Patrick Counillon has produced much more than just a text, translation and commentary on 25 of the 114 sections of the Pseudo-Skylax’s Periplous. Almost half of this slim volume in Ausonius Éditions Scripta Antiqua series is given over to a critical appraisal of questions of authorship and the nature of the periplous itself, and an introductory account of the geography of the Black Sea and the history of the Greeks in this region. Six small regional maps are interspersed throughout the commentary at relevant points and two larger maps are given at the end of the volume; care has been taken in the cartography to give some attention to elevation and to indicate both ancient and modern place names.
The whole volume is presented in such a way as to provide easy reference to any particular aspect of the work. For instance, Counillon begins the volume with 12 pages of facing Greek text with critical apparatus and French translation, but each section of the commentary begins with the full text, apparatus and translation. This repetition is particularly convenient in that it allows the commentary to be read in detail without the need to cross reference with another section of the volume or a separate volume altogether. Similarly the introductory chapters are broken down into numerous short clearly labelled subcategories. Thus within the second chapter, ‘Le Pseudo-Skylax et le Périple’, the third subsection on the form and content of the work, is further broken down under short subheadings including discussions on the nature of geographical project, the conception of the world, the regional arrangements, distance calculations, the definition of place terminology (such polis and emporion), the composition of Ps.-Skylax’s sections, and his choice of titles.
Within the commentary itself Counillon, as one might expect, gives individual attention to each of the geographical or ethnographical labels found in the text, but he also allows himself the freedom to explore other issues as they arise. So, for instance, when discussing the Chalybes he lays out within the commentary a systematic survey of the ancient literary tradition treating individually Hecataeus of Miletus, Herodotus, Xenophon, and Ephorus, before considering how Ps.-Skylax relates to these traditions. This detailed approach not only gives a useful overview, but also allows his reader to follow his arguments (supporting the original observations of Jacoby) for why the
Throughout both the introductory sections and the direct commentary on the text Counillon provides extracts from both original sources and secondary scholarship. This is particularly successful in showing the utility of the long tradition of French and English travel literature for contextualizing the physical topography to which the Periplous alludes. He has made full use of Chardin (1686), Tournefort (1717), Taitbout de Marigny (1830), Hommaire de Hell (1859), and Daussy (1859), as well as Spenser (1839 and 1854) and Hamilton (1842). This historical documentation of the landscape is usefully balanced against the modern documentation of such works as Bryer and Winfield’s The Byzantine Monuments and Topography of the Pontos (1985) and the author’s own first hand observations. The choice to reproduce sections at length of perhaps less accessible or less familiar documents will be welcomed by his readers.
The other serious bibliographical strength of this slim volume is the impressive use of recent archaeological and numismatic publications relating to the Black Sea littoral. Although often in the text of the commentary observations on material cultural are kept to a minimum, Counillon has compiled detailed footnotes to allow the most avid investigator to locate the precise specimens and examples which support and illustrate the assertions in the text. Thus he only observes in his primary discussion: ‘C’est vers cette époque [the early fourth century] aussi qu’apparaissent les premières monnaies de deux de nos cités pontiques, Krômna et Sèsamos, monnaies qui partagent le même type monétaire’ (p. 123), but provides in the notes further comments on the uniqueness of this type along with full references to the SNG numbers. In a similar vein when reporting Hamilton’s nineteenth century observations of iron works in the region of Ünye, he provides ample references to modern geological surveys.
It would be wrong however to give the impression that Counillion has moved away from a close textual reading of Ps.-Skylax. The serious philological and onomastic aspects of this commentary are beyond the scope of this review, but are not an insignificant part of the contribution of this volume to modern scholarship. Any user of this new text, linguist or not, will appreciate how Counillion’s commentary provides insights on the force of meaning behind Ps.-Skylax’s choice of words and the organization of the text. The following quotation (pp. 80-81) illustrates some of the clarity which Counillion brings to the laconic text of the Periplous :
‘si la source est effectivement maritime, les toponymes mentionnés le sont dans leur fonction, et non dans leur statut politico-géographique: c’est une raison supplémentaire pour ne pas s’arrêter à la qualification d’emporion attachée à Chersonèsos, ni prendre à la letter la rubrique des
πόλεις δè Ἑλληνίδεςpour les établissements du Bosphore. La séparation en deux chapitres des deux parties du Bosphore, l’une en Europe, l’autre en Asie, confirme que le Périple n’a pas une vision politique de la région du Bosphore, puisque les cités sont rattachées globalement à l’Europe ou l’Asie, ni une vision géographique que Pont comme une entité distincte, et qu’il s’en tient aux séparations entre continents de la géographie ionienne.’
This is typical of Counillion’s overall approach: he considers not just what is said, but also what is not and how spatial divisions and juxtapositions reflect broader conceptions within the ancient geographical mindset.
Counillion’s previous work on both this region and other portions of the Periplous are significantly elaborated on in this volume. Some might question the selection of text: the extract from the Periplous begins two thirds of the way through the section on Thrace (67). However, this emphasises quite clearly, and successfully, that the selection of this part of the Periplous is a function of modern geographical conceptions, and is also perhaps a reflection of the ever increasing interest in the Black Sea littoral, not just for its historical significance in antiquity, but throughout modern periods as well.