BMCR 2007.12.11

Collected Papers on Latin Poetry

, Collected papers on Latin poetry. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. xix, 418 pages ; 24 cm. ISBN 9780199203963. $125.00/£65.00.

Table of Contents

Coordinated by S.J. Harrison and G. Hutchinson, this volume essentially gathers together in chronological order the most important articles by R.O.A.M. Lyne from 1970 to his sudden death in 2005, except “particularly short or technical” ones and those pieces that were superseded by Lyne’s later work and afterthoughts (v). In addition, the editors have decided to include two essays that are not articles in the strict sense: Lyne’s introduction to C. Day Lewis’ translation of Virgil’s Eclogues and Georgics (1983) and an hitherto unpublished paper on the Sulpicia poems (2004-5), which contains a great many valuable comments on items 3.13-18 of the Corpus Tibullianum.

The collection is preceded by an Introduction (ix-xix), in which G. Hutchinson (H.) briefly summarizes the main stages of development of Lyne’s scholarly works. Needless to say, any such systematic classification, no matter how cautious, inevitably runs the risk of being over-simplified or of lending coherence to what in reality is much more complex or diverse. In the present case, it at first struck me with surprise that H. could so easily discover a tripartite structure in Lyne’s writings, especially since this tripartition is the result of, or results in, chronological segmentation. Of this H. is certainly aware: “The periods are a convenient simplification, and suit the particular account here.” (x) Upon closer inspection, I must say that H.’s simplification does indeed help the reader better comprehend the underlying evolution in Lyne’s oeuvre.

The division suggested by H. is this:

‘Period A’ comprises the early Lyne, 1970-1980, up to the publication of The Latin Love Poets. In this phase, Lyne was especially concerned with personal poetry, among which the Elegies of Propertius surely were his favorites. Since his doctoral dissertation was a commentary on Ciris, lines 1-190, and since he continually worked and published on various technical, especially editorial, aspects of the Ciris poem as a whole (see the items listed at 368), he had already gained admirable expertise in the analysis of even tiniest details. The result of this labor, among other things, was an edition and commentary of the entire Ciris in 1978 — still ‘the’ reference work for anyone interested in that poem. It is this commentary style that informs the (structure of the) articles of this period as well, namely on Prop. 1.3, 1.5, and 3.10, and Virg. Georg. 1.463ff. To illustrate this Lynean take it is perhaps best to quote from the author’s own, quite frequent, self-reflexive comments; e.g., in an ‘endnote’ to his Georgics article of 1974, Lyne emphasizes that “My concern has been within the sense of words; to show the poet exploiting their semantic resonances, their associations and backgrounds of meaning; to show how these are made to interact and cooperate; for hence comes the real stuff of poetry.” (58) This statement, I think, wonderfully describes the author’s approach to poetry: ever since his early articles, Lyne has superbly combined the scrutiny typical of a commentator with a sharp eye on the poems as a whole. Inseparable from this persistent philological acumen is the author’s joyous commitment to the primary texts — a ‘private voice’ full of self-irony that so wittily merges scholarly determination with a rare sense of humor and distance. Thus, Lyne’s academic prose is so refreshingly imbued with elements that, at first sight, are much more typical of “the real stuff of poetry” itself.

‘Period α’, towards its end, also includes two classics: “The Neoteric Poets” of 1978 and ” Seruitium Amoris” of 1979. These two have always been among my favorites, and I keep putting them on reading lists for students of Catullus and Elegy, for they contain so much timeless insight into the complexities of the ‘Neoteric circle’ and the literary-historical setting of Roman Elegy. It matters little that some of the contentions made or conclusions drawn in these articles soon needed to be re-assessed or would nowadays not meet with universal approval.1

‘Period β’, predominantly Virgilian, focuses on poetry that confronts the reader with the ‘public’, as opposed to the ‘personal/private’, voice. It is also the time when literary theory, influenced quite visibly by his Oxonian friend and fellow-worker Don Fowler, gains more and more power over, and thus further enriches, Lyne’s way of thinking. With his “Vergil and the Politics of War” (1983), he takes part in the discussion of the apparent conflict between epic and non-epic Aeneas/ Aeneid and, thus, ‘imperial’ vs. ‘non-imperial’ Virgil — an everlasting hot-spot of Virgilian scholarship ever since A. Parry’s “Two Voices” of 1963. The 1983 article in many ways prefigures Lyne’s Further Voices in Vergil’s Aeneid (1987), which itself becomes the target of the author’s own critical re-thinking in his subsequent work on Virgil, culminating perhaps in the 1992 book Words and the Poet.2 It is perhaps in Lyne’s work on Virgil that the dynamic process of constant re-thinking and re-writing can most clearly be appreciated. ‘Virgilian subversion’ is, I think, in a productive way mirrored in the subversion inherent in Lyne’s own approach to the Aeneid. Here, the tools and language of intertextuality, adopted in “Vergil’s Aeneid : Subversion by Intertextuality. Catullus 66.39-40 and Other Examples” (1994), are essential to an understanding of the development of Lyne’s posture(s). Irony and elusiveness, the core of subversion, are also the central point of interest in his Horace: Behind the Public Poetry (1995), whence H. (x, xvi) has put it in ‘Period B’ too.3

As one learns from H., ‘Period C’ is the result of a “generic shift” (x), i.e., Lyne’s decision to concentrate on articles rather than books.4 For many reasons, one can view the work of this period as a synthesis of ‘Periods A’ and ‘B’. In no fewer than four articles, all of which came out in 1998, Lyne returns to Catullus, Propertius, and Tibullus; in another two (both published posthumously in 2005), to Horace. The focus, this time, is distinctly on books, rather than individual poems, and the dialogic interplay between them. Intertextuality and subversion permeate the line of thinking, always in a playful way. Propertius’ books are still the centerpieces of Lyne’s interest. As for Horace, the structure of his book of Epodes is explored, including a comparison with Callimachus’ book of Iambi; the other Horatian piece concerns the edition and structure of Odes 1 compared to the scarce remains of Alcaeus’ Book 1.

The text of the Catullan corpus being so poorly transmitted, thus leaving much room for editorial dispute, it is perhaps no surprise that Lyne’s rigorous close readings of Catullus’ poems also prompted his skepticism as to a variety of readings and conjectures accepted in Mynor’s standard OCT edition. The thoughts put forward in his “Notes on Catullus” of 2002 (esp. on cc. 10, 28, 30, 34, 61, 68) are the result of a seminar which he co-taught with Don Fowler in the early 1990s (cf. 283), in which I was fortunate enough to participate as a visiting student. To judge from my own notes and the various handouts I still have in my files, it is a pity indeed that the majority of ideas Lyne and Fowler proposed in that seminar never got published. A critical text with commentary, ed. Lyne-Fowler, would have been splendid. Similarly, we can only regret that all that we have of Lyne’s unfinished work on Sulpicia is the last item included in this volume, “[Tibullus] Book 3 and Sulpicia” (341-367); “he certainly spoke of a commentary”, but “never made a decisive resolution to proceed; he said once that giving the text was the obstacle.” (xviii)

A complete bibliography of Lyne’s works follows, along with references (works cited) and detailed indices (locorum and verborum). (368-418)

Undeniably, Oliver Lyne’s work as a whole displays a remarkable focus on the most ‘classical’ of Latin poets, from 60 B.C.E. to 20 C.E. However, this concentration allowed him to return to the same set of texts from a variety of different viewpoints and with an equal variety of methods. His in-depth studies of late Republican and Augustan poetry are amazingly versatile and immensely useful also for investigations of other poetry, Greek or Latin. “The corpus of Lyne’s work, though painfully incomplete, radiates achievement.” (xviii) It is both his achievements and his take on poetry and life in general that, I hope, will always remain a model and stimulus for future students of ancient literature.


1. E.g., how ‘Neoteric’ is Catullus, esp. in his ‘longer’ poems? or, would everybody agree that the Catullan “collection could not possibly have been produced by Catullus himself” (81 with n. 54)? — Similarly, Lyne’s conclusion in 1979 that “the inventor of the Elegiac ‘seruitium amoris’ is probably Propertius himself” (100) soon needed modification on account of the Gallus papyrus, whose ed. princ. came out in the same year ( JRS 69: 125-155); cf. also P. Murgatroyd, Latomus 40 (1981): 589-606.

2. And see Lyne’s article of the same title, SIFC 10 (1992): 255-270. It is perhaps a little unfortunate that this piece is not included in the present volume.

3. A critical assessment of this book (contrasting Lyne’s attitude toward Horace as opposed to Virgil) can be found in BMCR 1996.09.15 (R.J. Tarrant).

4. According to the Introduction, this decision was prompted by the fact that “some adverse elements in the reception of the book [on Horace] had a disproportionate effect on Lyne” (xvii).