BMCR 1994.07.02

Restauration et renouveau: la littérature latine de 284 à 374 après J.-C.

, Restauration et renouveau: la littérature latine de 284 à 374 après J.-C.. Nouvelle histoire de la littérature latine. ; 5. Turnhout: Brepols, 1993. xxxi, 614 p.. ISBN 9782503500690.

The history of Latin literature would appear to a neutral observer to be a tale of humble beginnings, early success, modest progress, and then explosive growth and lasting success unexampled in history west of the Indus River. Consider some numbers: The PHI CD of classical Latin literature, leaving aside the helpful collection of biblical texts but including Justinian’s Digest, comprises about 7-8 million words of text (if you have read all of Cicero, Pliny the elder, Livy, Seneca, Quintilian, Ovid, Plautus, and Tacitus, you have read about half of what survives). The Patrologia Latina that presents as much Christian Latin literature as was known in the nineteenth century from the period down to 1225 AD comprises perhaps another 80 million words. Nothing mechanical helps us estimate production after 1225, but it is if anything likely to have risen sharply on a curve running for at least three centuries, and even after Renaissance humanism did its schoolmasterly best to kill off the living language, it remained a vital and widely-used medium of communication for centuries more.

An edifying story, but not one that you will commonly read in histories of Latin literature. The pattern familiar to generations of swotting graduate students from the Duffs and their ilk is one of a dim archaic past, a golden age, a silver age, and then (depending on the generosity and imagination of the narrator) perhaps a perfunctory tailpiece stretching past the age of Constantine as far as Boethius. If we try to find a formal coherence in the period on which traditional histories concentrate it will be either political (association of Latin literature with the expansion of the military hegemony of Rome through the Mediterranean world, combined with a sharp loss of interest just when it begins to be reasonable to say that this hegemony was in decline), archaizing (that period when a small clique of readers and writers, imitating Greek models sometimes to the point of solemn parody created a tour de force of derivative purism), or frankly esthetic (though this last is harder to reconcile with a world in which esthetic standards are scarcely immutable). Do we know no better rationale for Latin studies?

The original history of Latin literature contained in the “Handbuch der Altertumswissenschaft”, that begun by Martin Schanz, exemplified the classical prejudice well. But after treating “classical” Latin literature in three volumes, it went on to a fourth “volume” (two substantial books) that carried the story forward through the sixth century A.D. Schanz-Hosius 4.2 was a steadfast companion of my youth, a treasure trove of works that none of my fellow classicists had even heard of. At that point in the “Handbuch”, there was overlap with the first volume of Max Manitius’ history of medieval Latin literature, whose three majestic volumes began with the early sixth century, but Schanz-Hosius was better for coverage of that overlapping period, for Manitius’ strengths lay further on.

In the 1980s, an international collective of Latinists from France and Germany, eventually augmented by others from Austria, Switzerland, and Belgium, began work under the joint leadership of Reinhart Herzog[1] and Peter Lebrecht Schmidt to replace Schanz-Hosius with a completely new Handbuch der lateinischen Literatur der Antike.[2] The projected work will now fill eight volumes and extend to the death of Bede (735 A.D.). The outline[3] is instructive:

  1. origins to 78 BC (epoque archaïque)
    2. 78 to 15 BC (age of Cicero and Augustus)
    3. 15 BC to 117 AD (early principate)
    4. 117 – 254 (an age of transition, from Roman to Christian)
    5. 284-374 (the volume under review here: restoration and renewal)
    6. 374-430 (the Theodosian age)
    7. 430-568 (the age of the great invasions)
    8. 568-735 (from late antique to early medieval literature)

The only literary figure in the outline is Cicero, and the denotations of period are (perhaps the first volume is the only exception) themselves unliterary and usually frankly political and military.

The fifth volume is the first and so far only to appear. This volume differs from the old Schanz-Hosius by coming frankly from many hands. R. Herzog wrote 60 pages of introduction and five further entries, while fourteen other hands wrote the remaining entries, according to special expertise; the articles are unsigned in the text, but a table of authors is provided. The consistency in format and style is very high, though I thought I found myself beginning to be able to detect the characteristic verve of Peter Lebrecht Schmidt after a few entries. The German appeared in the familiar black binding in 1989, with the French translation in 1993. I am not fond of the layout of recent HdA volumes (the type is light and thin on the page somehow), and the French fills about 50 more pages with a more successful layout (though the Greek font used for occasional quotations is awful). The attention to detail between 1989 and 1993 is impressive. Bibliography has been scrupulously updated throughout the volume, for example; some anomalies remain, as when a book of Peter Brown’s quoted in the German edition from its German translation (with a title mysteriously disresembling the English original) remains here in German with no clue other than date to the English work it represents. The index has not merely been translated, but checked carefully entry for entry, with some remarkably tiny errors corrected. The French translation is excellent and represents the original faithfully while reading as French not translationese. The translators[4] have been in some places too intelligent, and so there are some small places where a variation in content obtrudes. Thus in the title of the projected volume four, we are left to wonder if the tension between the German (“Die Literatur des Umbruchs”) and the French (“L’age de transition”) is an optical illusion of our own or a difference in perspective of the editors. I did not detect any place where the variation was notably greater than that, and the intention has clearly been to offer the closest fidelity. (Some of the articles were written by francophone scholars, and I assume that in those cases the French is the authoritative version.)

Every item in the book is numbered sequentially up to a total of 100 numbers, from 500 to 599, and we are told that each volume in the series will similarly have 100 serial numbers to divide up. It is easy to see that prolific authors get their own number, but less easy sometimes to see how a subdivision has been made (the poet Pentadius is number 545, but Ablabius is 546.1, Syagrius 546.2, Alcimus 546.3, for example). Within each entry, the format is that of the traditional HdA. Testimonia from other ancient authors are listed meticulously, and the bibliography is often nothing less than a treasure, and particularly remarkable for attention to the historical range of modern scholarship: hence classic and formative studies of the 19th century are here, but also the most current work the editors know of, all concise and select. In format, I have one quibble: in reading of authors with whom one very often has little recent familiarity, it would be a convenience to be reminded just how long their specific works are. In some cases one can infer this from number of columns and pages in an edition, but if a work fills a whole volume, no hint is given, and some shorter items are also hard to estimate sight unseen.

The arrangement is generic and somewhat puzzling. Both the German and the French editions are divided into three unlabeled parts, each of which is subdivided thus:

Part I (in fact, but not labelled such, “un-literature”): law, medicine, astrology, geography, grammar;

Part II (in fact, but not labelled such, “[secular] literature”): eloquence (in this volume, only the panegyrici latini), historiography, “histoire romancée” = Ger. “Pseudo-Historie” (several pieces of the adventures of Alexander the Great), poetry (esp. including a valuable dozen pages on epigraphic poetry of the period), philosophy, epistolography (in this volume, only a fragmentary manual of 13 form letters in Latin and Greek from papyrus [CLA Suppl. 1677]);

Part III (in fact, but not labelled such, “Christian literature”): apolegetics, exegesis, dogmatic and polemic, pastoral, “Littérature narrative sur le martyre et l’ascèse de 280 à 370 après J.-C.” = Ger. “Hagiographische Literatur: Märtyrer berichte und -akten von 280 bis 370 n. Chr.”

Authors who are represented by more than one genre appear under the heading where they are strongest or most famous (without, unfortunately, cross-references, so that a student seeking a complete grasp of a single genre is not warned if a famous author handled somewhere else in the book practiced it occasionally). The arrangement has two drawbacks.

First, it precludes chronological arrangement. Each genre is arranged chronologically, but long after reading of Ausonius’ verse of the 380s, one may be back to a church council dated 295/314. Granted this is a work of reference which only reviewers and graduate students may be expected ever to try to read straight through, but the arrangement makes the caution of the German title (‘handbook of Latin literature’) more appropriate than the French reliance on ‘history’. There is no story here, except in the introduction (on which, see below).

Second, the generic construction is artificial. This is less obvious with the non-Christian literature, where it must be said that the amplitude and attention to detail of the opening section on un-literary literature is most welcome and gives real weight and texture to the portrayal of literary life in this period. Fidelity to genre was most often a conscious part of the “classical” literary program. But once the authors come to the “Christian” section (without fully explaining why this should be a separate section or, if so, why Ausonius, say, and Marius Victorinus, merit promotion to the un-Christian section of the book—they are touchstone cases that undermine the fundamental conception of the work, which depends on being able to distinguish the two categories severely), the practice collapses. The genres used there are not ones that the authors of the works in question would have recognized (as it is fair to say); they are arbitrary modern constructions. “Exegesis” is perhaps the weakest, inasmuch as it lumps together very different literary forms (the ex professo commentary, the marginal gloss, and the public sermon transcribed by notaries may both offer interpretation of scripture, but are hardly comparable by any traditional generic rule) while at the same time arbitrarily separating out the work of, e.g., Hilary of Poitiers, whose de trinitate earns him a place among dogmatic and polemic writers, though that work takes the form of detailed, even obsessive, collection and explanation of passages of scripture.

The diversity of the literature covered and the richness of the volume may perhaps best be seen by considering some of the representatives of minor and subliterary genres included. Consider first the form of legal compilation we call the ‘codex’: to achieve classical form in the collections made by Theodosius and Justinian, it appears first in this period in the Gregorian and Hermogenian codes (pp. 69-71). As the law is increasingly reduced to a textual source of reference, it finds a home in volumes like these, that continue to grow and change over time. Again, the three centuries following Diocletian are the period (p. 83) from which we get most of our Latin medical works, including the translations from the Greek. (The irony is that Christian and technical literature are the areas in which Greek influence is the liveliest in this period, while it is precisely the classicizers who have most decisively lost contact with the mother culture.) Geographies and itineraries (pp. 106ff) are earliest attested from this period, and despite the attempt to suggest that earlier versions may simply have been lost, it is important to consider how the physical world itself became increasingly reduced to a text in this period (to culminate perhaps in the great codex of the agrimensores from Ostrogothic Italy now preserved at Wolfenbüttel). The long section on grammar has already been alluded to, but particular attention is merited by pp. 117-21, a concise essay on the history of the transmission, survival, and influence of late antique grammar in after centuries. There is a palpable increase in the cultural and social standing of grammatical texts here, and perhaps a reflection of increasing dependence —see where Augustine is quoted here at p. 253 saying that he couldn’t learn metrics without a teacher, this the Augustine who boasted (Conf. 4.16.30) that he could figure out Aristotle on the categories all by himself! There are signs that traditional quantitative meter is increasingly alien to this generation, hence the need for a schoolmaster’s guide. Finally, perhaps the most intriguing piece in the volume, the “psalmus responsorius” (p. 375), a short poem published in 1965 from a mixed “pagan”-Christian papyrus in Egypt, written by a scribe better versed in Greek than Latin; the poem is a hymn to the virgin, interesting in its own right and showing a useful analogue for Augustine’s Psalm against the Donatists, the saint’s only known excursion into the province of Tin Pan Alley.

Two classes of omission merit brief mention only to raise the theoretical possibility of what a work of literary history might be like. What Rezeptionsgeschichte is here focuses on the works written in this period and their afterlives, hence on principle the reception of works written at an earlier date is excluded unless this leads to specific new literary derivative works. But in an age when the most powerful texts on the table were old ones (from Vergil to the Bible), a fair literary history would give them more space than it does to the least effusions of contemporary poets. Second, though there are haphazard mentions, it is always precious in ancient literary history to be kept aware of the huge body of literature that did not survive; a connected essay on that topic would be a welcome complement to such a book.

But the formal and technical reservations that one may have about this work are few and the achievement is one of rare mastery. Though the work’s hard-earned currency in reporting lately-found texts and recent scholarship will begin to age immediately, it bids fair to be a solid standard for many years.

At the same time, it is impossible to consider such a volume, particularly in view of the implicitly canonical status it claims for itself as a guide to the literature, without discussing the critical position the authors/editors take. To do so is indeed to commit the reviewer’s sin of wishing that the authors had written a different book, but I think it is fair to say that no essay in “literary history” today can be written without provoking reasonable questions about its strategy and assumptions.

This work betrays its ideology not only in its arrangement and detailed contents, but in 60 pages of introduction by the general editor, Herzog, divided in three parts: (1) introduction to Latin literature of late antiquity (thus a general introduction to volumes 5-8 of the whole series), (2) a sketch of the history of modern scholarship on late antique Latin literature, and (3) a special introduction to this volume and the period it covers. Herzog knows well that he enters controversial waters when he speaks (xiii) of ‘un débat actuel sur le sens et les limites d’une histoire littéraire; mais ce nouvel ouvrage devait cependant garder l’esprit de son prédécesseur et surtout conserver le principe du manuel, c’est-à-dir présenter une description, en principe complète, de la littérature latine.’ But little of what I say here will quarrel with decisions taken as a result of ‘le principe du manuel’. The conservatism of interpretation implicit in the volume is one deeply and reflectively held by the authors. It deserves discussion.

Let me return to the small anomaly I noted earlier, that in assigning dates of coverage to individual volumes, the French edition imputes a gap of 30 years between the fourth volume and the fifth, from 254-284. A prudent examination of other literary histories, including Schanz-Hosius, confirms that those are decades to which little if any Latin literature may be assigned. (Commodian used to be down-dated sometimes to fill the gap, but the index reveals that he will appear just before it.) That trough of near total desuetude is only the extreme manifestation of a longer lapse.[5] After Apuleius and Aulus Gellius and Fronto of the second century, classical Latin literature retired from the stage. What had begun in mimesis ended in archaism and mannerism. The Latin authors of the second century have no successors. (The most successful Latin authors of that prospective fourth volume are the “classical” jurists, and they breathe quite a different air.) The reign of Diocletian shows some revival, but hardly efflorescence. Any attempt to construct a single consecutive narrative history of Latin literature breaks up on this harsh gap. Herzog here (1) insists on continuity, making an old modernist move against traditional ideas of decline and fall; but I wish to suggest that it would be a fairer representation of our present state of knowledge to allow ourselves a small postmodern relapse into discontinuity. The results can be powerful.

For the image of continuity implies a curious historical blindness that we have indulged for far too long. When authors of the fourth century A.D. present themselves as members of old families and a long tradition, patiently cherishing the “classics” in the way their ancestors did, we recognize the phenomenon so swiftly, and sometimes with a feeling of identification, that we do them the kindness of believing their self-presentation. When they further suggest that the Christians are upstarts with no real roots, we nod again in agreement. We always knew that.

But what happens if we get down to cases? Who are these old families? Herzog (6): “les membres de cet ordre n’ont pas seulement continué à cultiver sans interruption, comme des ‘épigones’, une littérature et une philosophie romaines“. In the same paragraph he speaks of the great families of Probi, Anicii, Ceionii, of senatorial rank “depuis le IIIe siècle”. The great senatorial families of the fourth century were upstarts. Some old names and lines survived, hanging on by a thread, but the life and vitality of the fourth-century senate is not tradition but innovation, a deliberate Constantinian power-play to restock, indeed to flood, the senate house with his own supporters and then to invoke their dignity in a move worthy of the greatest master of Roman traditionalist humbug of them all, the worthy brute Augustus. Look, for convenience, at M.T.W. Arnheim, The senatorial aristocracy in the later Roman Empire (Oxford 1972), or work more painstakingly through the pages of the first volume of the Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire (and cast a thoughtful eye over the stemmata of families given there and note how far back they do not go), if you would see the cold-blooded cooking up of a traditional senatorial class going on in plain sight. Historians know all this and have traced it carefully (T.D. Barnes and A. Chastagnol are the masters in this area), but as soon as we turn to books written by robed and perfumed gentlemen in fine old houses in the right neighborhoods of Rome, we go a little soft and sappy, and when one of them fades from the stage “we seem to be standing in the wan, lingering light of a late autumnal sunset” (the words are those of the pious Samuel Dill [1906], but can be matched exactly from several passages in Peter Brown’s influential The World of Late Antiquity [1971]).

It is fairer to see this class as one that deliberately used “classical culture” to define and defend its own venerability. Perhaps I saw too much Gilbert and Sullivan at an impressionable age, but when others moon over the delicate sensibilities of a Symmachus or a Praetextatus, I seem to be hearing the Major General from Penzance in his lately-purchased ruined chapel protesting that there are surely ancestors there, and since he has purchased the chapel, then they are now his ancestors and he is their “descendant by purchase”. He is exactly the sort of fellow who would have the famous Codex-Calendar of 354 made for him, with its odd mixture of Christian and classical features—pagan gods and a list of the bishops of Rome. That fellow’s exact contemporaries were having the first contorniate medals struck (356), long ago seen by Alföldi to be ideological tokens, but not fully appreciated precisely for their novelty.

The revival of Latin literature in the fourth century is thus as deliberate and artificial as its birth had been. Notice several of its traits: (1) it is marked by a revival of Latin authors not heard from in a long time; archaism is out of fashion, except among pedants, and authors like Tacitus and Juvenal are read seriously again; (2) Greek literature is no longer so readily and widely read among the aristocracy, and so the tame Greek literary acolytes like Ammianus and Claudian need to write in Latin to find an audience, while those who do have satisfactory Greek, like Nicomachus Flavianus, are active as translators;[6] (3) the learnedness of this class now concentrates itself on Latin texts, whether in the grammatical works of Donatus and later Servius (see the seventy pages in Herzog on the grammarians, quoting (14) Marrou to the effect that this is the golden age of the grammarian) or in their habit of “emending” (with Zetzel’s cautions in Latin Textual Criticism in Antiquity to remind us not to overpraise their work) authors like Livy;[7] (4) non-Christian literature is marked by far less imagination and vigor than was the case in the second century, and by far more precisian conformity to old genres (the novel, which showed such promise, is now dead except for the adventures of Alexander translated from the Greek—unless we acclaim the Historia Augusta as a worthy successor to Apuleius!).

The important corollary to this observation is that when we look upon Christian literature of this period, we must not succumb to the temptation to regard it as a willful novelty, departing from the classical norm. In a time when the re-creation of the classical norm was the chief novelty imaginable to one segment of the literary public, the Christian literary movement can better be seen as the intellectual and social equal of the classicizing one, and in many ways more innovative and interesting—though to be sure, by denying the classicizers their myth of continuity, we reveal their bootstrapping to be all the more remarkable a tour de force.

Of great importance particularly (but little attended to by Herzog and his collaborators) is the revolution in the management of the written word that this period began to see. Christian Latin literature boomed into its golden age in the late fourth century and created means first of distribution[8] and second of using this rapidly growing literary heritage that were real novelties in that time. The birth of the “library of the Fathers”, as the generations that followed Hilary, Jerome, Ambrose, and Augustine began to use those texts intelligently was a decisive shaping moment for all the western literary culture that followed. The oldest collections of Latin books under constant management from the time they were written date to precisely this period. That we as its heirs later chose to regraft a Greco-Roman past (selectively!) on to this period of origins should not mask the fact that in its material, outward forms, “western civilization” was born just at the moment when our received fairy tales tell us that the Roman empire was “declining”.

Herzog’s reading, though it contains elements of what I suggest here, is far more conventional, even tripping itself up in its attachment to traditional ideas (the continuity of the classical tradition) in the face of counter-evidence (his own citations of the evidence on the reconstruction of the senatorial aristocracy).[9] He well remarks (11) that between the secular games of Pescennius Niger in 193 and Charlemagne, there were always to be seen a conscience of decline and a concomitant will to restoration. Here indeed we see the birth of that constitutive element of our culture, classicism (not the classical itself, which it venerates and ironizes), a posture of displacement that needs, creates, feeds on, and perpetuates both the ideology of decline and to some extent, as self-perpetuating prophecy, decline itself.

And so it is important when Herzog goes on in the same place to observe: “Ce n’est cependant que tardivement —chez Zosime, vers 500 —que l’on désigne la christianisation comme la cause possible du déclin de l’Empire.” Modern wishful imputation to this period of struggle between “paganism” and Christianity[10] blinds us to the cheerful subsuming of the pagan past by so many Christians, especially before Augustine’s rebellious interpretation of the sack of Rome of 410. Until that time, tempora christiana were the natural succession to the praeparatio evangelica. On that score, Augustine’s thick-skulled disciple Orosius, failing to get his master’s point, is more traditional a Christian than Augustine.

When Herzog turns to survey the characteristics of this literature, he is cautious to make modest claims for his subject (36): ‘Peu nombreux sont les ouvrages de la latinité tardive dont l’influence se soit exercée jusqu’à l’époque la plus récente: parmi eux les Confessions d’Augustin, qui font éclater tous les genre connus, quelques hymnes transmis par la liturgie de l’Église, ainsi que le droit romain tardif, transmis lui aussi dans un cadre institutionnel.’ Indeed, Ausonius is the only real Loeb author in the volume (Nemesianus and Tiberianus do sneak into “Minor Latin Poets”, to be sure). It is an age in which the constructed persona of the author is often on far less obtrusive display than we are comfortable with seeing in literary histories. P.L. Schmidt points out (229) that Aurelius Victor is the first author after Lactantius whose personality we can seize with a certain precision. We should pause to observe the literary-historical assumptions implicit in thinking that authors’ personalities are there to be seized, further that the value of literature is usefully marked by its influence beyond its own time.

Herzog’s outline of leading traits of the literature of this period is worth paraphrasing, with parenthetical comments, mainly to suggest the conservatism of outlook:

  1. an essential business was to transmit Roman literature (importantly true of the classicizing strain of innovation);
    2. fourth-century literature was hard-working and serious, if not solemn (quite true, though it is not clear why this needs to be phrased as though it were a criticism);
    3. the abridgment, the chronicle, the epitome, the florilegium, the scholia, and the commentary are characteristic forms (very true, but the import is far from clear: these are all forms that are very welcome and positive innovations in an age of information overload and thus may be taken as a sign of prosperity; if history is your interest, Eutropius has distinct advantages over Livy; further, the epitome had been around for a long time, but the fourth century presents us with an abundant of surviving specimens —that may not tell us about the production or the readership, but about intermediate conditions from that time to this);
    4-5. the fate of successful authors runs the gamut from canonization to the most insincere form of flattery, that which imitates and then passes as the author’s own work (pseudepigraphy); the mimetic genres of paraphrase and cento are strong as well (these are proper signs of the classicism of the age, and of the way that the deployment of authority in books is increasingly important);
    6. the use of historical exempla indicates a retreat (“recul” = “Zurücktreten”) from historical perspective in the presence of exegetical and rhetorical perspectives (such a statement implies a continuous narrative line of history, but it is hard to estimate here at just what most recent date a “historical perspective” flourished —the problem is that if we let the sardonic —and supremely rhetorical —Tacitus lay claim to such a virtue, we must grant it also to Ammianus Marcellinus writing very shortly after the period covered by this volume);
    7. grammatical and exegetical literature represents the most abundant sector of production (that is to say, there is a boom in the textual organization and management of bodies of textual material);
    8-9. genres become increasingly mixed (a true historical observation that underlines the structural weakness of the book’s genre-based approach);
    10. literary works increasingly present themselves as parts of larger corpora (this marks again the textualization of discourse and the expectation that the written word presents itself as a visible book, not as the audible reading of a book —here is the place to remember the increasing practice of visual poetry, such as that of Publilius Optatianus Porfyrius [pp. 272-8]).

But perhaps the most revealing section of the introduction is that devoted (37-42) to “les formes artistiques dans l’antiquité tardive”. This is a curious essay on the analogies of development between the literary and the visual arts in this period. It is interesting in itself and has valuable bibliography, but the attempt to wrestle comparable structures of meaning out of the two disparate fields of endeavor is notoriously difficult in any period. It is quite true that such perspectives have played an important part in the origin and growth of our understanding of late antiquity as a cultural phenomenon. Jakob Burckhardt certainly and Alois Riegl (esp. in his classic work is Die spätroemische Kunstindustrie [1901-23]) exercised decisive influence. But the real correlative for this concentration here is disconcerting to trace. The only volume of the series under French editorship will be the immediate successor to this one, on the Theodosian age, to be produced by the eminent Paris scholar Jacques Fontaine. No other single Latinist of the last generation has been one half so influential as Fontaine in shaping the literary critical discourse of Latin late antiquity, for all that he has been very little influenced by the whirlpool of theory and criticism in which he works in Paris. As the present project was getting well under way, Fontaine published a note in the Bulletin de l’Association Guillaume Budé for 1984 (pp. 195-212), “Postclassicisme, antiquité tardive, latin des chrétiens,” in which he outlined the theoretical basis for his projected volume. What was extraordinary about that essay was the way he secured that theoretical basis at a double remove from his subject. He took his model from H. Wölfflin’s work on Renaissance and Baroque in the visual arts. Late antique literature is to be understood by virtue of its derivation from and mannerist reflection of the “classical” in the visual arts. I know no more dramatic testimony of the paucity of original theoretical work among contemporary scholars of late antiquity. Herzog’s own lecture, “Wir leben in der Spätantike: Eine Zeiterfahrung und ihre Impulse für Forschung” (Bamberg 1987: Thyssen-Vorträge: Auseinandersetzungen mit der Antike, 4), is similarly insensitive to the derivative nature of all the conventional ways of naming the period and the ideological implications of failing to break out of that tradition. In all these essays, the classical remains enshrined, classicism is assumed as the rightful point of departure.

Herzog’s introduction comprises as it draws to a close a valuable bibliographical sketch (pp. 42-49) of the history of research in late antique Latin literature. There is some discussion here of the difficulties of literary history in a context that reflects the Konstanz school (both Herzog and Schmidt have connections to Konstanz, though to be sure the work is marked by extraordinary resistance to everything Jauss said in his famous Literaturgeschichte als Provokation [1970]). This could well now be supplemented by reference to David Perkins, Is Literary History Possible? (Baltimore 1992), who concludes with a cautious affirmative to his question but whose readers may very well more often than not disagree with him). The sketch is also very Francogerman in orientation: no anglophone scholar could write this survey and leave it as here completely without mention of Peter Brown!

Ours is an age for writing literary histories (Michael von Albrecht, Albrecht Dihle, and G.B. Conte all have new volumes out), but (apart from Dihle’s inclusion of Greek imperial authors) they are all quite conventional. On a scale more comparable to that of the HdA is the ample and fascinating series, under the patronage of G.B. Conte and other distinguished Italian scholars, Lo spazio letterario di Roma antica (1989), which really amounts to a novel kind of literary history of Rome in which chronology and genre are not allowed to dominate. The organization is by functions: production, circulation, and use, and the work encompasses Nachleben and reception down to modern times, with a separate volume offering a 150-page chronological table (ending with the death of Cassiodorus) and lengthy bibliography. Similar series for Greek and medieval literatures began to appear in 1992.

How then to evaluate the contribution of this volume? It is masterly, unavoidable, and slightly pernicious. I think it is fair to say that every specialist in Latin literature who reads this volume will come away hoping devoutly that his or her period of special interest will be the object of the next volume published, and soon! It will define the genre and guide research for a generation at least. The present writer can utter no higher praise of its excellence in organization and presentation of material than to say that at no point when reading it did he sigh longingly for an on-line hypertext version —not yet! At the same time the work is so far from venturesome, both historically and theoretically, that it will emphatically not be a vehicle for rethinking the period or the literature. It may well be argued that the HdA is not meant to be stimulating, only reliable, and in that regard this volume is a disappointment because it is almost stimulating. What it invites is a series of marginal glosses as individual scholars tackle in the case of specific authors, texts, and genres the possibilities for reconceptualization neglected here.


[1] Editor of the volume under review, Herzog is well-known for his work on e.g. Latin epic renderings of the Bible and for a series of important literary essays coming far closer to an integration of theory and practical criticism than is common in this area; I particularly admire his “Non in sua voce: Augustins Gespräch mit Gott in den Confessiones“, in Stierle/Warning edd., Das Gespräch (Munich 1984), 213-50.

[2] Schanz was frank and explicit in his title, Geschichte der römischen Literatur bis zur Gesetzsgebungswerk des kaisers Justinian; in practice he confined himself to Latin. The French translation here bills itself less circumspectly as the fifth volume of “Nouvelle histoire de la littérature latine”.

[3] I synthesize the titles in English from the lists provided, with very slight variants, in the French and German editions. In particular, I observe that only the French edition specifies dates for volume 4, hence calls attention to a gap from 254-284: I will return to the significance of that gap below.

[4] Translation is credited to the direction of Gerald Nauroy on the title page, but nine other hands are credited in a detailed listing of credits a few pages further on.

[5] It cannot be overemphasized that the political and social upheavals of the mid-third century were dramatic, but from Greek literature, we have at least Dexippus, Plotinus, and Porphyry (though note that the two of them were writing for a very narrow circle far from their natural linguistic home). As Herzog points out (61), the substructures of literary culture were also shaken when during the 25 years 260-285, the civil service “avait presque cessé de fonctionner”. Histories of education blithely assume that schools continued without serious interruption through this period, but that is far from clear.

[6] That knowledge of Greek declines in Latin late antiquity is no novelty, and if Pierre Courcelle had ever written the promised prequel to his Les lettres grecques dans l’occident de Macrobe à Cassiodore (1948) we would see the story more clearly. I do not see that our common knowledge on this point is backed by any clear sense of the mechanism. That the young Augustine already disdains Greek for Latin cannot be taken as a sign of a Christian influence yet, and indeed in objective terms it is among Christian writers that we find a more lively and vigorous contact with Greek thought in this period than among the “classically” trained.

[7] Note that by the time the traditionalist, not to say “pagan”, Macrobius in the early fifth century can canonize this generation, his own “Greek” learning needs to be heavily pilfered from other sources, notably Aulus Gellius.

[8] Take the works of Victorinus, bishop of Ptuj in Slovenia (pp. 466-71), probably born there, died as a martyr under Diocletian. In that remote customs outpost between Noricum and Pannonia, where the Orontes flowed into the Drava as eastern slaves of the customs office brought their language with them, he wrote the earliest surviving Latin scholia on the book of Revelations, which circulated later with huge success in its original form and in several recensions. Ptuj is not the sort of place from which the classicizing elites expected to receive influential new books.

[9] Note also that pp. 17-18, in a note on the evolution of the Latin language, Herzog takes a very conservative position representing only one (to my eye minority) view among linguistic scholars, insisting on continuity and accepting H. Lüdtke’s notion of diglossia. It is reassuring to believe that “Latin” and “proto-Romance” existed side by wide, with the learned classes moving effortlessly between them, until a relatively swift and abrupt transition in the seventh century or so: but Roger Wright’s Late Latin and Early Romance (Liverpool 1982) has brought a healthy gust of skepticism into such ideas. There is at present a small backlash among particular traditionalist French scholars shoring up the pedigree of their twin linguistic bases of Latin and French. But linguistic development seems to have been far smoother and at the same time more radical than the belief in a swift transition allows, and the conservative thing about late antiquity is its adherence to a writing system that was increasingly out of touch with the lived language. Wright’s great contribution is in showing how Alcuin, venerating and seeking to revive “Latin”, achieved the virtual creation of “medieval Latin” by destroying the cultural pretensions of the majority of subjects of Charlemagne’s empire.

[10] See my “The Demise of Paganism”, Traditio 35(1979) 45-88, for reservations about the traditional myth that is still important: see most recently P. Chuvin, Chronicle of the Last Pagans (Cambridge, MA 1990), with my review at BMCR 1990.01.03 and the contrary view of L.T. Pearcy at BMCR 1990.01.02.