BMCR 1994.10.05

1994.10.05, Heinze, Virgil’s Epic Technique

, , , , Virgil's epic technique. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. xiv, 396 pages ; 24 cm. ISBN 9780520064447. $48.00.

Every time I teach the Aeneid, I consult Virgils epische Technik, but this welcome new translation provided me with an opportunity actually to read Heinze’s book; to see it, that is, as a whole and to think about what it means. Vergilians know how easy it is to use Heinze’s clearly organized and amply documented account of Vergil’s poetic aims and methods. Are you about to lead a class in discussing the character of Dido? Look at Part I, Chapter 3. Have your students asked about the chronology of the action in the Aeneid ? Show them Part II, Chapter 2 (“Invention”), Subchapter iii (“The Action”), Section c (“Time and Place”), Subsection 1 (“Timetable”). The Harvey-Robinson translation will give teachers, even those for whom knowing German has not been a prerequisite for teaching Latin, access to a significant work of scholarship and interpretation. How significant? As I read Virgil’s Epic Technique, I was struck again and again by a sense of recognition. I had heard this beforeā€”in Gilbert Highet’s famous Aeneid class at Columbia, in Brooks Otis’Virgil, A Study in Civilized Poetry, everywhere in fact in the Vergilian scholarship of mid-century. But as Antonie Wlosok’s introduction reminds us, when the first edition of Virgils epische Technik appeared in 1903, it set forth a revolutionary approach to the Aeneid. Few people then would have acknowledged that Vergil had a poetic technique, epic or otherwise. Readers in the nineteenth century dismissed the Aeneid as unoriginal, derivative, and uninspired. Now even readers who disagree about every other aspect of the Aeneid agree that Vergil must be read as a poet, and a profound and original one.

An important book influences even people who have not read it. By this criterion, Virgils epische Technik may be the most important book in twentieth-century Vergilian criticism. This new translation will make it more widely read, but in no way less important.