Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.09.23

Philip Hardie, Lucretian Receptions: History, The Sublime, Knowledge.   Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2009.  Pp. 306.  ISBN 9780521760416.  £50.00.  



Reviewed by David Butterfield, Christ’s College, Cambridge (djb89@cam.ac.uk)

Table of Contents

Philip Hardie has established himself as one of the most influential figures in the literary criticism of poetry of the Early Principate. In much of his work in this field, Hardie has detected the influence upon the Augustan poets of the major didactic poem of the first century B.C., Lucretius’ De rerum natura (DRN), whether reflected in wider thematic concerns or evidenced by intricate verbal reminiscences. Lucretian Receptions collects articles that concern the poetry of Virgil, Horace, Ovid and Milton (in decreasing order of attention), which so often entails responses to DRN. Hardie studies these poets’ varied reactions to the challenge of producing poetry that engaged with the new political and cultural backdrop of the transformative periods in which they worked, a task for which the visionary attitude of their great Epicurean predecessor provided welcome models apt for pointed reworking. The result is an interesting and engaging collection, although the often discursive and anfractuous nature of the eight chapters, three quarters of which reproduce articles originally published separately, deprives the work of an obvious narrative or clear set of critical objectives. Nevertheless, intelligent readers prepared to unify the expansive material presented should find themselves enriched.

The book is tripartite: I Time, history, culture (two chapters, 51pp.); II Sublime visions (four chapters, 161pp.); III Certainties and uncertainties (two chapters, 48pp.) The six reprinted articles are Chapters 1 (of 2006), 2 (2005), 4 (1995), 6 (2008), 7 (2008), 8 (1995). These contain only minor additions and omissions, amounting to some ten additional pages in total. The introduction to the collection (9pp.) and Chapters 3 (68pp.) and 5 (26pp.) thus provide the primary new material. Given that Chapters 1, 2 and 7 appeared in edited volumes that have merited their own reviews, I shall say little about them here.

In his introduction (1-9), Hardie outlines the general state of scholarship regarding Lucretius’ poetic influence upon Virgil and Horace, a field which flourished (was für eine Überraschung!) in late-nineteenth century Germany, being revived again in the latter half of the twentieth. Hardie provides a prudent warning about “the inevitable distortion in our perception of intertextualities” resulting from the fact that Lucretius and Catullus are the earliest “fully extant substantial works of non-dramatic Latin poetry” (1-2). This fact should indeed be constantly borne in mind in studies of this nature, and the potential scale of influence from the lost works of other writers (e.g. Ennius, the early scenic poets, Calvus, Varius, even Egnatius(?)) must not be disregarded on the ground that it cannot be clearly discerned. The introduction closes with a brief summary (5-9) of the scope of the book’s three sections, which I now survey in order.

Section I: Time, history, culture. Chapter 1 (‘Cultural and historical narratives in Virgil’s Eclogues and Lucretius’), reprinted from T. Papanghelis (ed.), Brill’s Companion to Greek and Latin Pastoral (Leiden-Boston, 2006), treats passages in the Eclogues where Virgil seems to draw designedly upon DRN, often interweaving such complex allusions with those to Theocritus, his more obvious pastoral model. The chapter closes with a comparison of the Fourth Eclogue, where the quest for divine status among mortals is read instructively through passages from Lucretius’ second, third and fifth books. Although Hardie argues convincingly that Virgil interlaced Lucretian elements in these poems, subtly signalled by allusion at their beginning and end, it is indubitable that the presence of DRN is notably scarcer than in Virgil’s two subsequent works. The chapter opens with a new introductory section entitled ‘Time and history in Lucretius’ (13-17) in which Hardie highlights a number of “Lucretian patternings of time”, among which he illuminatingly compares Lucretius’ emphasis on the natural generative and initiatory power of atoms, the fundamental basis of the Epicurean world, with the analogous focus on first beginnings that pervades the opening of Virgil’s Aeneid.

Chapter 2 (‘Virgilian and Horatian didactic: freedom and innovation’) is reprinted from J. Schwindt (ed.), La représentation du temps dans la poésie augustéenne (Heidelberg, 2005). Hardie here treats the influence of “Lucretian models of history”, most obviously the cultural history that closes Book 5, upon each of Virgil’s Georgics, and upon Horace’s programmatic declarations about his own place in Roman literary history in Epistles 1.19 (and 20) and Ars poetica (vv.45-74). A concluding paragraph is added to the chapter (63-4) which serves to draw together the manifold threads of this and the previous chapter.

Section II: Sublime visions. For all the supposed ineffability of the sublime, it certainly has not lacked critical output in recent decades, most notably from Porter, Conte and Schrijvers. Yet the use and abuse of the sublime in Latin poetry of the first centuries B.C. and A.D. still requires a comprehensive and consistent study. One assumes that such a work could ask and answer most of the major questions within the compass of two boards. In its absence, Hardie presents four chapters in this section, which accounts for almost 60% of the book and over 90% of its new material. Its theme, simply put, is the major role that the “Lucretian sublime” played for many of his Augustan poetic successors. Chapter 3 (‘Virgil’s Fama and the sublime’) is one of the most engaging discussions in Lucretian Receptions. Hardie analyses the monstrous personification of Fama in Aeneid 4 (173-97), seeking to explain her depiction as a sublime construct, rather than as one of hyperbole. He demonstrates incontrovertibly how much of her make-up is extracted directly from Lucretius’ concise depiction of Religio, incorporating also influential Ennian and Empedoclean precedents. The discussion comes to tackle the many-tongued trope of literature (74-5), attested in authors from Homer to Valerius Flaccus and beyond, although it is unfortunate that Hardie does not tackle the question of whether any validity can be granted to Servius’ statement ad locc. that Virgil drew the cliché at Geo. 2.43-4 (=Aen. 6.625-6) almost wholesale from Lucretius (fr. 1 Diels), however improbable that assertion. This wide-ranging chapter, the complexity of whose arrangement Hardie acknowledges (68), turns after its thorough analysis of the composition of Virgilian Fama to dissect a host of “relatives”, i.e. other figures who comprise aspects of sublimity: Etna, Polyphemus and Discordia (and elsewhere Atlas). Hardie highlights revelatory comparisons with Empedocles and Ennius, most notably in their depictions of Νεῖκος and Discordia respectively, both filtered through Lucretian Religio, as well as with drawings and paintings by Cleyn, Zuccari, Turner and Weber (reproduced at pp.111-14). The survey closes with an ‘appendix’ (133-5) on the presence of the sublime in Eclogues 5. Over almost seventy pages, the chapter amounts to a broad and rewarding discussion on whose pages the book’s heart certainly lies.

Chapter 4 (‘The Speech of Pythagoras in Ovid Metamorphoses 15: Empedoclean epos) is reprinted from CQ 45 (1995) with minor additions: although this chapter is described as “revised” (8), it substantially reproduces the original, with the addition of two initial paragraphs and the occasional sentence or footnote. Hardie provides an enlightening survey of Empedoclean (and Lucretian) elements that appear in the eclectic Speech of Pythagoras (Met. 15.75-478): by showing the presence, often through the complex tool of ‘double allusion’, of both “Empedoclean epos” and Lucretian poetics in the closing book of Ovid’s least un-epic work, Hardie paints a complex and vivid picture of the unique position of the Metamorphoses in the hexameter tradition.

Chapter 5 (‘Lucretian visions in Virgil’) largely continues in the same vein as Chapter 3. In fact, these two fresh chapters have such similar concerns that they could have been published together as a far-reaching and stimulating article. Hardie moves from the presence of the sublime per se to the role of the gaze and other visual relationships in Virgil’s Aeneid and the Georgics, a discussion in the wake of Riggs Alden Smith and Joseph Reed. Hardie’s readings of Virgil in the chapter are elucidated through comparisons with instances of Lucretius’ “drama of vision”, a central tenet of Epicurean epistemology but evidenced most strikingly in the proems to Books 1 and 2. Lucretian “distant visions” or the “penetrative gaze” prove to be further tools for explaining the rich texture of some of the most significant episodes of Virgilian narrative, most strikingly for revealing the philosophical—and Lucretian—overtones of Laocoon’s address to his fellow Trojans at Aen. 2.40-9 and Turnus’ final failure and subsequent fate at the hands of Aeneas. From a masterly reader of the Aeneid, this variegated chapter will certainly inspire future research along various avenues.

Chapter 6 (‘Horace’s sublime yearnings: Lucretian ironies’), reprinted from Papers of the Langford Latin Seminar 13 (2008), transfers the discussion to the other great Augustan poet influenced by Epicureanism in his early years, Horace. Hardie analyses the role of the sublime in Horatian poetics, whether employed in earnest or in irony, assessing the optimistic and pessimistic responses that the lyric poet showed towards the artistic freedom and poetic “aspirationalism” of his primary didactic forerunner. Hardie flits through Epistles 1, the Ars poetica and the Carmina (particularly 1.1, 1.3, 1.34, 2.19, 3.25 and the Roman Odes), continuing with the detection and elucidation of verbal reminiscences on which he thrives. A new four-page appendix skilfully outlines the reflexes of the “Horatian and Virgilian sublime” in Eumolpus’ merciless Bellum ciuile (Petr. Sat. 119-24).

Section III: Certainty and uncertainty. This section is less unified than its predecessors: the first chapter (7: ‘Lucretian multiple explanations and their reception in Latin didactic and epic’, reprinted from M. Beretta and F. Citti (edd.), Lucrezio, la natura e la scienza (Florence, 2008)) treats, with the deftest of touches, the confident use of the inherently uncertain trope of multiple explanations by Virgil, Homer, Apollonius Rhodius, Ovid, Lucan and Statius; the final chapter (8 ‘The presence of Lucretius in Paradise Lost’, reprinted from Milton Quarterly 29 (1995)), by contrast, tackles exactly what it says on the tin, thus intersecting with the theme of uncertainty less obviously. Even under the subtitle’s aegis of “knowledge”, the two chapters do not sit together very naturally. Chapter 8 highlights a number of enlightening intertexts between Milton’s and Lucretius’ “epics of knowledge” through the complicated choreography of author, characters and readers, in the dense imagery of dark and light, and via the studied use of imitation through opposition in these authors’ relentlessly corrective pursuits of knowledge. The article remains a major document in understanding Miltonic responses to DRN.

Lucretian Receptions lacks a conclusion. Nevertheless, it is a valuable and lively survey of how (and sometimes why) the genres of didactic and epic regularly intersected, and their authors frequently turned to DRN for guidance. Readers need to be aware, however, that the collection’s focus means that attention lies much more upon how poets in Lucretius’ wake drew upon and duly developed themes of his work through a complicated web of intra- and intertextual allusions than upon what that can teach one about DRN itself. Consequently, few parts of Lucretius’ poem enjoy close analysis outside the proems to each book and elements of the narrative of human development closing Book 5. Yet for scholars of Virgilian, Horatian and Ovidian artistry, or connoisseurs of Miltonic mastery of the Classics, the table is loaded with hearty fare. For those seeking the reception of Lucretius by other poets of the period, the repast is markedly more barren, a fact that cannot be explained entirely by the nature of the project: Manilius is unfortunate to be discussed on only one page (245); Tibullus and Grattius are not mentioned, and Propertius is discussed in only two passing citations of 3.1.9 (67, 203 n.85); moving earlier and later, Catullian poetry is largely left to one side, and the intriguing Aetna is mentioned in only three footnotes (all in Chapter 7). Yet Hardie’s dominance in the areas covered by this collection is evident from his prominence not only in footnotes, an intertextual web of Hardiana in themselves, but also in the bibliography, where 21 items of his appear, excluding the six here reprinted; the next most frequent author, E.J. Kenney, has six.

It is somewhat unfortunate that four of the previously published chapters (1, 2, 6 and 7) appeared in the four years preceding this collection, which largely deprived Hardie of the opportunity to respond to their reception and development by subsequent works of scholarship. With chapters 4 and 8 (both of 1995), he has referenced some relevant pieces of later work, although typically in additional, and primarily bibliographical, footnotes. Rewriting would have been proper to credit the link of Ovid Ars am. 2.24 with Emped. DK 31 B 61 to Jeffrey Rusten (AJP 103 (1982) 332-3) in the text proper rather than as an addendum to a footnote (152 n.56).

The consolidated bibliography (280-96) spreads to an impressive 430 items. If the fact that only 36 (8%) of these works precede 1950, of which nine (2%) were published before 1900, and only two (0.5%) before 1850, genuinely reflects the irrelevance of earlier scholarship to modern critical concerns, that is a surprising and sobering conclusion. The book, which closes with a thorough index locorum and general index (including a mostly complete and accurate index of scholars cited in the main text), is meticulously edited: excluding occasional incorrect references, errors from second-hand citation and inconsistencies in Latin and Greek orthography, the collection has no more than sixteen typographical errors. Given that so much of Hardie’s discussion presupposes a good knowledge of Latin, it is curious that quotations in that language (and Greek) are accompanied in the main text by English translations, an impediment that increases the length of the book by perhaps twenty pages. The attractive dust-jacket, one of the handsomest I have seen in some time, reproduces Turner’s Ulysses deriding Polyphemus (1829), a “picture without a parallel in the world of art” (Redgrave). Well, atop the similarly unsettled waves of much modern literary criticism, Hardie’s continues to be one of the most seaworthy—and well-manned—vessels.

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