“At Play Seriously”: Irony and Ironic Humour in the Vita of Josephus

Steve Mason, York University SBL Josephus Seminar, Denver, November 2001 DRAFT: PLEASE DO NOT CITE WITHOUT CONSULTATION APOLOGIES FOR LENGTH!

It is also necessary that he [sc. the great man, ] be both candid about hatred and candid about affection, because concealment implies fear—being careless of the truth in favour of reputation; and that he speak and act candidly, for in view of his disdain [for others’ opinions] he is frank and truthful, except of course whatever [he says] by way of irony, to the masses.

(Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 3.28; 1124b, line 1) Extreme fear took hold of us as we saw the populace with weapons. In a quandary as to what we should do ourselves, unable to halt the revolutionaries, and given the clear and present danger to us, we began saying that we concurred with their opinions. . . .

(Josephus, Life 22) Critical scholarship has long been intrigued by the “double game”—prosecuting the war while asserting friendship with Rome—that Josephus’s Vita presents him as playing while he was commander of Galilee in early 67. In our post-Enlightenment sincerity, we have assumed that his admission of duplicity must have been embarrassing to him, and therefore forced upon him. The universally accepted candidate for the main provocation is Justus of Tiberias’s account of the war, which is thought to have challenged Josephus’s, and therefore put him on the defensive (Schürer 1901-11: I. 59, 97;

2 Niese 1896: 228-29; Niese 1914: 575; Luther 1910: 8, 65-81; Laqueur 1970 [1920]: 44-55, 75-83; Drexler 1925: 293-312; Thackeray 1967 [1929]: 5-12; Schalit 1933: 6795; Gelzer 1952: 89; Shutt 1961: 6; Rajak 1973; Barish 1978: 64; Cohen 1979: 126-28; Mason 1991: 316-24).1 Justus, the theory goes, adduced evidence to show that the avowedly Rome-friendly Josephus had in fact been a fomenter of rebellion, a warlord, in Tiberias and elsewhere (cf. V 340, 350). Extrapolation from the few charges that Josephus actually attributes to Justus has rendered his attack the hidden hand behind Josephus’s entire autobiography (esp. Luther 1910). The best Josephus could produce by way of response was a series of damning new admissions,2 couched in the feeble excuse that he had been forced to conceal his true motives during the early revolt (e.g., V 22, 175-76); hence the literary artifice of the double game. The argument that the Vita systematically responds to Justus has further enticed historians to imagine that in Justus’s work, reconstructed through a mirror-reading of the Vita, we have recovered an independent source. On the basis of this virtual external evidence we can proceed to build probable historical scenarios.3


An important qualification is that Laqueur, Thackeray, Gelzer, and Cohen all propose that the Vita is based upon an administrative account or possibly field notes ( ), written long before Justus published his account. In arguing that Josephus reused this earlier material to reply to Justus, however, these scholars still hold that our present Vita appeared as a response to the Tiberian. 2 For example: he had initially been friends with John of Gischala, his notorious enemy according to the War (§§ 43-4, 86), and John in turn had been as well-connected in Jerusalem as Josephus (§§ 189-91); Josephus had been eager to undertake such belligerent actions as the removal of images from the Herodian palace at Tiberias (§§ 63-5); he had not been appointed general at the outset, as the War claimed, but only as one member of a commission (§ 29); he had energetically attacked Syrian cities (§ 81) and authorized the building of defensive walls from the sale of royal grain (§§ 72-3). 3 I phrase this in methodological terms: historical reconstruction normally requires at least two lines of independent evidence (Bloch 1953: 110-13). Most scholars put it in other terms: that the Vita is to be trusted in those places where Josephus was forced to admit things by Justus (cf. Luther 1910: 8, 81; Thackeray 1967 [1929]: 5), but this amounts to the same logic: the Vita is not

3 In this essay I mainly presuppose what I have argued elsewhere: that the Vita does not work as a response to Justus. If Justus’s account had placed Josephus in jeopardy, and the Vita was his defence, then he was in trouble. The book does not deal critically with any significant aspect of his past, nor bother to defend his War. To the contrary, he takes a novel approach to the period in question and contradicts the War in almost every case, even in small details, where the two works overlap (cf. Cohen 1979: 110-11, 126; Mason 2001: 213-22). A critical audience impressed by Justus could hardly have been won back by such aggressive carelessness. Further, the structure of the Vita does not give any prominence to Justus’s challenge.4 And it is hard to see why Josephus, living comfortably in Rome in the 90s, could have been much threatened by the Tiberian—especially by claims about his past as a combatant prisoner from the Judean revolt, which was already well known (cf. Suetonius, Vesp. 5.6; Dio 65.1.4). Laqueur’s partial solution to these problems (Laqueur 1970 [1920]: 1-127), that in response to Justus Josephus lightly reworked an account of his Galilean administration that he had written for other purposes a quarter of a century earlier, creates more problems than it solves.5 It is simpler to accept that the Vita itself, rather than a precursor, was written for other purposes; Justus’s provocation was quite incidental.

simply Josephus left to his devices, but Josephus under constraint from a nearly visible independent source. 4 That is, the introductory and concluding matter (AJ 20.266-67; V 430) does not mention Justus, to whom Josephus only responds directly in very deliberate excursus near the end of the Vita (336-67). So, in part, Cohen 1979: 121-37; Rajak 1983: 154. 5 Laqueur’s argument is intricate and cannot be fully examined here. See, however, Thackeray 1967 [1929]: 18-19; Schalit 1933 [both arguing that the extant Vita is a stylistic and conceptual unity]; Barish 1978 [rejecting Laqueur’s notion that the Antiquities was provided with an additional ending to accompany the final (anti-Justus) Vita]; and more generally Cohen 1979: 1821, 128-32; Mason 2001: xxx-xxxii. Cohen maintains that Josephus reworks an earlier sketch of his career, but for reasons different from Laqueur’s; cf. Mason 2001: xxxii-l.

4 Josephus frames this autobiography as an exposition of his character (V 430) on the evidence of his ancestry and curriculum vitae (AJ 20.266: ), and this frame matches the content well enough. After sketching his glorious ancestry and precocious youth, he turns to his public life (V 12), presenting in some detail the five months that, as far as we know, constituted his most serious claim to military and governmental prominence. His many hapless opponents—Justus is one of the less visible—are brought forward in series and dispatched with perceptible glee.6 Their vices and abject failures appear mainly to highlight his virtues (e.g., clemency, perseverance, loyalty, incorruptible justice, mastery of the passions) through the familiar technique of polemical contrast ( ).

So the Vita is a true autobiography in the Roman sense, a piece of epideictic rhetoric inviting praise and blame (Neyrey 1994). In general, we interpreters of Josephus have overlooked the “rhetoricized mentality” (Rudich 1993: xxx-xxxi; Rudich 1997: 1-16; cf. Bartsch 1994: 148-93) of his time and place, which seems crucial for understanding the Vita’s rhetorical preoccupations and its cavalier disregard for historical detail. My goal in this paper is to explore only one aspect of Josephus’s rhetoric in the Vita, namely: irony. Several recent studies have described the mood of élite society in firstcentury Rome as one of thoroughgoing dissimulation (Rudich 1993: xvii-xxiv), doublespeak (Bartsch 1994: 63-97), or irony. Irony had been widely adopted in earlier literary contexts (below), but it seems that under the emerging principate


So: Josephus’s two priestly colleagues (V 63, 73); John of Gischala (V 70-6, 85-103, 368-72); father Pistus and son Justus of Tiberias (V 34-42, 88, 336-67, 410); the admittedly eminent Simon son of Gamaliel (V 189-96); Jonathan and the delegation members (V 196-335); cf. Agrippa’s viceroy Varus (V 46-61).

5 most performers and authors, including historians, became reflexive ironists: they routinely said things other than what they meant and expected their audiences to perceive these indirect signals. Josephus’s contemporary Quintilian, discussing various kinds of rhetorical figures (figurae), observes that in his time—under Domitian—the term “figure” [here: schema]7 was all but reserved for what we would call irony: hence the current abundance of veiled, so-called “figured”, controversies (controversiae figuratae). He elaborates on this form of speech: It is one [sc. a figure] whereby we excite some suspicion to indicate that our meaning is other than our words would seem to imply . . . , a hidden meaning which is left to the hearer to discover” (Quintilian 9.2.65).8 The rhetor prescribes three reasons for using this figure: when it is either unsafe or unseemly to speak frankly, or merely for subtle effect. He repeats that this manner of discourse is very much in fashion, used with great frequency (qua nunc utimur plurimum. . . quod et frequentissimum est) in Domitian’s era. So candid confrontation was out and irony was in. This point was not lost on the principes, who accordingly became accomplished ironists. They upped the ante by seeking out sedition in plays, recitals of poetry, gestures, and literary allusions (figurae) in all genres, trying to censor any “uncontrollable subtext”,9 though sometimes ignoring potential slights. Playwrights and actors may have fared worst as victims of such imperial sensitivity: in their case, it was always
7 8

Quintilian more or less equates figura and schema: cf. 1.8.16; 6.3.70. In the part omitted by ellipsis here, Quintilian distinguishes this kind of speech from ironia, but that is because he (oddly) understands the latter in a narrow sense: saying the opposite of what one means. 9 I owe the suggestive term to Rudich (1997: 11), who relates that this was the criterion used by a Soviet censor for rejecting an article of his, on the reign of Claudius, for publication in a minor scholarly journal.

6 possible that an audience’s determination to find topical allusion would itself generate subversive interpretations that had never been intended (Bartsch 1994: 67-8). The senatorial class was also vulnerable if its members unwisely referred to precedents from the republican era or from contemporaries already punished (cf. MacMullen 1966: 1-45).10 Evidently Domitian was closely attuned to such figural representation: he executed Hermogenes of Tarsus for certain allusions (figurae) in his history (Suetonius, Dom. 10.1), the younger Helvidius Priscus for having allegedly criticized his divorce in a farce concerning Paris and Oenone (Dom. 10.4). Rudich proposes that the cornerstone of the new language structure was laid by Augustus when he ironically proclaimed a “restored republic”—a diarchic deceit that most of his monarchical successors would propagate anew at the outset of each new reign (Rudich 1993: xvii, 6, 11-12). It was also Augustus, supported immediately by Tiberius, who provided an incentive to doublespeak by extending the capital charge of “diminishing the majesty of the Roman people” (maiestas) to include slander of the emperor—or perceived slander (Suetonius, Aug. 55; Tacitus, Ann. 1.72; Dio 57.22.5; cf. Bartsch 1994: 66). Bartsch, for her part, shows that Cicero had already made much of topical allusion in the theatre, which was an important aspect of the political climate of the late republic (1994: 72-3): the great orator remarked that “there was never any passage in

Bartsch (1994: 78-9) gives several examples from Suetonius of persons convicted on the basis of their plays (Cal. 27.4; Nero 39.3; Dom. 10.4). Otherwise, the senator Cremutius Cordus was prosecuted in 25 CE on the charge that the praise of Brutus and Cassius in his histories implied criticism of Tiberius (Tac., Ann. 4.34-5). Under Nero, by contrast, Seneca prudently denied Stoic justification to Caesar’s assassins (de Ben. 2.20.2). Tacitus reports other examples of sensitivity to this issue of Caesar’s killers (Ann. 3.76; 16.7, 22), as does Pliny (Ep. 1.17.3). From at least the autumn of 93, Domitian became adept at reading between the lines. In addition to Hermogenes and Helvidius, mentioned in the text, he executed Rusticus Arulenus and Herennius Senecio for

7 which, if something the poet said seemed to refer to our times, the whole people did not notice or the actor himself did not insist upon this meaning” (Pro Sest. 118). Still, Bartsch identifies Nero’s move to the stage, from which he could closely observe the senators in their reserved (and obligatory) seating area, as the decisive moment from which audience members became actors, both in the theatre and in life (Bartsch 1994: 1-62). Throughout the first century, says Rudich, senators increasingly made peace with the new pretences, though the dissonance between their outward profession and their real values created a sometimes unbearable tension. It was unwise to point out the resulting duplicity, however: in 39 CE, according to Dio (59.18.5), one Titius Rufus committed suicide, “having declared that the Senate thought one thing but propounded another view,” and having been scheduled for trial on account of this impolitic insight (Rudich 1993: xxiii). Communication within Roman élite circles, or between them and the princeps, was not the only sphere in which ironic discourse became de rigueur. The opening quotation from Aristotle (above) seems to reflect a much older rhetorical assumption that political leaders ordinarily needed to dissemble when they addressed the masses; their peers, of course, would detect this as irony. In Josephus’s day, Plutarch confirms that Roman hegemony had rendered the obligation to dissemble an even more urgent necessity for public figures. In his tractate offering advice to the Greek statesman, he describes the need for duplicity when dealing with the populace, which is always restive and impetuous, unable to bear any frustration of its aspirations. Plutarch advises the

praising long-dead critics of Nero and Vespasian (Suetonius, Dom. 10.3-4; Tacitus, Agr. 2.1; Pliny, Ep. 7.19.5; Cassius Dio 67.13.2).

8 statesman first to listen and learn about his people’s distinctive character, so that he might accommodate himself to them and win their confidence (Praec. ger. rei pub. 3.799B-800A). Compare Josephus’s first actions in Galilee (V 30-61). Further, the statesman must possess great oratorical skill (Praec. ger. rei pub. 3.799B-800A 5.801a-9.804c) for “softening by persuasion and overcoming by charms the fierce and violent spirit of the people” (801e). Given the inevitability that the masses will dislike political leaders, statesmen must resort to cunning schemes. For example, they might arrange for a few of their colleagues to pretend to speak against a measure in the assembly, and then seem to be won over by those colleagues, in order to bring the audience along with them (16.813a-c, 25.818e819b). Plutarch emphasizes that the chief task and test of the statesman under Roman rule is to maintain the peace, avoid internal conflict ( ), and keep

Roman forces from needing to enter the scene (19.814f-816a). This intersects perfectly with Josephus’s expressed motives and language. My thesis is that Josephus, who may already have found his entire situation while defending Galilee against the Romans tragically ironic, in any event chose for his narrative logic, when he came to write up the story a quarter of a century later in the Vita, an irony that is often comic. For this he presumably expected an appreciative audience. Alas we, his scholarly readers, have tended to assume that his every statement buttresses some ponderous apologetic purpose. Confident that we can reason out his political and personal motives, we have sought to circumvent these biases in historical reconstruction. By definition, however, an ironic mode of representation would interpose a certain distance, even a playful disposition, between Josephus and any such sincere aims, thereby

9 undercutting our use of his narrative for a historical reconstruction that operates by excising apologetic bias. We begin with a survey of the ironic contexts in which Josephus found himself in late first-century Rome, then examine two kinds of irony in the Vita: text-dependent and audience-dependent. I deal mainly with the former.


Context: Characterizations—not Definitions—of Irony

Although we should ideally begin with a definition of the critical term, irony, it appears from specialist analysis that one might as well try to define religion, poetry, or love.11 Dictionaries are not helpful for such a diverse collection of phenomena, and critics routinely observe that the term has been so inflated—to encompass everything from mere dissimulation to tragic, modern romantic, and post-modern existential irony—as to be almost meaningless (Knox 1972; Fowler 2000: 7-9). In place of a definition, this first section of the paper offers a sketch of ironic qualities and possibilities in other ancient literature and in Josephus, to establish a context for reading the Vita. Greek an was the quality characteristic of the . We first meet

in Aristophanes’ Clouds (Thomson 1926: 3), produced in 423 BCE, but

there is insufficient context there to provide clear guidance about the sense of the term. In order to escape his mounting debts, Strepsiades is willing to become even an , one of a long list of undesirable personae, in order to train as a

sophist (so that he can make the worse argument appear the better!), ironically

10 under the tutelage of Socrates (Nub. 449). In two later Aristophanic contexts, the word group might signify either generic duplicity or more particularly a duplicitous claim to innocence (Vesp. 174; Aves 1211). In subsequent Greek literature, however, the word group seems often to indicate little more than a distasteful evasiveness or lack of candour (Demosthenes, Exordium 4.3; Phil. 1.7.5, 37.5 [=Orat. 4.7.5, 37.5]; Plutarch, Fabius 11.1; Timoloeon 15.7; Marius 24.4; 43.3; Lucullus 27.4; Pomp. 30.6). According to Aristotle’s ethical treatises, however, which discuss the language of irony systematically for the first time, an is one who

dissembles by understating his knowledge: he says less than he knows, pretends innocence. We might call this narrower sense of irony “disingenuousness”. In these treatises the empty boaster; truthfulness ( consistently stands opposite the is thus the opposite of , the braggart or , and straightforward

), the accurate appraisal of one’s knowledge, is

the desirable middle way between these two kinds of deceit. I give but one example: Now one who is truthful and simple, whom they call straightforward, is midway between the and the For one who is not actually

ignorant but speaks falsely against himself implying inferiority is an , whereas the one [who speaks falsely] implying superiority is an . One who [speaks of] what one actually has is truthful and, after Homer: ‘sagacious’. Overall, then, this kind is a friend of truth, the other kind a friend of falsehood (

One gains a sense of the problem from D. C. Muecke’s wry remark (1969: 14): “Since, however,


; Eth. Eud. 1233b). Although Aristotle usually implies, as here, that the ironist’s self-deprecation is as bad as boastfulness, he sometimes allows that this form of deception is the more forgivable fault. Insofar as ironists try to avoid ostentation, like Socrates, they at least reveal a commendable graciousness of character (NE 1127b.30-31; cf. Rhet. 1419b.8). Indeed, Aristotle’s ambiguity about as well as his particular take

on its meaning may result from his view that Socrates was the embodiment of the . That Socrates epitomized irony was a common view throughout

Greco-Roman antiquity. In Plato’s Symposium Alcibiades describes the philosopher as having a contrary inside and outside, like a Silenus doll, which opens up to reveal inner layers (Sym. 216e): Again, he [Socrates] is completely ignorant and knows nothing ( )—so he affects. Is not this like a Silenus? It certainly is. This is something he wears on the outside, just like the sculptured Silenus. But on the inside, were he to be opened up: how full he is, dear drinking-mates, of prudence (

)! . . . I tell you: he occupies his whole life being ironic and poking fun at his fellow-men
Erich Heller, in his Ironic German, has already quite adequately not defined irony, there would be

12 ( ). In what already appears to be a send-up of his reputation, the Republic has Socrates characteristically dismiss any claim to knowledge about justice, to which Thrasymachus responds with uproarious laughter: Ye gods, this is it: the typical irony ( ) of Socrates! I myself

predicted these things already to these men, that when you came to reply, you would decline and rather speak disingenuously ( anything rather than answer, if anyone should ask you. Unfazed by the jab, Socrates continues with equally typical and ironic praise of his interlocutor’s wisdom (Resp. 337a; cf. Apol. 37e; Sym. 216e; Gorgias 489e). Socrates’ reputation for irony persisted through the Latin authors (Cicero, Brut. 292-93; Quintilian, Inst. Or. 9) and well into the period of the Second Sophistic (Plutarch, Quaest. Conv. 612d.12; Lucian, Demonax 6.1; Dial. Mort. 7.5.17; Diogenes Laertius 2.19). Cicero and Quintilian were the two main (surviving) Latin authors to discuss irony, and they fully incorporated it into their rhetorical analyses, further dignifying it in the process. In the Brutus, after Cicero recounts with high praise the list of eminent Latin orators, his friend Atticus (ironically) attributes this to irony (Brut. 292): That irony which they say was found in Socrates (ironiam illam quam in Socrate dicunt fuisse), and which he uses in the books by Plato, Xenophon, and Aeschines, I myself consider pleasant and tasteful (facetam et elegantem [ego] puto). For it is hardly impertinent of a fellow, and even pleasant of
little point in not defining it all over again.”

) and do

13 him (est enim et minime inepti hominis et eiusdem etiam faceti), when judgements are being made about wisdom (cum de sapientia disceptetur), to disassociate the thing from himself and to attribute it playfully to those who arrogate it to themselves (hanc sibi ipsum detrahere, eis tribuere illudentem, qui eam sibi arrogant). So Socrates in Plato exalts to heaven Protagoras, Hippias, Prodicus, Gorgias and others with adulation, whereas he portrays himself as untutored in all matters and uncultivated (in caelum effert laudibus . . . , se autem omnium rerum inscium fingit et rudem). This suits him in some strange way, and I cannot agree with Epicurus who censures it. In the De oratore, Cicero speaks in one place of words being inverted (invertuntur), as when Crassus responded to his legal opponent, a disfigured man named Lamia: “Let’s hear the pretty little boy” (De orat. 2.262). Whereas we would call this a nasty form of irony, Cicero equates Greek rather with

Latin dissumulatio. He defines both terms while discussing pleasant (faceta [2.264], urbana) forms of speech (De orat. 2.269): Dissimulation also is pleasant (urbana etiam dissimulatio est), when your words differ from your thoughts, not in the way I spoke of earlier—when you say the opposite (cum contraria dicas), as Crassus did to Lamia—but when in your whole manner of speaking you are at play seriously (cum toto genere orationis severe ludas), when you are thinking something other than what you say (cum aliter sentias ac locquere). . . . Fannius in his ‘Chronicles’ records that Africanus (the one named Aemilianus) was outstanding in this kind of thing, and describes him by the Greek word ,

14 but on the evidence of those who know these subjects better than I do my opinion is that in this sort of irony and dissimulation Socrates far surpassed everyone for wit and refinement (Socratem opinior in hac ironia dissimulantiaque longe lepore et humanitate omnibus praestitisse). Elsewhere too Cicero confirms that irony benefits from its connection with Socrates: As for Socrates, he used to depreciate himself in discussion and assign greater weight to those whom he wished to refute; thus, as he said something other than what he thought, he was fond of regularly employing the practice of dissembling that the Greeks call ,

which Fannius says was also a feature of Africanus, and one not to be reckoned a fault in him, for the same thing was to be found in Socrates. Socrates autem de se ipse detrahens in disputatione plus tribuebat iis quos volebat refellere; ita cum aliud diceret atque sentiret, libenter uti solitus est ea dissimulatione quam Graeci vocant; quam ait etiam in Africano fuisse

Fannius, idque propterea vitiosum in illo non putandum quod idem fuerit in Socrate. The element of knowing playfulness in Cicero’s use of irony reappears in Quintilian, who includes irony as one form of jest: “Is not even the most serious kind (quae severissime fit) [of irony, ironia] a sort of joke (joci prope genus est?)?” (Inst. Or. 6.3.68). He cites the example of Afer, who responded to a friend’s pretended reluctance about accepting a governorship for which he had been aggressively vying, “Well, then, do something for your country’s sake!” Quintilian can equate ironia with illusio, when a speaker says the opposite of

15 what he means: praising in order to vilify or blaming in order to praise (Inst. Or. 6.6.54-7). Elsewhere, however, he insists on using the Greek because he

does not think, in contrast to Cicero, that it is captured by the Latin dissimulatio (Inst. Or. 9.2.44-6). He seems to have caught that special sense of expected detection that is essential to irony but not required of mere dissembling. In the same passage he makes a distinction between irony as a single turn of phrase (tropos) and as the stance of an entire text (schema, figura) or even a whole life—like Socrates’. This brief survey of irony language in antiquity shows already a variety of nuances, from mere slipperiness of speech to false modesty, insincere praise or praise in order to blame, blame in order to praise, and knowingly barbed humour. Although it began with mostly bad press, this form of speech gained respectability with Aristotle and especially the Roman orators because of its connection with Socrates. But we are still left with a somewhat limited semantic range in relation to the wider phenomenon of irony in ancient literature. Greek tragic and comic irony, for example, though easily recognizable as such to us, did not receive the label “irony” until the nineteenth century (Muecke 1969: 7-9). Since my pursuit in this paper is not only Josephus’s use of words, but his

actual employment of what we call irony, I must offer some criteria also for detecting this in his writings.

the irony that is not named While avoiding definitions, in the ironologist’s manner, D. C. Muecke has proposed three “formal requirements” of irony (Muecke 1969: 19-20), which may

16 serve us as a test for its presence in Josephus. It is as efficient to quote as to summarize his remarks: In the first place irony is a double-layered or two-storey phenomenon. At the lower level is the situation either as it appears to the victim of irony (where there is a victim) or as it is deceptively presented by the ironist (where there is an ironist). . . . At the upper level is the situation as it appears to the observer or the ironist. The upper level need not be presented by the ironist; it need only be evoked by him or be present in the mind of the observer. . . . In the second place there is always some kind of opposition between the two levels, an opposition that may take the form of contradiction, incongruity, or incompatibility. What is said may be contradicted by what is meant . . .; what the victim thinks may be contradicted by what the observer knows. . . . In the third place there is in irony an element of “innocence”; either a victim is confidently unaware of the very possibility of there being an upper level or point of view that invalidates his own, or an ironist pretends not to be aware of it. There is one exception to this; in sarcasm or in a very overt irony the ironist does not pretend to be unaware of his real meaning and his victim is immediately aware of it. To these three conditions A. C. Romano adds a helpful fourth: ironic intention. Since irony is a “deliberate fallacy”, it requires “reception and acknowledgement for the circuit to be closed.” There is thus no such thing as private irony in literature—or we could not recognize it (Romano 1979: 23). In brief, then: “What can be said, putting it very simply, is that the art of irony is the art of saying

17 something without really saying it. It is an art that gets its effects from below the surface” (Muecke 1969: 5). J. A. K. Thomson’s classic study of irony in the ancient world (Thomson 1926) identifies many varieties of the phenomenon in Greek authors, without the language of irony being used. Homer’s Iliad is ironic because Achilles and the reader know from the start that he is doomed, even though the story is about his rage and transformation (Thomson 1926: 96); Herodotus’s history, because he takes so much trouble to explore the customs of a nation everyone knows to have been vanquished (1926: 116-34); Thucydides’, because his rigorous detachment as an author conceals the personal cost of the events he describes (1926: 139-40). With respect to Aristophanes Thomson points out that, besides the explicit interplay between the and the , and also the author’s frequent

exploitation of current affairs understood by the audience, which creates irony, there is an additional irony arising from Aristophanes’ detachment as author from the story. One does not sense that any of the characters in his plays represents Aristophanes himself: to the extent that he manipulates his characters from a distance, placing himself (and the audience) in the position of knowing more than all of them, he is being ironic (Thomson 1926: 33). According to Thomson, Aeschylus and Sophocles both depend heavily upon the audience’s prior knowledge for their irony: the former by holding back the expected dénouement until the latest possible moment, anticipating it with teasing lines, the latter by setting the wheels of the familiar plot in motion early, then building speed consistently until the conclusion approaches with overwhelming force (Thomson 1926: 69). Euripides, by contrast, is ironic “in the modern sense” (1926: 75), for he adopts the vantage-point of the outsider: in

18 Trojan Women and Ion he challenges his Athenian peers’ assumptions against other nations’ claims to virtue. Much later, Lucian would prove to be a brilliant ironist, anticipating Jonathan Swift in the shining defence he provides for a tyrant (Phalaris 2) (1926: 203-5). Though it was understandable that Thomson should have passed over New Comedy with little comment, since the plays of Menander were known only in small fragments when he wrote, it seems unbelievable today that he should have given short shrift to Roman irony. He proposed that this art was not native to the Roman mind because it was inimical to the rhetorical concerns that were so pervasive among Roman authors: rhetoric tries to make things obvious, thus undercutting irony (Thomson 1926: 216). Whatever the abstract merits of this position, it collapses when we read the rhetoricians talking about irony as a figure. And scholarship has since demonstrated the deep ironic veins that run through Latin literature, from Plautus and Terence—now recognized as distinctively Roman adapters of their Greek models through bronze—to Tacitus and Juvenal. As we have seen, Rudich and Bartsch both trace a seismic shift toward irony to the reign of Nero: Bartsch on the argument that the ironic tactics of stage actors then became widely adopted by both writers and their audiences (Bartsch 1994: 1-62); Rudich with attention to the “dissident” mentality that the Julio-Claudian autocracy provoked, which reached critical mass under Nero (Rudich 1993: xix): This “schizophrenic” state of affairs led to further complexities. The primary discrepancy between the de iure and de facto aspects of societal life meant a variety of gaps between verba and acta, words and deeds, manifest in collective as well as individual behavior. It was an uncanny

19 world of illusion and delusion, of ambivalences and ambiguities on all levels of social interaction. For example, Tacitus now appears as one of the great ironists of all time (Plass 1988: 15-89; O'Gorman 2000: 3-11); Pliny’s Panegyric12 and some of Juvenal (Romano 1979; Bartsch 1994: 98-187) have also been fruitfully analyzed from this perspective. Thus far, we have observed a broad interest on the part of Greco-Roman authors in what we would consider ironic discourse. They do not agree about the terminology: what should be called “ironical”, whether Greek has exact

parallels in Latin, and whether irony is an acceptable or even praiseworthy art. Whatever language they might use for it, however, many ancient writers enriched their compositions at all levels, from the simple trope to deep structures, with irony. I do not claim that this is a stunning or in any way original insight, but it seemed important to scout the terrain of ironic possibilities in Josephus’s background before considering his own practice.

irony in Josephus (outside the Vita) Josephus was well attuned to both the language of irony and the idea of the thing. He employs words seventeen times in all, once in the Vita

(below), a ratio that makes him a conspicuously heavy user. In every case the connotations of the word group are negative: they indicate dissimulation, deception, and derision (BJ 1.209, 523; 2.26, 29, 298, 153; AJ 15.279, 374), or he raises the possibility of such behaviour only to deny it. For example, Hyrcanus

So Pliny to Trajan: “You order us to be free, and so we shall be; you order us to bring out what we feel into the open, and so we shall bring it forth!” (Pan. 66.4; cf. Rudich 1993: xvii-xxxiv).

20 II’s advisers claim that the brash young Herod and his family were no longer “speaking of themselves ironically as a mere secretariat under the king” ( ), but were now openly behaving as despots (BJ 1.209). Herod’s son Archelaus likewise is accused of irony in using empty words to present his claim to rule, when his actions indicate his real, tyrannical intentions (BJ 2.26, 29). About one third of the occurrences of the word group in Josephus are in the fourth book of the Bellum, where the rebels’ activities are the subject. First, when John of Gischala enters the city of Jerusalem, he conceals the fact that he and others have been driven there by the Roman advance, and emptily boasts that the Romans will never take Jerusalem: “He also spoke ironically about the ignorance of the inept [Romans], that even if they should take wings, the Romans would never surmount the wall of Jerusalem—those who already suffered so terribly throughout the villages of Galilee also breaking their machines against the walls there!” (

; BJ 4.127). Here is a double irony. Within the story John attempts dissimulation with his audience, since he knows better than he speaks. But for the literary audience the whole effort is ironic because the outcome is well known to them—from the prologue as also from recent events: the Romans will bring “wings” (cf. the alae of cavalry) and engines, and they will indeed surmount and destroy Jerusalem’s walls. John is thus a pathetic figure, a misguided hero railing against fate.

21 Next, the rebels mixed irony ( ) in with their

terrible behaviour, Josephus says, when they undertook to appoint a new high priest by lot, behind a screen ( ) of alleged ancient practice (BJ 4.151-53).

A little later, the Idumean leader Simon stood outside the walls of Jerusalem and (ironically) complained about the ironic speech of the former high priest Jesus, who had refused him entry on what he considered specious grounds (BJ 4.279). Then comes a passage in which -words occur three times in a short

space. The scene itself is ironical. An eminent citizen named Zacharias has become a target of the Zealots and Idumeans (by now in the city) because of his wealth and virtue. Rather than killing him outright, however, the rebels cleverly plan to hold a mock trial, empanelling seventy leading citizens as judges, who should know what they are expected to conclude in view of the mass slaughter just concluded (BJ 4.326-33). In the event, however, the prosecutors are unable to offer convincing evidence for their charge that Zacharias has held treasonable communications with Vespasian, and the accused easily demolishes their arguments. So, with unimaginable innocence, the panel of judges votes to acquit him. The result: A cry went up at this acquittal from the Zealots, and they were all aggravated at the judges for not perceiving the ironic nature of the authority they had been given ( ; BJ 4.342) How important it is, when attempting irony, to know your audience! To make their point, the Zealots move forward and dispatch their intended victim on the

22 spot, punning incessantly and declaring (ironically) that this was their verdict, and now the man has received a more perfect acquittal ( life). In addition to the passage quoted, —i.e., from

language appears in the

introduction to the story, where Josephus speaks of ironical trials and courts (4.334), and again in the middle, where the Zealots must restrain themselves from expressing rage at Zacharias for his defence, to maintain the “façade and ironic nature” ( ) of the trial (4.340).

Finally, when Josephus riffs on the meaning of the name “Zealot”, he includes the claim that their name suited them only ironically (BJ 2.270): Although they applied the label to themselves by virtue of their zeal for the good, they were really speaking ironically in view of their injustices, on account of their animal-like nature, or supposing the greatest evils to be the greatest goods.

These episodes highlight the fact that,

-language aside, the Judean

War is unavoidably an ironic book. That is because the outcome of the story and the future of its main protagonists are well known to the literary audience: by the time they hear the story, the revolt has been quashed and the Judean temple destroyed; the Roman generals who were leading the campaign have risen to supreme power on the strength of their victory; the faithful client King Agrippa has received singular honours, and his sister Berenice fame of a sort, in the capital city; the notorious rebel leaders (Tacitus, Hist. 5.12) have been duly

23 punished; reprisals have occurred in various places; the air is still charged with post-war tension; and the enemy general-cum-author Josephus now stands before them in Rome. All of this the audience knows in advance, which means that every rebel ploy, every misguided motive and deceitful speech in Josephus’s War, has an ironic quality. The deliberative speech of Eleazar ben Yair at Masada, reflecting on the crimes committed by his band and the likely consequences if they surrender, not to mention his philosophical justification of suicide, in contrast to Josephus’s earlier repudiation of it, fairly drips with irony (BJ 7.320-36, 341-88). Similarly, the speeches of Agrippa and Josephus concerning the terrible cost of pursuing the revolt and the indomitable fortune of the Romans (BJ 2.345-401; 5.362-419), can be read only from the standpoint of the known outcome, which raises immeasurably the level of pathos. Josephus resorts to pointed irony when he stands before the walls of Jerusalem and pleads for surrender: Again you are indignant and scream abuse at me, and indeed I deserve much worse than this: I, who offer some advice in opposition to fate, and try forcibly to rescue those whom God has condemned (BJ 6.108) So again, the story summarized above is doubly ironic: whereas the miserable Zealots could not carry off successful irony even in one case, no matter how obvious and deliberate they were about it, Josephus employs this art in the most effective way—without having to name it—to drive home his fundamental points about the virtue of his priestly colleagues. A major theme of the Bellum, that of civil war ( ; BJ 1.10),

likewise gains its force from the audience’s immediate external knowledge of this

24 evil. The much-discussed literary parallels with Thucydides, historian of many centuries before Josephus (Rajak 1983: 91-4; Feldman 1998: 140-48; Mader 2000: 55-103),13 are not to be doubted. But the fact remains that civil war had been a Leitmotif of Roman history for about two centuries, culminating in the bloodsoaked “long year” of 69 CE, immediately before the arrival of Josephus and the Flavian rulers. Civil war (bellum civile) is arguably the most prominent theme in Roman literature throughout this period: from Cicero and Sallust to Caesar, Lucan, Tacitus, and Appian.14 It is inconceivable that Josephus’s Roman audience would not think of their experience of civil war when they heard about Judea from him, not least because he often draws explicit connections: in the prologue (BJ 1.4-5, 23-4)—“with the Romans too, domestic affairs were in disarray” ( )—and later in more detail (BJ 4.486-503). It is difficult to believe, then, that he did not write the Bellum intending to exploit the audience’s well-tutored revulsion at power-hungry tyrants ( ),

demagogues, and bandits; that this shared semantics of civil war was not his (ironic) explanatory matrix for the catastrophe in his beloved homeland. In this sense too, the Bellum becomes an ironic work, when Josephus evokes his audiences’ prior understanding with apparently simple but coded words such as “tyrants” and “bandits”. The Antiquities is not such an ironical book. Its purposes appear more earnest: to enlighten foreigners about the Judean constitution. Most of its characters, unlike those of the War, will have been largely unknown to its first

13 14

The locus classicus is Thucydides 3.82-4. See for example Roller 2001: 17-63.

25 audiences, and Josephus typically introduces them on this assumption. Nevertheless, we still find a number of ironic twists and turns in the narrative. In particular, in the final quarter of the Antiquities Josephus deals at length with names more familiar to a Roman audience and with well-known constitutional issues. Whereas in the earlier part of the book he makes direct claims on behalf of the Judean senatorial aristocracy (AJ 4.223; 5.135; 6.36; 11.111), and repudiates monarchy with equal frankness (AJ 6.36; 13.300; 14.41), in the last five volumes he seems to rely much more upon the audience’s extra-textual knowledge. His charting of Herod’s inevitable slide from monarch to tyrant (AJ 14.165; 15.354; 16.4; 17.304, 310) would have been understood by them as true to type (cf. Herodotus 3.80; Plato, Resp. 8.565-69; Aristotle, Pol. 3.5.4 [1279b]; 4.8 [1295a]; Polybius 6.4.8; Dionysius Halicaranassus, Ant. Rom. 7.55.3). For a Roman audience under Domitian, it becomes ironic, without his having to spell this out, that Herod’s terrible succession woes should have been brought for arbitration to Augustus (AJ 17.304-20), whose own problems in finding a successor had become legendary (Syme 1939: 418-39); ironic that Josephus should highlight the absurd situation faced by Tiberius (AJ 18.205-27), who is alleged to have been Domitian’s model (Suetonius, Dom. 20), in naming his own heir; ironic that Tiberius and Gaius (AJ 18.226; 19.2), again following the type, should have behaved so highhandedly towards the traditional nobility (cf. Domitian’s practice in Suetonius, Dom. 12.1-2; Dio 68.1.1-2); ironic and perhaps even risky for the author that the senator Gaius Sentius Saturninus should be allowed to praise Gaius’s assassins as worthy of more honour than Brutus and Cassius (AJ 19.182-84)—the mention of whose names in the early principate tended to correlate, as we have seen, with death of the author. It seems that, having made his theoretical case for the Judean

26 constitution directly in the first half of the Antiquities, when he comes to his critique of the Roman constitution in modern times Josephus relies mainly upon citing exempla, with the possibility of an uncontrollable subtext, in keeping with the tenor of the times. In addition to this larger and portentous ironic tendency, we should not miss the incidental ironic situations in the Antiquities, some of them taken over from the War. An easy example is the story of the Essene seer Judas, who once came to doubt his abilities. Although he had predicted the murder of King Aristobulus’s brother Antigonus on a certain day at “Strato’s Tower”, he happened to see Antigonus in Jerusalem on the appointed day, too far from the coastal city of that name to fulfill the prediction. Judas’s faith was restored, however, when Antigonus was indeed murdered by the king later in the day, in an underground passage coincidentally called Strato’s Tower (AJ 13.311-13; cf. BJ 1.78-80). This doubted-prediction episode recalls Iocaste’s ironical decision to swear off prophets after a prediction that her husband would be killed by his son had proved (seemingly) impossible, given that her son had been exposed as a newborn and her husband had recently been killed by robbers (Oed. Tyr. 707-22). To conclude thus far: Josephus reflects the ironic possibilities developed in literature before his time and the generally duplicitous atmosphere in which public life and literature were being pursued in late first-century Rome. It is not clear whether his restriction of -language to distasteful contexts reflects a

view that only unworthies resort to this art, or whether the art is in those cases contaminated by its practitioners—so that it is only the irony that can be named15 (inept, because in the service of vice) that is objectionable. Irrespective of his

27 language, he makes liberal use of irony. We are now almost ready now to consider the Vita, after attempting a summary classification. two kinds of irony It is said that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who think that there are two kinds of people and those who do not. Critics like to divide irony into two kinds, but they do not agree on the basic division. One might distinguish situational (including cosmic) irony from the verbal and literary kinds, or irony as an ongoing state from ironic tropes, or the irony of an author from the irony expressed by a character within the story, or intentional from unintentional irony (cf. Muecke 1969: 40-63). Though all of these distinctions have merit, for analyzing the Vita I would posit another classification. Irony might either be framed within the text, so that all audiences and readers should detect the better part of it, or it might be mainly tacit, depending upon the extratextual knowledge of an envisioned audience. Textually driven irony was the brief of New Comedy. In distinction from Old Comedy, which depended for much of its humour on topicality (below), Menander and his peers wrote plays that were more self-contained, with the necessary information for the audience embedded in the work itself. That is why these Greek plays were so portable for adaptation in other contexts, with Plautus and Terence. Authoritative prologues, often from a divine being, guaranteed the audience’s readiness to follow the plot (Zagagi 1994: 142-43). A crucial function of the prologue was (Ireland 1995: 19; cf. Balme 2001: xix):


With apologies to Lao-tse (Tao te ching 1): “The Tao that can be told is not the true Tao. . . .”

28 the revelation to the audience of some important information unknown to the humans involved in the action, very often the true origin of one of the characters. Such revelation then allowed the development of New Comedy's major effect, dramatic irony, when the audience's superior knowledge enabled it to appreciate the mistaken thought-processes and resultant embarrassment of the stage-characters. Even though these plays dealt in standard comedic situations and character types—the young man who is in love but broke, requiring the help of a crafty slave, the old miser, or the boastful soldier—each plot showed surprising twists and distinctive personalities. To make such turns effective, the audience required beforehand that authoritative orientation to the scene and personae, given by someone other than a character involved in the process. It is because of this reliable foreknowledge that the audience of Menander’s Aspis (97ff.) knows that Smikrines will be frustrated in his attempt to seize his niece’s fortune—for the heir still lives; knows what the misanthrope and the love-struck young man of the Dyskolos do not know about each other; and is immediately ready to find hilarity, as the Miles Gloriosus begins, in the alazon’s confident ignorance of what is happening next door.16 An additional layer of irony was always possible through the inclusion of topical references that only the first audience would understand, but that audience knowledge was not crucial because the play took responsibility for its own ironic framework.17
16 17

Significantly, the Greek name for the original of this play was The Alazon. A contemporary analogy: in the “Black Adder” millennial film special (Back and Forth), a Stephen Fry character attempts to persuade Elizabeth I of a certain course of action by entertaining her with a brief mime-dance. When she seems resolute in her original decision, and the Fry character repeatedly objects, she interrupts: “Who is the Queen?” Now this is ironic (and funny) on the “textually explicit” level because of course there is no doubt who the sovereign is: she is seated on her throne, crowned and sceptred. That she should need to ask is contrary to the

29 Comedy was not the only venue for such self-contained textual irony. The most famous example of the form is perhaps the Gospel of John, which includes an authoritative divine prologue (John 1.1-18) concerning Jesus’ heavenly origin, a point reiterated through speeches at every opportunity (John 3.11-21; 5.19-47; 6.35-58; 8.12-58; 10.1-38). The repeated claims of ignorant characters in the story to certain knowledge about Jesus’ origins (John 1.45-6; 6.42; 7.41-3) are devastating because the reader—any reader at any time—knows better. Even though the first audience of John was probably expected also to have extra-textual knowledge of these matters, this explicit framework ensured the success of the irony for posterity. Today, television situation comedy works in much the same way, especially in the many remakes of the Gospel of John, which deal with beings from other worlds.18 Audience-dependent irony, by contrast, operates without the safety net of prologues or other such authoritative guides. It can be subtler and more effective, but it is also riskier. The author must be confident that the audience will know certain crucial items without being told. This was the way of Old Comedy, which was filled with topical references to conditions in Athens around the year 420: many of the main characters are famous figures from the period (Ireland 1995: 12). The modern reader of Aristophanes can only appreciate these references through diligent background study; one aim of the commentary supplied in modern editions is to put the reader in the ironic picture.
obvious facts. But a contemporary audience finds another layer of irony in their prior knowledge that Stephen Fry is a famous gay actor. Given the double meaning of “queen” in the vernacular, the question “Who is the Queen?” has a particular irony for this audience only. It seems likely that we miss many such allusions, which would provide another layer of irony, in New Comedy. 18 Thus each episode of Third Rock from the Sun begins with a visual reminder of the protagonists’ situation, an authoritative prologue, which guarantees that the audience will see the ironic misunderstanding of some character who innocently asks: “Where are you folks from?”

30 Topical references were not, again, the only means of tapping an audience’s extra-textual resources for ironic purposes: Greek tragedy and later pantomime depended upon an existing familiarity with the traditional story lines, which would be presented again in new forms. It was prior audience knowledge of the plot that gave poignancy to Oedipus’s vow to find and punish the one who was polluting Thebes (Oed. Tyr.135-45). For the case of Rome, Bartsch traces the development of staged irony (not her words) from the late republic, when it was largely determined by authors and actors through their deliberate emphasis and gesture, to the early principate, when the initiators backed away out of caution, and audience detection became the more important component of the ironic circuit (Bartsch 1994: 71-82). Much of this audience-dependent irony had comical overtones. Today, in a distant parallel, stand-up (as distinct from situational) comedy typically depends upon an irony that comes from the specific audience’s knowledge of current affairs. The comedian’s one-liners lose all their effect if an explanation of the back-story is required.19 The speaker’s challenge is to find ironic statements appropriate both to the audience’s knowledge and to their taste, for an audience who fully understand the allusion may still find unwelcome the speaker’s attitude toward this unspoken, shared knowledge.20 In the case of Josephus, too, we need to reflect on both what his audience knew and how they felt about his presentation.


It is enough for a comedian to mention former U.S. President Clinton in conjunction with interns, or cigars, and an American audience will immediately supply the back story. 20 Witness U.S. President Bush’s ironic quip at Yale Commencement, 2001, to the effect that “you can go a long way with a ‘C’ average.” This audience evidently understood the reference to the President’s poor record at Yale, and (we are told) kept a stony silence.

31 We turn, then, to irony in Josephus’s Vita. Somewhat surprisingly, to generations of sincere scholars, Josephus illustrates his sterling character as Galilean commander through the use of irony as his principal administrative tactic. According to his account, he was not the only one to attempt irony in Galilee on the eve of the war; but he happily reports that he was the only one to use it successfully.


Text-Dependent Irony in the Vita

the ironic framework The transition to Josephus’s public life ( ) follows the opening

survey of his ancestry and education (V 1-11) in V 12. After a brief embassy to Nero’s Rome (further below), which appears to serve as the proving ground for the young aristocrat’s abilities (V 13-16; cf. Plutarch, Praec. ger. rei publ. 10.804D12.806F), we find him back in Jerusalem assuming a position of leadership and facing popular demand for secession from Rome (V 17). Here he begins immediately to establish the ironic context for the work. He makes a first, dutiful attempt at the Aristotle: 17 Now I was surprised already to find the beginnings of revolutions, with many [people] grandly contemplating defection from the Romans. So I tried to restrain the insurgents and charged them to think again. They should first place before their eyes those against whom they would make war—for not only with respect to war-related expertise but also with respect to good fortune were they disadvantaged in relation to the recommended by

32 Romans—18 and they should not, rashly and quite foolishly, bring upon their native places, their families, and indeed themselves the risk of ultimate ruin. 19 I said these things and was persistently engaged in dissuasive pleading, predicting that the outcome of the war would be utterly disastrous for us. I was not convincing, to be sure, because the frenzy of the desperadoes prevailed. Even this description of Josephus’s earnest efforts, especially V 18-19, includes irony, given the audience’s knowledge that the foresight he articulates here has turned out to be precisely accurate. Yet this first effort is presented as a sincere one. When he fails with frankness, however, he resorts without hesitation to the doublespeak that Aristotle identifies as appropriate in dealing with the mob (V 20-23). 20 I became anxious now that by saying these things constantly I might incur hatred and suspicion, as though conspiring with the enemy, and I would risk being taken and done away with by them. . . . . 21 After the removal of Manaem and the principal men of the bandit brigade, I came back out of the temple and held discussions with the chief priests and principal men of the Pharisees. 22 Extreme fear took hold of us as we saw the populace with weapons: we were unsure what we should do ourselves and were unable to halt the revolutionaries. Given the clear and present danger to ourselves, we began saying ( ) that we

concurred with their opinions. But we counseled them to stand fast, even if the enemy soldiers had advanced, so that they should be given credit for justly taking up weapons in defense. 23 We did these things hoping that

33 before long Cestius would come up with a large force and halt the revolution. Here Josephus parades before the literary audience his calculated effort to deceive the common folk, confiding now his hope that legions from Antioch would solve his problem. The double game has begun. Notice incidentally that the Vita will disproportionately use the language of deception: 5 of 13 occurrences of (“fabricate”); 2 of 6 occurrences of (“clever

trick”); and 5 of 20 occurrences of

(“general’s trick”) are in this little

book. Josephus will become an expert deceiver. But the game has only just begun. The interpreter’s problem is to know how far it goes. For example, a few sentences later Josephus reports the decision of the Jerusalem leaders to send him and two others to Galilee (V 29): to persuade the wretches to put down their weapons and to instruct them that it was preferable to reserve these for the nation’s élite. It was agreed that these latter would hold the weapons constantly ready for the future, but would wait patiently to learn what the Romans would do.

. Does Josephus mean that the leaders really were intending to establish a select army for the coming conflict? Or does he mean that he and his colleagues were instructed to refer to such an army as a pretext for persuading the rebels to lay down their weapons? We cannot be sure, I think. But in support of the latter

34 reading: nothing in the narrative thus far has prepared the audience for the notion that the Jerusalem leaders wished to create any sort of rebel force, and we have already seen them appeal for a strictly defensive posture as a deliberate pretext for stalling until Cestius’s arrival (V 22-23). It seems plausible, then, that here too, after Cestius’s intervention has failed, Josephus is simply providing further examples of the doublespeak that he and his colleagues were forced to use with the masses in order to buy time. With the lengthy digression on Philip son of Iacimus, in connection with his initial description of Gamala (V 48-61), Josephus introduces many of the ironical tactics that will reappear in the later narrative. Varus, the power-hungry deputy of Agrippa II, is a past master of what many Greek writers called —simple dissimulation. His clever modus operandi was first to fabricate a scandalous accusation against the king, thus to put it in circulation, and then to deny it indignantly so that he could execute its alleged perpetrator(s). Varus sets the tone for the deceptions that will follow from Josephus’s opponents. Josephus himself is by now deeply involved in the deception game, and we see this as he plans his Galilean strategy in consultation with the Jerusalem leaders (V 62-3). After assessing the situation, his first action in Galilee is to summon the council of Tiberias (V 64), before whom he claims ( ) that the

Jerusalem council has instructed him to demolish the house of Herod the tetrarch on the ground that it contains animal images (V 65). Some of the councilors, led by Capella, strongly disagree with the plan but eventually are persuaded by Josephus (V 66).

35 If this story is taken straightforwardly, as scholars usually do take it, it creates a number of problems. First, even though he has just described his most recent instructions from Jerusalem (V 62-3), he has mentioned nothing at all about such attacks on royal property, and they appear quite out of character with the leaders’ reported sentiments. Second, he uses the same ironic code as in the programmatic V 22 ( ), which should give us pause: he said that the

Jerusalem leaders had sent him to demolish the house. Third, in spite of his declaration and the alleged urgency of the matter (V 65: ), Josephus does

not actually begin action against the Herodian residence, but rather leaves town for Upper Galilee (V 67). Fourth, when a Tiberian faction led by Jesus goes ahead and attacks the palace, Josephus becomes furious because they have acted contrary to his intention (V 68). Finally, he responds to their raid by quickly recovering as much as possible of the pilfered furnishings and handing them over for safe keeping to none other than Capella’s group—the very men who had objected to the operation in the first place. Josephus plainly tells the literary audience that he wanted to return the goods to King Agrippa (V 68). It seems to me that this account makes sense only if it is read ironically: Josephus is relating that he had no intention of actually raiding royal property, but boldly declared his intention to do so in order to consolidate his support base among the militant Galilean populace, in keeping with the policy initiated at V 22. On this reading, the passage provides no support for the historical argument that the Jerusalem council was aggressively prosecuting the revolt at this time (contra Luther 1910: 17-8; Drexler 1925: 297-98; Goodman 1987: 218; Price 1992: 32).

36 The Josephus character in the Vita is not the only one playing a double game. According to Josephus as author, one of the three factional leaders in Tiberias, Justus, was playing a game that was the inverse of his own. Whereas Josephus really wanted to peace but had to pretend that he was planning for war: 36 Iustus son of Pistus, the principal man of the third bloc, although he kept pretending to be in doubt about the war, was actually longing for revolutionary activities, intending to manufacture power for himself out of the upheaval (

). 37 So he came along into the [city] center and tried to teach the mob that the city had always been the capital of Galilee since the times of Herod the Tetrarch, who was its builder, and who had wanted the city of the Sepphorites to submit to that of the Tiberians. They had not relinquished this primacy under King Agrippa the father, but it remained until Felix was put in charge of Judea. 38 Now, he was saying: You yourselves just happen to have been given to the younger Agrippa as a gift from Nero! And because it submitted to Rome, Sepphoris immediately became the capital of Galilee, and both the royal bank and the archives, having been dismantled, are with them. 39 These and many other things against King Agrippa he said to them, for the sake of provoking the populace to defection. . . .

37 Here Josephus emphasizes, by the way he frames it, that Justus’s argument, which he tries out on the mob ( ), is utterly

specious. Further, his literary audience might have noted these obvious weaknesses: that Josephus has already said that Sepphoris had by far the more ancient claim to supremacy in Galilee (BJ 1.170; 2.56); that if Tiberias had not been ceded to Agrippa II, it would not have been a free city but would have remained under the Roman governor Felix’s direct control (BJ 2.253); and so its transition to the client king’s hands had quite likely been a benefit for both king and residents. From what follows it is plain that Justus’s position is crafted for one purpose only (so Josephus): to assemble a following that will help him to fulfill his ambition. Josephus continues, with his usual resignation about mob fickleness (cf. AJ 3.24-7, 68-9, 295-315; V 77, 103, 113, 140, 149, 271, 315, 388): 40 By saying these things, he won over the mob. For he was rather good at manipulating the populace and at overcoming the better arguments of disputants by craftiness and a kind of guile through words. In fact, he was well trained in the Greek sort of education, on the basis of which he audaciously took it upon himself to record also the history of these events—as if he could overcome the truth itself by means of this speechcraft.


Here Josephus balances Justus’s intended dissimulation with his own irony by evoking his audience’s prior knowledge of the old charge against the sophists: that they make the worse argument appear the better one (Aristophanes, Nub. 94-8, 112-18; Isocrates, Antid. 15; Plato, Apol. 19b; Aristotle, Rhet. More significantly, he characterizes the art that teaches rhetorical versatility at the expense of truth, though this had been thoroughly domesticated in Rome (cf. Cicero, Brut. 322), as the Greek sort of education. This approach seems to presuppose a Roman audience, for Roman authors had a long (rhetorical) tradition of expressing such contempt for deceptive Greek ways, over against their own simplicity and faithfulness (Polybius 6.56; 31.25.4; Cicero, Brut. 247; Flac. 9, 24, 31, 57; Tusc. 4.33.70; 5.20.58; Sallust, Bell. Jug. 85.32-3; Lucan 3.302; Tacitus, Ann. 14.20; Dial. 28.4-29.2; cf. Balsdon 1979: 30-54; Gruen 1992: 52-83, 223-71). In the works of Plautus, Erich Segal counts “more than seventy-five different expressions to denote Greek perfidy”, the most famous of which is the ironic Graeca fides of Asinaria 199 (Segal 1987: 37-8). So whereas Justus attempts real dissimulation as a character within the story, the author Josephus neutralizes it, in retrospect, with an ironic disparagement that he expects his audience to share. We next meet John of Gischala, who claims ( ) that he wants to raid

some imperial grain storehouses in order to rebuild the walls of his native town from the proceeds (V 71). Although Josephus does not tell us here what he understood John’s real intentions to be, he allows that it was because he

39 understood these that he wanted to withhold his authorization. Possibly, since he knew (as his audience knows) that John had already fortified Gischala’s walls (V 45)—though John perhaps did not know that he knew—, he realized that John’s worthy-sounding goal must have been a pretext for a fundraising effort that was really designed to make himself general (V 70). John later becomes a determined ironist, however: he will request permission to take physical therapy at the baths near Tiberias, though his real goal is to inspire defection from Josephus there (V 85-7). And after another failed attempt at revolt he will write to Josephus with oaths and awesome vows, assuring him that he has played no role in these unfortunate events (V 101). Josephus, for his part, continues undaunted in his own ironic campaign. Only because he wants to keep an eye on the Galilean leadership, “on a pretext of friendship” ( “friends” ( ) as he says, he designates seventy of them his ) and travel companions; he will take them around with him,

trying cases—all in order to secure the loyalty of the people. He is disarmingly open about this pretence (V 79). He maintains his deceitfulness in Sepphoris, where he affects ( ) to be unaware of the townspeople’s plot against

him (through the agency of Jesus), until just the right moment (V 107, 109). Josephus’s cheerful willingness to deceive the populace is displayed before his literary audience following the incident with the Dabarittan young men: they rob the wife of the king’s administrator, Ptolemy, and bring the plunder to their leader Josephus. With the literary audience he is perfectly candid about his intention (thirty years earlier) to return the goods to their rightful owner. Notice his ironic logic (V 128):

40 Wanting to preserve these things for Ptolemy, since he was a compatriot—and even robbing adversaries is proscribed by our laws—, I asserted ( ) to those who had brought them that it was necessary to

keep them so that the walls of Jerusalem might be repaired from their sale. Because he wanted to return the goods to Ptolemy, he said that he would use them for repairing Jerusalem’s walls, something he hoped would satisfy the mob. Josephus appears to assume throughout the audience’s understanding that one simply does not declare one’s true intentions before a mob, especially in times of unrest. Thus, while assuring the masses in this way, he secretly hands the gear over to friends of the king for safe conduct back (V 131). When this secret action is suspected, the mob is whipped up to a frenzy and makes a charge on Josephus’s residence. Now we see possibly a different sort of irony—intertextual—coming into play. Josephus’s lone attendant urges him “to die nobly by my own hand, as a general, before my adversaries came to compel me or to kill me [themselves]. Although he was saying these things, I, having entrusted my affairs to God, set out to meet the mob in advance” (

[138] ; V 137-38). Especially since Josephus has dramatically altered the story against its parallel in the Bellum (BJ 2.601), which instead has four colleagues urging him to flee, showing deliberation in shaping the story, we seem justified in finding here an evocation of a more important story in the Bellum. At the siege of Iotapata, namely, Josephus had also been pressed to die willingly, as a general of the Judeans (

41 ), and he even refers to a that generals ought to die by their own hands (BJ 3.400). But

there, as here, he chose instead to trust his safety to God the protector ( ). Outside the walls of Jerusalem, later in the conflict, he repeatedly implored the citizens likewise to entrust themselves to God ( ; BJ 5.382, 390, 400). It is admittedly unclear whether

the audience could have been expected to make this connection with the central story of the Bellum, but the parallel seems undeniable. When he encounters the advancing Tarichean mob, Josephus further deepens his pretence, winking ironically at his literary audience as he narrates. First, he falls down and begs for mercy, conceding that he may indeed have seemed to commit an injustice (V 139). Observing that this incipient contrition favourably affects the mob, on the spot he fabricates the entirely new proposition that he had wanted to keep the captured goods as a surprise—for rebuilding the walls of noble Tarichea (V 142)! On a roll now, our reporter decides to gild the lily, with what must have seemed to him and his literary audience biting sarcasm: For because I understood well that this city, so hospitable toward foreigners ( ),

was eagerly accommodating such men as these, who have left behind their native places and made common cause with our fortune ( ), I wanted to construct walls. . . . Although in V 143 and 162 Josephus will indeed refer to resident aliens in Tarichea, which gives his bid a certain plausibility, he makes a much larger issue of the Taricheans’ extreme lack of hospitality towards the dignitaries who had

42 fled from Agrippa’s territory (V 149-54; cf. 112-13). It is also ironic that he should refer to “our fortune”, since he has consistently placed fortune ( ) entirely on

the side of the Romans (BJ 2. 360, 373, 387, 390; 3.368; 5.367; 6.409-13), as also in the Vita (17). Yet further, when the Taricheans predictably respond to the building proposal with huzzahs, but the Tiberians and other visitors become envious, he spontaneously adds that of course he planned to fortify the other locations as well (V 144). Josephus leaves little room for doubt that now, as author, he is positively reveling in his rhetorical exploits of a generation ago, when he could have any crowd he wanted eating from his hands. In the service of his ultimate virtue and genuine concern for the welfare of the state, he can do exactly what Cicero required of oratory: to direct the audience wherever he wishes, to make whatever persuasive case the situation demands (cf. Brut. 322; De orat. 1.30). Such a narrative, it seems, requires a well-disposed audience. Josephus’s deceptions continue unabated, and he gives every indication that he enjoys relating them: his intimidation of a raging mob at Tarichea by isolating and maiming their toughest man (V 145-48); his great energy in spiriting away the refugee dignitaries from Agrippa’s kingdom (V 151-54); his famous boat trick on the Kinneret, which allowed him to take captive more than a thousand Tiberians with only seven—he gleefully emphasizes (V 161, 164)—seven of his own men (V 161-69). With the unfortunate Mr. Famous ( ), identified by the fickle and cowardly mob of Tiberias as the instigator

of their sedition, Josephus resorts to the age-old salesman’s ploy of artificially raising the price in order to offer the appearance of a discount. Not wishing to

43 harm him beyond usefulness—quite possibly because he is not persuaded by the mob’s eagerness to blame this young man21—but still requiring the appearance of sternness, he first tells him to cut off both his hands, then relents to leave him one. The absurdity of the initial order only highlights, it seems to me, the ironical nature of the whole episode. The decisive incident for establishing Josephus’s ironical posture in the first third of the Vita narrative comes in the next episode, when he interviews the Tiberian leaders Justus and his father Pistus after a generous dinner. Hear his own description (V 175-78): After the banquet I said: “I myself know very well that the power of the Romans is utterly overwhelming; but I have kept quiet about it because of the bandits.” 176 I counseled them to do the same, to wait patiently for the necessary amount of time and not become upset with me as general, for they would not easily have the chance to encounter someone else who was similarly mild. 177 I also reminded Justus that before I came along from Jerusalem, the Galileans had cut off his brother’s hands, adducing wrongdoing prior to the war in the form of forged letters by him, and that after Philip’s withdrawal the Gamalites had risen against the Babylonians and disposed of Chares—he was Philip’s relative—178 and how they had with no greater consideration disciplined Jesus, that man’s brother and the

Consider: (a) Josephus has already removed under guard many hundreds of leading Tiberians as punishment for the attempted sedition, indicating that he holds them at least formally responsible; (b) Kleitos’s name has not come up before the mob identifies him; (c) Josephus always considers the mob fickle and impetuous (e.g., AJ 3.24-7, 68-9, 295-315), and Josephus implies that the mob singles him out and demands punishment in order to deflect criticism from themselves (V 170); (d) his name, as well as Josephus’s comments about his youth and volatile temperament may be given to explain why the mob would single him out as a plausible suspect; (e) Josephus himself does not indicate that he was persuaded this assignment of blame. He must

44 husband of Justus’s sister. These were the things I discussed with Justus’s group after the banquet. Early the next day I gave orders for everyone under guard to be released. This encounter recalls quite plainly the opening scenes of the revolt in V 17-22: the wiser leaders decide upon a policy of irony because they realize that straightforward opposition to the sentiments of the masses is pointless and perilous. Though remarkable for its frankness, from the perspective of the Vita’s audience this exchange must seem fully in accord with Josephus’s selfpresentation thus far. The audience can feel only contempt for such parochial naïfs as Justus and Pistus, who cause problems because they lack the requisite political savvy.

dueling ironies: Josephus and the delegation We have begun to see how Josephus contrasts his brilliantly successful irony with the pathetic efforts at dissimulation of his opponents, notably Justus and John. The Tiberian leaders, too, have tried their hand at duplicity, pressuring Josephus to finish reinforcing their walls while also appealing to King Agrippa for his support. Josephus, however, saw right through this and punished them. Now, with the arrival of the delegation from Jerusalem, the story moves into a phase of ironic dueling, from which only one party can emerge successful. Jonathan and his three companions, who have been selected in the hope that the four of them collectively might convince the Galilean populace that they match Josephus’s claims to eminence (V 198), are allowed the first shot in this
discipline the man in some way because he always finds a way to accommodate the wishes of the mob (V 170-71).

45 duel. Once again, Josephus makes explicit the ironic framework: he offers an ostensibly trustworthy narration of the delegation’s mandate to bring him back dead or alive (V 202). It is not only the literary audience of the Vita who is in on the secret, however, for Josephus explains that his character Josephus also received this crucial intelligence through a friendly informer, via a letter from his father (V 204). When the audience shares knowledge with the character Josephus, of which the delegation members are confidently unaware, we see the creation of an impressive ironic situation, akin to that of New Comedy. This is the background against which all of the delegation’s subsequent posturing and dissembling must be read. Anticipating the delegation’s arrival, Josephus hastily assembles an army of about 8,000 men and heads to the western extremity—as he explains—of Galilee. He hurries there, he says, so that he can pretend ( ) to be

preparing for battle with the Roman (tribune) Placidus. But why does he head so quickly for the western extremity of his region, only to make believe that he is preparing for battle? The reason emerges from the following sentences. As soon has he has set up camp there, Jonathan’s delegation from Jerusalem arrives at the southern tip of Galilee, and writes requesting an interview. Observe the ironic nature of their letter: Jonathan and those with him, who have been sent by the Jerusalemites, To Josephus Greetings! We were sent by the principal men in Jerusalem, when they heard that John of Gischala had often plotted against you, to reprimand him and to

46 exhort him to submit to you for the duration. 218 Because we want to deliberate together with you about what still needs to be done, we invite you to come to us quickly—but not with many others, for the village would not be able to accommodate a mass of soldiers. If anyone doubts that the earlier sections of the Vita are meant in part to be humorous, I propose that here we can have no more doubt. The literary audience knows with certainty that this letter is utterly duplicitous: the delegation does not intend to discipline John, who is in fact the instigator of their mission (V 189), and their reason for wanting Josephus to come with only a few soldiers has nothing to do with a lack of accommodations in their town. Incidentally, there are shades here of the fawning letter with which Nero reportedly invited Domitius Corbulo to Cenchreae, calling him “father” and “benefactor”, in order to have him killed (Dio 63.17.5-6; Rudich 1993: 98-9). It is a feeble attempt at duplicity, however, because Josephus has brilliantly anticipated their request for a meeting, and has also placed their true motives beyond doubt by skillfully interrogating their messenger (V 220-25). He even spells out for the literary audience the trap that the delegates thought they had set (V 219). And now we learn the reason for his sudden excursion to the west, as he replies to the delegation with an irony that completely outclasses theirs: 226 Josephus, To Jonathan and those with him, Greetings! I am pleased to discover that you have arrived in Galilee in good health, especially because I shall now be able to pass over to you the care of local

47 affairs as I return to my native city. 227 I have been wanting to do this for a long time! I would have come to you not only at Xaloth, but further, and without being directed to so; but I beg your understanding that I am not able to do this because I am closely guarding Placidus in Chabolos. He has a plan to go up into Galilee. So, you come to me when you have read the letter. Be well! Every single statement here, from the opening gratitude for their safe arrival to the concluding health wish, is obviously a lie. Josephus has no intention of coming to meet them in Xaloth, the southern-most point in Galilee, from which they might spirit him away to Jerusalem with minimal bother. He has planted himself deep in Galilee so that if they wish to take him they will need to get through his (allegedly) vast army of Galilean supporters. Surely, once again, Josephus expects an audience that is entirely on his side, ready to admire and even to laugh with him at his brilliant subversion of the delegation’s attempted game. Unlike the overly confident delegates, he is a master of the art of deception and so arranges tight security for the conveyance of his letter (V 228): they will not discover his intentions the way that he has discovered theirs. That Josephus has wounded them in this first round is made abundantly clear when the delegation responds curtly (V 230): We charge you to come three days from now, without armed soldiers, to the village of Gabaroth, so that we can hear fully the complaints that you have made against John.

48 Dropping the pretence that they have come to support Josephus, and that only lack of accommodation prevents his bringing soldiers, they now forthrightly charge him ( ; contrast earlier) to meet them in Gabara

without military support, and only to hear his complaints against John. Though they seem generously willing to enter the Galilean heartland, they evidently do not buy Josephus’s claim that he is busy fighting Placidus, because they require him also to travel to Gabara, which has already been introduced as the only centre completely loyal to John’s leadership (V 123-25; cf. 233-34, 313). The battle of wits continues. Josephus now reiterates the ironic framework—that he has fully understood from the beginning the delegation’s intention to fight him—and so relates that he advanced only as far as his own strong fortress of Iotapata (V 188; cf. 332, 412), along with 3,000 armed troops. From there he writes to them sarcastically but without artifice (though notice the neat chiasmus), making clear that their game is over: 235 If you want me to come to you at all costs ( ), there are 204 cities and villages throughout the Galilee. I will come to any of these you desire, except Gabara and Gischala: the one is John’s native place, and the other his ally and friend. Realizing that Josephus has seen through his charade, Jonathan gives it up and abruptly stops writing (V 236). Conflict is now inevitable. Even in the conflict phase at Gabara, both sides will compete in the duplicity game. The delegation members conceal an ambush and then cheerfully invite Josephus “to come in off the road and greet them” (V 246-47). Josephus

49 does not fall for this trap, which appears absurdly obvious in the circumstances. Instead, he shows them how deception is done. He pretends (again: to turn in for the night, exhausted from his travels, in plain view of their observers (V 248), and his ruse is successful. It encourages Jonathan and his cronies to rush down among the Galilean mob to try to inspire widespread defection from Josephus (V 249-50). Now they are trapped, however, according to Josephus’s plan. First, the armed Galileans themselves become indignant with their anxious guests, and then Josephus comes out into the fray and begins a harangue for his cheering supporters, which the cornered Jerusalemites are forced to endure in abject humiliation (V 252). He humiliates them ultimately, notice, by exposing the deceit that they had clumsily intended to pursue. First he reads the letter they had sent him on their arrival, inviting him only to meet them (V 254); then he reads from their letters intended for Jerusalem, captured by his patrolmen (V 245), which are filled with slanders of him—thus exposing the their true intentions (V 261). And whereas Josephus knows how to keep his stratagems confidential, the delegates are continually embarrassed by betrayal, capture, and their opponent’s superior generalship. He is delighted to report to his audience that Jonathan’s group “failed miserably in their venture with me” ( ; V 271). Their final scene of conflict is Tiberias, and here again the parties compete in duplicity. The delegates’ opening effort is, characteristically, lame beyond belief. After hurrying there to stir up disaffection, they hear of Josephus’s arrival (V 273-75): )

50 They came to me and, after greeting [me], began to say ( ) that they

considered it fortunate that I was thus involved in the Galilee, that indeed they rejoiced together [with me] at the honor in which I was held. 274 For, they claimed ( ), my reputation made them look good, since they had

been my teachers and were currently my fellow-citizens; in fact, they kept saying ( ) that my friendship was more appropriate to them than

John’s. Though eager to depart for home, they would wait patiently there until they should place John at my mercy. 275 While saying these things ( ) they swore in confirmation the most dreadful oaths that

we have, on account of which I considered it improper to mistrust them. Indeed, on account of the next day’s being a sabbath, they appealed to me to make my lodging elsewhere: they asserted ( Tiberians ought not to be burdened. Although it is unbelievable that Josephus should have trusted this last bid, which reverts essentially to the delegates’ original and mischievous letter of support for him, it appears that his literary motives run into conflict here. On the one hand, he wants to show that he trusted people whenever they promised things with oaths, highlighting his piety and the impious mendacity of his opponents. On the other hand, he wants to be seen as the clever general, always one step ahead of his adversaries. So here he says both that he left for Tarichea, suspecting nothing, and that he lined the road between Tiberias and Tarichea with a signal relay, so that he could immediately be informed if his agents in the city heard anything (V 276-77). ) that the city of the

51 When Josephus hears definitively about the plan to oust him, and so rushes back to Tiberias (V 280), the delegates try to distract him on the pretext ( ) that Roman cavalry have been sighted in the vicinity; he must leave

to deal with the threat (V 282). In this case Josephus claims that he “fully understood their design” ( ) but nevertheless obliged them in order to reassure the Tiberians that he cared for their security; still, he returned by a shortcut (V 283). When the unimaginative delegates try the same trick a second time, however, Josephus is ready: he says that he will happily go to meet the threat if each of them will also take the leadership of a military unit. Here we see a classic ironic reversal on Josephus’s part. Both he and they know that there is in fact no Roman threat. But rather than openly challenging the ironic ploy, which would risk popular outrage, he perpetuates it in a way that stymies his opponents: 288 It was fitting for good men not only to counsel, I said, but in case of pressing need to lead the way in providing help; for I myself would not be able to lead off more than one unit. 289 My counsel was entirely congenial to the mob, and so they compelled those fellows to make off for the battle! The latter suffered extreme embarrassment when their intentions proved ineffective, when the things plotted by me outmaneuvered ( ) their undertakings.

Panicking now, one of the delegates proposes an ad hoc fast for the following day, which would require everyone to come to the prayer house without weapons, “for they understood that if they should not receive assistance from him, all weaponry would be useless” (V 290). For the attentive audience, this

52 ruse is all the more transparent because it disingenuously appeals to Josephus’s own pacifist position, articulated in his speech before Jerusalem’s walls in the Bellum (BJ 5.390): “To speak generally: it was never the case that our fathers triumphed with weapons, or came up short without them, when they had committed themselves to God.” In case there is any doubt, Josephus spells out both the ironic intent and, again, his perpetuation of the farce (V 291): Yet he said these things not out of piety, but for the purpose of taking me and my [people] unarmed. And indeed I complied out of necessity, so that I should not appear to disdain this admonition concerning piety. His response, brilliantly ironic, is to pursue this role-reversal further than his opponents could have anticipated. If they are going to assume his pacifist position from the BJ and AJ, then he will assume the position of the rebels in those works—and become like a sicarius: 293 On the following day, then, I directed two of the bodyguards with me . . . to conceal daggers under their clothes—so that if there should be an attack by our adversaries we might have a means of defense—and to go forward with me. I myself took an armored vest and strapped a sword underneath, but in such a way that it was inconspicuous, and I went into the prayer house. These precautions, coupled with the monolithic support of the Galilean populace (carefully managed by Josephus, he happily asserts), which the delegation was never able to dislodge in spite of its deviousness, save Josephus once again. It remains only for the individual delegates to fall victim to assorted traps laid by Josephus, in their haste and desperation to pursue seemingly promising

53 tactics. They all return to Jerusalem exhausted, defeated, and cowed, whereas Josephus finally wins resounding support for his leadership from the capital city. I pause here to observe a recurring pattern that supports the contrast between Josephus’s successful irony and the consistently failed duplicity of his adversaries. As we have seen, successful irony requires detection by an appreciative audience. Josephus’s textually-dependent irony is always successful, as far as we know, because he is the author of the Vita and so has the final word. Whenever he wishes to remind the audience of an ironic context, of a deceit that he is about to execute on the victims of his irony, he can easily do so. By contrast, although his opponents try continually to reach an appreciative audience within the story, their efforts consistently fail. The reason is that Josephus short-circuits their messages, through either planned interception of their letters (V 89-90, 177-81, 220-23, 228-29, 241, 245, 254-55, 260, 272, 285-87, 31112, 382-83) or remarkably good luck with deserter-informants (V 89, 107, 158, 239), who alert him to the intended deceit. This intelligence enables him either to prevent the deception altogether or to manipulate it for his own ironic ends, rendering his opponents always victims and never the masters of irony.

a just irony? The final stretch of textually-dependent irony that we shall consider, and perhaps the clearest, is the digression against Justus of Tiberias and the Tiberians (V 336-67). In this digression Josephus evokes a wide range of appeals, with no concern for such a trifle as logical consistency, in order to make Iustus look iniustus and ridiculous. It is not absolutely clear that Josephus’s audience will

54 have read Justus’s account, because (a) he introduces as much of it as he wishes to target and (b) he does so on his own terms, without attention to Justus’s contexts. Even if the audience is familiar with Justus’s work in some way, which may be seem antecedently probable, Josephus does not expect them to hold him to a very high standard of critical engagement. Nor is it certain that an attack on Josephus was in any way central to Justus’s purpose. The history in question may have been the book known to Photius (Bibliotheca 33), which ranged from Moses to Agrippa II. Even Josephus claims that Justus criticized him only in an effort to improve his own image (“having indeed told lies about me for the sake of appearing to be industrious” [ ]; V 338) and to assert a

general superiority in relation to all other historians (plural) of the war (V 340, 357, 359)—a perfectly standard historiographical topos used also by Josephus (BJ 1.1-11). However that may be, Josephus’s ironic tone is obvious from the opening lines of the digression: 336 Having come this far in the narrative, I want to go through a few points against Iustus, the same one who has written an opus ( ) concerning these things, and against the others who, promising to write history but contemptuous with respect to the truth, out of either hostility or favor do not recoil from falsehood. 337 For although they act in some respects like those who have constructed forged documents in connection with legal contracts, fearing no punishment such as those men face they disdain the

55 truth (

). . . . 340 How then, Iustus, most awesome among historical authors—for this is what you boast about yourself ( ). . . . Notice three points here. First, Josephus elsewhere reserves for his

own grand historical productions (AJ 1.5, 17, 25; 20.17, 262; C.Ap. 1.50, 54). The word would be especially apt here if Justus’s work were known to be a monumental œuvre, running from Moses to Agrippa. But since Josephus is about to display nothing but contempt for it, his affected praise (“opus”) is ironic. This is simple and effective irony of the old-fashioned Cassius-to-Lamia variety, cited by Cicero under the heading of word inversion (inversio/ inverto). The presence of irony is confirmed by Josephus’s reference to Justus (V 340) as “most awesome ( )” among historians. Devoid of context, the

adjective is ambiguous: something or someone who inspires awe or dread, for good or for ill: hence awesome, (archaic) aweful, awful, dreadful. Josephus has played off these alternative meanings in V 100-101: while he himself considered it “awful” to initiate civil war, John of Gischala swore “awesome” oaths protesting his loyalty. Given the inherent ambiguity, it seems unlikely that Justus actually chose this superlative for himself. Rather, Josephus has fun with his prey by choosing a word with such possibilities: he can say “awesome” to mock whatever terms of self-praise Justus actually used, but he obviously means “dreadful”.

56 A different sort of irony is indicated in V 337 above, where Josephus draws a peculiar analogy between mendacious historians and “those who have constructed forged documents in connection with legal contracts”, who face a severe punishment that bad historians need not fear. Now it is possible that this apparently odd analogy simply occurred to Josephus for some reason that we cannot now recover. But it is worth noting that the adjective “forged” ( occurs only twice in all of Josephus: both times it refers to documents ( ) and both times it concerns Justus. The other occurrence is earlier in )

the Vita (177), where Josephus reminded Justus in an after-dinner speech that the latter’s brother had lost his hands when the Galileans had accused him of forging documents ( ). Especially in light of the

odd specificity of the image in V 337, it seems too great a coincidence to imagine that he is not ironically referring to this incident when he complains that mendacious historians “suffer no punishment such as those [forgerers] do”. That is: it is too bad that Justus, being a mere historian, won’t lose his hands like his brother for equally egregious misrepresentation. This may be an irony that only Justus himself, or an audience that was extremely attentive or acquainted with the facts, could detect. But it seems to be there nonetheless. When Josephus switches moods from derisively attacking Justus to earnestly demonstrating the veracity of his own account, by adducing the unimpeachable witnesses Vespasian, Titus, and Agrippa, strangely he wants nothing more to do with irony. Having practised the art so effectively throughout the Vita, he might of course be open to the suspicion that anyone who has complimented his Bellum was also being ironic, especially if that

57 someone was Justus’s patron Agrippa II. So Josephus closes his digression by anticipating and rejecting this charge (V 367): He [Agrippa II] was not flattering my finished history with “truth,” for that would not occur to him; nor was he being ironical ( ), as you will claim, for he was beyond such bad character. But he used to witness the truth in the same way as all those who have perused these histories.

Here Josephus takes a leaf from Varus’s book (above) and first invents a charge, for which he can blame someone else, only in order to deny it and disparage the person accused of making it. Josephus’s indignant rejection of any suspicion that he might have been a victim of irony is all the more telling in this work that exhibits his ironic treatment of virtually all others. As author, he must keep control of the ironic game and preserve his earlier persona from being seen as a victim of irony. Although I would not want to press any particular literary background very far, the situation-comic elements of the Vita distinctly recall the atmosphere of New Comedy. Most of the characters in the story are entirely blind to the reality shared by Josephus and his literary audience, but nonetheless charge ahead, in confident ignorance, on the course that seems right to them. This general confusion characterizes much of the Vita. Josephus appears to include

58 among his motives for writing the desire to entertain his pliant audience. One of the differences between the Bellum and the Vita is perhaps just this difference between tragic and comic irony.


Audience-Dependent Irony in the Vita It is my contention, then, that Josephus incorporates into the Vita more

than enough information to include the audience—any audience—in the ironic circuit, over against the other characters in the story who tend to be confidently and humorously mistaken about the nature of things. Before closing this analysis, I would ask whether the other sort of irony described above—the one that is not guaranteed by textual clues but is dependent upon a specific audience’s knowledge—also appears in the Vita. Needless to say, we are on slipperier ground in positing this kind of irony, for we do not know in advance who constituted Josephus’s audience, and therefore what he might have expected them to know. And in the nature of the case, topical ironic allusion can be impossible to detect after the fact. But we have some clues in the circumstance that the Vita was published as a conclusion to the Antiquities, which introduces it (AJ 20.266-67). It appears, therefore, that Josephus’s first audiences for both works were Roman. If my analysis of the subversive potential of the later volumes of the Antiquities has merit, then he has already gone a long way towards meeting his audiences’ unspoken concerns with his treatment of monarchy, tyranny, succession woes, senatorial aristocracy, and the “freedom/slavery” motif. All we need to look for in the Vita, then, would be continuing traces of the same sort of ironic discourse.

59 The most likely places to find such traces are the opening and closing sections, which is where Josephus talks about Roman rulers. The story of his trip to Rome (V 13-16) is an inviting example. It begins with his notice that the governor Felix had sent some of Josephus’s gentlemen ( (Nero) Caesar “on a minor and incidental charge” ( ) friends to ;V

13). Without saying more about either the charge or the men, Josephus asks his audience to trust that this governor was capable of sending men to Nero arbitrarily, and that Nero was capable of perpetuating the injustice. Now Felix was reasonably well known as the brother of Marcus Antonius Pallas, the influential freedman of Claudius’s mother Antonia. Pallas served as Claudius’s financial secretary (a rationibus) and in that capacity seems to have played a major role in the affairs of the imperial court (Suetonius, Claud. 28-9; Tacitus, Ann. 12.53). Although, perhaps because, he was granted the exceptional honor for a freedman of praetorian ornamenta (Pliny, Ep. 8.6), Pallas created aristocratic enemies: Pliny later called him a “dirty rotten scoundrel” (Ep. 7.29). He was put to death by Nero. It seems plausible that Josephus’s Roman audience would have known of both brothers, as Tacitus did, even without Josephus’s narrative. If so, and if they shared Tacitus’s upper-class perspective, they would have had no trouble accepting Josephus’s assertion of thoroughgoing maladministration. However that may be, near the end of the Antiquities Josephus has introduced Felix as the brother of the more notorious official, evidently assuming there an audience who at least know the name of Pallas (AJ 20.137). Matching Tacitus’ description of Felix as a man who, “practising every kind of cruelty and

60 lust, wielded royal power with the instincts of a slave” (Hist. 5.9), Josephus describes the successful freedman’s lust for the already-married but still teenaged Judean princess Drusilla (daughter of Agrippa I and sister of Agrippa II), which led her to “violate the ancestral laws” and marry this gentile (AJ 20.14344). It was under Felix’s watch, according to Josephus, that Judean political life deteriorated sharply. The governor’s determination to do wrong drove him to introduce knife-wielding assassins (sicarii) into the city and to authorize the murder of the former high priest Jonathan (AJ 20.162-64). He thus opened a Pandora’s box, which he could not close even though he then tried to stamp out militant and religious radicals (AJ 20.167-72). He also sided arbitrarily with the Syrian inhabitants of Caesarea Maritima against the Judeans there (AJ 20.173-78), creating further tensions (Krieger 1994: ).22 It seems that an aristocratically-inclined audience in Flavian Rome, given their sentiments about Nero and his influential freedmen, should have had no trouble believing Josephus. Once the character Josephus arrives in Rome, the author’s play on the audience’s knowledge continues (V 16): After we had come safely to Dicaearcheia, which the Italians call Puteoli, through a friendship I met Aliturus: this man was a mime-actor, especially dear to Nero’s thoughts and a Judean by ancestry. Through him I became known to Poppea, the wife of Caesar, and then very quickly arranged things, appealing to her to free the priests. Having succeeded, with enormous gifts from Poppea in addition to this benefit, I returned home.


Significantly, Acts 25-28 tells of another trivial case—Paul’s—that was tried by Felix and then languished in Nero’s Rome.

61 The essential story, then, is this: Josephus has some noble friends unjustly held by Nero. He courageously travels to Rome to secure their release. But how was a young Judean to make his way in the world capital, to reach even the emperor? According to Josephus, he did not actually need to see the emperor: he needed only to persuade a Judean showman in Nero’s entourage, who in turn helped him reach the emperor’s wife, and the deed was done. In other words, at this point (63 or 64 CE) Nero’s court was more or less run by actors and by his wife Poppea. I submit that virtually any Roman audience, but especially an aristocratic one, would find this little story humorously ironic. In the late republic and early empire, show people had acquired an ambiguous social position: loved by the masses, extremely influential through their performances, hence a potential threat to autocratic rulers (Yavetz 1969:9-37); therefore occasionally exiled, but often seconded to the staffs of such leaders; and generally despised by aristocrats as commoners of too great influence (cf. Purcell in Bergmann/Kondoleon 1999:181-93; Leppin 1992:135-55, 160-63; cf. Dio Chrysostom, Alex. 4). The “bad” emperors were typically characterized by senatorial writers as those dominated by their women and freedmen. If we throw stage people into this mix, none was more vilified on such grounds than Nero. He was apparently fascinated by actors and acting. He sang and played the lyre, and insisted on joining (rigged) Greek competitions (Suetonius, Nero 20-24; Cassius Dio 62.9). He also gave large financial gifts to actors and athletes (Suetonius, Galb. 15) and was famously fond of a pantomime named Paris, who allegedly acquired considerable influence as a result (Tacitus, Ann. 13.20-22), but whom he later executed, reportedly from jealousy (Cassius Dio 62.18.1). Nero’s fondness for actors is signaled ironically by

62 Josephus’s description of Aliturus as “especially dear to Nero’s heart” ( ). If we recall the way in which Josephus has ironically related events from the reigns of Tiberius, Claudius, and Gaius in the Antiquities, we should also consider the possible illocutionary significance of this Roman adventure. So consider: both Nero and Domitian had favourite actors named Paris. Both Parises were executed by their masters (in 67 and 87 CE, respectively), allegedly on charges related to jealousy. Further, there is substantial evidence that criticism of Nero’s reign was a widely understood allusive scheme for commenting on Domitian, the “bald Nero” (Juvenal, Sat. 4.38; cf. Martial, Ep. 11.33), even if the later emperor is not known to have taken offence at this ploy.23 The question of possible parallels between Aliturus and the two Parises is all the more intriguing because Aliturus has turned out to be such an elusive fellow. Not only did this putative “favourite” of Nero somehow escape the notice of the other (extant) commentators on Nero’s reign, in contrast to the wellattested Paris (e.g., Tacitus, Ann. 13.19-27; Suetonius, Nero 54; Dio 62.18.1), but it


I am persuaded by Bartsch (1994: 92-3, 245 n. 66, 277 n. 23) that Domitian’s failure to punish the authors of hostile references to Nero (e.g., Martial, Ep. 4.63; 7.21, 34; Statius, Silv. 2.7.100, 11819) does not itself show his lack of awareness of such links in audiences’ minds, or indicate that they were made only after his death. She presents compelling evidence (e.g., 1994: 82-90) that emperors often deliberately ignored known allusions because to root them out would only give them credence, whereas to ignore them was to deny applicability. That allusive parallels were, however, drawn between Nero and Domitian during the latter’s life is suggested by: the passages cited in the text here; Juvenal’s claim, in his adopted Domitianic setting, that criticism of [Nero’s praetorian prefect] Tigellinus was sure to bring an author’s death (Sat. 1.155-71; cf. Bartsch 1994: 90-3); and especially Pliny’s obviously sarcastic denial (Pan. 53.4) that Domitian, having avenged Nero’s death, would take criticisms of Nero, of one so like himself (de simillimo), as personal opposition. In context, Pliny’s point is to contrast Domitian’s (alleged) willingness to punish criticism of Nero with Trajan’s toleration of censure for bad emperors of the past. But the only evidence he actually hints at for this tendency was Domitian’s punishment of those who ended Nero’s life, presumably a reference to the execution of Nero’s former secretary Epaphroditus in 95 (Suetonius, Dom. 14.4). Even if Pliny is exaggerating Domitian’s sensitivity to the Nero question, the execution of Epaphroditus may indeed, by itself, be further evidence of a linkage understood by audience and emperor.

63 has proven impossible to find even one other man, among the extensive material and literary remains of the Greco-Roman world, with the name Aliturus (or ).24 It is therefore tempting to imagine that Josephus invented his mimologos for literary reasons:25 to establish a safely-named substitute for Nero’s Paris, whom it would have been dangerous for him to mention by name, given

There is nothing, that is, in: H. Solin’s three volumes on slave names in Rome (1996); his earlier comprehensive catalogue of Greek personal names (1982); Frazer and Matthews’ four-volume Lexicon of Greek Personal Names (1987); John S. Traill’s twenty-volume Persons of Ancient Athens (1994); A. L. Velilla’s collection of Greek names in the Iberian peninsula; or in the large corpus of published Jewish inscriptions from around the Mediterranean. 25 One might, admittedly, argue from the peculiarity of the name Aliturus that it is probably real (Why would Josephus not use a common name if he wanted to invent a character to represent a type?). But consider the following scenario. Josephus wanted to evoke the situation of Nero’s court with Poppea and Nero’s favourite actor, Paris. He could not use the name Paris (whether Paris was indeed the actor involved or whether he invented the whole story), however, because of its direct connection with Domitian. So he cast about for an alternative that a Roman audience would appreciate. Taken as a Latin word, aliturus would immediately suggest two associations. Phonetically, it sounds like something from the alius (“other”) root, especially aliter (“otherwise”), of which it might seem a bawdlerized nominalization. Morphologically, it has only one resolution, as the future participle of alo: “to feed, nourish, support, sustain, maintain; nourish, cherish, promote, increase, strengthen” (Lewis and Short). Consider, then, that paris, if understood as a Latin word, would have two obvious derivations: either the second-person singular indicative of pario (“to produce, create, beget, or spawn”) or the perfect subjunctive (second-person singular) of pasco: “to cause to eat, feed, supply with food; nourish, maintain, support; cherish, cultivate, let grow, feed” (Lewis and Short)—virtually a synonym for alo. Looking either for a logical complement to pario or a synonym for pasco, Josephus thought of alo:. Perhaps he figured that the second-person singular (Alis) sounded too feminine [Paris did not suffer from the same objection because was famous from the Greek classics: Homer, Il. 3.38, 320, 365, 435; 6.275, 320, 503, 505, etc.; Aeschylus, Ag. 395, 530, 710, 1156; Aristophanes, Av., 1102; Aristotle, Rhet., 1363a, 1397b; Euripides, Rhesus 595, 625, 665, 840.], and so cast about for a more suitable form, one that ended in –rus. However that may be, it seems remarkable that the two names Paris and Aliturus should be resolvable to either complementary (in the case of pario) or synonymous roots (in the case of pasco). One supposes that this parallel would not have been missed by a Latin-speaking audience attentive to wordplay with names (Corbeill 1996: 57-98). If Josephus did make up Aliturus as a Paris-like figure, that would explain why neither the muchbeloved actor himself nor yet his name is otherwise attested. If it seems too shocking to imagine Josephus inventing whole episodes, we need only remember that he demonstrably invents a good deal either of the Vita—the two revolts at Tiberias, the general order of events in this period, the names and personalities of those with whom he dealt and their relationships (including familial) with each other—or of the Bellum parallels. In case it should seem odd that Josephus would indulge in Latin wordplay, I note that the Vita offers a parallel at V 61, where a white knight named Aequus Modius (“fair measure”) arrives to remedy the crookedness of Varus (“crooked”). Finally, I take moral support in this admittedly bold proposal from Bartsch’s equally audacious but attractive argument that Curiatus Maternus and Marcus Aper, significant figures in Tacitus’s Dialogus de Oratoribus who have no existence outside of that narrative, are his literary creations, modeled on the historical figures Curtius Montanus and Domitius Afer (Bartsch 1994: 260-61 n. 68). If Aliturus was after all the real name of a foreign mime-writer in Rome, whom Josephus met, it seems best explained as the Greek , “salt-cheese”, which, though unparalleled,

64 Domitian’s own relations with a Paris and the Nero-Domitian parallels that might have come readily to an audience’s mind. Tantalizing though such speculations are, of course we lack the evidence to render them historically probable. As for Poppea, she was the granddaughter of a consul (C. Poppaeus Sabinus), married first to a praetorian prefect (Rufinus Crispus) and then to the future emperor Otho. During that second marriage she allegedly became Nero’s lover (Tacitus, Ann. 13.45-6; Cassius Dio 61.2-3). According to gossip, it was at her insistence that Nero murdered both his mother Agrippina and his wife Octavia (Tacitus, Ann. 14.1, 60-64). Tacitus pithily remarks: “She was a woman possessed of all advantages, except character” (honestum animum; Ann. 13.45). Nero finally married Poppea in 62 CE. When she was pregnant for the second time, in 65 CE (their first daughter having died in infancy), he reportedly kicked her in such a way that she died (Cassius Dio 62.27.4-28.1). Nero is said to have lived with so much remorse that he had a boy freedman (Sporus) castrated to assume her role in his life, and he himself wore a mask of her while playing female roles in the theatre (Cassius Dio 62.13.1; 63.26.3). Josephus’ trip to Rome, in 63 or 64 CE, would have fallen during the height of Poppea’s influence on the princeps. Josephus has recently introduced Poppea in two contexts. First, she intervened on the side of a delegation from Jerusalem, including the high priest Ishmael and temple treasurer Helcias, who had petitioned Nero for permission to block King Agrippa II’s view of the temple proceedings from his new

would at least be one of a group of names derived from foodstuffs and articles of clothing (Solin 1982: 3.1147; Leppin 1992: 247).

65 triclinium. Strangely, however, she then kept these two distinguished men “hostage” in her house, requiring King Agrippa to appoint a new high priest (Ant. 20.189-96). Second, on account of her friendship with Gessius Florus’ wife Cleopatra, Poppea intervened to facilitate the appointment of Gessius, who allegedly then “inundated the Judeans with many evils,” as governor of Judea (AJ 20.252). Neither of these moves was unambiguously beneficial to the Judeans. Therefore Josephus’s personal success, rather than the good character of either Poppea or Nero, or indeed the good offices of Aliturus, seems to be the main point of his story. It is a recurring theme in the Vita that Josephus, by dint of his unimpeachable character, divine protection, and resourcefulness, is able to bring good out of a situation that would have been untenable for lesser men. He continually faced unscrupulous and degenerate opponents, and yet he triumphed. This account of his first foray into public affairs perfectly illustrates the model. He was handed (“it fell to me”) the unenviable task of freeing some fellow aristocrats held by the capricious emperor Nero, when Poppea was at the height of her influence, and without himself having any significant contacts in Rome. He nevertheless managed to take advantage of Nero’s notorious weaknesses—for Poppea and for actors—to accomplish his noble aims. For the right audience, this all seems rather cleverly ironic.

All [post-Augustan] poets recited their works publicly, and so did historians, orators, and philosophers. In fact, all later writers ought to be

66 viewed as having written their works with this form of live performance in mind as their immediate aim. (Williams 1978: 303) Even if Williams’ characterization is too sweeping in light of our knowledge, his challenge to consider an author’s first audience is salutary (cf. Wiseman in Welch 1998: 4-7). If Josephus expected a favourable hearing from his first hearers, they must have shared with him many deeply held assumptions about, for example, the generally ironic nature of political discourse, the necessity of governing the impetuous masses with a programme of benevolent duplicity, the semantics of (Roman) civil war, the ideal of a hereditary senatorial aristocracy, the inevitable link between monarchy and tyranny, the value of a distinguished pedigree, the belief that a man’s virtue should be demonstrated principally through military and public accomplishment, and the particular gaucheries and horrors of specific emperors’ reigns. Throughout his writings Josephus resorts frequently to irony based upon these assumptions, sometimes shoring it up with textually explicit guides, but often leaving potentially dangerous allusions to the audience’s extratextual resources. Josephus writes the Vita “at play seriously”, in Cicero’s phrase. The entire world Josephus conjures up is one of pretence and pretext; everyone is playing double games. Josephus and his colleagues, who profoundly oppose the war, are charged with managing it. He must therefore treat as enemies those he would prefer to have as friends—Agrippa II and the Roman officials—and regard as friends his real opponents: the Galileans and the rivals who want to displace him. Justus wants war, but pretends to desire peace. John of Gischala lusts for supreme power, but claims to be concerned for the welfare of the Galileans. The delegates from Jerusalem boldly declare their support for

67 Josephus—while trying to arrest him. Everyone attempts irony; Josephus, as author, is the only one who can guarantee its success. As Plutarch realized, any member of a local élite living under Roman domination faced severe constraints on his ability for generating glory. Plutarch recommends the path of irony: keep the restive populace tranquil, through oratory and other forms of deceit as necessary. This is what Josephus does, and it is only within this limited framework that he can plausibly demonstrate his virtue: he did what he had to do, and at least on his watch the latter-day Catilines, who sought to undermine the state in their own interests, were confounded. The supreme irony, of course, is that it was all wasted effort in the end: the Romans did come, he was forced to surrender, and Jerusalem fell catastrophically. To interpret the Vita it is crucial to recognize that its thick strain of duplicity and irony is deliberate, indulged with abandon at every opportunity and therefore not plausibly a defensive ploy. Josephus’s tactics as a public benefactor dovetail neatly with his vaunted resourcefulness, evidenced by brilliant , as a general. He embodies that old-fashioned wiliness

(sapientia) that was characteristic of the Roman aristocrat in both military and public roles, represented already in a third-century BCE epitaph: Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus, sprung from his father Gnaeus, a brave and wily man (fortis vir sapiensque), whose appearance was well matched to his valour, who was consul, censor, and aedile among you, took Taurasia and Cisauna in Samnium,

68 subdued all Lucania and took hostages.26 The kind of effort Josephus makes to demonstrate his illustrious character would only make sense to audiences who shared his taste for irony against the background of these core values. The main consequences of my analysis are two. On the literary level, the Vita is an integral part of the Antiquitates, as has been shown also on other grounds. Josephus’s self-portrait draws from the increasingly ironic tone of the later books in the main history. On the historical level, the standard hypothesis that Josephus wrote the Vita under compulsion from Justus’s challenge means that its apparent concessions become footholds for historical reconstruction. If the foregoing interpretation of the Vita is basically correct, however, upon realizing their thoroughly rhetorical and deliberate character we lose any historical traction in such passages. A recent article in the Economist proposes that irony is the hallmark of the contemporary British foreign office: British diplomats recognize it in themselves and comment on its absence in other nations’ representatives. The Economist suggests that, in a post-colonial world, where Britain’s agents no longer have the power to control change, their best hope is to step back knowingly and observe the parties with whom they deal, detached from any particular outcome. Thus Robert Cooper, a senior foreign-service officer: What else is there left for the citizens of a post-heroic, post-imperial, postmodern society? Provided it is tinged with humanity, irony is not such a bad thing. It suggests a certain modesty about oneself, one’s values and


CIL I2.7 = ILS 1, translated and discussed by Roller 2001: 23.

69 one’s aspirations. At least irony is unlikely to be used to justify programmes of conquest or extermination. If it is true that irony is the soundest course for a former colonial power, which has lost the means and therefore the hope of enforcing its agendas, then surely it also commends itself to those who are powerless while still living under such colonial powers—men such as Plutarch and Josephus.


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