Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.08.26 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.08.26

Angelos Chaniotis, Pierre Ducrey (ed.), Unveiling Emotions II. Emotions in Greece and Rome: Texts, Images, Material Culture. Heidelberger althistorische Beiträge und epigraphische Studien (HABES), Bd 55​.   Stuttgart:  Franz Steiner Verlag, 2013.  Pp. 387.  ISBN 9783515106375.  €62.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Donald Lateiner, Ohio Wesleyan University (

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

How did ancient humans experience, express, and later represent (or imagine) emotions—theirs and their interactants—and how do these jibe and differ from current experiences and interpretations? How does visual representation differ from literary in the range of affects? How do onomastics, texts, and images reflect perceptions of emotions and their relative standing (e.g., active anger and passive shame)? Chaniotis and Ducrey edited this second volume of case studies of archaeological, literary, and documentary evidence for ancient emotions. Further, they examine affect display in public, private, and divine relationships, but few continuities and discontinuities with current expression or academic analyses. The editors present fourteen essays (listed below). The editors chose not to group the essays as in volume I. In fact, there are six on Greek literature and history, three on the Roman world, and five on imperial culture in the East (including two on Greek art). Five indexes complement the collection.

The volume’s authors avoid facile comparisons between ancient and contemporary “feelings,” recognizing (as social constructionists) that the collection of this delicate data on ancient perceptions must avoid facile assumptions of co-extensive equivalents. On the other hand, as the more biologically inclined Cairns observes (87), were we entirely different personalities or non-mammals (such as lobsters, orchids, or granite), we could hardly understand horripilated Priam’s shudder and amazed Akhilleus’ (thambos), stunned surprise in his bivouac (Il. 24.359, 482-4). Same display of symptoms, however, never insures the same affect. Fear and grief snag three essays each. Sadness, pride, and trust focus three others, but the rest of the emotions share the stage either in three general treatments (two notably in historiography, one examining art) or packaged with others (love, hate, anger, pity, and envy). Certain recognized emotions, e.g., surprise and disgust, barely appear. Tamiolaki examines emotions in Xenophon’s Hellenika. She rightly discounts Aristotle’s “reductionist” analysis of emotions skewed towards problems of persuasion. “Tragic history,” as we term it, receives only passing mention here, as a later development (compare Chaniotis’ contribution). Tamiolaki analyzes Xenophon’s vocabulary, emotional episodes, and his “innovations” such as notations (or inventions) of facial expressions—not entirely absent from Herodotos. She touches on ‘focalised emotions,’ admitting that Thucydides too ascribes perceptions to one or another character about another party (e.g., 6.3.23). She usefully notes that Xenophon reveals his own emotions (Hell. 2.3.56, 7.2.16, 3.4.17-18). Some points seem self-evident, and sometimes she underrates Thucydides as well as Herodotos’ descriptions of emotions.

Chaniotis’ important essay starts from Cavafy’s “Alexandrian Kings” 1 and via Cavafy’s obsession with Plutarch and Polybian episodes, he demonstrates the importance of “emotional display” in Hellenistic historiography (Phylarchus, Posidonius, Diodorus). Theatrical costuming, theatrical gestures (such as affable diadem doffing), and strikingly, politics practiced in Mediterranean theaters suggest that contemporary dramatics inspired the historians (66). Through extensive quotations Chaniotis provides epigraphic (summaries in Hellenistic decrees) and historical evidence of such practices (e.g., mass suicide in Abydos 16.32-4), echoed in self-promoting Polybius, the authority who complains of the emotionalism of his competitors in historiography (2.56, 4.54, for example). Demetrios Poliorketes takes the Oscar for theatricality (see DeLacy’s 1952 AJP essay “Biography and Tragedy”), for whom Plutarch describes so many events as tragic spectacles. Doric Kytenian weeping speeches might provoke Xanthian compassion (pity and fear), even shared grieving, without producing “honorable” reactions: here soldiers and drachmas (SEG 38.1476). In brief, “the reality of theatrical behaviour and illusion” (79) produces their inclusion in the “tragic historians.”

Cairns contributes an exemplary study of the semantics of “shudders,” not indeed a “short history” with delightful alliteration, since one of his points is the continuity of both horrific phrike and its instinctive, autonomic symptom, horripilation. He distinguishes the external ‘leakage’ of self-consciously vulnerable creatures from the theory of mind behind the observer’s report and “our own subjective experience” of shuddering and trembling, and the attitudes (fear, awe) that produce it (86). He brilliantly distinguishes, thereafter, the shorthand synecdoche (a form of metonymy) of one lone symptom for many subjective currents behind it. The vivid somatic embodiment expresses the subjective reaction, the cognitive “appraisal and evaluation.” Awe and extreme fear combine to produce phrike felt in the presence of the supernatural, divinities, their miracles and omens, and frightening, oath-breaking, god-enforced consequences.

Patera shifts us to the extensive philosophical discussion of fear (Homer, Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics), its connections with shame, reason, and the law. Central is its cultivable power to influence, manipulate, and control the masses, like children frighted by their nannies’ invented bogeys (mormolykeia). The cultic dimensions of Phobos (venerated in Sparta), anthropomorphic or formless, invite discussion: does it inculcate a habit to be encouraged (Thucydides, Polybius, Plutarch). Patera discusses both rational fear (often deos, associated with bravery) and irrational, empty fear (kenos phobos). Like all basic emotions (despite Aristotle and David Konstan, n. 58), fear is both instinctive and cognitive. Martial training habituated hoplites to suppress fear, while the community tries to instil it in potential law-breakers. Constructive uses of fear produce civic obedience (130) and religious awe.

Rubinstein extends the rhetorical theorists’ outlines to discussions of dicastic theatricality. She demonstrates that Attic litigants appealed to courtroom audiences’ emotions (“Be very angry!”). The logographers next complained about their opponents’ evocation of the same anger, pity, gratitude, and resentment. She examines the “triggers of particular emotions” (136). Apollodoros stirred up anger and disgust for Neaira, the abused non-citizen prostitute, at the center of his nasty case. Rubinstein, however, trawls for a limited group, vulnerable third parties who had been victims of opponents’ behaviors, such as orphans, widows, and the elderly, to fuel character assassinations that increase hatred and resentment toward parties at trial (140). She mentions in passing, beyond the forensic script, litigants’ visual effects, gaze, gestures and facial expressions, vocal tone and pace.

Kanavou explores the contributions of ‘negative’ emotions (moral and psychological) to Greek naming praxis: anger, enmity, envy, fear, hatred, and shame (cf. index, p. 379). Somewhat less obviously, she includes emotions of grief/sorrow. Her sources include searchable onomastic websites comprehending inscriptions, papyri, and literature. The meaning of many Greek names is obscure or ambiguously active/passsive. Does Euphemus mean “Well Spoken Of” or “Good Speaker”? Aristophanes’ Wasps provides comical emotion names with “Bdelukleon” and “Philokleon,” but enmity names are rare, not surprisingly. Shame names like Aischines or Aiskhylos are puzzling. Alpha-privatives, reversing the negative valence, precede many negative emotional names, understandably, such as Atrometos, Alypetos, and Atarbides.

Morgan bites off more mentalité than her twenty pages can chew. Might pistis and fides have been experienced as an emotion (rather than cognition) by the Greeks, Roman, Roman Greeks, and early Christian church? The answer: yes, confidently, sometimes—but mostly no, perhaps too compartmentalized by the philosophers (194). Trust involves committing emotional energy for the superstitious, the theological, and even the medically challenged (206). The sometime philosopher Seneca de clem. mixes together illogically trust as emotion and virtue. The early Christians give pistis a special, but widely understandable (emotional) valence.

Baraz pursues Roman pride (superbia), again not a typical topic in emotion studies, although a favorite of moralists who variously view it as virtue, vice, or sin. Self-regard arising from status, character, brains, or looks can produce an inward inflation that sometimes resists outward demonstration, hybris or verbal (presumption, ridicule, contempt) and nonverbal aggression (haughty postures and gestures, sneering tone, violent assaults like Caligula’s). The Romans censored pride when they thought the self-assessment mistaken (218), that is, often. Baraz starts with Phaedrus’ Jackdaw (1.3) and ends with Ovid’s Niobe. She concludes that the Roman conception and constituent features of superbia remained stable.

Mustakallio, building on six earlier studies, surveys Roman female lamentation and emotional control. The Romans strictly policed displays at funerals, starting from Table Ten of the XII, even forbidding any in the case of enemies of the Senate (e.g., both the Gracchi). Mustakallio shows that the comitatus muliebris or “crowd of women” on extreme occasions exerted political agency (e.g., the decemviri, Livy 3.47.4). Mourning by matrons became tightly controlled, therefore exceptional, in Imperial Rome (248).

King’s paper requires extended acquaintance with Galen’s heterogeneous oeuvre. The analysis of how this imperial doctor conceptualized “grief” starts with the bookish Galen’s mention of a literary man (grammatikos Philippides) who died of wasting grief when he lost his library in a house-fire (251). He combines his interest in philosophical and medical matters to explain the experience of grief, a member of the family of pain (lupe, algos, pathos). King concludes (263) that Galen reframes philosophical grief in “decidedly medical terms”—recording life-threatening psychic and somatic symptoms and suffering. One could apply this Galenic analysis to wasting “love-sicknesses” in the erotic novels.

Bobou’s article on ‘emotionality in Greek art’ is perhaps over-ambitious, but it supports Masséglia’s infra. She notes how often Greek vase-paintings and statues lack visible [therefore, any] emotions (273) The same situation is true of dedications, votive reliefs, and funerary monuments. Women’s emotions and unruly behaviors, so prominent in tragedy, are rare in visual art (306). Sometimes one thinks a scene is emotional because we know the story behind it (275). Agony is the main emotion shown in Greek art (Marsyas, Pergamon Altar, Laokoon Group), and even that is rare before the Hellenistic Age. Gods usually show no emotion (cf. Stoic apatheia), while types representing various “Others” show an emotion evoked (drunken old woman, poor fishermen, pained centaurs, barbarians-Dying Gauls). Thus, the emotions shown are usually negative: fear, sadness, anger, or joy (293), and they concede weakness or dependency.

Masséglia dissociates social status from what many imagine to be “lower class” emotional display. Recognizing the high value on elite displays of sophrosyne, at least from late fourth century BCE memorials (315), she does not expect to find emotional expression in commemorative and honorific public milieux. Statesmen’s and women’s limbs usually appear modestly drawn in, such sculptures are more numerous, better preserved and therefore more frequent in publications. Nevertheless, “Others,” and Anonymi will be shown sad, drunk, pained, or ecstatic, in different contexts, or attached to non-specific personalities (terracotta statuettes) or a local fashion.

The contribution of Bourbou on recent discoveries of infant burials better belongs elsewhere. She realizes that the archaeology of grief—from osteological data—runs severe risks of over-interpretation. Notably large numbers may suggest a “special place for the [marginal] dead?”. Many graves were excavated in one area of present Cretan Chania (341)—along with alleged misfits or outcasts. Baby twins, deformed newborns, and infants with cleft palate may have died prematurely or may have been killed because of parental feelings of guilt (divine punishments?), shame, or for more economic and practical reasons (344).

van Nijf selected a vast, promising topic, how different classes of the Imperial Greek city expressed, suppressed, or devalued their emotions in assembly. Staged performances populated a world of “citizenship without sovereignty” (353). “Emotion Talk” included philotimia (2000 times, alone) and cognate terms. Kinship honorifics of sons, fathers, mothers, of the boule also flourished, implying sympathy and mutual obligation (361), both duties and rights: deference and infantilization amidst the loss of politics. Public emotions and their metaphors deserve this attention, since riots broke out in Hellenic assemblies from Iliadic Thersites on Troy’s beach to the Christian Paul’s Ephesian theater lynch mob.

Some authors need no aid; less experienced hands could benefit from direction encouraging tight focus on slippery emotions. In sum, this volume intelligently confronts a helpful handful of emotions.

Table of Contents

1. Angelos Chaniotis and Pierre Ducrey: Approaching emotions in Greek and Roman history and culture: Introduction
2. Melina Tamiolaki: Emotions and historical representation in Xenophon’s Hellenika
3. Angelos Chaniotis: Empathy, emotional display, theatricality, and illusion in Hellenistic historiography
4. Douglas Cairns: A short history of shudders
5. Maria Patera: Reflections on the discourse of fear in Greek sources
6. Lene Rubinstein: Evoking anger through pity: portraits of the vulnerable and defenceless in Attic oratory
7. Nikoletta Kanavou: ‘Negative’ emotions and Greek names
8. Teresa Morgan: Is pistis/fides experienced as an emotion in the Late Roman Republic, early Principate, and early Church?
9. Yelena Baraz: Pride in the Roman world
10. Katariina Mustakallio: Grief and mourning in Roman context
11. Daniel King: Galen and grief: The construction of grief in Galen’s clinical work
12. Olympia Bobou: Emotionality in Greek art
13. Jane Masséglia: Feeling low: Social status and emotional display in Hellenistic art
14. Chryssa Bourbou: The imprint of emotions surrounding the death of children in antiquity
15. Onno M. van Nijf: Affective politics: the emotional regime in the Imperial Greek city Indices


1.   “The Alexandrians knew of course/ that this was all mere words, all theater. / But the day was warm and poetic...”

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