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Re: orion-list Pliny Qumran analysis (M. Agrippa)
Stephen Goranson writes:
> 1) Russell Gmirkin. Your message on Marcus Agrippa might considerably
> mislead some readers. Pliny lists not only "dimensions" but many other
> topics as well, including ethnological ones, as your selective description
This is quite true. But it does show Pliny's special interest in dimensions,
a topic on which he very frequently drew on Agrippa.
By the same token, the contents for book 5 include not only Judea but also
all the nations of North Africa, the Arabian peninsula, Syria, the Middle
East, and Asia Minor. The fact that Agrippa is cited as authority for book 5
does not particularly point to his being used for Judea. Pliny cites him at
NH 5.9-10, 40, 65, 102 regarding other matters, so his citation as authority
for book 5 is not really diagnostic for the question of his use on Judea.
> M. Agrippa not only made a map but wrote a commentary. And his
> writing was not limited to this. Without reiterating here the bibliography
> in my 1994 JJS article and essay on orion's web site (and adding to it): it
> is the demonstrated view of scholars of Marcus Agrippa that Pliny certainly
> used him as a source beyond those occasions where he explicitly named him.
I have read your biblio in your JJS article and such as you've cited
subsequently on Orion. From known fragmenta, mainly Pliny, his commentary
consisted of a listing of distances, dimensions, political boundaries, and
other such matters directly related to his map. It is quite possible that
Pliny used Agrippa in passages in which he is not cited as a source - but
these other citations will have also have been in matters of distances,
dimensions, political boundaries and such-like. I know of no secondary
literature that suggests otherwise, though my reading has not been exhaustive.
> That Pliny names names when giving measurements does absolutely nothing to
> remove Agrippa elsewhere.
Well, yes, it is very helpful in establishing the genre and character of
Agrippa's commentary on his map. And it was of a non-literary nature. The
passage on the Essenes is of a highly florid literary character - "the
solitary tribe of the Essenes, which is remarkable beyond all the other
tribes of the whole world... thus through thousands of ages (incredible to
relate) a race in which no one is born lives on forever..." (NH 5.73).
This is the exact polar opposite of Agrippa's sober geographical, or rather
cartographical treatise - "Agrippa says that to the river Anatis is a
distance of 496 miles, and from the Anatais to Lixus 205 miles... and then
comes the gulf called Sagiti Bay, the town on Cape Mulelacha, the rivers
Sebou and Sallee... [etc., etc.]" (NH 5.9).
> Rather than repeat here other arguments for
> Marcus Agrippa as the source, let me ask: which author listed by Pliny for
> book 5 might you propose could possibly be more suitable?
I am unable to identify a more suitable author as immediate Pliny's source.
I have studied the biographies of all the sources listed for book 5. The
fundamental problem is that for many of these, nothing is known.
However, another approach may provide the answer.
(1) The phrase, "remarkable beyond all the other tribes of the whole world"
is a smoking gun with respect to identifying the genre of Pliny's source. It
is almost certainly that of a "Collection of Remarkable Customs," in which
incredible customs of tribes around the world are surveyed, written in a sort
of "tabloid" popular style. This sort of essay remained popular down through
the Middle Ages.
(2) Nicolas of Damascus wrote exactly such a treatise - entitled,
appropriately, Collection of Remarkable Customs, fragments of which are
preserved by Joannes Stobaeus (and also commented on by Photius). Nicolas
could scarcely have excluded the Essenes from his Collection of Remarkable
Customs. B. Wacholder, _Nicolas of Damascus_ (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1962) 71-72 provides several compelling arguments
supporting this conclusion.
(3) Nicolas of Damascus was a contemporary of Herod and M. Agrippa, and
indeed accompanied the two on the same trip to Jericho at which you suggest
Agrippa learned about the Essenes. Of the two, Nicolas was obviously the
more qualified to write about the Essenes.
(4) Also, Nicolas was famous for the Nicolas date, so named by Augustus
after Nicolas of Damascus sent him some samples of this succulent delicacy.
Palms figure largely in the account of Essenes in Pliny - "with only palm
trees for company" - self-promotion by Nicolas? All available evidence thus
points to Nicolas as the ultimate source for Pliny.
However, Nicolas is not listed by Pliny as a source. Nicolas' work was not
geographical, but quasi-ethnological. One must therefore postulate an
intermediary source - of which all the otherwise unknown geographers cited as
authorities in book 5 are candidates. This intermediate source may or may
not have named Nicolas as _his_ source. If he did name Nicolas as an
eyewitness source on the Essenes, one familiar with Judea, this would
naturally have increased the reliability of this account of the Essenes in
the eyes of Pliny.
The consideration of genre seems basic to me in identifying Nicolas as the
ultimate source in Pliny. Any hypothetical information Agrippa knew about
the Essenes would arguably have come from his conversations with Nicolas
anyway. (Herod, Nicolas and Agrippa spent the better part of a year
together.) If Agrippa had mentioned the Essenes in his cartographical
treatise - which seems doubtful - he almost certainly would have quoted
Nicolas of Damascus in any case. Nicolas' Collection of Remarkable Customs
was written ca. 20 BCE (see Wacholder, ibid, 31), before Agrippa's visit to
Judea. Agrippa almost certainly read Nicolas' entertaining essay, or at
least heard it excerpted in dinner conversations, and for him to write about
the Essenes without citing or quoting his close friend Nicolas would have
been a serious insult. So even if Agrippa is Pliny's intermediate source -
which seems doubtful on basic considerations of genre - one would still have
to identify Nicolas as the source behind Marcus Agrippa.
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