Scholia Reviews ns 13 (2004) 14.
David Braund and Christopher Gill (ed.), Myth, History and Culture in Republican Rome: Studies in Honour of T. P. Wiseman. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2003. Pp. x + 358, incl. 21 halftones, 6 line illustrations, 4 maps, 1 table and 3 appendices. ISBN 0-85989-662-5. UKú40.00.
Classics, University of KwaZulu-Natal
This collection of thirteen essays is the product of a conference held at the University of Exeter in March 2000, entitled 'Myth, History and Performance: A Celebration of the Work of T. P. Wiseman'. A striking feature of this collection is the extent to which all the contributions demonstrate an indebtedness to the person in whose honour they were presented. Professor T. P. Wiseman's 'presence' permeates these essays and gives them a coherence which is usually impossible to achieve in the case of most Festschriften. Furthermore, the enormous scope of this scholar's achievements, as evidenced by his bibliography (pp. 331-42), is reflected in the very diversity of the offerings in this volume. This is indeed a rich collection of scholarly articles, many of which employ instances of the bold -- yet plausible -- conjecture that is exemplified by much of Wiseman's work.
Appropriately, in his preamble to the first chapter, entitled 'Becoming Historical: the Roman Case' (pp. 12-40), Nicholas Purcell pays tribute to Peter Wiseman as one 'who has rebuilt the foundations of our thinking about Rome before Hannibal so effectively, precisely by being prepared to think the unthinkable and see what would follow . . .' (p. 13). In this spirit, Purcell sets about constructing a persuasive argument for rejecting the conventional view -- prompted in part by Roman writers themselves -- that Roman historiography was both a fairly late development and one derived from Greek models. Purcell argues that literary historiography is 'only a rather small and stylized part of the whole universe of historical thinking' (p. 16) and that before the 'invention' of Roman historiography by Fabius Pictor there existed a 'historical consciousness' at least as early as the fourth century BCE, shaped by 'a web of intercommunicating discourses -- exegetic, epigraphic, archival, dramatic, pictorial, narrative, poetic' (p. 32). Of particular importance in the development of historical consciousness were buildings and cults, and Purcell discusses at some length the role of the Capitoline temple as a place of record and dating -- the Roman equivalent of Olympia and its cult.
The Roman foundation legend provides fertile ground for bold and ingenious speculation (as employed so effectively by Wiseman himself). While accepting Wiseman's contention that Remus did not appear in the story until the late fourth or early third centuries, Filippo Coarelli, in his essay 'Remoria' (pp. 41-55), seeks to identify this locality not with the Sacred Mount but with the 'Colle di Piche' ('Hill of Magpies': suggestive of augury?). Importantly, this was the site of the sanctuary of the goddess Dia, presided over by the Arval brethren, who were responsible for the ritual cleansing of the rural territory. Into this context Coarelli seeks to locate Remus, as the founder of Rome's rural territory, with Romulus as his urban counterpart. He suggests that Romulus and Remus were substituted c. 300 BCE for the two sons of Acca Larentia, the original founders (Lares Praestites) of the city. Coarelli's arguments necessarily depend heavily on conjecture at times, but are impressive for their deft and imaginative weaving together of the various threads of evidence.
Michael Crawford, in 'Land and People in Republican Italy' (pp. 56-72), challenges the assumption that settlements in Appennine Italy followed Greek models, located in river and lake basins, with mountains as dividing frontiers; instead, the focal points were the lush summer pastures and forests of the high mountains; furthermore, these patterns of settlement existed well before the Roman conquest of Italy. Interestingly, Crawford's views emerge, in the first instance, from numerous trips through this region in the company of Peter Wiseman. There is a wealth of topographical detail in this essay, and it is a pity that the reader does not have recourse to additional maps or even photographs of the terrain in question.
In an intriguing analysis of the Coriolanus story, Tim Cornell, in 'Coriolanus' (pp. 73-97), advances persuasive arguments for accepting its salient features as historically credible. This figure's exploits harmonize well with the picture now emerging of the nature of aristocratic society in central Italy during the archaic period, 'an age of considerable social movement, in which local aristocracies intermarried and formed networks that cut across political boundaries and even transcended ethnic and linguistic frontiers' (p. 86). Cornell also uses the Coriolanus story as an example of the sort of tale that would have lent itself to transmission through epic poetry or stage performance -- vehicles whose probable importance has been emphasised by Peter Wiseman.
In 'Pacuvius: Melodrama, Reversals and Recognitions' (pp. 98-118), Elaine Fantham endeavours to give some substance to this shadowy figure. Using selected fragments of his works, together with Hyginus' summaries of the relevant plots, she draws several important conclusions about the nature and influence of his dramatic adaptations: prominent motifs include the pathos of imprisonment, abandonment or shipwreck; remote and romantic settings; the revelation of kinship between heroes in preference to divine intervention; the triumph of twins or heroes over tyrants (of particular interest to Roman audiences); and in his preoccupation with dramatic but happy reversals there is perhaps a foreshadowing of the ancient novel. Pacuvius was also a painter, and the fact that the themes of his dramas feature prominently in wall paintings raises interesting questions about the relationship between the two media in his case.
James Zetzel's 'Plato with Pillows: Cicero on the Uses of Greek Culture' (pp. 119-38) is an absorbing exploration of the Roman attitude towards Greek letters and art, as exemplified in the writings of this influential figure. Zetzel argues that Cicero's attitude is 'genuinely distrustful, that he believed that there were strict limitations to the proper role of Greek culture in Rome' (pp. 120f.). Its proper role was to serve Roman aims and values, and both the de Republica and the de Oratore embody 'the proud claim that Romans can use Greek traditions better than the Greeks can themselves' (p. 137). Zetzel draws an interesting parallel between this utilitarian use of Greek culture and Edmund Burke's observations on the relationship between the English and French cultures.
Cicero, again, provides a rich source of material for the next essay, 'Cicero on Nature, Nurture and Presentation' (pp. 139-64). Susan Treggiari explores the extraordinary importance that the Romans of the Republican period attached to moral ancestry and upbringing, and how these factors affected the assessment of an individual's worth in the eyes of society. Of particular interest is her demonstration of how Cicero himself could exploit such perceptions in his political and forensic oratory. It was not only amongst the upper echelons of society that assumptions about inherited moral worth operated: evidence -- from epitaphs in particular -- shows that lower-class Romans, including freedmen, could attach importance to such beliefs.
In 'Catullus in and about Bithynia: Poems 68, 10, 28 and 47' (pp. 165-90), Francis Cairns discusses diverse aspects of these poems, with the intention of opposing 'a recidivist tendency of scholarship on ancient poetry . . . the wish to treat poetry either as pure uncontextualized literature or as pure historical documentation' (pp. 187f.). In the case of poem 10, for example, he explores inter alia the relationship between provincial governors and their comites in order to refute David's Braund's view that the poem is not an attack on, but 'a proactive defence of Memmius through his denunciation by a self-discrediting speaker' (p. 177).
The relationship between poetry and historiography is the theme of A. J. Woodman's essay, 'Poems to Historians: Catullus 1 and Horace Odes 2.1' (pp. 191- 216). In the case of the former, Woodman argues that the poet is claiming to share the Callimachean qualities of his historian addressee; in the case of the latter, he develops a complex argument, intended to show that the 'Metellus' referred to by Horace was actually the consul of 109 BCE (and not 60, as commonly assumed) and that the poet echoed the historian Pollio in tracing the origins of the Civil War to a period earlier than the First Triumvirate.
In 'The Frescoes of the Great Hall of the Villa at Boscoreale: Iconography and Politics' (pp. 217-56), Mario Torelli offers fresh insights into the significance of the decorative themes chosen to adorn the main room. Paying careful attention to the physical context of the frescoes, he maintains that the choice of Achilles and Alexander as subjects reflects the aspirations of the owner (whose social status was probably commensurate with the comparatively modest nature of his residence) to enter the world of Rome's social and political elite. This is an interesting and well-argued thesis, made all the more accessible by the use of copious diagrams and illustrations.
In 'Cleopatra in Rome: Facts and Fantasies' (pp. 257- 74), Erich Gruen demonstrates, in a convincing and entertaining manner, that an episode immortalized by Joseph Mankiewicz's film -- Cleopatra's grand entry into Rome in 46 BCE and her continued sojourn there as Caesar's pampered mistress until 44 -- has no historical credibility. Not only is the Hollywood fantasy flawed; so, too, are the conjectures of some modern scholars about the queen's influence over the dictator during this period (that she induced him to aspire after a Hellenistic monarchy, for example). Even though Cleopatra did come to Rome and did set up home in Caesar's estate, it was the more mundane dictates of Realpolitik, rather than romance, which shaped events.
According to Karl Galinsky, in 'Greek and Roman Drama and the Aeneid (pp. 275-94), 'Virgil's literary aim was to be a second Homer, but the Homeric material is manipulated, rearranged, dramatized and problematized in the manner of Greek tragedians' (p. 289). Notable examples of this are the episodes of Nisus and Euryalus (they fail because of 'individualistic Homeric bravado' at the expense of 'the greater good of the collective') and the death of Turnus (Aeneas' humane reaction to Turnus' plea contrasts sharply with Achilles' brutal response to Hector; and 'the superficially happy ending' of the Iliad, with Priam's successful supplication, contrasts with the problematic slaying of Turnus at the end of the Aeneid). Galinsky also speculates that Virgil drew on the Roman dramatic tradition (whose importance Peter Wiseman has emphasised), reviving both tragedy and epic 'by combining them as a modern Homer.'
Another way in which the Greek tradition was exploited is explored by Edward Champlin in 'Agamemnon at Rome: Roman Dynasts and Greek Heroes' (pp. 295-319). Champlin shows how prominent individuals fostered identification with Greek heroes for their own political or private ends: Pompey styled himself a Roman Agamemnon after conquering the East, while both Octavian and Nero -- the former seeking to justify his vengeance against the murderers of adoptive father and the other in an attempt to justify his matricide -- sought to identify themselves with Orestes. Such figures also provided a source of exempla for invective purposes (as illustrated by Cicero), and could therefore also prove dangerous to those who employed them.
The volume concludes with 'An Appreciation of T. P. Wiseman' (pp. 320-25), by Elaine Fantham, and 'An Autobiographical Note' (pp. 326-30), by T. P. Wiseman himself. It is perhaps fitting to end by quoting this passage from the latter: 'But apparently inexplicable items are paradoxically valuable; they force you to look for explanations, to imagine what the problematic phenomena presuppose. They require, in fact, the exercise of an activity often described in English by an unrecognized irregular verb: 'I hypothesize, you conjecture, he or she speculates.' (pp. 328f.).