BMCR 2009.05.13

Gellius the Satirist: Roman Cultural Authority in Attic Nights. Mnemosyne Supplements 297

, Gellius the Satirist: Roman Cultural Authority in Attic Nights. Mnemosyne Supplements 297. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2009. 365. ISBN 978-90-04-16986-9. €121.00, $179.00.

In this learned and ingenious but problematic book Keulen argues that in the Attic Nights, hitherto considered purely as a learned miscellany enlivened with vignettes of Antonine life, Aulus Gellius deploys his considerable powers of irony and satire to the deflation of all cultural authorities except himself, whom he commends to the emperor as a humble but invaluable adviser. It will be no surprise to the author that, as I told him while he was still writing, I cannot concur with his conclusions; but it is hard to do him justice even in a long review, since his principle of piecing together numerous passages from both Gellius and other authors in order to tease out an unexpected hidden meaning makes his arguments hard to summarize for readers’ judgement. I can but recommend that they study the book itself in the light of what Gellius and his public might be expected to have known. The public is important, since Gellius is not envisaged as rejoicing in sinu at a private joke.

In his introduction, Keulen asserts (p. 3) that ‘the ideological and cultural framework for Gellius’ discourse of praise and blame’ represents a thoroughly Roman, not Hellenic or philhellenic, outlook. This, though easy to support with quotations, remains hard to square with several chapters in which Roman poets are found falling short of their Greek models; Keulen relegates them to a footnote (p. 6 n. 18) as not contradicting but validating Roman cultural authority, rather, I suppose, as a proconsul might validate Roman rule by occasionally deciding a case for the provincial against the publicanus. There is something a little glib in this. In war and government Romans were assured of their superiority, in certain artistic and intellectual disciplines they did not try to compete; but in literature they did. For a time after Augustus, they were sufficiently confident that the task of emulation had been achieved for writers to make their Latin predecessors, rather than the Greeks, the starting-point for their own work; but by Gellius’ day the reaction against post-Vergilian literature had considerably depleted the stock of acceptable Latin writing. In those circumstances the effortless assurance presupposed by this validation of authority seems less plausible; rather, Gellius stands here at the positive end of the perpetual Roman ambivalence towards Greek culture (p. 7). But that he should participate in that ambivalence is of no interest; what counts is how this ambivalence is configured in him, as against (say) Fronto, Apuleius, Pius, Marcus, or even Hadrian.

Noting the ability of Latin-speaking intellectuals to secure imperial benefactions for their protégés and cities (he might have added themselves), Keulen argues that Gellius presents ‘the key to success’ as being the knowledge of Republican Latin texts (p. 8). But what success had Gellius achieved, or indeed sought? He was comfortably off from the outset, but not seriously rich; he associated in student days with famous men, but none of them brought him advancement; in his world a proconsul of Crete and Cyrene (2. 2) was a great man and not a failure. He was put on the album iudicum, a function of his wealth, but undertook no other munus that he speaks of. For all that he upholds the active life against the pursuit of book learning, his own example tells the other way: to be sure he deploys Republican texts for the benefit of urban landlords (15. 1. 3-4) and takes it for granted that ethics are ethics but business is business (12. 12. 4), but there is more to success than fireproofing one’s properties and keeping one’s cards close to one’s chest. A Gellius who should give lessons on how to rise in the world would resemble the Phormio whom Hannibal heard lecturing on the art of war.

According to Keulen (p. 9) ‘”writing authors” like Fronto and Gellius’ can be seen as ‘authoritative and powerful’. For sure Fronto made his name and fame by his speeches, embarked on a public career, and was made instructor to the future emperors (though his letters reveal all too well the limits of his power), but Gellius remained, so far as we can see by choice, a homo priuatus all his life, who outside his work appears only in a letter of Fronto’s, and that as a nuisance. To say that we have not ‘much information regarding Gellius’ actual cursus honorum and rank’ (p. 12) is to veil the truth: given his readiness to tell us about his judicial functions, he was hardly the man to conceal a magistracy or other public service—nor to forbear dragging some antiquarian text into its discharge. Accordingly, it was not Gellius the man, totally forgotten, but his work that acquired authority, through the learning and eloquence praised by Augustine ( CD 9. 4). In matters of grammar and rhetoric he speaks with a straightforwardly self-conferred authority; when he has fault to find, he does not undermine his victim with subtle hints, as Keulen would have him undermine his more illustrious contemporaries, but says straight out that Caesellius Vindex is wrong (6. 2), that Gaius Gracchus does not rise to the occasion (10. 3), even that his own teacher Sulpicius Apollinaris does not satisfy (2. 16. 10). I miss such passages in Keulen’s first chapter, ‘Gellius the Roman Educationalist’, which otherwise well describes Gellius’ self-presentation as an authority on good Latin.

In ch. 2, ‘Memory and Authority’, however, Gellius becomes the subversive satirist, something Fronto is made to suspect when he complains ‘ista mea ab Gellio pessime quaeri’ ( Ad amic. 1. 19); Keulen translates ‘searched for by Gellius with the most malicious intentions’ (p. 39) without explaining why it should not mean ‘in a most improper way’ (by pestering other people for copies rather than asking him directly) or even ‘wanted very badly’ (i.e. much). To be sure Gellius at 19. 8. 17 happens in reading Varro on a word-form that Fronto, speaking off the cuff, did not think any good author had used; any of us might be caught that way. In 2. 26 Gellius finds Fronto resting on a low couch for the sake of his gout; this, we are told, is satirical, evidently because the similar representation of Milo at Apul. Met. 1. 22. 6 is. But Milo has no existence outside the book in which he is a figment; Fronto’s gout was plain fact, and in Keulen’s own word ‘notorious’ (p. 41) even to those who had not read his correspondence, since Φρόντων ὁ ἀρθριτικός is sufficient identification for Artemidorus ( Oneirocritica 4. 20). Rather, Gellius is adding a touch of verisimilitude.

It is certainly true that Gellius manipulates Fronto for his own ends, bunching three of their five encounters in his penultimate book to make the connection seem closer than it was. In the last of them, indeed, Fronto is not at home and not supreme, but it is no dishonour to seek, and receive, advice from one of Gellius’ other heroes, Sulpicius Apollinaris; to be sure disapproval is expressed of an author (Laberius) whom Fronto admired, but if we were meant to know that, we should also know that the purism displayed both here and in 19. 8 was not Fronto’s but Gellius’ own, cloaked in a stolen authority. Likewise, in 13. 29 Gellius makes Fronto, against the evidence of the letters, a fellow-admirer of Claudius Quadrigarius and a fellow-reader of Varro’s Menippea; in doing so, Keulen supposes that he ‘immortalises Fronto as an arbiter of taste’, yet calls his pretensions into doubt for not relishing those authors. But when readers who knew the truth caught Gellius wrapping himself in Fronto’s authority, whose pretensions would be called into doubt? The less was known about the real Fronto’s teaching, the safer he was; but in fact it is unlikely that either he or Romans at large had access to the correspondence from which our understanding of it is derived. It is therefore methodologically unsound to compare Gellius’ mock-modest representation of his studies as lucubratiunculae and ineptiae with Fronto’s own in letters aimed at coaxing Marcus into a greater attention to verbal niceties neglected in the press of business and philosophy. Such self-deprecation could perfectly well have come to both authors independently, not least from the same conventional politeness that makes Catullus terms his poems meas . . . nugas.1 Moreover, if Gellius was indeed, as Keulen supposes, presenting himself to Marcus as the superior instructor, he ought not to have misrepresented Fronto to the one man in the world best able to detect the fraud.

Chapter 3, ‘Saturnalian Licence and Socratic Irony’, begins by considering the relation of Gellius the grave auctor with Gellius the breezy young man, then turns to 18. 4, where the adulescens is attracted to Sulpicius Apollinaris for his Socratic skill in exposing a pretentious ignoramus who misunderstands Sallust’s use of stolidus and uanus. However, this chapter too is made into a covert attack on Fronto because the latter had used the two words in De orationibus. As Keulen acknowledges (p. 75 n. 25), this requires Gellius to know a work written for Marcus’ eyes only; nor are we told that Fronto had misinterpreted them as the boastful grammarian had done, only that he used them self-ironically—as suited an attempt at putting his sovereign to rights. But they somehow suffice to prove that Fronto is described as ‘a liar, a deceiver, an impostor, a disagreeable fellow, a rogue, a boor . . .’. Keulen is not running with the ball, but letting the ball run away with him.

Having made his distinction between the young and the mature Gellius, Keulen takes it for granted that in 6. 17 Gellius is still the former, though he does not say so. A grammarian, asked to explain the word obnoxius, replies scornfully (section 3) that everyone knows it to be eum cui quid ab eo cui esse obnoxius dicitur incommodari et noceri potest et qui habeat aliquem noxae, id est culpae suae conscium, someone who is liable to inconvenience or injury by the person to whom he is said to be obnoxius and [the change to the subjunctive indicates that the conjunction is used sensu composito ] who has someone aware of his noxa, i.e. fault; Keulen strangely relates this to the active sense, equivalent to noxius, first found in Fronto, but surely it means that the obnoxius is in the power of the person who knows his little secret. Gellius sets out to demonstrate the inadequacy of this definition, but reduces it (in section 9) to its last three words, culpae suae conscium, so that the person is the victim of a guilty conscience; and Keulen so interprets it at p. 84: ‘In the interpretation of obnoxius as ” noxae, id est culpae suae conscium” (6, 17, 2 [ recte 3]; 6. 17, 8) we may hear an echo of the Euripidean ξυνειδῇ μητρὸς ἢ πατρὸς κακά‘ ( Hipp. 425)—and therefore associate obnoxius with the shamefast silence of one who cannot speak his mind like the man of true uirtus celebrated in the same chapter by Ennius ( Trag. 254-7 Jocelyn, from Phoenix). Then again, we may not: even if Gellius happened to know the Euripidean passage,2 so far is he from offering or even accepting this explanation of the word that he asks the grammaticaster who has proposed it how it squares with the very words of Ennius that Keulen takes to confirm it (6. 17. 10). But if aliae res obnoxiosae nocte in obscura latent (v. 257) has for Gellius nothing to do with the inhibitions of bad conscience, the entire edifice of speculation crashes to the ground.

The chapter ends with a discussion of 4. 1, in which Favorinus silences another grammarian who had been holding forth on the gender and declension of penus but proves incapable of defining it and does not even know what definition is; for Keulen he does not emerge as uncomplicatedly triumphant as we have seen Apollinaris (and Gellius) do, since he merely supplants one form of pedantry with another—and is defeated by Gellius himself, who appends juristic accounts of penus that conflict with the one Favorinus cites from Q. Scaevola. This assessment is contradicted by Gellius’ own express statement in section 19 that Favorinus would draw sermones id genus communes away from trifles to things more worth learning, after which Gellius’ additions continue the conversation; law occupied a far higher place in Roman esteem than grammar.3 Furthermore, Favorinus, though well informed for a man of Greek culture on things Roman, is explicitly presented as less than omniscient; it is more creditable to him that he knows what he knows than discreditable that he does not know what he does not. Neither irony nor subversion is needed to indicate that Gellius knows more; indeed, the sillier Favorinus (or Fronto) looked, the less glory Gellius would have in surpassing him.

Favorinus remains the chief subject throughout Part Two, ‘Playing with Reputations: “Rehabilitation” as Political Satire’, which is divided into four chapters, ‘Favorinus as a Comic “Authority Figure”‘, ‘Exposing his [= Favorinus’] Own Infamy: Avarice and Unmanliness’; ‘Demonstration and Refutation: “Investigational Rhetoric”‘, and ‘Favorinus’ Controversial Authority’. The persistent theme is that Gellius at once defends Favorinus against his detractors and warns against making him a role-model; but who, if not Gellius himself, was presenting him as such?4 Even on Keulen’s own showing, Gellius builds him up openly and pulls him down stealthily; could he really count on readers’ taking his subtle hints?5

These hints, moreover, are highly convoluted. Plutarch’s slave in 1. 26 was identified by Barigazzi with the Onesimus whom Favorinus, as Galen tells us, pitted in a dialogue against Epictetus, as if he had been Plutarch’s only intellectual slave. Phaedo of Elis was plausibly taken by Rosetti for the ultimate source of Socrates’ encounter with the physiognomist Zopyrus, and Polemo less pausibly credited with having retold the story (which would have undercut the premiss of his highly boastful work), even though it is never found associated with him outside the Arabic recasting that substitutes him for Zopyrus and Hippocrates for Socrates. In 2. 18, on philosophers who were slaves, Gellius mentions Phaedo as a male prostitute bought and freed at Socrates’ behest for his beauty and his brains; Menippus, imitated by Varro in satires that Gellius relishes and is alleged to emulate (though he does not break into verse); three philosophical slaves who do not come into Keulen’s argument; Diogenes the Cynic; and the unforgotten Epictetus. In 17. 19 Favorinus quotes a Cynic-like condemnation by Epictetus of wicked philosophers. Out of the cauldron Keulen pulls a wicked and lustful Favorinus conformable to Polemo’s picture of him, who unlike his paragon Socrates has not overcome his natural inclinations, and who moreover, when he quotes Euripides on unbridled tongues, is really being represented as the idle chatterbox that Galen called him. The head spins.

Nor, I fear, do I find more convincing other attempts at turning Favorinus’ words against himself, of which the most remarkable is Keulen’s assertion that Gellius accuses the philosopher of having a small penis (pp. 125-6); unless he is confident that this was a matter of common knowledge, or at least repute, he is putting his author in no little danger of being presumed to know less innocently than by observation at the baths. At 3. 19. 5 Favorinus derives the word parcus‘ab eo quod est parum et paruum’; according to Keulen (p. 125), eo is a euphemism like Catullus’ illud, as if id quod est were not Gellius’ constant phrase for citing a word, where Greek would use τό and the Schoolmen ly.6 Parum, of course, is made to recall parum uir (1. 5. 2), which is polite for pathicus but says nothing about dimensions. Furthermore, in 4. 1. 19 Favorinus is said to draw the conversation away a rebus paruis et frigidis; that too (p. 133) is an allusion to mentular deficiency and erotic insensibility. The latter is indeed a vice in the eyes of the man who used insubidus as a metaphor for want of sophistication, but predicated of the man who was reputedly θερμὸς πρὸς τὰ ἐρωτικά (and whose implement, whatever its size, was said to have satisfied a good many people) it would have to mean that the common belief about him was entirely wrong, which might therefore be taken as an enhancement of his authority; whatever Martial might suggest about Roman attitudes, in the classical Greek culture that Favorinus had made his own, a small penis was the attribute of gods and decent men (see Aristophanes, Clouds 1014 with Dover’s note). If Keulen must find Favorinus’ penis in these passages, he ought to make it barbarously big, so that 4. 1. 19 was a hint at grander and hotter delights. In that way his Gellius could undermine whatever authority the Gaulish Hellene may possibly have possessed, and mine—if only I could accept the hidden meaning, and (as I have no means of telling) if the suspicions he must have aroused were justified7—to be fondly remembering another pleasure of his master’s company.

The fact is that Keulen sees irony and subversion almost everywhere except where I do, in the Antonine moralism that he takes so seriously. For all the admiring tributes to Old Cato, Musonius,8 and Epictetus, I detect hints that at least in the male sphere (he is thoroughly Catonian in his view of women) Gellius finds the air of Antonine Rome less congenial than the reign of Hadrian,9 finds the cult of masculinity (despite certain lip-service) somewhat irksome, and places limits even on that of antiquity: in 15. 11. 3 the virtuous ancestors are revealed as boorish philistines; nor is he on the side of those amongst whom ‘poeticae artis honos non erat’ (Cato, Carmen de moribus fr. 2 Cugusi and Sblendorio Cugusi, at 11. 2. 5).

But leave the ancient Romans out of the picture: even timeless Roman values are not consistently upheld. Demosthenes is allowed to laugh off his flight from Chaironeia (17. 21. 31) and Cicero his lie about a property-deal (12. 12). Keulen says nothing of the former passage and cites the latter only as a parallel to jokes by the less than fully masculine about their own unmanliness (p. 116 n. 11), in particular Hortensius’ reply, when accused by the younger Torquatus of being as feminine as the dancing-girl Dionysia, that that was better than being a charmless boor who speaks beside the point, ἄμουσος ἀναφρόδιτος ἀπροσδιόνυσος (1. 5. 3), where the last word means both that Torquatus’ insult has no bearing on the case in hand and that, if Hortensius is like Dionysia, he is also like the effeminate-seeming conqueror Dionysos. Game, set, and match to Hortensius, and implicitly to Favorinus, whose rivalry with the ultra-masculine Polemo Keulen and I are agreed in reading into this chapter. But whereas I see the broader question as being for Gellius whether we ought really to think the less of a man for allowing, or grooming himself like one who allowed, another man to penetrate his mouth and anus, Keulen takes it to be whether Favorinus, ‘an effeminate philosopher with a controversial (sexual) reputation’ was ‘to be admired and followed as a model of behaviour in the contemporary arena of Roman masculine performance’ (p. 117); in other words, Keulen sees Gellius deploying the social norms against Favorinus, I see him as deploying Favorinus against the social norms. No-one comes off any worse in the Attic Nights for being called a pathic; and of the two assertions ‘Favorinus was effeminate’ and ‘Effeminacy is not such a bad thing’, which in Antonine Rome needed to be said obliquely?

Of course, once one is on the prowl for irony and subversion, it becomes all too easy to find them. In 2. 5 (a chapter Keulen does not consider), Favorinus says that changing a word in Plato affects the style, in Lysias the sense; is Gellius subverting the philosopher who bestows the higher praise on an orator, or that other philosopher whose language is less precise than an orator’s, or both, or neither? Rhetoric, after all, played a more important part in traditional Roman culture than philosophy; when in 17. 20 Gellius, having been addressed by Taurus as ῥητορίσκε and bidden to look past Plato’s words to his thought, is stimulated instead ad elegantiam Graecae orationis uerbis Latinis adfectandam, is that ‘self-irony’ (p. 64) or a proper Roman response? At pr. 13 uirum ciuiliter eruditum, does the adverb recall Cicero’s advice to his son that he should learn the teachings of the philosophers, but live like a decent citizen, ciuiliter ? Cicero, after all, had become a philosophical author only when he had no scope for deliberative oratory. But against such an interpretation stands the fact that Gellius did not plead causes and relishes Cicero’s use of language rather than his courtroom tactics ( AG2 206-8); his are the criteria of a reader, not a practitioner.

After a dizzying interpretation of the encounter between Favorinus and Domitius Insanus in 18. 7, Keulen seeks to demonstrate that Gellius found Favorinus inadequate as a model for the active life of a Roman citizen. In doing so he runs up against 14. 2, in which the young Gellius, as the judge of an upright citizen’s unsupported claim for repayment from a low-living scoundrel, dissatisfied with the advice of more experienced persons to dismiss it, asks Favorinus what to do and is told, on Cato’s authority, to decide for the better man, but lacking the courage to do so declares non liquet; for Keulen the advisers are the unintellectual persons of pr. 10 and Cato is clearly right, but Favorinus is still at fault for inculcating in Gellius a sceptical indecision.10 Since Favorinus did not deny the sceptic’s ability to serve as a judge (Philostratus, VS 491), this seems grossly unfair; if Gellius failed to do the right thing, it is entirely his own fault, and he has no business turning his teacher’s general disposition against his specific instruction.

Thus interpreted, rather than as a still-undecided ἀπορία, the story detracts from his authority as a would-be imperial adviser; yet that is the role for which Keulen casts him in Part III, ‘Gellius’ Ideological Authority: The Charisma of Antiquitas in a Sophistic Context’, whose opening chapter is entitled ‘The Imperial Context of Gellius’ Authority’. We have already had a glimpse of this context in ch. 2: when in 10. 25 Gellius lists the names of weapons and of ships that he has found in ancient authors, Keulen, denying that this is knowledge for its own sake, supposes that ‘every single word is defined by a relationship to imperial conquest’ (p. 50), as if the Emperor were reviewing his troops and his fleet. Yet the obscure words listed must have puzzled even Roman readers and do not all belong to the sphere of war; nor has imperial conquest reached the learned digression in section 3, where Naevius is cited for the sake of a pun.11

To be sure, Gellius writes competitively against other miscellanists, but Keulen’s hypothesis suffers from the lack of a dedication to the emperor; he therefore suggests that there may have been one in the lost beginning of the preface (pp. 197-8). Comparison with Pliny’s Natural History suggests otherwise: a dedication to the emperor is not a formality to be got out of the way in a perfunctory sentence or two, but informs one’s preface as a whole. Yet without such a dedication, how should the otherwise preoccupied ruler of the orbis terrarum even be aware of the work’s existence, let alone read it? This implies an author so conceited as to believe that Fame herself, with no assistance on his part, would bring notice of his work within the palace walls—in the company of an expert decoder to unravel his hidden meaning, for conscientious emperors are busy men, who have no time to puzzle out hinted messages by combining distant texts.

In the next chapter, ‘Gellius’ Symbouleutic Authority’, Keulen considers the Ennian model of 12. 4 for humble friends of the great; we need not disagree that Gellius at some level applied it to himself, whether as he was or as he wished he were, but that does not of itself mean he expected Marcus to read it, let alone take the hint. He is also right about Gellius’ taste for harsh punishments (cf. AG2 314-15), though rather than speculate on knowledge of Xenophon’s story about Cyrus as a judge he might have cited the no less pertinent story of P. Crassus Mucianus at 1. 13. 9-13; but only an impractical sentimentalist could have expected Marcus to restore the old ways.

The last two chapters are ‘Comparative Judgments in Roman Sites of Memory’ and ditto for Greek; it is argued that Gellius seeks to put his work on a par with the monuments, but also the monumental writers, he discusses. We are thus enabled to pass from the inscription in Trajan’s forum to Old Cato, whom Keulen sees as the guiding spirit of the age, and not merely for Gellius. When Hadrian withdrew from what was left of Trajan’s Eastern conquests, he did so, we are told ( HA Hadr. 5. 3), exemplo ut dicebat Catonis, who had spoken for leaving Macedonia free, since it could not be held. The comparison was of course completely spurious: after Pydna Rome had not abandoned Macedonia, but split it into four pseudo-states that were eventually annexed outright; Hadrian was cutting his predecessor’s losses before hastening back to consolidate his questionable position in Rome. However, Cato gave him as much cover as he could hope for, though his reputation still suffered; even so in 376 did Valens, compelled to let the Goths across the Danube, set Themistius to justifying his action on high-minded grounds (the speech was suppressed after Adrianople).12 Keulen, however, thinks that Hadrian’s decision was actually inspired by Cato’s speech (p. 248), and that Fronto championed that orator as a model not merely in style but in politics. Since Fronto never offers any advice on a current public question, and in the private matter of Matidia’s estate urges Marcus not to be overscrupulous, some doubt will arise; and when in the same letter Fronto commends the judgement Pius extracted from the senate and Cato’s indignation at Galba’s acquittal through pity for his nephews, the parallel seen by Keulen (p. 250) is undercut by the adverb clementer, which was never Cato’s way.13 The speech for the Rhodians is interpreted as a warning to Marcus against indulging senatorial self-interest, and his criticism of Tiro as an invitation to put freedmen in their place. By now one is wondering what could not be represented as advice to the emperor.

The Greek sites of memory are those connected with Herodes Atticus, whose faults were far graver than the peccadilloes that Keulen finds mocked in Favorinus; how far Gellius was aware of them remains unclear, but Marcus certainly was, and stood by him none the less. Naturally when Gellius allows us to hear his defence against the charge of excessive mourning, Keulen finds evidence ‘that he viewed his identity in accordance with the satirical image’ (p. 271) in the use of dolor once in the chapter, once in the heading, and once elsewhere in Herodes’ mouth, at 9. 2. 9, where dolori mihi et aegritudini est (‘I am distressed and pained’) has no more to do with unmanly lamentation than Cicero’s Dolebam . . . et acerbe ferebam cited at 9. 12. 5—unless indeed we are to suppose a sly hint at Cicero’s own propensity to immoderate grief, a trick that Keulen misses. He also misses the trick—despite his notion that Gellius sets one intellectual against another—of pointing out his praise of Herodes’ enemy Peregrinus, whom Lucian would have classed with the pseudo-philosopher of 9. 2.14 In that chapter, having refused to accept beard and cloak as signs of a philosopher15—inviting the reader to ask, if a beard is not a sufficient condition for philosophy, why it should be a necessary one either, whatever Favorinus’ enemies might say—Herodes contemptuously gives him money; Keulen suspects that such indiscriminate generosity made his bad reputation worse, without explaining why.16 Of course he is contrasted with Musonius, whom he quotes and who would certainly not have approved of him; but what a poor figure Musonius cuts, if he can be so effortlessly appropriated by such a man! But Keulen also sees in Herodes a Hellenic threat to Gellius’ Roman cultural programme, marked off as non-Roman by his calling the ancient Athenians maiores mei and merely knowing by hearsay ( audio) a parallel Roman tradition (section 11); what else ought an Athenian to say in Athens? More interesting is his use of Harmodios and Areistogeiton, who set out to kill the tyrant Hippias but (as Herodes does not say but Gellius knows) killed Hipparchos; Keulen notes that Herodes himself had inherited the name Hipparchos from his grandfather,17 and like him was accused of acting tyrannically. Is Gellius then undermining him? Marcus, for whom Keulen supposes him to write, was fully aware of Herodes’ local reputation and had saved him from his enemies at Sirmium despite seeing a far worse side of him than any that Gellius presents; other readers may not have known, or at any rate taken it seriously (‘any great man has enemies, and Greeks are always squabbling’). Moreover, if, as Keulen will have it (p. 305), the reader was meant to recall both that the tyrannicides acted in response to unwelcome sexual attentions, and that Herodes had had an erotic relationship (even if ‘Socratic’) with Marcus, how was the latter likely to react?

Keulen’s conclusion, ‘Constructing Cultural and Political Continuity’, summarizes the foregoing arguments, but also argues that Gellius, above all in 9. 3, is bidding Marcus look to Commodus’ education. Marcus did indeed do so, but to no avail; if Gellius’ real aim had been to ‘creat[e] conditions for the political continuity between Marcus’ and Commodus’ rule’, then the Attic Nights are the work of a wasted life. However, I cannot believe that Gellius wrote for the Emperor’s eyes; and though I find Keulen’s reading of his text extremely stimulating as a personal reaction, as an interpretation of what Gellius put there I find its creative ingenuity not matched by plausibility. I can do no other than turn aside out of the way like Balaam’s ass, be it because I am an ass, or have seen the angel of the Lord. Nemo iudex in causa sua.


1.They are nugae, not because they are light, but because they are meae; if Nepos had written poems of his own, Catullus would not have called them tuas . . . nugas however light they were.

2.Attic drama, as opposed to its Latin imitations, was far from occupying the place in the Roman culture of his day that it did in Greek, or has done among classical scholars since the late eighteenth century; at Holford-Strevens, Aulus Gellius: An Antonine Scholar and his Achievement (Oxford, 2003, corrected pb. 2005), hereafter AG2, 203, knowing of no ancient commentary on Ennius’ plays, I surmise that Gellius may have had the lines of Euripides’ Hecuba translated in Trag. 172-4 Jocelyn from an anthology. Keulen’s argument itself implies that Gellius did not know the original Φοῖνιχ.

3.Not indeed that Gellius is the man to disparage the latter: Favorinus may not care about the gender or declension of penus, but his pupil has already told us anyway, as if by a kind of retrospective praeteritio.

4.The disloyal pupils listed at p. 131 n. 46 operated openly. Of course the pupil may overtly honour and covertly subvert his teacher: that in the sixteenth century was the way in which the music theorist Gioseffo Zarlino dealt with Adriaen Willaert. But Willaert was a great name, and had been a formidable personality; Gellius had no need for subterfuge in undermining Favorinus, had that been his plan, but why undermine when he need not mention?

5.Keulen is by no means the first scholar to take the miscellany offered Gellius by a friend in 14. 6 for Favorinus’ Παντοδαπὴ Ἱστορία; since he rightly ignores the source-critics’ attempts to link the contents of the friend’s miscellany with those of Gellius’ own work, his only evidence, the description doctrinae omnigenus (not historiae), is no stronger than that for identifying it with Sotion’s Κέρας Ἀμαλθείας, namely Copiae cornum at section 2; nor could a work in twenty-four book-rolls be described as librum grandi uolumine, which denotes a single fat one. To be sure, Favorinus’ title is included in the long list of Latin and Greek miscellanies rehearsed in Gellius’ preface; but it would have been a discourtesy to leave it out when so many were mentioned, not all worthy of the censure that Gellius bestows on ‘most’ at section 11.

6.Also written li; it is the nominative singular masculine of the Old French definite article.

7.Certain academics have had reputations, justly or not, for engaging in sexual relations with students; if, while memories survived, such an academic were cited by a former pupil of the appropriate gender as a formative influence and friend, a suspicion would be aroused that not to dispel would be taken as confirming, and to dispel might still seem to confirm by overprotesting. This being all the truer of Gellius writing in Rome about a public figure, I concluded at AG2, 105-7 that since the Ciceronian dictum on amor amicitiae cited in 8. 6 must have been Tusc. 4. 70, Gellius was confronting the suspicions (such as not even Aristotle could escape; see Theocritus of Chios, SH fr. 738 Lloyd-Jones and Parsons) that his association with the notorious philosopher invited—and in whose light the still-remembered 8. 2 would symbolically suggest that the roles of penetrator and penetrated had been shared between them—in order, I suggest, to deny their truth; whether he was, or ought to have been, believed is beyond conjecture, but if we were to adopt Keulen’s method, we might read rather more into the interest in words both active and passive displayed in 9. 12 and 12. 9.

8.In 5. 1 Musonius Rufus condemns the applause that follows philosophical lectures, but at 9. 8. 3 Favorinus delivers a well-turned γνώμη inter ingentes clamores; does that as Keulen supposes (p. 149) detract from Favorinus’ authority, or show up Musonius as the unworldly doctrinaire that Tacitus thought he was ( Hist. 3. 81. 1)? After all, his dictum remittere animum quasi amittere est (18. 2. 1) was hardly mainstream, even if Gellius assures his readers, with tongue in cheek one suspects, that he abided by it; Musonius, like other teachers of morality throughout the ages, is a statue on a pedestal, to be saluted and passed by.

9. AG2 313-14; Erik Gunderson, Nox Philologiae: Aulus Gellius and the Fantasy of the Roman Library (Madison, WI, 2009), 84-8.

10.Keulen here differs from other modern readers, and not only those from a common-law background, who fault Gellius for not dismissing the case out of hand; see e.g. Ludovic Legre, Un philosophe provençal au temps des Antonins : Favorin d’Arles, sa vie — ses oeuvres — ses contemporains (Marseille, 1900), 245-6; Constantin St. Tomulescu, ‘An Aristocratic [ sic ] Roman Interpretation at [ sic ] Aulus Gellius’, Revue internationale des droits de l’Antiquité, 17 (1970), 313-17.

11.At most the framea, first mentioned to our knowledge by Tacitus ( Germania 6. 1) as a German weapon with a German name, and very unlikely to come from an ancient author, may have been slipped in as a topical allusion to Marcus’ German wars like the Hermunduli, or rather Hermunduri, of 16. 4. 1; to this extent, the statement on 10. 25 at AG2 19 needs modifying. For the Hermunduri see ibid., n. 18. On framea see Gustav Must, ‘The Origin of framea‘, Language, 34 (1958), 364-6; but its first use in the sense of ‘sword’ is in the translation of Ps. 149: 11 (rendering ῥομφαία) used by Augustine at Enarr. 149. 6.

12.Peter Heather, Goths and Romans 332-489 (Oxford, 1991), 130-4.

13.Nor does Fronto, an admirer of Cicero’s letters, observe Pliny’s law against changing the topic.

14.Peregrinus is mentioned at p. 270 n. 6, where Lucian suppresses his criticism of Herodes as too creditable; did Gellius do so for the opposite reason?

15. See AG2 141 n. 59. Keulen (p. 289) quotes as a parallel a passage from Marcus’ Meditations that does not exist, citing as source a work not listed in his bibliography.

16.Gellius does not say at 13. 17. 1 that it is vulgar, but that most people misuse humanitas to mean φιλανθρωπία; promiscam need not be pejorative (see pr. 2, 2. 24. 7, 7. 14. 8), but even if it were (cf. 11. 16. 8) Herodes clearly shows due discrimination in the manner of his giving.

17.But it had remained an acceptable name at Athens (it was borne by a comic poet), perhaps because not till after his murder had Hippias turned truly oppressive. Keulen also attempts to see in Herodes’ Athenian demotic Μαραθώνιος an attempt to associate himself with Militiades and Kimon; but demotics were hereditary, and his main estate lay in Marathon.