BMCR 2002.08.20

Forme e significati della narrazione bellica nell’epos virgiliano. I cataloghi degli uccisi e le morti minori dell’Eneide

, Forme e significati della narrazione bellica nell'epos virgiliano : i cataloghi degli uccisi e le morti minori nell'Eneide. Biblioteca della ricerca. Philologica ; 3. Fasano: Schena, 2000. 436 pages ; 21 cm.. ISBN 8882292010 L.50,000 (pb).

In his 1995 book A companion to the Study of Virgil, Nicholas Horsfall voiced his disappointment about the lack of attention devoted to Virgilian battle scenes and invited Virgilian scholars to further the research on this topic: “Given that battle is the principal subject-matter of Aen. 9-12, it is most remarkable that so little attention has been paid to Virgil’s techniques of structure and arrangement … the subject as a whole is entirely serious, however unfashionable, and its neglect imposes fundamental limitations on our understanding of how Virgil has re-worked his Homeric material” (197). Mazzocchini’s book on the catalogues of the slain, which follows his 1992 article,1 is a welcome addition to this (unjustly) underrepresented and “unfashionable” topic.

This rather lengthy book is divided into three main sections. Section one analyzes the catalogues of victims killed during the aristeiai of the major heroes, namely Turnus (9.696-716; 9.760-77; 12.324-82), Aeneas (10.310-44; 10.510-604 ), Pallas (10.379-425), Mezentius (10.689-746), and Camilla (11.648-724). Section two focuses on the catalogue of slain in a mêlée (the Homeric system of alternate killings) and in a φόβος — a list of continuous killings on one side in which the leaders of the victorious side each, in turn, kills a named opponent (10.747-54; 12.266-310; 12.458-63). To these, M. adds a short third section and examines what he defines as “the atypical catalogues of the slain” (cataloghi atipici o notevoli per forma e/o contenuto). Among them, the Rutulian assault on the Trojan camp at 9.544-89, which he views as a conflation of a mêlée and an aristeia, the simultaneous aristeiai of Aeneas and Turnus in Aen. 12, the nocturnal slaughter of Euryalus and Nisus, and the catalogue of Trojan victims during the last night of Troy at Aen. 2.424-30.

The book rounds off with a few pages in which M. briefly summarizes the major findings of his research (361-84). Here he states that one of Virgil’s priorities in his catalogues of the slain is that of overcoming the potential monotony of the Homeric enumeratio. Virgil accomplishes this task by means of concinnitas, variatio, and sympathetic vocabulary (especially apostrophes). These narrative features increase the dramatic and empathetic quality of the Virgilian catalogues in respect to the Homeric ones and are seen by M. as a clear reflection of the influence of Hellenistic and Neoteric poetry on Virgilian narrative style. Shifting from ‘style’ to ‘content’, as put by the author, M. further points out that these Virgilian catalogues heighten the tragic nature of many Virgilian characters. In a sudden turn of events, a sort of peripeteia, Euryalus, Nisus, Pallas, Mezentius, Camilla, and, to some extent Turnus, are killed just after having won glory as a result of a heroic feat, and their being killed is always the result of a “tragic mistake.” He also compellingly suggests that these catalogues nullify the apparent differences between major characters in the poem. During his aristeia in Aen. 10, the pius Aeneas shows signs of furor and impietas and is therefore assimilated to his rival Turnus and to Mezentius, the famous contemptor divum. The brutality of war levels off virtues and vices, heroes and villains.

The analysis of these catalogues is presented as a line by line commentary. M. makes some very nice points and he is an attentive reader. See, for example, his discussion on ros rorare (172), ferreus (232ff.), his detailed analysis of 12.266-310 in connection with gladiatorial games (217-225), and his discussion of the invocation at 9.525-28 in light of Hellenistic poetry (266-271).

M.’s work, though, is limited in two fundamental areas. First, the bibliography shows large and quite inexplicable gaps. M. ignores Harrison’s commentary on book 10 (1991) and prefers instead to rely on Milanti’s 1964 annotated high school edition. The same applies for Gransden’s 1991 commentary on Aeneid 11, and Traina’s on Aeneid 12 (1997). Hardie’s excellent commentary on Aeneid 9 is cited, but is used quite inadequately. Apart from commentaries, the bibliography is outdated, and M., in general, shows little or no knowledge of important Virgilian scholarship. Let me give just a few examples. On Roman military strategy, M. relies exclusively on Wickert (1930)2 and ignores the more recent and helpful studies of Sandbach and Nisbet.3 For the double aristeiai of Turnus and Aeneas, he rightly suggests that this narrative phenomenon assimilates the two contenders but fails to acknowledge Thomas’ important analysis of this passage4 and does not frame his argument in light of recent scholarship, which has repeatedly called attention to the fact that Aeneas and Turnus become doublets of each other in the final book of the Aeneid.5 The same is true for his discussion of the episode of Nisus and Euryalus. Here M.’s analysis of the ‘tragic features’ of the episode would have been strengthened had he taken into consideration the many studies on the theme of mors immatura in the Aeneid 6 and recent discussions on the ephebic character of the two youth who are here represented as ‘black hunters’ operating at night, not killing in open fight, but surreptitiously slaughtering the enemy as they sleep.7

To be sure Virgilian bibliography is daunting and any scholar working on the Aeneid is bound to miss some relevant works, but here we are not talking simply about minor slips but large bibliographical gaps that seriously hinder the quality of M.’s argumentation and therefore weaken his conclusions. A more thorough knowledge of recent Virgilian bibliography might have led M. to focus his study on important issues that he instead neglects or ignores altogether. In his introduction to his commentary of Aeneid 10, Harrison points out that Virgil employs three basic means of characterization in his catalogues of the slain, namely 1) the pathetic detail, 2) the appropriate death, 3) the significant name. As Harrison rightly argues, the significant name is an especially important strategy of literary composition for it gives the reader of these catalogues important additional information on the victim and/or on the manner of death. M. has ignored this line of inquiry altogether. Despite Harrison’s conclusions and other recent studies that attest to the importance of onomastics and etymology in Virgil, M. grants little or no space to what could be a potentially very fruitful approach to the study of the Virgilian catalogues.8

The second serious flaw of the book rests in its lack of a critical methodology. The way M. deals with Virgilian literary models is especially unsatisfying. M. often quotes Homer as an important model for Virgil’s catalogues (there are some typos in the Greek) but rarely moves beyond ‘source-hunting’ (See, for example, pp. 40 and 76). M. qualifies the relation between Virgil and Homer in terms of a vaguely defined aemulatio (pp. 17, 167, 364, and 366) and, again, seems to be completely unaware of recent and seminal studies on allusions and intertextuality or, for that matter, of the distinction between Homer as ‘code’ and ‘exemplary’ model, which stands at the foreground of many important modern analyses of the Aeneid (see, for example, Conte and Barchiesi).9 As a result, M. offers us a list of Homeric ‘parallel passages’ but never critically interprets Virgil’s allusions to the Homeric text. He tracks down other source models, namely Ennius (but, again, he cites Vahlen instead of Skutsch!) and Lucretius, but does not go beyond the “usual suspects” and, in these instances too, he just offers a list of ‘parallel passages’. Roman prose authors and Homeric scholia are not taken into consideration. We know that Homeric scholia leveled important criticism against Homeric catalogues of the slain. They often criticize Homer’s lack of decorum, his use of unpoetic and low vocabulary, along with the lack of verisimilitude of some Homeric wounds. Taking these texts into account would have been extremely helpful in demonstrating how Virgil rewrites Homeric catalogues in light of this critical tradition.

M. combines his lack of a critical method with an unwillingness to engage with wide-ranging critical issues. He has only fleeting remarks on many important topics and never fully discusses them (i.e. Roman history, narratology, Hellenistic poetry, etc.). He comments more extensively on the tragic quality of the Virgilian catalogues but, once again, recent works on tragedy and the Aeneid would have helped M. to strengthen his discussion on this topic and to qualify better the terminology he uses.10

In sum M.’s book is a good and sensible introduction to the topic of the catalogues of the slain in the Aeneid, but it should be considered more as a point of departure than a point of arrival. M. does a good job in his line by line reading of the text but fails to offer an interpretation of these catalogues which is critically sophisticated and attuned to recent literary criticism and scholarship.


1. P. Mazzocchini, “Motivi tragici nelle androctasie minori dell’Eneide,” Euphrosyne 20 (1992):31-46.

2. L. Wickert, “Homerisches und Römisches im Kriegswesen der Aeneis,” Philologus 85 (1930): 285-302; 437-62.

3. F. H. Sandbach, “Anti-antiquarianism in the Aeneid,” PVS 5 (1965-66): 28-38; R. G. M. Nisbet, “Aeneas Imperator: Roman Generalship in an Epic Context,” PVS 17 (1978-80): 50-61.

4. R. Thomas, “The Isolation of Turnus,” in H. P. Stahl (ed.), Vergil’s Aeneid: Augustan Epic and Political Context, 271-301. London, 1998.

5. P. Hardie, The Epic Successors of Virgil: A Study in the Dynamics of a Tradition, 32-35. Cambridge, 1993; D. Quint, Epic and Empire. Politics and Generic Form from Virgil to Milton, 65-83. Princeton, 1993.

6. See G. B. Conte, The Rhetoric of Imitation: Genre and Poetic Memory in Virgil and other Latin Poets, 185-95. Ithaca, 1986; D.P. Fowler, “Virgil on Killing Virgins,” in M. Whitby, P. Hardie, and M. Whitby (eds.), Homo Viator, Classical Essays for John Bramble, 185-98. Bristol, 1987.

7. P. Hardie, “Virgil and Tragedy,” in C. Martindale (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Virgil, 312-26. Cambridge 1997.

8. J. Reed, “The Death of Osiris in Aen, 12.458,” AJP 119 (1998): 399-418; J. O’Hara, True Names. Virgil and the Alexandrian Tradition of Etymological Wordplay, Ann Arbor, 1996.

9. For intertextuality, see G. B. Conte, The Rhetoric of Imitation: Genre and Poetic Memory in Virgil and other Latin Poets, Ithaca, 1986; R. Thomas, “Virgil’s Georgics and the Art of Reference,” HSCP 90 (1986):171-98; J. Farrell, Vergil’s Georgics and the Traditions of ancient Epic: The Art of Allusion in Literary History, Oxford, 1991; J. Wills, Repetition in Latin Poetry. Figures of Allusion, Oxford, 1996; S. Hinds, Allusion and Intertext. Dynamics of Appropriation in Roman Poetry, Cambridge, 1998. On code model and source model, see A. Barchiesi. La traccia del modello, Pisa, 1984.

10. See, for example, P. Hardie, “Virgil and tragedy” in C. Martindale (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Virgil, 312-26. Cambridge, 1997 (with relevant bibliography).