Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2013.12.17 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.12.17

Virginia Fabrizi, Mores veteresque novosque: rappresentazioni del passato e del presente di Roma negli Annales di Ennio. Pubblicazioni della Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia dell'Università di Pavia, 125.   Pisa:  Edizioni ETS, 2012.  Pp. 252.  ISBN 9788846734549.  €22.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Jackie Elliott, University of Colorado Boulder (

This book, one of a number reflecting increased interest in Ennius' Annales,1 can be characterised as a thoughtful meditation on the possibilities of the Annales as a mode of memory. The book derives from the author's dissertation written at the University of Udine in 2006-09 under the supervision of Gianpiero Rosati. Fabrizi positions herself in part as a successor of Gildenhard2 in her interest in the poem's socio-cultural context and its participation in second-century re-elaboration of Roman collective identity. She inquires into the interpretative consequences of the poet's transformation of Roman history into epic poetry, concluding that the poem offered a justification of emergent Roman hegemony and drew the distant past into an explanatory and legitimating relationship with a contemporary present elevated to heroic status. Fabrizi's primary approach is to offer a series of lucid and imaginative readings of select surviving fragments, based on but moving beyond accounts of the poem commonly accepted today.3 Her reconstructive methodology is by and large that sanctioned by established scholarship on the Annales, which has yet to catch up with the more advanced methodological awareness today associated with the study of Greek historiographical and dramatic fragments. From the present reviewer's perspective, what may also be missing is a sense of the fragility of our evidence both for the poem and for the circumstances that produced it, and therefore how contingent any reading we arrive at today must remain.

An introduction setting out the basic principles and presuppositions of her study is followed by five chapters, each of which focuses on part of the poem and has one or more large claims to make. In the first ('La leggenda troiana: un incontro fra popoli all' origine di Roma'), Fabrizi makes the case that, in the Annales, we have ring-composition: the poem that began with the Trojan exiles' flight to Rome concluded, in its (putative) first, fifteen-book edition, with the return of their descendants to Asia Minor for the conflict with Antiochus. The ideological implication of this Roman 'return', she argues, was an affirmation of Rome's right to hegemony in the East. When Vergil (e.g. at Aen. 8.36-9) implied a 'return' of the Trojans to an ancestral Italy, he was thus 'correcting' a pre-existing Ennian notion of a Roman 'return' to the East. Moreover, Ennian Rome was founded—bloodlessly, Fabrizi hypothesizes—on the foedus mentioned at Ann. 32 (accipe daque fidem foedusque feri bene firmum). The Aeneid thus ends where the Annales started: with the founding union of peoples, although the bloodshed that precedes the pact in the Aeneid marks a contrast to the pacific version of events Fabrizi reads in Ennius.

Throughout this thought-provoking engagement with the beginning of Ennius' narrative—and indeed throughout the book—Fabrizi's strong positivism in regard to the evidence is apparent, sometimes startlingly so: attention to what survives and confidence in what editors have done with it is privileged over attention to the vast lacunae in our knowledge of the text itself, its context and its earliest reception. (Let it here be stated unequivocally that I am a sceptically inclined reader whose own study of the Annales traces the contours of our ignorance of the text by highlighting the isolation of the historical moments and the partiality of the sources from which our knowledge of it emerges.) To pick one of many possible examples: Fabrizi's elaborate interpretation of the pact of Ann. 32 in Chapter 1 depends entirely on that pact's identification with one between Aeneas and his original host in Italy (and on the exclusion of Book 1's other possible pacts, e.g. ones between Romulus and Numitor or Romulus and Titus Tatius). The grounds for this identification lie in a reconstructive methodology first adopted for widespread use by Norden in Ennius und Vergilius (1915), and developed yet further by Skutsch in his edition. This methodology presupposes that Vergil created extended analogies between passages of the Aeneid and of the Annales. In the instance under consideration, the line's source, Macrobius, attributed it to Book 1 and illustrated the fact that it shares language with Aen. 8.150. This was sufficient to motivate scholars (including Fabrizi herself) to assemble other fragments attributed—whether by the ancient evidence or, more circularly, by modern conjecture—to Book 1, to reconstruct for that book a narrative episode along the lines of Aeneid 8. The fallibility of this procedure is demonstrated perhaps most memorably by Servius' comment on Aen. 4.404, it nigrum campis agmen: hemistichium Ennii de elephantis dictum, quod ante Accius est usus de Indis ('the classic example of Vergil's disregard for the original application of an Ennian phrase'; Wigodsky 1972: 53). Fabrizi rapidly dismisses any such issue by briefly invoking modern debate about the practical and theoretical challenges faced by any effort to determine the confines and functions of any, even non-fragmentary, instance of allusion (pp. 48-9). But the fact that those confines are never easy to determine by no means makes assumptions of the extendibility of the ancient evidence any more secure or any more reassuring. Fabrizi’s reconstructive method is one that has much precedent in established scholarship on the Annales and that, in the absence of any ready alternative, will presumably continue to hold appeal, as long as the desire to reconstruct narrative sequence continues to lure readers. To those prepared to acquiesce in such procedure, not only will Fabrizi's readings be stimulating and worthy of attention, as to me, but her methodological approach to the ancient evidence will also appear satisfactory.

The second chapter ('Romolo: la costruzione di un eroe politico') returns to the idea (already present in Chapter 1) that Ennius' presentation of events asserted Rome's right to hegemony, this time through an analysis of the role of Romulus. Here, Fabrizi's emphasis initially falls on the way that Ann. 72-91 (the auspicate of Romulus and Remus) and Ann. 154-5 (Rome being founded augusto augurio) suggest, in Ennius' presentation, that the City from its origins placed itself under the gods' protection through correct religious observance. Then, in a section focusing on Romulus' and Titus Tatius' reconciliation in the wake of the rape of the Sabine women, Fabrizi shows how the (corrupt and emended) language of Ann. 102-3 Sk. (quod mihi reique fidei regno vobisque, Quirites, / se fortunatim feliciter ac bene vortat) is similar to augury-formulae used by public magistrates in Ennius' day. She juxtaposes Livy 40.46.9-10, where similar language is given to Q. Caecilius Metellus at the censorial election of M. Aemilius Lepidus and M. Fulvius Nobilior in 179 BCE, and where the example of Romulus and Titus Tatius is cited as a model for political enemies being reconciled in office and by oath. Her consequent suggestion is that Romulus and Titus Tatius were presented as prototypes for Nobilior and Lepidus. Similarly, she goes on to suggest that Ennius represented Romulus as an ideal ruler on the road to godhead and thus fashioned him as a precursor to Ennius' own contemporary, Scipio Africanus, as the propaganda of the time had him.

In Chapter 3 ('Vecchi e nuovi eroi: la guerra contro Pirro'), Fabrizi turns her attention to Ennius' narrative of more recent times, and in particular to the role of Ennius' imitation of Homeric language in his re-fashioning of the ideal Roman ethic. She suggests that Ennius' repeated use of the Homerizing patronymic 'Aeacides' in reference to Pyrrhus captures two different facets of his character: on the one hand, his capacity for traditional military heroism (bellipotentes, Ann. 198, of Aeacids generally); on the other, his lack of political wisdom (magis quam sapientipotentes, ibid.). In her reading, the Ennian Pyrrhus fails because of that lack, while the Romans ultimately win and are justified in winning because they possess both forms of heroism, the modern as well as the archaic.

Chapter 4 ('Roma al centro della storia (e dell' epica): l'ascesa al potere mondiale') takes in hand Rome's encounter with Carthage, again as a critical moment in Ennius' construction of the idea of Roman imperial destiny. Some of Fabrizi's best insights (to my mind) are displayed here. In discussing Discordia's opening of the Gates of Janus (Ann. 225-6), Fabrizi suggests that the force (Discordia)’s typically Roman action of opening the Gates of Janus highlighted the way in which Roman affairs were now the focus of universal attention: the presence of Discordia at Rome signaled Rome's growing prominence and placed the City at the centre of history. If one were to require something further here, it might again be fuller discussion of the ancient evidence with its strengths and limitations, although Fabrizi's vision of what Ennius' Homerizing effected is both an appealing and—at least according to my own work's rather differently formulated arguments—a sound one.

In Chapter 5 ('Ennio, Fulvio Nobiliore e la campagna etolica'), Fabrizi describes how she sees Ennius' Homerizing as a primary interpretative key for Book 15, because of how heavily it is present in the fragments attested for that book. Here too the argument relies on the notion that what survives is a fair representation of the original, discounting the possibility that biases in the transmission have left us with an irremediably distorted vision of the poem. As regards the narrative of Ambracia, Fabrizi argues that the fragments support the notion that Ennius presented a distinctly pro-Nobilior version of events. She concludes by rehearsing Rüpke and Gildenhard's arguments4 for an analogy between Ennius' and Nobilior's introduction of muses in different media to Rome, as parallel contributions to intersecting cultural projects.

Fabrizi’s formal conclusion offers summaries of her chapters and re-articulates some of its principal theses. This book's argument is not always economical: summaries of well-known passages, including from the Aeneid, are frequent, as are collages of fragments constructed into coherent accounts, and other narrative reprises. In keeping with the trend of Italian scholarship represented also by Flores 2000-09,5 Fabrizi is strong on doxography. Although she frequently mentions a fragment's source, it is not clear whether or how she allows that provenance to inform her sense of the fragment's interpretative heft.

The author's style is clear and straightforward, and the volume is clean and well produced. Among a handful of typographical errors, I noted the following: locum should read locus in the citation of Ann. 20 on p. 43; 'di volta di volta' on p. 82 should, I believe, read 'di volta in volta'; the head of the quotation from Servius on p. 104, n. 177 should read placata Iuno, not Iuno pacata; on p. 105, storia romane should read storia romana; on p. 108, n. 137, 'Galisnky' should read 'Galinsky'; at the end of p. 139, 'abbiamo' should read 'abbiano'; p. 149, n. 116: 'poprio' should read 'proprio'; p. 182, n. 16: 'dove dove' should read 'dove'. In the Greek passages quoted, diacritics have not infrequently gone astray or are simply missing; neither is the Greek without other occasional misprints, e.g. καλλίσφυρν for καλλίσφυρoν, p. 107.


1.   To my knowledge: N. Goldschmidt, Shaggy Crowns: Ennius' Annales and Vergil's Aeneid (Oxford 2013); J. Fisher, The Annals of Q. Ennius and the Italic Tradition (Johns Hopkins 2014); J.M. Elliott, Ennius and the Architecture of the Annales (Cambridge 2013). At the time of writing, all three are on the cusp of publication.
2.   I. Gildenhard, 'The “annalist” before the annalists: Ennius and his Annales', in Formen römischer Geschichtsschreibung von den Anfängen bis Livius, eds.U. Eigler, U. Gotter et al. (Darmstadt 2003), 93–114.
3.   E.g. O. Skutsch, Studia Enniana (London 1968); id. The Annals of Q. Ennius (Oxford 1985); H.D. Jocelyn, 'The poems of Quintus Ennius', in ANRW, Vol. i.2, eds. Temporini, Vogt et al. (Berlin 1972): 987–1026.
4.   J. Rüpke, Kalender und Öffentlichkeit. Die Geschichte der Repräsentation und religiösen Qualifikation von Zeit in Rom. (Berlin 1995), 360-6; Gildenhard as cited in n. 2, above.
5.   E. Flores et al., Quinto Ennio. Annali. 5 vols. (Naples 2000-09).

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