Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2001.05.18

Costa on Weiss on Costa, Sulla preistoria della tradizione poetica italica.   Response to 2001.04.06



Response by Gabriele Costa, Istituto di glottologia e linguistica generale, Università di Macerata, Italy

In his review of my new book, Michael Weiss has misunderstood and consequently misrepresented my work and argumentation. In this reply, I will try to offer to the BMCR readership a counterbalanced view and some exemplifications to let the readers choose between his point of view and mine.

The goal of my book was to confirm or deny the continuity, the vitality, the uninterrupted use of the I-E poetic tradition from the PIE period to proto-historical time by I-E populations of ancient Italy. In other words, my effort was an attempt to verify "[la] vitalità di tale tradizione, dal periodo 'unitario' fino alle soglie della storicità, anche nell'Italia antica" (p. 7). It was not my purpose (and nowhere do I state this) "to forge a falsifiable hypothesis out of the widely held opinion that some of the early literary/epigraphic remains of the languages of Italy continue the Indo-European poetic tradition". On the contrary, it was so unnecessary to demonstrate this opinion, that I wrote on p. 8: "sul fatto che nelle lingue italiche, e nel latino, vi siano alcune testimonianze riconducibili alla lingua poetica indeuropea non vi sono più dubbi, almeno a partire dalla summa di R. Schmitt del 1967".1 To accomplish my intent, it would have been nonsense to look once more for new evidence, as M. Weiss would appear to suggest, after the numerous studies by Campanile, Lazzeroni, Marinetti, Poccetti, Prosdocimi, Rix, etc., in addition to C. Watkins' exhaustive book of 1995 and my previous work of 1998 devoted to reporting and analyzing the evidence.2 Consequently, I devoted one chapter to analyzing textual evidence, because my aim was not "...la ricerca sistematica di nuovi singoli elementi poetici o di proporre nuovi tentativi di interpretazione esauriente dei corpora italici", but rather "quello di verificare, mediante un'analisi selettiva e mirata, se il materiale tràdito ed èdito conferma quanto sostenuto nelle pagine precedenti: l'indagine sarà dunque volta a cercare di definire se nelle lingue italiche esistano testi poetici nel senso sopra definito, e se sì, a tentare poi di chiarire se essi siano ascrivibili alla tradizione i.e..." (p.85).

Concerning methodology, on page 9 I wrote: "Dirò subito che il quadro metodologico e epistemologico generale da me adottato, è quello ipotetico-deduttivo già delineato in una mia precedente ricerca, a cui mi permetto di rinviare, e fa riferimento soprattutto alle opere di G. Bateson e di K.R. Popper, secondo un orientamento che comincia adesso a farsi strada anche tra gli antichisti". Contemporary research on I-E languages and cultures cannot work without results of archaeological, (pre)historical, ethnological, genetic, typological, and cognitive studies. However, to do this without tautological and circular argumentation, we need a well-defined general epistemological basis. I took care to define this basis in my previous book Le origini della lingua poetica indeuropea,3 which I referred to in my new pubblication. As M. Weiss himself recognized ("He rarely proceeds in inductive fashion"), I was therefore consistent with my assumptions. I am well aware that the epistemological approach I adopted is quite innovative within humanistic studies, but I believe it is not a coincidence that the well-known archaeologist A. Carandini independently adopted4 the Bateson/Popper approach in his seminal and creative book La nascita di Roma, which appeared at the same time as my 1998 work. Things are changing in the field. In that previous book of mine,5 one can also find 55 pages (part I, chap. 3) of methodological discussion specifically devoted to I-E linguistic, cultural, and poetic reconstruction. I considered it unnecessary to repeat such a discussion in my new book and simply referred to my previous work. This chapter is where M. Weiss would have been able to find the discussion dealing "with some more immediately relevant problems and questions" on reconstructing (Italic) poetic tradition methodology, he unsuccessfully looked for.

In chapters 1 and 3 I discussed, among other questions, the transition from orality to literacy in archaic Italy. This vexata quaestio6 is unavoidable for such a book as mine and crucial for the local survival of the I-E poetic tradition too. This is why I devoted several pages to summarizing the results of recent studies and clarifying my position. For example, the use of writing in archaic Italy and teaching of literacy in archaic sanctuaries (Veii, Caere, Ateste, etc.) are historical facts and not speculative reconstructions.7 In this regard, A.L. Prosdocimi, one of the leading contemporary Italic scholars, in a long series of fundamental studies8 was able to demonstrate fromVenetic tablets that teaching literacy is part of an oral tradition with a long history of cognitive adaptations behind it.9 To state, as M. Weiss did, that anagrams and phonic figures attested in a number of PIE poetic traditions (the Italic one included) "need not to be giochi alfabetici, as Costa calls them (p.38)", because they "are perfectly consistent with a purely oral tradition", is not entirely correct. Of course, phonic figures are possible in a purely oral society, and I never claim the opposite view. But phonic figures based on the alphabetic sequence (which is what F. Bader and other scholars have found) are possible only in a culture that already knows writing. This knowledge is transmitted through its oral tradition, the only intellectual tradition existing in an archaic I-E society, through its guardians, poets and priests. Contrary to M. Weiss's opinion ("an incoherent grab bag that seems to me to do little to further the author's stated goal"), these chapters form the basis for a cultural and historical framework indispensable for an understanding of linguistic data.

I consider it a scientific "must" to refer and report other scholars' opinions correctly. It was very disconcerting for me to read in M. Weiss' review that Costa "seriously mispresents Vine's view. For it is not the presence of interpuncts alone but the presence of complex or hierarchical punctuation which may sometimes be used for marking verse divisions".10 Actually, where I referred for the first time to B. Vine's ideas (pp.66-67), I wrote: "...B. Vine ha recentemente sostenuto, probabilmente cogliendo nel segno, che nei due epitafi peligni sono identificabili le tracce di una Verse-dividing Punctuation, connessa a un sistema di puntuazione complessa organizzata in maniera gerarchica già attestata in epigrafi metriche latine come gli elogi degli Scipioni (CIL7 e 10), ma anche in alcune sequenze onomastiche falische e volsce...Secondo lo studioso, qualcosa di molto simile a tale sistema di puntuazione complessa, ma considerevolmente più antico, va tuttavia individuato già nell'iscrizione del Foro, e comparato 'with similar patterns in other archaic boustrophedon and serpentine context'".11 I believe this is a correct and accurate representation of Vine's point of view. Consequently, when later in chapter 2 (p.87) I wrote about complex punctuation in South Picene inscriptions,12 I examined this subject not as exclusive to poetic texts, but as one clue to their poetic status, together with many other proofs of their refined and complex writing and textual organization. I fail again to understand M. Weiss' contention and believe that I have adequately represented Vine's ideas.

Concerning the indigenist vs. Hellenist controversy on the origin of South Picene poetics, my opinion is clear. I believe that, following the most recent linguistic, archaeological, and historical studies on ancient Southern Italy, we have to search for the basis of South Picene epigraphic testimony to a poetic tradition both in an inherited I-E tradition and in indirect Greek cultural influences from the Tyrrhenian coast.13 After a three page argumentation and a quotation from B. D'Agostino's most recent work about the so-called Pontecagnano regal tombs,14 I wrote on page 124: "È questo dunque uno degli ambiti socio-economici e linguistico-culturali--forse addirittura il principale--attraverso i quali e grazie ai quali la scrittura alfabetica greca e la poesia aedica di ispirazione omerica testimoniate dall'iscrizione di Pitekoussai si diffusero inizialmente nell'Italia antica. A ciò aggiungerò che, seppure l'ultima parola spetta certo agli archeologi, è a mio parere da questo stesso ambito, attraverso quella via di collegamento culturale tra il versante adriatico e il Tirreno che indicava, come si è visto ora, B. D'Agostino, che scrittura e ideologia principesca arrivarono anche ai 'principi' sud-piceni e contribuirono a dar vita al periodo di fioritura delle iscrizioni in lingua e alfabeto encorico". Surprisingly, M. Weiss claims I failed to discuss this question.

Generally speaking, to thoroughly scrutinize a hypothesis, whether one uses Popper's criterion of falsifiability or not, maybe one needs to do more than to criticize a couple of footnotes. This appears especially true in assessing an innovative, comprehensive linguistic and cultural theory, as the one proposed in my new book, a theory founded on the most recent archaeological and historical studies.15 Because M. Weiss unfortunately forgot to mention it in his review, it may be useful to give a short résumé of the conclusions of the book for BMCR readers. My hypothesis is: "in the 1st millennium BCE the I-E poetic tradition played an important cognitive, cultural, and linguistic role for speakers of Italic languages, just as it did for most I-E populations. And this continued until proto-urban aristocratic gentilician élites, activating processes of ethnic self-identification, split the totality of mythopoietic experience, separating religious from political independence, and began to use the different local alphabets as elements of group consciousness"(pp.136-8). I strongly believe, if comparative philology has a future, it is as a historical discipline, not as a grammatical exercise.

The BMCR readership can now make up their own minds about my new book's utility and originality. While I would like to take this opportunity to suggest looking elsewhere for additional assessments,16 I should note that one would be hard pressed to find other books specifically devoted to these topics on the market. With my new book, the scholarly community now has the relevant texts collected together with poetic interpretation previously found in many different publications. As for the issue of originality in my new book, an example may be found in my reporting the first Old Umbrian Saturnian verse discovered in the history of research. This last item was not even mentioned by M. Weiss and could have been the subject of more substantial discussion in his assessment.


Notes:


1.   Cf. R. Schmitt, Dichtung und Dichtersprache in indogermanischer Zeit, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1967.
2.   See C. Watkins, How to kill a Dragon. Aspects of Indo-European Poetics, New York-Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995, and G. Costa, Le origini della lingua poetica indeuropea. Voce, coscienza e transizione neolitica, Firenze: Olschki, 1998.
3.   Cf. Costa, 1998, pp.138-154. Reviews of this book are: F. Crevatin, in: "Incontri Linguistici" 21 (1998), pp.202-210 (in Italian), and M. Mandolini Pesaresi, in: "Annali d'Italianistica" 18 (2000), pp.480-482 (in English; available also at www.ibiblio.org/annali/bookshelf2000.htm).
4.   See A. Carandini, La nascita di Roma. Dèi, lari, eroi e uomini all'alba di una civiltà, Torino: Einaudi, 1997, pp.6-8, and 628.
5.   See Costa, 1998, pp.55-110.
6.   See for ex. E. Peruzzi, Civiltà greca nel Lazio preromano, Firenze: Olschki, 1998.
7.   See Costa, 2000, pp.43-59, with references.
8.   See at least M. Pandolfini and A.L. Prosdocimi, Alfabetari e insegnamento della scrittura in Etruria e nell'Italia antica, Firenze: Olschki, 1990.
9.   See also P. Saenger's article in: D. R. Olson and N. Torrance E (eds.), Literacy and Orality, Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1991.
10.   Cf. B. Vine, Studies in Archaic Latin Inscriptions, Innsbruck: Inst. f. Sprachwiss., 1993.
11.   Cf. Vine, 1993, p.353.
12.   See also Costa, 2000, pp.66 ff., 75, 86 ff., 94 ff., 118 ff., 129.
13.   H. Eichner has never confirmed his position on the origins of South Picene poetics: cf.. Eichner, Il contributo greco ed italico allo sviluppo della poesia romana arcaica alla luce delle fonti recentemente scoperte, in: Lingue e culture in contatto nel mondo antico e altomedievale. Atti dell'VIII convegno internazionale di linguisti (Milano: 10-12/9/1992), Brescia: Paideia, 1993, p.320: "Non mi è possibile in questa sede esporre tutti i motivi che spiegano perché i testi qui presentati sono stati disposti e interpretati in questo modo"; ID., in: Die Sprache 34 (1988-1990), p.216: "Im zweiten Teil sollen Metrik, Stilistik und literarische Kontext behandelt werden". As far as I know, Eichner never published them. On the other hand, among the leading specialists on ancient Italy nobody has ever shared Eichner's endorsement of R. Pfister's alleged discovery of an archaic Etruscan poetry (cf. H. Eichner, 1993, p.320; R. Pfister, in: Fest. F. Sommer, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1955, pp.181-188).
14.   For references, see Costa, 2000, p.124, fn.28.
15.   The renowned Italic expert L. Agostiniani supported my hypothesis in his paper in: Modelli recenti in linguistica. XXV Convegno annuale della Società Italiana di Glottologia (Macerata: 26-28/10/2000), forthcoming.
16.   See for the moment A. de Vivo, in: Bollettino di Studi Latini 30 (2000), pp.763-765, and F. Bader, in: Bull. Soc. Ling. de Paris 95,2 (2000), pp. 189-196.

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