Bryn Mawr Classical Review 02.03.14


Jean-Paul Descoeudres, Greek Colonists and Native Populations: Proceedings of the First Australian Congress of Classical Archaeology held in honour of Emeritus Professor A. D. Trendall. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990. Canberra: Humanities Research Centre, 1990. Pp. xxxviii + 663; 64 black and white plates. ISBN 0-19-814869-0. $185.00 (hb).


Reviewed by Barry Baldwin, University of Calgary.

As the subtitle discloses, this portly volume is both conference record and Festschrift, the star of the show being the veteran expert in Greek vases Arthur Dale Trendall, appearing here as both honorand and participant.

Like many another epic, this brobdingnagian production has been long in the making. The conference itself was held in July, 1985. Descoeudres' prefatory acknowledgements are dated October, 1987. The book itself appeared late in 1990. Habent sua fata libelli.

After lists of contents, plates, abbreviations, and contributors, running in all to 38 pages, Descoeudres kicks things off with an editorial introduction-cum-synthesis that I suppose might have gone down better after a few jars of good Aussie beer. It seemed to myself both silly and superfluous. The opening sentence is preposterous: "When, back in September 1983, the plan was launched to mount an archaeological congress at the University of Sydney on the theme 'Greek Colonists and Native Populations', it aroused bewilderment both in Australia and overseas." Ironically, a good demonstration of colonial mentality. Why on earth, in these days of jet travel and fax machines, should anyone be bewildered by the prospect of an academic conference on any subject in Australia? No such emotions are expressed by Graeme Clark, Deputy Director of the Humanities Research Centre at the Australian National University and also associated with the volume under review, in his preface to Reading the Past In Late Antiquity (Canberra 1990),the proceedings of a cognate conference held in 1988 (cf. my review, forthcoming in Speculum).

One reason for this efflorescence of meetings was (of course) the celebration of the Australian Bicentennial in 1988. This sort of thing, good in itself, usually brings out the worst in academic justifications for spending taxpayers' money on globe-trotting get-togethers (see David Lodge's seminal satire on same, Small World, which ought to be required reading for all grant-awarding agencies). Comparison between Greek colonisation and that of Australia was a prevailing theme of the Sydney conference, bludgeoned home in several of the papers and the Epilogue. It is a largely bogus business. Greek and Australian colonisations do not really have that much in common, though a paper by a Greek immigrant to the Antipodes (conspicuously lacking) might have enhanced what Graham Greene called the Human Factor. I kept remembering the astringent verdict on his own definitive The Australian Legend (Melbourne 1958) by the contemporary Antipodean historian Russel Ward: "The Australian Legend is a legend indeed." A lot of what was said in the papers could have been said equally well anywhere, any time. Still, in the run-up to 1988, this Australo-Hellenic linkage no doubt played a decisive role in the grant application.

After these exordial burblings have mercifully dried up, Descoeudres spends the balance of his Introduction listing the speakers and synthesising their topics, in effect an eight page restatement of the List of Contents. The reader will do much better to skip over this and start reading the papers themselves -- why bother with the monkey when the organ-grinders are to hand? I will, nevertheless, linger over one matter in order to dismiss it. Descoeudres (p. 6, with n. 23) spends some time on the touchy subject of racism, for him the leitmotiv of the group of seven papers here collected under the rubric The Development of a Colony and the Relations Between Colonists and Natives. That is okay. But Descoeudres promptly scores an own goal by prattling on about the supposed difference between ethnocentrism and racism, denying that the Greeks were racists. Now, it may be true that the Greeks did not make much adverse use of a person's colour (cf. the books by F.M. Snowden, e.g., Blacks in Antiquity [Cambridge, Mass. 1970], 176-95), but I'm sure all those ancient crackers of jokes about Cappadocians, Thracians, and so on, not to mention (e.g.) Plato, Republic 470-1, on the propriety of Greeks warring with foreigners, would be surprised to learn that they were not racially superior but only ethnocentrist.

I could also have lived without the (happily breviloquent) Speech of Welcome by a local politico, Neville Wran, a glutinous affair though no doubt a necessary courtesy. I would have preferred a guest appearance by Sir Les Patterson, 'Minister For The Yartz' in the Australian comedian Barry Humphries' delicious satirical creation.

Of the fifty papers presented at the conference, we here get forty-five (it seems not to be anywhere disclosed who gave the missing ones, or on what, or why they were excluded), all in English -- those originally presented in French, German, or Italian have been translated. Let it be said at once and with emphasis that a largely first-class team has produced much good stuff. It is obviously beyond the range of any one person (except, perhaps, the late Arnaldo Momigliano) to review with equal competence the vast range of talks and topics. So when particular items are passed over or merely mentioned, that is not to be taken as damnatio per silentium.

Section One of the book is made up of eight papers, consecrated to the collective theme of Pre-Colonial Contacts and the Foundation of a Colony. The first two, by Bernard Smith and Alan Frost, comport much early Australian history that is beyond my professional competence. But as a 'pommy bastard' who worked in Australia during the early 1960s, I found the local attitude to resemble that of Rome towards Greece: veneration (real or feigned) of British culture coupled with distrust or dislike of living specimens of that culture, with particular pleasure being taken in beating the English at their own game, i.e., cricket. Smith sometimes succumbs to critical Newspeak -- I have no idea what such phrases as "There is an ultimate sense in which we employ analogy even in distinguishing a sherd from bedrock" ( p. 19) mean. But full marks to him (ibid.) for dismissing structural theories and patterns of history. Frost's quotation (p. 43) of David Collins on the eight months and one week it had taken the First Fleet to reach Botany Bay under Phillip revived my own feelings on sailing from Southampton to Sydney in twenty-nine days -- whatever the speed, caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt. On Captain James Cook, Banks, and Hawkesworth, who bulk large in these interesting papers, it would have been apposite to bring in a contemporary conversation on their travels between Boswell and Johnson (Life, ed. Hill-Powell, 3, 7-8), along with the Latin distich Johnson composed for the collar of Banks' goat which circumnavigated the globe with Cook in the Endeavour and Wallis in the Dolphin. Johnson agreed with Boswell, and so might we, when the Scot observed that "A great part of what we are told by the travellers to the South Sea must be conjecture, because they had not enough of the language of these countries to understand so much as they have related. Objects falling under the observation of the senses might be clearly known; but every thing intellectual, every thing abstract -- politicks, morals, and religion, must be darkly guessed."

A. J. Graham, an old hand at this sort of thing, writes on Pre-colonial Contacts: Questions and Problems. He skilfully blends particular information on recent finds at such sites as Istrus, Pithecusa, and Sinope with a focussing of the key cosmic issue s (e.g., "Who carried the goods?", p. 50), proving yet again that Voltaire was right when he said that a man should be judged by the questions he asks rather than the answers he gives.

David Ridgway turns in a characteristic performance on the First Western Greeks And Their Neighbours, surveying theories and discoveries from 1935-85, starting with Blakeway's epochal publications on Greek trade but also harking back, tactfully for an Australian audience, to the purblind Antipodean Marxist Gordon Childe. As always, Ridgway wears his enviable erudition lightly, wields Occam's Razor to good effect, and is perhaps the entire volume's most accomplished stylist and wit -- many will want to purloin the bon mot (p. 63) "The proper business of 'barbarians' was to be Hellenized, not identified." Ridgway's contribution is relatively short; readers can ease their frustration by consulting his long review of M. R. Popham & L . H. Sackett, Lefkandi I: The Iron Age: The Settlement and the Cemeteries (London & Athens 1981), in the Times Literary Supplement, Sept. 18, 1981, 1078. Also now available and relevant are Richard Harrison, Spain at the Dawn of History (London 1988), and Sabatino Moscati, The Phoenicians (London 1988). A propos of Ridgway's disbelief ( p. 65) in the influence of Mycenaean tholos tombs on the corbel vaulting of the nuraghi, one might import into the argument the very similar trulli huts of Apulia, especially at Taranto and Alberobello, thought by some to be derived from primitive tombs, derived in their turn from Syrian and Mycenaean models.

One of the most important and trenchant papers in this first section is Peter Londey's minimising of the role played by Delphi in advising would-be emigrant colonisers. As he acknowledges (p. 120), this debunking is not new -- one should add to his roll-call Bengston, History of Greece, tr. E. F. Bloedow (Ottawa 1988), 399, for peremptory dismissal of Ernst Curtius' Delphic rhapsodising -- but it is the clearest and best-written formulation of the revisionist position. Viscerally, I could have wished Londey wrong, since it spoils that famous gem in Kitto's The Greeks (London 1957 ed.), 83: "In going to Delphi, therefore, the Greek hoped to receive, as it were, not only the blessing of the bishops but also expert advice from the Colonial Research Bureau." But his evidence is cogent. Incidentally, since Fontenrose's The Delphic Oracle is much invoked, readers should turn also to Peter Green, Classical Bearings (London 1989), 91-111, wherein are reprinted Green's original review of the book together with rejoinders by Fontenrose himself and Ernst Badian, and Green's responses to these.

Seven papers constitute the second section, The Development of a Colony and the Relations Between Colonists and Natives. Well, six really, because Michael Williams' piece 'The Colonization Of Australia -- An Aboriginal Perspective' is not so much an academic paper as a political jeremiad on the Australian Aborigines and their supposed persecution. Johnson's rebuke of Boswell for canting on such matters comes to mind. Apart from its sentimentalising overlay -- The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith is a healthy corrective -- the exercise runs the stylistic gamut from illiteracy ("It's nothing but real soft," p. 187) to esoteric argot ("No Aborigine would have a bar of it," p. 188). This thing did not warrant publication here, being better suited to sectarian broad sheets; no doubt local politics played a role in its acceptance.

Happily, the remaining sextet is real and solid. Even though I cannot follow all of Pietro Guzzo's distinctions between Enotrians and Ausonians, he is adept at interweaving myth with archaeology and quite fascinating on ancient Greek accounts of early South Italy. Balkan topics and scholarship are firmly represented by Dinu Adamesteanu on Greeks And Natives In Basilicata, C. M. Danov on the characteristics of Greek colonisation in Thrace, and Maria Coja on the archaeological evidence for Dobruja (Moesia Inferior). Andre Laronde on Greeks and Libyans in Cyrenaica is sometimes more of an esquisse than anything else, but he has a good topic, though perhaps tries to cover too much chronological ground. Laronde's readers should stay on the qui vive for more news of the excavations (reported in the press) by Graeme Barker and Barri Jones of a farm at Wadi Lamout 120 miles South of Tripoli which show that the Romans grew cereals over 100 miles into the desert beyond present southern limits of cultivation.

The third section on Emergence of New Cultural Forms encompasses 15 papers. In the circumstances, it is right and proper to notice first the honorand Trendall for his plea on behalf of the quality of Greek pottery in South Italy. A doyen of the discipline, Trendall needs no vapid compliments from me. His paper, sometimes a bit overburdened by the weight of footnote documentation, is a triumph of synthesis and the art of multa in parvo. Of special interest to myself, and I dare say, to many other readers, are his remarks (pp. 227-8) on vase paintings that may reflect scenes from Sicilian or local tragic dramatists. This is a topic that gets full justice in the paper on 4th Century Tragedy in Sicily that follows, from the pen of C. W. Dearden. Dionysius I bulks large here, which is topically as well as intrinsically fitting, given the two recent studies of the Syracusan tyrant by Lionel J. Sanders (Toronto 1988) and Brian Caven (New Haven 1990). In his (justifiably -- Dearden's brief was archaeological, not literary) few remarks on the language of Dionysius' plays, Dearden might have considered that the "strange words" found in their fragments may have been less odd to a Sicilian than an Athenian ear, and he certainly takes the comic criticism of (say) Lucian, Adv. Ind. 15, far too solemnly. I also take the chance to recommend Mary Renault's delightful re-creation of Dearden's topic and period in her novel The Mask Of Apollo (London 1966).

Of the other papers in this group, my attention was particularly caught by Francesco D'Andria's on Greek influence in the Adriatic, since it is essentially about recent discoveries in the still enigmatic and hard-to-enter country of Albania, an interest of my own. Since it seems oddly omitted, and since much of D'Andria's bibliography is Albanian or otherwise non-English, anglophone readers without the relevant languages should be made aware that the first-ever report on Albanian archaeology to appear in the annual Archaeological Reports that accompany JHS saw the light of day in AR 30 (1983), 102-19, the work of Z. Andrea and M. F. Smith. It is, incidentally, much to be regretted that Smith, a major figure in Illyrian studies and one who is unusually familiar with Albania, does not appear in the volume under review. I might also advise readers, that, apart from frequent reports of new finds in the newspaper Zeri i Popullit (e.g., the issues of March 16 and 30, 1990, for discoveries at Dimalea and Gjuricaj), almost every issue of the magazine New Albania (published 6 times a year in Tirana) carries copiously illustrated reports and discussions (see, for instance, the survey by N. Ceka in Issue 3, 1990, 29-30). Also worth reading is the discussion between Albania's late leader, Enver Hoxha, and the underwater archaeologist Moikom Zeqo on methods and prospects, recorded in Hoxha's Two Friendly People (Tirana 1985), 296-9.

Since bibliographical updating is one useful function a reviewer can perform, I will also inform and encourage readers that the doleful claim "No satisfactory account of the Achaemenid empire yet exists" (p. 324, n. 2) made by Malcolm Colledge in his observations on Greek Art in Western Asia After Alexander was hardly true when he wrote it, and certainly is not now. Almost a decade ago (LCM 8. 10, Dec. 1983, 146-53), Amelie Kuhrt assembled a very long list of pertinent publications. And we now have the three volumes of Achaemenid history (Leiden 1989) edited by Kuhrt herself and Helene Sancisi-Weerdenberg, also M.A. Dandamaev and V. G. Lukonin, The Culture and Social Institutions of Ancient Iran (Cambridge 1989).

The fourth and final section assembles fourteen papers on the perhaps infinite topic Expansion and Diffusion: Towards a Definition of Ancient Greek Colonization. All are worth reading, albeit the three pages on Ptolemaic Cleruch Documents in the Macquarie papyrus collection by S. R. Pickering (a major figure in Christian papyrology) are something of a jejune anticlimax, perhaps owing their locus ultimus status to an editorial desire to advertise local collections to a Sydney audience. Roman historians will find a special interest in Peter Brennan's piece on veteran colonists and post-Augustan colonisation; his discussion on the civilising influence of soldiers and veterans perhaps takes inadequate notice of such sources as Tacitus, Germ. 29; G. W. Bowersock, Augustus and The Greek World (Oxford 1966), 73-84, on Romans who chose to live à la grecque in the East is pertinent to at least part of his theme. D.S. Barrett's examination (inter alia) of what the Greeks took from the Jews (pp. 546-7) would have also been enriched by a wider trawl of literary sources, e.g., Lucian, Tragod. 173, 265, for Jews and Syrians as doctors and medical magicians; instructive, too, are such characters as Nicolaus of Damascus, on whom see (again) Bowersock, AGW. Finally, readers of Harold Tarrant's rewarding though short look at the geographical distribution of early Greek thinkers and alien influences must now, willy-nilly, pay some attention to the (however overblown) controversy provoked by Martin Bernal's Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization (Rutgers 1988) -- cf. the review articles by Bracht Branham (LCM 14. 14, April, 1989, 56-60), and Jasper Griffin (NYRB, June 15, 1989, 25-7).

No one could adequately sum up the diversity of riches contained in this book. Hence Judy Birmingham's epilogue, The Archaeology of Colonizations: Observations From Terra Australis, should most fairly be regarded and welcomed as l'état de la question (on the Australian side -- it has nothing on the Greek). The volume is rounded off by a bibliography of Trendall's works, an index, and 64 pages of black and white plates, some of which at least conform to the Rostovtzeffian principle that illustrations are not put in to amuse or please the reader but form an essential part of the book.

The index is absurdly exiguous, with a mere 6 1/4 pages purporting to cover 655 pages of text. I grant that indexing this kind of a book is a nightmare, but this will simply not do. To give one quick and simple example, Albania is omitted although practically the whole of D'Andria's paper (as noted) has to do with that country. Could funds not have stretched to the hiring of a professional indexer to do a decent job?

On the other hand, full marks to whoever coped with the even more laborious job of proof reading. It is said that a brilliant vestment may cover a grievous wound, but the opulent size and appearance of this volume is not let down by the printing. Every now and again, without any pretence to a meticulous search, I noticed small blemishes. For instance, Gomme's initials are A. W., not W. C. as on p. 99, n. 5, whilst the diaeresis on the e of Shqipëria is routinely omitted (e.g. pp. 284, n. 13; 297, nns. 30 and 33), perhaps the result of unfamiliarity with Albanian accentuation.

Any collection of conference papers will contain some overlap of material, even some turns of phrase. Thus, Bowra's lapidary "opened my mind to many things which has never crossed it" is cited at least twice (pp. 3, 62). One should simply accept this sort of thing as inevitable without going into any hostile song and dance over it.

This volume triumphantly refutes the Callimachean dictum that a big book is a big evil (many modern monsters merely confirm it), and will be of enormous pleasure and profit to all students of its many subjects, in whatever colonial or colonised place they happen to live and work. Or, as they say Down Under, Good On Yer, Mates -- Beaut!