BMCR 2020.10.49

Approaches to Greek and Latin language, literature and history

, , , , Approaches to Greek and Latin language, literature and history. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2019. Pp. xiv, 347. ISBN 9781527518490 £64.99.

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

The editors present the book as ‘a collection of studies on Classics from the standpoint of its language, literature and history’. It isn’t entirely clear what this description means, given that it is fairly broad, but certainly not all-encompassing, establishing distinctions of genre without defining what is meant by that. The result is a volume of interesting reflections, whose chapters sometimes complement each other, but without a clear thread to bring the book together. This volume had its origins in a conference (3rd International Conference Mediterráneos), with further commissioned chapters. Articles often refer to themselves as papers, demonstrating their origins, and it is sometimes hard to see how they all link up together.

The book is split into two main sections, Greek and Latin. Greek is shorter, although the Latin section contains several articles which rely heavily on both languages. There is a third section for articles who rely less on linguistic texts, entitled ‘History through Sculpture, Coinage and Navigation’. This sits awkwardly with the literary chapters, although the introduction does try to account for the holistic approach. Each language section is then subdivided into ‘Primary Sources’ and ‘Literary Texts’. ‘Primary Sources’ is more a reference to epigraphical sources, while ‘Literary Texts’ cover both ancient world material and the medieval reception of this (Bersuire’s Ovidius Moralizatus). The Greek ‘primary source’ chapters both deal with names, in Pompeian inscriptions, and in fragmentary Greek novels. Chapters 3-5 offer a series of ways of thinking about literature. In Chapter 3, Jesica Navarro Diana uses comparative literature to discuss the bivalent nature of Calypso and Ogygia in the Odyssey as both wonderful and dreadful.  In Chapter 4, Sonia Blanco Romero‘s  linguistic study of ἔτι helps us understand more about Greek particles, but has less literary application. In Chapter 5, Sara Macías Otero compares Euripides’ Cyclops and Heraclidae to demonstrate similar expressions of Dionysus (which would benefit from application to other sources dealing with the god). Textual criticism receives a fascinating reappraisal by Sandra R. Piedrabuena in Chapter 6, as methods for establishing the identity of messenger characters (specifically in Heraclidae) are put forward. In Chapter 7, Giulio Leghissa explores the relationship between the layout of the Gallus Papyrus from Qasr Ibrim and inscriptions. In Chapter 8, Ákos Zimonyi explores how doctors established their reputation as professionals through inscriptions. Two chapters (9 & 10, Victoria González-Berdús and Alberto Bolaños Herrera) on metrical form in inscriptions read well together, although leave hanging the question why this matters. In Chapter 11, Roger Ferran investigates hidden names of Rome, considering Amor / Roma, Flora / Φλῶρα / Ἄνθουσα, and the history of these names in various forms of Roman worship and politics. In Chapter 12 Pablo Piqueras Yagüe takes us to the Fourteenth Century to consider where the Ovidius Moralizatus drew its materials from. Moving into the more explicitly ‘historical / material’ chapters, in 13, Fabiano Fiorello di Bella reflects on the portrayal of individual identities in statues in the age of Peisistratus. In Chapter 14, José Miguel Puebla Morón unpicks the ways in which iconography on Sicilian coinage draws from both Greek and Punic cultures, positing Greek craftsmen for Punic coins, and exploring the possibility of different kinds of religious syncretism. In the final chapter, 15, David Soria Molina explores why there were so many naval awards given for a period which does not explicitly record naval warfare (Domitian and Trajan’s Dacian wars).

Chapters vary in length (from twelve pages to twenty-nine). A number of chapters situate themselves as ‘notes’ or ‘considerations’ (e.g. Leghissa, González-Berdús, Yagüe). As such, they are much less discursive, but present material ‘for interest’. This brings two points to the fore. First, many chapters in this book contain much more information and narrative than they do argument and analysis (as made clear by a lack of programmatic introduction to chapters). This means that conclusions are often more descriptive than analytical. Sometimes this feels like agnostic answers to impossible questions (was this a portrait of someone? Why was this papyrus formatted in this way?). Such a situation is part and parcel of studying the ancient world, and raises some big methodological questions about how we research, why we research, and what we gain from our study. The introduction might have benefited from framing the book in this way. Some chapters comment on the issues being too large for immediate solutions, and to this extent the book clearly paves the way for further work, and should celebrate this.

The second issue is that one can often feel lost in the data / working out, with a lack of signposting as to how the argument is progressing. This is particularly evident in chapters with a lot of data to present. Better use of footnotes and referencing systems might have helped. Some chapters (e.g. Soria Molina) have such extensive footnotes that it is hard to factor them into the main narrative. Many mix footnotes with in-text references in a way that makes it hard to follow the thread. Puebla Morón in particular has very few references and, unlike most other chapters, a short bibliography. This diversity is inevitable in a collected volume, but some editorial support in helping contributors make chapters easier to follow would have helped. In general, chapters are clearly structured into numbered sections, but these sections need more direction.

Several chapters discuss ways of reinterpreting primary material in order to understand more about life in the ancient world. It would have helped to have placed these discussions in a broader context of how the material and methodology helps us to understand the ancient world more broadly. What does Blanco Romero‘s subtle re-evaluation of ἔτι in chapter 4 do to help us understand other texts? How do inscriptions pertaining to other professions compare with the medical patterns (Zimonyi)? How do Sicilian (and Sardinian) coinage practices compare with those in other multicultural environments (Puebla Morón)? How do other regions and other periods compare with the kinds of undocumented naval warfare discussed (Soria Molina)?

Some chapters do link their conclusions and methods to the subject areas more broadly. Piedrabuena’s work on Chapter 6 to show how greater access to technology allows for different kinds of textual analysis helps both to reinforce and reimagine textual critical processes and conclusions. Leghissa (Chapter 7) explicitly discusses what his investigation of one papyrus might tell us about reading and writing practices in the ancient world.

Other chapters (e.g. Ferran, Yagüe ) seek to reappraise statements from the ancient world about sources. This is interesting, e.g. demonstrating how λίσσομαι does not underlie lituus, but it would have helped to have thought about what drove the false etymology and what that tells us about the ancient world.

Physically, the volume is generally well-presented. Several chapters rely on visual material. In some cases, images are included, but Leghissa’s analysis is lost in the need to describe the papyrus, for example. Fiorello di Bella postpones these to the end of the chapter, which makes reading awkward. There are only occasional formatting issues with the book; the proof-reading has been thorough. In the introduction the editors discuss the need to edit English submissions or translate articles, and some contributors also refer to the process. In general, the English reads quite well, with some awkwardness; the editors have done well. There is an index locorum, which would be very helpful if the book hung together better as a whole, but has limited use given the clear focus by different contributors on different authors. It is also unable to deal with the material culture / epigraphic sources, so sometimes felt a little redundant. There is no overall index, which would have been helpful. Website references do not include access dates, which could be awkward for those trying to follow up notes. Not all ancient language sources are translated, and modern foreign language quotations are not translated. This will limit its accessibility to readers.

For those interested in any of the cases studies, the chapters in this book will provide comprehensive summaries of material and good food for thought. There are some chapters (e.g. Blanco Romero, Piedrabuena, Soria Molina) where innovative methods of analysis bring out new and potentially new ways of thinking about the ancient world. The editors gave the volume the subtitle κατὰ σχολήν, wanting to entertain and inform in the manner of a σχολή. They talk about ‘scientific rigour of the contents of this book’, but its greatest weakness is in a lack of investigation (and indeed rigour) in thinking about what the chapters contribute to our understanding of the ancient world (individually and collectively) and how the book presents a very particular (and unexplained) view of what the study of Greek and Latin language, literature and history is about.

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Greek Female Personal Names In Ancient Pompeii: Some Examples from Wall-Inscriptions – Sandra Cruz Gutiérrez 5-24
Chapter Two: Hapax Legomena and Unattested Personal Names: The Papyrus Fragments of Ancient Greek Novels – Gréta Kádas, 25-39
Chapter Three: Calypso as a Figure of Death in the Odyssey: The Duality of the Calypso Episode – Jesica Navarro Diana, 43-72
Chapter Four: Study and Characterisation of ἔτι in Xenophon’s Cyropaedia: Later Phase-Negative Polarity – Sonia Blanco Romero, 73-85
Chapter Five: Cyclops and Bacchae of Euripides: Dionysus’ Revenge – Sara Macías Otero, 87-109
Chapter Six: The Messenger in Euripides’ Heraclidae – Sandra R. Piedrabuena, 111-133
Chapter Seven: Considerations on the Layout of the Gallus Papyrus from Qasr Ibrim: A High-Quality Bookroll – Giulio Leghissa, 139-161
Chapter Eight: The Number of Physicians in the High Empire and the Epigraphic Habit – Ákos Zimonyi, 163-180
Chapter Nine: Notes on the Metrical Form of the Epitaph of Iulia Pieris – Victoria González-Berdús, 181-194
Chapter Ten: Minima Epigraphica: The Case for Determining the Metrical nature of Four Inscription Fragments Found in Marseille – Alberto Bolaños Herrera, 195-207
Chapter Eleven: The Secret Name of Rome and an Ill-Fated Magistrate from Lydus Mens.4.73 to the Roman Tradition – Roger Ferran, 211-238
Chapter Twelve: Three Notes on the First Book of the Ovidius Moralizatus – Pablo Piqueras Yagüe, 239-256
Chapter Thirteen: Portraits of Satraps and Tyrants in the age of Peisistratos: Aristocratic Ideology as a Vehicle of Artistic Models in the Eastern Mediterranean – Fabiano Fiorello di Bella, 259-279.
Chapter Fourteen: Coinage as Means of Cultural Transmission and Assimilation in Punic Sicily – José Miguel Puebla Morón, 281-301
Chapter Fifteen: Strategy and Naval Warfare in the Danube area during Domitian’s and Trajan’s Dacian Wars – David Soria Molina, 303-328