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Reviewed by:
  • Ammianus Marcellinus: The Allusive Historian
  • Joel S. Ward
Gavin Kelly . Ammianus Marcellinus: The Allusive Historian. Cambridge Classical Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Pp. xi, 378. $99.00. ISBN 978-0-521-84299-0.

Kelly's book is an investigation into the allusivity of Ammianus Marcellinus, the overall thrust of which is to argue for a greater appreciation of Ammia-nus' interaction with both classical and contemporary authors. Kelly maintains that Ammianus does not simply select rare words and purple passages from [End Page 267] handbooks in order to add ornament and ostentation of learning to his work. While Kelly admits that not all allusions and intertextual relationships are crucially meaningful, he contends that there are numerous occasions when such allusiveness can deepen our understanding and interpretation of Am-mianus' complex and multilayered text. Another point made throughout is Kelly's insistence that this historian is better understood and read in the same way that "classical" historians are, rather than having imposed on him some sort of hazily defined "late-antique" literary aesthetic. According to Kelly, Ammianus should be seen (as he most likely saw himself) engaging with his literary predecessors and contemporaries in the same way that earlier historians and authors did with theirs. Kelly had little trouble convincing me on either of these points.

On more specific arguments, I found chapters 2 ("The Adventures of Am-mianus"), 6 ("The Exemplary Historian"), and 7 ("Julian's Monument") to be the most successful. Chapter 2 focuses on autobiographical passages, with an emphasis on those employing allusion. Rather than revealing intimate details about the historical Ammianus, these passages, Kelly argues, construct an authorial persona that lends the narrative authority and prestige, and which further serve to emphasize the juxtaposition of the narrator's experience as a soldier as well as his learning (miles quondam et Graecus) and thus highlight his reliability as an historian. Chapters 6 and 7 both focus on the historian's use of exempla not just from the more distant past, but also from earlier portions of the narrative. The former begins with a detailed definition of exempla in Roman historiography before moving on to a discussion of Ammianus' use of some specific sources for exempla. Some of this material could be briefer. Still, the chapter picks up pace over its course and ends with an engaging consideration of Gallus in Book 14. In chapter 7, Kelly first considers how Julian's central presence in the narrative was possibly prepared for in the lost books by the presentation of certain emperors as examples for Julian. He next examines how Julian functions in the remainder of the work as an exemplum for Jovian, Valentinian, and Valens. Kelly's discussion of Ammianus' use of intratextual allusions to compare Julian's success at Strasbourg to Valens' horrendous defeat at Adrianople is particularly stimulating and successful. Kelly shows himself a very sensitive and careful reader in these chapters.

It is chapters 4 ("Ammianus' Intertextuality") and 5 ("Sources"), however, which may strike some as surprising. Allusion per se is not really something new to historiography. What is a bit different about these chapters is Kelly's interest in how Ammianus uses what have generally been called "sources" as "source-texts." That is, Kelly believes that Ammianus is perfectly capable of using, say, Herodian as both a source of information and a source-text for allusion. Kelly bases his discussion on scholarship of Latin poetry as well as Woodman's work on Tacitus. This approach is well justified, interesting, and can serve as a model for investigations of other historians as well. In chapter 4, however, Kelly does not always delve as deeply as one would hope into how recognizing certain passages as intertext or allusion leads to a better understanding of the narrative. Chapter 5, though at times also lacking in depth, is more to the point and Kelly does a much better job showing how the allusions and intertexts discussed provide a more intricate/improved reading of the narrative.

This book will appeal especially to scholars of Ammianus, but anyone interested in historiography generally as well as late antique literature or history will benefit from a reading. Furthermore, those unfamiliar...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9234
Print ISSN
0009-8418
Pages
pp. 267-269
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-18
Open Access
No
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