BMCR 2002.11.05

Greek Romans and Roman Greeks

, , , Greek Romans and Roman Greeks : studies in cultural interaction. Aarhus studies in Mediterranean antiquity ; 3. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2002. 287 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.. ISBN 8772887966 $39.95.

Greek Romans and Roman Greeks includes an introduction by Erik Nils Ostenfeld and Karin Blomquist, eighteen essays, an abbreviations key, a bibliography of the text editions used, a general bibliography, notes on contributors, an index rerum, an index nominum, and an index locorum. The eighteen essays are divided into two sections: Archaeological Studies (six essays), and Philology, History and History of Ideas (twelve essays). The introduction by Ostenfeld and Blomquist supplies a summary of all eighteen essays.

The eighteen essays in this text were delivered at a conference entitled Greek Romans or Roman Greeks? Interaction, confrontation and Cultural Responses in the first three Centuries of the Roman Empire, which was held June 25-28, 1998 in Lund, Sweden. The purpose of the conference was “to explore the intercultural aspects of a period where the Roman Empire expanded while the Greek culture was experiencing a new heyday” (5). The editor’s intent for this book is the same as that of the conference with a slight modification as reflected in the collection’s title to accommodate clearly “the fact that the contributors deal with both Romans who ‘became’ Greek and Greeks who ‘became’ Roman” (5). The majority of the essays are top-notch in quality and very thought provoking.1 Although some of the essays are too short to advance greatly our knowledge of the period under discussion and seem to have been submitted for publication as originally delivered at the conference, they nevertheless, to some extent, lay the foundations for further research and scholarly discussion. The collection on the whole is bit uneven, but this is a somewhat frequent occurrence in conference proceedings or edited collections.

Section One, Archaeological Studies, concentrates on the material culture of the period. Whittaker von Hofsten’s “Some reflections on the Temple to the Goddess Roma and Augustus on the Acropolis at Athens” attempts to date the temple after 10 BC. Proof for this date is Gaius Caesar’s visit to the East in his attempt to negotiate with the Parthians. It should be noted that the author supplies that caveat that further “archaeological or epigraphic evidence” (36) is needed to verify this claim. Karivieri’s “Just one of the Boys—Hadrian in the Company of Zeus, Dionysus and Theseus” has as its goal “to analyze the ideological background for the rebuilding of Athens in the second century AD that was financed and planned by the Emperor Hadrian” (40) through the use of archaeological (buildings and monuments) and literary data (Pausanias and Plutarch). Hadrian, it is argued, wanted to portray himself as the new founder of Athens. In the third essay of this collection, “Cultural Interchange? The Case of Honorary Statues in Greece,” Munk Højte focuses on the honorific statues given to foreigners for “services rendered or in expectation of future services” (55). His examination, which is limited to Achaea and to about 300 statue bases, includes for consideration geographical distribution, chronology, category of the honoree, inscription formulae, and dedicators. Although Greek was the language of the inscriptions, the formulae were Roman in nature. Whether the Romans had an interest only in the plains of the Argolid or also in the Argolid countryside is the topic of Forsell’s “The Argolid Countryside in the Roman Period.” The data suggest that the Romans preferred the western Argolid (with the exception of Methana). The fifth essay, Korhonen’s “Three Cases of Greek/Latin Imbalance in Roman Syracuse,” is a sociolinguistic analysis of epitaphs that range from the early imperial period to the sixth century. Family or group conventions dictated the language and formulae of the epitaphs more than the language dominant in each period. The last essay of section one, Nevett’s “Continuity and Change in Greek Households under Roman Rule: The Role of Women in the Domestic Context,” asks the question “whether the desire to preserve a distinctive Greek identity . . . also affected the home lives of individual families” (81). Nevett proposes that although the architecture of the late fifth century to the late third century BC reflected a desire to “control interaction between family members and outsiders” (82), during Roman rule there were changes in patterns in architecture that allowed greater circulation and more freedom of interaction. This change need not have developed under Roman rule since it may be a product of the Hellenistic period.

Section two, Philology, History and History of Ideas, begins with Senzasono’s “Some Influences of Greek Poetry in the first Choral Song of Seneca’s Phaedra (274-357).” It is difficult to disagree with the premise of this essay, which argues that authors need not borrow from prior literature solely for inspiration but also for decoration or to show that they are erudite (108). The author comes to this conclusion after a perplexing four stage comparison of Seneca’s Phaedra with Greek literature (the four stages are microstructural to microstructural, macrostructural to microstructural, microstructural to macrostructural, macrostructural to macrostructural). The eighth essay, Malling Eriksen’s “Redefining Virtus —the Settings of Virtue in the Works of Velleius Paterculus and Lucan,” seeks to demonstrate the ways in which Velleius Paterculus and Lucan redefine the individual in the face of the “collapse of traditional Roman concepts of virtue after Augustus” (112).

The next three essays have Plutarch as their focus. Stadter in “Plutarch’s Lives and Their Roman Readers” seeks not only to identify the audience for Plutarch’s Parallel Lives but also to elucidate Plutarch’s influence on his audience. The audience is not composed exclusively of Greeks, but also includes Romans whom Plutarch wanted to educate in the field of statesmanship. Stadter interestingly writes that for Plutarch “a firm philosophical foundation is essential for the politician” (126). Plutarch saw himself as a philosopher and thought that the “duty of a philosopher was never of greater importance” (130) than at that time he was writing. Stadter’s essay should be read by anyone interested in Plutarch’s works. The tenth essay, Titchener’s “Plutarch and Roman(ized) Athens,” explores why Plutarch chose to live in Chaeronea rather than in a larger city such as Rome or Athens, which Plutarch said was a “little too Roman” (136) for him. The aversion may be based on the idea that “living in a big city was not necessary for living a virtuous and happy life”, compounded by Plutarch’s “lack of confidence in his Latin” (140) that obviated his use of the “library and intellectual resources” that Rome could offer. Castellani’s “Plutarch’s ‘Roman’ Women” finishes the triad on Plutarch by observing that the author had a “moral and didactic” (142) purpose in mind when he composed the Roman Lives. Although Roman women were more prominent in the Roman Lives, they nevertheless were de-Romanized in nature, i.e., they were apolitical, non-rational and thus “inspired . . . to actions,” words, and gestures (155). In other words, they were no different than the women in the Greek Lives. Castellani supplies the reason for this phenomenon: Plutarch’s purpose was “to draw moral examples from the lives of the great men whose lives he reviewed; an unintended corollary, on the other hand, was to belittle the great women who often guided—or misguided—those men” (155).

The next four contributions center on the author’s persona as developed through his own writings. Kugler’s “The Ox, the Crow, and the Orator: Image, Allegory, and Motive in Dio Chrysostom’s Second Tarsian Oration ( Oration 34)” suggests that Dio is self-characterizing through the fable of the fox and crow found in chapters five and six and through the boxing metaphor located in chapters twelve and thirteen. The oration is a subtle warning that neither Dio (162) nor his advice to the Tarsians to pay heed to the Romans should be ignored (168). In “Hadrian and Greek Poetry” Bowie supplies the reader with a sampling of what Hadrian liked to read and write. Flinterman’s “The Self-portrait of an Antonine Orator: Aristides, Or. 2.429ff.” argues that Aelius Aristides’ To Plato: In Defence of Oratory, To Plato: In Defence of the Four, and To Capito are worth reading and studying because they supply to the modern scholar and reader both a valuable insight into the mindset of sophists of the imperial age and to the way of thinking and self-identification of the Greek elite. In a similar theme, Xenophontov’s “Polyaenus: A Greek Writer as a Job-Seeker in the Roman World” argues that even an obscure work like Polyaenus’ Strategica can help us get a better picture of the life of a Second Sophistic writer. In this case, the author is in search of employment in the imperial machinery.

The next two essays move away from personalities and concentrate on genre. The sixteenth essay, Desideri’s “The Meaning of Greek Historiography of the Roman Imperial Age,” maintains that the majority of Greek historians of this time period chose to focus on the great Greek past rather than to focus exclusively on contemporary events. Most importantly, the historians who did write on Roman themes were Greek. In “Hellenism and Romanization: A Comparison between the Greek Novels and the Tale of Psyche in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses” Lalanne speculates that there was a sort of structural paideia embedded in the canonical Greek novels that evinces a “rite of passage reserved for an elite” (226) through which the heroes and heroines of the novel become full and active members of Greek society. Roman influence on the Greek novels, Lalanne suggests, can be seen in the chronological increase of the spectacle and the macabre.

The last essay of the collection, Geiger’s “Language, Culture and Identity in Ancient Palestine,” can be used as a control by which one can test the ideas found in the seventeen preceding essays. Ethnic identity, the identity of the individual, sociolinguistics, genre, politics and literature are all found at play in this last contribution. Geiger writes that during this time period “Greek Romans and Roman Greeks were not the only problematic identities. . . . Multiple and complex identities may have been almost the rule, rather than the exception” (242).

This volume will be of value to scholars interested in the Second Sophistic and the relationships between the Roman rulers and their Greek subjects. It should be noted that there are superior and more comprehensive studies on this cultural and political period, namely Simon Goldhill’s Being Greek under Rome. Cultural Identity, the Second Sophistic and the Development of Empire (Cambridge University Press, 2001) and Tim Whitmarsh’s Greek Literature and the Roman Empire: The Politics of Imitation (Oxford University Press, 2001).


1. Misspellings and editing infelicities are few in number, e.g. there is a grave accent missing in Forsell’s first name on p.11; “not” is misspelled on p.14, six lines from the bottom; “anecdotes” is misspelled on p. 17, twelve lines from the bottom; “Heliodorus” is misspelled on p. 19, second line from the top; a period is missing on line 11 p. 86; “little” is misspelled on p. 93, line 11; incorrect use of a curly quote on line 13, p. 123; incorrect use of a curly quote on p. 236, four lines from the bottom.