges. H. unearths a lot of the squalid and the sensational bits which our teachers somehow forgot to mention—did you know what Hostius Quadra (pp. 109-10) got up to with mirrors, or why Sporus was called Sporus? —or interesting vignettes such as Lucius Vitellius’ use of his beloved’s spittle mixed with honey as throat medicine (p.328). His motive is not mere prurience or tabloid sensationalism, but simply a continuation of Peter Wiseman’s insistence (Catullus and his World 1-14) that the Roman world was ‘a world not ours’. We should not see them as Victorian moralists but let them be what they were, warts, perversions and all.

Good historians always cite their sources and this can result in pages of exhaustive and exhausting footnotes: H. weaves the quotations into his narrative, letting the Romans themselves do much of the talking, and cites his sources in the footnotes at the end of the volume. Take this (p. 108) for an example of a remark on the sexual mores of the time backed up by a quotation and an apposite character-sketch:

‘ “How like a rustic, to get upset when your wife cheats on you.” So Ovid, a man with his finger on the pulse of high society, observed with practised smoothness.’

All the sources available to him are fair game—and this means that poetry is cited alongside prose histories, speeches, biographers,and that the contemporaries (such as Ovid and Horace) are cited alongside later authorities such as Suetonius and Plutarch. This does raise the obvious question about the relative merits of different categories of literature as reliable sources, but H. uses them with such judicious ease as part of a wholly convincing narrative that we rarely see the joins, and his highly convincing preface acknowledges the issue and justifies his stance. There is a very full bibliography to send us scurrying off for (even) more information on the areas covered, and the book is immaculately produced and proof-read.

This is almost certainly the most readable book on Roman history this year and it obviously deserves to be in every college and school library. You will certainly enjoy it and you will learn a lot from it, even if you think you know the story already, but caveat lector—it should also perhaps carry a 15 certificate.

Dr John Godwin—Moreton Hall School, Oswestry

ANCIENT ROME: SOCIAL AND HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS FROM THE EARLY REPUBLIC TO THE DEATH OF AUGUSTUS

By M. Dillon and L. Garland

Routledge (2nd edn., 2015) p/b 854pp £29.99 (ISBN 9780415726993)

Anyone who has used the first edition of this volume will welcome this revised and extended version. The historical range has expanded to include the period from the death of Caesar to the death of Augustus; in addition the social history chapters now include material from this period. These chapters remain basically the same (with the addition of ‘sexuality’ to ‘Women and the Family’). The two new sections cover the rise of Octavian and the principate of Augustus. In the contents, the chapter headings have been expanded with sub-sections. This makes identifying the material easy to find. There are introductory essays to each chapter and much shorter explanatory notes to documents (reduced in size from the first edition owing to the scope of the additional material now included).

D. and G. have provided updated bibliographies and an extensive general index and one of ancient sources, plus a glossary (now at the beginning of the book), and abbreviations of personal names (always useful!). A brief guide to citing sources will be particularly helpful to those new to the subject.

The new chapters 14 and 15 (‘Octavian’s rise to power’ and ‘The age of Augustus’) feature not only the standard sources such as Plutarch and Suetonius but also Cassius Dio, Appian, Cicero’s Letters and Nicholaus of Damascus. There are sources which are less easy to access, including speeches, poetry, inscriptions and coins. Chapter 14 deals with the chronological events from the second triumvirate to the first settlement of 27 BC. The extracts chart clearly the issues faced by both Octavian and Antony and the course towards Actium. ‘The age of Augustus’ is especially interesting its variety of contemporary and later sources as well as extracts from the Fasti; there are sections on the Augustan laws bringing together useful accounts and views, Augustus’ family and friends, the imperial cult, slaves, freedmen, family life as well as sections on the constitution and politics.

This new volume is a welcome reference book for anyone interested in the history of the republic and Augustus. The translations are accessible and clearly designed for the general reader as much as for the teacher or student. It provides an excellent introduction to the study of sources, offering knowledge and understanding of a range of documents and authors across a wide spectrum.

Terry Edwards—Maidstone

CLASSICAL ARCHAEOLOGY IN CONTEXT: THEORY AND PRACTICE IN EXCAVATION IN THE GREEK WORLD

Ed. by Donald C. Haggis and Carla M. Antonaccio

De Gruyter Berlin/Boston (2015) 426pp £123.99 (ISBN 9781934078464)

Classical (or classical) archaeology resists definition—where are we to place its chronological or its geographical borders? It has moved well away from what Snodgrass dismissed as ‘a self-contained, even hermetically sealed, branch of scholarship’. The editors emphasise its progress but are also keen to point out how the theoretical approaches of recent years have marginalised the direct study of archaeological material. The stress here is on the importance of context and the central role that field work in Greece and beyond must play. Today the old search for architectural ruins and high quality artefacts must be set against investigation that includes plant life, human and animal remains, marine fauna, regional survey, remote sensing, etc. We are also urged to reconsider the traditional narratives and approach the material on a much broader front.

Geographically and chronologically, the net is cast wide: the excavations highlighted centre on various sites on Crete, Rhodes and Poros, Athens and the Peloponnese, northern Greece, Sicily and Lycia. Each is approached in a different way with a variety of emphases, and most chapters show how present excavations contrast with earlier digging. Three countries (Italy, Greece and Turkey) are involved, and this means that the archaeological teams have had to surmount different political and administrative obstacles before local and foreign excavators can even start their investigations.

The variety of methodologies is remarkable. As the editors point out (p. 8), ‘The collection is meant to be eclectic, demonstrating a diversity of field-based problems and perspectives, rather than the efficacy of specific field methods or theory.’ There are three sites in Crete of different periods (Praisos, Azoria and Arkalochori), three in and around Athens (where the emphasis is on mortuary assemblages), an early upland settlement in Lycia, Morgantina in Sicily (Antonaccio names the traditional old dig as ‘an accidental big-dig’ and contrasts it with the more up–to-date work being carried out at present), and three sites in the Peloponnese (Argos, Elis and Megalopolis where the agorai are shown to give the lie to our usual understanding of the appearance of an agora). At the sanctuary of Poseidon at Kalaureia on Poros attention is focussed on the fish bones, sea shells and fishing implements (net weights, bronze rings and lead hooks), and a vivid picture of the basic strategies of living around the sanctuary is recreated. It is a prime example of the value of the modern approach to classical archaeology.

Brian A. Sparkes

THE ANCIENT WORLD

By Jerry Toner

Profile (2015) p/b 152pp £8.99 (ISBN 9781781254202)

OUP has been publishing ‘Very Short Introductions to…’ for over twenty years, and Profile is now trying its luck in the same field with its ‘Ideas in Profile’ series, subtitled ‘Small Introductions to Big Topics’, of which the book under review is the fourth.

Compared with OUP’s productions, this new series is slightly larger in format, but in the same hard-ish paper-back and with the same fold-out front and back covers; the paper is not quite as good, with the result that some of the b/w pictures are of poor quality. There are two maps, one of the Hellenistic World, one of the Roman Empire (none of Greece/Athens), reading lists for each chapter, and an index.

If the series sets out to be unconventional, it certainly succeeds in this case. There is, for example, no introductory trot through the outlines of Greek and Roman history with accompanying time-line. The approach is, in fact, thematic, the themes very much in line with T.’s interests, e.g. low-life, slaves, games, gambling, disasters, mental health and the influence of classics on perceptions of other cultures. The Introduction adumbrates a number of such themes (including the wealth-gap, literacy, religion, medicine and sex), and makes the point that science in the cause of archaeology tells us much that is new about the ancient world, as does fitting Greece and Rome into the global picture. Subsequent chapters follow on low-life; the Hellenistic world (cultural spread and its frictions and fusions) and late Roman worlds (Diocletian’s reforms, the rise of Christianity and the effect on the medieval world); the science-archaeology connection, with sections on water-mills, bones, drains and mental health; cultural comparisons between Greeks and Persians, and the Roman and Chinese empires; and a final chapter on the classical world in relation to our understanding of Islam, Edward Gibbon’s take on the Turks, and the use of classicising architecture on military monuments.

This might all be seen as a rather odd pot-pourri of ‘introductions to big topics’; some topics did not strike this reviewer as particularly ‘big’, if by that was meant ‘important to the 21st century’. But that is to miss the point. The study of the ancient world has been taking off in different directions for a very long time now: even as I write, details of a conference flash up on the subject ‘How were bodily fluids, and those who exuded them, received in ancient society?’ The move is away from the study of classical Greek and golden age Roman literature to serious historical and archaeological research into less well-known times and places, while literary studies have morphed into a sometimes rather banal branch of the classical tradition (‘reception studies’). This is largely because knowledge of the language is not as secure among students or even some dons as it used to be, even though there is a vast amount still needing to be done on major historical sources, e.g. commentaries on Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, Strabo, Diodorus, Dio and so on. T.’s little book is a stimulating and often eye-opening introduction to the historical, archaeological and cross-cultural sides of this new work.

Peter Jones

LIVY’S POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY: POWER AND PERSONALITY IN EARLY ROME

By Ann Vasaly

CUP (2015) h/b 209pp £55 (ISBN 9781107065673)

Was Livy really a ‘small man, detached from affairs’ (Ogilvie), a ‘non-political moralist’ (Walsh) and a ‘political innocent… unable to interpret historical phenomena or visualize historical change’ (the view of Collingwood and Syme, as summarised by Walsh)? In this book Ann Vasaly sets out to poke holes in the traditional image of Livy the armchair historian, through close analysis of key passages from the first five books of his history, placed in their historical and historiographical context.

The volume consists of a short introduction to the life and times of Livy, followed by six chapters: The Historiographical Archaeology; Livy’s Preface: A Reader’s Guide to the First Pentad; Monarchy and the Education of the Roman People; Tyranny and the Tyrannical Temperament; The Best Citizen and the Best Orator; The Roman People and the Necessity of Discord.

A brief conclusion is followed by 40 pages of notes, a useful bibliography covering all of the classic works on Livy as well as more recent secondary literature, a comprehensive index locorum and a detailed general index. The volume itself is beautifully produced, with a stylish layout and striking cover.

Little is known of Livy’s life beyond a general consensus that he came from Patavium (modern Padua). Vasaly, however, manages to offer a plausible narrative of ‘the momentous, frightening, and violent events’ which drew in citizens from across Italy and which ‘would have left a deep impression on the historian’ (p.8), presenting this as evidence that Livy must have had a political axe to grind. Vasaly is best known as a Ciceronian scholar, and this is apparent in her ability to reconstruct the realities of late Republican Italy. Cicero’s influence is felt throughout this book: the conclusion, in particular, reads as a sustained ‘compare and contrast’ exercise between Livy and Cicero’s De republica, De oratore and De legibus in its attempt to show Livy as a dispenser of political teachings.

Cicero’s influence is felt throughout this book: the conclusion, in particular, reads as a sustained ‘compare and contrast’ exercise between Livy and Cicero’s De re publica, De oratore and De legibus in its attempt to show Livy as a dispenser of political teachings. One instance of this is a comparison between Cicero’s ideal orator in the De oratore and the speeches of Livy’s ideal statesmen (Quinctius Capitolinus and Camillus, amongst others). Despite clear similarities, Vasaly argues that ‘the model Livy holds up for his elite readers is at heart Catonian… rather than Ciceronian’ (p.132). Cicero’s orator can manipulate and control his listeners but does not improve them, while the success of Livy’s orator, on the model of Cato, is achieved by appealing to, and thereby restoring, the virtues of his audience: pride, patriotism, religious duty and a sense of connection to place and nation.

This is an engaging volume, passionate in its defence of the much-maligned historian, detailed in its re-examination of well-worn passages and firmly rooted in awareness of the political and literary context. It is a book with an agenda, and as such it perhaps over-states Livy’s brilliance and political acumen; nevertheless, it is both interesting and accessible, with clear explanations and quotations translated into English. It provides a helpful introduction to Livy and his world, and the sustained discussion of Livy’s Preface would be useful to anyone studying Livy or Roman historiography in general. It is not the definitive work on Livy, but any book that urges the reader of Livy to follow Machiavelli rather than ‘modern historians of ideas’ (p.139) is well worth a read.

Cora Beth Knowles