Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.12.11

J. Malitz, Nikolaos von Damaskus. Leben des Kaisers Augustus. Texte zur Forschung, 80.   Darmstadt:  Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2003.  Pp. 210.  ISBN 3-534-14676-X.  EUR 34.90.  

Reviewed by Yasmina Benferhat, University of Nancy 2, France (
Word count: 1162 words

This new edition of Nicolaus of Damascus is organized as follows: a short introduction that sums up the main questions this text and his author's personality arouse, an up-to-date bibliography, a clear and good translation, and a commentary of around 100 pages. It should be useful as a complement to J. Bellemore's edition (published in 1984), but does not replace it. There are some serious lacks, especially concerning the study of manuscripts.

The author offers first a biography of Nicolaus, which is very important to try to give a date for the composition of Augustus' biography. He seems to think Nicolaus had been a teacher of Antony and Cleopatra's children in Alexandria before Actium, whereas J. Bellemore considered it was in Rome after Augustus' victory. It is important to know when Nicolaus started to be in Augustus' entourage but more important to know the date of his biography, whether he wrote it in his late years or around 25 B.C., which is J.M. and Bellemore's choice. According to J.M., Nicolaus would have contributed to the propaganda efforts of Augustus at that time by giving to the Greek audience an equivalent of Augustus' Res gestae, composed then and probably Nicolaus' main source. Nevertheless one might have some doubts, because Augustus seems to have written his autobiography day after day till his death. J.M. further argues that all the lies about Antony and the other opponents to Octavian would not have been very believable in a book written after Augustus's death. The author then deals with the Res gestae.

The last part of the introduction is concerned with the story of the text. Last, because it is probably the main problem with this biography of Augustus: it is not one work but a kind of patchwork composed from fragments of two works, a history and a biography of Augustus. Both were divided into 53 subjects in a collection prepared for the emperor Constantine VII. Porphyrogenetos in the years 945 to 959. J.M. writes only a page and a half about this question, whereas J. Bellemore develops the problem of the text's transmission in about six pages. It is true Nicolaus' biography of Augustus is used most of the time for its historical interest, so with historians' eyes and not with philologists' eyes, but the problem of the composition of this biography is essential for both. Another reason for J.M.'s lack of interest in philological problems is that this edition is not what we would call in France a scholarly edition: this is more a book for students.

The bibliography that follows the introduction is interesting but not exhaustive: one might have expected to see M. Gelzer's biography of Caesar, and R. Étienne's little opus Les Ides de mars (Paris, 1973), for example. The main critic would be to have put together the MRR and the RE with J. Bleicken's or M.H. Dettenhofer's studies: it should not be put on the same level, but it was certainly more convenient this way for J.M., I guess. This is probably one of the main advantages of this edition to present an up-to-date bibliography, because J. Bellemore's edition was published in 1984 and there are some new important studies.

The translation is fine: there are few mistakes and sometimes J.M. manages to render the rhythm of the Greek sentence in German or find a very elegant equivalent (see for example XVII 44 and XXVIII 111). The author sometimes omits words,1 or gives a cumbersome translation,2 but these are trifles. More problematic is the passage in XVI 38, where J.M. does not seem to respect enough the rhythm of the Greek text and then does not give an exact idea of Nicolaus' mentality:3 J.M. translates "Er müsse sich jetzt als Mann erweisen, vernünftig nachdenken und, Umständen und Schicksal folgend, entsprechend tatkräftig handeln" when there is the traditional opposition think/act in the expressions γνώμῃ and ἔργῳ, and another opposition as well, man/fate. Last but not least, the neglecting of the story of the text brings serious trouble in XXIX 116: ἐκεῖνόν τε ἔπεμψαν ὡς τὸν Καίσαρα is translated "die Soldaten schickte er zu Oktavian", which is not exactly right. There is a crux in the text just before this sentence, but J.M. does not say anything about it.

The commentary gives some general explanations about realia (see 83, 84, 90, 109, 114, 125), and also on historical events (see note 219 on the diadem affair) and people. J.M. chooses to follow the tradition that Pansa was the son of a man who was proscribed (see note 246), though F. Hinard thinks he could not have then entered the cursus honorum before Caesar's amnesty law in 49, unless he had been adopted by someone.4 The note (371) on Piso, the consul of 58 and last father-in-law of Caesar, could be much more complete considering the importance of this man: there is a biography by B. English for example.5 As already said, the philology is not well handled: a few notes deal with it (e.g. 416), but J.M. says only that the text is problematic, without any explanation. The literary aspects, often forgotten when one reads Nicolaus, are present in some notes where J.M. underlines cliches (see 74 and 301), but these should be placed in the broader context of Nicolaus' place among other Greek historians, which is well developed in some notes (see the first ones) and through general comparison with Thucydides, Xenophon's Cyropaedia and Polybios. But the main idea J.M. develops is the Augustan propagandist's aims and means. Although J.M. makes some useful parallels with other Greek historians, epigraphy and Cicero's correspondance, he does not bring anything new compared to J. Bellemore, and his edition is not as complete as hers.

Let me end with two examples of problematic notes: in note 399, concerning the soldiers' reaction, J.M. considers the plural διαδόχων refers to the young Caesar only, but I think the soldiers mean they will do all that they can for the Caesarian chiefs, whom they want to see united, not only for Octavian. The second example involves the way Octavian tried to fight against the reputation of being no real man, which was the result of Antony's propaganda. J.M. shows quite well (note 41) that Octavian's living in his mother's house after having put the toga uirilis is not as natural as Nicolaus pretends, but when it is said that Octavian does not dare to come to the temples in the day time because he's too popular among women and tries to avoid them (note 43), J.M. might have referred to Hallett's study6 on the Perusinae glandes to explain this anecdote by Augustus' wish to show he was successful with women.

The general presentation is clear, and there are very few typographic mistakes.7 There are two indices at the end of the book, one for the quotations, one for personal names and main concepts. Still, one might have hoped for a chronology as a help for the reader.


1.   See XIX 66, where J.M. has forgotten to translate διὸ καί.
2.   See XXIX 117, where J.M. develops what was implicit in the Greek δεῖν δ' αὐτῶν and writes "Beide müssten jetzt allen Zorn fahren lassen und sich ehrlich und aufrichtig versöhnen".
3.   See also XIX 60, where κοινῇ is translated "politische Motive" when there is clearly an opposition between the numerous private motives to kill Caesar and the sense of common interest (the way his murderers understood it, of course).
4.   See Vibius Pansa or Caetronius?, in Mnemosyne 52, 1999, 202-206.
5.   B. Englisch, L. Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus. Ein Zeitgenosse Ciceros, PhD München, 1979.
6.   J. Hallett, Perusinae glandes and the changing Image of Augustus, AJAH, 2, 1977, 151-171.
7.   See p. 78 δολοβέλλαν , p. 162 "Ge-legenheit" and p. 172 "Begrä-bnis".

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