miriam cooke, Erday Göknar and Grant Parker (edd.), Meditteranean Passages: Readings from Dido to Derrida. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2008. Pp. 416, incl. 32 illustrations, 7 maps, a bibliography and an index. ISBN 978-0-8078-3183-0. US$24.95.
Richard J. Evans
School of History & Archaeology Cardiff University, Wales, U.K.
The mediterranean as the subject for holistic study has certainly advanced, and continues to advance, in great strides ever since the publication of The Corrupting Sea and the subsequent volume Rethinking the Mediterranean, which came as a response to the original work.[] For both of these publications, see under ‘Further Readings’ (pp. 379f.). The intention of the editors here is made plain in the introduction (pp. 1-9): ‘that the texts and images . . . will inspire travellers and students to imagine connections between the farthest reaches of the Sea . . . to look below the concrete of modern cities and the rubble of archaeological sites in order to uncover their interconnectedness and to decipher the extraordinary palimpsest that is the Mediterranean’ (p. 8).
The work is arranged in a chronological order with each of the chapters containing an introductory section followed by the selected passages, which are themselves preceded by an introductory note. Chapter 1, ‘Diaspora’ (pp. 11-58), contains some quite familiar offerings from Homer, Hesiod, and a selection of biblical texts, but also some rather less well known items such as an early inscription from Marseilles. Chapter 2, ‘Mare Nostrum’ (pp. 59-99), continues in the same vein with a survey of mostly Hellenistic and Roman literary material from, among others, Virgil, Pausanias and Augustine. Chapter 3, ‘Barzakh: The Waters Between’ (pp. 101-61), leaps forward leaving Antiquity behind to offer some interesting but possibly less familiar offerings by Muslim and Jewish authors, although there are also excerpts here from Dante and Boccaccio. Interposed between Chapters 3 and 4 is a section entitled ‘Art Gallery’, which is obviously devoted to visual material of the subjects discussed in the chapters such as ancient and medieval maps of the Mediterranean, illustrations of Constantinople and Venice, and many of these are both relevant and add to the overall presentation. The thirty-two black & white illustrations contained here are reproduced quite reasonably (pp.163-92), given the rather poor quality of the paper. Chapter 4, ‘Grand Tours’ (pp. 193-251), takes on a new dimension with extracts from the diaries of Columbus and the words of, for instance, William Shakespeare, Catherine de Medici and Napoleon Bonaparte; and while the intention is perhaps meant to throw the focus more on Mediterranean links with the outside world, the choice of texts while continuing to absorb seem sometimes a little wayward in choice. Chapter 5, ‘Epic Encounters’ (pp. 253-315), is essentially the views of the colonizer or the visitor mostly to the eastern or southern shores of the Mediterranean such as Byron, de Lamartine and Hemingway or of the residents of those parts such as Huda Shaarawi and Yahya Haqqi. Chapter 6, ‘Global Pond’ (pp. 317- 77), takes the story of the Mediterranean into the present century from about the end of the Second World War, its triumphs and its tragedies. Public figures and writers documented here include Ben Gurion, Mahmud Darwish and Jacques Derrida. A full index (p. 381-99) is contained at the end of the volume. The editors also very usefully include a ‘Thematic Contents’ which could be used for teaching purposes (pp. ix-xii) under the headings: Commerce, Conversion and Translation, Exile and Death, Hospitality, Imperialism and Colonization, Slavery and Captivity, Tourism and Pilgrimage, War, Women.
On the one hand there has clearly been some considerable thought in bringing together the collection, but that is rather offset by the frequency of inaccuracies and errors both in the introductory comments and in notes to a number of selected items. Thucydides’ history covers the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) only down to 411 when the text ends abruptly (p. 48), Carthage is surely meant for the transmitted ‘Corinth’ (p. 65), Alexander the Great paid homage to Achilles (p. 81) not because he was a myth, but because he was the king’s ancestor, the biography of Alexander by Plutarch is paired with that of Julius Caesar not Pompey (p. 82), Panhellenic games such as that convened at Olympia in Elis, of course, welcomed competitors from much further afield than simply the Aegean (p. 87), in 1798 Napoleon was consul of the French Republic not yet ‘emperor’ when he invaded Egypt (p. 243). Moreover, some of the introductory notes have been left rather vague when more precision would have been of benefit to the reader. For example, (p. 258) in ‘the early 1940’s, the British and the French sent forces to their Mediterranean colonies to fight on one of the major fronts.’ Does the reference to ‘French’ mean the Free French forces or those of the Vichy government, neither of which was especially prominent in the North African campaigns, while the assertion that the Gallipoli campaign in World War 1 ‘reenacted the Trojan War’ (p. 258) simply does not stand up to scrutiny.
It is very easy to cite passages that, or figures who, could or indeed should have been included here. For example, the Augustan geographer- philosopher Strabo ought to be in any section devoted to ‘Diaspora’ or colonization (Chapter 1). Cicero’s oration ( de lege Manilia) is highly applicable to a discussion of Mare Nostrum as are poems by Catullus or Ovid. Indeed rather more mainstream Latin authors deserve entries in Chapter 2. E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View even if sited chronologically rather later than other items in Chapter 4 could have found a place among the idea of ‘Grand Tours’, and while Columbus is liberally presented (pp. 200-206) there is no room for Marco Polo. Inevitably perhaps, there is a clear focus on the three great religions of the Mediterranean: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, which is justified at the outset (p. 1), however, this does mean that Antiquity and some areas of the Mediterranean, notably the Adriatic and the whole of the Balkans seem, on balance, unrepresented and neglected. However, for all these objections, the selections have obviously been made with some care and empathy for this seemingly huge and ever growing subject, and this volume will undoubtedly be of much use to both the teacher and the student in courses dealing with the many aspects of the Mediterranean Sea.
[] Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell, The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History (Oxford 2000) and the subsequent volume by William Harris, Rethinking the Mediterranean (Oxford 2005).