BMCR 1998.05.17

98.5.17, Repetition in Latin Poetry: Figures of Allusion

, Repetition in Latin poetry : figures of allusion. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996. xv, 506 pages ; 25 cm. ISBN 9780198140849.

Jeffrey Wills has tackled a vast and important topic, done a quite enormous amount of work and produced a brilliant book. Latinists will have to consult Repetition in Latin Poetry frequently, and it is destined to become a standard reference work.

W. sets out to demonstrate the importance of the repetition of words in Latin poetics. In order to do so he defines four major categories, which he presents as follows (p.11):

Identical form Different form

Thus gemination is a form repeated identically inside a clause (a Corydon, Corydon), whereas polyptoton treats different forms inside a single clause (saxa cum saxis). Parallelism comprises the repetition of identical forms in different units (nec…, nec…), whereas modification is the least marked category: not sharing the same form or the same unit (tu…, tibi…).

W. is aware that this scheme creates large categories, but in 500-odd pages he successfully validates his approach. The bulk of the book consists of four parts, one for each of his four major categories. For Gemination and Polyptoton he has attempted to present every example in Latin poetry up to and including Juvenal. For the less rare phenomena of Parallelism and Modification a representative selection is provided. Sub-sections deal with nominal, verbal and adjectival forms, or come under such headings as Imperatives, The Impact of Catullus, Tense and Mood and Participial Resumption. For example, under the heading Simple [as opposed to Expanded (for the difference see p.124)] Gemination (Nominal Forms), W. has a nine-page section on vocatives, beginning with two pages on invocations. After providing some Greek examples of the doubling of the name of a deity (Homer, Il. 5.31, Aeschylus, Ag. 973, Suppl. 890 = 900, Theocritus, 18.50-3) and a parody of the practice in Plautus ( Ps. 702-5), he shows that Latin poets avoided geminated invocations. He suggests, however, that Ennius, Ann. 106-7, O Romule, Romule die, alludes to the single Iliadic example ἆρες ἄρες βροτολοιγέ, quotes the tricolon crescens of Catullus’ invocation of Cybebe at 63.91, and notes that Vergil has one example of doubling in each of his works, Ecl. 55-6 ( Nymphae,/ Dictaeae Nymphae), Geo. 4.321 ( mater, Cyrene mater) and Aen. 8.71 ( Nymphae, Laurentes Nymphae). W. goes on to suggest that the Aeneid 8 passage alludes to both the Eclogues and Georgics passages, and one could support his suggestion by noting that it creates a connection between the moment when Aeneas discovers where to found his city and Aristaeus’ loss of his bees, whose hives represent a city of some kind (for the Trojans as bees see Aen. 7.64-7).

Such is W.’s method. Perhaps it does not sound very exciting when presented in this way, and, while his book is surely destined to be much cited, it will be seldom read from cover to cover, as W. himself predicts in the Preface. The presence of an Index Locorum will facilitate dipping, and most users will have Wills (1996) on their desk alongside standard commentaries. This is inevitable, and a testimony to the value of W.’s researches; but it is also a pity, because a true appreciation of the power, rigour and finesse of W.’s approach can perhaps be fully appreciated only by those willing to grind through the book in a sequential reading. Again and again, the application of the method outlined above enables W. to reveal gems amid long lists, and he reveals himself to be an acute literary critic as well as an impressive textual critic and linguistic technician. But since most readers will be dippers rather than grinders, it may be useful to give an example or two of what one can find here by dipping in through the back door provided by the Index Locorum.

While looking for something in the fourth book of Apollonius Rhodius’Argonautica I came by chance across ἀρκάδες ἀπιδανῆες, (263-4). W.’s index guided me first to page 129 where he demonstrates that Apollonius’ placing of one repetend at the bucolic diaeresis and the other at the beginning of the next line (εὐρύτου ὗιες, Arg. 1.87-8; cf. 1.191-2, 956-7, 4.764-5) had a decisive influence on Catullus 64 (W. again and again reveals the enormous influence exercised by this poem) and the Latin neoterics in general (e.g. Lucr. 6.528-9, omnia, prorsum/ omnia, Verg. Ecl. 6.33-4, omnia primis,/ omnia (thereby confirming the reading of P instead of exordia), Catul. 64.132-3, perfide, ab aris, / perfide etc.). W. goes on to show that Vergil also alludes to this Catullan use of the figure at Aen. 4.305, perfide, tantum/ … and 366, /perfide, …, adding that this ‘elegant variation—divided by sixty lines—alerts us to the sensitivity to precise form which the reader of such allusive poetry must have’ (p.136). Next, the index guided me to p. 148, where W. suggests that at Ecl. 10.31-3, ‘… Arcades,’ inquit/ ‘montibus haec vestris, soli cantare periti/ Arcades …’ Vergil alludes simultaneously to the repetition of ἀρκάδες at Arg. 4.263-4 and a lost example of the figure in Gallus. Here and elsewhere (cf. p. 132, where the difficulty of labelling a particular figure in Catullus as an ‘Alexandrian mannerism’ is displayed) W. makes an important contribution to the whole question of the reception of Hellenistic poetics in Rome. And on numerous similar occasions W.’s elucidation of figures of repetition enables him to reveal subtle patterns of allusion. For example: elements of Catullus 64.23-23b, heroes, salvete, deum genus! o bona matrum/ progenies, salvete, iter (Peerlkamp’s supplement) and 101.4, nequiquam alloquerer cinerem, are combined at Aen. 5.80-1, salve, sancte parens, iterum salvete recepti/ nequiquam cineres animaeque umbraeque paternae. At Her. 12.159-60, laese pater, gaude! Colchi gaudete relicti!/ inferias umbrae fratris habete mei, Ovid ‘accepts Virgil’s syntax and sound-pattern (including recepti and relicti) but restores the Catullan reference to the fraternal alloquies (101.2 advenio has miseras, frater, ad inferias).’ Here, it is appreciation of the figure which enables recognition of Ovid’s allusion to Vergil, and W. discovers many examples of highly subtle reference where there is no verbal allusion as such, merely allusion to a particular figure of repetition. At Valerius Flaccus, Arg. 3.143-5, ( has, precor, exuvias opima cadavera’ Nestor/ ‘linquite’ ait: ‘ferro potius mihi dextera, ferro/ navet opus’), Peleus strips a victim of his embossed belt and is warned to leave the spoils behind. Here it is not diction but form, and similarity of action, which ensure the allusion to the closing scene of the Aeneid, 12.947-9. The repetition there of Pallas … Pallas in line 948 is reproduced by Valerius’ferro … ferro in 3.144.

These and many other examples show that W. will have to be studied carefully by all those interested both in Latin poetics and in allusion in Latin poetry. As regards the latter, he makes an important and timely contribution to a lively field of research. His work emphasises the importance of Thomas’ attempt to provide a typology of allusion in HSCP 1986 and fits in well with such recent books as O’Hara’s True Names: Vergil and the Alexandrian Tradition of Etymological Wordplay (Ann Arbor 1996), Paschalis’Virgil’s Aeneid: Semantic Relations and Proper Names (Oxford 1997), and now most recently Hinds’s Allusion and Intertext (Cambridge 1998). W.’s section on Formal Features in Latin Allusion (pp. 15-41) is as good as anything I have ever seen on poetic reference and should be required reading for all Latinists. Throughout this book W. shatters the comfortable idea that the many collections of parallels and loci similes put together in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries contain all the necessary material for studies of literary allusion and that all we now need to do is to decipher what the similarities between given texts collected in these old studies might actually mean. In fact, an enormous amount of work still needs to be done, even in apparently over-worked areas, in order to identify and classify allusions, and only when this is done will real progress be made in judging the value of theoretical discussions of imitatio, in understanding the complex ways in which literary genres and traditions develop in Rome and in achieving a truer picture of the Roman reception of Greek poetry in all its variety. Just as O’Hara’s brilliant work on Vergil’s etymological wordplay points the way towards further similar studies devoted to individual authors or works, so W.’s monumental efforts show how useful it would be to have further detailed Formalist studies of the allusive use of other rhetorical figures in Greek and Latin poetry, especially in light of the axiom recently proposed by Hinds ( Allusion and Intertext, p.26): There is no discursive element in a Roman poem, no matter how unremarkable in itself, and no matter how frequently repeated in the tradition, that cannot in some imaginable circumstances mobilize a specific allusion.

It is a topos of favourable reviews to say that the book reviewed should be on every scholar’s desk. In the case of W. the repetition of this topos imposes itself. Those who work on Latin poetry will need to have Wills alongside their Boemer, their Brink, their Fedeli, their Nisbet-Hubbard, their Norden, their Pease, their Skutsch et al. One can have nothing but admiration for W.’s scholarly industry, precision and sensitivity. His book will be consulted with profit and pleasure for a long time to come.