HELLENISTIC COLLECTION: Philitas, Alexander of Aetolia, Hermesianax, Euphorion, Parthenius

Ed. and trans. by J.L. Lightfoot

Harvard (Loeb Library, 2009) 662pp £16.95 (ISBN 9780674996366)

Excellent recent commentaries on authors of the Alexandrian period by Harder, Hollis and Stephens (Callimachus, Aitia, Hecale, Hymns), Hornblower (Lykophron), and Hunter (Apollonius Rhodius, Theocritus) have greatly enhanced our knowledge of the literature of the period; it therefore seems appropriate at least belatedly to acknowledge this admirable work by L. on the sadly few fragments of Philitas of Cos, poet and scholar, that have come down to us, and who is the main subject of this brief notice.

We know that he was tutor of Zenodotus and of the son of Ptolemy 1, which puts him in the later 4th and early 3rd centuries BC; that he was evaluated by Callimachus and praised by his pupil Theocritus; that he mainly composed in elegiacs; that he was well-known as a scholar; that he certainly influenced Ovid and Propertius; that Quintilian bracketed him with Callimachus, and that Statius brackets him with Callimachus, Propertius, and Ovid. Yet there is no surviving fragment longer than four lines, and papyri have helped hardly at all. His elegiac poem Demeter—Cos had a cult of her—has left no certain trace; whether he played any part in the development of bucolic poetry (as is possibly implied in the 7th Idyll of Theocritus) is equally speculative. It is a melancholy thought that the fragments show us more of the grammarian than the poet. He is the ghost at the Alexandrian feast.

L. follows a general Introduction and bibliography (pp. vii-xix), with a brief individual Introduction to Philitas, and then has mainly testimonia to deal with, some 44 all told. One of them, by Callimachus, is of tantalising interest: in P.Oxy.2079 we seem to read either that the short poems of Philitas and (the much earlier) Mimnermus are being compared favourably with their long ones, or that short poems are being favourably compared with the long poems of a different author, possibly Antimachus. L. did not have the advantage of having Harder’s Aitia available, where the evidence is subjected to detailed and acute analysis. Against the majority opinion, Harder favours the second option (which indeed accords with Callimachus’s general approach). A few lines quoted in Stobaeus suggest that the poet saw himself as refined, learned and dedicated; but from the other pitiable remnants hardly anything can be gleaned. Yet we know from an epigram of Posidippus, found in the Milan papyrus, that Ptolemy II (Philadelphus) commissioned a statue of him in bronze by Hecataeus, no mean memorial.

Of the other authors collected here, for whom a few words must suffice, all are dealt with in an equally thorough fashion (Introduction, testimonia, fragments), but only Hermesianax can offer any extended passage of poetry (90 odd lines of elegiacs from Leontion, quoted by Athenaeus: would that he had done the same for Philitas). Parthenius, previously lodged in an old Loeb volume with Longus, now appears in an editio altera auctior correctior. Euphorion, a poet of the ‘Avant-garde’, we remember from Cicero’s disparaging comment in the Tusculan Disputations, ‘cantores Euphorionis’. Macrobius regarded Alexander of Aetolia as an ‘excellent poet’, a judgment which the available fragments do not enable us to confirm or dispute.

A most useful addition to the Loeb Library, on which L. is to be congratulated.

Colin Leach


By Barbara Levick

Bloomsbury (2015) p/b 134pp £14.99 (ISBN 9781472534897)

‘Catiline (was victim) of a militaristic slave state which saw its subjects too as slaves.’ This is a key sentence (p.123) in Barbara Levick’s exciting new account of this important episode of the collapsing Roman Republic. It’s a good provocation: try translating it into Latin and then seeing how many of the characters from Rome of the 60’s BC you can get to agree with it. In fact none of them come out well, from Cato to Catiline.

After a short preface (‘[Catiline] is the equivalent of Britain’s Guy Fawkes’), three chapters introduce the reader to the context. The meat of the book lies in the next three chapters: was there a ‘First Conspiracy’?; what did the events of 63 BC amount to?; what were its consequences for the Roman state and specially for Cicero? There is a last chapter which deals with reception and the author’s assessment of the episode and its protagonist. There is a helpful timeline at the beginning, and after each chapter there is an extensive passage on ‘Further Reading’—not just a list, but a very constructive guide through the literature, explaining what questions each recommended work will seek to answer.

Catiline, according to Levick, was a catalyst. The troubles of 63 BC which are identified with him were not a single movement but a large number of disparate reactions in may different places to the social troubles which had been left unsolved and often unheeded in the aftermath of the political disturbances of the previous thirty years. They partly coalesced under Catiline when he despaired of making progress by constitutional means after his defeat in the elections for 62; it was Cicero as consul who succeeded in making them all seem a single huge and terrifying threat to the nation. Cicero himself was doing the bidding of the nobility who had most reluctantly and on strict if unstated terms conceded the consulship to him. It was all an effort to preempt Pompey, who was about to return from conquest of the East and, it was feared, establish himself, like Sulla twenty years before, as the necessary dictator. In the outcome it drove Pompey into alliance with Caesar and laid the foundations for the civil wars, the dictatorship of Caesar and the rule of Augustus.

A gripping story, convincingly told. There are only small reservations. It is presumably Bloomsbury policy to have no footnotes. This is quite frustrating when there are extensive passages quoted but no references given. There also seem to be some signs that the book was published a little hastily. The (useful per se) family tree of Marius appears inexplicably on p.13. The prologue is entitled ‘An Italian City under Roman Siege’: this ceases to have any relevance after p.2. ‘Rome After Sulla’ (pp. 9-17) doesn’t become ‘after Sulla’ till p.12. There are a few misprints early on (‘Segestus’ for ‘Sergestus’ on p.4), and some opaque sentences (‘a gap of 5 years was left between 94 and the previous plebeian consul’ p.2). But when Levick gets into her stride, we leave these anxieties behind. This is a thoroughly approachable book, recommended whether you know something or nothing already, about a fascinating and important episode of Roman history.

Keith Maclennan


By Daniel Silvermintz

Bloomsbury Academic (2015) p/b 93pp £14.99 (ISBN 9781472510921)

On the cover blurb, Steven Smith commends this book as ‘short, elegant, and readable’. I agree with two of these epithets. Protagoras, who survives for us in a few quotations, two of them infamous and oft-quoted, and an extensive portrait in Plato, is an important, but mysterious early thinker. In this short work, S. tries to dig deeper into his equivocal reputation. Those who expect some light to be shone, however, will find Protagoras’ reputation no less equivocal.

In three chapters, S. covers Protagoras’ beginnings as a thinker, his influence on Pericles and his ‘secret teaching’. Protagoras’ association with the early atomist thinker, Democritus, seems to be a canard, as the dates simply do not fit and only later writers report it; S., although he seems to acknowledge the problem (‘Legend recounts…’, p.3), starts a disquisition on physics, which allows him to introduce sophistic thought in general, before coming back to Protagoras qua sophist. Many of Protagoras’ saws about education are uncontroversial, but S. moves quickly onto Plato and builds a detailed picture from the famous portrayal in his eponymous dialogue.

The third chapter develops the examination of Protagoras’ thought from exclusively Platonic evidence, to the point where S. seems to forget, in his exegesis, that the Protagoras we see in Plato is a clever and plausible construct designed to be a foil for Socrates; his undoubted relativism was, of course, anathema to both Plato and Aristotle.

The most interesting idea proposed by S. is that Pericles’ political volte-face, as he has it, in 462 BC can be laid at Protagoras’ door; the aristocratic scion of the Alcmaeonids becomes the convinced democrat after philosophical discussion with Protagoras. This is an attractive thesis, supported by a fair and reasoned description of the development of democracy in Athens. Pericles’ ‘overzealousness’ is also blamed on Protagoras’ relativistic approach to ethics, as well as to politics.

S. finishes with a chapter which claims that Protagoras had one set of teachings which he was prepared to air in public discourse, but a quite different, more subversive one which he taught to his students. S.’s fault here is that he makes next to no allowance for Plato’s purpose and motivation.

I enjoyed this book, but felt that I learnt comparatively little about Protagoras, though I doubt whether an accurate picture of him as a thinker can ever emerge. The book is, indeed, short and readable, but would have benefited from more careful proofing, while the English is sometimes a little inelegant.

Terry Walsh—Ratcliffe College


By Gil Gambash

Routledge (2015) h/b 206pp £90 (ISBN 9781138824980)

G. has detected a gap in our studies of the Roman empire: rebellions, seeing these as a way of helping to determine the attitude of imperial central government to their provincials. His approach is not chronological nor geographical, but thematic. He examines the tensions which led to uprisings, the handling of the revolt, the imperial officials who dealt with the rebellions, commemoration, and finally the Jewish revolts. While acknowledging the value of such an approach, it does lead to repetition. Reiteration of, say, the Boudican rebellion could have been avoided, at least to an extent, by quoting the relevant sources in one place.

G. concentrates on a limited number of revolts: Boudica in Britain, Tacfarinas in Africa and the several Jewish uprisings. There is no consideration of the rebellion of the Ordovices of north Wales put down by Agricola on his arrival in Britain, the Batavian Revolt of 69-70, nor the Thracian rebellion following the annexation of the kingdom by Claudius in AD 45. Yet he finds space to discuss the resistance offered by Caratacus following the invasion of Britain in AD 43. These omissions are serious. Agricola set out to ‘exterminate’ the Ordovices, the reason being that they had previously submitted to Rome. Septimius Severus ordered Caracalla to take the same action in AD 211 following the rebellion of the Caledonians and Maeatae. These two episodes need to be taken into account when analysing the Roman reaction to the Jewish revolts. The aftermath of the Batavian Revolt is also interesting, for the pattern of military deployment was (briefly) changed.

These omissions are puzzling until we reach the penultimate chapter, which ‘sets the uncharacteristically aggressive Roman treatment of the Jews against the background of the regular conciliatory approach towards restless local populations’. This statement can only hold water if the two British examples cited above are ignored; if they are taken into account, the harsh treatment meted out following the 66-73 rebellion falls into a pattern. But, in any case, G. answers the question, pointing out that the actions of all Flavian emperors both during and after the rebellion related to the need to add legitimacy to the new dynasty.

There is another way to view the Roman attitude. A pattern does emerge from analysis of all the Jewish revolts. G. emphasises that the Jews were granted special privileges in relation to their religion (including freedom from military service, not discussed by G.), yet they were not only jealous of their privileges but sought or were granted more, and were troublesome when their demands were not met. This is acknowledged by G. In these circumstances it would not be surprising that Roman officials became exasperated, as G. suggests in relation to Gaius ordering the placing of his statue in the Temple, and earlier Tiberius following the demands of Tacfarinas. It may be possible to interpret Pilate’s actions in such a light following ten years of seeking to maintain balance, while Vespasian’s supposedly harsh treatment followed the destruction of a Roman army 6,000 men strong. Rome’s patience simply snapped at times in the face of frequent provocation. It is possible, therefore, to see Jewish revolts within a slightly different framework from that proposed by G. but one closer to his general thesis in which Rome generally acted leniently to the defeated rebels. The occasions when she did not might relate to the dispositions of individual governors, as G. acknowledges in relation to Suetonius Paullinus in Britain.

The Boudican episode is interesting in another way. Cerealis led a ‘rash’ charge south to try to quash the rebellion in its infancy, but received a bloody nose (p. 66). Cerealis acted in accord with normal Roman procedure, as did Varus in 4 BC (p. 64); he was merely unfortunate in that the rebellion had grown too large to be dealt with in that manner. So, too, Vespasian acted sensibly in Judaea in keeping his army together, thereby not falling in the same trap as, for example, Varus in AD 9.

G. suggests that prior experience of an area or a province would be a consideration in making appointments, and indeed it probably was, but too much should not be made of this. Agricola surely obtained his appointment as governor of Britain as much—or more—as a Flavian supporter than an expert in the province. Varus, governor of Syria at the time of the death of Herod, had married into the imperial family, and it would be useful to know whether his appointment was as a result of that connection or his genuine ability.

The book would have benefitted from improved copy editing. In spite of the statement that ‘dates in this book are CE, unless specifically stated otherwise’ (p. 16, n. 5) CE and BCE occur throughout. The phrase ‘to be sure’ should have been expunged. The language is American English, and the style also. A bibliography is provided at the end of each chapter, rather than at the end of the book, which leads to repetition. Sometimes, a secondary source is cited rather than the primary source, which is frustrating for those wishing to check references.

Has G proved his thesis that ‘an examination of … provincial revolt … should be able to produce not only a better understanding of how Rome dealt with provincial unrest, but also a clearer picture of the way the empire was run in order to secure the absence of opposition and the prevalence of peaceful routine’ (p. 4)? The answer is certainly in the affirmative.

David J. Breeze—Honorary Professor, Edinburgh University


By P.J. Rhodes

Bloomsbury Academic (2015) p/b 104pp £16.99 (ISBN 139781472523990)

Thucydides has a much higher media profile today than might be expected. He is required reading for many students of political science and international relations particularly in the USA, and so a new short introduction is welcome, not only to classicists. R. provides four chapters outlining the world of Thucydides and then goes on to examine his work as a historian and as a thinker. He concludes with an account of his reception in later periods.

Those who want to be introduced to Thucydides as a political scientist or philosopher will find that there is a lot of history to be taken into account first. Unless the reader has mastered an outline of the history of the Peloponnesian War, then discussions of his narrative technique or the extent to which the opinions in the speeches can be attributed to the person speaking are likely to be tricky to comprehend. The longest section (chapter 2) is devoted to such questions and is based upon frequent reference to specific events and chapters of Thucydides which demand knowledge of the original text. Linguists will also find it a useful research tool with a wide range of reference. Rhodes outlines all the right questions to ask about the text and sends the reader back to find the places which will yield the answers: what is the moral basis for how states behave towards each other? Is it possible for the historian to be unbiased? Can there be such a thing as international law?

The other sections on his philosophy and reception deal with the changes in Thucydides’ reputation from the earlier view of his complete independence of thought and dispassionate analysis of human behaviour to the more nuanced current way of thinking which places him more in his historical context. Like many introductions this one would probably be best read after, rather than before, the text; but those readers beginning to get to grips with Thucydides will find this an invaluable guide.

John Bulwer—London

COMMUNICATION AND MATERIALITY: Written and Unwritten Communication in Pre-Modern Societies

Ed. by Susanne Enderwitz and Rebecca Sauer

De Gruyter (2015) h/b 133pp £52.99 (ISBN 9783110371741)

This collection of lectures from a 2012 conference at the University of Heidelberg deals in particular with communication between ruling elites and their communities from 3000 BC to AD 1500. Taken together, the wide-ranging examples in this book give a series of snapshots of how writing functioned as part of administration, officialdom and kingship in pre-modern societies. There is no chapter that deals with a time or place that is strictly ‘Classical’, since the volume moves from Old Persian directly to the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. But readers with a wider interest in ancient and mediaeval societies will find plenty that is relevant to the Classical Mediterranean.

The collection makes two key points: first, that power can be communicated by objects and writing systems as much as by words. In Chapter 6, Christoph Mauntel shows that charters were objects symbolic of such power and wealth that the rebels of the Peasants’ Revolt impaled them on skewers and paraded them through the streets. The practice of giving clothes inscribed with the names of rulers in the mediaeval Islamic world is another little-known example interaction of materiality and literacy, described by Rebecca Sauer in Chapter 7.

Secondly, the book shows that the written word and the spoken word are always interacting as two intertwined ways of communicating royal power. For example, in this volume we find reported speech of rival land claims in Linear B tablets (‘The priestess Eritha holds and claims to hold etonijo land for the god, but the council says that she holds a parcel of kekemena ktoina’) and Mesopotamian letters that order the recipient to say something specific to another person (‘Say to Enlil-isa: Give 360 litres of dates to Nur-Adad! It is urgent! Do not go against him!’). Rulers in pre-modern societies needed both writing and speech to maintain their power.

In general, the chapters do not assume any prior knowledge of the societies, writing systems or languages they discuss. Angeliki Karagianni’s chapter in particular is a clear and helpful introduction to the Linear B tablets, and extensive bibliographies will allow an interested reader to dive further into each subject. A couple of chapters, including the brief introduction, make for a more challenging read. Douglas Fear’s chapter on Old Persian writing is the hardest to follow, because of the larger number of unexplained technical terms and untranslated quotes in various languages. This chapter also has more typographical errors than the other chapters in a generally well-edited book.

The volume carries a hefty price tag for a book of just 130 pages, but it is currently available as an open-access publication through the De Gruyter website. Classicists might be particularly interested in downloading Angeliki Karagianni’s chapter on the Linear B tablets and Mycenaean administration.

Katherine McDonald—Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge

THE LAWS OF SOLON: A New Edition with Introduction, Translation and Commentary

By Delfim F. Leão & P.J. Rhodes

I.B. Tauris (2015) h/b 210pp £70.00 (ISBN 9781780768533)

Readers of this review will need little by way of introduction to Solon of Athens. Herodotus’ work communicates stories (probably spurious) about him as a wise adviser to Kroisos the king of Lydia, and later Greeks held him in high esteem as one of the ‘Seven Sages’. The Athenians of the classical period believed that, during the late sixth century, he enacted a series of laws which had a long-lasting impact upon their politics and lifestyle. The difficulty faced by the modern historian trying to understand Solon’s laws is that there is, strictly speaking, no contemporary evidence for them. Some verses which may have been Solon’s own were quoted by later writers, but their discussions of his laws concentrated on the motivations behind his legislation rather than details of their substance.

This book is a comprehensive collection of the ancient Greek testimonia for Solon’s laws. As the first edition to translate them into English, it performs a valuable service both for scholars and a wider audience of all those interested in the laws of archaic and classical Athens. The laws are organised according to their subject as follows: laws concerning judicial matters, relations between neighbours, economic matters, sumptuary laws, Athenian constitutional institutions, and religion; a final section collects doubtful and spurious attestations. Concise commentaries offer valuable interpretation (see pp. 124-5, suggesting that the restrictions on slaves taking free boys as lovers reflected a concern to preserve status distinctions). Careful organisation makes the book useful for the historian; however, it lacks a subject index which would have been made its diverse content more easily accessible.

R & L. take the view that physical versions of Solon’s laws, in the shape of the inscribed wooden beams, set in rectangular frames (known as axones), were important in their dissemination during the classical period; they note, however, that as early as the fourth century, knowledge about the laws was based probably upon the circulation of transcriptions or books about them. The editors acknowledge that fourth-century Athenians made exaggerated claims about their knowledge of Solonian law, attributing even those which were ‘clearly more recent’ (p. 8) to Solon. While R. & L.’s interpretation of legislation is informed by the possibility that distortions were introduced by the source-texts, their primary interest concerns what it is possible to know about the substance of Solon’s laws.

Their helpful commentaries mention but do not have the space to probe every issue relating to the authenticity of laws preserved only in problematic sources (such as those on the perfume trade attested by Athenaios, collected on pp. 121-2) or in the ‘documents’ (themselves in need of scholarly analysis) which appear in some manuscripts of the 43rd and 46th speeches of the Demosthenic corpus. Regardless, this book will now become, for the foreseeable future, the standard work of reference for both those who wish to know about Solonian laws and those with an interest in what the Greeks thought about Solon and his legislation.

Peter Liddel—University of Manchester