Aeneid 9, as Philip Hardie reminds us in the introduction to this intelligent and richly informative commentary, is “the first book proper of Virgil’s ‘Iliad.'” It tells how Turnus, in the absence of Aeneas and at the urging of Iris, attacks the Trojans’ camp and threatens to burn their ships, which Cybele protects by turning them into nymphs. Nisus and Euryalus set off to fetch Aeneas, kill many of the enemy and then are killed, lauded by the poet, and mourned by Euryalus’ mother. Next Numanus Remulus insults the Trojans as effeminate, praises the hardy Italians, and is killed in the first act of war by Ascanius, who is praised and then forbidden to fight more by Apollo. Finally Pandarus and Bitias let Turnus into the camp, where he fights prodigiously, but disastrously neglects to let the other Italians into the camp, and finally is driven off.
Apart from the Nisus and Euryalus episode, this book has attracted less attention than most parts of the Aeneid, but now Hardie has done much to make attractive the idea of focusing on Book 9 for all or part of an undergraduate or graduate course, perhaps paired with Book 10 (in the light of Harrison’s major 1991 commentary from Oxford, also learned and mostly up-to-date
The commentary benefits from H.’s secure command of a vast amount of scholarship, including the work of de la Cerda (the learned Jesuit whose quirky but valuable 17th century commentary on Vergil is relatively hard to consult in this country), and the material on Book 9 from the planned commentary on 7-12 by Fordyce, of which only his notes on 7-8 have been published. H.’s competence seems to extend to every skill required of the commentator, but no section of the volume displays merely competence, for H. has interesting and stimulating things to say about almost every aspect of Book 9. In this way H.’s book outstrips the moderately helpful 1991 commentary of Gransden on Aeneid 11 for the same series: where Gransden offered 76 pages of comment for about 915 lines of text, H. provides 186 for about 818. The range of material covered is indicated by the names of sections of the introduction: “Reworking Homer” (V.’s imitation “is not a makeshift in order to construct a narrative with another poet’s materials, but a self-conscious and critical engagement with the models that challenges the reader to compare and contrast earlier and later texts in a process that forces us to rethink our interpretation of both Homer and Virgil; the resulting combination of creation and criticism is very much in the manner of the Alexandrian poets such as Callimachus and Theocritus”), “Cities and Sieges” (on the ambivalence of the Trojan camp, which is both a besieged city like Troy, which was destined to lose, and a camp like that of the Greeks at Troy, who were destined to win), “Solidarity and Division,” “Young Men at War,” “Defining the Epic Hero,” “Knowledge Human and Divine,” and within the section on Nisus and Euryalus, “the deaths of young warriors,” “the danger of excess and the taking of spoils,” “symbolic underworlds,” and “amicitia and amor” (where the discussion of ancient sexuality is a little thin).
H.’s comments on the Nisus and Euryalus episode should attract much attention; I shall discuss them first, then two parts of the commentary I find less successful. H.’s treatment of Nisus and Euryalus has two strengths: he views them in the context of other young warriors who die in the poem, and he refuses to chose between conflicting interpretations where Vergil is irresolvably ambiguous. With a brief nod to Vidal-Naquet and the Athenian ephebeia,
In more general terms, H.’s treatment of Nisus and Euryalus is successful in maintaining a balance between competing interpretations: H. cites both scholars who find the episode sublime, noble, and optimistic, and those who find it “a paradigm of futile behavior and the tragedy of youth.” He comments: “As with the death of Turnus at the end of the last book, such contradictory judgments are provoked by Virgil’s practice of constructing complex moral, and even metaphysical problems, easy answers to which are deliberately withheld.” H. is a master of the techniques of Knauer and Clausen and is also able to relate observations about models directly to questions of interpretation: “one of the reasons for the difficulty in deciding on the meaning of the episode is precisely the conflating of many passages in earlier literature.” The introduction notes that when Vergil promises Nisus and Euryalus eternal fame “the reasons for this commendation are made no clearer than is the exact respect in which the two are declared to be fortunati.” The commentary offers an excellent discussion both of the “shock” of the phrase fortunati ambo“after the tale of the unfortunate pair ( infelix 390, 430),” and of larger themes: “the futile tragedy of these two adolescents exemplifies a particularly obsessive and memorable set of themes in V.’s poetry…. The Aen. as a whole tells of suffering and heroism in the remote past whose fruits endure to the present ( imperium Romanum), but in his final comment on the Nisus and Euryalus story we see a more Homeric idea …, that in the end the only lasting result of heroic struggle and death is undying kleos.” When at 493-94 Euryalus’ mother asks the Italians to kill her for the sake of pietas H. offers the telling comment that “at the end of an episode which resolves around various relationships of pietas the only variety still available is a negative one;” he then cites Egan on how “tensions in the use of pietas here foreshadow the problems raised by the killing of T.” at the end of the poem.
Where H. stands on the problems raised by the killing of Turnus at the end of the Aeneid, however, is a difficult question. H.’s first book, Virgil’s Aeneid: Cosmos and Imperium (Oxford 1986), leaves little doubt that Aeneas, as champion of the side whose imperium is as just and as divinely sanctioned as Jupiter’s rule over the cosmos, is completely justified in striking down Turnus, the enemy of the gods and of the Romans. The Epic Successors of Virgil, however, shows that ambivalence about the ending of the Aeneid is both understandable, and a feature of much of the poetry of the first century. Scholars fond of dividing up the Iliad and Odyssey might suggest that Cosmos and Imperium and Epic Successors were written by different authors—who then collaborated on the commentary on Book 9. One could almost speak of the “two voices” of Philip Hardie. At times, as in much of the introduction and in his treatment of Nisus and Euryalus, H. displays a high tolerance for ambiguity and ambivalence, and admirable concern for balance and for sticking to the evidence in the discussion of controversial issues. On at least two issues, however, H. is less successful in avoiding a role like that of an advocate or prosecuting attorney, for his commentary tilts the presentation of the evidence towards a less ambiguous and more certainly negative view both of the Italians, as compared to their foes the Trojans, and of Turnus. On both these issues H. strives for fairness, but falls short; possibly this is a result of simply having so much to talk about, and insufficient space for satisfying explorations of these complex issues.
The cultural connotations of the presentation of the Trojans and Italians are explored mainly in the context of the episode in which Ascanius kills Numanus Remulus, both in the introduction, where H.’s treatment is somewhat cramped and confusing, and in the commentary, which I believe does not deliver the balanced picture promised by the introduction. In the introduction H. is rather hard to follow: he observes that Numanus’ speech and death are related to the “the problem of defining the ideal Italian and Roman national identity,” and to Augustus’ “search for a renewed Roman identity after the chaotic passage of the civil wars.” He also sees connections between Numanus’ criticism of the over-civilized Trojans and the cultural sophistication of Romans of V.’s day. But Numanus’ idealized picture of the Italians is said to be flawed: “an ideology that attempts to mold the future through a return to an imagined past is doomed to internal contradictions, both because of the impossibility of recreating primitive rural values in a highly urbanized society, and because such idealization of ancient ‘virtues’ are always partial, blind to the less attractive aspects of past societies.” A footnote citing the call to Victorian virtues in 1980’s Britain does not help me know whether the sentence I have just quoted is Vergil’s view, or Hardie’s, or how it all relates to Augustus: is Numanus voicing Augustan propaganda, of which Vergil is critical? This is too tough a topic to handle in one page in an introduction, and I would like to see H. tackle it at greater length in a less restrictive format.
I do like his next sentence, though: “The difficulty that critics experience in deciding how qualified our admiration for the Italians in the Aeneid should be, and how favorable we should be towards Trojan civilization, reflects this ideological tension within the Virgilian text.” But in commentary on the Ascanius-Numanus episode, unlike that on Nisus and Euryalus, H. has little difficulty in deciding which culture should be admired, and which held at arm’s length: he works hard, often with strained or unconvincing arguments, to convince readers that they should dismiss Numanus’ criticism of the Trojans, and should refrain from sympathizing with what he says about the Italians. For example, on 595 he observes that digna atque indigna relatu resembles part of 4.190, (Fama) pariter facta atque infecta canebat, and claims that “the considerable overlap between what Rumour (with the credulous Iarbas) and Numanus say about the Trojans should prevent us from too readily giving credence to the latter’s words.” It is hard to imagine a Roman reader or audience reacting to the passage in this way: actually doubting or discounting what Numanus says because it slightly resembles what Fama said in 4. Numanus’ speech is described in the introduction as “tendentious rhetoric” which leads to his death, as if he would not have been killed if he had stuck to more thoroughly verifiable claims (“you lousy Trojans stole Helen, and lost to the Greeks”). That Numanus is killed with the help of the gods might suggest that what he says is wrong, but there is little in the Aeneid to indicate that only the bad or misinformed die (cf. esp. 2.428 dis aliter visum). On 603-13 H. notes that Numanus’ “picture [of the Italians] is one of ‘hard primitivism’ …; many details would no doubt have struck the Roman reader as entirely praiseworthy, but on some points they would have felt disquiet,” but about the only place that H. suggests much disquiet is on vivere rapto on 612-13. On 598-620 H. claims that “the model of Evander’s account of Italian history at 8.314-32 suggests the need for the replacement of the primitive rawness of Italy with a new Saturnian age,” but it is easier to see in Evander’s words the idea that each new arrival in Italy has brought a worse race, and it is hard to associate the Trojans of Books 7-12 with anything Saturnian as they fight Saturnian Juno’s Saturnian people, despite Anchises’ reference at 6.792-95 to Augustus’ refounding of the golden/Saturnian age.
Three larger issues must be addressed. First, if Vergil means for us to reject what Numanus or Iarbas or Amata says about the Trojans, and what Numanus and others say about the Italians, why does he let these voices be a part of his poem? Why relate things that are indigna relatu? Are they fully contained and neutralized when (rather indirectly) labeled incorrect? Is the reader effectively warned not to sympathize with Numanus because of his death? If you’re writing a national epic about your city’s and your emperor’s Trojan heritage, why not just leave out all mention of Trojans being effeminate or decadent? Second, what about what Book 12 tells us about the Trojans, Italians, and contemporary Romans? I believe H. never mentions the subordination of the Trojan to the Italian in the compromise between Jupiter and Juno in Book 12
For Turnus too the introduction promises a sophisticated treatment of a figure with strong positive features, but some negative ones as well, chiefly (in the introduction) the sense that he is a lesser man than Aeneas, and that he shares with the other youthful figures in Book 9 a tendency for rash behavior. The commentary offers a number of acute observations, many of them new to me, on both positive and negative features of the presentation of Turnus, but consistently highlights the negative and downplays the positive, as though there were something to be gained from showing that Turnus is not like you, me, and our hero Aeneas. On 3 audacem, H. rightly observes that “a rash boldness characterizes all [of Turnus’] actions in this book,” but why not tell us that the word is used of Ascanius later in this book, of Pallas in Book 8, and of the poet himself twice in the Georgics (some of this information appears later in the commentary)? Especially useful could have been Servius’ comment on audax Pallas at 8.110, where he defines audacia as virtus sine fortuna, and offers a specific cross-reference to Turnus and 9.3. Such a reference could have been helpful to H. in developing in the commentary the balanced picture of Turnus the introduction promised, and could have led to a string of comments on ways in which Turnus is similar to Aeneas except for being on the wrong side of history (as well as, to be sure, being rather more consistently impetuous and vicious).
In discussing Turnus’ claim, sunt et mea fata mihi, H. says that “T. almost redefines fate as ‘that which is morally fitting’, or even as ‘that which lies in the strength of my weapons’; the implied rejection of a supernatural sanction brings him close to Mezentius, the contemptor divum.” The comparison to Mezentius is groundless; we need to mention Allecto here, whose telling Turnus that Juno told her to speak to him ( ipsa palam fari omnipotens Saturnia iussit, 7.427) gives him every right to say sunt et mea fata mihi. On 138 coniuge praerepta H. says “in fact Lavinia is not even T.’s sponsa,” but should also cite Allecto’s words at 7.423-24, rex tibi coniugium et quaesitas sanguine dotes / abnegat, externusque in regnum quaeritur heres. Surely Turnus’ problem is not that he is contemptuous of the gods, like Mezentius, but that he is too trusting of gods who are deceiving him.
H.’s explanation of passages that suggest conflicting viewpoints of Turnus is unsatisfying, but he does usually lay out the information necessary for the fuller, more sophisticated treatment from which he shies away. In introducing the Pandarus and Bitias passage (672-755) H. nicely explains how all of Book 9 leads up to the tense and dramatic scene in which Turnus gets inside the Trojan camp and fights alone before finally retreating. He also provides a wealth of information on Homeric models, on a likely and important Ennian model, and on associations of Turnus with Achilles, Hector, Pyrrhus in Aen. 2, Hannibal almost sacking Rome, and, most interesting, Jupiter fighting a gigantomachy against the enemies of the gods. H.’s discussion of gigantomachy builds on Cosmos and Imperium, in which it is most often Aeneas and the Trojans who seem to be fighting a gigantomachy against the enemies of the gods. In Book 9, however, many passages point towards a different reading: cf. H.’s comments on 705: “as figurative wielder of Jupiter’s thunderbolt T. strikes down the ‘Giant’ Bitias;” 733: “the fulmina of 733 suggest the identification of T. with Jupiter striking down his enemies;” and 762, where T. kills a Gyges, who bears “the name of one of the hundred-handers.” H. is excellent on the many passages that cast Turnus as the enemy of Rome or of the gods, but he never satisfactorily explains these other passages that instead suggest that Turnus is on the right side, and that he is properly defending Italy against invaders. Instead he chooses a rather easy way out: “there is irony here; at the end of the poem it is Aen. who with a figurative thunderbolt prostrates the enemy of the gods, T.” But is irony the right word for the phenomenon here? Is Vergil saying that Turnus is on the side of the gods, but he doesn’t mean it? How exactly are readers of Book 9 to react: are they to see that the poet is associating Turnus with Jupiter fighting the enemies of the gods, but resolve to keep that identification only tentative just in case Aeneas might use a thunderbolt-like weapon in the last thirty lines of the poem? Court TV tells us that jurors in an American courtroom are admonished by a judge “not to form any conclusions about the case until you’ve heard all the evidence,” but it is hard to expect this of readers. Something more complicated than irony is going on. Cf. too H.’s comments on 815-18, on Turnus’ final leap into the Tiber: “it is impossible here not to think of the famous leap of the great Roman patriot Horatius Cocles into the Tiber …: T., thoughout this book cast in the role of a would-be sacker of Rome, at the end surprisingly takes on the role of one of the most famous saviors of the city.” Some of us may be less surprised than others. H. also discusses the question Servius reports was asked by “many,” why the Tiber, whose god is on A’s side, saves Turnus at the end of the book: “[Servius’] solution, that the river reserves his defeat for the glory of Aen. will satisfy few. Others see a sign that T. is a favourite of the gods of the Italian countryside (cf. Faunus’ favour at 12.766-82).” H. offers no answer of his own. But he has provided much evidence that the Aeneid is written is such a way that some passages urge the reader to sympathize with Aeneas and the Trojans, while others stress the admirable or sympathetic qualities of Turnus and the Italians. This phenomenon may have something to do with the historical experience of the Romans and Italians not only in the civil wars between first Caesar and Pompey, and then Antony and Octavian, but also the Italian or Social wars a few decades earlier. It must also be related to “Virgil’s practice of constructing complex moral, and even metaphysical problems, easy answers to which are deliberately withheld,” to quote the formulation H. presents in discussing Nisus and Euryalus, but applies only inconsistently throughout the commentary.
My last few paragraphs have focused on ways in which I believe the commentary falls short of its goals, but it must be stressed that these are extremely high goals, and I wish to end as I began, with praise for H.’s considerable accomplishment in producing not only a useful commentary, but also one that is original and consistently interesting and provocative. The same piercing intelligence, command of Greek and Latin literature, and refusal to be satisfied with tired old formulations that are apparent in his earlier books and in his numerous articles make this commentary a most valuable contribution, and I look forward eagerly to further discussions by H. of the issues raised by Aeneid 9. As much as anyone working on Latin poetry today H. is unpredictable, with a rare tendency simply to go in the direction the evidence before him indicates on any issue. When you see his name in a table of contents or card catalogue, take and read.