Ausonius’ Mosella und das antike Seewesen by Arvid Göttlicher 399 pp., 203 b&w illustrations Computus Verlag, Hauptstr. 60, 55595 Gutenberg, Germany (via Dr. J. Kobes), 2013, € 39.99 (hbk), ISBN 978-3940598165
Article first published online: 10 FEB 2014
© 2014 The Authors. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology © 2014 The Nautical Archaeology Society
International Journal of Nautical Archaeology
Volume 43, Issue 1, pages 220–221, March 2014
How to Cite
Thier, K. (2014), Ausonius’ Mosella und das antike Seewesen by Arvid Göttlicher 399 pp., 203 b&w illustrations Computus Verlag, Hauptstr. 60, 55595 Gutenberg, Germany (via Dr. J. Kobes), 2013, € 39.99 (hbk), ISBN 978-3940598165 . International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, 43: 220–221. doi: 10.1111/1095-9270.12050_13
- Issue published online: 10 FEB 2014
- Article first published online: 10 FEB 2014
The title of Göttlicher's new book roughly translates as ‘Ausonius's Mosella and the maritime culture of antiquity’, and one would be forgiven in assuming that this is a book about the maritime terms and allusions used by Ausonius in his late Roman panegyric on the river Moselle. In reality, it is much more than that. The author takes the 4th-century 500-line poem as a starting point to explore various themes loosely connected with seafaring and water transport (even lighthouses and dolphins), including their origins and their later reception. These range from history and historiography via literature and mythology to physical images, and also include a discussion of related archaeological remains.
The book is divided into several numbered parts, beginning with some opening remarks (1) followed by introductory chapters on the Roman history of the Moselle region (2), the history and reception of the poem (3.1), and the poet's biography and motivation (3.2). The longest and main part (4) is chiefly concerned with literature (4.1) and ancient historiography (4.2), with a short discussion of particular items of vocabulary (4.3). Part 5 will be of most interest to the readers of this journal, as it focusses on the history of fisheries and water transport in the region itself (5.1), and particularly on the relevant pictorial (and also material) sources (5.2). The body of the book concludes with a special look at some religious aspects, especially the role of the sea-god Neptune (6.1) and of dolphins as mariner's companions (6.2). Part 10 is a substantial 84-page collection of black-and-white images, referred to in the text. Parts 7–9 are the usual lists of abbreviations, illustration sources, and a bibliography; there is no index. What is unfortunately missing is an English summary or any other aid to readers outside the German-speaking world. There is also no reproduction of the full poem but, as the author points out, this is readily available elsewhere in various editions and translations.
Several of the chapters in parts 4–6 are structured in a similar way: each has discussion of one or more points relating to (or inspired by) the poem. Each of these discussions begins by quoting the relevant lines from the Mosella, in the Latin original, followed by a number of different interpretations by various translators, mostly in German, but occasionally including H. G. Evelyn White's English version of 1919 (Loeb Classical Library). This highlights the difficulty of translating poetry and is helpful for understanding the nuances of each passage. The extract is then followed by an exploration first of the origin then of the reception of each particular theme, progressively moving further away from the poem, in some cases as far as the 20th century (in time) and China (in space). Evidence is drawn chiefly from written sources and images, but sometimes from the archaeological record. Written sources are copiously quoted, sometimes in the original language (especially Latin) with a German translation, and sometimes only in German. Many of the images can be found on the plates at the back of the book and are clearly referenced in the text. In some of the early chapters, each section is followed by a very useful collection of references for further reading; however, this is not carried on throughout the book.
Chapter 5.1 may serve as an illustration for the structure of a chapter. It is headed Das lokale ‘Seewesen’, ‘local “maritime culture” ’, the inverted commas placed quite deliberately by the author, acknowledging that any discussion of local customs is unlikely to involve the actual sea. The chapter opens with four lines of the poem (II. 39–42, and their various translations) describing the rowing and towing of boats on the river. The first theme discussed is that of towing, beginning with a brief etymological overview of the Latin, Greek and German words for this (none of which appears in the lines quoted), and followed first by several earlier examples of towing as described in Latin poetry, then some more technical prose descriptions from Greek and Latin sources (the Greek is only given in translation, the Latin also in the original). This leads into a long discussion of images showing towed ships, with some short descriptions (especially for those not included in the plates) and background details. The first example is a relief on a 3rd-century funerary monument still in situ just upriver from Trier, so a local and relatively contemporary monument. From there, the narrative moves on via the Rhône region to late Roman Spain and Italy, then to medieval documents from Central Europe and to better-documented evidence from the past few centuries. Some parallels from South and East Asia complete the picture before the discussion returns to some more debated European finds. After this, the author goes on to talk about other important aspects of riverine shipping which (as he points out himself) are not mentioned in the poem at all, including the techniques of poling and sailing and the identification of some ship-types. This discussion remains largely in the confines of the Roman world, and takes in a number of further illustrations as well as some archaeological finds. However, everything is kept short, providing an overview of an abundance of evidence, rather than an in-depth discussion of any particular point; individual references (mostly in footnotes) can be followed up by readers who are interested in more detail.
Two chapters are openly different from this kind of structure. The first is chapter 4.3, on the diverse vocabulary associated with rivers, the sea and seafaring. This contains etymological information as well as usage examples, both from Ausonius and other authors, as well as from epigraphy. The other is chapter 5.2 on pictorial evidence for Roman shipbuilding in Germany. This includes much evidence held in German museums, not only of ships from the region or the period in question, but going back to the Neolithic and as far afield as Syria. It expands on the collection of material already started in chapter 5.1, casting its net more widely to gather an impressive amount of material (with subsection 5.2.1, on the Mediterranean ship-types mentioned in the poem).
Mostly, the individual items under discussion are arranged in a way that seems logically to lead from one to the other, but every now and then it is not entirely clear why a particular item has been chosen. There are some inaccuracies in the text and a few surprising (though not incorrect) choices of evidence: for example, when discussing the etymology of mare ‘sea’, the comparison in modern German is to maritim ‘maritime’ (a late learned borrowing), not to the more common and closely related Meer ‘sea’.
The large collection of images at the end of the book is a feature in its own right—there are just over 200 drawings and black-and-white photographs, mostly of representations of ships and related themes on archaeological finds (for instance oil-lamps, models, coins, grave stones, and mosaics), and, in later manuscripts and printed books, but also of some full-sized ship parts. These pages include, for example, 29 images with nautical scenes from Homer in a variety of media, 18 images of Greek and Roman lighthouses, ranging in date from the 1st to the 19th centuries, and a number of logboat models from around the world.
It is difficult to sum this book up in few words; it is a treasure trove of information from many kinds of sources and on a wide range of subjects (though with a literary emphasis), much of it only loosely connected with the poem, and arranged in an almost stream-of-consciousness fashion. While this style of presentation makes the book pleasant to read, it also makes it difficult to use for reference; an index would have been very helpful to overcome this. The book is likely to be of more interest to those studying late Roman culture, its origins and reception rather than those interested in archaeological and historical detail. While they cannot be used as a substitute index by themselves, the plates form an excellent starting point for exploring the book, providing an overview of the individual themes and a rough idea of the order in which these are discussed; this will, one hopes, make at least some of the text accessible even to readers who are less confident in the German language.