MARTIAL: EPIGRAMS

Translated by Gideon Nisbet

OUP (2015) £9.99 290pp (ISBN 9780199645459)

This attractive paperback in the Oxford World’s Classics series presents an anthology of Martial’s epigrams in the same format as James Michie’s Penguin, a parallel text with Latin faced by the English version. There is however a considerable difference between the poems selected, so this new edition complements rather than replaces the older one.

N. begins with a very helpful and readable introduction, beginning with a brief outline of Martial’s life. The genre of epigram is discussed: its beginnings in Greek followed by M.’s innovations, in particular the importance of the arrangement of poems in M.’s books with their intertwining themes. Unlike previous collections which were arranged by subject matter, M. provided variatio—an appearance of chaos which was in fact a ‘carefully judged mix of poems that keeps surprising the reader’. Each book begins with an introductory poem, sometimes poems that point a reader through the book (3.86 warning a casta ‘bashful lady’ that the subject matter might be risqué) and concluding poems. N. suggests that we should therefore consider M’s poems as a work of literature—indeed, the arrangement in 12 books might allude to Virgil’s Aeneid.

The introduction also discusses M.’s portrait of the city of Rome, his contribution to the genre of satire, the fifteen extant books with some typical themes and an account of M.’s waxing and waning fortunes in the centuries since his day. Napoleon had a fatal effect on M.’s popularity in England—if the French like him (because of his striving for point and effect), patriotic Englishmen must despise him.

We then move on to 240 pages of epigrams. N. acknowledges the impossible pressures on an anthologiser: to show M’s originality but also the literary influences on him, to make his world seem excitingly different while also showing him as ‘one of us’, to avoid duplication but also to show his variations on a theme. For each book N. includes around 25 poems out of a total of around 90. In keeping with modern frankness, there are many poems which are considerably more racy than those in Michie’s Penguin, thus filling out the picture of M.’s satirical invective.

The parallel translation is in prose not verse, enabling N. to convey more of his ‘devilish detail’ and ‘deft comic timing’. This yields a fairly close translation which would enable rusty Latinists in most cases to enjoy the poems in Latin as well as English. Occasionally there are problems with the text: a pesky nec that has fallen out of 3.11 (not only here but on some on-line versions of the text as well), dereriore for deteriore in 3.19.

There are minimal notes in the back of the book, which are very helpful. However, their brevity sometimes leaves the reader still uncertain about M’s allusions and jokes, and I would have appreciated more detail in this area.

In spite of these niggles, this is an attractive and approachable volume, a very good introduction to M. for classicists and non-specialists alike.

 

Hilary Walters

 

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THE POEMS OF CATULLUS: An Annotated Translation

By J.D. Uzzi and J. Thomson (introduction and notes by J.D. Uzzi)

CUP (2015) p/b 224pp £14.99 (ISBN 9781107682139)

‘Most modern translations of Catullus tend toward the literal’ U. claims in her introduction (despite, for example, Lindsay 1948, Gregory 1956, Whigham 1966, Raphael & McLeish 1978, Clucas 1985, Rabinowitz 1991, Pelling 2009). The campus Catulli has become a crowded field through which U./T. seek a course for their translation somewhere between literal rendering and adaptation. Their stated aim is to ‘capture in English the spirit and essence, the intentio, of each of Catullus’ poems’ so that a modern audience might experience ‘reading Catullus as a Roman might have’.  An ambitious (cl)aim!  For a modern parallel U. looks to Eminem who is ‘by no means a modern Catullus’ despite ‘myriad similarities’. For example U. finds an echo of Eminem’s ‘I ain’t much of a poet’ in the ‘mock self-deprecation’ in Catullus 1 (‘Dedication’ – all poems are given a title). More generally, ‘rap as a genre offers a great deal of food for thought where Catullus’ corpus is concerned.’

Much is made of Lesbia (she ‘may even stand for immortality’), but some of the detailed observations fall short of being convincing. In poem 11, for instance, it is not the speaker who is compared to a flower, but his love (amorem qui … cecidit).  This ‘emasculation’ of the poet leads to the final line of poem 8 being translated ‘But you Catullus, come on, be a man’. The original might suggest Catullus has a struggle to get over his love for this puella, but it has no specific reference to anxiety over his masculinity (at tu, Catulle, destinatus obdura). A single elision in poem 85 conflates the three opening words to ‘a single figurative word’ odetamo. Nice try (the two emotions are best understood as happening at the same time) but et amo doesn’t elide!

Notes and Glossary of Proper Names are handy support for new readers of Catullus. The translation is lively and generally follows the sense of the Latin. Sometimes a compression, as in 85 where the faciam-fieri contrast is sacrificed, works well:

I hate and love. Perhaps you wonder why.

I don’t know, but I feel it, and I am crucified.

On the other hand extraneous material can be unnecessary and fail to improve on Catullus. In 64, sea-nymphs ‘bobbed’ (not quite as dignified as exstantes) and their breasts are described as ‘full and soft’, of which there is rightly no trace in Catullus. ‘Woven verse’ is an excellent description of the coverlet, but the weaving is often not a precise reflection of the Latin text(ile). Ariadne for example ‘burned to the core with raw desire’ or she ‘churned her cares in a heart beset’, translations which are impressionistic.

How will these versions compete in an already crowded field? If they succeed in their aim, they should bring more readers to Catullus and make them curious about the original poems.

Alan Beale

HOMER’S ILIAD VI (The Basel Commentary)

Ed. by Magdalene Stoevesandt, and tr. by Benjamin W. Mills and Sara Strack (English version ed. by S. Douglas Olson)

De Gruyter (2015) 220pp £97.99 (ISBN 9781614517399)

This is the English language version of S.’s Iliad VI, originally published in German in 2008. This has led to a semi-symbiotic relationship with the Cambridge ‘Green and Yellow’ edition of the same book by Barbara Graziosi and Johannes Haubold (2010): G/H just had time to see S. before their own work came out, whereas S. was able to study G/H (‘an especially rewarding task’) in detail before this English version was published. This is, of course, only the commentary, which for every book is based on the separate volume of text plus translation (Martin West and Richmond Lattimore). When S. disagrees with either scholar, the lemma gives, say, Lattimore’s version in square brackets, followed by her own translation: in practice, instances of questioned translation numbered about five, one of which (at line 62a) is important.

Four more preliminary points call for notice. First, in view of the immense scale of the project, and to avoid unnecessary duplication, a substantial volume of Prolegomena was published in 2000 (English language version 2011), which any user of this volume would be well-advised to have ready at hand. Secondly, the commentary’s format is unusual, in that three founts are generally used on one page: regular type for explanations for all audiences, with transliteration of Greek; smaller type corresponding to a ‘standard philological commentary’, and, in a much smaller type below a dividing line, an ‘elementary section’: and elementary it certainly is, eg. ‘aiei = aei’, or ‘ken = an’, or, my favourite, ‘r’ = ara’. Thirdly, a perhaps minor point, but relevant to the immediately preceding one: the bibliography includes the original German edition of Autenrieth and Kaegi’s Woerterbuch (1873, reprints), but does not mention the English translation by R.P. Keep (1876, several reprints, including one in 1984), which, in the circumstances, seems a pity. Finally, the commentary opens with a section entitled ‘24 Rules Relating to Homeric Language’, emphasizing its deviations from Attic grammar, which should be helpful to those who need the ‘elementary section’ already referred to.

Book VI is one of absorbing psychological interest, but little action on the battlefield. Notable are the encounters between Glaucus and Diomedes and three which involve Hector, especially the one where both Helen and Paris are also present. S.’s introductory account of the first-mentioned is perhaps more thorough than enlightening, with reference to the work of (by my count) 17 other scholars, including G/H. This unavoidably raises a problem: since most of the references are to work in languages other than English, of how much practical use will they be to Anglophone students? Of course, completeness can be justified on the grounds that this is part of a project conceived on an encyclopaedic scale: but even so, one may wonder how many of the references will still have any interest or validity when the opus reaches the finishing line. As to who won the encounter, S. gives a wholly satisfactory account of both ancient and modern views, justifiably pointing out that ‘the narrator commentary marks Glaukos as the inferior character over whom Diomedes gains a symbolic victory’: she deals succinctly with interpreters who regard Glaukos as the victor. The reviewer adds that S. gives a most interesting and complete account of Glaukos’s genealogical narrative, the longest in the Iliad (lines 150-211).

S.’s handling of the scene between Hector, Paris, and Helen (lines 313-368) brings out its Innigkeit with fully satisfactory detail, without matching the exceptional quality of the G/H version, e.g. on the ‘silence’ at line 342. S.’s overall summary of the episode, while accurate, is brief and bland, as is her account in her earlier ‘Overview of the Action’ in the book: yet here we have three of the four key figures of the Iliad (though one might add Achilles as the ‘absent present’) showing their natures in stark detail: no surprise that it comes just after halfway in the book. But once again, one must recall that this episode is only one relatively short part in a book which itself is only one part of an immense structure.

The style of the commentary appears again in the famous episode of Proitus/Bellerophon and the ‘letters/signs in a folded tablet, bringing death’—a vivid image—around which a book could be written (if it has not already been). S. here refers to (again by my count) the work of some 30 scholars, many of them non-anglophone, compared to the spare but adequate account in G/H: to be sure, any scholar wishing to follow up and needing the detail will—rightly—go to S., and will not be disappointed. At a less elevated, or philological, level, the commentary is as clear and complete as could be asked for, and Realien are not neglected: especially relevant, because of their absence from the Prolegomena volume (see this reviews site, October 26 2015).

It should be clear from the foregoing that to make a direct comparison between S. and G/H would be inappropriate: their aims are too different. As a ‘one-off’, especially at student level, G/H’s admirable commentary clearly takes the palm, whereas what S., and the editors of the Basel Commentary, are seeking to achieve amounts to a ktêma es aei: scholars seeking further information on, or the history of, any given topic or controversy will make this their port of call, and are unlikely to be disappointed. Accordingly, at the same time, and despite the provision of elementary information, one may question the extent to which this book will find users below the level of say, graduate or otherwise experienced students.

S. rightly congratulates the translation team on their success in rendering her ‘rather complex German text into readable English’. While much of the (generous) bibliography relates to non-anglophone scholasrhip, the work of such scholars as West, Kirk, Leaf, Macleod, Monro, Hainsworth, Griffin, Janko and others is of course included. This book will unquestionably be a mandatory purchase for university libraries, as they gradually assemble their Basel Commentary, which promises to be on as heroic a scale as its subject: of course, not everywhere will need to buy the ‘Text and Translation’ volumes, given their ready availability in other versions elsewhere. Finally, the quality of book production by De Gruyter is impeccable: but all concerned with the preparation and production of this commentary—especially Magdalene Stoevesandt—deserve our thanks and congratulations. The labor, however improbus, has not been in vain.

Colin Leach

 

A SHORT HISTORY OF THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE

By Dionysios Stathakopoulos

I.B. Tauris (2014) p/b 238pp £10.99 (ISBN 9781780761947)

Enthusiasts for Byzantium are pretty well served by a number of excellent introductions to the subject. They are invaluable not only to generalists and beginners, but also to those who want to leave the detail for a moment and take a fresh look at the hideously complicated labyrinth from above.

S. has produced the best one yet, a chronological history which manages to include just about everybody (albeit with inevitable moments of ‘then there was this, then there was that….’) while engaging with economic and social history, broad cultural development, and the changing material and intellectual environments. S. has put these elements together so well that one aspect helps explain and reinforce another: changes in economic circumstances and the demand for corn; schism and foreign policy; religious debate and the general outlook of the court; the rise of Islam and the crusades; and how all this shaped Europe and the Middle East for generations. The impact is still evident: in 2006 Benedict XVI provoked a lively response from Islamic scholars by quoting Manuel II’s (1391-1425) ‘Dialogue with a Persian’ in a speech he gave in Germany. S. has also included new scholarship, questioning things that had long been taken for granted, and looking at the latest evidence from archaeology to help us envision the changing disposition of this huge, long-lived and, in almost every sense, multifarious empire.

The final chapter ‘Aftermath and Afterlife’, considers the reception of Byzantinism through succeeding centuries, via the establishment of the first chair of Byzantine studies at Munich in 1897 to the relatively recent revival of interest in Late Antiquity. Although Gibbon thought that Byzantium could not be taken seriously—‘they read, they praised, they compiled, but their languid souls seemed alike incapable of thought and action … not a single discovery was made to exalt the dignity or promote the happiness of mankind’—there’s plenty up for re-examination today which will profit from consideration in the light of Byzantine experience, good or bad.

This brief introduction is a fine piece of work. It is to be strongly recommended to enthusiasts, the curious, and particularly to those who think that Byzantine studies are more trouble than they are worth. At this price, how can you refuse?

Adrian Spooner

THE ORIGIN OF ROMAN LONDON

By Lacey M. Wallace

CUP (2015) h/b 192pp (76 figures [66 colour, 10 b/w] 25 Tables) £75.00 (ISBN 9781107047570)

This study is a volume in the ‘Cambridge Classical Studies’ series and is to be welcomed as a ‘contribution to the study of urbanism in the Roman provinces’. W. brings together a range of archaeological excavations (118 sites) by a variety of organization of the levels covering the period from AD 43 – 60. She provides a wide ranging and detailed survey of the reports and finds from these excavations. In detailing and summarising the material finds, W. provides a considerable contribution to our understanding of this period in the growth of Roman London. As she says, it is possible to create picture of how the town grew by analyzing the patterns of development offered by the data from the excavation reports. W. uses the data from open areas, waterfronts, roads and buildings to assess the extent of the occupied area, the nature of planning, the civic authority, and the population of the town.

The introduction briefly explores the evidence and theories for a pre-Roman London settlement and port, drawing together the literature succinctly and clearly. She then looks at the evidence for the foundation of Roman London post invasion as an army base or a supply base or a port. Ch. 2 considers the first features and Ch. 3 the early town; headings include waterfronts, buildings, and burials. The overall picture is provided in the summary of evidence at the end of the chapter. Ch. 4 deals with the state of the town and its population in AD 60/61 and concludes that the town, with its three different zones and communities, was different from the coloniae and other towns planned by a central authority.

W.’s goal in Ch. 5 is to provide a ‘holistic and comprehensive approach to the material culture’ with sub-headings covering crafts, occupations, literacy, rituals, food and drink and so on. These in turn are broken down into sections covering, for example, different crafts.

Ch. 6 entitled ‘Characterising Early Londinium’ offers some views on the evidence for the power structure and people of the town, concluding that the model of foundation is different from anything known in the Roman Empire.

The figures and tables are well-produced and easy to interpret, providing detailed information on range of sites and aspects. There is a Gazetteer of Sites, a bibliography of works cited in the text and a helpful index including sites by site code, site number and address.

This will be an essential book for anyone interested in the archaeology of London. W. has performed an excellent task in bringing the material together to offer a coherent picture of the early town. While much concentrates on the minutiae of excavation findings and is of interest perhaps to archaeologists alone, there are aspects of the study which a wider audience would find useful.

Terry Edwards—Maidstone

BATTLING THE GODS: ATHEISM IN THE ANCIENT WORLD

By Tim Whitmarsh

Faber & Faber (2016) h/b 290pp £25 (ISBN 9780571279302)

This book brings together the scattered evidence for deviant thinking, from mild scepticism to outright rejection of religion, throughout the ancient Greek world. It ranges through history in four main sections: archaic Greece, classical Athens, the Hellenistic era and Rome (up to the acceptance of Christianity). Classicists will recognise familiar faces: the pre-Socratics, the Sophists, Aristophanes, Plato (of course), the Stoics, Epicurus and Lucretius. But others may be less well known: Diagoras of Melos, Prodicus of Ceos, Euhemerus of Messene, Carneades and Clitomachus, and many others, plus recently discovered evidence such as the Sisyphus fragment from Critias (or possibly Euripides). It is useful to have all these sources brought together in a single, easily readable narrative, and the substantial notes attest to wide reading around the subject.

W. claims to be writing not for classicists but for a wider readership, and has a declared purpose: to show that atheistic tendencies have existed in all periods of history and are not merely a product of post-Enlightenment scientific rationalism. He says he does not wish to proselytise, but his colours show. In his introductory chapter he says: ‘Accounts of Greek religion and culture have almost always been written from the point of view of the believers. The result is a misleading impression of ancient religion as a smoothly functioning system, with no glitches.’ This seems a very sweeping statement, which does not seem to be substantiated, as far as one can tell, in his voluminous notes, and it is not the reviewer’s impression much more limited reading in e.g. Burkert and Parker on Greek religion. And even those with faint knowledge of classical sources will have come across the dubious myths, the freedom to criticise gods in tragedy and mock them in comedy, the striving of philosophers to construct other visions of the world. W. here does seem to be setting up a straw man to knock down.

A key point for W. is that the Greeks had no orthodoxy: citizens participated in communal rites ‘to foster local identity within the polis’, but apart from this people could freely form their own views. No doubt he is right, but it leads him to some odd overstatements. For example, he spends several pages arguing that Homer and Hesiod are not sacred ‘scripture’. But who has ever suggested they were—any more than the Divine Comedy or Spenser’s Faerie Queen are ‘scripture’? Again, discussing Greek tragedians’ questioning of the gods, he says (p.114) ‘Is there any synagogue, mosque or church where the ideas of Richard Dawkins… are expounded seriously and constructively?’ But of course not—one goes to a church to worship, not to have academic debates. Who has ever suggested that going to the theatre of Dionysus was like going to church?

What is missing in all this is any idea of what people actually thought when they did go to the equivalent of ‘church’, i.e. visiting the temple, taking part in the city’s rituals. The sceptics have left their traces, but the devout (and there surely must have been some) have not. Can we really assume that nobody in fifth-century Athens thought certain ideas blasphemous? Or that known reactions against them, as in the decree of Diopeithes or the trial of Socrates, were solely political? To work politically, they must have been based on an appreciation of popular feeling.

It is reasonable to think, as W. argues and indeed on good evidence, that all societies, even the most oppressively orthodox, contain a range of individual responses, including tendencies to doubt. A theologian would say that indeed we all doubt, and it is through doubting that we grow; as Chesterton put it, to attack reason is bad theology. But W., applying his scalpel to religion as a dispassionate observer, can see reason only leading rightly in one direction. So, considering the theomachy described in Hesiod and others, he speculates that this shows that the gods were seen as imperfect, and a desire to replace them with something else which is not god. But the same perception might, one could speculate with equal force, lead to replacing this easy target with a better, more sophisticated concept of god. On W.’s own showing, this appears to be what Epicurus was trying to do, and what Plato’s Socrates certainly succeeded in doing, even though this does not make him a ‘re-imagined Christian martyr’.

The trap for the atheist is always to assume that his is the only rational position, which all intelligent people cannot help but adopt, and that alternative views must be based on illusion born of wishful thinking. He cannot see that his adversaries may have the very same perception about him. I fear that W. does not escape this trap, much as he wishes all positions to be given equal respect. That said, the book is good value for the detailed information that W. has collected together about Greek sceptical thinking.

Colin McDonald