The Bronzes of Ptolemy II Philadelphus. By WENDY CHESHIRE. Agypten und Altes Testament, vol. 77. Wiesbaden: HARRASSOWITZ VERLAG, 2009. Pp. xxvi + 256, plates. [euro]76.
This catalogue-monograph shows how the Macedonian pharaoh Ptolemy II Philadelphus (308-246 B.C.E.; ruled 285-46) was portrayed in metallic art and how that tradition of royal presentation was expressed in later figurative portraiture. Ptolemy II, son of the founder of the Macedonian Egyptian dynasty, was renowned for his military and hunting expeditions, as well as for his creative, exacting financial administration. It has been well and often said that he and his advisers created the rigorous Ptolemaic tax system, including a well-studied monopoly on the production and transport of oils (sesame, croton, castor), as set out in a famous papyrus text: B. P. Grenfell and J. P. Mahaffy, The Revenue Laws of Ptolemy Philadelphus (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1896); see also M. M. Austin, The Hellenistic World from Alexander to the Roman Conquest (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1981), 400-407, no. 236.
He also established garrisons on the eastern African and Arabian coasts to secure trading routes leading to ports on the Red Sea, whence merchandise was conveyed via the Nile to Alexandria, and from that port to the Mediterranean world. He is best known as the munificent sponsor of Alexandria's notable monuments and cultural institutions: the Pharos light house, the Museion and its library, as well as his patronage of literary men. His literary patronage is especially associated with the poets Callimachus and Theocritus, who, in turn, had great influence on later Greek and Latin authors. And (a circumstance relevant to this discussion) he was, in traditional pharaonic fashion, the third husband of his sister, Arsinoe H.
What did this legendary ruler look like? His son, Ptolemy III Euergetes (246-221 B.c.E.), minted a series of brilliant silver and gold oktadrachms portraying (on the reverse) Ptolemy and Arisonoe H. This double portrait is the only certain portrait of either ruler, although we do have inscribed statue bases in dedication of both from Delos. The coinage portrays a slightly pudgy man with a full head of hair embraced by a royal tiara, fat cheeks, and large, almost bulging eyes (iconographic features of significance, as we shall see). See G. M. A. Richter, Portraits of the Greeks, abridged and revised by R. R. R. Smith (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1984), 231-32. Otherwise, Ptolemys II's contemporary, the bucolic poet Theocritus (Idyll 17.103), in encomiastic mode described his royal patron as "blond-haired" (4aveoicogac). A blonde Macedonian in Egypt would surely have been striking, but the poet may well have described his patron in Homeric terms: Odysseus (Odyssey 13.399, 431), as well as Achilles (Iliad 1.197, 23.241), were "blond-haired."
In this elegantly produced, very thoroughly documented, and lavishly illustrated (color and black-and-white photographs) volume, Cheshire presents...