S. BRAUND & G.W. MOST (eds.), Ancient Anger: Perspectives from Homer to Galen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Pp. x + 325. ISBN 0-521-82625-X. STG £45 (Hb).
Review by Adam Bartley
This collection of essays has its genesis in a colloquium on ?Anger in Antiquity? held in Heidelberg University in September 1999. It has as its theme the admirable desire to examine a topic which has become very topical in modern science, namely anger, its origins, its outcomes and society?s response to it, in this case in the context of the responses to be found in ancient literature and culture. The resulting analyses address a wide range of themes, most of which have the depiction of anger by a single author or a range of authors as their theme.
A survey of the topics addressed shows a broad range of themes. The collection starts with two papers on the treatment of anger in the Iliad, which should come as no surprise, given that anger and its consequences are its central theme, but includes examinations of philosophical discourses on anger, anger in Greek novel, the phenomenon of anger in certain social groups such as women and children, historical evidence of anger, such as its expression in magical spells and Athenian political discourse, and its mention in a range of Latin authors. An attractive feature that allows the reader to navigate the wide range of topics and the differing approaches to them is the unified bibliography and indices that are presented at the end of the volume. The index of topics, in particular, allows the reader who is researching a particular aspect of anger to readily find all mentions of it over the range of articles, which neatly circumvents the inability to include meaningful cross-references in volumes of conference proceedings. Similarly interesting is the index of passages cited. A perusal of this index is particularly revealing for its glimpse into those passages which have gained the attention of a number of researchers. There is an overwhelming predominance of references to Homer. Even articles that would, judging by their title, have little connection with he works of Homer, such as ??Your Mother Nursed You with Bile?: Anger in Babies and Small Children? by Ann Ellis Harrison is ultimately devoted to the description of the anger of Achilles and its apparent origin in his childhood, with reference to passages in the Iliad. The importance of the theme of anger in the Iliad for the western literature which follows cannot be understated, but given the very striking and memorable depictions of personal anger in Greek drama, particularly in the plays of Euripides, it seems unfortunate that so many of the articles are ultimately informed by one source.
It is not possible to consider the relative strengths of each article in the space of this review, so I will consider a single article, ?Reactive and Objective Attitudes: Anger in Virgil?s Aeneid and Hellenistic Philosophy? by Christopher Gill. This article takes as its starting point the various poorly preserved schools of philosophy from the Hellenistic period and considers the way that their influence is reflected in the depiction of anger in Virgil?s Aeneid. The focus of the argument is on the difference between the reactive approach to anger favoured by Epicurean philosophers, which is to say that anger is a reaction to external stimuli and a natural response in all things to certain conditions, and the objective view of anger, which is favoured by the Stoics, who proposed that an angry response is a philosophical failure to react properly to difficult people or circumstances.
The examples of angry behaviour in the Aeneid are numerous, and Gill examines the most important of these, including Aeneas? restrained anger at Helen in Book 2 and the rage of Dido at her abandonment in Book 4. Gill devotes most of his attention, however, to the striking behaviour of Aeneas towards Turnus at the point of his victory in the closing lines of Book 12 of the Aeneid. Gill himself admits that it is impossible to be dogmatic about the type of anger that is presented, but does give sufficient reason to suspect a reactive view of anger. This interpretation is linked initially by Gill to the differing views of the philosophical influence on the Aeneid in recent years, as characterised by the works of Putnam (1995) and Galinsky (1994). Gill?s examination is a worthy contribution to the debate and draws well upon our improved, albeit still sketchy, knowledge of the details of Hellenistic philosophy.
The detailed nature of Gill?s analysis is representative of the balance of the articles in this collection. As a result, this book will prove to be a useful reference on issues of anger in the years to come. If this reviewer had a wish, it would only be that a broader range of topics and sources from contributors had been encouraged. Issues of emotional response have such a rich and varied tradition in Greek and Roman literature and it seems unfortunate that the broader scope reflected in articles such as Scourfield?s ?Anger and Gender in Chariton?s Chaereas and Callirhoe? and Konstan?s ?Aristotle on Anger and the Emotions: The Strategies of Status? has not been more broadly pursued in this collection.