Anyone interested in ancient history will wish to have this collection of Millar's essays on their shelf. (Philip A. Stadter, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Rome, the Greek World, and the East: Volume 1: The Roman Republic and the Augustan Revolutionby Fergus Millar, Hannah M. Cotton (Editor), Guy MacLean Rogers (Editor)
Rome, the Greek World, and the East: Volume 1: The Roman Republic and the Augustan Revolution
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Rome, the Greek World, and the East: Volume 1: The Roman Republic and the Augustan Revolution
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Rome, the Greek World, and the East
Volume 1: The Roman Republic and the Augustan Revolution
By Fergus Millar
Edited by Hannah M. Cotton, Guy M. Rogers
University of North Carolina Press
Copyright © 2002 The University of North Carolina Press.
All rights reserved.
Conceptions and Sources
Taking the Measure of the Ancient World
Almost exactly forty years ago, I was in my last term at a Scottish public school on the shores of the Firth of Forth, where the climate would have made that of Durham, by comparison, seem positively tropical, and the boys were prevented from freezing only by being permanently occupied in playing rugby football. But, fundamental as rugby football ("rugger" in common language) was to the ideology of the school, even I was surprised when the then head boy approached me, and said in despairing tones: "Millar, I get depressed sometimes. There are some people in this school who think that rugger is just something like Latin, which you never think about except when you're doing it."
I do not tell this story in order to mock my own origins. For one thing, in a world where we can be told by our prime minister that there is "no such thing as society," the values of "team spirit" and mutual responsibility which Loretto really did instil now seem less self-evident, and more important, than they might have done. Secondly, when, with the onset of the second infantilism common to middle-aged gentlemen, I came back years later to watching international rugger matches, I realised that the head boy had been right, on one side at least: we had just played and played, without actually thinking about how the game might be played better.
So, thirdly, might he have been right also in implying that Latin was also something which one tended just to "do," and that we do not always ask ourselves what our subject is, what it really amounts to, or how are we or our pupils might best approach it? This is the opportunity which I would like to take now: not, at least in the first instance, by way of self-questioning and self-criticism, but rather the opposite. By defining what our subject amounts to, we might also remind ourselves, and others, just how vast its scope is.
Let me begin by offering a possible definition: classics is the study of the culture, in the widest sense, of any population using Greek and Latin, from the beginning to (say) the Islamic invasions of the seventh century a.d.
Since Michael Ventris' decipherment of Linear B, "the beginnings" ought of course to cover the later second millennium b.c.; and certainly we can on no account leave the late Bronze Age out of our conception of Greek History. None the less, we could still choose to treat that as a sort of Greek "pre-history," and to take the decisive beginning as falling in the eighth century BC. To do that would be to use two interrelated markers: the appearance of the earliest scraps of writing which are not only in Greek but in the Greek alphabet; and the works of Homer and Hesiod.
Whether we ought, or ought not, to talk of a real, historical world of Homer (following M. I. Finley's brilliant The World of Odysseus), it remains very important that a remarkable range of the basic features of Greek culture and Greek social and political life is already represented for us in the poems of Homer: a multiplicity of gods and goddesses; sacrifices offered to them; temples; cities, and newly founded "colonial" cities; war; competition; honour; oratory; popular assemblies; competitive sport. Thus the history of European sports journalism begins, very appropriately, with Iliad 23, and a famous row as to whether victory in a chariot race had been legitimately won. (Perhaps, in view of the farce of the Grand National in 1993, the Classical Association could offer a prize for fifty lines of Homeric hexameters describing a race which never got started because some deity maliciously dulled the wits of the officials?).
But if we are to begin with Homer, it is absolutely essential not to let that mislead us into thinking of "Greek history" as something which happened first, followed sometime after by "Roman history." For the two histories and the two cultures were closely connected from the eighth century onwards, and became even more inextricably intertwined as time went on. Thus, we must recall that imported Greek vases were already reaching Rome around the notional, or legendary, date of its "foundation," 753 b.c. And from around that time too we have the East Greek Geometric skyphos discovered on the island of Pithekoussai (Ischia), the earliest Greek settlement in the West, and not much over one hundred miles from Rome. The famous graffito written on it, "I [am] the cup of Nestor, good to drink from," both reflects a knowledge of epic, and, being written from right to left, illustrates the (probably very recent) borrowing of the Greek alphabet from Phoenicia. Almost all that we can hope to know of the eighth-century Mediterranean is embodied in a single fragmentary pot.
We come, however, a great deal closer to early Rome with the krater of the following century found at Caere, a mere twenty miles from Rome, painted with a scene showing Odysseus and his companions blinding Polyphemus; or, a century later again, with Herodotus' story (1, 167) of how a Greek agon was instituted at Caere (Agylla) on the instructions of Delphi, in expiation for the murder of some Phocaean captives, and was still maintained in the next century. It is not merely that the early evolution of Rome took place within the orbit of Greek culture, as that the preconditions for the Romans' self-perception of themselves as descended from Aeneas existed almost from the very beginning.
From the archaic period onwards, we have to see Greek and Roman culture as evolving in parallel. Rome did lag behind, of course. Greek cities dotted the eastern and western Mediterranean, and the Black Sea, several centuries before Roman expansion began. Moreover, and crucially for our knowledge, Roman literature begins some five centuries later than Greek. The fact is more surprising than one might think. Rome of the late sixth century was already a major city, with at least one massive temple on the Capitol. And if the inscription, in an early form of Latin, on the Lapis Niger from the Forum is really of the mid-sixth century, then it is earlier than any known public inscription from Athens. Why a Latin literature did not develop before the third century b.c. is a real puzzle.
The moment when the two linked but separate histories do really start to become one is the late fourth century b.c. For Philip and Alexander's conquests, carrying Macedonian armies into Greece, and Greek-speaking armies all over the Near East, Egypt, Babylonia, Persia, and central Asia, are exactly paralleled by smaller-scale, but even more significant, developments in Italy. I mean the break-up of the Latin league in 338 b.c., and then half a century of wars against Samnites, Etruscans, Celts, and Greeks. Even before the Romans crossed the Straits of Sicily in 264 b.c., a long list of Greek cities had already come under Roman domination, and Rome was already a known power on the edges of the Greek world.
We do have to accept that both the interweaving of Greek and Roman culture and history, to produce a single "Graeco-Roman" world, and the vast extension of that world were produced by imperialism and colonisation. However complex the accompanying factors, and the mutual reactions between different cultural groups, it was, quite simply, imperialism and the desire for conquest which carried Greek culture to Afghanistan and northern India, and Graeco-Roman culture to Hadrian's Wall. As I am trying to stress, we have everything to boast of in the sheer extensiveness, in space and in time, of Graeco-Roman culture. But in emphasising the importance of our field as a major part of human experience, we must not, just because both "imperialism" and "colonialism" are unpopular concepts in modern culture, falsify history by obscuring the fact that it was, in the first instance, war, conquest, and overseas settlement, both Greek and Roman, which created the vast and long-standing Graeco-Roman world.
As for that process itself, we do not need to follow all the details here. It will be enough to recall that the two major phases were indeed Alexander's conquests in Asia in the later fourth century, and Roman conquest, in both the Greek East and what was to become the Latin West, which reached a decisive phase in the first century b.c.
From within the context of the imposition of Greek culture in Asia, it will be worth just picking out three areas where the consequences were particularly striking. The first is Egypt, which is given a particular significance by the survival of papyri. So, firstly, we can actually meet the settlers from the Greek world who established themselves there from the late fourth century onwards. Perhaps most notable of all, because so early, is the Greek papyrus of 311 b.c. from Elephantine, nearly six hundred miles south from the mouth of the Nile. The papyrus records a marriage contract between two Greek settlers:
In the 7th year of the reign of Alexander son of Alexander, the 14th year of the satrapship of Ptolemy, in the month of Dius. Marriage contract of Heraclides and Demetria. Heraclides takes as his lawful wife Demetria, Coan, both being freeborn, from her father Leptines, Coan, and her mother Philotis, bringing clothing and ornaments to the value to 1,000 drachmae, and Heraclides shall supply to Demetria all that is proper for a freeborn wife, and we shall live together wherever it seems best to Leptines and Heraclides consulting in common. . . . Witnesses: Cleon, Gelan; Anticrates, Temnian; Lysis, Temnian; Dionysius, Temnian; Aristomachus, Cyrenaean; Aristodicus, Coan.
More important, perhaps, because from now on until the Arab conquests Egypt was to be a bilingual land, in which both Egyptian and Greek were used, the tens of thousands of surviving papyri preserve for us a large, if erratic, cross-section of Greek literature, in which Homer predominates above all else. We can now read Greek (and a little Latin) literature, not as transmitted by medieval scribes, but as read in the ancient world.
The second area of immense significance was of course Judaea, for one of the long-term consequences of Alexander's conquests was to be that post-biblical Judaism, and of course early Christianity, would be formed within a Greek environment. Looking back from the end of the first century a.d., the great Jewish historian Josephus, writing in Greek the whole history of his people from the Creation to a.d. 66, was to incorporate a wonderful folk-tale, or (one might say) historical novella, about Alexander's visit to Jerusalem:
Then he went up to the temple, where he sacrificed to God under the direction of the high priest, and showed due honour to the priests and to the high priest himself. And, when the book of Daniel was shown to him, in which he had declared that one of the Greeks would destroy the empire of the Persians, he believed himself to be the one indicated; and in his joy he dismissed the multitude for the time being, but on the following day he summoned them again and told them to ask for any gifts which they might desire. When the high priest asked that they might observe their country's laws and in the seventh year be exempt from tribute, he granted all this.
We need not hesitate to say that the story as told is legend, for the Book of Daniel, in which this pseudo-prophecy does indeed appear (8:21), had not yet been written. It was to be composed, in the form in which we have it, in the heart of the Hellenistic period, to be precise in the 160s b.c., during the persecution of Judaism by the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
Alone of all the other cultures which were to be submerged by Greek culture, Judaism continued to produce works written in its two native languages, Hebrew and Aramaic (Daniel uses both), and to have its own canonical works translated into Greek. The legend of how the Bible, or at least the Pentateuch, came to be translated into Greek, involves both Egypt, under Ptolemy II Philadelphus (283-246 b.c.), and Judaea. For the king is said to have sent a mission to Jerusalem to bring translators to carry out the work in Alexandria. The story does indeed seem to be legend, though the seventy (or seventy-two) translators have given its name to the Greek version of the Bible, the Septuagint. But it is a fact that the work of translation had at least been begun in the third century; and with it a quite new vision of the world, and how it came into existence, came to be expressed in Greek. How many classes for the translation of Greek prose, I wonder, have ever found before them the opening words of the first chapter of Genesis?
[for Greek text, please refer to the printed book]
Yet this view of the nature of the world and of the divinity was, as time went on, to be at least as important, for millions of people whose language of culture was Greekand later, as we will see, Latinas anything contained in the pagan classics. It is therefore essential for us to see it too as part of ancient culture. The third century was thus also the moment when the two strands of our inherited culture came together.
Before we go on to look at the later Graeco-Roman world, it is worth taking a glance sideways at another conjunction of cultures and religious systems which might have led to an equally long-lasting new civilisation, but in the end did not. In the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus large parts of India and Afghanistan, profoundly affected by the arrival of Alexander, but given up by Seleucus Nicator, were ruled by a great emperor of the Mauryan dynasty, Asoka, one of whose epithets was "piodasses," which apparently means "of benevolent countenance." Having an important message to communicate to his people, Asoka had a series of proclamations inscribed at different points across his empire. One of these places was Kandahar, where he put up an edict in Aramaic and Greek. Since this quite remarkable document, first published in 1958, has never become generally well known to classicists, it deserves quotation in full here:
When ten years had been fulfilled, Piodasses demonstrated piety before men, and from that time on has made men more pious, and all has prospered throughout the land. For the king abstains from (eating) living things, and other meneven such as are the king's hunters or fishermenhave abandoned the chase. And if any are lacking in self-control, they have left off their excesses so far as they can. Moreover they are obedient each to their father and mother, and to the elders, to an extent greater than previously. For the future, acting according to all these principles, they will live more agreeably and better.
Why was the king impressing these ideals on his people? Because he had recently converted to the teachings of Buddha. The document is one of only two (the other being another edict of Asoka, published in 1964) in which Buddhist beliefs are expressed in classical Greek.
That remarkable conjunction turned out, so far as we know, to be abortive. In the end, the world of Greek cities would stretch no further than the Tigris, or at the most Seleucia on the Eulaeus, the ancient Susa. But in the wider Mediterranean region, Roman expansion, beginning, as we have seen, exactly at the moment of Alexander's conquests, absorbed nearly all of the region where those conquests had left long-lasting effects, and at the same time carried Latin culture all over Mediterranean North Africa, western Europe, including eventually Britain, and central Europe down the Danube to the Black Sea, with a striking extension into Dacia, present-day Romania. The effect, therefore, was to produce, by the first few centuries a.d., a dual Graeco-Roman culture, expressed in Greek, Latin, or both, from the Tigris to the Atlantic, or from Elephantine on the Upper Nile to Hadrian's Wall.
It is worth emphasising the sheer scale of this process. Modern estimates (or rather guesses) would put the population of the Roman Empire at something like 50 million people. It is important to stress that what was produced was a dual culture, Greek and Latin, in which the constituents of Latin culture owed far more to Greek culture and tradition than the other way round. The Roman army did of course carry the Latin language, and even Latin literature, to every corner of the Empire. Within the past few years new discoveries have demonstrated how the army took the text of the Aeneid with it to its furthest outposts: a line of the Aeneid (9, 473) from Vindolanda is echoed by another (4, 9) from Masada, the great rock by the Dead Sea which the Roman army occupied after its defenders, in the last stage of the Jewish Revolt, had committed suicide in a.d. 73 or 74.
But the first of the two fundamental facts which one needs to grasp about the Roman Empire, is that "Latinisation," never in any case seriously attempted, made very little progress in the Greek-speaking East. There is for instance no certain proof that anyone translated any of Virgil into Greek until in the early fourth century the emperor Constantine produced some of the Fourth Eclogue in Greek for the benefit of an assembly of bishops.
More important, in the eastern half of the Empire, the language of ordinary life, and even (largely) of public business, remained Greek. It would be a reasonable estimate that, at all stages in the history of the Roman Empire, it contained more native speakers of Greek than of Latin. Thus it was that there survived a continuous tradition of Greek culture through the Hellenistic period, through the Roman Empire of the first three centuries a.d., past the foundation by Constantine of Constantinople, situated at the strategic point on the route between Danube and Euphrates, past the fall of the Roman Empire in the West in the fifth century, and on into the Byzantine world.
But the other essential fact about the Roman Empire is equally important. That is the diffusion of Latin so as to become not just the language of Empire, but that of ordinary speech, in the non-Greek regions. When, forty years ago, my head boy just assumed that one did not really "think about" Latin, I fear that he was right. In the case of Italy itself, Gaul, and Spain, we can be certain that in the end a popular language which had evolved out of Latin did become the main language of ordinary speech. But when, by what stages, and by what social or educational processes? Had the same been true of North Africa before the Islamic invasions? Was it true of Britain by the time of the Roman withdrawal in the early fifth century? We can meet the ordinary Latin of the street and the market-place in (for instance) the curse tablets from the temple of Sulis Minerva at Bath, splendidly edited by R. S. O. Tomlin. But was Celtic none the less spoken all through the nearly four centuries of the Roman occupation of Britain, while leaving hardly a written trace? Similar problems present themselves also for all of central Europe, not to speak of Romania with its Latin-derived language. We do need to "think about" Latin; and the social history of the spread of Latin and its adoption as the language of ordinary speech has hardly begun to be written.
In any case, in thinking of the expansion of Latin, we are not concerned just with a language, but with an entire culture and historical consciousness. It is an extraordinary tribute to the attraction of Latin culture that virtually no trace survives of any pre-Roman literature, oral or written, or of any conception of their own previous history, on the part of any of the peoples of the western Mediterranean and of north-western and central Europe. The only literature they inherited was Latin, and the only history Romanexcept insofar as they acquired also a consciousness of Greek culture and, with Christianity, of Old Testament tradition.
Very few people, either then or now, have allowed themselves to be sufficiently surprised by this. One person who did so allow himself, however, was Aurelius Augustinus, born in a.d. 354 and brought up in the little one-horse town of Thagaste in Roman North Africa. Looking back in his Confessions, written in the 390s, Augustine did find it possible to ask himself why his education had been as it was:
Even now I have not yet discovered the reasons why I hated Greek literature when I was being taught it as a small boy. Latin I deeply loved, not at the stage of my primary teachers but at the secondary level taught by the teachers of literature called "grammarians." The initial elements, where one learns the three Rs of reading, writing and arithmetic, I felt to be no less a burden and an infliction than the entire series of Greek classes.
But why, in any case, had his education been about the passions of Dido and not about his own soul?
What is more pitiable than a wretch without pity for himself who weeps over the death of Dido dying for love of Aeneas, but not weeping over himself dying for his lack of love for you, my God, light of my heart, bread of the inner mouth of my soul, the power which begets life in my mind and in the innermost recesses of my thinking.
The question expressed the irresolvable tensions between the two traditions, Judaeo-Christian and classical, which now made up the culture of the Graeco-Roman Empirewhich, at the very time when Augustine was writing, was reaching, in a.d. 395, the first step in the eventual division of Latin West and Greek East.
Where we should see the story of Graeco-Roman culture as ending is of course an insoluble problem. In one sense the answer, of course, is never. In another, 1453 and the fall of Constantinople. Or perhaps the Islamic invasions of the seventh century. Or perhaps, if we wish to choose a terminal date, with the reign of Justininian in Constantinople, in 527-565. For not only did his reign see the last attempt to re-unify East and West by military means, but it also produced one of the greatest monuments of Latin prose and of Roman culture, the Digest. It seems odd, again, that, in an educational context, no one (to my knowledge) ever uses extracts from it. For, first, whatever Justinian may have intended, what the compilers of the Digest actually produced was something very familiar to us all: a source book. What they did was to select extracts from the main writers of classical Roman law, primarily those of the early third century a.d., Ulpian, Papinian, and Paulus, and arrange them under headings. Through the Digest we thus gain access to a vast corpus of Roman prose writing from the height of the Empire, the best part of 1 million words in all. Not only that, the main manuscript of the Digest, now in Florence, was written, in Latin of course somewhere in the Greek world in the late sixth or the seventh century a.d. It is thus extremely close in time to the original compilation.
Suppose that we imagined that the writing of this vast Latin manuscript had taken place in a.d. 622, the year of Mahomet's Hegira from Mecca to Medina. We might then choose to use these two events as marking a symbolic terminus for the ancient world. That date belongs almost exactly 1,400 years since the first Greek settlers had arrived in Pithekoussai, and since their immediate successors brought with them an awareness of "Nestor's cup" and Homeric epic. The interval concerned happens to be slightly longer than the timespan from a.d. 622 to now. In defending our subject, and in emphasising its significance in human history, and its sheer scale in space and time, we should not be too modest.
At the same time, we ought to be prepared to ask ourselves some questions. For a start, why have we allowed our "canon" of what is worth reading in Greek and Latin to be narrowed to whatever counts as "literature"? Might not extracts of Roman legal texts, with their repeated use of ordinary-life situations, seem more accessible to pupils than (for instance) Ovid with his complex web of mythological allusions? Equally, might not pupils respond to Roman architectural or military handbooks? Or to Greek medicine, in the form of the Hippocratic corpus? Or to papyrus letters, for instance, from errant sons to irate fathers? But above all, why do we exclude from the standard conception of what a classical education is about Jewish and Christian texts in Greek, and Christian texts in Latin? (To the best of my knowledge there is no Jewish literature in Latin from antiquity.) To end this exclusion would be, as I suggested earlier, to bring the Septuagint within the canon of Greek literature, not to speak of those two immensely powerful narratives (in Greek) of the Jewish resistance to Hellenism in the second century b.c., namely I and II Maccabees. These texts, conveniently available either in the Catholic Bible or Protestant editions of the Apocrypha (translated for instance in the New Jerusalem Bible or the New English Bible), are not only immensely powerful pieces of writing, but bear directly on the nature and impact of Greek culture in the Hellenistic period. Take for instance the account in II Maccabees 4 of how the high priest of the 170s b.c. "was pleased to found immediately below the acropolis a gymnasium, and conducted there the noblest of the ephebes wearing the petasos [a Greek sun-hat]. That was the moment of the height of Hellenismos and advance of foreign customs [allophylismos] through the pollution of the impious Jason, no true high priest, so much so that the priests were no longer eager to conduct the services of the altar, but, despising the Temple and neglecting the sacrifices, they rushed to take part in the exercises of the palaistra, when summoned by the sound of the diskos."
If we allowed ourselves this angle of vision on the classical world, we could also accept the centrality of the works of Josephus, written in Greek in Rome in the later first century a.d., but representing to the pagan world a tradition and a local history going back to the Creation. We might even read in Greek classes those vivid views of provincial society in the Roman Empire provided by the Gospels and Acts.
There are furthermore two other important reasons for allowing ourselves to include Jewish and Christian texts in our conception of "classics." One is that, in the case of Christianity, we can follow the transmission of the new faith from a Greek into a Latin context, and with that arrive once again at the Graeco-Roman world of late antiquity, where pagan culture and tradition lived in uneasy co-existence with Judaeo-Christian beliefs, traditions, and literature. We ought to remind ourselves also that it was probably in the late Roman world of (say) the fourth and fifth centuries a.d. that the largest number of people had either Greek or Latin as their primary language. In one way, as Augustine's picture of his education in his little home town shows, this was the most "classical" of all periods.
But the second reason is more relevant to how we introduce people to the classical world today. For the two important processes mentioned just now, the transfer of Christianity and its sacred scriptures into a Latin-speaking environment, and the clash between Christianity and paganism, are illustrated for us by texts of outstanding dramatic force, combined with great linguistic simplicity, the Acts of the Christian Martyrs. These Acts are not, though they may seem to be, authentic verbal records of the trials of martyrs. But they are ancient literary evocations of those trials, which both, in reality and as presented in martyr acts, served to focus on just what was at stake in the clash of two views of the world.
One aspect of these complex processes is perfectly caught in the earliest of the known martyr acts in Latin, which represents the trial before the proconsul of Africa in a.d. 180 of some Christians from a small place called Scilli. One of the proconsul's questions evokes a response of far greater significance than the very simple language might suggest:
Saturninus the proconsul asked: What things are there in your box?
Speratus answered: The books and letters of Paulus, a righteous man.
With that we have the very earliest evidence for the translation of the New Testament into Latin, a process which was to culminate in Jerome's great work of revision, and the production of the Vulgate, which has remained ever since the Bible of the Catholic Church:
In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram. terra autem erat inanis et vacua et tenebrae super faciem abyssi. et spiritus Dei ferebatur super aquas. dixitque Deus "fiat lux"; et facta est lux.
From one point of view, the diffusion of this view of what the world was is surely of some importance for our understanding of the ancient world. But from another, might not these simple, pregnant sentences provide for beginners a good way into the Latin of later antiquity (as Jewish texts do into the Greek of the Hellenistic period)? But if we did wish to use Christian Latin as a way in for beginners, there could be no better choice than the martyr act which represents the trial of Fructuosus, bishop of Tarragona, before the governor (praeses) in a.d. 259. Note the very loaded and meaningful use of tenses, the deployment of subordinate clauses, the contrast of singular and plural (deum and deos) in speaking of the divine order, and the stark clarity in which the clash of religious understandings is presented:
Aemilianus praeses Fructuoso dixit: Audisti quid imperatores praeceperunt?
Fructuosus dixit: Nescio quid praeceperunt. ego Christianus sum.
Aemilianus praeses dixit: Praeceperunt deos coli.
Fructuosus dixit: Ego unum Deum colo, qui fecit caelum et terram et mare et omnia quae in eis sunt.
Aemilianus dixit: Scis esse deos?
Fructuosus dixit: Nescio.
Aemilianus dixit: Scies postea.
Aemilianus praeses Fructuoso dixit: Episcopus es?
Fructuosus dixit: Sum.
Aemilianus dixit: Fuisti.
Aemilianus, the governor, asked Fructuosus: Have you heard what the emperors have ordered?
Fructuosus answered: I do not know what they have ordered. I am a Christian.
Aemilianus, the governor said: They have ordered that the gods are to be worshipped.
Fructuosus answered: I worship the one God, who made heaven and earth and sea and all that is in them.
Aemilianus asked: Do you know that there are gods?
Fructuosus answered: I do not know.
Aemilianus said: You will know later on.
Aemilianus, the governor, asked Fructuosus: Are you a bishop?
Fructuosus answered: I am.
Aemilianus said: You were.
Enough has been said to illustrate the three main themes which I want to put forward: the sheer scale in time and space of what we call the "ancient world"; the significance within it of those Jewish and Christian texts in Greek or Latin which we would do well to include in our view; and the use to which some of these texts could be put, as being grammatically simple but pregnant with meaning, in introducing beginners to classical culture and beliefs.
If space allowed, I would say something about the hundreds of thousands of inscriptions and tens of thousands of papyri which give us direct access to the words written in the thousands of small towns and villages of the ancient world (many of these texts would also serve for beginners starting to read Greek or Latin). But instead I will indulge myself by quoting from my favourite work from late antiquity, Jerome's brilliantly journalistic account of the life of Hilarion, an inhabitant of the ancient city of Gaza, who was born in the 290s and converted in the early years of the fourth century to the life of a Christian ascetic.
The ancient Philistine city of Gaza was now in fact a perfect example of a "Graeco-Roman" place. Long since Hellenised, it had been given in the third century the status of a Roman colony. Hence (in principle at least) it used Latin in its public affairs, and its two chief annual magistrates had the Latin title duumviri. As a Roman urbs, Jerome reports, the city held an annual festival in honour of the god Consus, to commemorate the rape of the Sabine women. As part of the festival, a Christian, Italicus, was due to enter a quadriga (four-horse chariot) against one owned by a pagan duumvir and feared the effect of spells. So Hilarion was asked to provide holy water to scatter over the Christian-owned horses and quadriga, and their charioteer.
Thus, Jerome records, "when the signal was given, they [the Christian horses] flew off, and the others were held up." Jerome picks up here the tradition of sports journalese inaugurated in Iliad 23, and turns to using the historic present: "Under the Christian chariot the wheels grow red hot; they [the pagan horses] can scarcely see their rival's backs as they fly past" (Sub horum curru rotae fervent; illi praetervolantium terga vix cernunt). "Marnas has been conquered by Christ!" (Marnas victus est a Christo), shouted the crowd. So indeed it was to be in the end, but only after several hundred years when worshippers of Christ and of the pagan deities co-existed, and more people were educated in Greek and Latin language, culture, and tradition than ever before. We should not be afraid, in the modern world, to boast of just how much of human history all this represents. But, equally, we should allow ourselves to "think about Latin," and about how the modern beginner can best be helped to approach the Graeco-Roman world.
A Note on the Sources
For anyone who wants to follow up any of the texts mentioned in this lecture, a note of some places where they are printed follows:
1. The papyrus of 311 b.c. is most easily found in A. S. Hunt and G. C. Edgar, Select Papyri 1 (1932), no. 1, Loeb edition.
2. Josephus' account of Alexander in Jerusalem comes from his Jewish Antiquities 11, 8, 5 (329-39); the passage quoted is 336-38 (Loeb).
3. The Buddhist inscription of Asoka was first published by D. Schlumberger, L. Robert, A. Dupont-Sommer, and E. Benveniste in Journal Asiatique 246 (1958): 1. Text and French translation also in J. Pouilloux, Choix d'inscriptions grecques (1960): no. 53. The second Greek text was published by E. Benveniste in Journal Asiatique 252 (1964): 137, and by D. Schumberger in Comptes-rendu de l'Académie des inscriptions (1964): 1, and is reproduced in P. Steinmetz, ed., Beiträge zur hellenistischen Literatur und ihren Rezeption in Rom (1990), on pp. 47-49.
4. Constantine's translation of the Fourth Eclogue into Greek is contained in his Address to the Assembly of the Saints, usually printed along with Eusebius' "biography," On the Life of the Blessed Constantine. The passage referred to is Address, chaps. 19-20. The only English translation known to me is that of P. Schaff and H. Wace in Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers I (1890; repr. 1952). But see now A. Cameron and S. Hall, Eusebius' Life of Constantine, translated with introduction and commentary (1999).
5. R. S. O. Tomlin's edition of the curse tablets from Bath can be found in B. Cunliffe, ed., The Temple of Sulis Minerva at Bath II (1988).
6. The translation of the Confessions (1, 13) is taken from that by H. Chadwick, Saint Augustine, Confessions (World's Classics, 1992).
7. The Greek text of I and II Maccabees can be found in editions of the Septuagint, for instance, that by A. Rahlfs, originally published in 1935; and also, with French translations and commentary, in F.-M. Abel, Les livres des Maccabées (1949).
8. The Christian martyr acts can be found with a (very poor) English translation, in H. Musurillo, The Acts of the Christian Martyrs (1972). The text of the acts of the Scillitan martyrs is no. 1, and that of the acts of Fructuosus no. 12.
9. Jerome's Vita Hilarionis is printed in C. Mohrmann, ed., Vita dei Santi IV (1975), 69ff., and translated in R. J. Deferrari, ed., Early Christian Biographies (1952), 245ff.
Excerpted from Rome, the Greek World, and the East by Fergus Millar. Copyright © 2002 by The University of North Carolina Press. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
What People are Saying About This
A dizzying series of revisionist essays, always challenging with their recurring and intermeshed themes. Commendations are due the editors for the care devoted to assembling and presenting this volume.--Classical Bulletin
Fergus Millar's vast output of publications on all periods of Roman and Hellenistic history . . . has established his reputation as the outstanding Roman historian of his generation.--Journal of Roman Studies
Anyone interested in ancient history will wish to have this collection of Millar's essays on their shelf. He has made an enormous contribution to our understanding of the Roman Empire in all its richness and diversity. His introductory essay provides an overview of where Roman history is going and how his own work fits in the larger picture.--Philip A. Stadter, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Reflects the remarkably wide and multifaceted interests by which Fergus Millar continues to enrich the study of ancient history.--Times Literary Supplement
A readable, stimulating anthology.--Choice
Meet the Author
Fergus Millar is Camden Professor of Ancient History at the University of Oxford.
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