Fifth-Century Athenian and Augustan Images of the Barbarian Other
In the long history of Orientalism two key moments in the self-definition of the West occur at turning-points in the history of European civilization: the first, the consequence of events that ensured that that civilization did indeed have a future, was the fifth-century Athenian 'invention of the barbarian', to use Edith Hall's phrase; while the second, crucial for the successful construction of the imperial idea that informs the history of Western political systems for the next two millennia, was the Augustan demonization of Rome's eastern enemies, in the first instance the 'Egyptian' threat of Cleopatra and her partner, and secondly the Parthians. Historically the Parthians were heirs to the empire of the Persians who confronted the Greeks in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.; this article seeks to examine some of the evidence suggesting that Augustan writers and artists were conscious of their inheritance of the fifth-century iconography of the barbarian Other. And if they were, did they merely exploit a convenient stock of images and representations in the service of an Augustan agenda, or did the Roman construction of their own barbarian Other cohere with a positive drive to equate the values of Romanitas with the ideals and achievements of fifth-century Athens?
The issue is complicated by the fact of other restagings of the fifth-century polarization prior to the first century B.C., above all in the representation of Alexander the Great's victories over easterners, and in the appropriation of the fifth-century iconography by the Hellenistic kingdoms, especially the Attalids of Pergamum. How, then, to distinguish between the Augustan use of a Hellenistic koinÍ and a return to the Attic well-springs? And if such a return is visible, have we located a privileged use of fifth-century Attic models, or simply isolated one of the many sources in a self-conscious and totalizing eclecticism?
An example: in my study of the political iconography of the Aeneid I developed a lengthy analogy between the imagery of the Pergamene Great Altar of Zeus, in particular the reliefs of Gigantomachy (the battle between the Olympian gods and the giants), and the mythological underpinning of the Augustanism of the Aeneid, and I suggested that Virgil might be directly indebted to Hellenistic models, whether in the visual arts or lost epics. The Attic classicizing of the Pergamene altar is well known, in particular its use of 'quotations' from the Parthenon. One of the passages where I detect Gigantomachic allusion is the Shield of Aeneas in Aeneid 8. Now there is some evidence that the Homeric Shield of Achilles had already been appropriated by the imagers of Alexander the Great; but I also suggested that the Virgilian Shield might look directly to the shield of the Pheidian Athena Parthenos, with its scenes of Gigantomachy and Amazonomachy. This suggestion has since been taken up by R. Cohon, who argues that the scene of the Gallic assault on the Capitol at the climax of the first series of scenes on the Virgilian shield (Aen. 8.652-62) alludes to the relief of the Amazon attack on the Athenian acropolis on the exterior of the Parthenos shield.
If this is correct, we have a literary example of a phenomenon that has been discussed in recent years by a number of Roman historians and art-historians in the areas of the visual arts and pageant, namely the Augustan exploitation of fifth-century Athenian celebration of the Persian Wars, most grandiosely in the Salamis naumachia of 2 B.C. Another possible Virgilian example is the figure of Camilla in Aeneid 7 and 11. Camilla is a pure-bred Italian, a living embodiment of the native values vaunted by Numanus Remulus in Aeneid 9; she is surrounded by maidens with impeccably Italian names (11.655-6): Larina, Tulla, Tarpeia. She is also an alien, an Amazon to be precise - and Virgil is precise, for this is what she is called when she reenters at the height of her aristeia (11.648); metaphorical identity is reworked as simile at 659-63, a simile that points to the (probable) literary model in the epic cycle, the Aithiopis.
But the archaic Greek model is only part of the story. Gransden in his recent commentary on Aeneid 11 claims that 'There is no trace in V.'s Camilla of the idea of amazonomachy as a kind of gigantomachy, a fight against the monstrous and the barbarous, commonly found in Athenian art and literature.' This is wrong: one detail associates Camilla very firmly with the oriental barbarian, when we are told that (663-4) illa etiam, si quando in tergum pulsa recessit, | spicula conuerso fugientia derigit arcu 'and even if, driven to flee, she withdraws, she turns her bow and aims arrows in flight'. This is the tactic of the Parthian (cf. Geo. 3.31; Hor. C. 1.19.10-12; 2.13.17-18). The identification of the eastern enemy, the Persians, with the Amazon is commonplace in Athenian iconography. Virgil's use of the topos is complex, for in the one character of Camilla are combined images of the indigenous and the alien, and a similar ambivalence characterizes the Trojan warrior who mesmerizes Camilla, the former priest Chloreus, a devotee of the Magna Mater, the goddess who in Aeneid 6 had been naturalized as a figure of Roma herself; but Chloreus here wears 'foreign purple', and his armoured horse makes of him an oriental cataphract (cf. Sall. Hist. 4.65; Livy 35.48.3). It is at such moments of 'polarity deconstructed', in another of Edith Hall's formulations, that we see how the construction of the barbarian is really a way of talking about the Self, and not the Other. In these first battles between Trojans and native Italians what is at stake is the definition of what will become the Italian-Roman national identity, and at this stage the sharp boundaries are never far from collapsing into a chaotic lack of discrimination. But it was a danger that could never be entirely suppressed. Romanitas could be threatened by the barbarism both of civil war and of the tyrant.
To glance briefly beyond the time of Augustus, Suetonius tells of a curious episode at Life of Caligula 19 where the wiring of the communications system of imperial representation gets crossed at some point between transmitter and receiver: Caligula built a bridge of ships across the Bay of Naples, and rode across leading before him the boy Dareus, one of the Parthian hostages. Suetonius reports a number of different contemporary reactions: some thought that the purpose of the display was to intimidate the northern barbarians, Germans and Britons, with the might of Roman power; but others thought that the bridge of boats was built in emulation of Xerxes. Thus at the same time as the emperor proclaims the superiority of west over east by parading a hostage called Dareus, he also identifies his own transgressive power over the elements with the proverbial eastern hybris of the successor of another Darius.
Within the imagistic economy of the Aeneid a line may be traced from Camilla to the battle of Actium, which at least in later Augustan art and pageant is associated with the Greek victory at Salamis. Camilla is an avatar of Dido, who in turn has much of Cleopatra in her. The indirect association of Amazon and Cleopatra is one also made in Propertius 3.13. The penultimate poem in Horace's first book of Odes, 1.37, is the most famous poetic celebration of the defeat of that monstrous woman. In this poem Horace reaches back beyond the fifth century to the poetry of Alcaeus for a model to celebrate the defeat of tyranny; but the curious poem that follows and concludes the whole book (1.38 Persicos odi, puer, apparatus), perhaps suggests another orientation. Horace turns from the public celebration of the triumph to the private symposium; the modesty of the poet's provisions is also contrasted with the orgiastic drinking-bouts of Cleopatra and her eunuchs. In a political context the proverbial luxuriousness of the Persians hints at something else, an Attic superiority to the decadence of the enemy now safely defeated. In support of a political reading of Odes 1.38 one might note that apparatus may be used specifically to refer to the paraphernalia of a triumph. The suspicion that the reference to the Persians in Odes 1.38 alludes by association to Octavian's recent victory over his eastern enemy is strengthened by the well-known fact that Horace (and other Augustan poets) refer to the Parthians anachronistically as Medes or Persians.
The sequence in Odes 1.37 and 38 of military and moral onslaughts on the eastern barbarian is repeated in the first two Roman Odes (the first of which picks up the odi of 1.38.1 in a similarly programmatic context). In the penultimate stanza of Odes 3.1 the list of luxuries useless to allay pain culminates with (44) Achaemenium costum 'Achaemenian - or Persian - costum'. The poem's closing dismissal of diuitias operosiores 'wealth and its troubles' is answered by the first words of the next poem, angustam amice pauperiem pati 'to welcome pinching poverty', and the young warrior trained in this school of hardship is immediately dispatched to fight - who but Parthos feroces 'the fierce Parthians'?
Yet the example of Odes 1.38 also shows how difficult it is to isolate a pure strain of allusion to fifth-century models, for the rejection of triumphal pomp must of course be understood in the context of a Hellenistic, Callimachean, poetics, that may even reach out to claim for itself the racial epithet Persicos. The 'Persian chain' is the term opposed by Callimachus in the Aitia prologue to the techne by which he wishes his poetry to be judged (fr. 1.17-18), in a passage that appears to allude to the very same work of Pindar that Alex Hardie has argued to be the model for the Cleopatra ode, namely the second Dithyramb. The conjunction of Pindar and Callimachus may give point to the somewhat odd detail of the second line of Odes 1.38, displicent nexae philyra coronae 'I do not like garlands woven out of linden-bast', for philyra, 'the fibrous membrane under the bark of the linden-tree', like scoi'no", 'rush', is a vegetable material for rope-making. 'Persian' is Callimachus' own addition to the Pindaric image, one of a number of Oriental epithets applied to the wrong kind of poetry in both the Aitia prologue and the conclusion of the Hymn to Apollo, almost as if he were polemicizing against an Asianism avant la lettre. It may be that in these passages Callimachus is revitalizing a fifth-century opposition between Oriental and Greek, or Attic, for his own purposes, thus mediating between the fifth century and Horace.
I have sought to trace some aspects of the influence of fifth-century Athenian models on the development of the early Augustan image of Roman selfhood through contrast with the outsider. The topic deserves further investigation: I end with some suggestions and questions. If this kind of self-definition has a long history in the Greek world after the crucially formative period of fifth-century Athens, there may be grounds for suspecting that that original model held an especial attraction for Romans in the 30s and 20s B.C., offering as it did a myth of new beginnings and fresh power after a conflict almost fatal to the survival itself of the state.
The rhetoric had already been developed by Cicero in his representation of his own heroic conflicts with Catiline and Antony; Cicero may be, indirectly, another channel by which the fifth-century model comes to inform the Augustan version, to the extent that the Philippics are modelled on a Demosthenic 'rhetoric of crisis' that in turn looks back to the heroic prototype of the fifth century, as Cecil Wooten has argued. In the case of Virgil I incline increasingly to believe that the presence in the Aeneid of analogues with fifth-century Athenian ideology reflects a profound restructuring of epic that allows it to mimic within Augustan culture some of the socio-political functions of Attic tragedy within the city of Athens. Finally, the question of the relationship between styles and ideologies, so provocatively formulated recently by Paul Zanker, needs further exploration: how far does the Atticizing of the Augustan period bear a moralizing message, and how far does any such moralizing message allude to the political values of fifth-century Athens? Or, to what extent might the Augustan appropriation of an Atticizing classicism preempt its adoption by those who might have made of it the vehicle for an oppositional discourse of libertas ?