Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.11.10

Stratis Kyriakidis, Narrative Structure and Poetics in the Aeneid: The Frame of Book 6.   Bari:  Levante Editori, 1998.  Pp. vi, 210.  ISBN 88-7949-176-8.  L.42.000.  

Reviewed by C. Perkell, Emory University (
Word count: 1653 words

A number of features of the Aeneid's second proem (7.37-44) have drawn scholarly attention. The proem is significantly delayed to follow, first, the epigraph for Caieta, a figure otherwise unmentioned in the poem; the description of Circe, whom Aeneas and his men bypass; and Aeneas' arrival at the Tiber. Additionally, the muse whose help the poet invokes is Erato, although Aeneid 7-12 tell a war story, not a love story. How, then, to understand the function of the passages, so emphatically placed, that precede the proem, yet do not advance the plot? And why Erato? These are the questions treated in Kyriakidis' study of the "frame" of Aeneid 6.

Scholars have noted that at the start of the second half of the Eclogue collection (Ecl. 6), as well as of the Georgics (G. 3), there are statements in the poet's voice of literary affiliation or future purpose.1 This could give grounds to expect a comparable metaliterary statement in the corresponding book of the Aeneid, Aeneid 7. Clearly the substance of the delayed Aen. 7 proem is traditional of epic (dicam ... bella ... reges). Indeed, it appears to be a precisely pointed rejection of the poet's earlier rejection of epic poetry (cum canerem reges et proelia, Cynthius aurem/vellit et admonuit, etc.) in Ecl. 6. Is the poet, then, renouncing the Callimachean esthetic in Aen. 7?

Richard Thomas2 argued that while the Aen. 7 proem is an affirmation of traditional epic in its substance, it is, nevertheless, Callimachean in its manner. In support of this argument he pointed to material preceding the proem, which he identified as Hellenistic: the epitaph for Caieta 7.1-4, an aetion; the portrait of Circe, which reflects the Hellenistic taste for rearrangement and conflation of sources; verse 14, a golden line (arguto tenuis percurrit pectine telas) suggestive of the Callimachean program. Finally, the postponement of the proem and its invocation of Erato, echoing Apollonius in Arg. 3.1, are in the Alexandrian manner. Thomas argued that these features create an implied affirmation of Callimachean esthetics.

Kyriakidis has pursued and expanded the arguments of Thomas's reading. For K. it is an article of faith that metaliterary material will be found in the middle of the Aeneid: "The reader looks through the narrative for what he thinks he should find, namely programmatic poetry and literary signs" (p. 96). His contribution beyond Thomas's study is that he expands the search for metaliterary material into the "frame" of Aen. 6, namely both the end of Aen. 5 and the beginning of Aen. 7, which he reads as a continuum of passages expressing the poet's poetic program. He proposes that these passages together form a coherent sequence of programmatic material, wherein virtually every word can be mined for metaliterary significance. K.'s is an intricate, multi-directional argument that works all the texts cited above, as well as others, into a sustained metaliterary manifesto that affirms, in a Callimachean fashion, a new direction in Roman epic poetry. The significance of the passages is lost, K. argues, if they are viewed in isolation.

This study consists of an introduction, 4 chapters, a bibliography, and an index of Aeneid proems (i.e. [in addition to 1.1ff and 7. 37-45] 7.641-46, 9.77-79, 9.525-28; 10.163-65). Summary of the chapters follows:

In "Division into Books," K. seeks to establish that there is no strong demarcation between Book 6 and those surrounding it: there is no change of topic, setting, character, or time. For K. this lack of strong closure justifies reading the whole as a narrative chain (p.43).

In "The Refutatio" K. observes that Aen. 6 is framed by verses in the form of epigrams, the former for Palinurus, the latter for Caieta. The first epigram is preceded and the second is followed by an allusion to the Odyssey. Aen. 6 opens and closes with an arrival in port. Therefore we have a chiastic structure: Odyssey allusion (Sirens) - epigram in Aen. 5 - arrival in port; arrival in port - epigram - Odyssey allusion (Circe) in Aen. 6. This pattern creates a unitary structure for interpretation across book ends.

In "The New Locus Amoenus" K. proceeds from the assumption that the Tiber of Aen. 7 is a metaliterary place, not a conventional pastoral locus amoenus, but peculiarly Roman in connotation. K. argues that Aeneas' journey by sea may be read as a kind of anti-Callimachean manifesto, as it inverts the water imagery from the conclusion of Callimachus' Hymn to Apollo, wherein the muddy river of traditional epic is rejected for the pure spring water of Callimachean poetry. Aeneas' sea voyage and sailing up the Tiber is a rejection of Callimachean poetics (p.147).

"The Invocation and the Proem": In position, structure, and content, the proem both imitates and deviates from tradition. It has traditional epic themes: dicam horrida bella,/ dicam acies, actosque animis in funera reges (7.41-2). On the other hand, to invoke Erato recalls Arg. 3.1. However, K. argues, Vergil is not invoking Erato in an erotic, Apollonian sense. Rather the poet invokes Erato in an intellectual sense: love of inquiry, liberal arts, and high learning. The Aeneid is thus both traditional and innovative.

To summarize the whole: In passing by the Sirens in Aen. 5 Aeneas takes control of his ship, steers away from dangerous rocks (5.876f), and in Aen. 7 turns towards the good Roman site, as does the poet himself. Conflation and deviation from tradition in creation of the Tiber locus amoenus point to the poet's new poetic venture, his maius opus. He uses Callimachean imagery and terminology (as at the end of the Hymn to Apollo) to move away from Callimachean poetics by inverting the water imagery: Aeneas' is a sea and river voyage. Thus Vergil declares the Romanitas of his epic. Epic decorum forces him to this indirect treatment of metaliterary material.

Moving now to an illustration of K.'s interpretive procedures, we may consider his arguments on the Sirens, Caieta, and Circe from the chapter on Refutatio: In Hellenistic tradition the Sirens were fated to die once Odysseus heard their song and survived. Since Vergil makes no allusion to the Sirens' song, but only to the bones of the dead who succumbed to their attraction, he is alluding to time after the death of the Sirens and suggesting thereby that the poet and his hero have outgrown the traditional, Homeric sources symbolized by the Sirens. Aeneas' voyage along the Italian coast to Latium signifies as well the poet's literary course. Poet and hero are distanced from the dead tradition of Homer. Vergil's Caieta is an unepic, Hellenistic, off-narrative-center type of character, like Callimachus' Hecale. As a landmark, Caieta/ Gaeta constitutes the burying place of the past for Aeneas and Vergil and the starting point for the future. As Caieta is left behind by Aeneas, so the poet may be seen to leave behind practices of Hellenistic poetry. Vergil's Circe is different from the Circe of Homer and Apollonius, thereby suggesting the poet's dialectical relationship with the epic tradition. "Sailing around the Circean promontory, therefore, may function as a metaliterary refutatio of Homeric and Apollonian thematic and poetic elements, on the one hand, and of Alexandrian discussion about poetics as reflected in the Prologue to the Aetia on the other" (p.117). Circe's feral victims (bears, lions, boars, wolves) are the readers with bad taste who succumb to her song.

Others, of course, have read these passages differently. Two examples: For A. Barchiesi3 the paired epigrams surrounding "the Book of the Dead" function precisely to mark off the book, to prolong its thematic resonance, and to celebrate the discovery of Italy. Asserting that ends of books should be thematically significant (p.8-9), Barchiesi finds an illuminating progression from one epigram to the other, in which the unburied Palinurus, lying in an unknown land (ironically Italy itself), is replaced by Caieta, honored in funeral, lending fame to shores now identified as "ours." Italy is recognized with high emotion (litoribus nostris [7.1] is sentimental in epic language) as the common homeland of poet and readers, oriented toward the future. In Sara Mack's reading of Aen. 74 female figures are seen to predominate. Caieta, Circe, and Erato are only three of these. Other patterns not acknowledged in K.'s reading emerge: Caieta is one of many place names personified in Aen. 7. Mack observes how the maleficent presence of Circe hangs over the whole book, and thus is not left behind, as in K.'s reading. For Mack, Erato figures the poet's love of Italy, that fills Aen. 7. My point here is not that Barchiesi and Mack are right and K. wrong, but rather that different readers may read these "cues" differently. Of course, the fact that these passages have been thoughtfully read otherwise does not exclude a metaliterary significance in them as well.

I believe K. observes rightly that 1) in the opening of Aen. 7 we find an unusual collocation of passages that merit comment. 2) Aen. 6 does seep into the adjoining books at both ends. 3) the epitaphs ask to be read as a pair. 4) the Sirens, Caieta, and Circe are tangential to the narrative, but emphatically placed. 5) these facts invite interpretation. For me K.'s argument as a whole is not implausible, although it becomes far-fetched and ingenious in many of its particulars. K. himself is aware of this potential objection to his reading, and his expression is often appropriately tentative (as in the citation from p.117 above). In sum, this is an earnest study, in which K. presents his arguments with modesty and care; he aims to be clear and forthright. His reading of the "frame" of Aeneid 6, in which he draws readers' attention to features of the text that do merit thoughtful consideration, is plausible in its overall argument, if not in all its component parts. It is likely that Aeneid readers, when they next encounter Aen. 7, will find themselves recalling and considering K.'s arguments.


1.   G.B. Conte in "Proems in the Middle," YClS 29 (1992) 147-59 advances the theory that proems at the beginning of a text reflect traditional practice and are thematic in substance, while proems in the middle (such as those of Ecl. 6 and G. 3) are Alexandrian innovations and metaliterary in substance.
2.   R. Thomas, "From Recusatio to Commitment: The Evolution of the Vergilian Programme," Papers of the Liverpool Latin Seminar 5 (1985) 61-73; repr. in Reading Virgil and His Texts: Studies in Intertextuality (Michigan 1999) 101-03.
3.   A. Barchiesi, "Palinuro e Caieta: Due "epigrammi" virgiliani (Aen. V.870 sg.; VII.1-4)," Maia n.s. 31 (1979) 3-11.
4.   Sara Mack, "The Birth of War: A Reading of Aeneid 7," in C. Perkell, ed., Reading Vergil's Aeneid: An Interpretive Guide (Norman, OK 1999) 128-47.

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