BMCR 1998.09.08

Allusion and Intertext: Dynamics of Appropriation inRoman Poetry


Stephen Hinds’ Allusion and Intertext is a welcome addition to the study of intertextuality which has come to dominate work on Latin poetry. In five chapters which are intended to be readable as separate essays or as a cumulative whole, Hinds addresses what he sees as a reluctance on the part of Latinists to move from the precise, but often narrowly focused and heavily philological studies by scholars such as G. B. Conte and R. F. Thomas to broader explorations of allusion which “represent a new attempt to find (or recover) some space for the study of allusion — as a project of continuing vitality — within an excitingly enlarged universe of intertexts” (pp. xi-xii). Throughout, Hinds mobilizes his own and other scholars’ readings of various poetic texts to discuss the methodological and epistemological implications involved in each.

The first chapter introduces some of the basic techniques of allusive annotation, starting with what D. O. Ross has called “the Alexandrian footnote” (e.g. an inserted ferunt or dicuntur to signal a scholarly allusion) and moving on to other, less obvious indications of intertextuality, such as the vocabularies of memory or prophecy. Having discussed examples of each of these, he attempts to place them in a larger theoretical framework by introducing, and then problematizing “the hierarchy of ‘tenor’ and ‘vehicle’ in all the figures of allusive self-annotation explored …” (p. 11). Put simply tenor is the underlying, or primary, idea in a discussion, and vehicle is the metaphorical or linguistic armature which introduces it. Thus in the mass of allusions to Ennius, Euripides and others at the opening of Catullus 64, the allusions themselves are the tenor while the language of scholarly or Alexandrian reference ( dicuntur Catullus 64. 2) is the vehicle.

The brevity of the book as a whole becomes especially problematic for this chapter, in which it is sometimes difficult to see how one argument flows from the next. (Hinds allows himself only six pages for a topic he admits is “not uncomplicated.”) The basic point of this discussion seems to be that we should not privilege allusion over the linguistic or other signposting which signals its presence even in discussions specifically about allusion. For instance, when a poet uses the language of prophecy (see the discussion of Lucan and Vergil on pp. 8-10) or of memory (see the discussion of Ennius and Ovid on pp. 14-16), we must examine not only the ways in which those vocabularies alert us to intertexts, but the ways in which the intertextual relationships elaborate concepts of prophecy and memory as well.

Chapter 2, “Interpretability: Beyond Philological Fundamentalism,” begins by exploring the normative philological assumptions for what constitutes allusion, as opposed to mere accidental confluence of words or commonplaces. “Philological fundamentalism” is the approach we all know best: allusions (or references, to use Thomas’ term) must be capable of isolation from inevitable features of the language. Different scholars may draw up different lists of criteria, but for the most part would agree on what sorts of things define allusions, such as pronounced verbal or metrical similarities, particularly involving rare or distinctive words; similarities in context which would invite the reader to remember a specific famous passage of similar type, as in the case of two descriptions of the same famous mythic event; most of all, perhaps, some index of authorial intention. Fundamentalism is a loaded term here and may obscure the fact that these criteria are typical, if unexamined, assumptions most Latinists share.

Hinds’ goal here is to uncover and then destabilize the dichotomy that emerges between, on the one hand, allusion as a precisely formulated move by an author, designed to trigger corresponding moves by the reader, and on the other, a “zone of zero-interpretability,” in which lies all that is too vague to be capable of interpretation. Hinds’ method is to move further and further from recognizable, “fundamentalist” allusion or reference toward that putative point of zero-interpretability, acknowledging that such a point does exist in practical, if not epistemological terms, but suggesting that much neglected interpretable territory lies before it. How, for example, do we account for intertextual resonances which do not seem to bear the imprimatur of specific authorial intentions — passages, for instance, which, because of the genres in which they occur, automatically point the reader toward a variety of models, some of which may not have been in the mind of the author? One cannot help but agree and be grateful for this attempt to begin mapping that territory. Important here are passages which may refer to models only incidentally, as when lines from the Amores refer back to Amores 1.1, which may itself be a reference to Propertius 1.1 (pp. 25-34).

Hinds is well aware that speculations of this sort inevitably raise the issue of the distinction between an allusion and a topos, and his analysis of the problem (pp. 34-47) is especially fruitful. If some sets of passages cannot be interpreted intertextually because the similarity between them is an unavoidable side-effect of a common linguistic heritage, then topoi present a similar obstacle: rather than looking back to a specific model, the topos “invokes its intertextual tradition as a collectivity, to which the individual contexts and connotations of individual prior instances are firmly subordinate” (p. 34). Employing Conte’s distinction between a particular model ( modello-esemplare) and a generic one ( modello-codice), Hinds demonstrates the ways in which a passage may be a topos — having a collective intertextual tradition behind it — at the same time as it is an allusion which refers to a specific model. This is something many readers will find intuitively sensible but exceedingly hard to formulate. So too is the problem — not limited to Latinists certainly — of authorial intention. The “fundamentalist” model requires authorial intention, while a more audience-oriented poetics of reception banishes the author altogether. Following Eco, Hinds prefers a middle course: authorial intention cannot be invoked to validate intertextual and allusive resonances, but audience-oriented readings must acknowledge that most readers do in fact try to reconstruct an author’s intentions; they may perhaps fail, but a reader’s meaning is very much bound up with the idea of an author. Thus a completely “authorless” reading is as much a distortion as one which grants the author omnipotence over the text.

The third, and longest, chapter raises questions of intertextual relationships in our construction of literary histories. Taking as his point of departure passages from Vergil, Ennius, and Livius Andronicus, Hinds asks us to consider whether we must accept the latest and most successful poet’s stance vis-à-vis his predecessors or whether we should ignore a teleological reading in favor of one which treats each author’s claims to primacy synchronically. Accordingly, he reads both Ennius and Livius Andronicus as “new” and not archaic poets, examining their own claims to innovation and poetic revolution from the point of view of the authors themselves and not of Augustan poetry. Next, arguing that we need not always comply with a poet’s own account of his place within literary history, Hinds moves on to look at the neoteric poets’ programmatic avowal of Alexandrian influence and their consequent neglect of important Roman models such as Laevius. He shows that the neoteric claim to Parthenius of Nicaea as Greek mentor fits in with a larger pattern of Roman claims to Greek tutelage. The general thrust of these discussions is that Roman poets usually signal their own individual accomplishments by staking a claim to Greek culture, either through a direct influence (e. g. Parthenius or Livius Andronicus) or through primacy in bringing Greek poetry to Rome. When, therefore, Vergil claims to be the first to bring the Muses to Rome, in words that show he knew Ennius’ similar claim, we must not regard this as a lie, a mistake, or even as pointless bravado; in order to establish his claim to poetic authority, Vergil must renegotiate the traditional contract with Greece on his own behalf.

If the poets establish themselves through allusive ties to Greece, they also do so by relegating their predecessors to the status of archaic figures. As Hinds reminds us, no poet has ever known that he was one of his culture’s archaic writers, but each poet becomes so when his poetry is declared either unfashionable or exemplary. So Vergil’s allusions to Ennius can be taken as declarations that Ennius has been moved into the background, that he has become, through his role as literary model, a predecessor. Hinds begins these discussions with Vergil (who stands in for all Augustans), Ennius, Livius Andronicus, and the neoterics; this allows him to discuss the teleological assumption that Latin poetry evolved toward Augustan Rome. He goes on to take up some of the same issues with the so-called Silver poets. If Vergil and the Augustans construe literary history as culminating in their works, Lucan and Statius both explicitly embrace a narrative of decline from those same works. For both poets, Hinds attempts to show that decline and inferiority are tropes which should not be accepted uncritically in reconstructions of Roman literary history. In Lucan’s case, to take only one example, decline from the epic position of Vergil allows him to place his epic in a distinctly out-of-kilter world. Here Hinds misses an opportunity to discuss the recusatio topos at greater length; are the well-known recusatio poems of Horace and the elegists all that different from the Silver epics in their use of inferiority (usually attributed to the poet in the former case) as a trope for disinclination? Inadequacy becomes a way for poets not only to set themselves in a particular relationship to a generic tradition, but also to try and escape from it altogether.

The fourth chapter raises a crucial, and usually neglected, question of emphasis: namely, what is the status of one text under examination in relation to another? Is the later work a master-text for which the earlier is merely a set of useful passages to which the author has referred us, or is the earlier text a master-text to which a later poet has made a series of responses? Can we have it both ways? Departing from his earlier practice somewhat, Hinds chooses only one example here, Ovid’s retelling of the story of the Aeneid in Met. 13 and 14. Critics have often seen Ovid’s departures from and alterations to the Vergilian storyline as tacit acknowledgments of Vergilian superiority; that is, Ovid has expanded minor Vergilian episodes in order to avoid comparison with the master himself. Yet, as Hinds rightly emphasizes, Ovid has also made his changes in order to bring out an implicitly Ovidian storyline in the Aeneid. That is, Vergil had represented metamorphoses as occurring in the Aeneid, and now Ovid recasts that poem as one like his own. Ovid need not avoid Dido and Turnus only through a fear of invidious comparison with Vergil but also through a desire to appropriate the Aeneid for his own ends and on his own terms.

What Hinds is trying to do here is assert that tendentiousness is not always a bad thing, and that literary histories which treat it as such may go astray by ignoring the extent to which all allusive writing is tendentious. Every author who appropriates a model does so for his own ends, and we are wrong to side with the appropriated over the appropriator, to assume that Ovid has written an Aeneid manqué; rather than that Vergil has written a kind of latent or immature Metamorphoses. This works both ways, as Hinds tells us, and we should also not assume that we must read earlier texts only as precursors to more famous ones (a different form of the same arguments presented in chapter 3). Thus Vergil’s Aeneid is not to be privileged over, for example, Apollonius’ Argonautica or even Catullus 64.

The last chapter extends the argument of the fourth; after demonstrating that alluding poets routinely employ a tendentious reading of their models, Hinds goes on to refine the concept: alluding authors do not simply assume a natural place in literary history, they write a tendentious version of literary history into their own works. Thus Statius has his young Achilles ( Achilleid 1. 188-94) sing what appears to be heroic epic, alluding to Catullus 64, but doing so in such a way that the reader will insert his poem (the Achilleid) into a custom-made epic tradition, one which behaves the way Statius wants it to (pp. 126-29).

Hinds’ book is not always easy going, either through density of theoretical language or sheer volume of example texts. In a few places, one feels the discussion comes to a close just as it is getting started (an especially notable example is the discussion of Statius’ Achilleid at pp. 95-98); at others one feels that Hinds has moved on to more general literary topics; for instance, the discussion of literary history in chapter 3 is as much about modern scholars’ tendency to side uncritically with the most prized ancient literary figures’ tendentious self-portraits as it is about intertextuality. This book, furthermore, is not for beginners, and readers who have not already encountered and engaged the works of Conte, Thomas, Barchiesi, and others may find that they have entered into something of a private conversation. This situation could have been greatly alleviated by an introduction in which Hinds set out the basic signposts of the theoretical landscape.

Hinds’ own readings of individual texts are invariably fruitful, as are his comments on other scholars’ work. Much of the value of this book lies in the fact that it makes us think through some of the unexamined assumptions we are likely to bring to reading Latin literature. It has the virtue too of making us rethink the obvious and of pointing us toward profitable ways of exploring our intuitive sense that two or more texts are interacting even when the simple verbal repetitions we have always looked for are not there. Where most studies of intertextuality attempt to clarify and codify, Hinds’ has intentionally complicated it, suggesting the extent to which poets’ intertextual strategies determine their own generic traditions and, in fact, the literary histories which later scholars create from them and for them.