Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2013.09.25 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.09.25

Manuel Baumbach, Wolfgang Polleichtner (ed.), Innovation aus Tradition: literaturwissenschaftliche Perspektiven der Vergilforschung. BAC - Bochumer Altertumswissenschaftliches Colloquium, Bd 93.   Trier:  WVT Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2013.  Pp. 248.  ISBN 9783868214482.  €26.50 (pb).  

Reviewed by Nicoletta Bruno, Università degli Studi di Bari “Aldo Moro” (

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Reading Virgil’s work with new and different points of view has always been a hard task. But it has always been necessary for= scholars to open up to new strategies. On the other hand, it is well known that little more than a century ago, Virgil was rediscovered in all his complex literary originality, as we can read, for example, in the brief survey of the main trends of the Virgilian surveys in the 20th century, written by Stephen Harrison (1990).1

This volume originates from the conference held at Ruhr-Universität in Bochum (26-27 November 2010), Quid novi? Neue Ansätze der Vergilforschung im 21. Jahrhundert, and adds to other Virgilian studies in the series of BAC (Bochumer Altertumswissenschaftliches Colloquium) volumes. The eight essays in this collection include some of the new methodological approaches and aspire to give different avenues for reading the Virgilian works. Sometimes innovation can upset or disappoint: to move away from the main ways of research and to break new ground entails considerable risks. However, only time will tell whether they were worth it or not.

As Manuel Baumbach and Wolfgang Polleichtner admit in their Einleitung, they allowed contributors a free choice about their papers, around the main topic of intertextuality and the reception of Virgil’s work. Since it was coined by postructuralist Julie Kristeva in 1966, intertextuality has always had a great influence on classical studies,2 but, in general, literary criticism is dangerous territory, and the answer to its questions is never univocal.

The introduction is an authentic prudent excusatio: the two editors are well aware of the limits of their brief collection of essays, and they also know well how provisional their viewpoints could be, nonetheless they make a fascinating critical debate.

But, in the introduction, there is also a widely remarkable and common consideration about the aim of intertextual dialogue between the ancient Greek and Latin worlds and modern literature and other cultures, in order to broaden scholars’ horizons of research. There is nothing better than Virgil’s works and the genre of Epos, the father of all the genres, to serve as a field for new strategies.

The book is divided into four parts: Intertestualität, Interkulturität, Intermedialität and Rezeption.

The first essay in the collection (Intertextualität) is by Damien Nelis, translated into German by Wolfgang Polleichtner.3 Nelis’ paper examines the main and controversial aspects of the Georgics, the presence of philosophical texts such as Empedocles and Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura, for example in the lines about love (Georg. 3, 242-83). Apart from the best known poetic models such as Homer, Hesiod, Apollonius of Rhodes, in manner and composition the Georgics is deeply indebted to Callimachus: it will suffice to think about the similarity between Book 4 of the Georgics and Book 4 of the Aetia.4 Poetical allusions to Callimachus’ Aetia and Victoria Berenices and Virgil’s adherence to the poetics of Callimachus are found especially in the so-called ‘proem in the middle’ (Georg. 3, 40-1 and 46-7, a variation of the Callimachean recusatio), and in the Aristaeus and Orpheus myths at the end of Book 4. In addition, the city of Rome is a key theme in the poem, especially in the opening of Books 1 and 3 and at the end of Books 1, 2 and 4. The aim of Nelis’ paper is to give some idea of the ways in which the study of both Greek poetry and history is important to the understanding of the Georgics, a poem in which cultural and political links between Italy and the Greek world have a great significance and in which Hellenistic history and poetry have a remarkable value.

The well-known essay by G.N. KnauerDie Aeneis und Homer (1964), although considered extremely schematic, has had a strong influence on all further investigations about intertextual relations between Aeneid and Homeric Poems, and it is always a fundamental starting point. Freund and Janka are indebted to this work and their papers examine, indeed, the intertextual link between Virgil and Homer. Stefan Freund, starting from a famous piece of Macrobius (Sat. 5, 2, 8-13), who compares Aeneid to a mirror of the Homeric poems, investigates the characters of the Virgilian and Homeric epos, looking at Nausicaa and Venus and Dido and Alcinous, and emphasizing in particular the relationship between the two heroes, Aeneas and Odysseus, and the Gods. On the other hand, Markus Janka sets an intertextual network between the Cyclops’ episodes in Aeneid Book 3, Odyssey Book 9 and Ovid’s Metamorphoses Book 13 and 14. There is not only a strong network of quotations and allusions among the texts, but this also represents an example of Homer’s reception through Roman readings of the Augustan poets, Virgil and Ovid. An author, who is quoting another, alludes to him, and allusion is nothing but an “atto di passione”.5 The schematic Janka’s analysis is so accurate that it seems overstated.

One of the most interesting essays in this book, in my opinion, is Christine Schmitz’s. Soon after the victory over Cleopatra, during the decade in which Virgil was writing the Aeneid, and in the first period of Augustus’ empire, which was at the same time innovative and conservative about the legacy of the traditional values of ancient res publica, the contrast between East and West was strongly felt. Since Homer, Herodotus and Aeschylus in his Persians , the distance between the two worlds has always been an archetype.6 Roman prejudices towards East persist: Sallust used Punica fides (Bell. Iug. 108, 3) to describe Carthaginian lying and unreliablility , matched by Livy (perfidia …Punica 21, 4, 9) and Horace (Od. 3, 6, 36), even if, on the contrary, Dido is an exception to this trend. Schmitz investigates the Aeneid’s characters, Iarbas, Turnus and Numanus, but focuses on a significant part of Book 4, when Dido mentions Laomedon, his lying ancestor, while she is addressing Aeneas (Aen. 4, 542). But Trojans are also supposed to be the progenitors of Romans: consequently, Rome has received the best features from Troy and Greece, (see Valerius Flaccus’ melior Troia 2, 537), as Virgil discloses in the Aeneid, taking the examples of characters like Laocoon, Priam, and the Arcadian shepherd Evander. Schmitz’s paper is original and well-organized, divided into clear and incisive paragraphs.

It is fashionable to explore the links between the Aeneid and ancient drama. Polleichtner’s paper follows a wide range of surveys of this topic, such as Wlosok (1976), Hardie (1997), Galinsky (2003), von Albrecht (2005), Panoussi (2009).7 But, Polleichtner’s essay is devoted to the analysis of the references to drama or theater buildings in Aeneid, in the lines about the Carthaginian theater (Aen. 1, 427-9), and focuses on the word scaena, in the piece of the description of a natural harbor (Aen. 1, 164). Virgil transferred scaena from its conventional use to describe natural scenery, and it has no parallels in classical Latin. Thus Virgil seems to wish to stress the almost theatrically spectacular appearance of these lines of trees on the cliff, so vivid that they might as well as be painted.8

The last section Rezeption is almost entirely devoted to Virgil’s reception in German literature. Apart from the schemes and the disquieting mathematical computations related in Reinhold Glei’s paper about Centonisierung Vergils, which seem to be attempts resulting in disconcerting abstractness, we have Kofler’s discussion of the Palaemon, a poem written in Latin by Paul Ottenthaler in 1557. This essay is particularly interesting because it analyses an unknown witness to the reception of classical Latin works in the Tyrolese culture. The final contribution by Baumbach about the reception of the myth of Proteus displays an intriguing comparison between the Odyssey,the Georgics and Goethe’s Faust II.

The appendix at the end of the book, includes Kofler’s translation of Ottenthaler’s Palaemon, from Latin into German, and a useful index locorum. I have not noticed any typographical errors in the book, and the good quality of the printing is well in evidence, as in the BAC’s previous volumes. Unfortunately, in spite of the two editors’ opening apology, it must be said that the volume is quite discontinuous and incoherent not only in its varied contents, but also in its diverse methodological strategies: some papers are really interesting, while others, on the contrary, are rather daring.

Overall, this welcome volume makes a good contribution to the extensive research on Virgil’s work.

Table of Contents

Damien P. Nelis, Dichtung und Politik in Vergils Georgica (aus dem Englischen übersetzt von Wolfgang Polleichtner)
Stefan Freund, Ein Odysseus, der nicht lügt – Überlegungen zur Interfiguralität bei Vergil am Beispiel von Aen. 1, 305-417
Markus Janka, Dreiecksbeziehungen zwischen Texten: Vergils komplexe Odysseerezeption als Scharnier zwischen Homer und Ovid
Interkulturalität und Intermedialität
Christine Schmitz, Der Orientalismusdiskurs als Intertext in Vergils Aeneis
Wolfgang Polleichtner, scaenis decora apta futuris: Das Theater und die Aeneis
Reinhold F. Glei, Die Auflösung des Textes. Zur literarischen, grammatischen und mathematischen Centonisierung Vergils
Wolfgang Kofler, Paul Ottenthaler, Palaemon: Ein Tiroler Beispiel für das Fortleben von Vergils bukolischer Dichtung
Manuel Baumbach, Quae mox ventura trahantur. Eine poetologische Lektüre der Proteusfigur im Vergleich von Homers Odyssee, Goethes Faust II und Vergils Georgica
PALAEMON. Ecloga heroico carmine conscripta M. Paulo Ottenthalero auctore, Text und Übersetzung von Wolfgang Kofler.
Index locorum
Verzeichnis der Autoren


1.   S. J. Harrison, Some Views of the Aeneid in the Twentieth Century in Oxford’s readings in Vergil’s Aeneid, Oxford 1990, 1-20.
2.   I wish to point out the still convincing essay of Stephen Hinds, Allusion and Intertext. Dynamics of Appropriation in Roman Poetry Cambridge 1998. In addition, the latestvolume of American Journal of Philology (vol. 134 n. 1, 2013) contains an interesting special issue about Intertextuality, edited by Yelena Baraz and Christopher S. van der Berg.
3.   Nelis’s essay was published as Poetry and Politics in Vergil’s Georgics in C. Cusset, F. Levin and various authors, Mythe et Pouvoir à l’Époque Hellénistique (Hellenistica Gronigana 18), Leuven, Paris, Walpole, MA 2012, 397-416.
4.   See Richard Thomas’ introduction to his well-known commentary on Georgics, Cambridge 1986.
5.   See G. B. Conte – A. Barchiesi, Imitazione e arte allusiva. Modi e funzioni dell’intertestualità in Lo spazio letterario di Roma antica, Roma 1990, vol. I, 81.
6.   Schmitz quotes several times Edward Said’s famous essay Orientalism (1978).
7.   A. Wlosok, Vergils Didotragödie. Ein Beitrag zum Problem des Tragischen in der Aeneis in H. Görgemanns, E. Schmidt, Hgg., Studien zum antiken Epos, Meisenheim am Glan1976, 228-250; P. Hardie, Virgil and Tragedy in C. Martindale (ed.), Cambridge Companion to Virgil, Cambridge 1997, 312-326; K. Galinsky, Greek and Roman Drama and the Aeneid in D. Braund, C. Gill, Hgg., Myth, History and Culture in Republican Rome. Study in honour of T.P. Wiseman, Exter 2003, 275-294; M. von Albrecht, Riflessione virgiliana sul tragico in G. Aricò, M. Rivoltella, La riflessione sul teatro nella cultura romana, Milano 2005, 87-93; V. Panoussi, Greek Tragedy in Vergil’s Aeneid. Ritual, Empire and Intertext, Cambridge 2009.
8.   See Austin’s commentary, Cambridge 1971, 73.

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