DEMOCRACY: A Life

By Paul Cartledge

Oxford (2016) h/b 361pp £20 (ISBN 9780199697670)

Professor Cartledge traces the history of democracy from its ancient origins (direct exercise of power by the people) to modern times (representative democracy), noting wide variations in both categories. He has structured the book in the form of a play, complete with prologue and five acts.

Act I provides a review of the sources, both literary and epigraphic. In relation to the 5th/4th century BC notion of δημοκρατία, we are remarkably fortunate. Aristotle’s surviving works include Politics and The constitution of Athens. There are the law court and assembly speeches of Demosthenes, Aeschines and their contemporaries. A selection of Athenian laws and decrees survive. So do some local regulations, including a marble stele of Thoricos recording what sacrifices were required and when.

Act II (which is really the core of this work) guides us through the history of Athenian democracy. In the early sixth century Solon resolved conflicts between the aristocracy, the middle classes and the masses by a redistribution of power. The middle classes were allowed to become archons (top officials) and subsequently members of the Areopagus (a powerful council). The people were given an assembly (Heliaea), which functioned as a court of appeal. In the late sixth century Cleisthenes laid the foundations for what we now know as Athenian democracy. He created the structure of thirty trittyes, ten tribes and the council of 500 (50 men per tribe). The Areopagus retained the right of impeaching high officials. The people gained new powers through their Assembly. They also gained the power of ostracism. No less important, the people gained the power to adjudicate judicially through jury courts. There was a brief interruption in 404-403, when Athens was subject to the ‘Thirty Tyrants’. That raises the interesting question whether Athenian democracy was the same before and after restoration.

Accompanying the narrative history is a review of the theorists, including Herodotus’ account of the ‘Persian debate’, Plato’s logical attack on the concept of democracy and Aristotle’s more nuanced analysis. Aristotle saw oligarchy as rule by the rich and democracy as rule by the poor. He helpfully compiled a manual of the different constitutions prevailing across Greece. This enables Cartledge to provide a broader account of Greek democracies in all their manifestations.

Act III traverses the ‘golden age’ of Greek democracy in the fourth century. It covers Mantinea, Corinth, Phleious, Thebes and Argos. There is a separate chapter on Athens in the age of Lycurgus.

Act IV covers the period from the death of Alexander the Great to the Renaissance in a mere 50 pages. Inevitably, therefore, the narrative gathers pace. Cartledge describes the somewhat confusing decline of democracy during the Hellenistic period. He characterises the middle and late Roman Republic as variants of democracy. But there was this incongruity: the Republic set about extinguishing democracy in the city states which it absorbed into the growing Roman Empire. After that came the Principate, the Dominate and the Byzantine Empire. These vast tracts of world history have little place in any study of democracy. Cartledge disposes of them summarily in a short chapter entitled ‘Democracy denied’. Finally there is a review of Italian city states in the Middle Ages and the emergence of democracy in Renaissance Florence. Along the way Cartledge provides a synopsis of the Magna Carta story and its impact on the history of the United States. The year 2015 has seen a surfeit of books about Magna Carta, not all of the highest quality. It is refreshing to see Magna Carta discussed in the broader context of 2,500 years’ political history.

Act V traces the gradual revival of democracy in more recent times. In England the Putney debates, chaired by Oliver Cromwell, got people thinking and talking about political institutions to serve the whole of society. The inaptly named ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 and a line of political philosophers led progressively to the development of representative democracy in Britain. Cartledge traces the emergence of representative democracy in France after the revolution and in America post-1776. After the inevitable genuflection to de Tocqueville, he identifies the debt which all those jurisdictions owe to Greece as the ultimate source of their inspiration.

Where does all this leave the reader? He/she has a stimulating biography of democracy, both in theory and in all its practical manifestations. The book may be light on detail, except in relation to Greek history and culture (where Professor Cartledge is a renowned expert). In the place of detail, however, there is a coherent overview of the subject as a whole. This book is also a thoughtful response to those scholars, such as Amartya Sen, who argue that democracy is not ‘a quintessentially Western idea’. Cartledge’s analysis suggests that it is just that.
Rupert Jackson

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The Art of Euripides

By Donald J. Mastronarde

Cambridge UP (2015) 361pp £20.99 (ISBN 9781107646612)

This book was originally published in hardback in 2010, when it received the serious attention due to a leading Euripidean. But readers looking for interpretations of each of Euripides’ surviving plays will have to look elsewhere. Instead, M. surveys them under topics common to the whole oeuvre: modern scholarship and reception, problems of genre, dramatic structure, the chorus, gods, rhetoric and character, women, males and the limits of autonomy. This allows him to range beyond the strictly Euripidean; there are plenty of acute observations on Sophocles and Aeschylus, pointing out similarities that are often elided by the (now largely discredited) ‘literary history’ approach to tragedy—though M. rightly gives prominence to those characteristics of Greek drama that have always been labelled as especially Euripidean.

Most tragedy, he says, investigates ‘the order and disorder of the world humans inhabit by retelling and modifying traditional stories in a new form’. Tragedy does not have to be tragic. Plays ‘may present important areas of ambivalence…in their scrutiny of psychological, ethical, and social issues’; they are ‘multivocal…and no voices have absolute authority…or reliability’. There is no point in trying to squeeze them into a tight Aristotelian frame; they may have Wittgensteinian family resemblances to each other, but no more.

It is equally too constricting to consult narrowly Athenian democratic concerns in order to find the key to understanding drama’s impact, on either the contemporary audience or on us. M. also usefully observes that it can be perilous to pronounce confidently on the tragic genre when we have a mere handful of the 1,000 or so plays performed in the 5th century at Athenian dramatic festivals.

M. seems to want to link this instability of form to audience reaction. Everything in Euripides, he says, pushes spectators towards a state of aporia. It is certainly true that we are constantly being wrong-footed by Euripides in the course of a single play, sometimes in an uncompromisingly brutal way (think Dionysus and Cadmus in Bacchae, or the end of Medea), but M. is surely wrong to identify this as our principal reaction. Quite apart from the impossibility of multiple rationalizations (there’s simply no time), he gives insufficient weight to the emotive power generated by a dramatic performance. Gorgias (Helen) knew all about being drawn into the action and identifying with people on the stage. This reviewer looked in vain for recognition of the sheer emotional force of a Medea or a Hecuba. Here, as elsewhere, one suspects M. of over-intellectualizing. It is odd to sense the ghost of Verrall lurking just offstage.

That said, there is plenty in this book to interest the non-expert, classically-minded reader (no Greek is quoted). M. is good, for example, on the often awkward invasion of rhetoric into emotional speeches where we post-Romantics would expect unadorned, simple passion. Ways of expressing oneself effectively were big news in 5th century Athens, and many in the audience would have recognized and enjoyed their deployment. And there is a perceptive discussion on the chorus’ simultaneous closeness to and distance from the audience.

Ardent Euripideans will find much to enjoy in this book, and teachers studying a particular play will do well to let themselves be led on by references in the index. But though it is clearly the fruit of a career’s thinking about and teaching Euripides, this reviewer was left with a niggling feeling that much of it travels through terrain already fought over. Somehow one expected more from someone of M.’s reputation and eminence.

Anthony Verity

AENEID BOOK VI

Tr. by Seamus Heaney

Faber (2016) h/b 53pp £14.99 (ISBN 9780571327317)

The Aeneid, posthumously published in 19 BC, receives this posthumously published translation of its eschatological heart by one of the most distinguished modern poets. How much it retains of its original and how much is new, one may ask. To call it the Heaneid is a flippant but neat portmanteau description of a poem tasting of two authors. In a preface (‘Translator’s Note’), H. sketches his engagement with the book from school days, to the death of his father and birth of his first granddaughter. It would be fascinating to see a similar preface from Virgil, but how different, how political would that have been? H.’s enthusiasm for it wanes at the book’s climax, Anchises’ revelation of the future great men of Rome. He even refers to a poet moving ‘from inspiration to grim determination’ to complete the task. Still, hoc opus, hic labor.

H. writes blank verse, a flexible metre particularly suited to English, where it was first used in Surrey’s 16th C translations of parts of the Aeneid. Occasionally the distinctive rhythm at the end of a Virgilian hexameter can be felt as in ‘overwhelmed in the turmoil’. Sentences flow easily, many verses are not end-stopped, and enjambment sometimes works to significant advantage, as when Palinurus finally sights land:

‘I rose on a swell and got my first glimpse
Of Italia.’

However, an uncomfortable contemporary resonance is similarly highlighted:

‘Down to these sunless, poor abodes, this land
Of troubles.’

H.’s diction does not strain to become grandiose, somehow transcends the colloquial, never has a ‘crabbed turn’ or ‘congested cadence’, but exhibits an occasional ‘see here’. While Phlegethon, a river in Hades, is described with suitably awesome compound adjectives (‘rock-rumbling, thunder-flowing’), Deiphobus’ scars are ‘love bites’, a phrase in a way appropriate, but surely bathetic. Where Virgil astounds, for example in describing Charon (stant lumina flamma), H. does not seek to clarify (as a scholar may: ‘his eyes are unmoving and fiery’ [Horsfall]) but adopts the bold metaphor (‘The eyes stand in his head and glow’). When describing the wraith of Aeneas’ father slipping through his grasp (volucrique simillima somno). H. startles (though risking bathos?) with ‘a dream on wings’. The impossible pius Aeneas (9) becomes ‘Aeneas devoted as ever’, a better choice in the context than ‘in duty bound’, ‘god-fearing’, even ‘devout’ and ‘righteous’ which appear in other recent literary translations. Dryden’s ‘The Pious Prince’ is too grand now. H. can reproduce Virgil’s alliteration effectively, as at 833 where it raises the emotional temperature in Anchises’ warning against the horror of civil war: neu patriae validas in viscera vertite viris becomes ‘do not / bloody the bosom of your country with vicious, / valiant battle’. The echo of validas in ‘valiant’ and viscera in ‘vicious’ may mostly be missed, but the juxtaposition of ‘vicious’ and ‘valiant’ neatly captures conflicting emotions of civil war.

‘Neither a “version” nor a crib: it is more like classics homework’ H. tells us – risking 6 out of 10 – in his opening note. It is an affectionate tribute to his Latin teacher who ‘created an inner literalist’, but it is much more the product of a poet attentive to demands of writing verse. The result is a fluent narrative (only ‘scringe’ caused a rush to the dictionary) and an imaginative response to Virgil’s Latin.

Alan Beale

Master of Attic Black Figure Painting: The Art and Legacy of Exekias

By Elizabeth Moignard

IB Tauris (2015) h/b 288pp £75 (ISBN 9781780761411)

The effect of reading M.’s book is to send one straight off to the museums in Munich, Boulogne, London, Rome and Athens to examine the works of Exekias. The vases are all familiar and some, as the Achilles and Penthesileia vase, reside in the British Museum. What M. achieves in this book is to bring them to life, enabling the reader to see many new angles and gain an insight into the character and motivations of this supreme 6th century black-figure potter and painter.

Each of the five chapters focuses on one key piece whilst weaving in others. M. encourages the reader to look for Exekias’ personality and see him as an innovative artist who plays on and manipulates the emotions and can capture the essence and mood of the moment. The depiction of Ajax on several vases presents him as a defeated hero. The Vatican vase (Achilles and Ajax playing a game of dice) gains from study of the reverse side and its lesser-known depiction of the Dioskouroi; here M. poses questions about the depiction of a homecoming and draws our attention to the detail of the sweaty horse and the white paint used on the dog. M. regularly homes in on the detail—a pin prick in the centre of the eyes on the outside of the famous Dionysos symposium cup demonstrates use of  a compass; her fascinating analysis of the different genders depicted on the 8th century Dipylon vase points out the two-handed gesture of the women, and the single-handed one of the men.

In the final chapter, M. argues that the Dionysos cup encapsulates Exekias’ skill, and she describes it as ‘a wild card’. Here we see confident innovation in the positioning of the boat off-centre, and the warrior scenes under the handles. M. draws attention to the exterior of the cup, and e.g. the tiny detail such as the closed eye which shows through the helmet of one of the dead warriors.

This reviewer will not race south through France this summer but, inspired by the fresh light M. has thrown on Exekias, will pay homage to the Ajax suicide vase which lives quietly in the town museum in Boulogne.

Hannah Murray—Oxlat Latin Teaching Scheme, University of Oxford

WAR MUSIC: An Account of Homer’s Iliad

By Christopher Logue

Faber and Faber (2015) h/b 341pp £20 (ISBN 9780571202188)

‘Take an industrial lift.
Pack it with men fighting each other,
Smashing each other back against its governors
So the packed cage shoots floors up, then down,
Then up again, then down, lights out, then stops,
But what does not stop are the blows,
Fists, feet, teeth, knees, the screams of triumph and of agony
As up they go, then stop, then down they go.
No place on earth without its god.’

‘Poss. Sims’ L. wrote by this, but died in 2011, and we shall never know where the simile could possibly have been placed in his account of the Iliad. But what is clear is that he had intended to finish the complete 24-book epic. Christopher Reid, the sure-footed editor of the 38-page Appendix to this volume that brings together all the fragments from books 10-24, quotes a letter that L. wrote to Paul Keegan at Faber and Faber on 12 August 2003:

‘It looks, roughly, like this:
Patrocleia / G.B.H.      written
New armour / the Shield         unwritten
Pax      written

Achilles attacks
Trojans driven back across the ditch to the Scamander
Achilles fights the Scamander            mostly written
Achilles drives the Trojans back across the plain to Troy
Hector dies outside Troy               roughly written
Achilles defiles Hector’s body, burns Patroclus’
corpse and sacrifices the 12 Trojan boys
Priam recovers Hector’s corpse
Hector’s corpse cremated after Hecuba, Andromache
and Helen have spoken.
It remains to be seen how this works out. It is rather a lot.’

Reid comments that, to judge from L.’s ring binders, it would have been more than ‘rather a lot’. To complete what L. provisionally entitled Big Men Falling a Long Way, there would also have been episodes fillings the gaps between Cold Calls and Patrocleia (Books 10-15), and further additions both at the start and end of the whole epic, including a reworking of the magnificent ‘shield’ ekphrasis in Book 18 to include scenes from modern life. L.’s amusing first shot at the love-making scene between Zeus and Hera in book 14 shows what might have been.

As it is, thanks to L.’s wife Rosemary Hill and Reid, we now have an elegantly designed single volume with all that we are going to have, including L.’s notes. L. might have thought it a real honour to survive, as so many of the ancients did, in fragments. But, fragments or not, the Iliad has spread its gravitational ripples over the fabric of our world for 2,700 years now, and L. needed no Ligo tuned to 20 thousandths of a second to pick them up. In particular, he saw that Homer did not preach. He did not virtue-signal. He did not try to manoeuvre his audience into neatly-packaged, self-satisfied responses about ‘the horrors of war’. He simply described and left it up to us what to make of it. So too does Logue.

Here is another simile designed for Book 21, as Achilles enters the fighting:

‘Alaska, 1974.
Think of the moments when
A 50-foot-high cliff of ice
Collapsed into the River Noa’tak,
And by the half-a-day it took to reach the sea,
Its flow – according to the tide-mark that it left –
Became a wave some 1500 metres high
That stripped the land on either side of it
Down to the rock.
Likewise that [. . .]’

You do not need to read Homer to see what L. has done, nor L. to see what Homer has done. But if you do, Plato’s image of a flame kindled by a leaping spark comes strongly to mind.

Peter Jones

SENECA: LETTERS ON ETHICS TO LUCILIUS

Tr. with introduction and commentary by Margaret Graver and A.A. Long

Chicago (2015) h/b 604pp £65.00 (ISBN 139780226265179)

Philosophical tracts can be forbidding and unappealing, and many philosophers have over the centuries looked for way to sweeten the pill, whether by writing in verse (as did Lucretius, Manilius, Horace and others) or else by composing dramatic dialogues as did Plato and Cicero. The idea of composing literary or philosophical letters was an extension of the dialogue, where we have one side of a conversation and where there is often a context of real life, with gossip and small talk mingled in with heavy thinking. Horace of course composed his Epistles in verse, but Plato had also composed Letters (some of them possibly spurious) and the letters of Epicurus are vital for our knowledge of his philosophy; and the form went on to influence the essays of Plutarch and Montaigne.

Seneca could do the grand style like nobody else in town when he was writing tragedy; but these letters show his command of the quieter conversational tone which at times is closer to satire than it is to epic or logic. His range of topics goes from the sublime to the commonplace—from systematic philosophy to the evils of drunkenness—but it is all concerned with the fundamental ethical question of how we ought to live our lives both in obviously philosophical terms (such as out attitude towards our death) and in less philosophical terms (such as our attitudes towards our slaves).

‘Our aim as translators is to convey Seneca’s ideas exactly while also giving some sense of his ever-changing mood and style’ (p. 24). This double objective, to serve Seneca both as a thinker and also as a writer of wonderful Latin prose, is a tall order, and one any translation would struggle to fulfil, but G.-L. are a great leap forward on previous attempts in this regard.

Look for instance at Letter 30, where Seneca is discussing Aufidius Bassus, a wise elderly man whose Epicurean attitude towards the fear of death is one which the Stoic Seneca nonetheless cites with some approval. One rather philosophical paragraph (30.6) reads:

Tam demens autem est qui timet quod non est passurus quam qui timet quod non est sensurus. an quisquam hoc futurum credit, ut per quam nihil sentiatur, ea sentiatur? ‘ergo’ inquit, ‘mors adeo extra omne malum est ut sit extra omnem malorum metum’.

Here is G.-L.’s version:

‘A person would be crazy to fear something that’s not going to happen to him, and it is equally crazy to fear something you won’t feel. Or does anyone believe that he will feel death, when in fact it is through death that he ceases to feel anything else? “For that reason” he says “death is so far removed from every evil that it is beyond every fear of evil.”’

The thinking is clear—not slavishly close to the Latin but good at conveying what the man is saying. The emphasis which Seneca gives by the repetition sentiatur..sentiatur is conveyed and where Seneca repeats other words (such as malum … malorum) they do too.  Now look at a more conversational passage, where the routine infirmities of old age are compared to a leaking ship and a crumbling house (30. 2):

Quemadmodum in naue quae sentinam trahit uni rimae aut alteri obsistitur, ubi plurimis locis laxari coepit et cedere, succurri non potest nauigio dehiscenti, ita in senile corpore aliquatenus imbecillitas sustineri et fulciri potest. ubi tamquam in putri aedificio omnis iunctura diducitur et dum alia excipitur, alia discinditur, circumspiciendum est quomodo exeas.

The lengthy paragraph, made up of two sentences, is clear but by no means simple and G.-L. wisely break it up with a lot of punctuation as follows, moving the sentence break altogether and creating a real sense of conversational tone which keeps the ideas flowing but lets fresh air into the complex phrasing:

‘It’s like when a boat takes on water: you stop up one leak, then another; but once it begins to open up and give way at many places, there’s no way to fix it; it’s just a leaky vessel. So it is with an aging body. Stop-gap measures can sustain it for a while, but when every joint is giving way like the seams of a dilapidated house, when you cannot take care of one thing without something else giving out in the meanwhile, then it is time to look round for the exit.’

Where Seneca is colloquial, G.-L. usually follow suit. quo genere? in 54.1, for instance, is translated ‘what was the trouble?’. When Seneca quotes Greek, G.-L. put it naturally into English, but in quotes: where Seneca quotes poetry they translate it into a neat form of English verse (see e.g. 85.4, quoting four lines of Virgil).

There is a general introduction on ‘Seneca and his World’ (by a very impressive team of Elizabeth Asmis, Shadi Bartsch and Martha Nussbaum) which is authoritative and clear, and G.-L. have written their own separate introduction to these letters with more specific explanation of Seneca’s attitude towards politics and literature as well as his attitude to philosophy. The letters, in this elegant and readable translation, speak for themselves, but G.-L. have also given us brief notes at the back of the book to explain things which the general reader would need explaining, whether it be the philosophical references or the domestic details of Roman life (such as the wax masks of ancestors in a Roman atrium at 44.5).

The book is impeccably proof-read and beautifully printed and presented. I hope that a paperback edition will come out soon to make this excellent book more affordable. The Stoic ideas are as relevant now as they were in the days of the emperor Nero and G.-L. have done Seneca (and us) a great service in making the old man speak so clearly once again.

Dr John Godwin

LEARNING LATIN THE ANCIENT WAY

By Eleanor Dickey

CUP (2016) p/b 187pp £17.99 (ISBN 9781107474574)

Between the 1st and 4th C AD, dialogues were produced to help Greek speakers to learn the Latin of their Roman imperial masters. These dialogues consisted of jolly Cambridge Latin Course-style stories about Everyday Life in the Roman World, with the Greek in one column, one to three words per line, and the Latin opposite it, Loeb-style, translating it word for word. These dialogues were in fact part of larger packages of bi-lingual learning materials, including glossaries, grammars and so on, collected under the jaw-breaking title of the Colloquia of the Hermêneumata Pseudodositheana ‘Dialogues from “Interpretations” by people claiming to be [the grammarian] Dositheus’. Dositheus did in fact write bilingual grammars, and these were attached to the Colloquia on the assumption that he had written the Colloquia too. In this superbly designed volume, D., professor of Greek at Reading University, presents examples from the full range of these materials, mostly with the Greek turned into English. It makes for glorious reading.

Since many of the Greek students wanted to be lawyers, the stories regularly featured law-court scenes – criminal trials, lawsuits, dispute resolutions, manumissions and so on. It is striking how easily the cases are always won, but Romans knew exactly what Greeks wanted to hear. Plenty of other topics relevant to the Greek keen to know how to get on in Rome are featured here: going to the baths, dinner parties, banks, clothes markets, as well as descriptions of life in school for the children, from getting up in the morning to going to school (remember to smooth down your hair on arrival), and being a model pupil (‘you must pay attention because this is the way to make progress’ © Fotherington-Thomas).

Then there are Berlitz-style phrasebooks, of excuses, explanations for absence and useful insults (all very Plautine: Maledicis me, malum caput? Crucifigaris! ‘Do you revile me, villain? May you be crucified!’); stories from the Trojan wars, Aesop’s fables, the Aeneid and model letters. The sections on grammar exemplify explanations of the case system, conjugation and declension. Glossaries cover e.g. homonyms and words relating to sacrifice and entertainment. There is an example of prose composition, and even transliterated words for the Greek student of Latin at outright beginners’ level (e.g. μιλιτια, καστρα, φοσσα, εκουειτης). The book ends with some Latin-Greek texts, including e.g. colloquia, Cicero, Virgil and grammars.

This is certainly the unlikeliest hit-volume of the year, having featured heavily in many national newspapers. Rightly: there is eye-opening material on every beautifully organised page. Everyone attracted to the ancient world should have a copy, especially teachers, and not simply of the languages either. There is much of interest for students of classical studies and ancient history too, and they can pick up a little Latin as they go—the real thing as well.

Peter Jones