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The Triumviral Narratives of Appian and Cassius Dio.

Quellenforschung seems to have gone out of style. Quite rightly: the attempt to identify the disappeared sources of extant ancient historical writers - let alone the elucidation of the alleged political Tendenz and even general Weltanschauung of these disappeared sources - was always a highly problematic enterprise. It offered scope for impressive cleverness of argument, and the display of prodigious learning; but in the end it may not have done all that much to advance our knowledge of antiquity. The focus shifted away from those aspects of the far past we had a fair chance of knowing - the thought of those writers who survive (or partially survive), and the ideology that informed the periods in which they wrote - to questions that were inevitably highly speculative. Thus the main portion of the article on Cassius Dio (fl. A.D. 220) in Pauly-Wissowa, written by the great Eduard Schwartz, is devoted to an attempt to elucidate the various alleged sources of Dio; less time is devoted to a discussion of what actually exists: Dio himself. Yet a man who devoted twenty-two years to the research and writing of a history of Rome (Dio 27.23.5) - a history that eventually totaled eighty volumes - has a self-evident claim to be viewed as an intellectual in his own right.

Serious warnings along these lines appeared in the 1960s from Fergus Millar (A Study of Cassius Dio, Oxford 1964) and, in a different historiographical context, from Ernst Badian (see RFIC 96 [1968] 203-10). Alain M. Gowing has now taken such warnings and made them the basis of a new study comparing the narratives of Cassius Dio and Appian of Alexandria covering the period from the murder of Julius Caesar to the destruction of the "Second" Triumvirate and the emergence of Octavian and Antony as sole arbiters of the Roman world, 44-36/35 B.C.

Gowing's thesis is that both Dio and Appian (fl. A.D. 140) can be discerned as distinct historical personalities and thinkers. Furthermore, their narratives of the complex and crucial Triumviral period, which set the stage for the creation of the Principate, can be shown to reflect concerns and perceptions contemporary to the writing of the two extant narratives themselves, rather than contemporary to their sources (see Gowing 5, 15, 25, and esp. 273-94). Especially for Appian, the acceptance of such a thesis would mean a reevaluation upwards of the standing of a surviving author as an independent thinker (Dio having already been to some extent "rescued" by Millar). Appian, in other words, was not a mere Xerox machine, a mere transmitter of the ideas and emphases of Asinius Pollio - as E. Gabba strongly argued in Appiano e la storia delle guerre civile (Florence 1956). Gowing's positive reevaluation of Appian has been partially prefigured by the monograph of B. Goldmann, Einheitlichkeit und Eigenstandlichkeit der Historia Romana des Appian (Hildesheim 1988), but the issue obviously remains highly controversial, and a direct comparison of Appian's triumviral narrative with that of the already partially redeemed Dio promises much, methodologically.

Gowing's book is well written, mercifully free from the obfuscatory jargon so common now in literary studies, and clearly a solid piece of scholarship. One must say, though, that he seems more successful in dealing with Dio than with Appian. Gowing's Dio is a convincing figure: the Greek senator from Bithynia, not only a hard-working historian as well as a prominent politician of the Severan age (consul I before 211; commander of the great Pannonian legions; consul II with the Emperor Severus Alexander himself in 229), but a profound pessimist who analyzed people and events in traditional Greek moral categories. Humans, according to Dio, are naturally greedy, aggressive, violent, turbulent, hubristic (see, e.g., frr. 39.3, 50.2, 52.18, 57.19; cf. 36.20.1, [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]). There is no socioeconomic analysis or understanding of the terrible problems faced by the masses in their daily lives: the mob is simply "fickle" (see frr. 19.53, 24.1). The cataclysm of the late Republic is explained by the defects in character of individual politicians (frr. 83.1-3, 85.1, 89.2). The universe itself is a disorderly place, ruled often by sheer blind luck that undermines the careful calculations of even the most intelligent (45.4.1-2). Monarchy is preferable to the Republic precisely because it brings order instead of chaos that is ruinous to all, and it is for this reason that Augustus should be seen as a major benefactor of the human race (52.1.2; cf. 56.43.4).

Remarks such as this, about the instability of human fortune or about humans' natural propensity for aggression and hubris, are of course commonplace in Greek thought; Millar therefore tends strongly to be dismissive of them (see Cassius Dio 74-77). But Gowing is right - and importantly right - in arguing that though commonplaces, such sentiments are no less heartfelt (see Gowing 21-28, 297; cf. 156 n. 38 on Appian). If Dio's views here are similar to those of all our other preserved ancient historical writers, it is because all these writers had so often to confront a similar, devastating problem: the (literally) unrestrained power of the rich, the influential, and the aristocratic, and hence the inevitable tendency of the elite of society towards the destructively aggressive and hubristic.

In contrast to the formidable, pessimistic Dio, Appian of Alexandria remains - despite Gowing's best efforts - a rather cloudy figure. In part this is simply because we know so much less about Appian's life and career than we do about Dio: whole decades are a blank. Perhaps he did indeed gain the post of advocatus fisci (so Gowing 16-17), which might have important implications for his historiographical perspective (see below). But the evidence is slight and not quite conclusive, and perhaps the post was honorary (see E. Champlin, Fronto and Antonine Rome, Cambridge, Mass., 1980, 98-100). Perhaps he was indeed a close friend of the great litterateur M. Cornelius Fronto, friend and tutor of Marcus Aurelius - which would have important implications regarding the range and intensity of his intellectual life (see Gowing 274-76). Fronto did write a letter to Antoninus Plus for Appian's possible posting as advocatus fisci - a letter emphasizing Appian's advanced age (Ad Plum 10.2) - and his two other references to Appian are friendly enough. But this evidence is not particularly impressive in an age known for effusive expressions of feeling in epistulae, and one may note that Fronto's judgment of Cicero (Ad Marcum 4.3) is strikingly different from Appian's own reserve (on which, see below).

It is unfortunate that crucial details of Appian's intellectual life remain so uncertain, for a second problem here is that Appian does not impress his personality upon his material with any of the clarity and intensity of a Dio. Gowing argues that Appian is much more interested than Dio in the socioeconomic and even financial aspects of the turbulence of 44-36/35 B.C., and he would relate this distinctive historiographical approach to Appian's (alleged) stint as advocatus fisci (see Gowing 17, 78, 83, 92, 256; cf. P. J. Cuff, Athenaeum 61 [1983] 14864). But Appian often gives purely moralizing analyses in Bella Civilia, and very prominently right in the introduction to the work (see esp. 1.6.24). Elsewhere, and in crucial passages, he offers not even moralizing analysis; he can give only [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] as a historical explanation - as in his discussion of Cicero's conduct in 44/43 B.C. (see 4.143.563, 566).

It is hard to see in all this an overarching and personal interpretation of history. Certainly it seems exaggerated to say that Appian was specially preoccupied with social issues and even with the "class struggle" (despite Gowing, 10): after all, even Dio himself was occasionally capable of socioeconomic analysis (see 47.14-19). Rather, there seems with Appian a prevailing fragmentation of thought and approach; there seems, if anything, a lack of coherence and consistency.

A focus that shows the Alexandrian as sharply individualistic is actually only clear in two specific instances. First, there is Appian's obvious and enormous sympathy for the hunted victims of the triumvirs during the proscriptions of 43/42 B.C. The murders, escapes, and exiles are described in great detail: eighty separate cases are discussed, with dramatic story after dramatic story. By contrast, Dio is brief (only eight cases in detail) and bland (see Gowing 254-63). Gowing persuasively argues that Appian was sensitive to this material because of his personal experience of being a hunted fugitive in Alexandria and its suburbs sometime during the great Jewish uprising of A.D. 115-117 (Praef. 15.62; cf. Gowing 13-14,263, 269). Second, there is Appian's striking depiction of the delights of Alexandria that seduced Antony in the winter of 41/40 B.C.: it was not the traditional "fleshpots of Egypt" that Antony loved, but rather the flourishing cultural life and intense intellectual life offered by the Greek metropolis (BC 5.11). This, prima facie, is an example of Appian's Alexandrian patriotism at work (Gowing 117).

Normally, however, Appian's triumviral narrative does not seem informed by any larger or personal vision. One may contrast Dio, who emphasizes throughout the necessary triumph of monarchy over the Republic (a triumph that Octavian-Augustus is supposed to have sought from the beginning). Moreover, despite the substantial effort evident in Appian's survey of Roman wars as a whole (of which BC is only a part), the survey itself is organized along remarkably jejune lines - by ethnicity (Hispanica, Lybica, Macedonica, Illyrica, and so forth). Given these evident intellectual weaknesses in Appian's historiographical approach, one wonders whether the Alexandrian might not indeed have been susceptible to being strongly influenced by both the specific concerns and even the specific motifs of his sources. For instance, Appian rarely employs the set-piece speech in his writing (despite his alleged close friendship with Fronto, the master of rhetorical theory) - yet suddenly in books 3 to 5 of Bella Civilia, speeches abound.

This same methodological principle - the sudden suspect appearance of a motif not normally found in our extant author - can also be applied to Cassius Dio. For instance, at 46.18.1, in an anti-Ciceronian speech attributed to Q. Furfius Calenus in 43 B.c., Dio provides us with a row of puns on Cicero's name ([GREEK TEXT OMITTED]). But Dio was not given to punning (and the last word in the list is a sneer at Greeks and Greek learning). It is thus legitimate to wonder from what source (or sources) for this speech Dio took the elaborate play on words (see Millar, Cassius Dio 52-54).

There may still be, then, a place for Quellenforschung in the study of Dio and Appian - as long as the definite limits of its usefulness (and even applicability) are recognized, and as long as the independence of mind of our extant sources is given proper weight. Gowing's study constitutes a solid contribution to the continuing scholarly discussion of these important issues of historiography (ancient and modern).

A couple of minor technical criticisms. References to modern scholarship in the book are occasionally eccentric in format. There seems no reason why the vast majority of such references are (correctly) in footnotes while sometimes suddenly appearing in parentheses within the text itself, a location usually reserved for references to ancient sources (see, e.g., p. 48 for three examples): was this the result of sloppy copy-editing? And the indexing can sometimes be similarly eccentric. A reader, for instance, will have a very difficult time indeed finding Gowing's interesting discussion of Popillius Laenas' role in the murder of Cicero: one can try the index (at 360, under "Laenas"), but the page reference there is not helpful; the detailed account is actually at 155, not 262, though the former reference has disappeared (at 155, however, Cicero's assassin is called "Laena").

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Author:Eckstein, A.M.
Publication:American Journal of Philology
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1995
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