BMCR 1995.04.11

1995.04.11, Response: Green on Potter on Green

, Alexander to Actium. Los Angeles: The University of California Press, 1990. 217 illustrations.

Dear Professor Hamilton:

Since you encourage author-response, may I reply (better late than never) to the review of my book Alexander to Actium by David Potter? This notice appeared four years ago (BMCR 02.06.09), but through a combination of accidents (not least the fact that our Classics Library has only just acquired all back numbers of BMCR) was only brought to my attention last week by what Dave Barry would refer to as an ‘alert reader’, who wanted to know, understandably, whether there existed ‘some academic politics/battlecamps I should be aware of’. I would not like to think, especially considering the delay in response, that your readers felt that my silence (as St Thomas More put it) ‘betokeneth consent’. It certainly doesn’t.

I must confess to thinking of this review as a second Oracle of the Potter, since it shares most of its famous predecessor’s features: a splenetic tone, dogmatic and parti pris assertiveness, artful ideological selectivity, and the general air of having been written in an ecstatic trance. It begins with a blatantly false statement (that my study sees the Hellenistic period ‘as characterized by almost unrelieved degeneration’): so false, in fact, that it was what prompted my correspondent, who read the book with a mind of his own, to seek enlightenment. Professor Potter really mustn’t assume, either, that familiarity with the literature means one doesn’t keep up with coins, papyri, or inscriptions.

His review proceeds to deploy:

(i) a series of minor points of the kind that Gnomon normally consigns to a smaller type-size: some (e.g. Brutus/Rhodes or Perseus/Flamininus) slips that were corrected in the first reprint; others (e.g. the date of the Third Mithridatic War) debatable; others again just plain wrong: e.g. Potter’s remark about the Oracle of Astrampsychus, which I do not in fact cite, seems to be due to a misreading of Bell’s Cults and Creeds in Graeco-Roman Egypt, and a failure to consult (as I did) the actual text of P. Oxy. 12.1477 (pp. 235-6), which does indeed provide a list of questions to ask an oracular shrine.

(ii) several highly controversial scholarly developments (e.g. over the financial lobby at Rome or the significance of ruler-cults) where the reviewer’s favored trend (generally the latest) is treated as fact. I have at least two articles forthcoming on ruler-cults which Professor Potter will probably dislike just as much as the conclusions reached in my book: that doesn’t mean they are necessarily wrong.

(iii) the claim that I expressly deny the possibility of ‘any influence of indigenous practice upon Greek government or literature’: a sly case of bundling, since though I make (and stick to) the claim for literature (where your reviewer offers no adequate refutation), I most certainly don’t do so over government: no one who has studied Alexander’s habits, to look no further, possibly could.

(iv) a selection of new developments, which became known too late for inclusion, but will certainly be taken account of—if not necessarily agreed with—in the next reprint.

(v), most malicious of all, a final, blanket, and completely undocumented dismissal of my work on the politics, literature (‘almost any book on Hellenistic literature would be more helpful than this one’), art (‘just about any book’), and philosophy of the period, on the grounds that these would be better studied in the works of Will, Bulloch (misspelt), Long, and (presumably) someone like Pollitt or Stewart. Well, of course they would: this is an overview, not a collection of specialist monographs. What I object to is the way this device is used at the end to deliberately suggest, by implication, that the book is hopeless throughout.

There is a word for a review of this sort: it is an ad hominem hatchet job. Experienced editors normally recognise the symptoms, and take appropriate action.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Green
Dougherty Centennial Professor of Classics
The University of Texas at Austin