New Perspectives on the Classics

Book News & Reviews

By: Irene Bald Romano, Valentine Talland and David Gilman Romano

Originally Published in 2004

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Portraits of the Ptolemies: Greek Kings as Egyptian Pharaohs, by Paul Edmund Stanwick (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002), 236 pp., 282 illustrations, cloth, $55.00, ISBN 0-292-77772-8.

Reviewed by Irene Bald Romano

Portraits of the Ptolemies is written from the point of view of an Egyptologist looking at a body of material that is often viewed through the Greek-focused eyes of classicists. The book deals with the complex period when the Macedonian Greek dynasty of the Ptolemies governed Egypt, following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C., until the defeat of Cleopatra VII at the Battle of Actium in 30 B.C.

Paul Stanwick analyzes a collection of around 200 sculp­tures from Egypt, manufactured during the nearly three cen­turies of Ptolemaic rule, and demonstrates that this group of royal portraits reflects a sophisticated attempt on the part of the dominant Greeks to deliver various visual propagandistic messages to the native Egyptian and new Greek populations.

Egypt, under Ptolemaic rule, had a politically-charged atmosphere in which Egyptian and Greek peoples and their ideas both clashed and fused. During this time, there was a careful cultivation of native Egyptian royal cults and evidence that the Ptolemies garnered support of the native Egyptian populations for political and economic reasons. The Ptolemies consciously selected ruler images to deliver the right message; for example, Ptolemy as the powerful triumphant pharaoh pro­tecting Egypt or Ptolemy as the legitimate successor in an illus­trious line of divine kings of Egypt. The introduction of Greek elements into very traditional Egyptian royal statue types was initially a bold move on the part of the Ptolemies. Eventually, Greek/Egyptian collaboration provides the momentum for a more aggressively Greek approach to royal portraiture.

Iconography or visual vocabulary, such as the presence of the uraeus or crowns; stylistic elements, Greek hairstyles, for instance; scale, from lifesize to colossal; choice of material, granite, limestone, or marble; and the placement of statues, were all calculated to present the most persuasive “politically correct” image.

This impressive book is well-written, thoroughly researched, and incorporates the very latest discoveries in the field of Ptolemaic sculpture, including the colossal royal stat­ues from the Pharos island of Alexandria, recently brought to light by the team of Jean-Yves Empereur. Although the book is primarily aimed at a scholarly audience, a lay audience will appreciate the well-defined terminology, succinct chronology, comfortable organization with concluding summaries, extraordinarily full bibliographer, and well-chosen illustrations.

IRENE BALD ROMANO is the 2oo3-2oo4 Rodney Young Postdoctoral Fellow of the Penn Museum and Co-curator and Coordinator of the Penn Museum’s permanent exhibition “Worlds Intertwined: Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans.”

Guide to the Etruscan and Roman Worlds at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, by Donald White, Ann Blair Brownlee, Irene Bald Romano, Jean Macintosh Turfa, and edited by Lee Horne (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum, 2002), 112 pp., 129 illustrations, 2 maps, cloth, $29.95, ISBN 1-931707-37-5, paper, $14.95, ISBN 1-931707-38-3.

Reviewed by Valentine Tallard

“Inquiry-based learning” is a catch phrase among museum educators. It describes a concept and techniques that do not directly tell a museum visitor what an object is (what it is made of, where it comes from, its date, etc.). Instead, the visitor is first asked,“What do you see?” This is followed by more ques­tions designed to sharpen the visitor’s capacity to look and analyze. The goal is to educate visitors to do more looking at museum objects and less reading of text labels.

By definition, a gallery guide generally preempts this process of auto-discovery; however, a rich and thoughtful guide such as this Guide to the Etruscan and Roman Worlds can prompt a visitor to consider questions about the gallery objects that expand from the information in the guide.

This guide focuses on establishing context for the objects. It elicits the reader’s interest in who made these objects and how they were used. Succinct background information is pro­vided about the Etruscan and Roman worlds, and these expla­nations are further delineated by geographic region and historic period. The Etruscan collection is presented in logical and accessible subcategories, such as daily life in Etruria, lan­guage, technology and commerce, and religion. The section on the Roman World encompasses artifacts from both republican and Imperial Rome; however, its focus is on the latter and the section begins with a brief history of the Imperial families, illustrated primarily by coins.

The Roman collection is presented under general head­ings: Roman religion, death and burial, and domestic life. The objects presented elicit a sense of intimacy revealing daily activities such as dining, use of cosmetics, indoor plumbing and heating, and the lives of children. In both the Roman and Etruscan sections, the objects represent a rich diversity of material and methods of manufacture, and are all in an excel­lent state of preservation.

The numerous, small photographs of the objects are very good; most are in color and appear to have been taken recently, at the time of the reinstallation of the galleries fol­lowing any conservation work. Several site photographs provide a sense of context. There are also black and white photographs that show the collections installed at the Museum at the turn of the last century. These photographs depict curious contrasts in display: in some cases ceramics were assembled as scientific specimens behind glass; con­versely, the contents of the Tuscania tomb were dramatically assembled in a kind of tableau.

These historic examples of museum interpretation are today viewed as both subjective and even manipulative. Their inclusion in this guide subtly reminds the reader that the job of interpretation is the shared responsibility of both the curators and the museum visitor. This guide provides the visitor with ample information to be inquisitive and enjoy these newly installed galleries.

VALENTINE TALLAND is the Senior Objects Conservator at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek, by Barry Cunliffe (New York: Walker, 200i), i95 pp., 9 maps, 9 illustra­tions, cloth, $23.00, ISBN 0i40297847.

Reviewed by David Gilman Romano

Pytheas was a notable 4th century B.C. navigator and explorer who was the first Greek to visit northern Europe, a mysteri­ous land on the edges of the world, known in antiquity for the production of gold, tin, and amber. Beginning his voy­age in the Greek colony of Massalia, modern-day Marseilles on the Mediterranean, Pytheas’s route likely had him travel to the north, by land; across to northwest France; and then, by sea, to Great Britain and the coast of Denmark; and he may have reached as far north as Iceland on the borders of the Arctic Circle.

Pytheas’s own account of his journey written about 320 B.C., On the Ocean, was lost, although other later ancient Greek and Roman historians, including Strabo, Diodoros, and Pliny refer to the work and the voyage of Pytheas as the beginning of northwest European history. It was not until the Roman invasion of Britain by Julius Caesar in 55 and 54 B.C. that there was another noteworthy visit to Britain by a famous ancient traveler. Of course, Julius Caesar brought his Legions with him on that occasion.

Why did Pytheas make this journey? Pytheas lived at the time of Aristotle, the famous Athenian philosopher and scien­tist who was interested in gathering together information about many subjects and facts, as well as theories. Pytheas was influenced by this 4th century B.C. spirit of scientific inquiry and interested in acquiring knowledge about Northern Europe, by means of personal observation and with the objec­tive of learning about the sources of the natural resources of great importance to the Greek world. As a navigator, Pytheas was interested in carefully calculating the latitudes of areas that he visited, and these he recorded to be used by later scien­tists and geographers, including Hipparchus and Strabo.

The author is Barry Cunliffe, the well-known Professor of European Archaeology at Oxford University. He has writ­ten a lively and fascinating account of Pytheas, the scientist and explorer. The book is written as a popular book, without footnotes, but with a good index and suggestions for further reading. There are numerous maps and illustrations that enhance the attractiveness of the book both for the general reader and the specialist.

Cunliffe makes extensive use of the words of ancient his­torians who refer to Pytheas in their writings, making much of the text a series of first-hand accounts. He puts together what is the most likely itinerary for Pytheas and comments on each stage of the journey. He also discusses what likely happened to the original copies of Pytheas’s book On the Ocean and how the book was lost in antiquity.

DAVID GILMAN ROMANO is a Senior Research Scientist in the Mediterranean Section of the Penn Museum and Adjunct Associate Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Cite This Article

Romano, Irene Bald, Talland, Valentine and Romano, David Gilman. "New Perspectives on the Classics." Expedition Magazine 46, no. 1 (March, 2004): -. Accessed February 29, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/new-perspectives-on-the-classics/


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