Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.10.31

Frances B. Titchener, Moorton Jr, Richard F., The Eye Expanded. Life and the Arts in Greco-Roman Antiquity.   Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1999.  Pp. xiii, 294.  ISBN 0-520-21029-8.  $45.00.  

Contributors: Frank Frost, Alan Boegehold, Richard Moorton, Alan Samuel, Philip Spann, Ernst Badian, Frank Holt, Stanley Burstein, Erich Gruen, Diana Delia, Frances Titchener, Donald Engels, Karl Galinsky, Elizabeth Vandiver, Robert Eisner, and Eugene Borza


Reviewed by Lynn E. Roller, University of California, Davis (leroller@ucdavis.edu)
Word count: 1480 words

This volume was conceived as a tribute to Peter Green, Charles R. Dougherty, Jr., Centennial Professor Emeritus of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin, on the occasion of his retirement. Peter Green is perhaps best known as an historian of the Hellenistic era, but his interests are extremely broad, extending beyond the traditional career path of the Classics professor to encompass a wide range of scholarly studies on many periods of Mediterranean antiquity, as well as an active career as a novelist and critic of contemporary fiction, theater, television, and film. This tribute to him aims to be almost as wide-ranging, and includes essays on many facets of ancient Greek and Roman culture, embracing a chronological span from the fifth century B.C. to Augustan Rome, and a diverse array of topics drawn from history, literature, art, and numismatics. Two essays on the impact of the classical tradition on twentieth century life complete the collection and further augment its subject matter.

Despite the varied subject matter, the editors had a thematic goal for the volume, namely to address the interaction between the literary and visual arts of the ancient world and the cultural values and historical events of the societies of ancient Greece and Rome which produced them. This is signaled by the title of the volume, The Eye Expanded, and is intended to serve as a guiding motif of the essays. This is certainly a laudable aim, one that is not (or should not be) as rare as the editors claim (p. 2). It is only partially realized in this volume, however; some of the essays come close to the goal of probing the connection between art and life, while others are more narrowly and traditionally focused on questions of literary and historical interpretation. Some of the papers, e.g. those by Boegehold and Burstein, are short notes on one specific point, while others are attempts to grapple with very broad questions such as the ancient economy, the interaction of different ethnic groups in the Hellenistic era, or the nature of Augustan classicism. Some articles are very dense scholarly works, almost overburdened with endnotes and bibliography, while the article by Samuel is a more free-form essay with no notes or bibliography at all. With such a variety of subject matter, intellectual approach, and methodology, the reviewer cannot hope to give a point-by-point analysis of every essay, so I will concentrate on what strike me as the high points of the volume.

The first group of essays deals with Archaic and Classical Athens. The papers of Frost, Boeghold, and Moorton focus on specific issues of literary interpretation of Herodotos, Sophokles, and Aristophanes, respectively. While each presents his case with varying degrees of success (Boeghold's paper is a model of clear, concise, and convincing argument, while Moorton's struck me as unnecessarily pedantic and long-winded), their approach is fairly conventional, following well-established paths of scholarship to make valid points. In contrast, Samuel's paper on the underlying social assumptions of the economic policy of fifth century Athens is a more subjective piece, weaving thoughts on contemporary society into comments on the ancient world, and valuable for this very reason. Freed from a desire to cite every primary and secondary source on his subject, Samuel can give a more personal view of a society in which stability was more important than economic expansion, arguing cogently that such expansion, inevitably needed to support the growing demands of the demos and to pursue a war policy, was achieved not through a growth economy but through greater exploitation of tribute-paying cities, slaves and women. Here I will also note the contrasting article on the ancient economy by Engels, which aims to prove that the ancient economy was based on growth in the agricultural sector and a service-oriented urban economy. This is a large and complex topic whose discussion continues to take place in a variety of forums. Those interested in following this debate will want to read Engels' paper with great care, since he falls into several of the traps he accuses others of, reading anecdotal evidence as if it were fact (can we really place equal reliance on the statement of a fifth century BC comic poet and a Roman census of the third century CE?), and drawing generalized, sweeping conclusions from evidence widely dispersed in place and time.

The largest group of essays deals with subjects drawn from the Hellenistic world, an appropriate situation in a work dedicated to one of the most eminent students of Hellenistic history and culture in our time. Peter Green's contributions to our understanding of the life and career of Alexander of Macedon is acknowledged in two papers by Spann and Badian. Both are concerned with the image Alexander projected to others. Spann argues that Alexander's decision to end his campaign in India at the Beas and turn back towards Macedonia was a carefully orchestrated piece of public relations, enabling him to withdraw gracefully from a no-win situation without losing face. Badian uses the Alexander Mosaic to discuss the image of Alexander projected by his successors, suggesting persuasively that the intent of the original painting (from which the mosaic was drawn) was not to glorify Alexander but rather to intimate his folly and lack of loyalty to his supporters, a striking contrast to the powerful Darius and his self-sacrificing nobles so clearly seen on the mosaic. Central to Badian's argument is his suggestion that the original painting was commissioned for Cassander, no admirer of Alexander.

The process of cultural change resulting from the contacts between Greeks and non-Greeks during the Hellenistic period continues to fascinate, and several of the better papers in the volume are devoted to this topic. Holt comments on the decline of Hellenic language and culture in Bactria, evident from the increasingly garbled Greek on coin legends. Burstein and Gruen both turn to Biblical texts and address their place in the Hellenistic Greek world. Burstein derives the story of the Book of Judith from an episode in Cleitarchus's History of Alexander describing the death of the Sogdian noble Spitamenes, while Gruen discusses the varied readings and interpretations given to the story of Joseph, particularly among the Hellenized Jews in Egypt. Delia's paper also focuses on Hellenistic Egypt, exploring the relations between the different races and social classes in Alexandria and demonstrating the irony that the native Egyptians, viewed by the Greeks as an inferior people, remained the most vital and active ethnic group in the city. The most disappointing paper is that of Titchener, which purports to demonstrate that autobiography is "the most essentially Hellenistic form of literature", yet draws virtually all of its examples from biography, thus undercutting the author's claims of the pre-eminence of autobiography.

Two essays on Augustan Rome complete the section on antiquity. Galinsky offers a thoughtful and well documented look at the nature of Augustan classicism in both literature and the visual arts. He gives a useful discussion on the connotations of the term itself and provides a number of case studies on the development of Augustan style. This essay argues convincingly that "classicism" in the Augustan period was not a matter of slavish imitation of any one period of the past, but a balanced pastiche drawn from a number of Greek styles and traditions, thoughtfully blended to create a new style for the future. Of all the essays in the volume, this is one which comes closest to achieving the editors' aim of addressing the impact of contemporary life and values on the literary and visual arts. Vandiver's essay on the founding mothers of Livy's Rome is well worth reading also. She discusses two well-known episodes in early Roman history, the abduction of the Sabine women and the rape of Lucretia, and gives an interesting analysis of Livy's motivations for featuring these events so prominently in his history. This essay also provides the only example in this volume of the impact of feminist scholarship on Classical studies.

The impact of ancient Mediterranean culture on contemporary life and mores is a topic well-deserving of more attention, and the editors acknowledge Peter Green's interest in this area with the inclusion of two fine essays on the classical tradition. Eisner reviews the attitudes towards ancient Greek culture adopted by two modern writers, Norman Douglas and D. H. Lawrence, whose overly romantic view of the survivals of ancient Greek society in modern Italy served to justify their own proclivities towards sexual exploitation. Borza turns to a more contemporary issue, the use of ancient ethnic identities to justify contemporary political events, particularly in the volatile world of Balkan politics, in his discussion of Macedonian identity.

Despite its uneven quality, this volume offers a number of thoughtful and stimulating essays on a wide variety of topics. Its breadth and diversity make it a fitting tribute to one of the major voices of Classical scholarship in our time.

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