Bryn Mawr Classical Review

D. A. Russell, Antonine Literature. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990. Pp. x, 246. ISBN 0-19-814057-6.

Reviewed by James J. O'Donnell, University of Pennsylvania.

This collection of eight essays, originally presented to a seminar in Oxford in 1988, is a delight, and an instructive one. After the editor's of "Greek and Latin in Antonine Literature," it includes papers by C.B.R. Pelling on truth and fiction in Plutarch's Lives, E.L. Bowie on Greek poetry under the Antonines, Graham Anderson on the second sophistic, H.G. Nesselrath on Lucian's introductions, M.B. Trapp on Plato's Phaedrus in the Greek literature of the age, E.J. Kenney on the Cupid and Psyche episode in Apuleius, and the editor again on Aristides. The papers are scholarly but lively and almost always original.

Three features distinguish this collection. First, the synoptic embrace of Greek and Latin in the literary history of a single period. The handbook and survey tradition of writing about Greek Literature and Latin Literature as though they were two different things is perplexing and disruptive.

Second, the attention given by several contributors, but specially by Trapp on the Phaedrus, not only to the new texts being written in the period but to the texts that were being read with most attention and to how they were being read. For us, trapped under a waterfall of current publications, the past is deader than it was for the ancients, for whom Homer and Plato and a few others retained a vital currency at almost all periods. Trapp's essay focuses on a few passages in a few authors (e.g., Dio, ps.-Lucian, Aristides) to evoke the way in which the Phaedrus was being read and still informing and shaping the way its readers were writing themselves; so he speaks (166) of Aristides' "cheeky and self-assertive reuse of the Phaedrus in support of his own values and pieties as a sophist" -- and to capture that chutzpah is to identify something very characteristic of the second century.

Third, the essays are clearly marked by the personalities and inclinations of the authors. At no point did anyone have the bad idea of cajoling this group of scholars into writing a collection of articles that would authoritatively survey the whole of Antonine literature and thus elbow its way into the libraries as an apparently indispensable work of reference and guidance. This is not the sort of book from which to expect the exhaustiveness of a Schanz-Hosius,1 but it is an excellent book to stand beside the forbidding black spine of the Handbuch as a guide and stimulant. There are authors and works that this book does not cover; but the student and the scholar will learn more of Antonine literature and be stimulated to think harder and perhaps even to read more widely in the literature itself by this collection than by many an outwardly weightier and more ambitious tome.


1. Students of the literature of the republic and principate may not have heard that a "New Schanz-Hosius" is in course of publication. R. Herzog, Restauration und Erneuerung: Die lateinische Literatur von 284 bis 374 n. Chr. (Munich, 1989, with simultaneous publication in French), has already appeared and will eventually stand as the fifth volume of the new handbook survey, under the general editorship of Reinhart Herzog and Peter Lebrecht Schmidt. The quality is very high and the approach is marked by a greater attention than before to "Fachliteratur" (e.g., legal, medical, astrological) in an attempt to embrace more comprehensively the variety of surviving texts.