BODY, DRESS AND IDENTITY IN ANCIENT GREECE

By Mireille M. Lee

CUP (2015) h/b 379pp £65 (ISBN 9781107055360)

Until recently Greek clothing was the poor relation of classical studies, for many years largely ignored by male academics and shunned by feminist scholars. L.’s is the first general monograph on the subject in English to be published in over a century. Focusing on the period, 600-323 BC, it makes for a fascinating and compelling read.

Having first outlined existing scholarship and considered dress theory, L. tackles the subject from the inside out, beginning with Greek ideas of the body itself, something to be honed and occasionally pampered, but never willingly subjected to permanent modifications such as tattoos, which were considered the mark of a barbarian. There follows a survey not only of Greek garments male and female from under- to outer-wear and of (albeit slow) changes in fashion from the archaic to the late classical period, but of the ways in which different age and social groups wore their clothing. Barbarian imports, too, appear, but while Thracian cloaks and Persian jackets were adopted on mainland Greece, bifurcated trousers were always beyond the pale.

Next, accessories are considered from shoes and slippers to women’s belts and jewellery to walking sticks, symbolic of the leisured male elite, and kunodesmai (foreskin attachments). Social context is always to the fore, and L.’s final chapter is a brief survey of the use of clothing and adornment—as well as attitudes to nakedness and nudity—from the cradle to the grave, with a nod to much between, including religion and ritual (for example, at Athens’ Panathenaic festival and the sanctuary of Artemis at Brauron) and symposia.

To illustrate her survey L. draws on a wealth of classical literature and (still more evocatively) Greek vase paintings and sculpture. Sadly, the quality of the (black and white) photographs lets the book down—many are too small and indistinct (at least to this reviewer’s eye) to show much of the detail discussed, and their distribution throughout the text means that trying to locate them when they are referenced in later chapters is often frustrating. Illustrations apart, however, this is an extremely worthwhile book, crisply and lucidly written, which manages not just to cover its stated subject but to throw real light on many of the everyday realities of ancient Greek society which can so easily be overlooked or taken for granted. As such, it will sit well on the shelves of anyone interested in the classical world.

David Stuttard

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CLASSICAL CIVILIZATION: GREEKS AND ROMANS IN 10 CHAPTERS

By Nigel Spivey

Head of Zeus (2015) h/b £14.88 346pp 9781781855003

Here is a glorious book—it quite simply reignites one’s passion for the classical world and, from a personal point of view, it reminded the reviewer why she spent the last twenty-one years teaching Greek and Latin in schools. S. writes beautiful prose yet with no hint of pomposity or grandeur. As with his other books, and as clearly shown in his BBC series ‘How Art Made the World’, he is a natural and passionate communicator.

The structure is fresh. No chronological romp from the Minoans to the fall of the Roman Empire here, but instead ten chapters for ten key cities which all had a crucial role to play in the development of classical civilisation. There is a logical progression from Troy (chapter 1) to Constantinople (chapter 10), with an unexpected visit to Utopia in the middle where the focus is upon classical philosophy. The journey around the Mediterranean covers history, philosophy and literature but, despite no illustrations beyond a few maps, is also hugely visual with many vivid references to architecture, sculpture and archaeology (as one would expect, given S.’s background). Chapters on Athens, Sparta and Rome relate the great stories of the battle of Marathon, the Spartans at Thermopylae and Hannibal, but there are also countless less well-known vignettes.

In the chapter on Ephesus, for example, S. takes the reader from the magnificent buildings there to the bleak, undeveloped landscape of the Antonine Wall. This might at first sight seem contrived, enabling the author to tick off another place in the Roman Empire, but his argument is that the Romans did not simply head into territories such as Britain to procure goods and raw materials but also to spread their national identity. One way of doing the latter was to build roads and aqueducts and leave Rome’s mark on the infrastructure.

In the book’s last chapter, S. tellingly ends with a line about the Emperor Constantine: ‘He was the last emperor to be deified as a god and the first to be worshipped as a saint’. In this sentence is contained the author’s contention that the Roman Empire did not, as the great 18th century historian Gibbon would have us believe, fall; rather it reinvented itself in the form of a new Rome in the East from where its values, now combined with those of a Middle Eastern religion, continued to exist and to have great influence over Western and Arab culture. The classical world, we are reminded by this lively and enjoyable survey, is very far from dead.

Hannah Murray—OXLAT Latin Teaching Scheme Instructor

 

VICTORIAN CLASSICAL BURLESQUES: A Critical Anthology

By Laura Monrós-Gaspar

Bloomsbury (2015) p/b 298pp £19.99 (ISBN 9781472537867)

This anthology is restricted to four burlesques from the 1840s and 50s, the texts of which occupy the bulk of the book. The selection sheds light on the way burlesque raised social issues and in particular the ‘Woman Question’. Antigone, Alcestis, Medea and Electra are a fearsome foursome to metamorphose into popular comic drama but in burlesque it is not surprising to find happy endings: when her knife is changed into a jester’s bauble, Medea asks, ‘Who’s been employing magic and cajolery/To change my serious business to tom-foolery?’ The play ends with Glauce/Creusa and the children alive and well. Dialogue fizzes along with outrageous rhymes and extravagant flourishes. When they see Electra, Pylades and Orestes exchange: P: ‘Hey!’ O: ‘Aye!’ P: ‘Why?’ O: ‘No.’ P: ‘Oh! O: It cannot be/That form! Yes – I’m not deceived! ’Tis she’. In Antigone there’s a line reminiscent of Monty Python’s dead parrot: ‘What, dead, defunct, gone, bolted, mizzled quite’ while in Medea Orpheus’ powers are heralded for moving tables, sofas, clocks, bedsteads; or for making weasels go ‘pop’. And they are praised by ‘cats, rats, bats, gnats, sprats, periwinkles, salmon’. Comic lists are used sparingly compared to the almost ubiquitous word play. Be prepared for some punitive punning such as ‘evidence’ and ‘heavy density’, ‘rex’ and ‘wrecks’, ‘detonator’ and ‘debt o’natur’, ‘apparel’ and ‘without a parallel’. Some is even more contrived, as Hermon (sic) to Antigone: ‘You will not die alone, when they come hither/They’ll say I took my leaves, and they did with her.’ Some is particularly pertinent, as when Antigone reminds Ismene, ‘the diction of our sex is contra-diction.’ Some should have been axed: the prologue to Electra tells us Agamemnon was killed ‘with/an axe (an –acc-ident which possibly anticipated for him/his Homeric title (Αν-αξ ανδρων Αγαμεμνων)’. [Noises off perhaps, but a Greek pun in the popular theatre!].

Helpful notes are supplied below the texts. These cover topical allusions to theatre history, popular culture and contemporary events. They also explain classical references, offer lexical help with Latin and English, especially Victorian slang, puns and dated English usage. They don’t cover every reference: e.g. to Ophelia in Hamlet (‘dips [glass] of fashion, and the moulds of form’) or Burns (‘My heart’s in my high-lows [the highlands] wherever I go’), though ‘high-lows’ is noted as a pun. Textual notes are given at the end of each play, and the introduction concludes with brief textual histories. All survive in manuscript form, but this is the first printed edition of Blanchard’s Antigone. The introduction, academic in nature and consequently sometimes hard going, sets the plays in context, both in the development of the genre (there’s a 3 page list of Classical Burlesques) and its relation to the social changes of the period. Some attention is paid to assessing the penetration of classical knowledge in popular culture. As M-G concludes ‘classical burlesque linked arts with life, Greek tragedy with popular culture and the past with the present of women’s life in Britain. And it is still very funny.

Alan Beale

THE HELLENISTIC WORLD: USING COINS AS SOURCES

By Peter Thonemann

Cambridge (2015) p/b 230pp £20.99 (ISBN 9781107451759)

This volume splendidly inaugurates a new Cambridge University Press series (‘Guides to the Coinage of the Ancient World’), edited by Andrew Meadows. It is hard to think of a better guide to Hellenistic coinage on this scale. T. takes the reader from Alexander the Great to the second triumvirate, with a brief glance forward to reflections of Hellenistic coinage in the coinage of Parthians, Sasanians, and indeed modern Britain. At the same time he guides the reader through the globalization of coin types that Alexander’s empire brings, through the ways in which coins construct identities at the level of the city, the federation, the kingdom, and the whole Hellenistic world, through the patterns of coin issue and their implications for coin use and its economics, and into the ideological freight carried and its limits, as Rome reproduced existing types. The reader is brought up to date with the latest numismatic scholarship and made to see the arguments in action through the 255 coins that are illustrated. All this done with a light touch and a lively style that make this book quite a page-turner.

What’s not to like? Apart from the extremely ugly cover, and the purist decision to show all coins at their actual size, which makes details hard to discern (presumably numismatists never travel without a magnifying glass), the odd thing about this book is T.’s decision to sub-title it ‘Using Coins as Sources’. This invites the question, sources for what? The answer is, primarily, sources for understanding coinage. T. likes the trope of inviting us to imagine that other sources don’t exist, so as to illustrate the ways in which coinage does, and does not, straightforwardly reflect the narrative of history; but the degree to which he uses what else we know about history to illustrate choices made on coins is quite restricted. Gender history makes no impact here: there are no ‘women’ between ‘weight standards’ and ‘wreathed coinages’, no ‘queens’ between ‘quantification’ and ‘quinarius’ in the index, although T. illustrates a number of coinages portraying or issued by queens and tells us when this first occurs (pp. 151–3). Religious history is equally absent, though images of gods, goddesses, temples, and equipment associated with gods and cult figure large on the coinage. As for art history, only the direction of the reader in the Further Reading to Pollitt’s Art in the Hellenistic Age and Smith’s Hellenistic Royal Portraits hints that coins might have a place there. More remarkably still, T. is not interested in coins as sources for economic history; he is interested in the extent to which the issuing of coins was part of economic policy (probably generally not), but not in what these coins enabled or caused. Although coin hoards are repeatedly mentioned, there are no maps of their distribution and no discussions of what different sorts of hoards might tell us about the changing economy.

T. is marvellous on the Hellenistic world of coinage, but there is a much wider Hellenistic world for which these coins can be used as sources.

Robin Osborne—King’s College, Cambridge

THE MAKING OF THE ANCIENT GREEK ECONOMY: Institutions, Markets, and Growth in the City-States

By Alain Bresson, tr. by Steven Rendall

Princeton and Oxford (2016) h/b 620pp £30.95 (ISBN 9780691144702)

 It is a sad mark of how monoglot the Anglophone academic world has become that B.’s two-volume L’économie de la Grèce des cités (2007-8) has had so little impact. Now appearing as a single volume, updated by the author, who has added references to scholarship in English and increased the bibliography by 50%, and wonderfully translated by Steven Rendall (but ‘triperie’ extends to the entrails generally as ‘tripe’ does not), this book must surely sweep the field. Whether one is an undergraduate student, an early-career scholar, has been chewing over the ancient economy for a career, or is simply a general reader with a curiosity about how the ancient economy worked, this is now the go-to work.

B. has produced a book that is at the same time something of an encyclopaedia of the ancient Greek economy, full of in-depth discussions about more or less every product and every economic phenomenon, a sourcebook of texts, particularly epigraphic texts, illustrating economic phenomena, and a book with an argument. In that way it rather puts into the shade that other recent ‘encyclopaedic’ book on the economy, Peter Acton’s Poiesis: Manufacturing in Classical Athens (Oxford, 2014), which by comparison seems both more random in the information it gives and very much less sophisticated. B.’s (new) Introduction puts the argument very much up front: ‘This book has a hero: not Achilles or Pericles, but the exceptional economic growth that took place in the Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic periods’ (xxi). Nor are B.’s methods hidden: the tools of the classical economist and of new institutional economics are repeatedly deployed, and the final sub-heading reads ‘International Constraints and the Nash Equilibrium’.

 Although B. does not hesitate to go into particular issues at very great length when he thinks that necessary, this is a book that engages the reader from the start and keeps the reader engaged because of its exemplary, and wonderfully unpatronising, pedagogy. B. has a shrewd sense of what the reader needs to know, and when they need to be told it, and he proceeds to unfold the substance and working of the economy of the Greek city-state before the reader’s eyes.  

 Alongside the massive gains from B.’s approach there are some losses. If Finley’s Ancient Economy lost all sight of the economy (it is Finley’s challenge to show that already in the ancient world we are dealing with an ‘enormous conglomeration of interdependent markets’ which B. definitively addresses), B. loses sight of the sociology of the ancient world—most seriously in losing sight of slaves and their place in the economy. B.’s otherwise optimistic view of Greek economic achievement is curiously traditional in claiming impossibly low agricultural productivity (and unfair and inadequate in discussing e.g. Garnsey’s arguments to the contrary). So too his foray into the Roman economy, which he feels obliged to make in order to show why his optimistic view of the economy of the Greek city state cannot be sustained, is unconvincing. But that there is much to argue with here is one of the virtues of this book: so clearly does B. lay out his stall, and so abundantly does he document his claims, that he makes it possible for the argument to start right here.

 Many attempts have been made to bring back to life the ancient economy killed off by Finley’s work. This book, surely, will succeed, if any book can.

Professor Robin Osborne—King’s College, Cambridge

 

THE MATERIALITY OF DIVINE AGENCY: STUDIES IN ANCIENT NEAR EASTERN RECORDS (vol. 8)

Ed. by Beate Pongratz-Leisten and Karen Sonik
De Gruyter (2015) h/b 239pp £74.99 (ISBN 9781501510687)

 The relationship between people and objects has been at the centre of many recent studies, with a range of so-called ‘New Materialisms’ seeking to counter Cartesian dichotomies between mind and body, subject and object, person and thing. Some of these theories are undoubtedly crazier than others. But what they have in common is that they usefully propagate what Jane Bennett has called ‘attentiveness to things’. This edited volume contributes to such attentiveness by isolating a particularly captivating question: when considering the relationship between people and things, what do we do with the gods? The volume’s contributors set to work on this question through a series of case studies, focusing on the ancient Near East though looking also to ancient Greece and medieval Europe. The convergence of themes is timely, engaging with a burgeoning scholarly field that stretches from philosophy to anthropology and sweeps classics and archaeology along with it.

 The issue that seems to differentiate one New Materialism from the next is one that is of crucial importance to this volume: that of agency. The initial chapter by the volume’s editors does much to establish a theoretical and methodological framework for the whole, defining and unpacking terms like materiality and presence, agency and anthropomorphism. Agency is particularly relevant to consideration of sacred things—how are we to understand objects that are said to have been products of divine rather than human hands? How do sacred things act, and to what extent do they act independently? How is divine agency distributed through (for example) statues, temples and relics? P-L. and S. do a particularly good job of disentangling ideas of primary and secondary agency (pp.17-24), a debate at the heart of various ‘Thing’ theories. They make the astute observation that, while ‘we differentiate the divine from its secondary agents for the purposes of objective or at least external analysis’, we have to be aware of the ‘human conflation’ between the source of power and its material mediators (p.21). This surely is an important point to remember when considering the divine, and indeed religions more generally: that objective analysis and human perception are rarely one and the same.

 S.’s chapter on ‘Divine (Re-)Presentation: Authoritative Images and a Pictorial Stream of Tradition in Mesopotamia’ (pp.142-93), complete with pictures, is worth highlighting as one with applicability beyond its case study (the ninth century BC Sun God Tablet from Sippar). It explores the relationship between anthropomorphised images of the divine and their divine referent. To pick out one interesting detail from many, S. notes of depictions of the goddess Ishtar that, through various attributes, she is somehow portrayed as more than human, without crossing the boundaries of the anthropomorphic body—a commitment to the human form that contrasts with, for instance, Egyptian depictions of the divine. The chapter then examines tradition as a means of establishing the authority of divine images. S. notes that deliberately archaising features can perform this function, connecting an image with predecessors on which it ostensibly claims to have been modelled, and looking back even to ‘a real or imagined original initiated or at least approved in the divine sphere.’ One is reminded of Homeric objects like Agamemnon’s sceptre or Odysseus’ bow, imbued with power and authority by value of their noble lineage and, ultimately, divine creation.

 Not all of the questions raised in this book will be of interest to the student, and certainly not with this kind of price tag. Not all of the six case studies will be pertinent to any one course. And yet, the charm of many of the essays lies in their attention to the memorable detail. I, for one, will not soon forget the craftsmen who have their hands severed with a tamarisk wood sword in a disavowal of human agency behind the creation of a cult statue (p. 9), or the woman who stole a piece of altar bread to bury under her keg so that people would prefer to drink her beer (p.74).

Dr Lilah Grace Canevaro—The University of Edinburgh

APPIAN’S ROMAN HISTORY: EMPIRE AND CIVIL WAR

Ed. by Kathryn Welch

The Classical Press of Wales (2015) 326pp £62 (ISBN 9781910589007)

This must be one of the most substantial books on Roman republican history to have appeared in the last decade. Appian’s work is a major source to the understanding of the construction of the Roman empire and the fall of the republic. As W. reminds us in her introduction, much has been written about this author, but there is no comprehensive commentary available in any language, and this volume provides the first full-scale assessment in English. No serious reader of Appian, and in fact no serious student of the Roman republic, will be in a position to overlook this volume.

This is a collection of serious and demanding scholarship, produced to a very high standard (the indexes are excellent), and it does not have much to offer to the lay reader. However, its range means that it will have something meaningful to offer to a very diverse audience of classicists. Some essays may be profitably be used as extended discussions of aspects of Appian’s work, and as prolegomena to future commentaries. John Rich has a major discussion of Appian’s treatment of the wars between Rome and Antiochus III, where he convincingly shows that Appian relied extensively on his notes: a practice that makes him closer to Plutarch than many have previously suspected. Fiona Tweedie discusses his portraits of Scipio Aemilianus, drawing attention to the discrepancies between different works of the author: there is scope for a wider project on comparable cases. The late Martin Stone (whose sudden death last month has been a great loss to our studies) revisits the role of the Italic context in the narrative on Tiberius Gracchus. Kit Morrell provides an ingenious solution to the quandaries of Appian’s account of the judiciary law of M. Livius Drusus. Tom Stevenson offers a detailed analysis of the Pharsalus campaign, and W. a perceptive discussion of Appian’s narrative of triumviral history, ranging across three books of Bellum Civile. Bronwyn Hopwood has a much more concentrated analysis of the remarkable speech of Hortensia to the triumviri (4.32-34).

Other essays take a more general standpoint. Josiah Osgood offers an invaluable discussion of Appian’s intellectual and political agenda, and surveys his debt to the Augustan ideology; Richard Westall shows that Appian was a more well-read and critically aware author than has often been recognised. Jonathan Price also shows that Appian is thoroughly conversant with Thucydides’ engagement with the theme of stasis and applies it thoughtfully to the history of the late republic. Other overarching themes receive close discussion: deceit (in Eleanor Cowan’s piece) and sex (in Luke Pitcher’s). Andrew Bonnell has an informative and measured discussion of Karl Marx’s famously positive assessment of Appian’s work.

There is also something in this volume for those whose interests are mainly linguistic. Anton Powell offers an eye-opening discussion of the shortcomings of the main modern versions of Appian, chiefly that of Horace White in the Loeb Classical Library (1912-13): an accurate translation is of course key to a proper understanding of the historian’s bias. Kai Brodersen rounds off the collection with an evocative discussion of the sarcophagus of Appianos and Eutuchia, now at the German Cemetery in the Vatican, which may conceivably be that of the historian himself and his wife.

The chief ambition of this important book, reasserting the originality and importance of Appian’s work, has been amply fulfilled. The need for a new full-scale commentary remains very strong, but one is left with the impression that another task might require even more urgent attention: a new English translation of an author who is indispensable to the study and teaching of the Roman Republic.

FEDERICO SANTANGELO—Newcastle University