Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.05.14

Alessandra Manieri, L'immagine poetica nella teoria degli antichi. Phantasia ed enargeia. Filologia e critica 82, Bruno Gentili ed.Università degli Studi di Urbino. Centro Internazionale di Studi sulla Cultura Greca Antica.   Pisa-Rome:  Istituti editoriali e poligrafici internazionali, 1998.  Pp. 233.  ISBN 88-8147-101-9.  

Reviewed by John Van Sickle, City University of New York (
Word count: 928 words

The old analogy between poetry and painting, traced from painting as "silent poetry" and poetry as "speaking picture" in Simonides, provides the background for Manieri's study of the visible, the visual, and the visualizable in literary theory and practice among the Greeks. She focuses on two key terms: φαντασία and ἐνάργεια. The former, she argues, had to turn multiple tricks, serving to denote what can be seen in an object, its visible qualities, but also their reception as visual experience in viewers and their representation as images that are visualizable by the visual and literary arts. In each case what serves to make the qualities vividly present is ἐνάργεια.

Manieri traces the ambiguity of φαντασία to the fact that, like appearance, it referred to such qualities in things as color, movement, etc., but also described their effects on the senses, how things appeared (φαίνεται she notes). Furthermore, once φαντασία is made to refer to an image received by the mind, the same term will serve to suggest what the mind seeks to make present again to the world through pictorial or verbal art. Such acts of representing, while inseparable from mimetic theory, are carried out in consciousness that art does not simply and perfectly retransmit reality but only reproduces appearance. Poets therefore must be able to evoke the sensations produced by objects in order to captivate and move the audience (cf. ἐκπλήξις, πάθος), effect assured by ἐνάργεια, which in philosophy is considered the "criterion of truth," assuring that φαντασία corresponds to reality, but in literature assures that the image appears real, "right before the eyes" of the audience.

The idea of "image" played multiple roles in Greek culture Manieri reminds us: in language theory as the premise for the association between sign and meaning; in philosophy, as the product of the imaginative faculty in its relations with reason and memory; and in the arts, both visual and verbal, as the essential element mediating between the imaginations of artist and public. She goes on to reflect that the study of φαντασία and ἐνάργεια belongs to the field of rhetoric in its essential meaning as the theory of argument closely linked with logical demonstration and philosophy, before it was reduced a mere theory of tropes. Rhetoric has been revalued, she notes, as the art of communication and persuasion and remains relevant in what she sees as the new age of electronic mass communication -- a new variant of the oral culture of the Greeks in which the use of images for persuasion even takes subliminal forms.

Having thus situated her inquiry within a broad historical and cultural context, Manieri launches a thoroughgoing, painstaking, and scrupulously documented engagement with linguistic evidence and scholarly debate, starting with the etymology and meaning of φαντασία, from Plato, Aristotle, Chrysippus, Cicero, Quintilian, to Burgundio Pisano's Translatio Iohannis Damasceni De fide orthodoxa (c12), including parallels with imago. Her second chapter deals with φαντασία in Greek thought, first the evolution in meaning from "appearance" to "image in the mind," then issues of imitation and imagination in the arts. The "Treatise on the Sublime" views sublimity as the deepest and purest source of πάθος, melding the persuasive lucidity of prose with the marvelous inspiration of poetry. The neo-Platonic Philostratus views artistic imagination as aiding thought to intuit invisible and unreachable reality and translate it through symbolic representation in art. But the unreal (sc. inspiration, possession, and madness in diverse forms -- prophetic, ritual, poetic, and erotic, cf. Plato) was also a well documented source of φαντασία, linking it with ἐνθουσιασμός. Chapter Three then examines evidence for φαντασία from Homeric and tragic scholia: the emotions of amazement and dismay in poetry and the search for πάθος in Homer and tragedy.

Turning to survey ἐνάργεια, Manieri shows how it overlaps in significance with ἐνέργεια (cf. "visible" and "actual"), although etymologically of different origin ("bright, speedy" vs "work, act"). She goes on to trace the evolution of ἐνάργεια from common to rhetorical use and then its problematic role in philosophy as a putative criterion of truth (that which is vividly visible ought to assure access to that which is ἀληθής, sc. "not hidden to view," but skeptics were scarcely convinced). In rhetoric, Manieri distinguishes multiple uses of ἐνάργεια: as a quality of oratorical style, as vivid persuasiveness in narratio, and as an evocative and effective force in ἔκφρασις. Accounts ensue of ἐνάργεια in historical writing, painting, and poetry, with special attention to the esthetics of Philodemus and, again, the Homeric scholia.

A lengthy bibliography supports the detailed notes, attesting to Manieri's care in building on recent scholarship, although she could not benefit from Dirk Obbink (ed.), Philodemus and Poetry: Poetic Theory and Practice in Lucretius, Philodemus, and Horace (Oxford/New York, 1995). The utility of her book also greatly benefits from two indices: passages cited and themes worthy of remark, which include an array of rhetorical and philosophical terms, among them metaphor and ecphrasis. These and other such themes would offer valuable links with contemporary theoretical discourse, yet Manieri's text bristles with Greek and only partial translations or paraphrases, effectively denying access to an audience beyond the classical field. Multiple translations and contextualizations would be required to bridge the gap to the world of electronic communication that Manieri evokes as the ultimate context of her research. Those links can be supplied through further writing and teaching, building on the foundation laid here. Her blend of exacting philology with cultural vision reflects the influence of Bruno Gentili, founder and editor of the series "Filologia e Critica," in which Manieri's book is number 82.

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