Bryn Mawr Classical Review 96.11.12


D. Innes, H. Hine, and C. Pelling (edd.), Ethics and rhetoric: classical essays for Donald Russell on his seventy-fifth birthday. Oxford: Clarendon, 1995. Pp. xvi + 378. $72.00. ISBN 0-19-814962-X.


Reviewed by Christina S. Kraus, University College London, c.s.kraus@ucl.ac.uk.

It would take a Donald Russell to review this handsome birthday present properly, as only he has the expertise to comment on all the contributions, which range from the sack of Corinth to phantasia in Proclus and beyond. His bibliography, which prefaces the papers (xiv-xvi), confirms (if confirmation were needed) Robin Nisbet's elegant and witty Encomium (xi-xii) to Russell's 'learning and the clarity of his discourse.' Even more of a tribute, however, and evident throughout the volume, is the inspirational influence that he has had on students and colleagues alike.

The papers are grouped in three sections. 'Latin, from the Ciceronian age onwards' features Don Flower ('From epos to cosmos: Lucretius, Ovid, and the poetics of segmentation'), Richard Rutherford ('Authorial rhetoric in Virgil's Georgics'), Jonathan Powell ('Friendship and its problems in Greek and Roman thought'), Stephen Harrison ('Poetry, philosophy, and letter-writing in Horace, Epistles 1'), Richard Tarrant ('Ovid and the failure of rhetoric'), Graham Anderson ('Ut ornatius et uberius dici posset: morals into epigram in the elder Seneca'), Harry Hine ('Seneca, Stoicism, and the problem of moral evil'), Desmond Costa ('Rhetoric as a protreptic force in Seneca's prose works'), Mary Beagon ('Burning the brambles: rhetoric and ideology in Pliny, Natural history 18 (1-24)'), Nicholas Purcell ('On the sacking of Carthage and Corinth'), and Anna Wilson ('Reflections on ekphrasis in Ausonius and Prudentius'). In 'Later Greek literature' are Michael Trapp ('Sense of place in the orations of Dio Chrysostom'), John Moles ('Dio Chrysostom, Greece, and Rome'), Ian Rutherford ('The poetics of the paraphthegma: Aelius Aristides and the decorum of self-praise'), Christopher Pelling ('The moralism of Plutarch's Lives'), Philip Stadter ('"Subject to the erotic": male sexual behaviour in Plutarch'), Deborah Levine Gera ('Lucian's choice: Somnium 6-16'), Simon Swain ('Apollonius in wonderland'), Richard Hawley ('Female characterization in Greek declamation'), Ewen Bowie ('Names and a gem: aspects of allusion in Heliodorus' Aethiopica'), David Bain ('PERIGI/NESQAI as a medical term and a conjecture in the Cyranides'), and David Hunt ('Julian and Marcus Aurelius'). The last, and shortest, section, 'Ancient literary criticism,' contains pieces by Denis Feeney ('Criticism ancient and modern'), Michael Winterbottom ('On impulse'), Doreen Innes ('Longinus, sublimity, and the low emotions'), Martin West ('"Longinus" and the grandeur of God'), and Anne Sheppard ('Phantasia and analogia in Proclus'). There is a shared Bibliography, a very full Index of names, and an economical but useful Index of ethical, rhetorical, and critical concepts.

As with any such collection, the quality of the papers is uneven, though on the whole these are pieces which I enjoyed and from which I learned a great deal. I will limit my criticisms primarily to the papers in the Latin section, since the texts to which they respond are most familiar to me. Fowler's lucid summary of the complex relationship in Lucretius and Ovid between 'segmentation and the continuum' was at its most interesting in the close analysis of the Lucretian hexameter block, and he raises the question of the relationship between the text's segmentation and natura: 'the ratio of Lucretius' account maps onto the systematic ratio of the universe ... [it] segments the world according to its natural divisions' (9). Confront this now with J.L. Penwill's piece on rerum natura in Cicero and Lucretius (in Roman literature and ideology, ed. A.J. Boyle, 1995) and a fruitful debate should ensue. On the whole, however, the piece felt more like the groundwork for a richer study: much potential but not much 'there' there. Anderson on Seneca the Elder is at times confusing: though arguing that declamation is 'a flexible medium in which moral principles could be straightforwardly presented, or silently implied, or subtly manipulated' (90), on p.86, e.g., he describes the 'genuine moral indignation and dignity' which sometimes lifts the declaimers' 'efforts' 'above the accumulations of mere sententiae' -- but given that Seneca's is, precisely, a collection of sententiae, the point of the 'mere' (always an easy put-down) is hard to understand. Is he criticizing Seneca? the declaimers, of whose frequent superficiality Seneca was himself aware? With regard to his central argument, with which I agree, I would be curious to know what Anderson makes of Mary Beard's challenging piece on the creation of Roman myths in the characters and set pieces of declamation (in Mythos in mythenloser Gesellschaft: das Paradigma Roms, ed. F. Graf, 1993). Harrison on the old question of Horace's philosophy in the Epistles will now have to be read in conjunction with Roland Mayer's 1994 Cambridge commentary on Epistles 1 and the response to it by John Moles (BMCR 6.2 [1995] 160-70 = 95.02.37), as it overlaps with both; where it is particularly useful is in introducing the epistolographical tradition to the debate on the style and content of these letters (57-60). Costa on Senecan rhetoric I found slight and conventional (Seneca is on trial, and praise is given to stylistic control, earnestness, and restraint, blame to excess and self-indulgence (108-9, 113); descriptiones loci are decorative demonstrations of 'virtuosity' (113)); Powell on friendship, on the other hand, while slight (he 'expands on' (31n.) -- and often restates -- the arguments in his edition of De amicitia), like his earlier work provides a necessary corrective to the (fading) one-sided view that political amicitia has little or nothing to do with 'real' friendship. Important pieces in this section include Tarrant on Ovid's paradoxical and 'ironic view of persuasive technique': the poet's most eloquent characters most often fail to persuade, and the poet's own exilic persona depends on his failure to move Augustus, even as the elegiac mistress must be immune to the poet's blandishments (72-3). I wondered, though, at the end, if even in suggesting cautiously that this 'fascination with figures who engage repeatedly in this doomed effort may imply a wish that passion were more amenable to reason' (74), Tarrant were not going farther than Ovid's slippery surface allows: this is, after all, the man whose most 'personal' poem defensively describes his vocation as a kind of faute de mieux (Tristia 4.10.25-6). Beagon on Pliny convincingly argues that the rhetorical 'fireworks' in the Natural history are apt, carefully crafted, and entirely appropriate to their context in imagery and theme; her close and interpretative reading stands in marked contrast to Costa's vague descriptive gestures on a similar topic. Again, it would be interesting to see her response to Conte's 1991 piece on Pliny's book (now translated in Genres and readers, 1994). Finally, Purcell argues that the Romans deliberately synchronized the sacks of Carthage and Corinth: this is important if true, and, even if it isn't, his close attention to the demonstrably self-conscious deployment of the rhetorical tradition about cities, especially concerning their praise and their destruction (e.g. 137, 'the thaumatology of siege war-fare is parasitical on the rhetoric of praising cities'), produces a stimulating integration of history and historiography.

'Later Greek literature' likewise has some less successful pieces. I felt that Stadter (on male sexual mores in Plutarch) took a long time to get going: though there is much of value here, the main argument (unless I missed something) begins only about half-way through; while Levine Gera's convincing discussion of Lucian, in which she uses parallel texts to illuminate Lucian's topoi, is let down by its ending (why revert to biography? her solution may be right (250), but it left me feeling somewhat disappointed). The stand-outs in this section, to my mind, are Trapp's piece showing how Dio manipulated both his role as a traveler and the topoi of civic encomium to encourage his audiences to reflect on their own status and self-image; Bowie's clever (though not always convincing) discussion of allusive names (e.g. that of Cnemon, who evokes Menander's Dyskolos) and the engraved amethyst at Heliodorus 5.13-14 (it symbolically represents Daphnis and Chloe, making a claim for the greater pre-eminence of the Aethiopica, which thus dwarfs the miniature Longus); and, finally, Hunt's neat investigation of Julian's use of the myth of Marcus Aurelius (not the hero he is usually assumed to be: Hunt argues that the Marcus of the Caesars is modeled on Julian, not the other way around, and functions as a foil to the 'godless wastrel who is the Christian Constantine,' 297). Also notable were Moles' characteristically sophisticated discussion of Dio's complex and morally serious presentation of 'Greekness' in Euboicus, Olympicus, and Borestheniticus, and Pelling's call for a more nuanced reading of the moral impact of Plutarch's Lives on its audience, using a spectrum between descriptive and protreptic moralism; he makes a useful analogy with recent studies of how Augustan propaganda 'reinforces ... crystallizes ... [and] strengthens the will': so Plutarch was not just telling his audience something they already knew ('tyranny is bad') but 'enhanc[ing] those pre-existent moral truths' in a dialogue between writer and audience (219-20).

The last and shortest section, on literary criticism, is somewhat more integrated than the other two, as several of the pieces tackle related issues. So Winterbottom's 'On impulse' 317-18, on Quintilian's criticism of his opponents who deny the need for an ars rhetorica, recalls Feeney's personal, impassioned, and clear analysis of the role of ancient and modern critical methods in interpreting ancient literature. Quintilian knew as well as we do that there is no unmediated relationship between writer and reader or speaker and audience: hence the need for a conscious and consciously applied criticism -- and, in Quintilian's case, a theoretically conscious techne. (On the same pages Winterbottom raises issues about different educational styles that can usefully be read together with Levine Gera's discussion of the choice between an easily learned and a difficult métier.) Innes on 'Longinus' and the low emotions brings up the issue of greatness of thought, 'a bigness of idea ... rather than a narrowly moral concept' which leads directly to West's delightful essay on 'Longinus's' use of Near Eastern poetic traditions to express the 'colossal, superhuman scale of divine activity and power' (338).

I have of necessity limited my remarks to a portion of the papers in this volume; much more could be added (and many more details pointed out: for instance, if you want to know about love-bites in Plutarch, try page 221 n.2). Let me end by saying that this is one Festschrift that will not subside into obscurity -- and by wishing Professor Russell many happy returns.