By Tiffany Jenkins

OUP (2016) h/b 369pp £25.00 (ISBN 9780199657599)

The chances of finding out what museums are for, amongst the professionals at least, are pretty remote. Michael Ames, anthropologist and museum director, argues ‘Representation is a political act. Sponsorship is a political act. Curation is a political act. Working in a museum is a political act.’ And his point is…? J., however, concludes ‘The mission of museums should be to acquire, conserve, research, and display their collections to all’.

What is certain is that in an age of apology, atonement and reparation, museums are in the firing line. Just look where all their stuff came from! The pressure to do the right thing, and here we are talking largely about repatriating objects, is immense and extremely attractive. But J., without adding anything new, elegantly lines up the arguments and provides careful, balanced and well-considered responses. Fifth century Athens is not the same as Greece. The history of an object adds up to more than the circumstance of its origin. Who owns culture anyway? Encyclopaedic museums add value to national displays. Not all national museums will stand up to political scrutiny—it is so easy to rewrite history. Consider the merits of a separated Parthenon collection—one in a topographical context, the other in a (multi) cultural one.

The rise of the ‘identity’ museum, dedicated to a single culture and presenting it as its ‘owners’ would have it presented, has been seen as one of the ‘right things to do’. It restores dignity and identity, draws objects from collections worldwide (mostly willingly), and so on. But how does such a mission square with the ideals of disinterested research and display? And of course, when we get to human remains, the questions of research, display and repatriation (ever since Theseus’s bones were returned from Skyros to Athens) become so much more touchy.

J. is quite clear about what she thinks museums are for, and worries that relatively new preoccupations are damaging the fulfilment of that mission. But it is difficult to see anything like an agreed resolution to the questions thrown up, because the two sides are arguing from wildly different premises: it is logistics versus emotion. The pro-repatriation lobby talks of ‘national pride’, ‘self esteem’, ‘dignity…ancestors’, ‘motherland’, ‘the beating heart of modern Greek identity’. We are told that ‘just as people have souls…so do…monuments’. Try as you will, these arguments will always be sexier than those regarding the greatest good of the objects.

Will 3D printing be a game-changer? What, then, about authenticity? It is a fair guess that things will roll along as they are, on a case by case basis, producing a core of precedents that can be drawn upon as it is thought right. It is also a fair guess that the agenda and arguments will change.

J. has less to say about the role of us punters, but what she says is good: ‘(Other) objects hold the interest of people beyond both that usefulness and sentiment—there is something about them that appears truthful or special to people who are unfamiliar with their original context…….that show how human beings lived, loved and understood their world, in a way that others can relate to.’

At this point your reviewer becomes personal. As a child I would get on the train and travel thirty miles into Cambridge to visit the Fitzwilliam. The experience was always extraordinary. The armoury was a favourite, and I could wander around the cabinets of curiosity less concerned about how ‘correct’ my experience of the objects was than about the experience itself. I remember seeking out parts of the museums that scared me, excited me, puzzled me, without the dead hand of over-explanation, without being shouted at by acres of ‘interpretation panels’. The memory of a suit of medieval Japanese armour still haunts me. I really don’t want to wake up and see that at the end of my bed, but contemplating the possibility is oddly exciting.

I am not arguing for ignorance, but rather for what this kind of over-interpretation has driven out. By all means make the information available; just don’t let it dominate the show and relegate real objects to a secondary role. My heart sank when I visited the Leonardo exhibition at the Laing in Newcastle recently and found the space dominated by yaddah. I retrieved the experience for myself by ignoring it in favour of the drawings. But I guess this malaise was inevitable within the orthodoxies established and underlined by museums courses, and virtually every curator will have gone through that mill. So the experience comes to be about input, not search for meaning. The museum is the end, and no longer the means to an end. Of course, that makes it so much easier to get it right … but the loss!

And this doesn’t let the heritage industry off the hook—far from it. I followed the development of the Beamish outdoor museum in County Durham from conception through to realisation, and have never felt other than disappointment with the experience, if that’s what it is, because, unlike the cabinets of curiosity, it never really engages the imagination or initiates the search. It doesn’t give you anything to do. The rebuilt streets are the end, not the beginning of an experience. What Beamish is trying to achieve is available only in the pages of, say, Dickens, where you are free to wander, see, hear, taste and smell, or in the moving images of Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, as you wonder again and again at Leonard Rossiter’s dance at the country fair, and share the embarrassment of all the others there. This kind of imaginative experience is not available at the heritage sites because they are so solidly finite. This is not an argument for treasure hunts or paper trails, by the way: they are just another way of submitting to interpreto-terror.

So what do we do about it? When I was first taught how to write open- and distance- learning programmes, the main emphasis was on identifying, agreeing and meeting the expectations of the learner. Of course there will be a need for knowledge and understanding. The question is, how do you get the learner to engage, make it their own, willingly and actively embark on the quest, work for it, if you like, because if the learner/ visitor makes the investment, then they will get the return. I’m now thinking primarily of groups visiting museums – schools, tourists, interest groups (individuals must, I fear, be responsible for their own motivation).

Take the real case of a visit to a collection of Roman inscriptions. The group should be helped to establish their own expectations, which can be done through a process of dialectic. What are inscriptions for? Why do people set them up? What categories do they appear in—public, private, political, religious, rhetorical? Do they work? How? What do inscriptions tell you? How do they make you feel? What do you understand because of them at the end of your visit that you didn’t before that? Does this affect your life in any way? How? Do you walk down the street in the same way as you did before? Do you look in the same places? Do you remember the same things after a walk? What is evidence anyway?

If this is done in the right way, you avoid telling them what you’re going to show them, showing them, and telling them what you’ve shown them. You are opening up a whole range of possibilities for their own quest and making possible a range of sensations and experiences that are personally meaningful and enjoyable, just as with the cabinets of curiosity. Each visitor tailor-makes their own visit, and in the twenty minutes or so it takes, there is the opportunity to transform the experience. Museums can do better than one-size-fits-all.

Adrian Spooner



Tr. with an introduction by Philip Freeman

Princeton (2016) h/b 195pp £12.95 ISBN 9780691167701

The authority where the reviewer lives has recently sponsored an initiative entitled ‘Ageing well in our town’, and are offering leaflets and workshops on combating loneliness, keeping mentally and physically active, eating sensibly etc., though, interestingly, not on preparing for a good death.

Growing old well has, of course, been a perennial preoccupation, as the subtitle of Cicero’s De Senectute, ‘Ancient Wisdom for the Second Half of Life’ reminds us.

This is a beautifully presented compact book, and those of us whose eyesight has been affected by advancing years will especially appreciate its clear print, large font and double spacing.

It consists of an introduction, a parallel Latin text and English translation with variant American spellings, short notes, many only a single sentence, helpful to those without an immediate recall of ancient history or literature, and a short list of suggested further reading.

The succinct introduction places the work in the context of Cicero’s personal situation in what were very challenging times for the Roman Republic and its supporters. It then suggests ten lessons which can be drawn from Cicero’s reflections on old age, for example that a good old age begins in youth, and the mind is a muscle which must be exercised. These reflections are presented by Cicero in the form of a conversation between Cato the Elder and two young friends.

The translation adopts an easy, engaging style, which encourages us to believe that we are eavesdropping on an informal conversation. For example, the description of someone as natura tardior is well rendered as ‘aren’t very bright to start with.’ But it can adapt its tone when appropriate to remind us that the oldest and most prolix of the conversationalists has a penchant for quoting poetry and expounding historical and literary allusions.

Inevitably these allusions remind us that this is a work from antiquity: but the ideas, arguments and practical advice which are adduced are timeless and well worth pondering today.

This book does not offer itself as a weighty tome of minute scholarship, but is clearly a distillation of such study, and as a vehicle for introducing readers to the intellectual vigour of the classical world it succeeds brilliantly.

The modern burghers who are behind ‘Ageing well in our town’ would do their fellow citizens a real service in sponsoring a book as thought-provoking as this work from over 2000 years ago. Princeton and Philip Freeman are to be thanked for making it more accessible.

Raymond Morris


By Steven Hunt

Bloomsbury (2016) p/b 193 pp £24.99 (ISBN 9781472537911)

This is a valuable, indeed invaluable book. Replete with the assured wisdom of a creative, insightful and reflective teacher, it is to be treasured not only by those who are starting out on the journey but by everyone at every stage of a teaching career. H.’s illustrations of what works in the classroom and what emphatically doesn’t are highly illuminating. They are usually based on real-life lessons that he has observed, and those who gave the lessons which didn’t work (Case Study 2 is particularly and hilariously blunder-prone) should feel no shame: we have all been there; and H.’s important book will enable all of us to do better. In addition, as a regular visitor to the American Classical League’s annual meetings, H. is splendidly placed to ensure that his counsel will be well worth heeding on the other side of the pond.

The strategies he advocates will result in enjoyable, stimulating and at the same time demanding lessons. He is thoughtful and constructive about ways in which vocabulary and full grammatical understanding (see especially Case Study 1 for the latter) can be mastered, and insistent that this should happen. (Quite why he should be worried about the grammar identification questions in the new GGSE I can’t imagine. Such an activity seems to chime in with his recommended methodology and is very much in line with the Teacher’s Guides to the Cambridge Latin Course.) While he demands high standards, his book is informed throughout by common sense and an awareness of what is realistic. I envy his PGCE students, but we can rejoice that this book will spread his illumination of good practice far beyond the confines of Cambridge.

In only one area does he abandon his tone of amiable advocacy. He is clearly enraged by OCR’s decision—the result of pressure from the book’s villain, one Michael Gove—that 5% of the marks at Latin GCSE should be awarded on four very easy English into Latin sentences, which are in any case optional. At the risk being branded one of those whom he considers crass right-wingers, I do not see any harm in making this option available: we are talking about elementary translation of simple English into Latin (no-one is asking for Gladstone to be rendered into Ciceronian Latin, for heaven’s sake! The most challenging sentence in the specimen paper is the admittedly clunky ‘We greeted the son of the man’); on the contrary it should be a reassuring exercise for pupils, helping them to see whether they have fully mastered a concept. I also think that it would be very straightforward to include such sentences in a non-time-consuming way from the earliest stages. (The Balme/Morwood Oxford Latin Course includes them right from the start.) I feel that H. is being alarmist when he finds it likely that ‘the latest round of examination reform … may close off many of the routes that have recently opened up’. Be that as it may, I also feel that it’s regrettable that Peter Jones, the man who has over the years done as much as anyone for ‘the cause’ should be accused of using his privileged position (meaning what exactly?) ‘to carry the debate away from where it matters’.

That said, I am fully in favour of H.’s earnest wish that teachers of classics should have a meaningful say in the future of their subject. H. is not altogether correct to assert that there was no consultation with teachers about the introduction of the National Curriculum: in fact Pat Easterling, John Murrell and Martin Thorpe (the latter two Executive Secretary and President of JACT respectively) visited Kenneth Baker at York House. Baker ended by saying how happy he was to reassure them—which he had most decidedly not done! But H. is certainly right to feel that at present the voice of the practising professionals is not being heard or listened to nearly enough. It is splendid, however, that he feels able to end his generally excellent book on a note of quiet optimism.

James Morwood—Wadham College, Oxford


by Boris Nikolsky

The Classical Press of Wales (2015) h/b 280pp £58 (ISBN 9781910589038)

This monograph on Euripides’ Hippolytus has seven dense chapters of analysis which make it a demanding read, one not for the fainthearted and certainly not for the general reader, but it is a thorough and insightful study which will repay the effort for anyone wishing to delve deeply into the play.

N. begins with a moral assessment of the characters’ actions and shows that the only one acting with deliberate ill-will is Aphrodite, who is seeking revenge on Hippolytus for insulting her. This initial ill-will of the goddess leads to a succession of misdeeds and errors committed by the human characters, all motivated by ignorance or misunderstanding of the true facts of the situation. (This is a powerful theme in many Attic tragedies, perhaps best exemplified in Sophocles’ Oedipus the King.) As in Athenian law, the involuntary nature of wrongdoing can be a mitigating factor, and here the whole thrust of the play is towards exoneration and forgiveness. N. concludes (p. 19): ‘The world of Hippolytus is governed by the evil will of the gods and natural human weaknesses: it is impossible not to make errors in it, and all errors are excusable.’

Several chapters give thorough analyses of various recurrent motifs which echo throughout the play, interweaving to create ‘a dynamic composition reminiscent of musical counterpoint’. Two such motifs are speech and vision, both of them deceptive, both leading to disaster. Words are prompted by emotions and misunderstandings, and in turn result in more emotions and misunderstandings, which prompt more words, and so on—until Phaedra and Hippolytus both lie dead. Vision too can be deceptive and lead to error, as when the sight of Phaedra’s dead body persuades Theseus to believe her (lying) written message and not Hippolytus’ (true) spoken words.

Another key motif is aidôs, along with its associated virtue sôphrosunê, which together embrace the social virtues of shame, respect, reverence, modesty, chastity, self-restraint, and suchlike. After analysing these, N. goes on to examine how they are presented in Hippolytus and Phaedra, where Hippolytus’ natural chastity contrasts with Phaedra’s acquired, conscious virtue. Recurring verbal motifs also play their part, and N. discusses the role played by the image of the sea, which expresses the miseries and sufferings accompanying human existence (sailing on ‘a sea of troubles’), and that of pristine wild nature.

An insightful chapter deals with the gods’ interactions with humans, vital for any understanding of the play; and the book ends with an analysis of the use of theatre space. I would have welcomed a final chapter drawing all these threads together as a detailed conclusion; but in fact the general conclusion is given briefly in the Introduction: ‘Humans are weak, and therefore they turn out to be not culprits but victims of fate. They will always tend towards virtue, but their natural weakness and the ambivalence of virtue itself lead them to wrong actions. Their conflicts are apparent and mutual blaming is ungrounded, and it is exoneration and forgiveness that is shown as the highest and only pure moral value.’

This is not so very far from Bernard Knox’s conclusion in his seminal 1952 article: ‘Hippolytus’ forgiveness of his father is an affirmation of purely human values in an inhuman universe.’ But here the journey towards N.’s conclusion is quite different, and becomes a rewarding one.

Jenny March


by M. Eaton-Krauss

Bloomsbury (2016) p/b 175pp £19.99 (ISBN 9781472575616)

If you were to ask somebody to name an Ancient Egyptian pharaoh, there is a strong possibility that they would say ‘Tutankhamun’. His name is universally familiar but the details of his life are not, except that he died at a young age.

The rulers of the XVIIIth dynasty in Egypt (c.1539-1292 BCE) included some noteable figures—Thutmoses III, the great ‘warrior’ pharaoh, Hatshepsut , the female ruler and Akhenaten, the ‘heretic’, whose only god was the sun disc, the Aten. Tuthankamun is now regarded as the son of Akhenaten, but uncertainty still remains as to the identity of his mother. DNA studies carried out in Egypt have not provided certainty, and some people are sceptical about the retrieval of DNA from such ancient bodies. There are also great uncertainties about the sequence of events between the death of Akhenaten and the accession of Tutankhamun, or Tutankhaten as he was originally known. There seems to have been a ‘ruling queen’ somewhere in this period, but which woman it was is again a matter of debate.

E-K looks at Tutankhamun’s life chronologically, from accession through the building projects and finally his death and burial. Why did Tutankhamun die so young? Was it natural causes, an accident, or even an ‘arranged accident’? If the latter, we must ask: what/where/how/who/when/why? And, of course, the famous question cui bono? must also be considered. E-K provides evidence for the apparently hurried and ‘second-hand’ burial of Tutankhamun, but comes to no final conclusion.

Many of the recent studies on the so-called ‘Amarna’ period have been published in journals in either French or German, so that they have not been available to those without the languages. E-K has provided a fine service by gathering together so much information from these publications. She has produced a book that is extremely fascinating for anyone interested in Tutankhamun and at the same time, with copious notes, providing valuable material for professional Egyptologists. She makes clear her own ideas but also includes the contradictory ones.

In spite of this publication, there is still a great deal ‘unknown’ about this young king and, unless further artefacts are found, it will probably remain so.

Olive Hogg—North East Ancient Egypt Society

ANCIENT GEOGRAPHY: The Discovery of the World in Classical Greece and Rome

By D.W. Roller

IB Tauris (2015) h/b 294pp £62 (ISBN 9781784530761)

If the study of the writers of history is ‘historiography’, this is a ‘geographygraphy’: a study of the ancient writers who invented the discipline. And a very clear and wide-ranging study it is as well, taking the story from Homer to the end of the Roman Empire in the West. By this time, R. shows, Romans were aware, however faintly, of the Azores to the West (and possibly even Río de Janeiro, where Roman amphorae were found but were lost before they could be fully analyzed), Finland and possibly Iceland to the North, China and Java to the East, and the African coast as far south as N. Mozambique.

Only four geographical handbooks survive from antiquity out of a record of about 250 geographers known through quotation or name alone – Strabo (whose work barely survived and was unknown to e.g. Pliny, Plutarch and Ptolemy), Pomponius Mela, Books 2-6 of Pliny’s Natural History (all 1st C AD) and Ptolemy of Alexandria (2nd C AD), whose Geographical Guide located some 8,000 places from the Baltic to central Africa and the Malay peninsula.

But as R. points out, very many writers made useful contributions, e.g. poets such as Pindar, Aeschylus, Virgil and Propertius (whose lovelorn Arethusa consults a map to locate where her soldier is); medical writers interested in health and climate; soldiers like Julius Caesar (Gaul) and Pompey (the near east); and polymaths such as Polybius, best known for his History but who traced Hannibal’s route across the Alps, sailed down the West African coast into the tropics, probably reaching Mt Cameroon, and investigated France, probably as far as the Loire and Nantes. He may have gone in search of the British Isles, in which he shared an interest with Scipio Aemilanus, perhaps having heard of it from Pytheas’ travels in the region (Pytheas first connected tides with the moon). It is one of the few areas of research to which Aristotle did not devote a treatise, though much information is scattered throughout his works, especially his Meteorologica, and he is the first person we know of to use oikoumenê to mean ‘the inhabited world’.

This mapping of the known world followed trade, travel (Hecataeus, Herodotus) and conquest – Greek colonisation, Greek contact with Persians (opening up the East) and Carthaginians (Africa), Alexander the Great (when Greek knowledge of the world expanded in all directions except West), and so on. The idea that the earth was spherical and could be divided into zones (two arctic, two temperate and a ‘burnt’ zone in the middle) developed in the 5th C BC. Ephoros (4th C BC) divided the world into four ethnic groups (Indians, Ethiopians, Celts and Scythians).

But the big player here was Eratosthenes, working in Alexandria, whose 3-book Geography covered a history of the subject, the size and shape of the earth and the topography of the entire oikoumenê. He created the prime north-south meridian and prime east-west parallel, enabling (in theory) relative positions to be accurately located. He can be said to have invented the discipline of geography.

The Romans carried on the good work. Juba II, scholar, explorer and made king of Mauretania (Algeria and Morocco) by the Romans in 25 BC, wrote a Libyca (also discovering the Canary islands) and an Arabia (joining Gaius Caesar’s expedition there), which together linked India to the pillars of Hercules, the so-called ‘southern border’ of the then oikoumenê. Augustus and Tiberius pushed north into Germany. Archelaus, king of Cappadocia, with the same interests as Juba, picked up information from merchants about India, Bactrians and China (the ‘silk people’, Seres). No fewer than 120 ships made the Red Sea/India run in the 20s BC; in 25 BC an Indian embassy visited Augustus in Spain.

In imperial times Roman traders reached south India, and one Alexandros made a journey to Sri Lanka and the South China Sea, perhaps Hanoi and Java. Romans goods have been found in Iceland, Sweden, Norway and Vietnam, though that does prove that Romans traded there. The advent of Christianity, however, imposed a biblical view of the world, and that was essentially the end of classical geography. Its restoration awaited the 15th C renaissance.

R. has produced a fascinating account of an important subject, which has not been given its due for a very long time. Now it has been, in fine detail, crowned with plain but very informative maps regularly plotting the gradual expansion of knowledge. Highly recommended.

Peter Jones

ARCHAEOLOGISTS, TOURISTS, INTERPRETERS: Exploring Egypt and the Near East in the Late 19th-Early 20th Centuries

by Rachel Mairs and Maya Muratov

Bloomsbury (2015) p/b 147pp £24.95 (ISBN 9781472588807)

In the late nineteenth century an increasing number of people from Europe and U.S.A were travelling to Egypt and the Near East for a variety of reasons. There were scholars, archaeologists, travellers and package tourists, but very few of them could speak the languages or were familiar with the local customs. So they needed a dragoman, an interpreter and guide to be with them. This is the main subject of this book. It starts with general comments about the nature of their work, looks at the experiences of some well-known travellers, and finally, in great detail, talks about two dragomans in particular.

As is the case in all walks of life there are good and bad people. Dragomans are no exception. W.M. Thackeray in 1864 says: ‘our guide, an accomplished swindler’ while in Baedeker’s guide to Egypt (1876) he states: ‘There are about 90 dragomen [sic] in Cairo … but scarcely a half of the number are trustworthy’. On the other hand, many dragomans were indispensable to their employers, acting as tactful diplomats in dealing with local people, bodyguards, messengers, spies and even pimps. They sometimes had to scheme and improvise to enable their employers to fulfil their intentions. Quite often they were abused, discriminated against and treated with contempt by people who were very hard to satisfy. And yet, in many books written by travellers, the dragomans are denied any credit or barely even mentioned

Several well-known people are written about in some detail; Flinders Petrie, T.E. Lawrence, Sir Leonard Wooley and Sir Max Mallowan (all fluent speakers of local languages), while Agatha Christie (Mrs Mallowan) could manage only simple, domestic instructions.

The last two chapters home in on two notable dragomans. The first, Daniel Z. Noorian, worked for several American expeditions to ‘Babylonia’. He became a trusted friend of his employers and finally was helped to settle in America where he became an antiques dealer. The second, Solomon Negima, put together an amazing book of 65 testimonials giving a rare opportunity to access a dragoman’s own perspective.

As M. and M. say ‘This book is first and foremost about attitudes towards communication’. It reflects the present day belief that everyone should be recognised and acknowledged, however humble their role.

Olive Hogg