BMCR 2008.04.12

Il calamo della memoria. Riuso di testi e mestiere letterario nella tarda antichità. Trieste, 27-28 Aprile 2006. Atti del II convegno. Incontri Triestini di Filologia Classica V 2005-2006

, , , , , Incontri triestini di filologia classica.. Polymnia ; 2, 4-7, 9-10. Trieste: EUT, 2004-2008. 7 volumes : illustrations ; 24 cm.. ISBN 888303130X. €22.00.

The book under review is divided into two sections: the first section contains six articles published as part of the fifth volume of the ‘Incontri triestini di filologia classica’; the second one collects thirteen essays presented at Trieste in April 2006 during the second conference on the theme of poetic memory in late antiquity organized by the University of Trieste. In the first part of the book, a heterogeneous group of articles spans from reception studies to palaeography, from Greek didactic poetry to Silver Latin epic. In the second part, as the title of the conference suggests, the essays share an interest in the issues of memory and the rhetorical role of poetic discourse in late antique texts. They provide a useful introduction (with fairly updated bibliography) to a number of late antique authors and to a variety of literary genres such as epistolography, Bibelepik, textual exegesis and historiography.

The title of the collection (“The quill of memory”) appropriately conveys the idea of an authorial process of selecting literary echoes and allusions in order to trigger poetic references in the reader’s memory. This act of “retrospective explorations”1 performs the dual function of absorbing the past and co-opting it into both the writer’s and the reader’s present.

Maria Grazia Ciani (“Musica da camera per Virginia Woolf”) discusses the presence, at a “subliminal level” (p. 7), of ancient Greek and Latin literature in Virginia Woolf’s novels. The author argues that classical texts, and in particular ancient myths, provide Woolf with an imaginary room of her own where the writer (just like one of her characters, Jacob, in the novel Jacob’s Room) finds a protective space, away from the anxiety and the horrors of the Second World War.

Francesco Stella (“Imitazione interculturale e poetiche dell’alterità nell’epica biblica latina”) looks at the genre of Bibelepik and argues that the recognition of allusions to pagan texts is not always a straightforward process. Stella speaks of “formalizzazione di termini cristiani” (p. 15) and “poetica dell’alterità” (p. 19) and illustrates how, in Dracontius, in a number of cases, traces of pagan echoes are the result of accidental confluences due to the fact that the Christian text alluded to itself contains a reference to a pagan text.

Federica Fontana (“La lirica dei putti danzanti di Aquileia. A proposito di un mosaico tardoantico con figure di eroti”) examines the representation of Cupids found in a fourth-century mosaic at Aquileia in an area between the ancient forum and the harbour. Fontana argues that the mosaic, displaying a number of winged Cupids framed by a garland of flowers and leaves, could date back either to the time of the emperor Constantine (one finds similar mosaics in the palace of Constantine at Trier) or, more tentatively, at the time of Constantius II. In both cases, the mosaic (and its palace) are likely to be an example of a period of political and economic renaissance for the town of Aquileia in late antiquity.

Margherita Losacco’s essay (“I manoscritti greci della Biblioteca dell’Archiginnasio a Bologna”) is a palaeographical note on a number of manuscripts (x-xii century) contained in the library of the Archiginnasio at Bologna. These manuscripts largely preserve Christian texts although noteworthy are two volumes of Euclid’s Elements.

Claudio De Stefani (“La poesia didascalica di Nicandro: un modello prosastico”) analyses a number of passages taken from the Theriaca and the Alexipharmaca of Nicander. He posits that Nicander enriched the poetic register of late antique Greek poetry with numerous technical and medical terms drawn from the Hippocratic corpus and, more importantly, common to the Dionysiaca of Nonnus of Panopolis.

The essay of Marco Fernandelli (“La maniera classicistica di Silio. Tre esempi dal libro VII”) offers an interesting investigation of book seven of Silius Italicus’ Punica. The thematic structure of the book sends the reader to book nine of the Aeneid which is the main hypotext. However, Silius ‘contaminates’ his hypotext with the mobilization of further echoes, re-addressing the reader either to other books of the Aeneid or to different authors such as Ovid and Lucan. Fernandelli defines the technique of blending in the same passage various allusions to different parts of the Aeneid as a form of selective memory that recalls the narrative strategy operated by Ovid in his re-reading of Vergil. Silius challenges the reader’s memory to recognize the trace of the hypotext in a true tour de force. In Silius, the echoes are ‘fragmented’: he breaks a literary allusion into small linguistic units and scatters them in different parts of the text that have in common similar scenes. It is this similarity that functions as a sort of marker that tells the alert reader that the ‘recuperation’ of a previous, partially mentioned allusion is in play.

Giovanni Polara (“Virgilio facilita la convivenza fra popoli diversi. Dal Cassiodoro dell’Historia Gothorum a quello delle Institutiones”) discusses the presence of Vergil in Cassiodorus. Cassiodorus displays an ambivalent dynamic of appropriation: whereas in his texts on Christian exegesis allusions to Vergil are intentionally vague,2 in his historiographical works the auctoritas of Vergil is repeatedly stressed. There Cassiodorus seeks to attain a different goal: Vergil serves as the authoritative source in order to present the Goths both as a race sharing a common divine lineage with the Romans and as people of ancient traditions whose origins were ennobled by a mention in Aeneid, 3.35 [Gradivus] . . . Geticis qui praesidet arvis.

Romeo Schievenin (“Il prologo di Marziano Capella”) offers an intelligent discussion of the prologue of Martianus Capella’s De Nuptiis. From the very first line of the proemium, Martianus warns the reader that the book he/she is going to read is an attempt to defend the classical (pagan) tradition seriously affected by the indocta saecula. In these lines Schievenin singles out the presence of Porphyry and Lucretius. In particular, Lucretius’ hymn to Venus seems to be the main model for Capella’s hymn to Hymenaeus. Martianus’s hymn is certainly a sui generis wedding composition since he does not foreground the topical deductio sponsae but, instead, the eulogy of the god who binds together the primordial semina of the cosmos. Furthermore, just like the Venus of Lucretius, Martianus’s Hymenaeus governs Nature.3 Schievenin ends by recalling that both the presence of Porphyry and Lucretius right at the incipit of Martianus’s magnum opus reinforces Martianus’s strong belief in the importance of pagan paideia.

Fabio Gasti (“Ruricio poeta. Analisi e commento di epist. II 19”) offers a running commentary on a metrical epistle (2.19) sent by Ruricius of Limoges to his friend, Sedatus. The commentary brings to light the wealth of literary echoes (Augustan poets, historians, grammarians and a handful of allusions to Christian authors) and the “esprit précieux” of Ruricius who, like many other late antique writers, seeks refuge in the world of literature unscathed by the worrying events of the outside world.

Giancarlo Mazzoli (“Sidonio, Orazio e la lex saturae”) investigates the important presence of Horace in the texts of Sidonius. Horace is not only an auctor from whom Sidonius draws many allusions, but also a writer whose vicissitudes Sidonius perceives to be very similar to his own. Both supported persons who turned out to be losers (Horace fought for Brutus at Philippi; Sidonius for Avitus in his struggle against Majorian) and both obtained the grace of the winner (Augustus and Majorian respectively) thanks to their amicitia with influential men of letters (Horace with Maecenas and Sidonius with the magister epistolarum).

Commentaries are generally selective readings of a given text. Massimo Gioseffi in his essay (“Amici complici amanti. Eurialo e Niso nelle Interpretationes Vergilianae di Tiberio Claudio Donato”) convincingly compares two ancient commentaries, those of Servius and Donatus on books v and ix of the Aeneid. Servius tends to pass over episodes (or even single words) that could suggest a certain degree of licentiousness in Vergil. For instance, he avoids dwelling on the nature of the amor between Nisus and Euryalus in the fifth book of the Aeneid. By contrast, Donatus devotes more space to the same episode in order to explain how the amor between the two young Trojans is another facet of the feeling of pietas. Furthermore, Donatus posits that the nature of the love that bonds Euryalus and Nisus is not turpis (sensual) but chaste ( castus). Similarly, in book ix Servius’ commentary peters out on the action of the two friends whereas Donatus gives a full treatment of the episode so as to illustrate how, in this episode, Vergil aimed to convey to readers two moral lessons: the heroism of two young men ( cum sociis aut pro sociis mori) and the message that publica (and res publica) ought to be favoured over privata.

Gianfranco Agosti (“Sul ruolo e la valutazione dei ‘minori’ nella poesia greca tardoantica”) laments that late antique Greek literature is unjustly overlooked and that, therefore, “una storia del sistema della poesia antico-bizantina” (p. 211) is necessary. In this essay, the author attempts to sketch the main features of Greek literary production between the fifth and sixth centuries. Agosti argues that during this span of time authors, drawing on the example of Nonnus of Panopolis, experiment with new forms of poetry and literary genres such as the cento and the Bibelepik. Authors such as John of Gaza, Agathias and Paulus Silentiarius see themselves engaged in an agon with their literary models. Agosti posits that it is unfair to label the poetic language of these authors as empty mannerisms; instead, it should be seen as a specimen of a common rhetorical code shared by elites of sophisticated writers. Ultimately, Agosti points out that this seemingly “minor” literature (p. 220) contains valuable snapshots on the level of culture (and social wealth) in the provinces of the sixth-century Byzantine empire.

Of the sixth-century African poet Luxorius, Ferruccio Bertini (“Riuso e adattamento di testi classici negli epigrammi di Lussorio”) examines five epigrams transmitted in the Anthologia Latina.4 For each epigram the scholar gives an Italian translation and brief textual notes, mainly focusing on allusions to classical authors from Horace to Martial.

The contribution of Lucio Cristante (“La praefatio glossematica di Anth. Lat. 19 R=6 Sh. B. Una ipotesi di lettura”) is a critical edition with Italian translation and running commentary of another text contained in the Anthologia Latina : the Praefatio (according to its title in the codex Salmasianus), a prose poem of thirteen lines. Cristante investigates the poetic register of the piece and argues that the preference for an unfamiliar and often cryptic language reveals that the text was likely to be conceived as a message, presumably of a grammarian, addressed to a literary circle of other grammarian poets.

Alessia Fassina (“Alterazioni semantiche ed espedienti compositivi nel Cento Probae”) deals with the allusive technique of the Cento Probae where the pia munera Christi are conveyed through assembling a rich fabric of Vergilian echoes. Some recent works on the Cento Probae are missing in the bibliography.5 More original is the section where Fassina compares Proba’s text with another late antique cento, the co-called Versus ad gratiam Domini of Pomponius, and shows the better technique of Proba who is able to amalgamate, more ably than Pomponius, different quotations of Vergilian units.

Claudio Marangoni (“Sui modelli della Venus vulgaria di Apuleio, apol. 12 (con un appunto su Iside-luna, met. XI 1)”) draws the reader’s attention to the representation of Venus vulgaria in Apuleius’ Apologia, 12. The Venus of Apuleius is a “cultural cocktail” (p. 273) of the Greek Aphrodite (the so-called Aphrodite Pandemos) and the Roman Venus. In accordance with the Platonic idea of the existence of two kinds of Venus (the Urania and the Pandemos), Apuleius inserts both reminiscences of the praise of Venus found in the prologue of Lucretius’ de Rerum Natura and borrowings from the discussion of Varro’s de lingua Latina on the etymology of the name of Venus.

Giovanni Ravenna (“Warburg, Ovidio e Nigidio Figulo 73 Swoboda”) offers a well-argued discussion on the presence (and the influence) of Nigidius Figulus in the Neoplatonic theology of Macrobius’ Saturnalia.

Luca Mondin’s article (“Memoria dei poeti e critica delle varianti: tre ‘casi’ ausoniani”) presents a close study on three textual variants in the poems of Ausonius. Ausonius’ oeuvre is split into two corpora, each one with its own independent textual transmission. Mondin compares the Vossianus Latinus F 111 (the most complete manuscript of Ausonius’ poems) with the manuscripts of the group Z and shows very effectively that in the three cases under scrutiny the textual disagreements are not due to scribes’ interpolations but to Ausonius himself, who intervened with several changes during the various stages of the redaction of his texts.

Finally, Paolo Mastandrea (“Armis et legibus. Un motto attribuito a Iamblichus nei Romana di Iordanes”) takes on the De summa temporum, vel origine actibusque gentis Romanorum written between 550-551 by Jordanes, bishop of Croton (but the identification is problematic). Within an accurate and up-to-date discussion on the historical background, the author focuses his attention on the phrase armis et legibus which Jordanes fictitiously attributes to Iamblichus. The phrase armis et legibus is a dictum memorabile which dates back to Cicero ( Rosc. 131) and was frequently used by late antique authors like Aurelius Victor and Cassiodorus. However, Mastandrea argues that Jordanes is in fact echoing the opening phrase of the De Institutionibus promulgandis (written in 533) of the emperor Justinian and that the quotation is referred to as a phrase of Iamblichus as a deliberate polemical damnation since Justinian was, at the time of the De summa, openly hostile to Pope Vigilius.

In sum, this book contains a number of good and stimulating articles (and, in my view, those of Fernandelli and Gioseffi are outstanding) which will provide much food for thought for scholars interested in specific aspects of late antique literary production. The essays show formal consistency (they all, save for the article of Ciani, have a full bibliography at the end) and are all well-edited with minor typographical errors kept to a minimum. Two indexes (a handful of omissions are found in the index of modern names) conclude the collection.


1. I quote from G.B. Conte, Rhetoric of Imitation. Genre and Poetic Memory in Virgil and Other Latin Poets, Ithaca and London, 1986, p. 49.

2. See e.g. Cassiod. in psalm. 101.2 Christianus . . . omnes superfluas cogitationes excludat, aliud non admittat extraneum, ne — ut ait quidam — purissimis fontibus apros immittere videatur improvidus. The quidam is Vergil and the text alluded to is ecl. 2.59 perditus et liquidis immisi fontibus apros. Polara rightly notes that this is an instance of a “citazione falsificata o rimossa, ma in maniera intenzionale e non per involontaria dimenticanza” (p. 127).

3. Cf. e.g. Lucr. 1.21 rerum natura sola gubernas with de nupt. 1.1.7 natura iugatur.

4. The epigrams, according to Shackleton Bailey’s edition, are the 284, 293, 352, 353 and 354.

5. Most notably Karla Pollmann, ‘Sex and Salvation in the Vergilian Cento of the Fourth Century’, pp. 79-96 in R. Rees, Romane Memento. Vergil in the Fourth Century, London 2004.