BMCR 2012.09.32

The Struggle for Identity: Greeks and their Past in the First Century BCE

, , The Struggle for Identity: Greeks and their Past in the First Century BCE. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2011. 305. ISBN 9783515096713. €54.00 (pb).

[The table of contents is given at the end of the review.]

Thomas Schmitz and Nicolas Wiater have brought together an important collection of papers that push forward current conversations about identity in the Greco-Roman World, primarily through the lens of Greek literature. As they emphasize in their introduction, the papers demonstrate that identity, be it Greek or Roman, was a controversial topic in the last century of the Republic and the Augustan era. Many of the papers draw out themes that are better understood in relationship to the Second Sophistic and the high empire, and they provide an important bridge between current work on that period and studies focused on the Hellenistic era. The editors are to be especially praised for providing ample thematic, as well as topical, cross references between chapters, that help even the casual reader find the close connections between the different contributions.

Albrecht Dihle’s opening chapter to the volume intentionally preserves the oral quality and tone of his conference keynote address. He identifies classicism as the dominant factor in Greco-Roman culture during the Imperial period. Much of the discussion focuses on ancient attitudes towards language, especially the origins of the tension between Atticism and Asiatic styles. He points to the role of Rome in creating this classicism and particularly to the position of Greeks living in Rome itself. His contention that political and social identities ‘rested exclusively upon citizenship’ (p. 57) will not be accepted by all readers, but his closely related observations on ruler/subject relationships being governed by mutual loyalty, not shared identity, have important implications.

For his own contribution to the volume, Nicolas Wiater reads Dionysius’ Antiquitates in light of his Letter to Pompeius and On Thucydides. He borrows Benedict Anderson’s conception of ‘imagined community’ to help contextualize Dionysius’ connection between an audience’s emotional reaction to a historical text and the construction of a shared identity. The Antiquitates thus produce an ‘imagined’ community of Greeks and Romans, one in which ‘there are Hellenized Romans but no Romanized Greeks’ (p. 89).

Matthew Fox revisits the question of Dionysius of Halicarnassus’ historical approach and stylistic objectives. He claims to be shifting emphasis rather than overturning current scholarly views, but this underplays the importance of his contribution. Dionysius’ concern with historical specificity is complemented, not contradicted, by his ‘zeal to create an enduring stylistic model for an Attic revival’ (p. 113). This sets Dionysius’ methods in contrast to other contemporary approaches to historiography, primarily what Fox identifies as Stoic trends seen in Polybius, Cicero, and other texts.

Thomas Hidber’s short chapter on the ‘Impacts of Writing in Rome’ goes over some familiar ground, but those working on Dionysius and/or Cicero will be interested in his analysis of both authors’ thoughts on the appropriate application of mimesis. A list of Greek scholars working in Rome in the second half of first century BC without citation of primary references is appended to the end of the chapter.

Beate Hintzen synthesizes the difficult fragments of the first century BCE grammarians, demonstrating that etymology and analogy were the basis of most grammatical criteria. She demonstrates that these grammarians were not concerned with establishing one primary dialect for Greek, allowing a more open attitude towards Latin. She also foreshadows some of the ideas presented later in the volume by Most, especially in her analysis of Cicero’s presentation of his philosophical compilations.

Dennis Pausch argues that the bios Kaisaros of Nicolaus of Damascus is best understood as a hybrid of two well-established genre forms, the tradition of agogē literature and peripatetic biography. This creative blending of forms allowed Nicolaus to present the positive traits of the new princeps as being the result of his Greek acculturation.

Glenn Most convincingly demonstrates an interconnection between the literary practices of classification, compilation, and claims to philosophic underpinning. Together, these interlinking trends represent a cultural shift towards systemization across genres. The piece is thoroughly grounded in the ancient evidence, but frustratingly slim (as the author acknowledges) in secondary literature; his observations intersect with the work of Katherine Clarke and Iris Sulmani amongst others.1 I remain unconvinced by his claim that the trend towards systemization was specifically or predominantly linked to the Augustan period and the emergence of the principate: his own thoroughness embodies the counter-evidence found in the careers of Polybius, Ephorus, Diodorus, Pliny and others. Nevertheless, his outlining of systemization with its three key elements is surely a correct and critical observation, ready for further exploration by other scholars.

Ewen Bowie investigates the careers of three Mytilenean literary figures, Theophanes, Potamon, and Crinagoras, looking for regional markers of identity – a reasonable supposition given the conscious preservation of the Aeolian dialect for inscriptions set up by the elite of Lesbos. However, his conclusions are strikingly the reverse; all three present themselves as Hellenes, not Mytileneans, especially in their interactions with Rome.

Tim Whitmarsh brings his usual flair to the Garland composed by Philip of Thessalonica, specifically those epigrams which are addressed to Roman patrons or take patronage as their subject. He demonstrates the presence of themes in this corpus that are already familiar from Cicero’s Pro Archia, namely that poetry provides a means of exchange between poet and patron, the distinction between culturally productive Greeks, and militarily and political powerful Romans, and the ability of poetry to bestow fame upon the patron. He also explores how these Greek texts use a strategy of praise well known in Augustan era art and literature, the alignment of cosmic, political and artistic order. His final sections point to ambivalences and difficulties within the verses, how they can disrupt, if not subvert, any straightforward patronal praise.

Barbara Borg provides a thorough and insightful survey of post-Sullan civic building in Athens through the Augustan period. This is essential reading for anyone attempting to make sense of the visible remains in the Agora and Roman Market. She contextualizes the choice of buildings and construction materials with developments in Rome and the rest of the Empire, and raises key questions about how these projects might have been seen from the Athenian Chora. She hints at how these developments might be tied in with other cultural and literary phenomenon explored elsewhere in the volume: ‘The perfect imitation of the Erechtheion’s architectural decoration appears like a quote from Homer in an otherwise Roman piece of literature.’ (p. 226)

Thomas Schmitz’s chapter shows how Diodorus’ Bibliotheke represents a literary midpoint between Hellenistic conventions and those of the Second Sophistic. He finds in Diodorus’ language some foreshadowing of the ‘all-pervading Atticism of the second and third centuries,’ but his consideration of how we see a classical cultural canon in formation in Diodorus’ work is much more convincing. He’s certainly correct to see Diodorus’ universalism and comparisons of minor engagements to the Persian wars as wholly Hellenistic, distancing him from later approaches to history writing. The chapter ends with an insightful comparison between Thrasybulus’s dream the night before the battle of Arginusae and Artemidorus’ comments about literary allusions in dreams.

Manuel Baumbach offers an engaging close reading of the Homeric quotations in Chariton’s Callirhoe with a particular eye to how the use of such quotations mark the paideia of the upper class characters within the text, as well as the paideia of the author himself, and that of his intended readership.2 It also touches on questions regarding the genre position and expectations of the ancient novel. The chapter surveys but does not significantly add to the conversation concerning the possible ancient audiences for this type of literature.

Readers of edited volumes often pick and choose only those chapters which seem most relevant to their interests. If one were only to read the chapters on historiography or those on epigrams, this book would still offer valuable scholarly insights. However, the true value of this volume is in how it binds together different genres and other forms of cultural expression and illuminates the shared struggle of the first century BCE to express Greek identity in a shifting political landscape.

Table of Contents

T. A. Schmitz and N. Wiater, Introduction: Approaching Greek Identity, 15-45
A. Dihle, Greek Classicism, 47-60
N. Wiater, Writing Roman History – Shaping Greek Identity: The Ideology of Historiography in Dionysius of Halicarnassus, 61-91
M. Fox, The Style of the Past: Dionysius of Halicarnassus in Context, 93-114
T. Hidber, Impacts of Writing in Rome: Greek Authors and Their Roman Environment in the First Century, 115- 23
B. Hintzen, Latin, Attic, and Other Greek Dialects: Criteria of ἑλληνισμός in Grammatical Treatises of the First Century, 125-41
D. Pausch, Augustus chlamydatus. Greek Identity and the bios Kaisaros by Nicolaus of Damascus, 143- 62
G. W. Most, Principate and System, 163-79
E. Bowie, Men from Mytilene, 181-95
T. Whitmarsh, Greek Poets and Roman Patrons in the Late Republic and Early Empire, 197-212
B. E. Borg, Who Cared about Greek Identity? Athens in the First Century, 213-34
T. A. Schmitz, The Image of Athens in Diodorus Siculus, 235-51
M. Baumbach, Paideia and the Function of Homeric Quotations in Chariton’s Callirhoe, 253- 271


1. K. Clarke, Between Geography and History: Hellenistic Constructions of the Roman World (OUP 1999); Sulimani, I., ‘Diodorus’ source-citations: a turn in the attitude of ancient authors towards their predecessors?’ Athenaeum 96.2 (2008), 535-67, esp. 560.

2. I assume that Lawrence Kim’s recent book, Homer between History and Fiction in Imperial Greek Literature (CUP 2010) on closely related themes appeared too late to be taken into account.