HOPE IN ANCIENT LITERATURE, HISTORY, AND ART (Ancient Emotions I)

Edited by George Kazantzidis and Dimos Spatharas

De Gruyter (2018) h/b 399pp £119.95 (ISBN 9783110596878)

This is the first volume in a new series on ‘Ancient Emotions’ in De Gruyter’s ‘Trends in Classics’ programme.  The editors and about half of the contributors are Greek, and the volume is based on a conference held in Rhethymno in December 2015. Hope was selected as the topic of this inaugural volume in the series, the editors tell us, because it was so much invoked in the agitated public discourse that year in relation to the national debt crisis.  

Elpis and spes were also central to ancient politics and propaganda, though one interesting difference between ancient and modern times emerges early on in the volume.  Many Greek and Roman sources regard hope in a more negative light than does our later Christian tradition, describing hope as often deceptive, unreliable, ‘empty’ or even dangerous.  These and other distinctions, including the question of whether hope really is an emotion at all, are discussed in the editors’ long and very useful Introduction to the volume.  They also give helpful summaries of some of the more specific contributions that follow, most of which involve quite technical and dense scholarship. 

The sixteen main chapters (unnumbered, curiously) are divided into three parts: the first dealing with Elpis in Greek literature, the second with Spes in Latin literature, and the third with ‘Scripts of Hope’ in history, art and inscriptions.  The first two parts range widely over different literary genres in epic, tragedy, comedy, lyric poetry and history, though they discover such an abundance of source material that they make no claim to being comprehensive or systematic.  Some are very specific indeed, though Lateiner, for example, raises some important general theoretical issues in his chapter on ‘Elpis as Emotion and Reason (Hope and Expectation) in Fifth Century Greek Historians’.  

The third part looks more miscellaneous at first sight, dealing with topics involving hope as various as slavery, adoption, ‘barbarian’ cultures, isolated heads in visual culture and sub-adults in inscriptions.  These serve, however, to broaden the subject into several new and challenging dimensions, though it would have been helpful to have some ‘conclusions’ to the part tied in more closely with the main themes of the volume. 

Quoted passages appear both in the original language and in translation (though whose translation isn’t always clear).  Each chapter has its own bibliography and there are extensive footnote references in most of them. The volume ends with a full and very useful Index of authors cited, and a much slighter and more partial one of topics and proper names.

The editors and contributors are to be congratulated in opening up this subject for further research and synthesis.  We look forward to subsequent volumes on other emotions.

Jeremy Mynott

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