BMCR 2009.06.29

La villa et l’univers familial dans l’Antiquité et à la Renaissance. Rome et ses renaissances

Perrine Galand-Hallyn, La villa et l'univers familial dans l'Antiquité et à la Renaissance. Rome et ses renaissances. Paris: Presses de l'Université Paris-Sorbonne, 2008. 292. ISBN 9782840505389 €25.00 (pb).

[Table of Contents at the end of the review.]

Reviewing this book poses some challenges: it covers a wide range of topics, issues, sources of evidence, and time periods. The title might suggest that the villa is a primary feature of the text (or perhaps that was just my personal interpretation), but in reality this text deals with both the ‘villa’ and the ‘family’ in unison and in separation. This book is ambitious—it seeks to combine a wide range of literary material from a broad time period, which can seem a little puzzling at times when viewing the book as a whole (i.e., what is the overall theme of this collection of essays?), but this should not be taken as an indication of confused scholarship when looking at the chapters in their own right.

The book is divided into two sections, with the first part analysing the role and symbolism of villas (‘La villa antique et humaniste: représentations et symbolisme’), and the second examining familial relations (‘L’univers familial et ses représentations antiques et humanistes’). And when one looks at the interests of the editor (Perrine Galand-Hallyn) it becomes clear what inspired this collection of works, which illustrate the diversity of her interests. While the legitimacy of this collection as being inspired by humanistic literature does seem to be a bit of an intellectual stretch, its quality has not suffered. So it must be noted that while the majority of this work has stimulated the interest of the present reviewer, some areas have received greater comment than others, owing to personal familiarity with the current scholarship on individual topics. Nevertheless, those areas that are ‘less familiar’ have been considered simply on their engagement with the presented evidence in order to determine the ‘quality’ of their scholarship. In general terms the individual chapters present a high level of scholarship, which makes this book a valuable source of intellectual discussion, particularly if one is interested in fields beyond the traditional confines of a ‘selective’ discipline.

Silvie Agache’s study (‘La villa comme image de soi’, pp. 15-44) incorporates a thorough analysis of the relationship between the dominus and the various residences that could be owned and their symbolism during the late Republican era. Embodied within this chapter is a study of the contrast (and legitimate combination) of the concepts of otium/luxuria and agricultural productivity and the paradoxical nature of the literary descriptions of the villa complexes, such as those by Horace and Cicero. She correctly highlights the importance of allowing for the variation in villa site as an important consideration in this regard,1 especially in the consideration of the villa structures located beyond the confines of the city, as at the villas on the Via Gabina,2 and the Villa of Voconius Pollio, for example.3

‘Descriptions de villas: Horace et Martial,’ by Alain Deremetz provides another careful study of the textual evidence for classical villas (pp. 45-60); but in this instance the focus is upon these two authors from the imperial period, analysing the literary topoi for their descriptions of this type of residence. Deremetz highlights the progression in the literary images of villas from Horace to Martial in a convincing fashion, although in the mind of the reviewer, it does seem that more could be made of the different socio-political environments of their time periods. Some attention could have also been given to the physical remains of the site of Horace’s villa at Licenza in order to accentuate the diminutive nature of his poetic imagery,4 and how the description of the ‘farm’ was intended to evoke notions of beauty and simplicity rather than reality.

The chapter by Wyler (‘Le dionysisme dans les villes romaines’, pp. 61-78) focuses on the presence of the Dionysiac cult within domestic contexts and its symbolism for the various owners. This study presents some methodological issues that needed to be addressed in greater detail, particularly in relation to the difficulties in associating art and intended room function.5 The prevalence of this type of imagery across the various time periods under discussion also needed to be examined further because it presents an intrinsic concern with the significance of this discussion. The selectivity in the use of evidence is also another issue that needed to be dealt with, which is clearly epitomised in some of the previous analyses surrounding the motifs exhibited within the Villa of the Mysteries at Pompeii.6 However, the breadth of this topic does provide a good transition from the Classical to Renaissance periods, which is the topic of the remaining studies of the first section (‘La villa antique et humaniste: représentations et symbolisme’), which is highlighted by Galand-Hallyn and Lévy in the introduction (pp. 8-9).

Vagenheim (‘Retour sur Pirro Ligorio et Francesco Contini à Tivoli’, pp. 79-92) has produced another interesting examination of the interpretations of classical villas, but with the primary focus being upon their later influence. The author’s argument is that the discovery of Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli (and its subsequent interpretation) was pivotal in the design of the later Villa d’Este, which is exhibited in the original design of the structure (the ‘Dechiaratione’). The basic premise of this analysis seems sound, which is also to be largely expected in view of the timing of the discovery of the site and also the geographical connections between the sites. However, a more comprehensive use of images and their ensuing discussion could have added to the consequences of the argument even further.

The study of Bouscharain (‘L’éloge de la villa humaniste dans une silve de Battista Spagnoli, le Mantouan’, pp. 93-116) also focuses on the influence of classical sources upon a later time period, but instead considers the literature of Battista Spagnoli, who wrote during the 15th century. Judging from the theme of this chapter, it does appear evident that the literary representations of villas by Statius correlate nicely with the later texts about the pastoral lifestyles that were available on these extra-urban estates. However, in relation to the discussion of the treatment of disease, the analysis could have also included mention of Catullus ( Carmen 44), Fronto ( Ad Amicos 1.6) and Pliny the Younger ( Epistulae 1.12.6) for example, which also extols the health benefits from residing in the countryside.

This romanticism and humanitas is also the primary focus for the chapter by Galand-Hallyn (‘Aspects du discourse humaniste sur la villa au XVI siècle’, pp. 117-43), on the idealistic literary representations of villas during the 16th century. This study examines the various functions that were inherent within the ownership of such establishments, which clearly outline the multiplicity of their roles within this time period. The duality of otium and negotium during this later period has clear analogies with the classical period, and it is evident from this piece that this seems to have been one of the primary motivations for the production of this book over all.

It is at this point that the second section of the book is introduced (‘L’univers familial et ses représentations antiques et humanistes’). The study of Laurand (Philosophie et politique: la ‘référence’ ambiguë de Musonius Rufus aux lois d’Auguste sur le marriage’, pp. 147-68) focuses on the interpretation of marriage during the reign of Augustus, with particular reference to the works of Cassius Dio (61.1-10) and Musonius Rufus (13-15). The primary emphasis is on the influence of Augustan marriage legislation on the later philosophies of Musonius. This argument provides a significant break from the majority of scholarship on Augustus’ marriage legislation, which focuses more directly upon the socio-political role that it was intended to serve (i.e., as a political platform). The later influence of these policies upon subsequent philosophical thought is an intriguing idea, but it must also be noted that to establish such a connection clearly requires more detailed analysis than is possible in a study of this length (particularly with the prevalence of Stoic influence in the writings of Musonius rather than ‘Roman’ doctrine).

The study of Leroux (‘Le lien conjugal dans les tragédies de Sénèque’, pp. 169-90) on the tragedies of Seneca and the representation of the female role within a marriage seems plausible, though—to the mind of this reviewer—the primary role of the ‘yoke’ motif is more suggestive of the marital connection rather than that of oppression. Certainly the tyranny of the yoke would suggest that the oppression by the marital ‘yoke’ was equally shared between both parties. All the same, this could simply be down to a difference in interpretation between the author and reviewer. But with this difference in mind, it is still important to note the thoroughness of the scholarship that is present throughout the study itself.

The chapter by Franchet D’Espèrey (‘Principe féminin et principe conjugal dans la Thébaïde de Stace,’ pp. 191-204) presents some promising moments, particularly in relation to celebrating the role of domestic environments during the period under question, but in the mind of the reviewer the general discussion needs to be expanded much further to engage with more aspects that are a key feature of Statius’ literature. The premise of incorporating all of the elements under discussion (opposition to violence; feminine passivism; anti-barbarism; conjugality) in this chapter needs to be dealt with in much greater depth in order to convincingly establish the premise of the evolution of Statius’ epic.

Nassichuk (‘Le retour à la Villa familiale Dans une élégie de Giovanni Pontano,’ pp. 205-14) has presented a study of the later representations of love and marriage that do appear to have epitomised the importance of such connections, reminiscent of the ideals espoused by Horace during the Classical period. The primary focus of this chapter is upon Giovanni Pontano and his writings, which provide some correlation with prior elegiac composition, and seem reminiscent of themes prevalent in the earlier period.

Smeesters (‘Les ‘Naeniae’ de Pontano et la réflexion pédagogique du Quattrocento’, pp. 215-32) also treats Giovanni Pontano, but focuses in addition on the reflections that the ‘Naeniae’ provide for our understanding of children and domestic life at the time. This is also considered in connection with the influence of earlier classical writers such as Plutarch and Quintilian, with the overall argument of Smeesters seeming quite convincing, particularly in light of the nurturing aspect within the texts.

The study of Séris (‘Maternité et allatement dans la Paedotrophia de Scévole de Sainte-Marthe’, pp. 233-53) also treats the influence of classical traditions on later thought, but instead analyses the progression of medical doctrine into the 16th century. The discussion of the symbolism of the milk/language connection within these theories also appears quite convincing, which is particularly interesting in light of modern theories of mother-infant bonding.

Table of Contents:

Galand-Hallyn, P. and Lévy, C., “Introduction”.

Agache, S., “La villa comme image de soi (Rome antique, des origins à la fin de la République)”.

Deremetz, A., “Descriptions de villas: Horace et Martial”.

Wyler, S., “Le dionysisme dans les villes romaines: initiation familiale ou contre-modèle social?”.

Vagenheim, G., “Retour sur Pirro Ligorio et Francesco Contini à Tivoli. Le plan de la villa d’Hadrien et son explication ( Dechiaratione)”.

Bouscharain, A., “L’éloge de la villa humaniste dans une silve de Battista Spagnoli, le Mantouan: la Villa Refrigerii (c. 1478)”.

Galand-Hallyn, P., “Aspects du discourse humaniste sur la villa au XVI siècle (Crinito, Brie, Macrin, L’Hospital)”.

Laurand, V., “Philosophie et politique: la ‘référence’ ambiguë de Musonius Rufus aux lois d’Auguste sur le marriage. Une lecture de Dion Cassius, Histoire romaine, LVI,1-10 et de Musonius, XIII-XV”.

Leroux, V., “Le lien conjugal dans les tragédies de Sénèque”.

Franchet D’Espèrey, S., “Principe féminin et principe conjugal dans la Thébaïde de Stace”.

Nassichuk, J., “Le retour à la Villa familiale Dans une élégie de Giovanni Pontano”.

Smeesters, A., “Les ‘Naeniae’ de Pontano et la réflexion pédagogique du Quattrocento”.

Séris, É., “Maternité et allatement dans la Paedotrophia de Scévole de Sainte-Marthe”.


1. Smith, J.T., 1997, Roman Villas: a Study in Social Structure, Routledge: London.

2. Widrig, W.M., 1980, “Two sites on the Ancient Via Gabina”, in K. Palmer (ed.), Roman Villas in Italy, British Museum Press: London, pp. 119-40.

3. Mielsch, H., 1987, Die Römische Villa, Beck: Munich.

4. Frischer, B., Crawford, J. and De Simone, M. (eds.), 2006, The Horace’s Villa Project 1997-2003, Volume 1 and 2, Archaeopress: Oxford.

5. Allison, P.M., 2004, Pompeian Households: an analysis of the material culture, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, Monograph 42: Los Angeles.

6. For examples of this discussion, see Mudie Cooke, P.B., 1913, “The Paintings of the Villa Item at Pompeii”, JRS 3, pp. 157-174; Bieber, M., 1928, “Der Mysteriensaal der Villa Item”, Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 43, pp. 298-330; Toynbee, J., 1929, “The Villa Item and a Bride’s Ordeal”, JRS 19, pp. 67-113; Hearnshaw, V., 1999, “The Dionysiac Cycle in the Villa of the Mysteries: a Re-reading”, Meditarch 12, pp. 43-50; Longfellow, B., 2000, “A Gendered Space? Location and Function of Rooms in the Villa of the Mysteries”, in Gazda, E.K. (ed.), The Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii—ancient ritual, modern muse, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology: Ann Arbor, pp. 25-37.