BMCR 2003.09.01

Clio and the Poets. Augustan Poetry and the Traditions of Ancient Historiography. Mnemosyne Supplement, 224

, , Clio and the poets : Augustan poetry and the traditions of ancient historiography. Master and use copy. Digital master created according to Benchmark for Faithful Digital Reproductions of Monographs and Serials, Version 1. Digital Library Federation, December 2002.. Leiden: Brill, 2002. 1 online resource (xv, 396 pages) : illustrations.. ISBN 1417536594 EUR 98.00.

To begin with, I must declare two interests: (1) the editors of this volume are friends of mine — though I do not know why they have thanked me in their Introduction; (2) I like collected volumes and am not overly concerned about whether they are ‘coherent’, as long as they offer interesting papers loosely centered on an interesting theme. And that, this volume certainly does. Like most collected volumes, its quality is uneven; like many, it suffers from editorial problems (particularly in matters of bibliographical reference and consistency, though the Indices are also lacunose). On the whole, however, it admirably delivers both the dulce and the utile, with a fair dose of uariatio thrown in to make the whole thing sparkle.

Levene-Nelis have carefully arranged and (in their editorial Introduction) contextualized the papers, which lead off with the gauntlet thrown down by C. J. Classen’s frankly unsupportable claim, that ‘none of the poets discussed here [i.e. by Classen; they are Catullus, Tibullus, Propertius, Virgil, Horace, and Ovid — including the Aeneid, the Odes, and the Fasti ] seems to be influenced by historiography, except perhaps for details’. The primary difficulty with Classen’s ‘Clio Exclusa’ (apart from its drift into an apparently unmotivated discussion of anti-Augustanism) is his failure to explain what he means by either ‘historiography’ or ‘history’. He seems to look in these poets primarily for dates, or for reference to specific historical events; and indeed, in the love poets, especially, he does not find them. But the issue at hand is broader, and deeper, than that of simple reference to events in Roman history. We have to wait for the other papers in the collection to see exactly how nuanced, how varied, and how thorough-going the interaction between poetic and historical texts — and consciousness — was.

Unsurprisingly, these 16 papers find Clio to have had considerable influence — to varying degrees, to be sure, and in varying ways — in all the poets Classen treats, and more. Intertextual relationships figure prominently in the discussions; but so does methodology, style, and less readily definable elements such as the political use of historical awareness. The papers include the broadly methodological and the minutely philological; the almost purely historical, with little reference to any text; and the almost purely literary, with great concentration on text. The contributors range widely in approach, but by and large they deploy — or grapple with — a version of new historicism, not only investigating the interface between poetic and historical texts, but also considering how ancient poetry is informed by an engagement with historical and political concerns. Levene-Nelis together share the expertise necessary to put together such a volume; I, on the other hand lack that requisite to evaluate all the papers contained. For that reason, and for reasons of space, since the volume does hang together qua volume, it may be useful to give a brief sense of the individual contributions.

In ‘Propertius the Historian (3.3.1-12)?’ Francis Cairns offers a typically learned analysis of the opening of this famous recusatio, reaching beyond the immediate problem (the text of lines 7-12) to provide — inter alia — a valuable study of the phenomenon of conflation, of both mythical and historical figures, in Augustan verse and to demonstrate a connection between such ‘poetic’ conflation and the ‘fundamental Roman ideology of the family’ (41). V. E. Pagán’s ‘Actium and Teutoburg: Augustan Victory and Defeat in Vergil and Tacitus’ considers the incorporation of Actium in the Aeneid and the clades Variana in the Annals via ekphrasis and digression, suggesting that through such anachronies the poet and the historian cope with the enormity of these ‘moments of extreme cultural and political crisis’ (58).

In ‘Stepping out of the Ring: Repetition and Sacrifice in the Boxing Match in Aeneid 5,’ Andrew Feldherr traces the interlacing temporal perspectives of the internal and external audiences, moving out from this emblematic scene into the wider context of the epic, especially its ending. This paper understands ‘history’ to be fundamental not only to the writing but to the understanding of poetry; so, too, does Ellen O’Gorman in ‘Archaism and Historicism in Horace’s Odes,’ in which she considers ‘how we might respond to … the challenge which the aesthetic poses to historicism’ (81). Starting from Odes 4.5, she explores through rich close reading the contrasts between lyric atemporality and historical time, between the archaic and the modern, analysing the ways in which the ‘dynamic of desire’ — for the presence, above all, of Augustus — informs both the historicist’s and the poet’s response to an aesthetic object. Difficult, at times opaque, O’G.’s piece nevertheless repays its readers’ efforts. In ‘ Ab inferis : Historiography in Horace’s Odes,’ Cynthia Damon considers the perplexing, ostentatiously learned, ethnographically-flavored recusatio of O. 4.4.17-22, contending that Horace allusively refuses the kind of commemoration found in Augustan monuments to conquered tribes, replacing it instead with his own, poetic monumentum. In D.’s view — which I find generally persuasive, though I am not sure I buy the particular argument about this particular passage — historiography broadly understood offered Horace ‘the material for an authoritative encomium on military success’ (103).

The following two pieces are less integrated to the main theme of the volume. ‘Vergil’s Italy: Ethnography and Politics in First-Century Rome’ does trace the poet’s (and others’) use of the concept Italia, but in it Clifford Ando seems much more interested in the concept’s history, of which he gives us a useful study; the impact of historiography on the poems, or vice versa, is not considered. In ‘Roman Archaeology in Vergil’s Arcadia (Vergil Eclogue 4; Aeneid 8; Livy 1.7),’ Marco Marini meditates on Hercules, the ‘eschatological initiator of Roman history’ (158). His is a complicated (and, to me, often obscure) argument, which traces the complementary development of Vergil’s generic choices and the figure of Hercules as manifested within them; the emphasis is on the poet and Augustus.

Three papers on the Metamorphoses follow. Stephen Wheeler develops an idea of Walter Ludwig, that the structures and content of Ovid’s epic are based on universal history; in ‘Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Universal History,’ he argues that many of Ovid’s narrative moves, especially his blend of diachrony and synchrony, advertise the poem’s affinities with that historiographical mode. There are, of course, other possible models for the blend of time-schemes — ekphrasis, for one — but Wheeler is probably right on the main point, and his paper offers a wealth of neglected comparanda. Picking up on the Met. as historical epic, in ‘The Historian in Ovid. The Roman History of Metamorphoses 14-15′ Philip Hardie considers the relationship between the poem and early imperial historiographical narrative, focusing on shared areas of concern (e.g. Ciceronian ideas, exemplarity, the problem of succession). This is less an argument for a particular thesis than a complex description of literary phenomena, fully engaged with contemporary scholarship. Finally, Stratis Kyriakidis considers the historiographical precursors of the Alban King list in Met. 14. ‘The Alban Kings in the Metamorphoses‘ is good on the unexpected presence of Vertumnus and Pomona in Ovid’s catalogue, and its consideration of Dion. Hal. and Diodorus is welcome; but overall the paper struck me as over-simplifying.1 In intertextuality one finds what one looks for; so, for instance — and this is a problem not unique to K. — if one assumes that historiography will echo poetry but not vice versa, then Livy and Vergil will share a common source for passages otherwise explicable only by an influence from prose to poetry; so in K.’s paper, it seems to me that a belief that the poetic text will necessarily be more quirky and complex than the prose ones has produced a study that is both less rich and less coherent than it might otherwise have been.

‘The Fall of Troy: Between Tradition and Genre’ elucidates the relationship between the urbs capta topos in tragedy and historiography, concentrating particularly on Aeneid 2. Andreola Rossi examines how what might appear ‘an inert record of a topos… becomes functional’ (241); she concludes by drawing out the affinities between the narrator Aeneas and a tragic Messenger, effecting thereby a ‘genre shift’ that moves Vergil’s Iliupersis beyond its Odyssean model. I enjoyed this paper, but R.’s elliptical expression of the relationship among historiography, tragedy, and the epic left me uncertain as to the precise role she envisions between historical and poetic text. In ‘Epic Encounters? Ancient Historical Battle Narratives and the Epic Tradition,’ Rhiannon Ash approaches topologically the intertextual intersection of particular historical and epic texts, here the end of Sallust, BC and Tacitus’ siege of Placentia ( Hist. 2.22) with Vergil’s battle scenes. This is an important corrective to the tendency mentioned above, to look only one way for historiographical/poetic intertextuality.2 Thirdly, in ‘The Structure of Livy’s First Pentad and the Augustan Poetry Book,’ Ann Vasaly argues that the complex, intra- and inter-book structures of Livy 1-5 demonstrate a debt to Alexandrian book construction, as reflected in the poetic books of the Triumviral period. An interesting idea, though hard to verify (as V. is aware), owing to the loss of much pre-Livian multi-book prose. One crucial, available comparandum that V. neglects, however, is Lucretius; and though Horace’s Odes postdate Livy’s pentad, as she notes, they offer a prominent, parallel example of text-as-(self-conscious)- monumentum.

More complex intertextuality is traced by Molly Pasco-Pranger in ‘A Varronian Vatic Numa? Ovid’s Fasti and Plutarch’s Life of Numa. Juxtaposing Ovid, Valerius Antias, Varro, and Plutarch,’ P.-P. provides an elegant example of how to reconstruct a lost text (in this case, possibly part of Varro’s De Poematis or De Poetis) and how to connect that historiographical reconstruction to the larger context of the nature and role of the uates in Augustan poetry.3 Hans-Friedrich Mueller also works with mythical narrative and historiography in his discussion of ‘The Extinction of the Potitii and the Sacred History of Augustan Rome.’ M. shows how the myths connected with the administration of the Ara Maxima have very topical relevance in our extant texts (all imperial) concerning them; it is not clear, however, in what way it elucidates the intersection between poetry and historiography — aside from using both as sources for the stories. To see how one might bring such texts together, one needs to turn to T. P. Wiseman on ‘History, Poetry, and Annales,’ the closing piece of the collection, and one of its best. Via a learned examination of the ‘world in which prophecy, poetry, history and moral exhortation were not always thought of as separate conceptual categories’ (359), W. shows that the generic differences between poetry and historical prose are less distinct than one might have imagined (or some ancient writers polemically suggest) — not just that both were rhetorical art forms, and that both used ‘poetic’ topoi and technique, but that their treatments of chronology, truth, pleasure, and the supernatural are often overlapping. W.’s piece appropriately concludes this impressive collection, which moves a long way from its starting point, showing conclusively along the way that not only did Clio not merely linger on the threshold of poetry, but that she had a seat at its hearth.


1. E.g. (to step on just my own soapbox) Livy’s list — whose extraordinary language K. neglects — is not ‘dry and non-poetic’ (218); further, his story of Rhea Silvia incorporates more than the violence and strife with which K. characterises it (224).

2. One can add to A.’s material Llewelyn Morgan’s elaboration on the Pollionic passage deployed by Vergil for his Priam ( JRS 90 [2000] 51-69), Nicholas Horsfall’s demonstration of Vergil’s debt to Caesarian language ( Aeneid 7: A commentary [2000] and Aeneid 11: A commentary [2003] passim), and J. E. Lendon’s demonstration of the stylized nature of Caesar’s battle descriptions ( CA 18 [1999] 273-329).

3. One question: ‘solitary groves and meadows are the sorts of places one meets Muses’ (295), but they are also the sorts of places one is seduced by divinities: how does the Venus/Anchises parallel work (if at all) in this analysis?