Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.03.35

Frédérique Biville, Daniel Vallat (ed.), Onomastique et intertextualité dans la littérature latine. Actes de la journée d'étude tenue à la Maison de l'Orient et de la Méditerranée - Jean Pouilloux le 14 mars 2005. Collection de la Maison de l'Orient et de la Méditerranée 41. Série linguistique et philologique 5.   Lyon:  Maison de l'Orient et de la Méditerranée - Jean Pouilloux, 2009.  Pp. 233.  ISBN 9782356680068.  €27.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Anne Sinha, Université Charles de Gaulle-Lille III (

This book collects ten papers presented at a conference called "Onomastique et intertexualité dans la littérature latine" organised on the 14th of March 2005 at the Université Lumière-Lyon II. Though the topic of intertextuality has been already well studied and analyzed, the question of onomastics offers a new and a very rich angle. A brief but dense introduction of the volume shows the importance of bringing the two questions together and proposes a historical panorama in which the two major steps are two verse genres borrowed from the Greeks: comedy (first half of the second century B. C.) and classical poetry (second half of the first century). From its earliest appearance, in the comedies of Plautus, Latin onomastics is characterised by two phenomena, intertextuality and bilingualism, and is entirely dominated by Greek culture. This exchange takes place in only one direction, as there are almost no Latin names in Greek literature. The success of the palliata over the togata, which differ mostly in their use of Greek or Latin names, has to be interpreted not in terms of taste for exoticism or a need for cultural distance to allow real laughter but as an important mark of the real bilingualism of the Romans.

With the poets of the first century B.C. writing under the influence of both Callimachus and their Alexandrian contemporaries, the use of Greek names becomes one of the signs of the preciosity that is a trademark of Latin poetry. Similarly, later authors use those names in reference to major Latin works and no longer to Greek culture. In this way Greek onomastics became a tool for writing Latin poetry.

The introduction also proposes different directions of research. In a diachronic perspective, one can analyse the use of a name not only from one author to another (e.g., from Theocritus to Virgil's Bucolics) but also in different works of the same author, especially when their genres differ. Second, in a generic perspective, a name can refer to different types of works and therefore show a complex network of influence (in Virgil's Bucolics can be found names from epics or epigrams). The use of names can also be studied in reference to the characters to which they refer to see how the same name can be used for different characters or how a literary type changes. In the same perspective the question arises of the construction of a historical or mythical figure through its diverse mentions in texts. Intertextuality also has an axiological dimension, as a name can be reused to praise or denounce, therefore introducing a question of manipulation.

This book is divided into three parts. The first proposes two transversal approaches; the other two collect more focused papers: on the theatre and poetry in the second and on erudite and late literature in the third.

First part: transversal studies

Frédérique Biville (Université Lumière-Lyon 2); "Onomastique et intertextualité dans la littérature latine. Perspectives". Analyzing examples and evidence from Latin literature, the author uses two approaches to study the relationships between proper names and history . In the first, which is onomasiological, one starts from the person and sees which linguistic signs are used to refer to him (for example, the different ways in which Cicero refers to himself in his correspondence). The second, semiological, approach concentrates on the name itself, seeing its historical variations (for example, the Romans used both the Greek name Ganymedes and its Etruscan version Catmite). The use of a name must be placed on scales of notoriety (from being unknown elsewhere to being general in antique culture) and intertextuality (from referring to the immediate context to referring to the whole of Greco-Latin literature).

Daniel Vallat (Université Lumière-Lyon 2) : "La métaphore onomastique de Plaute à Juvénal". Studying a wide range of authors, this paper shows how the metaphorical use of a proper name has a strong oral dimension, whether the author or a character is speaking, as well as an axiological value. From the Plautine theater, where it was a burlesque tool, it becomes a way of attack in rhetoric, a fact that might have influenced its use in the epigram. For the Augustan poets it is mostly an ornament. Martial and Juvenal inherit all these different traditions, combining poetic, flattering and aggressive uses of proper names.

Second Part: theater and classical poetry

Matías López López (Université de Lleida, Espagne) : "Etymologies ouvertes chez Plaute". This paper distinguishes five levels of ratio, that is, types of relationship between the etymologies of the proper names of the characters and their roles in Plautus' plays. The interpretatio nominis itself is the first one, in which the name of a character is clearly explained in the play. The closed ratio, is the second, in which the explanation is given without specific introduction. The third , the open ratio, associates different levels of explanation for a name. The fourth is an implicit ratio, in which a name in itself carries a meaning. The fifth one is an antiphrastic ratio, in which the nature of a character is the opposite of what his name means. Some examples of the third, or open ratio (the names Agorastocles, Callicles, Colaphus, Libanus, Stalagmus, and Stratophanes) show how subtly Plautus interweaves different levels of reference in choosing the names of his characters.

Jean-Christophe Jolivet (Université Charles de Gaulle-Lille 3): "Questions d'onomastique homérique dans la poésie augustéenne". The Augustan poets seem to have taken into account the philological questions of the Hellenistic critics, especially their researches on the anonymous characters in Homer's works. Virgil responds in that way to the list of thirteen (or fourteen) unknown Thracian warriors killed by Diomedes in Iliad 10 by systematically naming the Rutulian warriors in Aeneid 9. In the same way, Heroides 13 answers the question, left pending in the Iliad, of the identity of Protesilaus'murderer. One can also find traces of the hellenistic etymological debates, as in Heroides 5 (131-132) about Iphigeneia and in Aeneid 7 (14) for Circe.

Emmanuel Plantade (Université Lumière-Lyon 2): "Heu... Theseu ! Le nom propre et son double (Catulle 64, 50-250 et Ovide Her. 10". In writing Heroides 10 (Ariadne to Theseus), Ovid has to emulate carmen 64 of Catullus and more precisely his famous paranomasia eheu/Theseu, the accentuation of which Plantade discusses in the last part of the paper. Although Ovid often uses the vocative, he avoids the exclamation eheu that appears in other poems, showing in this way a new system of significance based on metrics. The different places of the name in the verse symbolically modulate the distance between the hero and Ariadne.

Christian Nicolas (Université Jean Moulin-Lyon 3) : "La signature masquée du poète des Héroïdes." This paper investigates the strategies used by Ovid to sign his Heroides even though they were supposed to have been written by male and female heroes of Greek mythology. As he could not use the technique of sphragis, which the author illustrates by examples, Ovid may have hidden his name following a cryptographic code (that needs to be read from right to left and without breaking the words). More convincing is the suggestion that Ovid used intertextual allusions to other authors but also to his own works, allusions which are a kind of enigma inviting readers to find the real author.

Olivier Thévenaz (Université de Lausanne, Suisse), "Auctoris nomina Sapphus: noms et création d'une persona littéraire dans l'Héroïde XV ovidienne." Studying the construction of the identity of the author of He roi des 15, the author shows how Ovid uses names of characters from Sappho to create an effect of authenticity and, at the same time, underlines the difference in poetics between archaic poetry and his own through other intertextual echoes and the introduction of Sappho's signature. This investigation leads to a very interesting new proposition on the well known debate about the authenticity of the poem. The exiled Ovid could have rewritten this text and brought into it his new poetical conceptions.

Daniel Vallat (Université Lumière-Lyon 2) : "L'onomastique du genre bucolique." The onomastics of the bucolic genre is studied within its two major periods: the acculturation of the genre from Greek to Latin literature when Virgil deeply rewrites Theocritus and the imitation of Virgil by later Latin writers. The use of proper names (sometimes massively borrowed from Theocritus and sometimes totally different) perfectly illustrates Virgil's poetics, between imitation, underlined by the poem itself, and innovation. These names, which in Theocritus' work often came from the real world, are in Virgil's Bucolics not only foreign but therefore only poetical. Later Latin authors borrowed from the stock that by their time had become properly Latin but also played with the tradition by giving particular names to other characters or inventing new names.

Third Part: scholarship of late antiquity

Michèle Béjuis-Vallat : "Servius, interpres nominum Vergilianorum (ad Aen. 1)". This paper analyses all the commentaries made by Servius on the onomastics of Aeneid 1 to show the subtleties of the etymologies he suggests (eponymic, significant and often bilingual). Servius' interpretations (for example, when he rejects the idea of a 'cruel' Juno or of a fratricidal Romulus) have to be understood as determined by his project of defending the moral values of pagan Antiquity. Servius, by convincingly considering that Caesar...Iulius in Jupiter's prophecy refers to Caesar and not to Augustus, also goes against the idea of Virgil as court poet.

Marie-Karine Lhommé (Université Lumière-Lyon 2) : "De Mutinus Titinus à Priape: la métamorphose d'un dieu mineur". Mutinus Titinus is a minor god whose name is mentioned by Varro (Ant. div. XVI) and whose recently disappeared sanctuary is located by Verrius Flaccus. These texts are known to us only from later Christian writers who have used the nuptial rite devoted Mutinus Titinus to denounce the immorality of Roman pagan cults. This paper, through a linguistic study of the two names of the god, shows that Varro and Verrius, by using etymology, might have themselves reconstructed the identity of this half-forgotten god, who ironically owes his survival to the enemies of the religion that worshipped him..

This book, the presentation and editing of which must be praised, reaches two major goals. First it brings a real new approach to a major, and therefore well known, question. Secondly, it proves the importance of that approach through the variety and the high quality of the collected papers and invites us to further stimulating works.

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