BMCR 1998.01.10

Response: Loretana de Libero (Universitt Gttingen) to Brian M. Lavelle, Review of Loretana de Libero, Die archaische Tyrannis (BMCR 97.7.18)

Response to 1997.07.18

Response by

The editors of this journal kindly encouraged me to review Lavelle’s review of my book Die archaische Tyrannis. I gratefully take this opportunity to correct a false impression that might have arisen from the mentioned review. First may I be allowed to refer the reader to a fact which Lavelle has wisely suppressed in his review, but which is essential to the understanding of the hostile tone of his unwarranted review. Lavelle’s small study The Sorrow and the Pity (1993) was reviewed by me in the Historische Zeitschrift 259 (1994) 750ff. not long ago. I remember one sentence of mine which runs: “Diese Sichtweise ist begründet in der vom Vf. [Lavelle] überkommenen Auffassung von einem genos-Begriff, der gleichbedeutend mit clan ist. Bedauerlicherweise nimmt er von dem aktuellen Forschungsstand keine Notiz.” I am not entirely surprised that he is taking his chance of revenge with the same reproach, though—I must say—it certainly lacks style. Moreover, his numerous minor articles, which nearly all deal with the Peisistratids’ tyranny, underwent a crucial examination in my book—needless to say, I am rarely of his opinion. An author is always pleased to see a long review devoted to his/her book—especially if the review is well-balanced and constructive. Although these six pages of Lavelle’s review speak for the importance which he grants to this “first major work of a young scholar” I am sorry to say that a fair treatment is not intended by him.

First of all, the author is amazed that Lavelle has taken pains to review her book because he has never excelled in tyranny studies except for his hardly impressive Athenian studies. His understandably small knowledge of archaic tyrants on the whole is shown by the astonishing fact that in the first and last sentence of his review he earnestly regards H. Berve’s Die Tyrannis bei den Griechen (1967) as a “truly excellent synthesis of evidence and opinion”. Since its publication Berve’s book (in two volumes) has rather been a disappointment to experts in this field, especially because of his positivistic view of history. In many cases Berve simply paraphrases Herodotus or other ancient authorities, generally ignores archaeological field research and often leaves his reader without any further comment on his adopted view. His study lacks a profound analysis of the Greek tyrants as a phenomenon of the archaic world. One is led to ask why Lavelle exalts such an antiquated book which is outdated in all aspects of the subject. To explain that “there are still no shadows on Berve’s Die Tyrannis“—after thirty years!—is rather absurd. Lavelle shows right from the beginning of his review that he is not acquainted with the scholarly bibliography on tyranny. And while reading his further comments I cannot help being under the impression that Die archaische Tyrannis has not been read by him carefully. I very much regret to say that his ignorance concerning the tyranny subject has resulted in his overlooking the latest progress which has been made in the research of archaic Greek history, which Die archaische Tyrannis is only one part of it. Neither the revolutionary works by F. Bourriot 1 and D. Roussel 2 are taken into consideration by Lavelle nor the important dissertation by E. Stein-Hoelkeskamp 3 which like M. Stahl 4 and K.-W. Welwei 5 present new theories on archaic aristocracy and Athenian history of the sixth-century. The archaic tyrannis must be seen in the complex context of the conditions and mentalities of its time, its several rulers brought into connection, many pecularities, many communities searched for. The archaic tyrannis can only be understood by a thorough analysis and synthesis of all its phenomena. Lavelle neglects this demand and retreats to a consideration of isolated cases sometimes overrelying on late sources which he does not recognize as products of their time. Especially the literature of the fourth century, which often misunderstands much of the archaic goings on and is known for its anachronistic theorization, must be met with caution. In spite of recent works Lavelle clings to the old, modernistic and often contradictory thesis of the ‘low-born tyrant’. Today there is hardly any scholar who will support this view because it relies too much on problematic sources of the fourth century and neglects the earlier clear evidence. Lavelle speaks much of “Quellenkritik” and “Quelleninterpretation”. He indeed has to cope with the reproach of being overreliant on secondary sources without taking into account the social structure of the archaic time and the ‘modern’ views of authors like Aristotle or Ephoros.

Though my work stands for itself I am forced to parry some of the most unwarranted attacks made by the reviewer. The aim of the first chapter “Der Tyrannis-Begriff in den Zeugnissen der archaischen Zeit” is to analyse the use of the terminus ‘tyrannos/tyrannis’ in the testimonia of the seventh and sixth century. The main question is whether it is appropriate to use this word in our time. The results are that none of the Greek rulers named themselves ‘tyrant’, that the word, however, is contemporaneous and bears different ‘ambigious’ meanings both negative and positive, and that it is safe to use this word for a work about archaic usurpators—which has, by the way, recently been questioned by K.H. Kinzl. 6 Lavelle boldly maintains that my perceptions are not new, but is not able to present any older study which deals thoroughly with this subject—because there isn’t any Sometimes Lavelle misunderstands my text apparently due to some deficency in his knowledge of the German language. I do not assert that Archil.frg. 23,17-21 is a reference to Lydian tyranny. When caution rules the sentence through using verbs like ‘soll/sollte’ Lavelle always takes it as a definite statement, when it says “es kann kaum zweifelhaft sein”, it is for him “undubious”. His lacking linguistic instinct leads him into unjustified comments. In his envious attempt to pull to pieces the “Tyrannis” he in a surprisingly disordered reasoning produces some small points which do not satisfy him, meanwhile ignoring my dozens of representations of tyrants in thirty-three poleis and the new ideas which are developed in the book—perhaps due to the fact that he is not acquainted with the subject. No matter whether one prefers the high or the low dating of Pheidon of Argos, which does not—as Lavelle believes—make any difference, no scholar since Drumann and Plass has ever regarded Pheidon as a tyrant—except Lavelle. His strange view is solely based on Aristotle, a poor evidence contradicted by Herodotus. It is a mystery to me that Aristotle—as Lavelle sees it—should have relied on an otherwise unknown source “with accurate information” concerning a tyranny of Pheidon and should therefore be preferred to Herodotus. It is neither historically accurate to argue with dubious wordings of an oracle (Kleisthenes) nor to present P.Oxy 11,1365 (Orthagoras), which is indebted to Ephorus, as the ultimate evidence for the theory of low-born tyrants—’without adequately stated reasons’, without taking into account the archaic particularities. The credulity of Lavelle is remarkable. He does not refrain from further mistakes, i.e., asserting that I ‘resurrect’ Beloch’s thesis in proving that there were only two attempts at a tyrannis in Athens. I argue on the basis of the sources in question, Beloch, on the other hand, on chronological considerations (in my book I only referred to my article in Hermes 122,1994,114 ff., and did not recapitulate it at length, which seems to be a fault in Lavelle’s eyes, although one would have thought, it would have been a fault for him had the article been inserted). The difference between Beloch and me has apparently escaped Lavelle’s notice. He tries hard to show that Peisistratos of Athens has no Thracian revenues without solving the obvious problem of how then Peisistratos managed to pay his large mercenary troops. The repetition of the arguments of his article, which I have already refuted in my work, still does not convince me. Herodotus 1,64 is the best argument to support my “old” thesis: χρημάτων … τῶν μὲν αὐτόθεν, τῶν δὲ ἀπὸ στρυμόνοσ ποταμοῦ συνιόντων. One last word to another trifle which worries Lavelle: Theagenes of Megara is for him one of humble origin. He cites the (much-despised!) ‘up-starts’ in Theognis to bolster his theory. Apart from the many problems around this ‘poet’, we had better say the ‘Corpus Theognideum’, concerning person (?), date (seventh century, late sixth century?), and polis (is it Megara?) one must be allowed to ask if a highly reputable one hundred percent aristocrat like Kylon of Athens, winner in the Olympic Games, should condescend to marry the daughter of an ‘up-start’. Lavelle does not take any notice of the many particular panhellenic relationships among the nobles of Greece. He himself must be charged with a flawed handling of sources.

In his long review Lavelle has only small, minor important points to criticize. He repeats himself several times, as if to ensure himself. As far as his reproach is concerned that there are sources “excluded” from my work I dare to maintain that no source regarding the archaic tyrannis has been omitted. He had better consult the register. No word is said about the synthesis, the first in research history which will give the reader a thorough approach to the phenomenon of ‘archaic tyrannis’, nothing said about the political and religious issues. The archaeological expositions—archaeological research and novelties for the first time considered in a work about the archaic tyrannis—are passed over without comment. As much as I have desired to participate in a fruitful discussion—Lavelle to my regret is only destructive. Science lives on dispute, but his review does not belong to this kind of dispute. The author may be allowed to suspect that for Lavelle personal motives sometimes are more important than a discussion sine ira et studio. To speak of a Göttinger Habilitationsschrift as of a dissertation is for everyone who knows the conscientious Habilitationsverfahren of the Philosophische Fakultät simply the failed and rather embarrassing attempt to insult (not only) the author. The interested reader in search of a constructive review is welcome to refer to the review by Karl Christ which appeared shortly after the publication of Die archaische Tyrannis in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 6 Dec 1996. I am of the deepest assurance that others reviews in the way of Christ’s will follow.

1. Recherches sur la nature du génos. Étude d’histoire sociale athenienne. 2 vol. Paris 1976.

2. Tribu et cité. Études sur les groupes sociaux dans les cités grecques aux époques archaique et classique. Paris 1976.

3. Adelskultur und Polisgesellschaft. Studien zum griechischen Adel in archaischer und klassischer Zeit. Stuttgart 1989.

4. Aristokraten und Tyrannen im archaischen Athen. Stuttgart 1987.

5. Athen. Vom neolithischen Siedlungsplatz zur archaischen Großpolis. Darmstadt 1992.

6.”Betrachtungen zur älteren Tyrannis,” in Die ältere Tyrannis bis zu den Perserkriegen.” Ed. by K. H. Kinzl. Darmstadt 1979, 317.