BMCR 2004.01.17

Hiems Nascens. Premières représentations de l’hiver chez les poètes latins de la République

, Hiems nascens : premières représentations de l'hiver chez les poètes latins de la République. Quaderni della Rivista di cultura classica e medioevale ; 4. Roma: Edizioni dell'Ateneo, 2002. 93 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 8884760925 EUR 23.50 (pb).

It is not often that a book-reviewer has the opportunity to write about a sequel. Hiems nascens is the prequel to the same author’s Hiems Latina, published in the Collection Latomus (Brussels, 1993). The earlier book was awarded the “Prix Gantrelle de l’Académie de Belgique” and was favorably reviewed by three established academics.1 As if responding to Mario Geymonat’s criticism that “only in passing are Plautus and Terence, Ennius, Lucilius, Catullus (…) cited,”2 this time Pierre-Jacques Dehon (hereafter D.) proposes a shorter journey through the theme of winter in Latin literature of the Republican period.

Turpilius, Accius, the Ciceros (M. and Q.), Varro, Lucretius and the “neoterics”, have been scrutinized by D. besides those already mentioned. The result is a systematic study with a bipartite structure. Each author is treated in a separate chapter and the twelve essays are organized in two parts: before and after Cicero. Not surprisingly for a French book, each part comprises the same number of chapters and (helpfully) has its own introduction and conclusion. A final epilogue summarizes the whole book: Most “grands motifs” of the winter-theme are already evident in pre-Ciceronian poetry, namely the perception of winter as constituent of a set of two or four seasons, as a disagreeable period with a single amiable feature, more leisure. The erudite Ciceronian period will only add an increasing interest in astronomical motifs. The tone used by each poet in his references to winter is not subject to an evolutionary scheme, but depends largely on the poem’s genre and the poet’s gusto.

A bibliography concludes the book. Its impressive amplitude was one of the earlier volume’s virtues, praised by reviewers.3 Equally notable was its Index Locorum, a feature absent from the present volume. D. also paid no attention to Sharrock’s eloquent plead for a general index.4 Given the small size of Hiems Nascens, such an aid may appear superfluous. Nevertheless, it would certainly be worth showing greater diligence in cross-referencing (n. 6 on p. 23 is supplemented by n. 12 on p. 31, while the references supplied in n. 8 on p. 26 are discussed on p. 72) and avoiding overlap between main text and footnotes (e.g. Celsus II, 1, 17 mentioned twice on p. 16).

Winter enters Latin poetry as early as Plautine comedy, but (at least as far as our fragmentary knowledge of republican literature allows) it is in Accian tragedy that we come across the first powerful images of winter. Despite the generally solid bibliographical foundation of the book, an occasional lack of references to secondary literature on specific authors is observed. For instance, D’s fairly sensitive discussion of Accius’ style in fragment 229 Dangel could include references to A. de Rosalia, “L’alliterazione in L. Accio,” ALGP 7-8 (1970-1) 139-215 and/or F. Casaieli, Lingua e stile in Accio, Palermo 1976. His reading of Catullus’ 63.50-73 would have profited from a glance at Kroll’s commentary, where Euripides Troades 1066-67 is cited as a closer parallel to the Veronese poet’s description of the snow-capped mount Ida than Helen 1323-6; a reference to Luca Morisi’s commentary on the poem (Bologna 1999) would not be pointless either.

Redundant and ingenuous observations, a flaw of the earlier book according to Geymonat,5 have not been avoided in Hiems Nascens. But I would rather conclude with an instance of D’s failure to comment appropriately. One of the declared aims of D’s study is to appreciate the Latin poets’ originality in comparison with their Greek predecessors and models. Discussing Accius’ transformation of Sophocles Philoctetes 311-13 in fragment 229 Dangel, D. misses the opportunity to remark the critical change of verb ( ἀπόλλυμαι is replaced with pertuli), which results in a different tone (self-respect instead of self-pity), characteristic of Accius’ tragic characters, who frequently adopt a stoic attitude toward suffering.6

Although I would not be so sure as Mario Geymonat that D’s books on the theme of winter illustrate the French-speaking scholars’ sensitive response to a return in vogue of thematic criticism, Hiems Nascens can be hailed as a prequel worthy of the original. But I cannot recommend paying 23.50 euros for a paperback that needs another book in order to be appreciated properly and reproduces material from articles, also in French. Besides those signaled by D. in footnotes (e.g. n. 23 on p. 16) and not in the Preface, these include “Note sur le sens de carpo dans Lucillius, fragment 828 (Krenkel),” American Journal of Philology 114 (1993) 557-59 and “Sur les fragments 78, 171 et 328 (Cèbe) des ‘Satires Ménipées’ de Varron,” Helmantica 47 (1996) 75-84.


1. Simone Viarre, Antiquité Classique 64 (1995) 311-312; Alison Sharrock, Classical Review 54 (1995) 33-34; and Mario Geymonat, Gnomon 69 (1997) 718-720. Sadly no copy of the book can be found in a Greek library.

2. Art. cit. p. 718.

3. Viarre, art. cit. p. 311 and Geymonat, art. cit. p. 720.

4. Art. cit. p. 33.

5. Art. cit. p. 719.

6. Cf. e.g. Jean-Christian Dumont and Marie-Hélène François-Garelli, Le théâtre à Rome, Paris 1998, p. 123.