Scholia Reviews ns 14 (2005) 4.

Aidan Liddle (ed.), Arrian: Periplus Ponti Euxini. London: Bristol Classical Press, 2003. Pp. viii + 139, incl. 2 maps. ISBN 1-85399-661-0. UK£14.99.

Owen Hodkinson,
The Queen's College, Oxford.

Arrian's Periplus is a fascinating but much overlooked text; this is the first English translation for nearly two hundred years. The neglect is partly because of doubts over its authenticity, but the current trend, followed by Liddle, is to regard it as genuine (Liddle summarises the debate on pages 27-32). As so often, however, such doubts have limited consideration even of aspects of the text which are interesting regardless of authorship. A new translation is therefore very welcome, as is Liddle's aim to 'bring it to a new audience' and provide 'an introduction to [its] various themes' (p. vii).

The text itself is the Teubner,[[1]] and the facing translation is accurate and readable. The commentary is geared to the English, and primarily provides topographical and historical details, references to writers quoted or named by Arrian, and parallels for the text's factual content. Unlike many Bristol Classical Press commentaries, there is no grammatical or syntactical help, which might have made the text more accessible to students of history with beginner- or intermediate-level Greek -- prima facie this edition's main potential audience. However, the parallel translation provides a crib, and the Greek is not particularly difficult.

The introduction (pp. 1-38) efficiently surveys the expected topics -- Arrian's political and literary careers, his relationship with the text's addressee Hadrian, and the contexts and formal features of the Periplus -- and provides further bibliography on the text. Liddle rightly emphasises that it touches upon many issues currently of interest to scholars of the 'Second Sophistic' (a problematic term, but still convenient shorthand). Arrian is a member of the Greek literary elite and the Roman imperial administration.[[2]] This text presents itself as a report addressed to the emperor, containing appropriately subtle encomium; it displays concerns with the Greek (literary) past, especially local history and myth, and an interest in gaining local knowledge through travel. In addition to these contemporaneous elements, I would add the primitivism in the description of an isolated hero's shrine in harmony with nature (§21-23),[[3]] and the emphasis on individual epiphanic experiences, as opposed to collective, civic ritual, which together create a religious atmosphere often evoked in this period.[[4]] Similarly, Arrian's experimentation with prose genres, including his use of the epistolary form as a narrative medium, is typical of his era.[[5]]

Liddle discusses the issue of genre, describing the Periplus as, in part, a 'friendly letter, presenting . . . an image of the emperor by reflecting his concerns' (p. 22) and as 'revealing private correspondence' (p. 26). It might be better characterised as 'in epistolary form', since this is clearly a literary work for publication, written for a wider audience than the addressee, as Liddle recognises (p. 30). (Given the emphasis on the epistolary nature of the text, it is strange to see nothing in the commentary concerning the epistolary opening formula either in literary letters or in genuine letters to emperors, of which many are preserved in inscriptions.) There is nothing private about this work. The epistolary form adds authority both to Arrian's narrative and to his self-presentation in relation to the emperor, while the impression it creates of reading private correspondence (as well as the hints at secret information contained in the separate, official report, referred to at §6.2 and §10.1) is part of the interest for the reader. Both devices are often exploited in epistolary literature, as in Chion Epp. 7-8 and 15-16 -- pairs in which one letter prefaces another (although there the addressees are different). To be sure, there is no reason to doubt that Arrian did send the encomiastic Periplus to Hadrian, but this could be true even without the epistolary form. This is a sophistic(ated) text, and requires analysis as such; we should be wary of concluding that it allows the reader a privileged view of the real Hadrian. The emperor's concerns reflected in this text are different from those reflected in other texts (although we can probably assume that Arrian was working with aspects of an approved public image of the emperor), and are at least as much about the interests of Arrian and his elite Greek audience. Indeed, while Liddle discusses Arrian's dual Greek and Roman identities and his relationship with the philhellene emperor, the discussion lacks some of the subtlety of recent scholarship concerned with negotiating identities in this context.[[6]] So, we read that 'Arrian . . . [relates] some of the less sensitive information in this open, friendly letter, as if to emphasise Hadrian's genuine interest in the matter' (p. 20, my emphasis), rather than that Arrian emphasises Hadrian's philhellenic image and shared interests with himself and his audience. Thus at the same time the author presents himself as friend of the emperor and constructs an identity for Hadrian which was both amenable to his Hellenophone subjects in the eastern empire and (therefore) useful to Hadrian in this context. (Compare the implicit alignment of the emperor with cultured Greeks as opposed to BARBAROI/ (1.2) -- although on one level true, the opposition Greek/barbarian created a problem when referring to Romans which different authors dealt with in different ways.)[[7]]

Given that Liddle rightly locates this text in the 'Second Sophistic', more analysis of the literary qualities and rhetorical strategies of the text might have been expected. Are there allusions other than those explicitly marked by Arrian?[[8]] Does he employ prose- rhythms? Are there 'set-piece descriptions' (p. 30) ecphrases (the term is not used), and how does the use of language differentiate them from the rest of the narrative? Is the arrival at the homonymous (Pontic) Athens (3.4) playful? (The translation has 'Athenai', not 'Athens', to mark the difference, but there is no difference in the Greek, of course.) And what is the function of the storm narrative (§3)? Liddle notes that it is not part of the main purpose of the letter, but does not make any positive suggestions. This passage, quoting Homer and an unknown tragedy, is in a higher register than much of the text, and could therefore be seen as the essential storm-scene in an epic voyage, a continuation of Arrian as prose Homer (cf. Anabasis 1.12.4f.) with Hadrian as Achilles (§21-23). In sum, since much of this short text consists of topographical listing, more might have been made of its literary high points which break up the traditional periplus material.

Although it is a shame that Liddle's commentary treats the Periplus almost exclusively as historical source rather than literary text, this edition can perform a valuable service in resurrecting it for a wider audience, and achieves what it sets out to do admirably. While Roos and Wirth, Marenghi and Silberman[[9]] will remain the first port of call for scholars needing to refer to the Periplus, this edition will serve as an excellent introduction to the text for many, and also raises different issues from previous editors (in particular the question of its importance for 'Second Sophistic' concerns); it is to be hoped that it will that go some way towards remedying the undeserved neglect of Arrian's Periplus.


[[1]] A. Roos and G. Wirth (edd.), Flavii Arriani quae existant omnia (Leipzig 1967) with minor emendations noted on pp. 45-47.

[[2]] Liddle here draws on P. Vidal-Naquet, 'Flavius Arrianus entre deux mondes', introducing P. Savinel, L'Histoire d'Alexandre d'Arrien (Paris 1984).

[[3]] Cf. Philostratus, Heroicus, Longus, Dio Orations 7 and 36, and Plutarch's nostalgia in On the Decline of Oracles, and Pausanias' for abandoned rural shrines. These are listed in S. Alcock, Graecia Capta: the Landscapes of Roman Greece (Cambridge 1993) 200f. See also J. Porter,'Ideals and Ruins: Pausanias, Longinus, and the Second Sophistic', in S. Alcock, et al. (edd.) Pausanias (Oxford 2001); A. Lovejoy and G. Boas, Primitivism and Related Ideas in Antiquity (Baltimore 1935).

[[4]] See, for example, Philostratus, Heroicus and Vita Apollonii with V. Platt, 'Virtual Visions: Phantasia and the Perception of the Divine in The Life of Apollonius of Tyana', in E. Bowie and J. Elsner (edd.) Philostratus (Cambridge forthcoming), Aristides, Sacred tales, and Dio Or. 12. On this aspect of imperial Greek religiosity, see now V. Platt, 'Epiphany and Representation in Graeco-Roman Culture: Art, Literature, Religion', Part 3 (D. Phil. Oxford 2004).

[[5]] Cf. P. A. Rosenmeyer, Ancient Epistolary Fictions (Cambridge 2001) for the genre's development, including the Briefroman. For exotic travel tales beyond the periplus tradition compare the Alexander Romance (which may originally have been a Briefroman), the Greek novels, Lucian's True History, and the Incredible Things beyond Thule by Antonius Diogenes. This last also purports to be a letter; Periplus 23.3 might be a playful reference to this text -- Arrian's severally and serially transmitted knowledge of the island is OU)K A)/PISTA. On travel writing see J. Romm, The Edges of the Earth in Ancient Thought (Princeton 1992).

[[6]] Cf. T. Whitmarsh, Greek Literature and the Roman Empire (Oxford 2001); also S. Swain, Hellenism and Empire (Oxford 1996) 242-48 on Arrian.

[[7]] For example, Dion. Hal. reinvents Romans as Greeks. See F. Hartog in S. Saïd (edd.) Hellenismos (Leiden 1991). Aristides rewrites the opposition as Romans/non-Romans (To Rome 63).

[[8]] For example, Periplus 21 (cf. Xenophon Anabasis 5.3?) Is MNH/MHN AI)W/NION (1.4) a metaliterary reference, alluding to Thucydides' KTH=MA/ TE E)J AI)EI\ (1.22), as well as literally referring to the statue?

[[9]] Roos and Wirth [1]; G. Marenghi, Arriano: Periplo del Ponti Eusini (Naples 1958); A. Silberman, Arrien: Périple du Pont-Euxin (Paris 1995).