Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2019.08.32 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2019.08.32

Antonio Guzmán, Javier Martínez (ed.), Animo decipiendi? Rethinking Fakes and Authorship in Classical, Late Antique & Early Christian Works.   Eelde:  Barkhuis Publishing, 2018.  Pp. 334.  ISBN 9789492444813.  €95,00.  


Reviewed by Jonathan Klawans, Boston University (jklawans@bu.edu)

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[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The present volume brings together eighteen essays addressing matters pertaining to forgery and authenticity in classical and early Christian contexts. Following a brief introduction the essays are gathered under four general headings: Greek Literature; Latin Literature; Late Antique and Early Christian Works, and Epigraphy. The end matter includes abstracts for each of the articles (presented in alphabetic order by author), a list of contributors, an index of ancient citations, and a brief general index.

The Introduction (credited to Martínez exclusively) devotes a good deal of time to an apology. In the introduction to his prior edited volume (entitled Splendide Mendax; see: BMCR 2017.02.23) Martínez uttered what he admits in the present volume were “excessively harsh” words in reference to Karen King, back when the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife was all the rage and was still viewed by some as possibly authentic (4). These words (unrepeated in the present volume) were also mistaken: Martínez’s moral concerns, which were about criminality in the antiquities markets, do not really pertain in this instance, now that we presumably know that in the case of this fragment, the forger and seller were one and the same. Yet Martínez’s broader concerns still stand: “the hunger for novelty on the part of scholars” can indeed lead to the premature authentication of forgeries, further corrupting international markets “already far too compromised by criminality” (4). Moreover an important corrective explains (but does not excuse) Martínez’s former tone, while it also raises legitimate questions about scholarly behavior in prior cases: “conditions of anonymity and invisibility can encourage the harsh and intemperate, and can foil the best efforts of the rational mind” (5). In other words, scholars who choose to conceal the identities of owners and dealers of potential objects of study are not only withholding information pertinent to any full evaluation, but also creating an atmosphere of secrecy that engenders frustration. It took an investigative journalist to crack that case. Martínez’s instinct to apologize for harsh words is laudable. He is also no doubt correct that less anonymity would not only have reduced aggravation; it might have shortened the whole affair altogether. Of course, all of this has much more to do with the prior volume than the present one, which speaks of this sorry business no further.

The introduction proceeds to speak of the volume itself. Recognizing that we live in an age of “fake news,” readers are reminded that this volume is “part of a series of publications edited by our Research Group since 2012” (7)—, meaning that, while the topic is timely, this research is not just some politically motivated fad. Yet readers are provided with no further information about this research group or how membership was or is determined. The prior volumes (other than Splendide Mendax) are not listed. What little we are told tells us less than we may hope: Contributors to the present volume were invited “without any restrictions imposed” (5). Sadly, with no coherence mandated, none emerges. Readers (and reviewers) are left to their own devices to ponder: Why these specific authors? Why this given range of subjects? Is the inclusion of (post-biblical) Christian (but not Jewish) works and topics here an expansion of an interest in Greek and Latin languages? Or is some other boundary at work? Given Martínez’s complaints about academic anonymity, it’s ironic how much remains undisclosed about the contours of this volume and its (ongoing?) Research Group. It’s also frustrating. If there are common themes and threads running through the contributions, it would have been helpful to find a selection of them identified and discussed in a fuller introduction or a conclusion.

While I did not find common themes, I did indeed find much of interest. Hendrickson’s essay illustrates the importance of grappling with “spurious manuscripts” of authentic works. While forgery and fakery cannot be precluded, in the cases he considers spurious manuscripts result from misreading or misattribution, as when a scribe blindly copies an autographic colophon, yielding a non- autograph unintentionally claiming to be just that. I also particularly enjoyed Barron’s analysis of Latin inscriptions in the 18th-century art market (driven, as it was, by wealthy, souvenir-hungry travelers on the Grand Tour). While granting the problems of inscription-fabrication, Barron reminds us that creative restoration of ancient finds was the accepted, even expected, norm of that era (see esp. 277-281). The final essay was my favorite. Graf tells the story of an Irish clergyman, Kennedy Bailie, a plagiarist whose works bring us something else that falls between the authentic and the fabricated: genuine ancient inscriptions plagiarized from prior editions and republished as new discoveries.

While most of the essays are reasonably accessible to scholars of antiquity broadly understood, a few contributions are highly technical. This is particularly true of Hernández Muñoz’s essay on “relative hapax” in the corpus of writings attributed to Demosthenes, as well as Lennartz’s essay on the Seventh Letter, putatively by Plato. A few of the contributions, on the other hand, make a conscious effort to deal with broader themes. This holds for Abenstein’s essay on quotations, which urges readers to appreciate the artistic quality of fictional quotations that have fooled readers for generations. Her essay (alone in the book) engages Augustine’s classic definitions of lies (187). Kapparis also situates his analysis of forged documents in a broader academic context; his essay is the only one in the book to mention Anthony Grafton.

Does this collection aid in the effort of “rethinking fakes and authorship”? Perhaps any considered collection of a variety of cases and perspectives would yield this result in a thinking reader as a matter of course. Beyond this, a number of the contributions do encourage readers to explore a middle ground between the fake and the authentic: restorations, plagiarisms, translations, fictions, jokes and what have you. And certainly the whole tenor of the volume constantly reminds readers of the dangers associated with the academic hunger for new discoveries. Upon reaching the end of the volume—Graf’s essay on genuine plagiarisms—I began to wonder whether, in the wake of big-news Dead Sea Scrolls scandals (unmentioned in the volume), scholarship in some sub-fields may soon shift to the opposite extreme, exhibiting hunger for the next forgery story.

Far be it from me to judge a book by its cover. But the cover image of this volume is a hoot, and worth looking at closely: a Greek vase-style drawing, depicting a woman thumbing her nose at a male pursuer as she runs ahead of him, just beyond his reach. What I presumed at first to be a contemporary cartoon spoof turns out to be a bona fide early nineteenth century hoax, one that successfully made its way into early editions of a published collection of Greek vase paintings. Like cover, like content: reading what little we are told about this image (iv) left me wanting more, wishing above all that the volume’s editors had worked harder in the introduction or elsewhere to integrate the disparate elements of this rich collection into a more readily coherent project.

Authors and Titles

I. INTRODUCTION: Javier Martínez, “Classical Fakes and Forgeries: Wisdom from Nobody?”
II. GREEK LITERATURE:
Markus Hafner, “Logography Reconsidered: New Issues on Cooperative Authorship in Attic Oratory”
Felipe G. Hernández Muñoz, “‘Relative Hapax’ in the Corpus Demosthenicum
Konstantinos Kapparis, “Forgery as Art in the Documents inserted in the Attic Orators
Klaus Lennartz, “‘To sound like Plato’: Profiling the Seventh Letter”
Richard P. Martin, “Onomakritos, Rhapsode: Composition-in-Performance and the Competition of Genres in 6th-century Athens”

III. LATIN LITERATURE:
Jackie Elliot, “Authorship and Authority in the Preface to Justin’s Epitome of Trogus’ Philippic Histories
Thomas G. Hendrickson, “Spurious Manuscripts of Genuine Works: The Cases of Cicero and Virgil”
Joseph Pucci, “Artistic Authority and the Impotency of Art: A Reading of Ausonius’ Third Preface
Paul Reichetanz, “Ea vera clementia erit—The Epistulae ad Caesarem in 1st Century AD Public Discourse”
Markus Stachon, “Young Vergil’s Very First Poetic Exercises: Some Remarks on the Pseudo-Vergilian Liber Distichon (AL 250-257 Sh. B. = AL 256-263 R.)”

IV. LATE ANTIQUE AND EARLY CHRISTIAN WORKS:
Christina Abenstein, “Facts, Fakes or Fiction? Considering Ancient Quotations”
Frederic Clark, “Historia and Fabula: Dares Phrygius between Truth and Fiction in the Twelfth Century”
Luca Grillo, “Tertullian’s Attack on the Valentinians and the Rhetoric of Fake”
Antti Lampinen, “Forging the Feel of Ancient Ethnography in Pseudo-Jerome’s Cosmography of Aethicus Ister
Markus Mülke, “The Author-Translator: Progress or Problem? Augustinus on the Vetus Latina and Jerome’s Vulgata

V. EPIGRAPHY:
Caroline Barron, “Latin Inscriptions and the Eighteenth-Century Art Market”
Alison E. Cooley, “Fakes, Forgeries and Authenticity: The Curious Case of Flora”
Fritz Graf, “Phantom Travels: On the Story of a Lycian Inscription”
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