Bryn Mawr Classical Review 95.10.05

A. Bulloch, E.S. Gruen, A.A. Long, and A. Stewart (edd.), Images and Ideologies: Self-Definition in the Hellenistic World. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. $55.00. ISBN 0-520 -07526-9.

Reviewed by J.R. Green, University of Sydney (

This volume contains the revised and fully annotated papers of a conference of the same title. Experts in their fields at Berkeley selected others to talk about their subjects and the results were certainly good enough to merit publication. The conference was held in April 1988; Zanker points out [212] that his manuscript was completed and submitted in autumn of the same year. Despite what is printed on the reverse of the title page, the book was not published until well into 1994, as the publisher's slip also makes clear.

The structure of the book is simple. There are five parts, each introduced by one of the editors, with two papers and then a Response from a further scholar. There is a sizeable Select Bibliography, and an Index, but no general summary or conclusion and (somewhat irritating given the diversity of fields covered) no list of abbreviations.

Part One is concerned with 'The Social and Religious Aspects of Hellenistic Kingship', a title which at once covers both more and less than it suggests. Erich Gruen's Introduction [3-6] reflects on Classical and fourth-century attitudes to monarchy and thus serves as a useful way of generalising the particular problems dealt with in the two following essays. Klaus Bringmann with 'The King as Benefactor: Some Remarks on Ideal Kingship in the Age of Hellenism' [7-24] in fact pursues the principles underlying what he argues is a systematic practice of benefaction of cities by kings in the Hellenistic world. They exploit a mutual advantage by which a ruler, normally in response to a request, will, as a practical instrument of policy, bond a city to his own following by making a donation whether directly financial (for projects such as public works) or in kind (often in the form of grain). The system as a whole depends on the consciousness felt in Greek culture of the power conferred by the act of giving on the one hand, and on the other of the obligation felt by the recipient. The points are well documented and argued, and the paper is an excellent sample of a larger enterprise on which Bringmann is engaged.

Ludwig Koenen, 'The Ptolemaic King as a Religious Figure' [25-115], by contrast complains in his first footnote at being dragged back to this field. The result is a very substantial, carefully annotated and authoritative paper on Greeks and natives in Egypt, their relationship to each other and to the king/pharoah. At the same time he constantly returns to the theme of whether there developed a mixed culture or two separate ones which sit, however uneasily, alongside each other. Indeed the awkwardness of the relationship presented a particular challenge to the ruler who responded in a way that was remarkably successful. Koenen emphasises the role of cult and festival in establishing this relationship, and devotes a long section to arguing that Callimachus reacted in highly sophisticated fashion by introducing Egyptian motifs and references in his poetry, to an extant that has hitherto not been appreciated. The detail of the argument throughout is handled with skill, and this is a paper which should serve as a basic point of reference for some time to come.

Part Two is entitled 'Identity and Crisis in Hellenistic Literature' [130-151] and one suspects it is a label applied after the event. Thomas Gelzer contributes a piece called here 'Transformations' in which he seeks first to define Hellenistic literature in ancient terms. He nonetheless takes the radical step of limiting himself to poetry and, furthermore, of excluding cyclic epic and New Comedy. He seeks to determine how these poets defined themselves, and more particularly what crises led to this style of poetry and what to its disappearance. He consciously attempts to reject the major shifts in political and social background as determining factors in the evolution of change in favour of poetry as self-definition, but in the end it is difficult for him to do so.

His use of the term crisis, too, is not without difficulties. His initial 'crisis' which at once defines and prompts Hellenistic poetry is of the best part of 100 years' duration, since for him the Frogs of 405 both marks the end of great tragedy and articulates deep-seated concerns about the future of literature. He also quotes Choerilus of Samos, writing of "the man who at that time knew how to sing as servant of the Muses, before the meadow was mown ..." The fourth century sees the establishment of the preconditions for Hellenistic poetry, not least in the growing appreciation of the great poets of earlier days: one remembers the public manifestation of this in the re-production of old tragedies at the Athenian Dionysia from 386 BC, and of old (not Old) comedies from 339, or in the attempt to establish the tragic texts in the time of Lykourgos. He also makes the obvious points about the function of libraries, the self-consciousness of the new poetry, the closer and more formal relationship than had existed in earlier periods between poet and ruler, the importance given to the poet by the king as well as the poet's dependence on the king, the loss of context for the old poetry so that it is now only for reading -- and that is how it is used. It is not easy, however, to see all this as a crisis as we would normally use the term, and one has to bear in mind (again) the exclusion of epic, of all prose and of the most popular and widespread of 'literary' forms, drama.

The crisis of the end is even less clear, although there is certainly significance to be read into the steady emergence of anthologies, for example in the first century bc, the collection of Boukolikai Moisai by Artemidorus and the Garland of Meleager.

Peter Parsons ('Identities in Diversity' [152-170]) presents a wonderfully learned and apposite survey of Hellenistic literature in which he emphasises the enormous variety of subject, style, metre, genre, dialect and Greek ethnicity while at the same time not hiding the very large gaps in our knowledge (one thinks of non-Menandrian drama, both comic, tragic and satyric, or of such writers as Eratosthenes or Posidonius). He begins by emphasising the diffusion of Greek literature in the eastern Mediterranean world, and particularly the central role of Athens and Rhodes for the book trade, and of course the position of Alexandria, its library and its scholars. He gives a brief view of just what it is that is found on third-century and then on second-century papyri. One could have wished for much more on this with its hints on the reception and popularity of works ancient and modern, even if one recognises that the evidence is partial. Parsons also raises the problem of what it was that Hellenistic writers saw in earlier work and what it was they tried to imitate. In the end he claims he has no answers to the range of questions he raises, even if, a page earlier [169] he suggests that 'the key to the age is a cultural agoraphobia'. At some levels this is only too true, but it is primarily at the literary levels, and at that the poetic.

The Response from Albert Henrichs [171-195] is useful. He makes clear his difficulties with Gelzer's contribution (as had Parsons less explicitly). Indeed the reader might be well advised to jump straight across to this after reading Gelzer's piece. He is less good with Parsons. He then goes on with two somewhat separate items, one on Menander and the other on Apollodorus and the problem of the Meropis. Someone needed to write about Menander. It is readily arguable that the playwright had more impact on more people than any other writer of the age. Henrichs wastes some space on whether he should really be identified as Hellenistic. There is surely no question, even putting aside chronology. It is of course a nuisance that our lack of anything more than scraps from his immediate predecessors and contemporaries makes it so difficult to give him literary context. [One may note, however, that Geoffrey Arnott's major work on Alexis is now with the press.] It needs to be acknowledged, however, that in terms of staging the division from Middle Comedy is absolutely clear, with the new and highly sophisticated range of masks and the new, more naturalistic style of costume, both archaeologically datable to the time of Menander. Writing and directing are two parts of a single creation.

On p. 182, Henrichs claims that "Menander's plays entertained local Athenian theatergoers, whereas the Alexandrian poets had an audience in mind whose taste was more exclusive and whose background was more panhellenic". Without entering into how we can or cannot know about Alexandrian poets' intentions or thoughts in regard to their audiences, the evidence of so-called dramatic monuments (and particularly the cheap terracotta figurines and models of masks) suggests very clearly that Menandrian comedy did have a panhellenic function. It is worth noting in passing that not all Menander's comedies were set in Athens either (cf. Leukadia). Later on the same page, he questions Parsons' claim that the plays of Menander "reached Egypt with relative speed". Again the archaeological evidence suggests that they did, just as, during the remainder of the Hellenistic period, Alexandria took on a leading role as a centre for theatrical performance. To his references on the disappearance of Menander in Late Antiquity, one should now add E. Handley in E. Handley and A. Hurst (eds.), Relire Ménandre (Geneva 1990) 146-8. These points aside, one would have no quarrel with Henrich's assessment.

His comments on Apollodorus and the problem of the Meropis are to the point, and his argument for a sixth-century date for the poem is good.

Part Three, 'Self-Definition in Hellenistic Art', has R.R.R. Smith, 'Kings and Philosophers' [202-211] and Paul Zanker, 'The Hellenistic Grave Stelai from Smyrna: Identity and Self-Image in the Polis' [212-230], preceded by a thoughtful and lively introduction from Andrew Stewart. One might wish that Smith had allowed himself more space in this written version. As it is he takes what may seem a rather straightforward look at not only the styles or types of portrait statue in the Hellenistic period, but (more importantly) their meanings and how these were achieved through the manipulation of visual stereotypes. He uses the particular examples of portraits of kings and of philosophers, whom he characterises respectively as the sources of power external to the polis and the 'intellectual spokesmen' of the polis. Smith also points out that the visual stereotypes employed make it impossible to confuse a king with a philosopher and he highlights some of the more subtle varieties with these categories. This is a good account. What he perhaps does not stress enough for a general audience, even if he does acknowledge it, is the absence of any search for photographic likeness: these so-called portraits are artificially constructed statements about the individuals concerned, and individuality takes very much second place to the construction of the public statement. One might dare to say that one should not take images at face value.

Zanker uses a relatively small theme to large effect. He takes the series of grave stelai from second-century Smyrna and develops the theme already begun by Smith, the meanings that can be deduced from the use of apparently stereotypical elements, particularly when these elements can be shown to differ from those of other places and periods. Indeed it is interesting of itself that the products of a city like Smyrna exhibit such regionalism. Unlike the grave stelai of later-fifth century Athens, for example, the figures do not exist in an idealised world of their own but stand frontal, facing the viewer and therefore in some sense demanding dialogue. Among many observations in this rich offering, one may note the frequency with which book rolls and writing implements are depicted, and ask what it means. Zanker reckons that it "reflects the increased importance attached to intellectual training and pursuits." True enough. What it does not mean is that all these people necessarily had these skills: they pretended to them. Youths are shown as clothed (contrast the nudity of Classical Athens), though other symbols of the gymnasium are brought into use. Athletic training (or, rather, physical fitness) is no longer the only ideal celebrated; book rolls appear too; and, from pose as well as dress, a greater modesty than applies to adult males seems to be regarded as desirable. The lack of attention women pay to their children is noticeable, perhaps part of a public presentation of a statuesque dignity. Modesty and restraint are relevant here too (as one also learns from literature and other art), but the point is that Zanker demonstrates all this and does not merely develop subjective readings of the images. His text was superbly translated by Alan Shapiro.

B.S. Ridgway's Response [231-241] shows her skill in rarely taking anything for granted. She raises the possibility of circular argument in the attribution of all these stelai to Smyrna, points to the problems in constructing any absolute chronology for them, and then suggests that the similarity and even the nature of the reliefs may, in part at least, be a product of their mass-production and the anonymity or lack of individuality that entails. I do not find this last a totally satisfying argument. For Smith's portraits she not unreasonably worries about questions of identification, Roman copies and Roman creation. She also points out [240] that the anastole and thick wreath of hair do not only belong to portraits of Alexander. True so far as it goes. As I have since pointed out elsewhere ["The Greeks and their Theatre", (in) A.M. Gibbs (ed.), Masks of Time. Drama and its Contexts (Canberra 1994) 1-38], the seminal role of theatre masks in picking up and developing popular physiognomic stereotypes needs to be given more emphasis. The wavy-haired series of masks, and in particular that often used for the young soldier, have a lot to tell us about the creation of such images. Indeed it is hard to see much difference between the hair of the young soldier's mask as used by Menander and the hair created for Alexander.

The illustrations for this Part were poorly and muddily reproduced. Furthermore, those responsible for layout were lamentably over-enthusiastic in their cropping, creating ugly imbalances and worse: Aristotle (Fig. 2a) and Demosthenes (Fig. 4d) lost the tops of their heads. The pictures for Zanker's contribution were reproduced at a small scale (no heights given) while leaving a lot of white on the page. Given the eventual quality, it would have been helpful and easy to have them larger.

Part Four, 'Self-Identity in Politics and Religion', is introduced by Bulloch. Folkert van Straten leads off with 'Images of Gods and Men in a Changing Society: Self-Identity in Hellenistic Religion' [248-264]. He defines his theme as issues of community and individuality in the pursuit of religion in the Hellenistic period and, as one would expect given his interests, he uses votive reliefs as his primary evidence, comparing classical Athenian with Late Hellenistic and Roman from Asia Minor. The validity of the comparison is not self-evident and he goes to some pains to justify it. An interesting aspect is that of the perceived closeness or distance between worshipper and divinity, with the not-unexpected greater distance in the later periods (but how much is it also a matter of culture and local tradition?). He looks in passing at the animals depicted as led to sacrifice on the later reliefs (pigs, sheep, cattle) and notes that they imply a greater expenditure than in classical Athens (more of the more expensive animals), and takes this as a sign of greater affluence. But one should ask if the pictures are to be taken literally -- or do they depict what one would like to sacrifice in the best of all possible worlds?

Again the photographic illustrations are not of good quality, and the author has taken up the deplorable habit of the French vase iconologists of giving line drawings taken from photographs, in the process losing the style and who knows what by way of significant detail.

Adalberto Giovannini, 'Greek Cities and Greek Commonwealth' [265-286], tackles a number of difficult problems, not least that of the definition of the term 'polis'. He prefers to take it as something more like 'community' than as a term which necessarily carries with it concepts of independence and autonomy. An underlying theme is the nature of Greekness and of Greek communities, and to this end he emphasises the importance of gymnasium and theatre: while the function of the gymnasium shifted through time (especially, one might add, through the disappearance of the citizen militia and, with it, the public necessity for physical fitness and sharp reflexes), frequenting the gymnasium was a privilege restricted largely to citizens and therefore had a function of defining Greekness. Compare Zanker, above. He also comments on the social and civic role of theatre, but in a limited fashion. More interesting is his emphasis on the continuation and development of the networks between communities/poleis in the changed Hellenistic world and the importance of mutual support in adverse circumstances. He looks too at the importance of the panhellenic festivals (although some greater elaboration of their changing nature would have been worthwhile) as part of what he sees as the homogeneity of the Greeks at this period.

The Response from Albrecht Dihle [287-295] carefully avoids putting the others to shame but suggests a number of important qualifications. He points out that much of what Giovannini discusses concerns the upper classes and not the less privileged, and that he is talking about urban communities, not rural (about whom we know depressingly little, except, of course, from papyri in Egypt). He also takes up the issue of the relationship of the individual to the ruler, and the political as well as the social aspects of Hellenistic life. There are valid points, too, about the special quality of Hellenistic kings (see also Koenen, above), and about the nature of Hellenistic religion: despite the emphasis put on the new cults by modern scholars who find them intrinsically interesting, "the mainstream of political and religious life originated from the old Olympian gods, even in Hellenistic times".

Part Five is 'Intellectuals and Images of the Philosophical Life'. It begins with a good and analytical introduction by A.A. Long, invaluable for someone as inexpert in Hellenistic philosophy as this reviewer. From such a standpoint, Fernanda Decleva Caizzi's 'The Porch and the Garden: Early Hellenistic Images of the Philosophical Life' [303-329] is a challenging and skilled analysis of the images created by Hellenistic philosophers and their public reception, in other words, of the philosophers' performance aspect. She notes that in the biographical literature, external features and behaviour are often related to the philosophical theory involved. She concentrates on Zeno, but also looks at Epicurus. This is a difficult area, not least because of the nature of the evidence, but it is an important one since, as she demonstrates, the attitudes of the greater public to figures such as these were as often moulded by externals as by the details of the philosophies they espoused or developed. Christopher Gill, 'Panaetius on the Virtue of Being Yourself' [330-353], outlines two principal aims, to examine the framework underpinning the advice to be oneself and to capitalise on one's natural abilities, and then to reconstruct the main lines of Panaetius' Peri euthumias. He sees the latter as a synthesis of a number of approaches. Gill remains conscious of the overall theme of the conference and book, and ultimately asks the interesting question whether Hellenistic culture itself displays any such notion as self-definition.

The Response from Julia Annas [354-368] is substantial and makes a number of detailed comments that are well taken. In the context of Decleva Caizzi's paper, she points out that there are no comparable stereotypes of either Plato or Aristotle. This creation of public image is new to the period, and if we find such stereotypes of Socrates, it is because a number of the schools of this period claimed him as a figurehead.

The lack of a general Conclusion is perhaps not a bad thing. It certainly prompts the reader to think back and indeed to read again -- as many of these papers deserve. Some themes emerged which might have been better developed with more explicit cross-reference, such as the growing definition of appearance in relation to personality in Decleva Caizzi and Annas on the philosophers, in Smith also on the philosophers as seen in portraiture, and sadly only alluded to in the literary section with regard to theatre. It might have been useful to see something more explicitly focussed on the employment and manipulation of accepted stereotypes, appearing as they do across the range of poetry, drama, thought, art and probably political activity too. A recurrent theme worth pulling together also, was the practice of monarchy, raised by Gruen at the very beginning. Inevitably effort was put into defining 'Hellenistic', some might think too much effort. Categorization is always a tempting occupation and there is no doubt that the establishment of definitions can itself reveal a great deal both about the subject and about the views of those formulating the definitions. Nonetheless the better essays seemed to me those which pursued the more essential theme of self-definition and the ideologically-motivated creation of an image.

An additional and useful function of this collection is the way that it reminds one of what is not treated here and could usefully be explored. The section on art aside, the emphasis throughout is largely on the traditional historico-literary evidence. Issues of orality and literacy in what is too readily assumed to be a literate age need more than the passing references they received. Performance received some lip-service (apart, that is, from the valuable contribution by Decleva Caizzi), but it is a subject which deserves a whole other volume -- whether we think of the performance and/or distribution of poetry, or of the various and rapidly-developing modes of non-traditional theatrical performance, an area massively underplayed in this collection, and of the evolution of popular entertainment in general. What better definers of images and ideologies? In the same direction one thinks of religious expression, cult performance and processions and the massively important role of such displays in cultural formation, but not really covered here in the section on religion. Or one may think of architecture as a state performance and self-expression, whether the permanent buildings bearing the names of their donors, or, perhaps still more significantly, the temporary, such as Ptolemy's Banqueting Pavilion, a subject well treated for example by von Hesberg, "Temporäre Bilder oder die Grenzen der Kunst. Zur Legitimation frühhellenistischer Königsherrschaft im Fest", JdI 104, 1989, 61-82. Others will think of other themes, and it is to this book's credit that they will be prompted to do so.