BMCR 1999.08.10

Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 97 (1995): “Greece in Rome: influence, integration, resistance”

, , , , Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 97 (1995): "Greece in Rome: influence, integration, resistance".

This review of an important volume comes tardily but urgently, in that this special thematic issue (based on a Loeb Classical Colloquium held in 1994) seems to have been little publicized and the volume itself may go unnoticed on the library shelf, cloaked in the usual patrician crimson with only a discreet extra title on the spine. It treats the themes of Greeks and Hellenism in Rome and Italy: there are significant papers on every aspect of Roman-Greek literary and cultural relations, religious, linguistic, philosophical, artistic, literary and cultural, touching on topics often omitted from traditional discussion. In fact it was the freshness of approach of so many of these papers that prompted me to offer a review just to bring its contents to the attention of the BMCR readership. Even if they do not usually read HSCP, let them read this volume.

Nine of the fourteen contributors are or have been members of the Harvard department of the Classics: there are outside contributions only on religion, philosophy, and art/archaeology. The contents are:

Religion“The Barbarism of the Greeks,” G.W. Bowersock and ” Graeco ritu : a Typically Roman Way of Honoring the Gods,” John Scheid.

Languages, Institutions, Regions“Greece in Italy outside Rome,” Calvert Watkins.

Hellenistic Philosophy“Cicero and Greek Philosophy,” Gisela Striker; “Seneca in his Philosophical Milieu,” Brad Inwood.

Art and Archaeology“Greek Masterpieces and Roman Recreative Fictions,” Bettina Bergmann; “Roman Sculpture and the Ethos of Emulation: Reconsidering Repetition,” Elaine K. Gazda; “Republican Rome Looks at Pergamon,” Ann Kuttner.

Literary Links“Greek Parasites and Roman Patronage,” Cynthia Damon; ” Vestigia ruris : Urbane Rusticity in Virgil’s Georgics,” Richard Thomas; “Greek and Roman in Seneca’s Tragedies,” R. J. Tarrant.

Cultural LinksGraia pandetur ab urbe,” Christopher P. Jones; “Graecia Capta : Roman Views of Greek Culture,” Albert Henrichs; “Alexandria in Rome,” Sarolta A. Takacs.

Bowersock’s paper is both cultural and religious: he considers Strabo’s verdict that the Greeks of Magna Graecia had been completely barbarized ( ekbarbarôsthai, a word whose incidence he examines) apart from Tarentum, Rhegium and Neapolis, then uses two epigraphically attested cults contemporary with Strabo himself, a medical cult of Apollo Oulios at Velia and the cult of a young bearded Dionysus at Naples, to argue for a Greek revival which must relegate Strabo’s lament of barbarization to the past, probably the third century B.C. of his Greek sources. But Kathryn Lomas argued in Urban Society in Roman Italy from similar evidence that in Strabo’s time the Greek language was reserved in Magna Graecia for honorific and cult inscriptions, as a distinctive elite practice marked off from the ruck of Latin inscriptions. How relevant to daily life was this kind of epigraphy?

By a neat ring composition one of the last papers, Christopher Jones’ fine study of Virgil’s use of genealogy in diplomacy between Trojan and Arcadian at the site of Rome, cites Strabo’s contemporary Dionysius for the claim that Latin itself was Greek barbarized by contact with aboriginal people, but misses the opportunity to continue Dionysius’ wider context: yes the languge was distorted but how was it, he asks, that Rome itself was not completely barbarized ( exebarbarôthê) by admitting Oscans and Marsians etc. into the community; they could have lost everything Hellenic — language, customs, divine cult and observance of humane laws, the chief differential between Greeks and barbarians — but the Romans kept this Hellenic quality and have lived like Greeks since the founding of the city. Without weighing the validity of Dionysius’ claims, these ostensibly conflicting ancient judgments show the relativity of their perspectives.

In contrast with Bowersock’s positive evidence for Greek cult in southern Italy, Scheid scrutinizes what has always been seen as a mark of Greek religious practice at Rome. He surveys the use of the term ‘ Graeco ritu‘ and shows how limited was its application: the Romans did not apply it to many originally Greek cults like that of the Castores or Aesculapius but, starting probably in the third century, used the idiom to describe certain ritual features such as the uncovered head that formed part of the otherwise Roman cults of Hercules, Saturn and Apollo. Scheid’s study includes a useful scrutiny of the Greek aspects of consultation of the Sibylline books and of the Ludi Saeculares, concluding that the phrase reflected Rome’s origin as an open city and “was used to stress the presence of foreigners and of the world inside the Roman culture and the city of Rome.”

Watkins’ delightful paper considers both the earliest Greek graffito to be found in Italy (five letters on a burial pot from around 770, apparently praising a woman as a good spinner) and artistic aspects of other early texts in both Greek and Italic verse. His stress on word distraction, and on sequential alliteration as poetic figures, leads him to suggest, while admitting they are “unlikely to be borrowed from the Greek,” that “the verbal agility, shifting of distance and focus, the playfulness and use of ambiguity by these early italic poets are part of the heightened … intensity and ferment which came about … from the contact and fusion of two poetic cultures, two poetic languages, one literate and the other hitherto oral” (p. 50). These ideas will be echoed with a difference in Thomas’ latest thoughts on the Georgics.

At the center of this volume almost a hundred pages are concerned with art. Bergmann on painting and Gazda on sculpture both argue the evidence for assessing Roman works of art not as (failed) imitations but as adaptations that are the product of deliberate emulation. Bergmann documents two kinds of transformation: of media (marble rendered in bronze, frescoes as floor mosaics or panel paintings) and, related to this, of figural elements within the painting, probably in order to serve new contexts. But when Romans produced multiple versions of Io and Argus or the like, even if their primary aim was not to replicate (p. 97) we can surely criticize the subordination of artistic judgment to interior decoration which prompted the journeymen artists to shift the relative positions of figures in a Greek painting for symmetry with another painting in the new context.

But Bergmann has valuable ideas about the ideology of public versus private in the new galleries of Greek art and offers a helpful reading of what I like to believe was Julia’s home at Villa Farnesina. Reacting similarly to traditional Kopienkritik Gazda proposes to approach the multiplication at Rome of sculptures based on Greek models through the analogy of multiple repetition of official imperial portraits: yet surely there is again a contradiction, given on the one hand the aim of likeness in modelling imperial portraits and, on the other, recognition that Romans “carved their reproductions with greater freedom and artistic individuality than has hitherto been supposed” (p. 132). Her lucid argument is hardly helped by the identical stance and proportions of Vespasian and Titus in the shrine of the Augustales at Baia (fig. 7); no doubt it conveyed a political message (cf. her summarized conclusions, p. 146) but this was surely offset by the Bergsonian comic effect of the repetition. Still it is good to be rid of the notion that a Roman work for which there is no known Greek model must nonetheless be an inferior version of some classical or Hellenistic masterpiece, and Gazda helps us to understand Roman ideological and programmatic purposes in adapting and replicating Greek works of art.

Ann Kuttner notes that her study of Roman admiration for Pergamum in the last two centuries was stimulated by Hardie’s Cosmos and Imperium, demonstrating how political ideology reflected in Attalid sculptural themes entered the imagery of Roman poetry and public monuments. Kuttner does not limit herself to considering works of art and town planning. She does indeed show how Attalid temples and their pictorial program provided models for Roman temples and coinage and for Pompey’s great theater-sanctuary, and in their royal munificence (praised by Vitruvius and Strabo) offered a glorious precedent for Augustus’ building program. But the study offers a wider survey of Pergamum’s philosophical and linguistic/literary influence on Rome, which complements what we have learned from Rawson’s Intellectual Life in the Later Roman Republic. Until Kuttner’s larger study is completed this piece must be a reference of first resort for students of late republican and Augustan Rome.

Moving by association from Pergamum to Alexandria I turned to Sarolta Takacs’ lively survey “Alexandria in Rome,” like her book ( Isis and Serapis on the Roman World, Leiden 1995) largely focussed on the cult of Isis and Serapis. Unfortunately because of her expertise Takacs tends to take knowledge of Alexandria itself as a given. Fascinated by her material and ill-informed about the history of Alexandria I had to go back beyond her book to Peter Fraser to find out the history and location of the Serapeum, and the Alexandrian context (p. 270) of the obelisk intended to honour Antony and reinscribed by Gallus for the new Forum Iulium — a highly significant symbol of self-glorification imported by Caligula and now at the heart of the Vatican in Piazza san Pietro. I also felt that more argument is needed to support the claim (p. 272, following Coarelli’s early dating of the Iseum Campense) that “the triumvirate did not vote to build a temple structure.” Dio says that they voted a temple; this may have been a public replacement of an existing (public or private) structure; it may not have been implemented, but more background is needed.

Of the three articles on literature, Damon offers a judicious condensation from her book (published in 1996) of Cicero’s and Juvenal’s exploitation of the parasite-persona taken from Greek new comedy to belittle the Roman cliens. Thomas returns to the Georgics. When his major commentary appeared, some of us complained that he privileged the sophistication of Alexandria over Virgil’s Italic and Roman inheritance. It was, then, a welcome surprise to find his paper initially addressed to “the Latin of Cato and the rustics whose linguistic peculiarities and rhythms may have helped form the young … mind of Virgil.” He goes so far to as to suggest that Virgil “effected an amalgam of his inherited Greek and Latin literary models with his everyday Latin, or better, Italic rhythms, the rhythms of the carmina. But Alexandriam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret. Although the paper’s insightful treatment of several passages offers an amende honorable to Virgil’s early Latin roots, they are still “mediated through the refinement of Alexandrian Greece.” Along with arguments relating Virgil’s language to his overt model Hesiod as well as Cato, Thomas claims direct allusion of the invocation to Liber and Ceres in Georg. 1.7-9 to Callimachus Hymn 6. 69-71. Certainly the gods are the same in the intricate patterning of both passages, but surely the chiastic and interwoven order in the qualifying clauses of the prayer is inherited indirectly from early Latin carmina and more immediately from the practice of his Virgil’s neoteric Latin predecessors.

I have kept to the last two papers which I found especially rewarding; both are concerned with Seneca, and they have in common the recognition that much of his talent and innovative power, as philosopher and tragedian, was fostered by his (now largely lost) predecessors in Augustan Rome and the time of his youth — the issue I have just raised for Virgil. But these papers have much more to offer. Inwood first brings to life Seneca’s early teachers, especially the Latin declaimer Papirius Fabianus, and Attalus the Stoic. Then he consider three aspects of Seneca’s work: his active interest in natural philosophy as well as ethics, distinct from the characteristic focus in the first century A.D., his interest in other schools than Stoicism, in Epicurean and Peripatetic doctrine, and even in Platonic ontology, and his ability to handle technical topics, which includes the skill to “think things through philosophically in Latin” (p. 75) where Cicero had had to base his — often quite independent — thinking on Greek texts.

One of Richard Tarrant’s most important contributions to the revaluation of Senecan tragedy, the study of its antecedents in HSCP 82 (1978), led from its dramaturgical study of post-Classical Greek tragedy to reconsider and praise the now lost work of Varius and Pomponius Secundus, who, as he now argues, had “fully naturalized Greek tragic structure and language” (p230). To these Roman influences Tarrant adds a reminder of Seneca’s debt to Ovid, and his generic contaminatio with Augustan epic and elegy: thus in the texts of the plays he finds along with a lack of Greek specificity “a profusion of Roman details [which] must be a component of the play’s meaning” (p. 226). Rightly rejecting attempts to find close political allusion, he selects instead three aspects of Senecan tragedy that reflect his particular time and place: Seneca’s “fascination with characters who wield arbitrary power,” his focus on emotional pathology and its external manifestations, and “the global background against which the characters are seen,” something Tarrant marks as the product of Seneca’s Stoic education.

Together Inwood’s and Tarrant’s papers seem to me to represent real progress in the understanding of this brilliant if at times infuriating writer and thinker. But many of the papers succeeded in provoking this reader into argument, and almost all of them generated valuable cross-references of ideas with each other. The benefit of this colloquium’s diversity is enhanced by the provision of a good cumulative index. I congratulate authors and editors alike.