Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.04.35

S. J. Heyworth, P. G. Fowler, S. J. Harrison, Classical Constructions. Papers in Memory of Don Fowler, Classicist and Epicurean.   Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2007.  Pp. xvi, 368.  ISBN 978-0-19-921803-5.  £55.00.  

Reviewed by John Henderson, King's College, Cambridge (
Word count: 3818 words

The editor and team deserve our congratulations on this sleek to sizzling commemorative volume of essays in celebration of Don Fowler's life and work. (For key to contributions, see the listings at the end of this review.) In a brisk Preface, Steve Heyworth explains how the 14 offerings relate back to the 16 papers delivered at the 6 panels of the memorial symposium of September 2000: on 'Lucretius and Didactic', '101 things to do with a Latin text', 'Women', 'Roman Constructions', 'Theory', and 'Closure'. There are 11 'survivors' among the contributors (minus Monica Gale on Lucretius, Robin Nisbet on commentary writing, Stratis Kyriakidis on Metamorphoses' lists and closure; Matthew Leigh has replaced his Plautus piece with Petrarch; the 'Women', Patricia Salzman, on Metamorphoses, and Juliane Kerkhecker, on Thebaid, were 'lost' in transit). The 3 supplements are from two of the panel 'chairs' -- Philip Hardie and Stephen Harrison -- plus, for opener, a posthumous jeu from DPF himself.

As you would expect from this knot of family and friends, pupils and colleagues, the spread and weave of themes go a fair way toward profiling Don's repertoire of specialist expertise; and the match can be checked right away against the invaluable complete list of his publications rather tucked away in the Endpapers (between 'Consolidated Bibliography' and indexes). Both Prefaceand publisher's blurb own to a certain 'informality in style', but there's precious little that fits the bill once you read past Don's 'samizdat' essay; the several reminiscences that tell us what it was like being round the guy (esp. xv, 38, 194-5) convey his commitment to discarding dead pomp and changing the Classics record. You can still easily pick up from his greatest essays the winning combination of warmth and nerve that enabled him to play the pomo extremist rogue, and mean it, agreeably, in most any company; you could get, and crease up over, the cheery iconoclasm that charges through his great series of seriously-hilariously opinionated 'subject reviews' by checking out Greece and Rome 1986-93; much harder to demonstrate the restless drive that got him ahead of so many games -- information highway savvy, electronics wise; webbed into the new wave of Italian Latinity; plunging from epic mimesis into ekphrasis, somatics, gaze, art-n-text before any of it super-heated; and, well I don't hear anything much of that thick-as-you-like Brummie accent, or its 'street SCR' pledge to open up -- politicize diffferently -- Oxford (Oxbridge) intellectual culture; and Don himself did not forget, in the relatively brief spell when he directed discussion round seminar room and restaurant table, what he'd earlier lost and gained from protracted marginalization and fully-engaged pedagogy. No need to aver he could do Philology grand-style (we have the Lucretiana), but he was also the one who fetched Theory to Oxford Classics, and in particular helped women and men find their Feminisms (more's the pity about that 'missing' panel). Because of the nature of his influence, in 2008 it's even more important than it was at the turn of the millennium to put on record the claim that Don Fowler was the most influential Professor of Latin Oxford never had (see on chapter 7 below). Most of all because he persisted in feeling like 'a naive git' (and I quote).

I should pass on the information that profits from this book will go to the Don Fowler Memorial Fund, and the invitation to readers to send contributions direct to the Estates Bursar, Jesus College, Oxford OX1 3DW: sponsoring an annual lecture in the now established series 'New Approaches to Latin Literature'.

1. Steve H. claims Chapter 1 is 'mysteriously entitled' (xiii), but I think that's just a come-on, and you'll get it, just fine. DPF has a shot at working out where our deep-lying ideas come from about Romans having deep-lying ideas that they could comport themselves like statuesque lumps and come across as impassive heroes to look up to rather than as constipated ducks: 'To be precise, Augustus looks a right prat' (10). He gets us into this fun groove just long enough to be sure of catching us, and them, defying the antithesis, and employing instead ideology-charged routines of stigmatizing polar extremes in conformist favour of 'our' valorized mean -- the self-recommending 'controlled flexibility' of those who don't have to try too hard. He takes us here in order to show us the ancient world made hard work of it for itself, and we won't have got started till we join in -- and make it hard to be sure whether we (can) choose our theoretical position or whether that chooses us, through alignment 'with our own postures and gestures, with the way we (want to) walk ourselves' (17, my brackets). So, for a start, pull yourself together, and make sure it's hard to 'know' whether to walk the DPF walk 'rigid or flexible', and that it stays that way. Genial, for sure -- but uncompromising.

2. Someone said, the world's a stage ... (Hinds will give Nirvana a spin, but the book has not a hint that Elvis lives. Don ...). Chapter 2 plumbs a Montaigne essay's citation of Lucretius' indelible satire on last words from play-acting souls, when truth finally outs, 'the mask is torn off, and reality remains' (3.57-8). Working through endoxal, then Cyrenaic, Peripatetic, and finally Stoic, attitudinizing within the saturating repertoire of stage-metaphors we die by, Philip Mitsis brings us to Epicurus' expiry date, to denunciatory Epicurean refusal of all 'bioscript' thinking, and through to posers for properly hard-line Epicureanisms. Could they deliver on how we're meant to acquire the ironic set towards living irenically required by the (non-)goal of ataraxia? For myself, I don't care for the idea mooted/touted by Montaigne That our happiness can be judged after our death, which seems to me to be the (non-)place where this humanist-hagiographic essay works (back) towards, but living in 'commitment and joy' must imply some praxis of living out attachment-detachment-reattachment -- and staying real. Meet on the ledge and Every little thing gonna be all right? 3. Gordon Campbell takes a thrilling shot at ricocheting 'Strange creatures' of Empedoclean vs Epicurean-Lucretian zoocosmologizing onto the age-old, and pressing, struggle to kickstart a construal of life-forms through a taxonomy that a self-respecting human animal could bear to live with: through the ascent visualized in Piero di Cosimo's Forest Fire to the anti-mechanistic phlegm of Flann O'Brien's Third Policeman, with its real-cycling of scientistic ideologies of and against miscegenation-hybridization, 'nearly banjanxed from the principle of the Atomic Theory, ... nearly half a bicycle' (see 57). C. staples DRN 2.1081-2 to a bistich from the brand-New Empedocles (Strasbourg fragment a(ii) 26-7) on the way toward suturing Epicurean 'indeterminacy' onto old-hat Third Millennium quantum physics, as systems demanding creative mutability within any evolutionary theory we should abide. Half man, half biscuit, I couldn't help but join in -- 'there's Peter Shaffer's EQVVS..., the jacket of Calvino's Sosmicomics uses the Empedoclean 'Creation' schema, too' ...: and you'll be in there, too, ideas teeming and tumbling; you'll see, Qfwfq. But for a minute swerve, we would always have been saddled with: 'On your dike'.

4. Alessandro Schiesaro completes the philosophy set, arguing that the reception of Greek models of teaching through general principle in its displacement of traditional embedded practices of specific instruction was the decisive event in the generation of Lucretius' Rome; recoverable from contemporary and later accounts of the paradigmatic discursive institutions of Roman Law (Cicero's Mucius Scaevola; Servius' Alfenus Varus), he uncovers this cultural involution of the intellect in DRN's internal construction of the disciple's pupillage to Epicurus, as it yields to the poet's induction of the Memmius in his readers. S. is great at this sort of 'culture-text' extrapolation, but do we think the move 'From Archaic Knowledge to the Scientific Revolution' will ever happen, anywhere? Taking 'law' concepts to bits, together with the practices that endow them with authority, is imperative work for Classical De-Constructions, but, I ask, does S.'s essay locate itself on one side of the divide when it is cast to play as 'investigation' (if not 'an exhaustive investigation', 80, 81 cf. 64, uestigia, DRN 3.4)? I better ask him -- about the Other side of the move 'From Epic to Cosmos' -- the transferential return, in and as instruction, of the unrepresentability of the precursor evoked by its replacement's every act of repression. For example, S. makes it sound like those Romans really got somewhere. (No, we're not all Greeks. Never gonna happen.)

5. Michèle Lowrie's essay is (an exce[r]ptional example of what to expect) from her Big Project on 'Writing, Performance, and Authority in Augustan Rome'. She pitches into the dynamics of Ciceronian self-textualization, from Catilinarians to De Oratore, in a thorough-going bid to problematize the looping inter-imbrication ('something of a spiral', 102) set in motion between Roman of action, his written version, his writer, and his writer as himself in action (sc. differently). To fit Tully into a chapter's synkrisis with the great hulk Augustus, L. decides to cheat, and leave Cicero having talked himself up a tree and into exile for her exit line (102), as if post-redital Cicero, of the 50s and the 40s, didn't bathe in 63 all the way to proscription. But this short-change buys us a devastating dismantling of the Res 'Gustae', caught in the dictator's bizarrely frank equivocations between walking in the ways of the ancestors and inimitably dramatizing law unto himself (brandished for reader subjects to swallow at 8.5). Apocolocyntosis and Tacitus notwithstanding, of course, the monumental inscription does serenely set up absurdist conditions for its own exemplarity, not least in the dissemination of its legibility (for us detoured through the differently hard-to-imagine-ever-read bilingual installations in outpost Galatia): I don't see quite why Cicero gets to be an easy laugh for 'students' (103: an American thing, maybe?) but well before Hitler cameos ex machina by profiling Mussolini's Caesarian nose (122), L. has nailed the snags that curse authoritarian exemplarity with its own uncircumscribably brazen rhetoricity. And, lo!, the very next essay at once goes to a nowhere special, to read, however spuriously, of balmy Cicero, totum legitur sine fine per orbem (Laurea, v.9). Sitting in the dock of the bay.

6. For me, Chapter 6 takes the laurels. Here we are shown how to hunt in and across the prairie-libraries and bay in the very best Oxon style. Setting off in quest of 'Tullius Laurea's Elegy for Cicero' (on a site for sore eyes, in Pliny HN 31.6-8), Llewelyn Morgan tally-ho's away through the citationality of the spot in Cicero cult, from its inauguration along with the ascendancy of Octavian, through the Plinian casting as showcase for Nature running an exemplary health service, to trail 'Cicero's Bath' through the toils of Peter of Eboli, Boccaccio, Flavio Biondo, and jump the loci, loca, and topoi, of many more centuries, on into modern Campanian tourism, and so to the lair: here is a Construction of Classics that knows the venatic thrill of careering wherever 'practical criticism' of scrappy versicles can take you, at and with every step homing on the critical practice you're running on/powered by. (I think the build-up of Laurea in vv.2, silua...uiret, is capped by Antistius Vetus's own 'celebrated name' (cf. celebratam nomine uillam) in 3-4, responding directly with nunc, yes, but also consecrated/ing 'under cover' (sub) with cultu and potiore (cf. antistes, 'priest'; ante-sto, 'stand out'; I expect L-a-u-r-e-a is to be found elegiacally 'apparent' as written-wreathed into v. 6, languida...lumina rore leuant, too?)

7. Next walk in the park, an eery (devilish, even, it can seem in 2008) tribute in the form of Philip Hardie's 2003 inaugural lecture as Corpus Professor of Latin: at delivery, soon as that daft hat came off, this was indeed the magisterial self-portrait de force required by genre, by occasion; now, here, it's also exactly calculated to capture what DPF meant to PRH, by way of thinking (and critical 'walking'). In his own Tale, of Two Poets, hasn't the lifework (to date) of their most effective living exponent set Virgil and Ovid fighting in the captain's tower, weighing in with Cosmic Binarism as if Aristophanes' bruisers in Frogs are back to haunt us (and they are), at Philip's every turn? Never alone, through Arachnophobic/-philiac Metamorphoses 6, and (a surprise) Tacitus' Roman 'phone-in' on the late Augustus, to his Big Work-In-Progress on Fama, through Chaucer's House of Fame, Ben Jonson's Poet-taster and Masque of Queenes, The Tempest, Ariosto, and all, there's always ever more uncannily replicative binarism powering the best criticism available, and its canny critic. And yet. This scintillating stagger of knowledge builds toward PRH's own turn to Art-n-Text, as the Antithesis illustrated as tipping scales of Housing for Civilization in Pugin's 'Contrasts' (1898) actually serves to close out the lesson that grand oppositions never fail to over-achieve; ours, too. For 'The sharpness of the contrast is the result of particular and contingent ways of reading' (173). The particular and contingent, adventitious and supplementary, fate of this lecture-essay itself makes its (de)constructive point: the game of 'What would Don say?' acquires the twist, '-- if he were running Oxford Latin'. Instead?

8. We still await Fowler's Big Project, 'Unrolling the Text: Books and Readers in Latin Poetry' (Oxford, forthcoming). Meantime, Joe Farrell has his own go at this in Chapter 8, while (in 14) Stephen Harrison closes down the volume with another metaliterary take. Farrell performs 'Body' criticism on Horace, contrasting Satires I with Odes 1-3. With a difference. F. will show that the notion of 'the classical body' should not be projected back into classical culture, and certainly not in Bakhtin's name; instead, ancient discourse images book as (author's) body, so the 'satiric' Horace suffers the grotesqueries of physical writing; whereas his 'lyric body' will progressively transcend bodiliness, to escape mundanity through sublation into 'insubstantial song'. There is something in all this -- something awry, or at least exaggerated, when the 88 carmina are exclusively 'focussed' through three programmatic moments: 1.1.36, 2.20.1-12, 3.30 (188-93). 'The truly grotesque image of the poet's gigantic body in Odes 1.1 ..., [where] Horace imagines his collection as so many books on Maecenas' shelves' is F's re-write, and if 3.30's poetic Lock of Horatius argues for 'a body that has evanesced' further than the uertice of 1.1's last word, then that is rather so as to focus on the Barthesian sensuality of surface and texture that graces the collection (on which see Oliensis in the Cambridge Companion to Horace. For the book rolling of 2.20's 'white album', see Sharrock, Seduction and Repetition 119). I have to say I can't see mileage in pretending that the most paradedly morphing volume of motley hexametric casualness will lie down and play homogeneity (and the eliminated programmatics of 2.1 binds the Sermones into 'double cassette' status anyhow); the Epodes, and the epodic channel of the plurivocal mix in the Odes, both make sure we collapse 'lyric' into monopoetics at our own peril. I should just note, ad 185, that Michael Putnam in G. W. Bakewell and J. P. Sickinger eds. (2003) Gestures. Essays in Ancient History, Literature, and Philosophy presented to Alan L. Boegehold (Oxford), 107-8 and n.24, helps explain Augustus' wit in Vita Hor. 2, as showing that reader really took in Epistles 1.13, answering Vinnius Asina ... onus with his Onysius ... ogkodestatos ('braying loudest' + 'bulkiest'); and add that Gus's in sextariolo here argues that he 'gets' Serm. 1.1, argument and all (v.74, uini sextarius). I'm afraid that right here the only gremlin I found in the book writes pain on F.'s 'little teapoet': sed tibi satura deest, for statura ('corrected' after the preceding in saturis?). But and so (ahem) how did the translation manage to come up with 'But you are light in satire, not in weight', then? For his part, Harrison quietly puts Agricola to rest in and as his book. Textualized as Agricola, he attains exemplary status for Tacitus' readers, inspiring their minds to emulate the psychic qualities that drove both the hero and the writer-and-son he created, and so to deliver performatively on the book's final guarantee that 'all we've loved of our Agricola/Agricola is and e'er shall be permanently inscribed in our minds'. By our unrolling the book to read the words -- not least these, reinforcing these ...

9. Stephen Hinds' typically honed piece compiles for Tristia 3.8-9 a whole paranoiac double-dealing dossier of 'mythic victimology' denouncing Caesar between the lines as not not (anyhow somehow) Medean butcher of Ovid's Doppelgänger self 'Ovid' (that genius, that name, its fame). In constructing this classic(al) reductio ad Absyrtum, H. first lines up on the losers' team the likes of Orpheus and Pentheus, Cicero ..., and Helvius Cinna (that innocent non-conspirator and forerunner poet of Myrrha); then he stakes out the crime-scene with a gazetteer of detections produced by the sundry 'Conspiracy Theorists'. The absurdist Casalian-Zizekian point is to smear our 'ultra-suspicious' critique into the nutters' 'too suspicious' kidology as symptomatic simulacrum of a culture and its hermeneutics under intense pressure, whether in a tyranny or an academy, forever operating abnormally, 'under siege' (ob-session). Malign of me, some would say, but since I get my own apparently 'inimitable' moment over the cuckoo's nest here, I'm going to blurt neurotic-pedantic as you please that Stephen might think (211) that Seneca, Con.2.4.13, quidam putabant hanc malignitatem Maecenatis esse tells us both of 'the evidently practised ease with which Maecenas anticipates ... the moment' and that Maecenas 'controls the moment', but I couldn't possibly confirm the latter reading (lege: con). It is a great story about the idea that ideas are 'adoptive'.

10-11. This pair of Chapters cohere seamlessly. When was Sundown on the Union, for whom? When wasn't it, ditto? Ben Tipping's ex-post-thesis book is 'forthcoming' (225 n.23: for title, see x: 'Exemplary Roman Heroism in Silius Italicus' Punica (Oxford)'). Here he explores the intertextual import of belated Pun.10.657-8 with the array of Aeneid passages plus Propertius 2.8.7-10 probed by DPF in his 'On the Shoulders of Giants' paper, re-printed in Roman Constructions). T. adduces Prop.4.4.9-10, Ov. Fast.1.198, Lucan 5.29, 8.133 (231: not 127 as on 230), all re-marking 'when Rome was Rome -- remember?' He shows how many times Silian Scipio embraces in his exemplary success, embracing the entropy programmed into whatever Republicanism whenever, Roman-style. Here's how you write Roman triumph (?triumph?). Segue straight to the Africa in Scipio Africanus, where Matt Leigh tracks Lucanesque Caesarism smiling serene within Petrarch's prefiguration of all Czars to come: in 'poetic Scipio as' epic 'successor to Lucan's Caesar', demonization knits into charisma (257).

12 What were classical authors before they got 'old'? Deborah Roberts takes DPF's most serenely shocking credo, the lapse of original successiveness in the originary activity of reading, off to check out the less shockable world of Translation, with its track-record of dementia and ditchwater. She easily shows there's more to say than 'It's a headache and Theorizing don't help much'. Not that much more, maybe, than John Bramble's classical construction (before he went to Oxford): 'historically speaking there is no such thing as archaic literature; only archaistic literature, that is, writings which are self-consciously old-fashioned at the time of composition' (Farrago 5 (1969) 3); but R.'s exhilarating pursuit of the antiquity in Antiquity, from Slavitt's Ovid and Lombardo's Homer, through Venuti's The Translator's Invisibility: A History of Translation, on to Arnold and Newman, opens the window wide on Classics as Translation. As for archaistic criticism, that is, readings which are old-fashioned at the time of --

13. I come last to the penultimate piece, where Andrew Laird dusts off something in the wake of Oxon construction of Classics as preparation for 'Greats' ('q entailed by p', and all that). Something DPF taught him, whether half-right or too right, with 'Logical Closure', namely the idea that stories shape internally consistent worlds. That is, L. intricates fiction with philosophy as motor of argument, smashing through the screen of Narrative and the frame of 'Analytic' philosophy alike to try to get a handle on what it is that decides whether we let an account tell us what goes, in or out of it, or treat it, and all that goes on in it, the way we treat what happens in our world(s). If essayistic writing is designed to test just this out, where intellectual joy-ride meets impro happening, then hang on tight while L. hurtles (us) past Anna Karenina and the Poetics, Horace's Ars and Strabo's Odyssey, Plato, Boccaccio, Tully's Offices and Rorty, someone called Vaihinger's As-if and prime Quintilian ... . If I don't yet see 'why ... the efficacy of poetic fiction might well depend on the philosophical question of what we make of q following p' (308: finis), then that might well mean I'm not one of those 'students ... repelled ... by invitations to think or write about the "narrrative techniques" of authors they study' (284). Just as L. argues I would, so to speak, that's what I was thinking about when reading L. -- and now that's what I've written about. Where 'Greats' prepared someone like me for regression to Mods, L. underlines how the structuring of Classics always shapes what runs as its logic, its epistemology, its range; imperiously enough to make it hard to see where it does, can, and must not. And that ?argument? is both salutary and timely.

Now this tribute volume is primarily for Latinists to learn from, learn to keep the point of doing it, and being one, in view. Not sure how Laocoon's feeling, but I sure hope this is no period piece.


Stephen Heyworth, 'Preface': xi-xv

1 Don Fowler, 'Laocoon's Point of View: Walking the Roman Way': 1-17

2 Philip Mitsis, 'Life as a Play: Montaigne and the Epicureans': 18-38

3 Gordon Campbell, 'Bicycles, Centaurs and Man-faced Ox-creatures: Ontological Instability in Lucretius': 39-62

4 Alessandro Schiesaro, 'Didaxis, Rhetoric, and the Law in Lucretius': 63-90

5 Michèle Lowrie, 'Making an Exemplum of Yourself: Cicero and Augustus': 91-112

6 Llewelyn Morgan, 'Natura narratur: Tullius Laurea's Elegy for Cicero': 113-40

7 Philip Hardie, 'Contrasts': 141-73

8 Joseph Farrell, 'Horace's Body, Horace's Books': 174-93

9 Stephen Hinds, 'Ovid Among the Conspiracy Theorists': 194-220

10 Ben Tipping, 'Haec tum Roma fuit': Past, Present, and Closure in Silius Italicus' Punica': 221-41

11 Matthew Leigh, 'Petrarch's Lucan and the Africa': 242-57

12 Deborah H. Roberts, 'Translating Antiquity: Intertextuality, Anachronism, and Archaism': 258-80

13 Andrew Laird, 'Fiction, Philosophy, and Logical Closure': 281-309

14 Stephen Harrison, 'From Man to Book: The Close of Tacitus' Agricola': 310-319

Stephen Harrison with Peta Fowler, 'Bibliography of Don Fowler's Published Works' : 349-58

[Errata: 6, initum = initium ; 191, 2.20.67 = 2.20.6-7 ; 235 n.54, Fuccechi = Fucecchi ; 283, has been been ; 296 n.37, to challenge both the authority of the epic narrative and to question ; 353, 'Even better than the Real Thing' is listed as 1996, but included under 1997.]

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