Scholia Reviews ns 13 (2004) 35.

David Braund and John Wilkins (edd.), Athenaeus and his World: Reading Greek Culture in the Roman Empire. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2000. Pp. xxii + 625, incl. 6 plates, endnotes, and two indices. ISBN 0-85989-661-7. US$90.00/ UK£47.50.

Owen Hodkinson,
The Queen's College, Oxford.

It would perhaps be facile to compare this volume's size and wide-ranging contents to the encyclopaedic nature of its subject, but the conference which gave rise to it (at Exeter in 1998) must indeed have been a great gathering of scholars with an impressive array of specialisms. The editors' main aim is 'to encourage a more sympathetic approach to Athenaeus and his works' (p. 2) in their own right rather than merely as a source to be mined (a frequently employed metaphor in this volume) for fragments. They highlight two particular claims which emerge as important for the whole collection: first, that Athenaeus can inform us about his own period as well as the past; second, that the Deipnosophistae is the work of an author of some artistic intention and skill, not just a haphazard compiler (p. 2). Many of the contributors make a good case for one of these claims either explicitly or through the diverse Athenaean interests they communicate here. Other chapters appropriately pursue more individual aims, including (rightly) some more traditional mining. The resulting collection is bound to contain items of interest and relevance to all classicists and ancient historians.

The volume's forty-one chapters are divided into seven sections, based broadly on their methods and approaches to Athenaeus; those interested in particular themes in the Deipnosophistae will therefore want to browse the contents of several sections. Fortunately this is made easy by the editors' introductory remarks to each section, which summarise each chapter's main arguments as well as defining its place within the section and in Athenaean scholarship. These remarks provide valuable orientation in a collection of this scope. It is not possible within the remit of this review to mention every chapter, so I will first comment on the focus of the book's sections before mentioning some of its more notable contributions.

Section I, 'General Introduction' (pp. 1-37), contains two chapters by the editors, outlining what they see as some of the most important aspects of Athenaeus and therefore of the collection. Section II (pp. 39-70) contains two chapters dealing with 'Text, Transmission and Translation'. The contributions to section III, 'Athenaeus the Reader and his World' (pp. 71-240), aim 'to map out the social, intellectual and literary milieu within which Athenaeus lived, read and wrote,' opening up new avenues of approach to the Deipnosophistae (p. 71). They achieve this by making fruitful comparisons with works which share some interests with it, or by examining how and why Athenaeus cites from particular authors or genres, rather than simply collecting his citations. Section IV, 'Structural Overviews' (pp. 241-338), explores the 'devices which Athenaeus uses to give direction and coherence' to his work, treating questions such as its layers of narration and dialogue, and its division into books. Section V, 'Key Authors' (pp. 339-94), is perhaps misleadingly named: two of the four 'key' authors, Crates of Mallus and Lynceus, even granted the persuasive cases for their importance, are nevertheless not as crucial to the Deipnosophistae as others treated both in this section (Homeric scholarship and Plato) and elsewhere in the book (from comic poets to lexicographers). Section VI, 'Sympotica' (pp. 395-510), examines Athenaeus' treatment of the stock themes of the genre: food, wine and medicine, and a variety of entertainments. For the sake of completeness, Section VII, 'The Other Athenaeus' (pp. 511-535), contains interesting speculation on the nature of two lost works of Athenaeus and how our knowledge of them can inform our impressions of Athenaeus the author and the Deipnosophistae.

One of the outstanding pieces in the collection is Chris Pelling's (Chapter 12, 'Fun with Fragments: Athenaeus and the Historians', pp. 171-90), which presents a convincing case for Athenaeus the author. In arguing for 'conscious artistry' (p. 175) in the way Athenaeus orders his material and manipulation of his sources -- 'taking liberties with his texts' (p. 188) -- Pelling suggests some of the potential rewards of reading Athenaeus closely, both for its own sake and as a note of caution to those using fragments preserved in his text. This chapter successfully challenges established views of how Athenaeus writes, pointing to a more careful ordering of its components at the level of individual quotations and themes. On the macroscopic scale, Lucía Guillén (Chapter 18, 'Are the Fifteen Books of the Deipnosophistae an Excerpt', pp. 244-55) methodically lists and refutes all the arguments for an original thirty-book structure describing more than one banquet, a previously widespread opinion ('previously', because Guillén seems to have persuaded not only the editors but also the majority of contributors who have cause to mention this issue). Luciana Romeri (Chapter 19, 'The LOGO/DEIPNON: Athenaeus between Banquet and Anti-Banquet', pp. 256-71) builds on her earlier comparative and analytical work on sympotic literature[[1]] in demonstrating how Athenaeus reworks his models and how he differs from contemporaries using those models (Plutarch and Lucian). She argues that one must read the Deipnosophistae as a whole in order to see that it has a coherent structure: the author is not a mere compiler, and the apparent disorder in the material is that of a banquet (pp. 256f.). In a similar vein, Paola Ceccarelli (Chapter 20, 'Dance and Desserts: An Analysis of Book Fourteen', pp. 272-91) argues that the boundaries between the frame and the internal dialogue are sometimes deliberately blurred: Athenaeus is not careless.

Several contributors aim to reclaim the satirical, the ironic, and even the humorous in Athenaeus, in a determined effort to overturn his reputation as a tedious pedant. They are often successful in highlighting and analysing these elements, but are rightly cautious too: the 'humour' and 'satire' are often 'mild' or 'gentle', and there is no escaping the fact that long stretches of the text read like (and indeed are taken from) reference book entries. John Wilkins' two chapters (Chapters 2, 'Dialogue and Comedy: The Structure of the Deipnosophistae', pp. 23-37, and 41, 'Athenaeus and the Fishes of Archippus', pp. 523-35) emphasise the role of comedy (widely associated with Athenaeus) in fashioning the text's own comic elements (less widely acknowledged). Dwora Gilula (Chapter 31, 'Stratonicus: The Witty Harpist', pp. 423- 33) and Malcolm Heath (Chapter 25, 'Do Heroes Eat Fish: Athenaeus on the Homeric Lifestyle', pp. 342-52) among others, also refer to comic or satirical strategies. Tim Whitmarsh (Chapter 22, 'The Politics and Poetics of Parasitism: Athenaeus on Parasites and Flatterers', pp. 304-15) contends that the deipnosophists' 'execration of flattery and parasitism . . . represents their humorously hackneyed and ill-conceived attempt to deflect from themselves the charge of precisely such conduct' (p. 305): the text is thus seen to engage with the imperial present through satire directed at educated Greeks' relations with Roman patrons. Other contributors who argue for the contemporary, Roman significance of Athenaeus include David Braund on patronage (Chapter 1, 'Learning, Luxury and Empire: Athenaeus' Roman Patron', pp. 3-22); Michael Trapp (Chapter 26, 'Plato in the Deipnosophistae,/i>', pp. 353-63), who shows how Athenaeus can give us a broader view of the reception of Plato and other canonical literature in the imperial age (p. 363); similarly Frank Walbank (Chapter 11, 'Athenaeus and Polybius', pp. 161-70), considers what Athenaeus' quotations tell us not only about the time of their composition but also about his Second Sophistic sensibilities and personal preferences (pp. 165-68). More could have been made of his cautionary observation (p. 169) on the role of chance (whether at the level of Athenaeus' reading, memory, or 'whim') in what Athenaeus quotes from the many contributors who, like Walbank, look for patterns in his use of a single author--and therefore often in quite a small sample.

Two further chapters are especially worthy of mention: Madeleine Henry (Chapter 39, 'Athenaeus the Ur- Pornographer', pp. 503-10) continues her work on the representation of hetairai in Athenaeus[[2]] -- unfortunately a solitary venture in this volume -- this time focusing on the reception of Athenaeus by modern pornographic writers. Her repeated calls for a fuller treatment of this subject from a feminist perspective (pp. 507f.) may at last have been answered in part by Laura McClure's new book.[[3]] Andrew Barker (Chapter 32, 'Athenaeus on Music', pp. 434-44) gives a clear exposition of his methods in mining Athenaeus which might be adapted by others using him as a source for a specific topic, examining both the logic behind Athenaeus' selection of quotations and their use in the new context.

This volume's many and diverse papers refer to every aspect of Athenaean scholarship and collectively take it to new levels: as such it must be the starting-point for anyone new to the Deipnosophistae and is likewise essential to those familiar with it. Individually, the contributions fulfil their respective roles--challenging old views and suggesting new approaches, or creating and analysing useful collections of quotations or parallels.[[4]] It is to be hoped that the second Athenaeus conference (in December 2003, organised by Wilkins and Christian Jacob) will bear fruit of this quality.[[5]]


[[1]] Lucía Guillén, Philosophes entre mots et mets (Diss. EHESS, Paris 1999).

[[2]] See 'The edible woman' in Amy Richlin (ed.), Pornography and representation (Oxford and New York 1992).

[[3]] Courtesans at table: gender and Greek literary culture in Athenaeus (London and New York 2003).

[[4]] A remarkable number of contributors have extremely valuable appendices, making their own evidence and their chosen aspect of Athenaeus accessible.

[[5]] There are many errors: I can only mention the few which might inconvenience readers. Neither Robbins 1992 (p. 562 n. 9) nor Lyons 1977 (p. 567 n. 8) are in the bibliography; Penella's initial is R[obert] not S (p. 605); half of an appendix (p. 465) is lacking the chronological information provided for the other half (compare p. 464).