Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.02.09 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.02.09

Laura Bocciolini Palagi, La musa e la furia: interpretazione del secondo proemio dell'Eneide. Testi e manuali per l'insegnamento universitario del latino, n.s., 135.   Bologna:  Pàtron editore, 2016.  Pp. 135.  ISBN 9788855533683.  €18.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Stephen Harrison, Corpus Christi College, Oxford (

[Full disclosure: I serve on the editorial board for the series in which this volume appears, though I had no role in its assessment and acceptance there.]

This short book takes a detailed look at the delayed proem to the second half of Vergil’s Aeneid addressed to the Muse Erato (7.37-44). It is divided into two roughly equal parts. The first (pp. 11-53) focusses on the poet’s intriguing choice of this muse for a narrative which is not obviously erotic. Bocciolini Palagi argues that the role of love for Lavinia as motivation for Turnus’ resistance, and the well-known echo of the similarly-placed address to Erato in Apollonius 3.1, introducing the much more overtly erotic story of Jason and Medea at the start of the poem’s second half, are insufficient explanations for the selection of Erato. She looks back at the history of this Muse (first in Latin in Vergil) from her earliest appearance in Hesiod, noting that she is a Callimachean interlocutor in the Aetia and plausibly suggesting that she might have played a role in the lost recent Argonautica of Varro Atacinus, used by Vergil according to Macrobius; she also brings to welcome attention here the lost Musae of Aurelius Opillus (2nd-1st century, BCE), a scholar cited by Varro Reatinus, which seems to have been concerned with the etymologies of the Muses’ names and their links with particular genres. She neatly points out Ovid’s use of Erato at the parallel structural point of the first version of the Ars Amatoria, a work to which that muse is evidently much more appropriate.

So what other reasons can stand behind Erato in Aeneid 7-12? Bocciolini Palagi points to the highly Lucretian language of 7.37-44, well noted by commentators, and suggests that Erato also carries with her a link to Lucretius’ peace-bringing Venus, protectress of the Trojans in the coming war and dynastic ancestor of the gens Iulia whose founding myth is being narrated. This is possible, but is very implicit at best. One might also think of the proem as a didactic feature which pays suitable lexical homage to Lucretius and points to the Epicurean-style peace which is about to be shattered. Erato also recalls Eros rather than Aphrodite, perhaps echoing the Eros ‘unconquered in the fight’ of Sophocles’ Antigone 781: Turnus’ violence is motivated by love, just like Haemon’s confrontation with his father, one among many tragic strands in a war-narrative which follows an Aristotelian pattern of kings forced to death by passion (7.52 actosque animis in funera reges). Bocciolini Palagi suggests that Erato stands for the poet’s love of and commitment to poetry, citing her parallel role in Ovid, Fasti 4; but there the situation is different, with Erato (like Venus at the start of the same book) representing Ovid’s previous erotic oeuvre. More convincing is Bocciolini Palagi’s argument that Erato combines the erotic heroic motivation of her appearance in Apollonius with her Callimachean role as authoritative antiquarian source for ancient Italy.

Bocciolini Palagi also argues that maius opus moueo (7.44) echoes the religious phrase sacra mouere, linking up with the poet’s role as uates at 7.41, which she sees as equivalent to sacerdos. But surely the link with bella mouere is much more important here, and I find it hard to see the muse called upon for mystical revelation; Propertius 3.1.3-4 (sacerdos … orgia ferre), claimed as a parallel, is much more explicit. She suggests that love of poetry is the motivation for the poet to go on, just as love is the motivation for the poem’s plot, but it is not easy to see this expressed here as it is in e.g. Georgics 2.476 or its model Lucretius 1.924-5 where amor is explicitly used. There is some interesting material on the iconography of Erato in the art of the Roman Empire, where she is several times represented as the general muse of poetry, but this should surely be treated as a reception of this very prominent Vergilian passage rather than contributing to its interpretation.

The book’s second part (55-97) begins with the role of amor in the Aeneid: it is often used of legitimate conjugal love, but also has the tendency to turn into furor or madness and cause extreme and destructive behaviour. Interesting and valuable links are suggested between the divine female intervention in the narrative of the Muse Erato and the roles in the poem’s plot of the two Furies who open and close the events of the war in Latium (Allecto who is central to its outbreak in Book 7, and the unspecified Dira who is key to its ending in Book 12); both Furies and Muses can take many forms, and love, madness and the Furies (amor, furor and Furiae) form a tight nexus in the poem. This is rewarding, but here and elsewhere in the book there is no discussion of the crucial Stoic definition of all passions as madness which many think underlies the unified use of furor in the Aeneid, which surely needs to be taken into account in this context.

Bocciolini Palagi suggests interestingly that the Iliad (as well as the Odyssey) can be conceived as a plot centred on love (as in the later interpretation of Homer as providing an encyclopedia of love by Maximus of Tyre), which then helps to stress the centrality of Erato and the love-motif to Vergil’s re-run of the Iliad in Aeneid 7-12. One piece of evidence cited here is Ovid, Tristia 2.371ff, the famous passage addressed to Augustus about how ‘his’ Aeneid includes the kind of illicit sex for which Ovid is blamed, but the rhetorical context of that passage naturally leads to exaggeration of the poem’s erotic content; as Bocciolini Palagi admits, the kind of love which underlies the famous conclusion of the Aeneid looks to be father/son-style pietas, allied with Achillean comrade-love, though she might have mentioned the homoerotic view of the Aeneas/Pallas relationship proposed by Michael Putnam and others. Her account of the poem’s ending well shows how amor for Pallas can turn into furor against Turnus: where I would disagree is in stressing that this mad anger is required to take proper vengeance in pietas against Pallas’ killer, a typically Vergilian moral tension.

In sum, this book offers a rich investigation of these important Vergilian lines, and the fullest account of the treatment of the Muse Erato to be found in print. Not all its arguments will convince all readers, but its considerable learning and stimulating suggestions certainly enrich and aid the interpretation of some key passages of the Aeneid, and show that the role of Erato can have many functions and nuances in Vergil’s poem.

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