Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.12.28 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.12.28

Maxime Pierre, Carmen: étude d'une catégorie sonore romaine. Collection d'études anciennes. Série latine, 79​.   Paris:  Les Belles Lettres, 2016.  Pp. 336.  ISBN 9782251328942.  €45.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by John Henderson,

This thesis-book clinches a richly furnished 2008 Paris PhD (with Florence Dupont). I shall decoct. Pierre will study, not the word, but the difference of carmen within its family nexus. He delivers a historically and text-agenda sensitive re-examination of the appearances of the cluster around carmen-cano and finds/pursues a clearly etched and argued account of shift between early and Augustan Latin usage. This is a crowded topic, but sharp observations emerge from this fresh look at the familial loci classici involved. A methodology proem (pp.9-19) announces an intracultural ('emic') approach, resisting pressure from 'original sense', 'etymology', and tendentious ‘OLD-style' mapping by tabulation determinations, but staking out interferences from, and interactions with, Greek in the various forms of calquing, bilingualism, and parallel/reciprocal morphing between discourses and genres.

Pierre himself, however, begins from the outset with classic 'etic' parti pris in the nexus of *canmen—'carmen et canere sont absolument indissociables’—complete with in-/con-vocation of the 'famille indo-européenne', thus abjuring as 'tout bonnement fantaisiste' carmen-carpere/carere, and therefore representing carere lanam...ex quo carminari of Varro LL7.54-Isidore E1.39.4 as creative intervention, and while noting ‘carminari («enchanter»)' as 'assez tardive', passing over ‘carmino, To card; to produce by carding’ (OLD: Varro, Plin.HN), pp.10-11, esp. nn3-4. It will prove crucial for the argument that (to put it so!) OLD 'carmen 4 The cry or song of birds' and '5/5 Instrumental music' shall come first, and there be no hint whatever of textual weaving— of writing— in there at, or (what amounts to the same thing) near, 'the beginning/s'. A better start would be to mess with any clean 'etic-emic' polarization, and join Varro's gang, namely the whole lot of us…— interventionists; but (nb) this way Romans are attributed acceptance of self-realizing utterance, not us.

Chap. 1 'Une musique?' (pp.22-55) addresses the supposed core of the carmen-cano clan as bird and stringed/wind instrument noise, extended to humans, and thereafter metaphorizing them as human-ish vocality. Pierre cues therein a pragmatic force, i.e. affective sounds requiring no external authorization but systemically bestowing authority. This project, then, lies athwart the grand theory battleground of…— let's just say there's no Derrida in the bibliography, just one reference in a footnote, p.148 n48. (The oddity of French Latinity's limited inc. More below, just a little.) Trumpets [seek to] order; flute and lyre seal ritual prayer, birds and cicadas send signals. Greek melos confines instruments to tool status and ôdê is for human or bird language, yet the psychagogic efficacities packaged in nomoi exert performative influence upon Latin (modus, numeri…) that will intensify from Republic to Empire. This is presented as if there ever were a Latin that was not already confected with Greek, in a now, surely, passé - as if before plurilingualism - version of The Beginning/s of [the institution/purgation of] Latin… — that other critical abyss. For finale, how to mesh/clash carmen with cantus? Fixed (vehicle) vs variable (performance), as per Lucr.5.1380? (pp.50-4).

Chap. 2 'Justice' (pp.57-110) celebrates institutional speech activation, first treating to caustic revision the 12 Tables as interpretations thereof, their supposed connections with the curse tablet tradition/s, and carmen stories in legal con/texts, along with their scholarship: (i) the main loci in Cic. and Hor.Serm./Epp. read 'verse' back into the Tables, but see Plin.HN.28.17-18, Sen.NQ4.7.2-3; (ii) the defixiones never use carmen-cano, and they only appear at the end of the Republic when the poets after Virg.E8 import epôidê from Hellenistic poetry in the gloss carmen, now playing between poem and incantation in a 'poetic fiction'; (iii) injurious smear stories always did blur spells with poems: their utterance powers them. Next, in the Philosophica (De Or.1, Leg.2) Cicero uses carmen of the teacher's/professor's lessons and presents juridical formulae as if spell-binding; in Orationes it applies tendentiously to issues featuring efficacious speech fantasized as automatically settling dispute (Mur.), as if posting a vote already puts it in force (Leg.Ag.2) of a tyrant's decrees (Rab Perd.). Here, carmen comes tendentiously to take over from and displace its [supposed] antecedent ius, now broadened to encompass way beyond utterance-at/as/in-law. Finally, Livy countenances a - deplored - myth of archaic justice beyond appeal/disputation and hosts many a process of ordaining laws and of oath- taking moments in priestly, military and conspiracy scenarios, with carmen as, not a fixed category of law but the term to capture the performativity dimension of the formulaic.

Chap. 3 'Liturgie' (pp.111-164) explodes an Edenic-atavistic carmen displaced by precatio while exposing ongoing semantic realignment/invention. In Cato carmina were spells, not prayers ’communicating with’ gods, but the Salian/Arval (non-)carmina were prayers, not poems—until Varro back-projected a Greek-style story of originary religion (cf. Hor.Epp.2.1.86-89)—only they were performative stomp, read-out unaccompanied hocus, ’working over’ gods, not asking for cooperation. The Roman 'hymn' was riddled with archaizing myth from the start—would-be primordial choroi in (Varro's) carmen saeculare for Proserpina and Festus' Juno Regina fest (LL6.94, Fest.446.30L.), with carmen canere of girls singing-and-dancing away the imported humnos (Liv.27.37.7-14, 31.12.9-10). So to the extravaganza of the Augustan carmen saeculare montage, mongrelizing placation-by-force-of-utterance or -by-ambient-context-of-utterance spiced with preces and uota, in-and-as (now designated) carmen, as mirrored in the hymn-and-chorus show of Virgil's fantasised Salian performance (A8.280-305), where pre-Rome is always already at root a—post-Arcadian—Greek invention. Still more intricately, Pierre detects an Augustan shift in which hymnus and preces hybridize, before carmen is commandeered (by Plin.HN) to cover any praying whatever, sacrificial, medical, younameit, by virtue of the common pragmatic efficacity underlying their previously registered heterogeneities: cue review of enigmatic carmen precationis (Liv.39.15.1), euocatio/deuotio formulae, carmen magnetized by Augustan poetry's magoi and this novel usage retrojected to 'the origins'; of cano glossing Hellenistic aidô in quasi-priestly cult ritual, esp. à la Medea's carmina, her perverted prayer freak-out (her flying hair, her herbal-verbal muttering schtick) or her clone the re-conceived Ovidian Circe's, or the carmina-uenena of the Triumviral-Augustan poets' witches and their adapted performance of epôidai-homoeopathics-direct palpation of gods, or the absurdist fusion of preces and carmina by Lucan's Erichtho. Furthest out, though, is Plin. HN28.10, coming close to explicitly sponsoring the power of formulaic utterance in prayer as working by utterance, not by striking a pact with gods.

Chap. 4 'Paroles des dieux' (pp.165-196) digs into carmen-cano of the ?self-authorizing? massaging/messaging by figures such as Carmenta, in uaticinatio contexts such as diuinatio (<=> mantikê) or vatic reference to the whole epic crew of musical aoidoi (<=> manteis) Homer, Proteus, Nereus, etc. What powers oracles? Prophecies? Fate powers a Sibyl's utterances, the Parcae are doing it for themselves, cursing and text(ualiz)ing away in their similarly ineluctable, scriptible, ways, while a Sphinx by contrast riddles as if couching law, netting us in her either/or régime. Here Pierre's survey tries to weave into the tape-recording extras from his extended polythetic family: father Cato's medicaremen for his son, doctors and sages, all powered by Tradition's eternal auto-motion; similarly with the guru Seneca's memorable maxims, clarion verses trumpeting verse precepts called carmina, and sliding carmina into 'sententious verses' (EM33.6 etc). So there arrives the book's thesis: as the Republic became Late, under influence from aidein 'song' and 'divination' lost opposition and fused, à la grecque, and carmen-cano came to spell verse-music (pp.194-5).

Chaps. 5 'Poètes sous la République' and 6 'Poètes sous Auguste' now stake out this proposed trajectory, adding (text- productive) poeta to those voice-specialists, priest, jurist, and co., and therewith complexifying the writing/speech metaphorics/conceptualizations that (this bit's me) power literature. Pierre demonstrates consistently that Great Authors make a difference with the versions of carmina they authorize. So Varro creates an archaic culture of poems, Salian, Numa's, and—to instal Latin Muses before the mousai can arrive—his confected *Casmena nexus, oneiric Ennian Fauni shoehorned into uates signed-up-as-primal-poets, and Saturnians fantasised as lost 'verse', at home in the culture of Catonian 'lays' at banquets, spooky Pythagorean precepts, and boy-singers of the carmina ueterum. On and back to the (historical and mythical) Roman stage's performance culture of cantica- cantores, vocal with or without music, <=> its writer-poetae; and, where Ennius self-billed as (unstagey) epic poeta against Greek aidô-ôidê, Lucilius and Varro will bag the tags poeta-poema-uersus for their work, excluding cano-carmen. With Catullus and Lucretius carmen = poetry finally arrives, melding the written unsung hymn, the poem text presented as if a(n oral, choral, etc) performance, to inflect and affect a welter of Greek terms/notions. Now Lucretius claims carmen for the didactic epic's pronunciamentos, for a book's volume, and the aoidos has pupated into poeta-scriptor.

Horace, Propertius, Virgil dominate a convergent—?unificatory?—Augustan carmen. In Hor. = generalized melos, choral in CS, ego elsewhere, and debuts as of satire, and iambos; in Prop. chorus- Musa etc are genre-blind, usually elegiac-lyric, it covers all Virgil's works. They are caught up in the retrojective archaism already explored, featuring a new-fangled Varronian uates-cum-mantis valorized as inspirational priestly transmitter of authority (esp. Hor.Epp.2.1.21-7, 86-9, 156-60 etc, pp.274-6). carmen now moves into the Palatine library, along with (what Pierre argues is the pivotal-lead model) the libri Sibyllini reformés, but come out to play the authority-saturated audiences recitationes by invitation, amid deprecation of a cantor’s delivery expertise and valuation of Greek poets at Rome as writerly aoidoi-poetae. Pierre recognizes two big anomalies: [reportedly] sung-and-capered production of the Eclogues (E5.72-3, cantabunt...’; cf. Ov.Tr.2.518-9) and the unicum C.S. By now Pierre has shown how eg OLD carmen 1-3 have faked up an immanent core of meaning centred on the word-family's arrival at its Augustan floruit and the aetiological fictions cooked up by Republican Rome and the would-be definitive settlement of the discourse of (scripted) poetic enunciation by the classic 'imperial' Authors, appropriating mythic-mystificatory powers to seal the deal. Just read them out...

A precise 'Conclusion' (pp.295-99) elicits-theorizes the circuitry of Carmen—a 'situational' rather than 'semantic' polysemy from pragmatics, working on/with a nexus of apparently emic instances of self-ordaining illocution. Overlaid on this [claimed] 'native' base is transformative glossing-riffing on the Greek family of 'song-ing' as verse-enunciation that eventually-eventfully agglomerated the 'nebulous sense' of an underlying recurrent property across the wide field of carmen-ôidê.

As noted, this project is Latin heartland. Pierre was blessed with Michèle Lowrie for external, in time for her to in-text salient references and acknowledgments in her then readied-for-press opus magnum, Writing, Performance, and Authority in Augustan Rome (2009: esp. pp. 329-30), which delivers magisterially on (?commands!?) very many of the topics and loci, but within the full ambit of contemporary (Anglo-French) critical theory. More, the nexus of song- ritual-speech-act-culture in the history, in our histories, of the Beginning/s of Latin/Latin Literature, has been thoroughly thrashed over (think Tom Habinek, think Denis Feeney...), and incisive analysis such as Lowrie's brilliant synthesis in BMCR 2006.04.34 rather defangs Pierre's efficacity, at any rate in Anglophonia. Nevertheless Carmen produces a welter of sharp insights and I have found it an instructive pleasure to read.

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