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Reviewed by:
  • Texts and Culture in Late Antiquity. Inheritance, Authority, and Change
  • Michael Fournier
J.H.D. Scourfield, ed. Texts and Culture in Late Antiquity. Inheritance, Authority, and Change. Swansea: The Classical Press of Wales, 2007. Pp. xii +346. US $89.50. ISBN 978-1-905125-17-3.

This volume is a valuable contribution to scholarship on intellectual culture in late Antiquity, and one that more than justifies itself as an addition to the ever increasing number of conference proceedings published each year. In fact only six of the thirteen chapters (all in English, mostly by scholars from Ireland and the United Kingdom, but also Europe and the United States) are reworkings of papers presented at the first Celtic Conference [End Page 488] in Classics as part of a panel entitled "Late Antiquity: its uses of inherited texts." The rest were written for this collection. David Scourfield was the chair of the panel in 2000, and his own contribution continues in that spirit. His chapter, "Textual inheritances and textual relations in late Antiquity," goes far beyond the obligatory editor's introduction with its perfunctory summaries of papers. Instead, Scourfield puts forward his own argument, that the idea of transformation, while not intended to efface the justifiable narratives of decline and transition which characterise scholarship on the period, should be set down as a corrective to the one-sidededness of those prevailing narratives. Scourfield weaves summaries of the volume's contributions together into the evidence for his own thesis. None of the contributions is easily summarized, and Scourfield takes more than a page for more than half of the chapters, and almost an entire page for the rest. The generous discussion of each chapter also serves to highlight the high degree of interconnectedness and integration of the collection (though there are surprisingly few cross references in the contributors' notes). For the purposes of the volume Scourfield defines the parameters of "late Antiquity" as "roughly the period from the middle of the third to the middle of the fifth century," and the "lands more or less under Roman control" (4). Still, this means treatments of texts and figures from Italy, Spain, Gaul, Greece and Macedonia, North Africa, Egypt, Palestine and Syria. The coherence of the volume comes from the fact that each chapter deals in some way with the reception and transformation of one (or more) of the "texts of special authority" (vii): Homer, Virgil, Plato, and the Bible. The chapters are not organised chronologically, since many treat more than one text or author, and many of their dates are uncertain. For the purposes of this review I will focus on the way that the inherited texts of Homer, Virgil, Plato and the Bible structure the volume.

In "A new created world: classical geographical texts and Christian contexts in late Antiquity," Mark Humphries explores the "very real continuity" (55) between the classical geography of Pliny and the geography of Medieval Christendom exemplified in the 13th century Hereford mappa-mundi. This continuity is explored through a consideration of three texts: the Expositio Totius Mundi et Gentium, the Descriptio Totius Mundi, and Orosius' Seven books of Histories against the Pagans. These works document both the transformation and the preservation of the cultural ideology embedded in the classical geographical texts. The Bible is the text of special authority. The exegete's need for geographical knowledge, argued for by St. Augustine in his De Doctrina Christiana and exemplified in the late Antique practice of binding books of the Bible together with classical geographical texts, resulted in the rereading and rewriting of these texts. The Descriptio attests to a Christianisation of the Expositio (through both [End Page 489] excisions and interpolations), while Orosius preserves much that belongs to his pagan predecessors because for him, "the Roman empire had been specially favoured by the Christian God: therefore its geography was a reflection of God's design for the world" (56).

The next four papers deal with Virgil, and from the discipline of geography, we move to the ars grammatica. Anna Chahoud's "Antiquity and authority in Nonius Marcellus" considers, among others, Virgil's role as an authority for the North African lexicographer. Chahoud presents a case for rereading...


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