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ELECTRONIC ANTIQUITY:
COMMUNICATING THE CLASSICS

Current Editor
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Volume 5, Number 3
November 2000


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The Folds of Parnassos. Land and Ethnicity in Ancient Phokis, , by Jeremy McInerney, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999. ISBN 0-292-75230-X $24.95 (paperback); 0-292-75229-6 $50.00 (hardcover)

Reviewed by Robin Osborne
Corpus Christi College, Oxford, UK
robin.osborne@corpus-christi.oxford.ac.uk


Could one construct an introductory course on Greek History that focussed neither on Athens nor on Sparta? Much of this agreeable book reads like an attempt to do just that, to build a new-style Greek history course that chooses, of all places, Phokis as its focus. In the end, M. seems to me to lose his nerve, and to do so at just the point when Phokis enters centre stage; for when the story comes to the middle of the fourth century the interest in general issues goes out of the window and detailed political and military history (well done) takes over.

M.'s 'lapse' is unfortunate, for it leaves his book a compromised product that is unlikely to find any niche for itself. It is neither the last word in archaeological description of Phokis, nor a book that is conceptually ground-breaking. Professional Phokians will have to read M. carefully, but the number of non-Phokian questions for which this will become a standard work of reference is rather few. What might have been a remarkable tour de force ends up as an 'also ran'.

A brief description of the contents of the book will show how near the book is to triumph and how far from it. The introduction is designed to put ground between this book, responding to recent interest in spatial patterns of settlement and cult, in ethnicity, and in non-polis organisation, and Schober's 1924 Jena dissertation Phokis. (One minor cavil: M. somewhat overdoes the stress on Athens' exceptional nature here Athens may have more often required imported grain than other cities in the fourth century B.C., but it was certainly not unique in needing to import grain, which is what 'unique in its inability to feed itself' would natural be taken to mean). M devotes his first substantial chapter to 'Race, Tribe, Ethnicity'. This is in general a good introduction to the topic, though readers of Jonathan Hall's Ethnic Identity in Greek Antiquity will find nothing here that requires their reorientation. What I found off-putting about this treatment was its use of 'tribe' as a translation of ethnos (while not actually replacing use of ethnos with use of 'tribe'). Eventually on p.28 we meet the 'ethnos as an open and changeable structure, and ethnicity as an elective affiliation rather than a simple matter of blood inheritance', but that is not the definition one would assume from the equation of ethnos and tribe. M. misses an opportunity to deconstruct the whole polis: ethnos dichotomy when, having pointed out that 'the Arkadian tribes known as the Azanians and the Parrhasians were made up of communities referred to in our sources as poleis' he does not then proceed to look closely at both terms, but only at ethnos. This is one example of a tendency to stop short just at the point where the argument gets interesting: we see the same thing on p.29 where Strabo's remark of the Kaukones, incorporated into Elis, that 'not even the name survived' comes at the end, rather than the beginning, of an exploration of ethnic salience being a product of resistance.

The third chapter, on 'Topography and Settlement', puts the Phokian ethnos into its natural and manmade physical settings. M. argues for a high degree of geographical determinism: 'In a peasant society&133; land and climate come first' (p.40), and denies that an Athenian-style synoikism would have been possible in Phokis. I suspect that on geographical grounds one might as easily argue that an Athenian-style synoikism would not have been possible in Attica. As one might expect, the chapter is illustrated with a number of maps. Most have a north point, but not one has a scale, and places move around from map to map (compare the position of the Korykian cave on maps 1 and 2; map 2 also converts the Pleistos river to the 'Peleistos'). The lucid geographical descriptions in this chapter are nicely done, never losing sight of the interpretation that they carry. But they operate at the level of the layman geographer, with not a whiff of geomorphology or historical ecology. Even when the Thermopylai pass is discussed in an Appendix M. refrains from any technical discussion of the geomorphological work to which he refers. Nor does M. manage to resist the danger of overinterpreting the limited textual evidence: precisely nothing about the relative demand for land around Hyampolis can be concluded from the fact that it happens that the only Phokian lease to survive relates to Hyampolis (p.57), just as too many other factors affect decisions to inscribe to justify concluding from increasing numbers of manumission records surviving on stone that cultivation of land became more intense (pp. 57-8).

Chapter 4 populates the landscape just described. Opening with the Phaiakians moving their city at the beginning of Odyssey 6, the chapter takes the reader through a quick history of settlement before discussing first pastoralism and then the distribution of 'city' sites. The value of the chapter is undermined by the absence of systematic intensive archaeological survey in Phokis: when M. compares the settlement data from Phokis with those from the Cambridge and Bradford Boiotia survey, he simply is not comparing like with like. It is no surprise, therefore, that there is hardly any archaeology in his discussion of pastoralism, but instead comparative discussion of Sarakatsanoi, of literary evidence from other parts of Greece, and a small amount of directly relevant epigraphic evidence. This is a useful general discussion, though one that is in danger of giving the impression that arable agriculture had no part to play in Phokian life. It is at its weakest when discussing religious aspects, partly because of shortage of archaeological data, partly because of ignorance of relevant bibliography (Rosivach's important work on sacrifice goes uncited). The suggestion at the end of the chapter that the fortifications of Phokis give a misleading impression, and that Phokis consisted not so much of 'cities' as of decentralized communities (he compares the, arguably exceptional, Athenian deme of Atene) badly needs testing by intensive archaeological work.

Chapters 3 and 4 disappoint by their separateness. Although 'Settlement' figures in the titles of both chapters, the geography of chapter 3 is not an economic geography, being much more focused on accessibility, and the settlements of chapter 4 are only minimally sited geographically (in a table which gives the heights of each above sea level). More disappointingly still, the theme of ethnicity, so powerfully introduced in chapter 2 finds no place in chapters 3 or 4 at all (the numerous Index entries for 'ethnicity', 'ethnos', etc. can, at best, find nothing to refer to between page 41 and page 115). It is as if the articulation of ethnic identity was quite unaffected by natural or human geography. A marvellous opportunity to explore ethnicity on the ground has been missed.

Ethnicity returns in chapter 5: 'Heroes, myths and ethnicity' but not with the vengeance one might expect. Even those who find Ellinger's exposition of the stories of Phokian conflict with the Thessalians overinfected by structuralism have to admit the importance of his work in showing the way in which people create themselves by the stories they tell. M. seems unwilling in chapters 5 and 6 ('Phokian Desperation') to forego the (vain) hope that some genuine events of the lost archaic history of Phokis linger in these stories, and as a result he does not exploit the fact of their telling nearly to the full. Characteristic is M.'s exposition of the stories linking Phokis to Phokaia: he starts with Nicolaus of Damascus on the ground that that account is fullest, and then, finding Herodotus' account to share some features with Nicolaus', concludes that Herodotus was familiar 'with the same story told by Nicolaus'. Given the excellent material in the second chapter on 'elective affiliation' being at the heart of ethnic identity it is very odd that M. is so reluctant to explore the myth-history of Phokis as a series of changing choices in selfpresentation.

With chapters 7 and 8 ('State and Society' and 'The Lictor's Axe') we move into straight Phokian history. The twenty pages here on the Third Sacred War and its aftermath are very valuable, scoring good points against other recent accounts of Demosthenes' and Aeschines' activities, but their very detail prevents the events being seen in a general framework. Thus the valiant attempt of the early pages of chapter 7 to use Phokis to illustrate wider themes in Greek history (one section of the chapter is called 'Peer Polity and Big Men') gets overridden. Chapter 8 never really recovers that wider perspective, remaining at best a retelling of the history of hellenistic mainland Greece from the Phokian perspective. As in chapters 5 and 6, the account would have benefitted from more interest in the tellers of the stories: faced with Xenophon Hellenika and Hellenika Oxyrhynkhia giving incompatible accounts of the conflict between Phokis and Lokris that began the Corinthian War, M. gives up: 'Whichever account is correct, the results were much the same' as if the telling of different stories was not itself part of the result.

Appendices provide a Gazetteer of Phokian Sites (useful but far from definitive), a rather wordy argument to the effect that the Phokis/Doris Expedition's 'Great Isthmus Corridor Route' was not in fact the only archaic route between Thessaly and central Greece, and an argument in favour of the uniform fortifications at Phokian sites having been built not immediately after the battle of Khaironeia but in 350.

In addition to the 8 maps there are 20 plates. 20 is not really enough (Appendix 3 alone would have benefited from having that many plates it has none), and the quality is disappointing: not for nothing is it one of only two plates procured from an outside source (the German Archaeological Institute in Athens) that the publishers have chosen to put on the front cover.

Writing and proofreading are of a high standard, but 'skepticism' is not the same as agnosticism (p.65) and Pelopidas should not be blamed for the misdeeds of Phoebidas (p.206).


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