As the editors of Once and Future Antiquities point out in their preface, ‘science fiction, fantasy, and the classics have in common the effect of inviting us to reconsider (by speculating, by imagining, by contextualizing) our own world anew’ (xi). The fourteen wide-ranging chapters in this volume eloquently illustrate this point. Contributors explore the multiple ways in which the genres of science fiction and fantasy (SF&F) engage with, respond to, and cast new light on cultural artefacts, story patterns, and characters from the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, reflecting too on how these receptions respond to contemporary preoccupations. Appropriately for a volume on classical receptions, the contributions are all linked by the unifying theme of ‘displacements’ – a concept which refers here both to the movement of ideas, texts, and themes across time and space, and to the disruption of perceived genre boundaries or preconceived ideas about the relationship between receiving and source texts or cultures.
Most of us tend to encounter Greek myths in childhood as exciting stories brimming with heroes, monsters, and moody divinities. The story of Odysseus’ homecoming and the story about the Little Mermaid feature different characters, but their relationship to reality is understood to be the same: they are fantasy, and not real. If, like me, you were lucky enough to escape the Disneyfication of fairy tales in your childhood, perhaps you will remember the brutality and harshness of folktales, which puts them on a par with many Greek myths. My first encounters with ancient Greek stories about the gods and heroes were very similar to Sarah Iles Johnston's: we were both captivated by Greek myth as children, and the passion, once kindled, only grew stronger when we became mature enough to read the ‘real thing’. In my case, learning about ancient Greek culture and becoming a scholar of Greek religion required a thorough rethink, as I needed to readjust my stance towards Greek myths in order to understand the role that they played in ancient Greek society as formative narratives about the communities’ identities, early history, and human relationships with the gods. My process essentially required an emotional detachment from the beloved heroes of my childhood and a significant amount of distancing.
The study of Hellenistic Egypt, as it has been jointly carried out by Hellenists and Egyptologists in recent decades, is a remarkable example of the efficacy of interdisciplinary endeavours bringing together different media and cultural traditions. Based on the premises of these studies in social and cultural history, this article focuses on a neglected aspect of the encounters between the Graeco-Macedonian and Egyptian elites in the Ptolemaic kingdom: the role played by self-stylization in cultural encounters in general and, more precisely, in intercultural negotiations for legitimacy and privilege. The focus will be on the strategy by which one party – in this case, the Egyptian elite – could consciously shape a representation of its traditions and values that was meant to gain more prestige and contractual power in diplomatic exchanges with the Ptolemaic establishment.
Ancient Greek history can have no serious future in which the study of slavery does not play a prominent role. But in order to fulfil this role, the study of slavery is in urgent need of new approaches and perspectives. David Lewis’ new book is a splendid contribution in this direction. Lewis stresses the fact that slavery is primarily a relationship of property, and develops a cross-cultural framework for approaching slavery in this manner. Using this framework, he shows that Greek slavery cannot be equated with slavery in classical Athens, but consisted of various epichoric systems of slavery. Spartan helots and Cretan woikeis were not serfs or dependent peasants, but slave property with peculiar characteristics, as a result of the peculiar development of these communities. These findings have major implications for the study of Greek slavery. At the same time, he presents a comparative examination of Greek slave systems with slave systems in the ancient Near East (Israel, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, and Carthage). While previous scholarship assumed that slavery in the Near East was marginal, Lewis shows that slaves constituted a major part of elite portfolios in many of these societies. This has revolutionary implications for the comparative study of Mediterranean and Near Eastern history in antiquity. Finally, he presents a model for explaining the role and significance of slavery in different ancient societies, which includes the factors that determine the choice of labour force, as well as the impact of political and economic geography. It is remarkable that an approach to slavery based on a cross-cultural and ahistorical definition of property does not lead to a homogenizing and static account, but on the contrary opens the way for a perspective that highlights geographical diversity and chronological change.
Maria Michela Sassi's masterful 2009 volume on the origins and nature of early Greek philosophy is now available in an updated English translation. Sassi's aim is not to provide a primer of the views of individual thinkers. Rather, she seeks to scrutinize what sense we can make of attempts to unravel the ‘origins’ of philosophy. Her work is useful not only for its wide-ranging assessment of the evidence, including that from beyond the central Mediterranean, but also for its careful engagement with central works of scholarship. Sassi seeks to defend the inherently ‘philosophical’ nature of those who presented their views about the nature of the cosmos (and more), prior to the efforts of Plato and Aristotle to establish the identity of philosophy itself. She is particularly keen to defend the value of Aristotle's account of his predecessors against those who are too hasty to dismiss it as self-serving. For her, ‘Aristotle's exposition [of the beginnings of philosophy] is fundamentally correct’ (xv), and she makes a persuasive and engaging case for this point, working with a conception of philosophy as characterized by a particular kind of critical attitude towards explanations.
As I write this, my wife and I are awaiting the imminent arrival of our first child. A natural tendency to find reassurance in research has led me to read a series of modern takes on fatherhood, which have proved of varying value. Imagine my delight, then, when Infancy and Earliest Childhood in the Roman World arrived on my desk. What better source of information? Unsurprisingly, What to Expect When You're Expecting this is not, though I have noted Soranus’ sage advice not to indulge pregnant women's cravings for charcoal or earth (Gyn. 1.15.48; 50). What Maureen Carroll's major new work does offer is the first systematic study of the youngest Romans, those in their first year of life, a topic which – despite the raft of work on the Roman family and life course over the last few decades – still stands in need of a synthesis. As well as evidence-gathering, Carroll's work has a central thesis; that ‘the evidence from archaeology, funerary epigraphy, and material culture marshalled in this study dispels the long-held notion that the very youngest infants were insignificant beings without a social persona whose lives were treated with indifference’ (7). Instead, what Carroll paints is a picture of the first year of life marked by both regular milestones – ‘from the naming day at eight or nine days, the official registration of birth by the thirtieth day, the release from swaddling bands at forty to sixty days, and the beginning of teething at six months, to the achievement of the child's first birthday’ (12) – and ongoing and substantial parental investment.
Where the dusty village of Smirat now sits hunched against the winds of the Tunisian desert, there once stood the country villa of a wealthy Roman named Magerius. Prominently displayed in Magerius’ villa was a (now well-known) mosaic depicting a beast hunt in the arena. But the presumed stars of the show, four pairs of hunters and leopards, are placed at the corners of the mosaic, while centre-stage is dominated by a figure bearing a plate of money, and a block of text explaining that these are the funds with which Magerius has generously offered to pay for the show. Contrary to the ancient donor's expectations, however, the modern observer is not struck by Magerius’ munificence, but rather by the meanness of his show compared to those put on in Rome. The emperor Titus (r. 79–81), for example, had 9,000 animals killed during the hundred-day-long inauguration of the Flavian Amphitheatre (Cass. Dio 66[66 Cary].25.1). Magerius’ leopards, worthy of a mosaic in the provinces, would have provided about ten minutes’ worth of entertainment in the capital.
In 1969 on a riverside near the Lenyardi caves (about 5 kilometres from present-day Junnar, in the Indian state of Maharashtra), Dr Satish Deshmukh discovered an alabaster object in the form of half an egg (longitudinally cut) with a young male child lying inside it (with small traces of red paint on the right side of the object). This high-quality oval object (figures 1 and 2) measures about 5 cm × 3.4 cm and is usually interpreted as an item that was originally manufactured in the Mediterranean world before being brought to India, rather than a piece of artwork produced in India itself. One possible, and largely accepted, interpretation is that this figure represents the birth of the god Eros. However, identification of the figure within the egg-like structure is not easily made. While the figure does bear similarities to the putto-style representation of Eros in instances of Greek and Roman art, it does not possess any clear identifying features (such as the wings with which Eros is often depicted). The figure's resemblance to Eros in some of his other iconographic depictions and the egg-like structure around him suggest a possible identification of this infant with Eros and the myth of his birth from an egg. However, without evidence from other iconography of a more clearly identifiable Eros in similar contexts, the figure cannot be said to be him with any certainty. As Dhavalikar notes, this object ‘is the only one of its kind among the classical antiquities so far found in the Indian subcontinent and perhaps has no parallel in the classical world’. Thus the identification of this sculpture as a depiction of Eros in the egg is possible, but not certain.
Belatedness is past its use-by date. As Susan Stephens observes at the beginning of The Poets of Alexandria, ‘all literature has some predecessor’ (1). Therefore coming after fails to define a difference. The difference on which Stephens focuses instead is the city of Alexandria: ‘the unique social and political demands of this new place’, and the creation of a literary culture that responded to those demands. This, then, is explicitly not a book about Hellenistic poetry (though the wider horizon is not ignored), but about four Alexandrian poets whose work is sufficiently non-fragmentary to be treated ‘with aesthetic coherence’ (18): Posidippus, Theocritus, Callimachus, and Apollonius. There is also an excellent and informative chapter on reception. Given these poets' diverse origins it is surprising how strong a sense of the poetry's rootedness in a specific time and place Stephens is able to give. Commendably, she approaches ‘areas of overlap’, not as ‘aesthetic differences, even literary quarrels’, but as ‘the by-product of an environment of intense experiment as these poets attempt to integrate a novel kingship into the experiences and value systems that they individually and as part of an immigrant collective strove to articulate’ (22). I'm on record as not being a great admirer of Apollonius as a narrator (though I concede that he is a very fine verbal craftsman). My lack of enthusiasm was reinforced (I assume contrary to her intention) by Stephens' discussion of the Argonautica. Consider, for example, this perfectly accurate statement: ‘Pindar's poem [Py. 4] stacks successive time-frames. Apollonius unfolds these layers so that events now occur chronologically’ (123). When the Odyssey is repackaged for children, the structure is usually unfolded so that events occur chronologically: that is not an aesthetic improvement. Stephens says that Longinus ‘grudgingly concedes the technical perfection of the Alexandrians’ (144); ‘condescendingly’ would be a better word, since Longinus ranks perfection as a second-rate excellence. More importantly, Longinian sublimity does not depend on ‘natural grandeur’, but on the greatness of an author's nature. Sublimity can be found in breathtakingly brilliant insights into a lover's experiences (Subl. 10.2–3), or in a figure (16.1–4), or in a subtle rhythmical effect (39.4): a pedestrian description of natural grandeur will not do the job. When I reviewed Stephens' edition of Callimachus' Hymns (G&R 63 , 119), I expressed myself with unaccustomed enthusiasm. Her new book, written in concise but lucid prose, is a worthy successor.
Until the end of the twentieth century, the study of Hellenistic Babylonia appealed mostly to researchers trained in Classics. When J. G. Droysen published Geschichte des Hellenismus between 1836 and 1843, Akkadian had in fact not yet been deciphered. Classical texts therefore provided the only way in which scholars could understand Babylonia. When Assyriology developed as a field on its own, researchers focused on Sumero-Akkadian culture; they considered the Hellenistic period to be a decadent time in which Greek culture had infiltrated the native one, to its detriment. With these two perspectives combined, the Hellenocentric understanding of Hellenistic Babylonia was strengthened. In the early 1990s, however, Susan Sherwin-White and Amelie Kuhrt vigorously upended this view. They focused on non-classical texts and documents and thereby stressed the vitality of Near Eastern cultural traditions. Their challenging work paved the way for intercultural reflection on Hellenistic Babylonia. In effect, the interactions between Babylon and Greece could therefore be developed, by a new generation of researchers, as cross-cultural, meaning that it is likely that mutual impact was felt in both cultures. Among them, Stephanie M. Langin-Hooper offers, in the field of archaeology, a useful interpretative model which analyses cultural interactions in their diachronic and multi-directional dimensions. She assumes the existence of cultural mediators who stimulate interactions between people of two cultural backgrounds sharing a common space. Over time, the facilitation of exchange may affect the nature of social relationships, so much so that they no longer develop in accordance with cultural factors but rather with social class, age, gender, or profession. This implies numerous combinations which vary depending on the sociocultural background of each participant in a given social interaction.
Despite much excellent work on the social roles that mousikê played in antiquity, aesthetic taste has been too little studied: that is, the preferences that different individuals possessed, and the way in which these preferences can be understood to relate to different kinds of identities. In an attempt to tease out some of these preferences in the early Imperial period, this article discusses one of the richest, though under-studied, texts for such topics: namely, Plutarch's Quaestiones convivales (QC), which represents intellectuals engaging with Greek poetry and music in a variety of sympotic contexts. For these educated individuals, mousikê and taste in it are treated as an intrinsic aspect and component of imperial paideia.
Attributes are fundamental to the study of classical archaeology, just as they are to the discipline of art history at large. When it comes to identifying figures on an Attic vase – or for that matter the subject of a medieval fresco, Renaissance canvas, or Neoclassical statue – scholars regularly rely on the associative value of objects. Consider the ease with which we recognize ‘Heracles’ on the grounds of a club or lionskin; observe, too, how often a spiked wheel is understood to signal ‘St Catherine’, or a golden key to betoken ‘St Peter’. In all these scenarios, viewers have learned to ‘read’ certain objects in certain culturally conditioned sorts of ways. Despite their non-verbal medium, attributes come to function almost like textual labels: inserted within the field of visual representation, they inscribe an identity, narrative backdrop, or semantic context; they anchor the project of critical interpretation – and in doing so take on a significatory logic of their own.
How did the Romans do philology? Think in terms of the Latin language, and Varro's De lingua Latina, Caesar's De analogia, or Quintilian's chapters on grammar might come to mind. Think of commentary on texts, and names like Servius, Asconius, and Porphyrio won't be far away. But few of us, it's probably fair to say, could claim a deep acquaintance with all of those, and still fewer have acquired much sense of the broader picture – and it is broad – of ancient scholarship in and on Latin. Cue James Zetzel's Critics, Compilers, and Commentators, a massive and remarkable study of Roman philology from antiquity into the early Middle Ages.
Shaul Tor presents an illuminating and wide-ranging treatment of the relation between the epistemology and theology of Hesiod, Xenophanes, Parmenides, and, to a lesser extent, Empedocles. Over six detailed chapters, he combines philosophical innovation with philological and cultural sensitivity to offer new and fascinating insights on several widely discussed and difficult issues of early Greek philosophy. In his first chapter (‘Rationality and Irrationality, Philosophy and Religion’), Tor surveys the scholarly division between ‘rationalizing’ and ‘mysticizing’ readings of early Greek philosophers. His treatment is thorough and nuanced and helps to render with great clarity the assumptions underlying much modern analysis. Starting from the observation that reason and inspiration are generally treated as dichotomous, he begins with a consideration of some traditional ‘rationalizers’ (the Milesians, Hecataeus, the Hippocratics, etc.) and notes that none provide the sort of straightforward separation and rejection of the divine that standard accounts might lead one to assume. He provides a particularly useful critique of the distinction between the rational and irrational and the philosophical and the religious, arguing that the epistemological developments of early Greek philosophy are ‘an essentially theological enterprise’ (48).
In the 1855 edition of his guide to Pompeii, the French artist and archaeologist Ernest Breton begins a chapter on the city's houses and shops with a print showing tourists in a grand Pompeian residence (figure 1). At the rear of an atrium with an enormous impluvium, a man contemplates a raised garden while a well-dressed couple approaches from the right. Behind them, in the roofless remains of the house, the garden's ancient sculptural display remains in situ; animals and deities inhabit a landscape dominated by a shrine-like niche, a pool, and pillars painted with trees. Deep shadows and encroaching vegetation set a romantic, melancholic mood. This is the House of Marcus Lucretius (IX.3.5), excavated less than a decade prior and, at the time, one of the ancient city's most famous sights. As is typical of nineteenth-century illustrations of Pompeii, the size of the house is exaggerated: while the decorative scheme and arrangement of the rooms is accurate, the garden is too highly elevated and too large in proportion to the figures. The atrium's disproportionate impluvium is a complete fabrication, the actual impluvium having been dismantled in antiquity. Despite the artistic licence, Breton and his imagined tourists follow the same path as ancient visitors to the house, drawn toward the garden and its sculptures by the manipulation of space and decoration.
The earthquake of 62/63 ce was a catastrophic event for Pompeii and Campania. The destruction and death toll were extensive and it is clear that the city of Pompeii was still recovering and rebuilding when the eruption of Vesuvius happened. This article takes into consideration the mental and emotional damage that the earthquake caused and the way in which Seneca and the archaeological record help us to perceive strategies of consolation and therapy. Seneca discusses this earthquake in Book 6 of his Naturales quaestiones and hopes to lead his reader from the shock of the earthquake to a more comprehensive understanding of the physical causes of the tremor. The cultural memory of events not witnessed directly (such as Seneca's write-up of the Pompeii earthquake) makes us all survivors and ‘turn[s] history into a memory in which we can all participate’. If trauma ‘spreads via language and representation’, Seneca wants to limit what exactly is traumatic about this event and employs his creative rhetoric to do so. His account demonstrates how Stoic physics and ethics are connected and moves the reader from his or her fear of earthquakes to the fear of death at the root of the anxiety. Seneca carefully alters the valence of certain terms as well as selected memories of the earthquake to encourage his reader to transcend his or her fear and view earthquakes as natural occurrences, not anomalies to be dreaded. He does this through strategies identified in modern trauma theory as useful for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and this article investigates how contemporary trauma theory can help us understand aspects of Seneca's remedy. Seneca's repetitions of certain events and terminology works to reassess and renovate them from a philosophical angle – in essence it turns potential ‘flashbacks’ and ‘triggers’ into beneficial sites of memory and the means of recovery. Survivors often relive the trauma again and again – Seneca's work alludes to this, but now makes the victim actively revise how to make such iterations part of the recovery.
Nos ausi reserare… (‘We dare unbolt…’): a small but weighty beginning, with the new Loeb Ennius. It's nearly eighty years since E. H. Warmington finished his four-volume Remains of Old Latin (1935–40), combining the fragments of Ennius, Lucilius, Accius, and other pre-Sullan poetry in cheerful farrago with the Twelve Tables and a book of ‘archaic inscriptions’. The dry title notwithstanding, this was a flagship collection from a long-serving general editor of the Loeb Classical Library (1937–74): the scholarship was valiant, despite the slips so fully catalogued by unkinder reviewers, and the product has exerted wide influence as the go-to ‘accessible’ edition of so much important material – even if l'Année Philologique insists on calling its editor ‘Brian’ (his son: talk about tuer le père). Still, eighty years are a long time even in Classics, and an update could fairly be called overdue; happy news, then, that Harvard have commissioned Gesine Manuwald, another London professor, to oversee it. The new title is Fragmentary Republican Latin, more of a mouthful but a touch less downbeat; the remit is extended to include oratory and historiography; and the first instalment is a chunky Ennian diptych (one book for the Annals, one for the rest), jointly curated by Manuwald and Sander M. Goldberg.
The first time I visited Pompeii, I was walking along one of its iconic paved streets when another visitor in front of me stumbled over a rough patch of pavement. Looking down resentfully, she turned to her friend and said in an irritated tone, ‘Look at this! They really need to do something about these roads…’. If that sore-toed tourist had found Eric Poehler's new book, The Traffic Systems of Pompeii, in the Pompeian gift shop, she would have been much illuminated. This long-gestated project represents an exciting new type of scholarship on the ancient world, using evidence gleaned from the scratched and rutted roads of Pompeii and other urban sites across the empire to expose both how ancient traffic worked and the constantly evolving negotiations between residents and government over its control.
The Roman period in Greece has had a relatively short history of inquiry compared to other epochs of the country's long history and, as a result, very little has been written about modern perceptions of this period. For various reasons, neither modern Greeks nor foreigners have been particularly concerned with the country's Roman past, a period which has often been relegated to a negative realm. As a result, misperceptions about the Roman period in Greece are rampant, with many fallacies being perpetuated by labels and displays in museums and archaeological sites throughout the country, as well as by pedagogical institutions and the media.