Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2005.04.52

Glenn W. Most, Sarah Spence, Re-Presenting Vergil. Special Issue in Honor of Michael C.J. Putnam. Materiali e discussioni per l'analisi dei testi classici, 52.   Pisa/Rome:  Istituti Editoriali e Poligrafici Internazionali, 2004.  Pp. 243.  ISBN 88-8147-321-6.  €50.00.  



Reviewed by Stephen Harrison, Corpus Christi College, Oxford (Stephen.Harrison@ccc.ox.ac.uk)
Word count: 1590 words

With this volume Michael Putnam is honoured with a second Festschrift to mark his seventieth birthday. The other is from his pupils (Being There Together: Essays in Honour of Michael Putnam, ed. P. Thibodeau and H. Haskell, Afton, Minnesota, 2003), but this is from an even more distinguished collection of contributors, involving many of the biggest names in the Anglophone scholarship of Roman poetry, and constitutes a special number of a journal of especial importance in Latin literature . This is only fitting, as Michael Putnam has had a major influence on the subject, and even those (like the current reviewer) who do not always agree with him must recognise and applaud the significance of his role, especially in his well-known work on Virgil, from The Poetry of the Aeneid (Cambridge, Mass., 1965) to the essays collected thirty years later in Virgil's Aeneid: Interpretation and Influence (Chapel Hill, 1995). The subject of this volume, the reception of Vergil from the earliest time to the twentieth century, is thus both coherent and apposite, following its honorand's interests in both Virgil and his reception, seen not just in his 1995 volume but also (for example) in his recent edition and translation in the I Tatti series of Maffeo Vegio's poetry, including the famous 'thirteenth book' added to the Aeneid ( Maffeo Vegio: Short Epics , Cambridge, Mass. 2004).

The elegant introduction by the editors rightly presents Putnam's work as strongly influenced by New Criticism but equally rightly stresses that (unlike some admirers of the well-wrought urn) he has never lost connection with the text's own original historical and political circumstances. Putnam's mission has been indeed 'to explore the formal perfection and the anguished humanity of central works of Latin literature' (11), but always within an appropriate cultural framework. Some might dispute (e.g.) his conception of what makes a thematically significant verbal echo, but his insistence on sympathetic close reading and intensity of poetic analysis has been a salutary corrective to the Latin literary scholarship of the first part of the twentieth century, which can be presented (with only a little prejudice) as oscillating between the Scylla of dour textual/grammatical scrutiny and the Charybdis of sweepingly emotional biographism. The age of Michael Putnam's work (since 1960) has been in many ways been the age of the invention of Latin literary scholarship as we know it.

The first group of papers concerns the reception of Virgil in the first century or so after his death. Alessandro Barchiesi looks at the earliest criticisms of Virgil as reported in the Vita Donati, arguing with some plausibility that some of the negative comments recorded represent clever improvisations from recitation contexts in the short period before Virgil became a classic (21-28), while Niklas Holzberg (29-40) discusses the Catalepton collection, which he views attractively as a post-Virgilian presentation of a Maro personatus and links persuasively with the Catullan collection through the common presence of Priapea (though not all will agree with his premise of an authorially ordered Catullan collection). His further suggestion that the three Priapea transmitted immediately before what is generally called the Catalepton collection fill perceived gaps and pick up hints from theGeorgics and Eclogues is certainly intriguing and shows that (as he indeed argues) the time is ripe for a serious modern study of this part of the Appendix Vergiliana. Joseph Farrell considers the parallels between the self-constructed poetic careers of Ovid and Virgil (41-53), showing that Ovid invites direct comparison here with Virgil and neatly suggesting that the ille ego 'false preface' to the Aeneid was available early enough for Ovid to echo it in his own career statements, which move from a ludic early phase to a more rueful retrospective from exile.

Continuing this section, Paul Miller (57-72) treats the sometimes neglected epistle of Dido to Aeneas from the Heroides, arguing interestingly that Dido's voice opens up a dialogue with the monologic tendency of the Aeneid which destabilises its version of events: Ovid uses Virgil 'to create a concentration and density of signifying effects that both elevates his own poem as an object of discourse and threatens its very coherence' (61). John Miller (73-84) considers Propertian reception of the Virgilian presentation of Actian Apollo, rightly suggesting that Prop. 2.34 shows knowledge of Aeneid 8 as well as of Aeneid 1, and makes some good points about Prop. 4.6 (the Callimachean connections of Apollo's Delian origin, the different nature of Apollo's epiphany from that in the Aeneid). One might add the importance of Horace here (Epode 9 and Odes 1.37 surely provide models for the Actian symposium in 4.6). Finally, Denis Feeney (85-105) takes on the hot Flavian text of the moment, Statius' Achilleid (again a poem in sore need of a full modern commentary), exploring with many good points the issue of dividing lines, in the ambiguous sexual identity of Achilles, in the double inheritance of the poem from Ovidian and Virgilian epic, and in Statius' own anxiety 'about whether he can establish a distinctive creative difference between his first and second epics' (87).

The second half of the volume leaps a millennium to the medieval and early modern period. Jan Ziolkowski (107-26) provides a fascinating look at the musical notation (neumes) found in twelfth-century manuscripts of Virgilian poetry, directing and suggesting recitation style. These are especially prominently marked for passages of direct speech (a useful catalogue of passages marked with neumes is appended), and it is interestingly suggested that their disappearance at the end of the twelfth century is connected with the separate paths then taken by Latin poetry and musical chant. Christine Perkell (127-42) creatively compares the Virgilian and Dantean underworlds, reading back the evident irony of Dante's treatment of doomed souls such as Francesca to suggest an ironic reading of Virgilian victims such as Palinurus. Dante's Christian irony sets the truth against characters' delusions of virtue, while Virgil's pagan irony likewise stresses an absence of insight (the gap between Palinurus' account of his own death and the narrator's version in Book 5).

Still in this grouping, Philip Hardie (143-56) also treats the theme of the Underworld, showing how the world of the dead provides prime access to the past through parades of national worthies, motivating the hero and engaging the nationalistic reader. He links Virgil's chthonic description of Aeneid 6 with Spenser's figurative underworld in Book 3 Canto 3 of the Faerie Queen (note indeed that 3.3.22 'famous progenie' clearly echoes 6.790 progenies on the lexical level), Michael's revelation of descendants to Adam in Milton's Paradise Lost 11 (with Cain as the new Marcellus), and Silius' vision of Scipio and its parallel in Petrarch's Africa, with many fine points and connections. Stephen Hinds (157-75) looks at Cicero and Virgil as the conscious models and parallels for Petrarch's activity in prose epistles and epic verse, with characteristically subtle insights into the triangular connections between all three authors, again bringing in the vision of the poet in the future from the Africa. David Quint (177-97) argues interestingly that Milton's consistently dark reworking of apparently positive political material in Virgil exposes the occluded negativity of the Virgilian original: the statesman simile of Book 1 'hints at the violence built into the settlement that Augustus imposed on the Roman political world' (180), the city of Pandaemonium exposes the dark, hellish side of Virgil's Carthage and Rome, and the fallen Satan and Adam resemble Aeneas after his shipwreck in starting again from the bottom.

The last group of papers moves rapidly ahead to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. William Fitzgerald (199-210) provides a stimulating analysis of Berlioz's Les Troyens as a reading of Virgil, pointing out that opera transforms epic so that female characters dominate the action with the massive expansion of Cassandra's role in the sack of Troy (no doubt recalling her prominence in Greek tragedy?). He casts doubt on Second Empire imperialist readings of the 1850's opera, rightly suggesting that Berlioz's carefully constructed tale of two cities (Troy and Carthage) stresses betrayal and destruction rather than triumph. Michele Lowrie (210-25) engages in Virgilian reception at two removes, looking at Maurice Blanchot's meditation on Hermann Broch's The Death of Virgil, showing how Broch's Christianising emphasis on self-sacrifice and sparing the Aeneid at the poet's own death is balanced by its elegant reversal in Blanchot's short story 'The moment of my death', where the man survives and the written work is lost. All this is rightly seen as emblematic of the post-war debate about Europe's Roman heritage (and here T.S. Eliot perhaps deserves as much mention as E.R. Curtius). Finally, Ralph Johnson. (227-39) looks at Robert Lowell's famous Virgilian poem 'Falling Asleep over the Aeneid' in a penetrating and nuanced treatment which well brings out Lowell's ambivalent attitude both to the Aeneid and to military imperialism in general through the 'exquisite ambiguity' of the funeral of Pallas. The poem's fascistic colour, sexual imagery and relation to Lowell's own family's losses in the Civil War are well explored, and its intellectual contexts of high-tide New Criticism and (fittingly for this volume) incipient 'Harvard-School' Virgilian scholarship are fascinatingly laid out.

In sum, this is an impressive collection which represents the best of modern scholarship on Latin poetry and its reception and which (unlike many Festschriften) has the benefit of focussing effectively on a particular scholarly area, for which the editors are to be much commended. Some papers have more meat or plausibility than others, but the overall standard of interest and creativity is high. Michael Putnam should be well pleased with this well deserved offering.

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