BMCR 2017.01.45

Hope, Joy, and Affection in the Classical World. Emotions of the past

, , Hope, Joy, and Affection in the Classical World. Emotions of the past. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. xii, 282. ISBN 9780190278298. $74.00.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

It is appropriate that the present book on positive emotions in the Graeco-Roman world has been dedicated to David Konstan as a Festschrift. Together with Martha Nussbaum, Richard Sorabji, and others, Konstan has played an important role not only in casting light on textual representations of emotions in the classical world but also in bringing the topic to scholars’ attention. The particular aim of the book is to fill a gap in scholarship by focusing on positive emotions in ancient sources. The editors acknowledge that they cannot cover the field of positive emotions in Graeco-Roman literature comprehensively, but they aspire to initiate a discussion on the topic by providing a series of targeted studies of different texts from classical philosophy and literature.

In addition to a brief introduction, the book is divided into three main parts: (1) Hope, (2) Joy and Happiness, and (3) Fellow Feelings and Kindness. It is closed by a bibliography and indexes of names and topics and of ancient passages.

The volume succeeds well in fulfilling its ambition to initiate a relatively new debate among classicists on positive emotions. The essays, however, are too diverse in terms of interests, texts studies, and manner of thinking to provide a cogent argument on positive emotions. Yet there is one feature shared by the contributors. As the editors emphasise, no ancient work can offer a “transparent window on lived experience” in the ancient world (3). The textual instantiations of (positive) emotions are necessarily rhetorical representations aimed to meet formal and thematic expectations invoked by the use of different genres in so far as they are for the most part highly deliberate works of literature (3). In rendering a main tenet of David Konstan, the editors appreciatively advocate the view that his “work is also constantly aware of differences in time and place: if emotions are inspired by judgments, if judgments are shaped by values − notions of what is desirable or deplorable − and if values are shaped by culture, then even emotions that on their surface appear similar, like misericordia and pity, are likely to be differently constituted beneath the surface” (3). While I sympathise with this view, it involves the risk that experts on a particular era and specific space do not see the forest because of the trees, just as the generalist may be susceptible to ignoring the trees by seeing the forest only. By subscribing to such a view , the book refrains from entering into an important discussion of potentially universal elements not only in the actual experience of emotions but also in at least some textual instantiations of them. I acknowledge the contested nature of this point, but the exclusion of recent insights from evolutionary biology and cognitive psychology is an unfortunate sin of omission. It could have placed the discussion in a broader framework; but if one accepts the overall premise of the book there is still much to be gained from it.

In Part I, “Hope,” Douglas Cairns elegantly demonstrates the value of examining classical Greek poetry in light of metaphor theory. He notices how elpis metaphors are not as phenomenologically rich as other emotion metaphors and underlines how the most prominent metaphorical cluster revolves around the gap presupposed by elpis and the outcomes of desires implied by it. Conceived in metaphorical terms elpis (translated into English as “hope”) represents an affective state with a substantial goal-directed and desiderative aspect. This is also the case in the ancient Greek context, but in the poetic genres at least there is a far greater acknowledgement of the futility of hope, “its delusional aspects, or about the danger of its leading to error, overconfidence, and failure, both moral and practical” (43). Although enlightening, this study could advantageously have been complemented by insights from evolutionary psychology and biology. To pose questions about the extent to which elpis metaphors resemble those for other prototypical emotions like anger and fear, and to consider whether elpis constitutes an emotion at all is in my view slightly fallacious (15). Hope is not a primary emotion but belongs to a wider palette of secondary emotions originating from a later stage in hominin evolution—something to be taken into consideration when reflecting upon metaphorical instantiations of emotions and differences in meaning between contemporary metaphorical uses of the term and past ones. Cairns emphasises their cultural shaping, but does not consider a potentially underlying biological basis as could, for instance, have been argued using his example “I shudder” rather than merely “I am afraid” (14; cf. 21).

Damien Nelis considers the emotional life of farmers in the entire Georgica. Although living in an era of civil war and political disruption, Vergil thematises hope and joy: Quid faciat laetas segetes ? He demonstrates how the poem at almost every level sets up oppositions and plays with apparent contradictions (joy and sadness; hard toil and golden age leisure; peace and war; death and resurrection etc.). Despite his dark sense of the times—found for example in the evocation of civil war and fear of eternal night at the end of Book One—Vergil does not extinguish totally the hope of a solar reappearance. Possibly, Caesar against all odds may provide a stellar glimpse of hope in an era of hopelessness.

Laurel Fulkerson examines narrative foreshadowing and suspense in the Greek novel and shows how hope constituted an intrinsic part of these narratives. She demonstrates how hope is assigned a different role in this genre when compared to Greek thought and literature in general. Hope is commonly understood as characteristic of a person who has not done proper planning and therefore has to have recourse to hope. In the extant Greek novels, however, the hero and heroine—unlike the other narrated figures portrayed in light of the conventional ideas of hope—are depicted as examples of hope bound to be realised (89f.). In conclusion Fulkerson briefly correlates her results with the Aristotelian notion of hope and explains how these works were well acquainted with philosophical ideas. In fact, she surmises how certain Aristotelian stereotypes about elpis can account for the instantiation of hope in the novels.

In the next section, “Joy and Happiness,” Ruth Caston discusses the irrepressibility of joy in Plautus and Terence. In continuity with the philosophical tradition, she understands joy to be an evanescent emotional outburst although it may en-joy a certain afterglow. Happiness, conversely, implies greater durability, possibly encompassing one’s whole life (96). She calls attention to two thematic tensions: (1) Ephemeral enjoyment with anxiety as its inevitable and pitiless companion as it passes away; (2) Joy as a treasured possession and at the same time an emotion to be shared with others. The first tension is intimately related to an awareness of human transience: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on…” The second tension—articulated in Terence—is inextricably connected to our ambivalent nature as social and egoistic beings with all the ethical problems involved.

Michael Putnam analyses Horace’s Odes 4.2 and astutely shows how the Horatian speaker not only refers to the hoped-for success of Augustus but also succeeds indirectly in giving praise to himself as standing at the pinnacle of lyrical accomplishment together with Homer and Pindar. In an excellent essay Margaret Graver scrutinises Seneca and the gaudium tradition. Apart from providing a nuanced examination of Seneca’s treatment of gaudium, Graver persuasively argues that what have often been understood as inconsistencies in Seneca should be interpreted as reflecting his engagement with not only Chrysippus but also contemporaneous Stoics. She highlights Seneca as philosophically skilled in deliberating on various facets and types of joy, while he examines each one in a manner integral to the discussion and elaborated in a philosophically masterful way.

Another excellent essay also revolves around the Stoics. Christopher Gill discusses the extent to which positive emotions are prominent among the Stoics. Not only does he remind us that there is, indeed, a Stoic theory of positive emotions ( eupatheiai) but also that the role accorded to them is both richer and more psychologically credible than is often acknowledged. These emotions, however, should not be pursued as goals in their own right. Only to the extent that they are integral to life as a whole, should one aspire to acquire them. Although the wise man may be as rare as the Phoenix, all humans by virtue of being rational animals are capable of developing towards a complete wisdom that includes positive emotions.

In the last section, “Fellow-Feeling and Kindness,” Ed Sanders explores the generation of goodwill ( eunoia) and friendliness in Attic forensic oratory. Contrary to the advice of the rhetorical handbooks, the orators appear deliberately to avoid the use of the term eunoia, although they do have extensive recourse to covert goodwill to win a favourable outcome. Sanders also highlights the types of speeches in which eunoia as a term appears.

David Armstrong’s discussion of utility and affection in Epicurean friendship is intellectually stimulating. He differentiates between three degrees of friendship of which the highest is only available to the gods, and to humans exclusively in relation to departed friends. Drawing upon Essler’s recent publication of a new text from Philodemus’ Gods 3, Armstrong also emphasises—against idealist interpretations − how the gods were understood as real by the Epicureans. Although friendship for utility and protection may theoretically be distinguished from friendship involving pleasure and affection of intimacy, in the good human life these two should not be prised apart.

Gillian Clark takes us into late Antiquity and Christianity in an essay on caritas in Augustine’s De Civitate Dei 14. To what extent are the words used by Augustine to speak about the love of God the same as those applied to the love of a neighbour? Voluntas becomes a central concept in the examination of this question. Clark demonstrates how Augustine draws on both Platonic and Stoic traditions to articulate his message of bona voluntas as defining a life in which humans are led to love God and to love their neighbours as themselves.

Martha Nussbaum’s chapter on two types of mercy in La Clemenza di Tito, while it takes us beyond the “classical world,” is a true gem. She elegantly shows how Mozart’s opera resonates two forms of mercy originating respectively in the Roman (philosophical) and the Judeo-Christian traditions. Although she may be overemphasising the difference between the two, she forces us to engage in further reflections.

The volume aspires to shed light on representations of positive emotions in the classical (Graeco-Roman) world and it does an excellent job. It has a broad scope and provides excellent in-depth studies. Yet it is regrettable that the book completely ignores the important scholarship from recent years in evolutionary biology and psychology on emotions. Its inclusion could have led to a more balanced and informed view: despite all specifics of era and space there may, in fact, be some human universals when it comes to textual instantiations of human emotions and their underpinning in basic hominin biology. At the very least, the issue should have been touched upon.

Table of Contents

Introduction, Ruth R. Caston and Robert A. Kaster
I. Hope
1. Douglas Cairns, Metaphors for Hope in Archaic and Classical Greek Poetry
2. Damien Nelis, Emotion in Vergil’s Georgics: Farming and the Politics of Hope
3. Laurel Fulkerson, ‘Torn between Hope and Despair’: Narrative Foreshadowing and Suspense in the Greek Novel
II. Joy and Happiness
4. Ruth R. Caston, The Irrepressibility of Joy in Roman Comedy
5. Michael C. J. Putnam, Horatius Felix
6. Margaret Graver, Anatomies of Joy: Seneca and the Gaudium Tradition
7. Christopher Gill, Positive Emotions in Stoicism: Are they Enough?
III. Fellow-Feeling and Kindness
8. Ed Sanders, Generating Goodwill and Friendliness in Attic Forensic Oratory
9. David Armstrong, Utility and Affection in Epicurean Friendship: Philodemus On the Gods 3, On Property Management, and Horace, Sermones 2.6
10. Gillian Clark, Caritas : Augustine on Love and Fellow-feeling
11. Martha Nussbaum, ‘If You Could See This Heart’: Mozart’s Mercy