BMCR 2005.05.47

Response: Armstrong et al. on Quartarone on Armstrong et al

Response to 2005.04.64

Response by

In Lorina Quartarone’s skeptical review of our Vergil, Philodemus and the Augustans, there are many compliments here and there. That makes me want to thank her in general for the careful consideration she gives all the book’s various elements one by one. I also allow with approval that reviewers should be skeptical anyway and by profession. But there are two or three things which a reader who doesn’t know the issues might misunderstand.

Quartarone (= Q) says that what has been discovered as a foundation for speculating on Epicurean influence on Vergil is “the vocative form of V[ergil’]s name in Greek” in one of the Herculaneum papyri. It’s actually in three papyri, and there are four names in each instance, but the third and last papyrus to be discovered and published gives all four names more or less complete. Philodemus’ addressees in all three cases are 1) Vergil; 2) Varius, the author of a Thyestes and a poem On Death, whose subject is frequently thought to have been inspired by Philodemus’ surviving On Death, of which book four survives; 3) Quintilius Varus, Horace’s friend and favorite critic (according to the Ars Poetica) of his own youthful writings; and 4) Plotius Tucca, who evidently edited the Aeneid with Varius after Vergil’s death. Vergil, Plotius and Varius accompanied Horace on his trip to Brundisium, S. 1. 5, and that’s only one of many mentions of all four in Horace. The first two texts were published as early as 1873 and the third in 1989. But I’ve found it’s more than likely any classicist I mention this to will either never have heard that all these four together were in some way Philodemus’ students, and addressees, in the 40’s or 30’s BCE, or will have thought only Vergil was mentioned. It’s a pretty good foundation for trying to find Epicurean and Philodemean influence in hitherto unsuspected places in Vergil and Horace, and add them into the mix with other influences. That in fact is what we were trying to do, with what success Q and others are welcome to judge. We wanted, not to make Vergil an “unmitigated and uncomplicated” adherent of Philodemus or of Epicureanism in general, but to find out where he is appealing to readers who share his knowledge of this philosophy, as of many other things.

Q thinks we confuse what is Epicurean pur sang with what is Philodemus’ own and peculiar to him among our proposed new intertextualities. For the most part that’s not easy to do. Philodemus’ On Anger, his On the Good King According to Homer, his On Frank Speaking, his and Demetrius Laco’s On Poems, his On Music, and his On Rhetoric, are all, or except for a very little, the most of what we know about Epicurean attitudes to: anger and emotion; the responsibilities of kingship or (in this case, since Philodemus is addressing Calpurnius Piso) of princely position and great patronage; interpersonal therapy and techniques of mild or harsh reproof; poetry, music, and rhetoric. In a number of cases (for example On Anger and On Rhetoric) one can know from the not very relevant sayings of the Master and his immediate circle which Philodemus tries to use for proof texts that they didn’t say anything in detail about these topics and left later Epicureans to fill that in. Thus these texts are the only evidence. On Death is also well preserved and gives us evidence of a more sympathetic and emotional attitude to the fear of death than Lucretius or the fragments of Epicurus.

On only one point do I feel misrepresented, but that’s an important one. I regard “dark side” criticism of the Aeneid, starting from the deep implications of the last scene and working back, as a great and progressive feature of twentieth century Vergil scholarship, and as something I hope will never be given up in serious study of the poem. So do the three other editors, who join me in this response, and many of the contributors in the volume. Q implies this isn’t my view but I say so at the end of the introduction, citing Denis Feeney on Aeneas’ lack of friends and the hero himself on his lack of happiness. Though it’s novel in “dark side” criticism to think that Aeneas’ anger in the last scene would have seemed acceptable to an Epicurean reader as “natural,” that’s not the main point. If Aeneas didn’t enjoy life, and if his “destiny” broke his most intimate friendships, as it does with Creusa, Dido and Pallas among others, there’s no question he wasn’t a sage, and therefore he wasn’t an unqualified object of imitation. Fish also brings this out in his essay, especially about the unhappiness. I thought that offered a good philosophical beginning, supposing Vergil intends to appeal at all to the philosophical reader, for asking why the Aeneid ends so poignantly. It’s better than Stoicism, which has been suggested as a backdrop for condemning Aeneas’ furor and ira. The Stoics, who utterly rejected all but “first feelings” among the emotions as radically vicious, would have to say bad things about nearly everyone in the poem, not just Aeneas. Besides there’s no biographical tradition that Vergil was interested in Stoicism, whereas there is one, in addition to the Herculaneum papyri, for his interest in Epicureanism. (The Epicurean poems in the Appendix Vergiliana and Servius’ Epicurean allegory of E. 6, for example.) I can’t fault Q for concluding one should just get this approach from the poem itself without philosophy, but she’s evidently already tempted by at least one aspect of the Epicurean view of Vergil. For the “two-voices” critic of the Aeneid it’s important to allow for irony about the gods and their speeches and influence. Perhaps Q likes Wigodsky’s essay for helping with that, as well as for its many other virtues. If the gods are principally allegories of the material universe, as they were for Lucretius, and in addition necessary genre elements as in Horace’s lyrics, much is explained. But I would contend these aren’t separable issues. An Epicurean reader-response to Aeneas himself (I argued) all but requires one to find some degree of darkness in the character because of its unhappiness and lack of close friendships. What this degree is, where it belongs on the scale from grey to very dark indeed, can be worked out on other grounds, for philosophy and its abstractions stop being relevant at that point. But it would make impossible any unqualified approval or unqualified idealization of him. Philodemus claims that politics is the enemy of friendship. And without friendship there is no true happiness.

My co-editors and I are grateful to Q for her many positive comments on individual essays, and I have appended these general statements only to set them within a larger context. BMCR readers will know from current newspaper coverage and Internet discussions that both Herculaneum and Oxyrynchus papyri are yielding up new text even as I write this.