BMCR 2002.09.10

Ancient Rome: Art, Architecture, and History. English translation by Thomas M. Hartmann (Italian edition Milan 2000)

Ada Gabucci, Stefano Peccatori, Stefano Zuffi, Ancient Rome : art, architecture and history. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2002. 143 pages : illustrations (chiefly color), maps ; 21 cm. ISBN 0892366567 $14.95.

When I asked to review this book it was in the hope that it would prove to be what I had been seeking in vain for some time — a good introductory text to the art and archaeology of Rome that would be accessible to the undergraduate enrolled in a course in Classical Archaeology. This is not that book.

That having been said, it remains to decide what this book is and for whom it is intended. The J. Paul Getty Museum has lately been publishing a number of profusely illustrated books of this type, all translated from Italian originals. Recent examples reviewed in BMCR include Annamaria Ciarallo’s Gardens of Pompeii and Antonio Varone’s Eroticism in Pompeii ( BMCR 2002.05.03). The books are clearly not intended for the scholar but for the general public, and as such cannot be expected to contain much in the way of references or bibliography. Ancient Rome: Art, Architecture, and History (hereafter ARAAH) is described in the release published by the Getty as “an informative resource for studying Rome as the final act of antiquity and the dramatic conception of a new world.” Here we have encapsulated what I consider to be the basic problem with the whole book. What does it mean to be the “dramatic conception of a new world?” What new world are we talking about? Does the book actually help us understand Rome as the final act of antiquity? The answer to those questions respectively are “I don’t know,” “I don’t know,” and “no.”

ARAAH is divided chronologically into four sections with a short prologue on the Republic. The four sections are: 27 B.C.-A.D. 96, “The Empire’s Beginnings and Establishment”; A.D. 96-192, “The Height of the Empire: From Trajan to the Antonines”; A.D. 192-305, “Crisis in the Empire: From the Severans to the Tetrarchy”; A.D. 305-565, “The Fall of the Empire: Epilogue to an Ancient World.” The contents are laid out in a very attractive table at the beginning of the book. In the appendices are two maps, one of the Roman Empire under Trajan and the other of Fourth-Century Rome (A.D., although it is not so labeled), an Index of Places and an Index of Names.

The pages are color coded in yellow, pink, and blue. A browsing guide at the beginning of the volume informs us that “yellow is for pages dedicated to art and architecture, blue denotes those parts concerned with historical and artistic background, and pink refers to an analysis of specific masterpieces of art.” The reader is told that he may “freely choose how and in what order to browse through this book.” It is not clear to me how this is useful. The reader will probably do that any way. How many readers would choose to read only about masterpieces, for example? Or browse from historical section to historical section?

Each of the four chronological sections of the book begins with a brief historical overview and is then followed by a mixture of topics. Two pages are devoted to each topic, of which at most half of the left hand page is text. The remainder of the two pages is given over to color photographs accompanied by lengthy captions. For example, the section entitled “The Augustan Style” contains a paragraph of text on the left hand page and six illustrations with captions spread out over the rest of the left hand page and the entire right hand page. We are shown a portion of the terracotta frieze from the Temple of Apollo on the Palatine, the marble Marcellus from the Louvre, the base showing a procession of magistrates from the Palazzo della Cancelleria, a relief with funeral procession from Amiternum, the terracotta head of Apollo from the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme and a detail of a funerary statue from the Museo Archeologico in Aquileia. The photographs are of good quality, with beautiful colors, but are somewhat small for a person (such as myself) with aging eyesight. Certainly they are the most attractive feature of the book. The text and the captions contain a variety of basic and accurate information, although theory is sometimes presented as fact, as commonly occurs in books intended for a general audience.

The book, however, no matter how attractive to the eye and how reliable it may be in its general information, fails as an introduction to Roman art, architecture, and history. It would not convey a coherent picture of the development of Roman history, art or architecture to someone who was not already well acquainted with the field. There are two major problems here, one which we must lay at the door of the author, the other (and far more serious) is the fault of the translator.

Unless there was material omitted from the English translation that was originally present in the Italian edition, we must fault the author for failing to supply enough information to make the basic outline of Roman history clear to a reader lacking knowledge of Roman history and personalities. Names are introduced with no explanation. Some of these omissions can be filled in by referring to the Index of Names in the back but most are simply left unexplained. A glaring example occurs at the beginning of ARAAH. We are shown a picture of Pompey on page 8, but he is not mentioned in the accompanying text. The caption that accompanies his picture talks only about the history of the portrait, not the man himself. The Index of Names defines him as “one third of the first triumvirate with Craxus [sic] and Caesar in 60 B.C.” Triumvirate is never defined and neither the first nor the second triumvirate is mentioned in the text. When we meet Augustus on page 12, we are not told who he was or how he came to power. Antony and Cleopatra appear in the Index of Names, but are not mentioned anywhere in the text. The average member of the general public, having little previous acquaintance with ancient history, would not be able to put together a picture of what happened from the author’s text. There are many more examples of this type of omission, such as quoting Pliny, but never explaining who he was, and talking about the Julio-Claudians, but never explaining who they were. As the book progresses, such omissions do become fewer and an accurate, if very hazy, picture of Roman history and art from Trajan to Romulus Augustulus emerges.

Far more serious, to my mind, is the poor quality of the translation. Much of this book seems to be strictly a literal translation of the Italian. The translator does not seem to have been well acquainted with the terminology of Roman art and architecture and has not always made an effort to discover the standard English names of the featured art works. For example, the balustrades on display in the Curia Julia, commonly called the Plutei of Trajan in English, are labelled “Pluteo di Traiano” which is then translated as “Trajan’s Shelter.” The Gemma Augusta is referred to only as a ‘pendant.’ There is a frequent failure to anglicize names, such as Germanico for Germanicus or Brenno for Brennus. The translator is inconsistent about whether he anglicizes or not and is inconsistent in his translation of terms. For example, the ambulatory of the Mausoleum of Constantina is called both “the annual corridor” and “the corridor ring.” Note that it is not referred to as an ambulatory, which is its common designation in most of the literature.

There are many, many more examples of this sort of thing, as well as sentences which simply make no sense in any context. Sometimes it is difficult to tell whether the author has made a mistake or the translator has mistranslated. For example, on page 6: “Archeological [sic] data does sustain, however, that the Etruscans were already dominant between the seventh and sixth centuries B.C., and this lends support to the legend that the fifth and seventh kings were the founders of Tarquinia.” One is left scratching one’s head in bewilderment.

But enough of this. You get the idea. I have to say that I enjoyed parts of this book. Especially in the second half of the book, there were some interesting works of art and observations on the relationship of art and history, but ARAAH has far too many mistranslations, omissions, and generally bewildering non sequiturs to make it useful to anyone already not well acquainted with Roman art, architecture and history.

A partial list of misprints, mistranslations and errors follows.

pp. 6-7: The fifth and seventh kings [of Rome] were from Tarquinia, not founders of it. The latest burials in the Forum cemetery are C6, not C8. For Luck, read Fortuna; for Brenno, Brennus.

pp. 12-13: ‘Charges’ would be better translated as ‘offices’ or ‘responsibilities.’ Oikoumene is called “the personification of universal power,” but should be “the personification of the civilized world.” The ‘pendant’ on page 13 is the Gemma Augusta.

pp. 14-15: There is repeated use of ‘prince’ where emperor would normally be used in English. Articles, both definite and indefinite, are frequently omitted as “… it was [an] expression that ….” For Sabini, read Sabine territory or Sabine hills.

pp. 20-21: “imitation of metal vases with stamped clay …” should be ‘in’ stamped clay.

pp. 22-23: For cubicle, read cubiculum.

pp. 24-25: ‘Narbonesis Gaul’ should be Transalpine Gaul or Gallia Narbonensis. For Giulii, read Julii.

pp. 26-27: Gaius and Lucius Caesar are called Augustus’ nephews, instead of grandsons. For Medina Sidon, read Medina Sidonia. For Germanico, read Germanicus.

pp. 28-29: The Domus Aurea is described as being 100 hectares on the slopes of the Palatine.

pp. 30-31: For Rieti, read Reate. ‘Julia of Titus’ should be ‘Julia, daughter of Titus.’

pp. 32-33: For Cervi House, read House of the Deer; for Medico House, read House of the Surgeon. For ’emblem,’ read central panel, ’emblema’ or simply panel. For ‘lass,’ read ‘glass.’ ‘Baked’ should surely be ‘backed,’ and Neolithic should be Nilotic.

pp. 34-35: For Centenario House, read House of the Centenary.

pp. 36-37: For Agrippo Postumo, read Agrippa Postumus. “A cup with paint color” should probably be a “bowl of pigment.”

pp. 38-39: On the Arch of Titus, Titus is described as being “crowned by the wings of victory” instead of “crowned by a winged victory.” For Vritus, read Virtus. “Completely round horse heads” should be “horse heads completely in the round.”

pp. 40-41: For ‘satirical choir,’ read ‘satyr play.’ The author refers to the Anio Novus as the ‘Claudian-Neronian’ aqueduct, although mentioning correctly that it was begun by Caligula and finished by Claudius.

pp. 46-47: The legend on the coin says OPTIMO PRINCIPI, not OPTIMO PRINCEPS. For Cocceio, read Cocceius.

pp. 48-49: The Forum of Trajan is consistently called the Trajan Forum; the Basilica Ulpia is called Ulpia Basilica; Trajan’s Markets are called Trajan Market; Trajan’s Column is called the Trajan Column. For Pluteo di Traiano, read Plutei of Trajan, which does not mean ‘Trajan’s Shelter.’ For Curia Giulia, read Curia Julia.

pp. 52-53: The baths at Hadrian’s Villa north of the Canopus are not a ‘seaside complex.’ In the plan Piazzo d’Oro should not have been translated into English.

pp. 54-55: For ‘at Pincio,’ read ‘in the Pincio.’

pp. 56-57: For Hadrian’s ramparts, read Hadrian’s wall.

pp. 62-63: For Pancrazi, read Pancratii.

pp. 64-65: A.D. 167 should be 167 B.C.

pp. 66-67: Referring to Rome after Antoninus Pius’ reign — “it had never known such a time and would live to regret it.” I have no idea what this means. For Ellesponto, read Hellespont.

pp. 68-69: The Column of Marcus Aurelius is consistently referred to as the ‘Antonine column,’ without explaining the use of the term ‘Antonine,’ giving the casual reader the erroneous impression that it was set up by or in honor of Antoninus Pius.

pp. 70-71: a.d. should be capitalized.

pp. 72-73: ‘Unkempt’ is not usually used to describe fields. Jupiter is usually used in English, not Jove.

pp. 82-83: I’m not sure what is meant by the “language of the plebian current in Roman art.” For Argentari, read Argentarii.

pp. 84-85: ‘Sarcophagus of Acilia’ should be ‘sarcophagus from Acilia.’

pp. 86-87: For cubicle, read cubiculum. For Euridice, read Eurydice.

pp. 88-89: For Aventino, read Aventine.

pp. 92-93: Gate names should be anglicized or else use Porta instead of Gate. For 594, read 546.

pp. 94-95: ‘Deccenali’ base should be ‘Decennalia’ base.

pp. 102-03: For Milvio bridge, read Milvian bridge.The caption on page 103 states that “no ruler since Trajan had had a beard.” Did the word ‘not’ get left out of that sentence?

pp. 106-07: For Treveri, read Trier.

pp. 108-09: For Basso, read Bassus (also on p. 117).

pp. 112-13: The ambulatory of the Mausoleum of Constantina is variously called the ‘annual corridor’ and the ‘corridor ring.’

pp. 118-19: For ecclesial, read ecclesiastical.

pp. 120-21: ‘Relic carriers’ should be ‘reliquaries.’ For Missiorum, read Missorium. It sounds strange to refer to “the classical culture of Christianity.” Of Julian it is said “he despised Christian environments and studying ancient philosophy.” The latter is hardly true.

pp. 122-23: For Eudocia, read Eudoxia; for Acadius, read Arcadius.

pp. 126-27: For Theoderic, read Theodoric.

pp. 128-29: The statement “until the Augustan period, Ravenna had been an important base for the imperial fleet …” can hardly be true. Perhaps ‘since’ is meant.

Index of Places

p. 136: Under Benevento, Pirro should be Pyrrhus.

p. 139: Under Treveri (which should be Trier), Mosella should be Mosel.

Index of Names

p. 140: Arrius Aper — ‘Praetorio’ should be ‘Praetorian guard.’

Claudius — fails to mention he was emperor.

p. 141: Eudocia should be Eudoxia.

Eutropius — the Eutropius described here is not the same Eutropius mentioned in the text.

Gaius Caesar — again described as Augustus’ nephew instead of his grandson.

p. 142: Julia Mamea — For Alessandro Severus, read Alexander Severus.

Junius Basso — For Basso, read Bassus.

Lepidus — “highest pontiff” should be “pontifex maximus.”

Maxentius — For Milvio, read Milvian.

Nerva — “Was the first adopted” emperor isn’t right.

Octavia — Described as being ‘disowned.’ This is probably a mistranslation of ‘ripudiare’ which also means ‘to divorce.’

p. 143: Pompey — For Craxus, read Crassus.

Ulpia Severia — should be Ulpia Severina, as it is in the text.

Totilus — Should be Totila, as in text, p. 93.