BMCR 2005.07.01

Response: Berno on Limburg on Berno

Response to 2005.05.53

I am grateful to Florence Limburg for her review of my book, Lo specchio, il vizio e la virtù. Studio sulle Naturales Quaestiones di Seneca, and in particular for her positive remarks on its structure, on the interest of the passages analysed and on the relationships between NQ and Senecan tragedies. I would like to clarify some of her doubts.

Limburg does not find bibliography about “the cohesion between the different parts of the work” and the function of the digressions: on notes 2 and 3 to pages 15-16 I quote 24 different studies, including the one by Carmen Codoñer which she quotes in this connection. With regard to the “moralismo romano”, she also mentions pages 200-201 of Citroni Marchetti’s book. I do not quote those pages, because they do not concern Seneca, but Pliny; anyhow, the book itself is often quoted with reference to the specific passages analysed (see index of modern authors). Regarding the concept of digression, my aim was to underline, with specific reference to the passages analysed, the connections between the ‘moralistic digressions’ and their scientific context. I leave it to the reader to decide which it is more “awkward”: my definition of digression (pp. 23-24) or that of Limburg: “a digression is also characterized by its digressive character”.

Secondly, with reference to the “specularity” between vice and virtue, Limburg writes: “Sometimes the contrasts and correspondences between vice and virtue that are pointed are forced”; but these correspondences, if not explicitly made by Seneca, are based on precise lexical recurrences (see p. 195, which she quotes in this regard). Also, Limburg does not understand the function of this polarity, which is expressed also with reference to different semantic fields. I can answer quoting from pp. 20-21: “Queste opposizioni esprimono, in ultima analisi, le contrapposte visioni del mondo del filosofo e dei viziosi, in quanto ad uno dei termini corrisponde la natura, […] all’altro ciò che va contro di essa […] Tutto ciò […] rappresenta anche una modalità espressiva di uno schema tipico del moralismo senecano, quello che,attraverso l’antitesi, tende a rappresentare il conflitto tra vizio e virtù nei termini di una lotta tra le sfere del positivo e del negativo.”

“How must we decide which of these interpretations is correct?” she asks about my interpretation of the final of book III compared with the one by Gauly 2004 (published a year after my book). I think you have to choose with regard to the relationships between the interpretation and the text; but there is precisely the variety of different interpretations which characterizes a ‘classic’, as everyone knows. Moreover, I grant that I do not deal with the problem of book order (an important problem but not relevant to the aim of my book, though see p. 254); it is as legitimate as any choice to study a specific aspect of the text, if only centred on the text itself.

Finally, with regard my so-called “extreme position about the unity of the NQ”, I do not find anything extreme in analysing connections at different levels between some moralistic passages and their scientific context, with the explicit aim of demostrating that they are not out of place in a work like NQ.

I hope to have adequately responded to Limburg’s doubts.