Things I learned from Fergus Millar

I’m weeping at my desk this morning.  Big belly sobs.  Not pretty sentimental choked up tears.   Where the tears roll down and a kind of grunting sound comes from my throat reminding me how angry I am at death.   Here in no particular order are the ways Fergus touched my life and left me a better scholar, a better teacher, and a better human.  Things I wish I’d put into words for him, but was just too self conscious to do so.

1) Everyone feels like an outsider.  His stories of coming to Oxford from Scotland encompassed the loneliness of early academic life and hope that it need not be that way.  He did everything in his power to welcome newcomers.

2) Always introduce people.  He never assumed people necessarily knew each other and even once introduced long married husband and wife in an elevator.  Funny, yes.  But his radical commitment to introductions involves the risk of insult through a failure to remember.  It risked the discomfort of all those present, a little social awkwardness.  He prioritizes building connections and making people feel welcome over all else.

3) When in power, take the fall for vulnerable students.  My relationship with my beloved masters supervisor was not going to be a happy or healthy one for my doctorate.  Fergus as my college advisor gave me one of the greatest gifts of my career by allowing my former supervisor to blame him, not me for my shift.  I got to keep everyone as a mentor and ally.

4) Finish the book.  This was a hard, unpleasant lesson.  It involved regular reminders of the negative career consequences of not finishing.  It certainly was not pleasant for those who did not finish or finished in their own time.  For me, the object lesson meant that I landed on the job market with a book in contract, awaiting proofs and my new institution put me up for promotion nearly immediately.  The moral pressure he exerted ensured that I got that first book out even while on an unrelated post doc and also teaching nearly full time (i.e. working two full time jobs).  I have no idea how I worked so hard those years, but much of it was to live up to his expectations.

5) Just because someone has looked at the question before doesn’t mean you can’t do it better.  When I was feeling terrible about needing to switch supervisors and was contemplating thesis topics, he pulled books off his shelf on possible ancient authors and carefully critiqued the works of senior scholars (respectfully, of course, always respectfully) and then told me there was still work to be done and that he believed I could do it.

6) Think big and never loose track of the fine grained details.  He welcomed the wide view of history, not just for himself but in his students.  He encouraged broad, creative thinking with an emphasis on interconnecting phenomena and theories.  Yet his ability to close read pieces of evidence was astounding.  His undergraduate lecture, really an exegesis, on the Polla stone took one inscription, concentrated on each element of the text and its materiality, and then spiraled out to encompass nearly the whole of Rome’s relationship with Italy.  He insisted that the big views be tested against the fine grain of our evidence.

7) Value families. He took great joy in his marriage and his children and he wanted everyone to have that joy.  Academic life for him was not in tension with family life.  His parties for graduate students in College always had children present.  He wanted to know not just what I’d published but was I happy and whole.  I am.  It was easier to take the time I needed build my family because I knew that one of the mentors I admired most valued that time and commitment as much as I did and that it wasn’t contrary to my life and career as a scholar.

8) Start by just reading.  Even though it seemed my doctorate was to be an extension of my masters thesis, Fergus believed in making space to just read at the beginning of a project.  He’d started his own doctoral studies (if memory serves) by reading all of Livy.  He’d invited Katherine to read all Jacoby.  I didn’t know what Cicero held for my project on Greek historiography, but spending a term doing nothing else but close reading his letters and other writings, has enriched nearly everything I’ve ever written since.  I still go back to that file of notes.  To read deeply and to reflect on a text without a fixed goal is a great freedom.  Questions percolate up.  Ideas invite exploration.  Interconnections start to build.  Now when I need to refresh my mind, I pick up an ancient text and just read.  It is never wasted time.

There will be more to add, but for now this is enough.

God bless you, Fergus.  You have been a blessing in our lives and will continue to be so.


OI, July 8, 2019
OI, July 8, 2019

9) And, Polybius was right.  Never forget that.

Update 7.17.19.  This post is getting a lot of traffic.  Far more than is typical of this personal note-taking, though-holding academic blog.  If you’re looking for more of my writing on professional matters, advice and the state of classics, you can find a list of this type of post on my draft index page.


Some Reading Notes

In the Sackler having a leisurely browse of new scholarship.  This is where I will track refs and points of interest.

Highlights from CQ 98.2 2018

O’Sullivan on Cicero’s use of Greek letters vs. Transliteration

  • No hard fast rule
  • Technical survey of instances
  • Well known Phrases more likely to be in Greek rather than transliteration
  • Not always first Greek, then Latin, sometimes words first appear in the corpus transliterated and later in Greek
  • Medieval copyists and even Modern Editors make choices that can change our perception of Cicero’s habits.
  • MY QUESTION: Where does orality fit into this?  We know that Cicero often dictated his ‘writings’….

Richardson on Polybius:

  • The ebb of the water at New Carthage should be dismissed as a non-historical event.  Lots of discussion about why its not feasible or necessary.  Conclusion serves literary function regarding characterization of Scipio and by extent Roman religion.
  • How key is Laelius’ views of Roman religion and their influence on Polybius?  (Not resolvable?)
  • Bk VI emphasized religion to control masses BUT Polybius’ actual account demonstrates piety of elites and how that piety constrains their actions, e.g. oaths make men trustworthy with LARGE sums of money
  • Points back to Walbank on the ‘Scipionic Legend’ PCPhS 193 (1967).
  • Scipio as a Alexander like figure in literary accounts cf. Levene Livy on the Hannibalic War (OUP 2010)
  • New Carthage as an echo of Alexander taking Tyre!  (p.472-3)  Whole characterization of Scipio at NC can be read as imitatio of various traditional tales of Alexander

Morton on Diodorus’ Slave Narratives:

  • Methodological Reference to Sharrock and Morales, Intertextuality (OUP 2000).
  • Emphasis on key moralizing vocabulary in first ‘slave war’ narrative:  [article uses Greek, but I give English glosses or transliteration here] stasis, tryphe, arrogance, insolence (hubris), excessive wealth vs. moderation, kindness fairness.   Picks up parallels of similar moralizing behavior in other episodes of Diodorus (see esp. p. 539), e.g. Cyrus and Gelon book 13, Philip V and Antiochus in book 28, Sparta in book 15, Attalus II and Thracian king in book 33.
  • Second ‘slave war’ situated in how Diodorus’ characterizes the precarious position of Rome in the Mediterranean.
  • Nice history of life span of Diodorus for context: what would be influencing him
  • Didacticism as motivation, universalization of lessons of the slave wars
  • See inclusion as planned into structure of writing and that writing as a whole of Bibliotheke is structured
  • no solution to problem of relationship to sources

La Bua on Ps. Asconius and Servius

  • Largely concerned with testing and debunking as close a connection between the two late commentators and hypothesized by others esp Gessner
  • Ps.A uses Vergil to expound on Cicero, and visa versa, Servius uses Cicero extensively to commentate on Vergil.  No need to directly connect the two.
  • Reviews four close parallels between Ps.A and S: glosses on quaesitor, observant, deposita (Nonius too), and debunking connection between poscere and and potare
  • Dwells in depth of how their views of Verg. Aen.  11.301 and the exhortation of the gods in oratory work and mentions two other divergances
  • BUT Ps.A and Serv. Dan. rely in at least two cases on the same tradition: difficultas as a synonym for paupertas and the use of ecce autem
  • Ps.A uses sources not tracable to either Serv. or Serv.Dan.

Lintott on Verg. Aen. 6.836-40:

  • Long realized first two of these lines refer to Mummius because of reference to triumph over Corinth.
  • next three lines must be someone else because of greater specificity of Argos and Mycenae
  • Hyginus in Gell NA 10.16.14-18 thinks M’. Curius or Q. Metellus Macedonicus or L. Aemilius Paulus
  • Pyrrhus like Alexander was related to Aeacus
  • Lintott proposes Flamininus is meanted instead.  Cf. Plut. Flam. 12.6-7

Acta Antiqua: Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 57.4 (2017)

Overtoom on Crassus’ failure (historiographical reading):

  • importance of fained rout as trap, son’s head on spike killed morale, then Crassus’ own head was spiked further depleting morale.   Some 10,000 Roman soldiers captured and send to eastern side of Parthian empire.
  • Points out both Caesar and Pompey amongst others conducted extra-legal campaigns.  Crassus not unusual.
  • Parallels in the narrative tradition:  M’. Aquillius.  L. Licinius Lucullus, Marc Antony in contrast to Ventidius Bassus, L. Caesennius Paetus, Gabinius, even Emperors.
  • No surviving son = no apologist
  • vice, greed and impiety explanations for failure in most accounts
  • CF. molten gold in mouth motif in Florus [ME: contrast  M’. Aquillius!!!]
  • Dionysius Hal.  and Cicero religious emphasis – contrary to omens not personal character; [ME: note near contemporaries to events]
  • Emphasizes the desire on Romans to avenge defeat [ME: are we reading too much through Augustan lens]

Sent this article to Vallerie…

Highlights from KLIO 100.3 2018

Hölkeskamp on gens Fabia (German with English Summary)

  • “complex repertoire of the multi-media strategies of Fabian self-fashioning”
  • Rivalry with Marcellus: Plut. Marc. 21.5

Therefore with the common people Marcellus won more favour because he adorned the city with objects that had Hellenic grace and charm and fidelity; but with the elder citizens Fabius Maximus was more popular. For he neither disturbed nor brought away anything of the sort from Tarentum, when that city was taken, but while he carried off the money and the other valuables, he suffered the statues to remain in their places, adding the well-known saying: “Let us leave these gods in their anger for the Tarentines.” And they blamed Marcellus, first, because he made the city odious, in that not only men, but even gods were led about in her triumphal processions like captives; and again, because, when the people was accustomed only to war or agriculture, and was inexperienced in luxury and ease, but, like the Heracles of Euripides, was

Plain, unadorned, in a great crisis brave and true,”

he made them idle and full of glib talk about art and artists, so that they spent a great part of the day in such clever disputation. Notwithstanding such censure, Marcellus spoke of this with pride even to the Greeks, declaring that he had taught the ignorant Romans to admire and honour the wonderful and beautiful productions of Greece

BUT Plut. Fab. 22.5-6

While everything else was carried off as plunder, it is said that the accountant asked Fabius what his orders were concerning the gods, for so he called the pictures and statues; and that Fabius answered: “Let us leave their angered gods for the Tarentines.”  However, he removed the colossal statue of Heracles from Tarentum, and set it up on the Capitol, and near it an equestrian statue of himself, in bronze. He thus appeared far more eccentric in these matters than Marcellus, nay rather, the mild and humane conduct of Marcellus was thus made to seem altogether admirable by contrast, as has been written in his Life.

Cf Strabo 6.3.1

Among this booty is the Heracles in the Capitol, a colossal bronze statue, the work of Lysippus, dedicated by Maximus Fabius, who captured the city.

CF. Plin NH 34.40



LIMC entry.

Illustrated in article with miniature statue and coin.  Cf. LIMC no. 927-949.

Perhaps gens Fabia connection relevant for representation at house of M. Fabius Rufus at Pompeii


  • Discusses Heracles on Quadrans of RRC 265/3 and 273/3, but Heracles is the standard type of the quadrans.  Hard for me to see how these uses stick out…
  • P. 735-736 seems to follow Altheim’s dating and logic for RRC 23/1! yikes.
  • Oh no it gets worse! Discusses RRC 268/1 without citing or following Hollstein’s re interpretation of reverse as Quirinus NOT Fabius Pictor

Bianchi on Roman colonization in Etruria after Pyrrhic War

  • Summarizes views of Luigi Loreto which pre supposes a grand strategy and sees colonization in late 4th early 3rd century as a five phase military plan.  Author notes military only view of colonies now out of date.  Cites Galsterer and Cassola as well as Bradley and Bispham and Pelgrom as voices emphasizing social and economic motives.