BMCR 2011.08.20

Sub imagine somni: Nighttime Phenomena in Greco-Roman Culture. Testi e studi di cultura classica, 46

, , Sub imagine somni: Nighttime Phenomena in Greco-Roman Culture. Testi e studi di cultura classica, 46. Pisa: Edizioni ETS, 2010. xvii, 313. ISBN 9788846726377 €14.00 (pb).

This is a marvelous book. Scioli and Walde’s contribution to the Testi e studi di cultura classica series (presently under the direction of Guido Paduano and Fabio Stok) is a collection of fourteen essays that is prefaced by an introduction and rounded out with a helpful bibliography. The volume is the fruit of a conference organized by the editors. This is one of many classically themed essay collections on the market, and it is one that classicists from a wide range of subfields will want to consult.

The Testi e studi series now contains close to fifty volumes that have appeared over the past quarter century. Some volumes provide texts, translations, and commentaries of works both better known and more obscure.1 Other titles are monographs on a wide range of topics that range from the ablative absolute in Lucan to Dante studies.2 Important work has appeared in the series on Virgil, especially the Virgilian vitae and Servius.3

The range of papers in this volume is one of its many virtues. The authors considered in individual articles include Cicero, Virgil (and his successors, especially Lucan) on the Latin side and Artemidorus (not surprisingly) on the Greek. Here, Sergio Casali’s Italian language piece on Virgil and Silver Latin is especially fine. Casali offers good commentary on the phantom Aeneas of Aeneid 10, the influence of Ennius’ narrative of Ilia’s dream, and, notably, Franco Rossi’s 1971 Italian television version of Virgil’s epic. Rossi’s production is a rare instance of Virgil in television or film, and it has attracted little attention from Virgilians. Casali also studies the Gates of Sleep enigma from Aeneid 6 and, more broadly, the problem of possibly mendacious dreams in Virgil. Valerius Flaccus and Statius are considered among treatment of later epic poets. Beat Näf’s German article addresses the single most important extant source for ancient dream interpretation, the second century A.D. Oneirocriticon of Artemidorus, a work that still remains surprisingly understudied. Paolo Esposito’s Italian paper on surreal moments in Lucan considers a number of key scenes in the Pharsalia, notably the appearance of Caesar as he launches his invasion of Italy (1.479-88), the terrible prodigies that announce the commencement of civil strife (1.568-72), and the far worse portents before Pharsalus (7.172-84). This article has an especially good study of Lucan’s language and internal verbal echoes, and is one of the more noteworthy scholarly contributions to Lucan studies to have appeared in recent years.

Jean Sorabella’s illustrated paper considers depictions in the visual arts (both ancient and modern) of sleep in classical contexts (e.g., Picasso’s Faun Unveiling a Female Sleeper and the similar portrait of Pan from Pompeii). The article’s examination of the famous ecphrasis of Philostratus on paintings ( Imagines 2.8) is a good example of Sorabella’s concise and careful appraisal of difficult problems.

The chronological scope of the pieces in this volume is also impressive. A noteworthy article by Fritz Graf considers the dreams in the work of the Latin Fathers of the early Christian church (especially Augustine and Tertullian). Anthony Corbeill explores the place of dreams among the portents frequently referenced by Roman Republican authors, with special attention to texts from Cicero’s De divinatione. Corbeill’s work is an important corrective to the widely held view that dreams were viewed negatively in the surviving orators of the late Republic. Corbeill’s paper is a good companion to Fabio Stok’s Italian contribution on Cicero, which focuses mostly on dreams in political contexts, with study of both the De re publica and the De divinatione

Among the articles that consider a more general topic in the field of Nachtstudien, Sarah Iles Johnston’s work on oneiropompeia or the sending of a dream is of particular merit. Here, a catalogue of papyrus spells that discuss how to send dreams is a most welcome (and fascinating) resource, as is the consideration of literary depictions of the phenomenon as diverse as Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Pseudo-Callisthenes’ Alexander romance. Johnston’s study of the dream as “an arena in which daytime struggles continued to be waged” (p. 78) includes intriguing information on how not only dream interpretations but dreams themselves could be purchased, not to mention the buying of protection against baleful nocturnal visions. In a paper that should be studied closely with Johnston’s, Gil Renberg considers dream narrative inscriptions on stone and papyrus (e.g., third century B.C. accounts of Asclepius’ healings from Epidauros). Renberg’s article provides a good overview of non-literary oneiric phenomena and the use of literary texts to assist in reconstructing inscriptional dream narratives.

Vered Lev Kenaan’s paper on dreams in ancient fiction opens with the question of why the immortals so rarely dream. The article covers a wide range of texts, from Homer to Herodotus, Plato and Apuleius, though regrettably Freud makes several appearances (perhaps inevitably in a dream book like this), at the expense of the detailed philological examination of passages that so impressively marks the other literary papers in the collection. Apuleius is cited from the Loeb translation (with no Latin text), and Greek is transliterated. Far better on the ancient novel is Barbette Stanley Spaeth’s contribution on “The Night Hag and Supernatural Assault in Latin Literature,” with consideration of passages from both Petronius and Apuleius.

The final article of the collection is Annmarie Ambühl’s paper on insomnia (especially the poet’s) from antiquity to modernity. This contribution makes for an appropriate close to a book on nighttime phenomena, as it examines the wakeful writer (especially in Hellenistic and Latin literature) in the tradition of troubled watchers from Homer’s Zeus to Virgil’s Dido and beyond. Here the greatest attention is paid to a careful reading of Orpheus in Virgil, Ovid, and Statius, with a serious examination of Ovid’s character as a response to Virgil’s and not a mere parody of his epic predecessor’s creation. The paper’s scope is (understandably) not as vast as the title “from Antiquity to Contemporary Fiction” might imply; this is a solidly classical article, with modern comparanda brought in to enrich the author’s considerations of ancient texts.

The production values of this volume are very high for such a reasonably priced book. The bibliography in particular is attractively designed in useful large type. Unusually for the series, the work is largely Anglophone (three Italian papers, one German, ten English). Some articles translate ancient texts; others do not. The title of the volume and many of the articles use the label “Greco-Roman” as a (technically incorrect) synonym for “classical.” An index would have been a great aid in using the book, but the pervasive clarity of presentation throughout the collection makes its absence less lamentable (though readers looking for a quick reference to a treatment of a particular passage will be disappointed; an index locorum would have been a good help here). Readers of various levels of interest will profit from this work; much of the volume is accessible to graduate or undergraduate students, while the technical considerations of some of the articles will prove useful to more seasoned scholars. While the work has good coverage of many authors and works, scholars of Latin literature are likely to find more of interest here than Hellenists.

Occasionally, the papers in published conference proceedings seem to lack the polish associated with peer-reviewed journal articles. That is not the case with this collection, where the contributions are not only strong in their own right , but also provide a good overview of the state of scholarship in several areas of contemporary classical studies.

There has been tremendous growth in the article-collection industry in classics over the past twenty years. Scioli and Walde have done far more in this volume than preserve the memory of a 2005 international conference in Rome on nocturnal events in classical antiquity. This is an important collection that is affordable enough to be in all classicists’ personal libraries, and which offers good guidance for further work on this interesting and still relatively understudied topic.


1. Note especially Santini, Carlo, I frammenti di L. Cassio Emina: Introduzione, testo, traduzione e commento, 1995; Németi, Annalisa, Lucio Anneo Seneca, Medea: Introduzione, traduzione, e comment, 2003, Russo, Alessandro, Quinto Ennio, Le opera minori: Introduzione, edizione critica dei frammenti e commento, 2007, and Marco Fucecchi’s important commentaries on Valerius Flaccus, Book 6 (1997, 2006).

2. Lucifora, Rosa Maria, L’ablativo assoluto nella Pharsalia: Riflessioni sul testo e sullo stile di Lucano, 1991; Domenicucci, Patrizio, Astra Caesarum: Astronomia, astrologia, e catasterismo da Caesare a Domiziano, 1996; Perutelli, Alessandro, Prolegomeni a Sisenna, 2004; Privitera, Tiziana, Terei puellae: metamorfosi latine, 2007, and, for Dante studies, the three volumes of Giorgio Brugnoli, Studi Danteschi (1998).

3. Brugnoli, Giorgio, Foca, Vita di Virgilio: Introduzione, testo, traduzione e comment, 1983; Stok, Fabio, Percorsi dell’esegesi virgiliana: Due ricerche sull’Eneide, 1988, Stok, Fabio, and Santini, Carlo, Hinc Italae gentes: Geopolitica ed etnografia dell’Italia nel Commento di Servio all’ Eneide, 2004, and Brugnoli, Giorgio, and Stok, Fabio, Studi sulle Vitae Vergilianae, 2006.