BMCR 2008.04.16

Dialogando con il passato: permanenze e innovazioni nella cultura latina di età flavia. Le Monnier Università / Lingue e Letterature

, , Dialogando con il passato : permanenze e innovazioni nella cultura latina di età flavia. Lingue e letterature. Firenze: Le Monnier università, 2007. ix, 254 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 8800206654. €21.00.

The volume under review represents the third significant collection of papers on the Flavian era to appear in the past five years, after Flavian Rome: Culture, image, and text (2003) and Flavian poetry (2006), both published by Brill.1 The present gathering offers thirteen pieces first presented during a conference at the Università (degli Studi) di Pavia on October 21-22, 2006. (Four other contributions to the symposium will be published elsewhere.) The Editors are to be commended for the speedy preparation of the proceedings, and the result is a welcome assortment of papers on topics ranging from literature (especially Martial) to culture and the arts.

The Editors begin with a very brief “Premessa” (pp. vii-ix) in which they outline the fundamental methodological concerns at issue and elucidate the thematic foundations (but not, however, the chosen arrangement) of the individual compositions. Even a cursory glance of the contents substantiates the claim, “Ampio e vario è il range delle tematiche affrontate” (p. viii). And yet, it is very surprising that neither the Editors nor any of the other contributors (with the sole exception of Maggi) ever mentions the earlier collection edited by Boyle and Dominik, which, at three times the length, far surpasses the volume under review in breadth and, to some extent, depth of coverage. Indeed, although the Editors acknowledge the profound importance of “il rapporto con il referente culturale greco” (ibid.), Flavius Josephus is cited only twice, and the decision to focus on “permanenze e innovazioni nella cultura latina”, rather than “nella cultura romana”, goes unexplained.2 Nevertheless, the papers offer a variety of important insights, and I will devote the remainder of this review to considering them individually.

Ruurd R. Nauta, “Literary History in Martial” (pp. 1-17)

Nauta opens the collection with a programmatic study of the nexus between memoria and historia, especially in the realm of Roman literary culture. In a brief survey of the ancient evidence for the nebulous concept of “literary history” (e.g., Quint. inst. 10.1), N. argues for “the absence in Antiquity of literary histories of the type familiar to us” (p. 3), but this claim merely begs the question. Moreover, in his discussion about the relationship between genre and periodization, N. inconsistently refers both to a “Ciceronian-Augustan” (pp. 5, 6, and 8) and to a “Caesarian-Augustan” (pp. 7 and 13) era spanning the late Republic and early Empire, as well as to the standard “Augustan age”. In this context, he embarks on a reading of Mart. 8.55(56), in which the poet encourages Flaccus to play the part of Maecenas but then refuses to play the part of Vergil, preferring instead to follow in the footsteps of Domitius Marsus. N. seriously misreads this: “This [i.e., the proleptic recusatio ] must imply that the epigrams that Martial would write have a seriousness and relevance that make them a fit alternative to the Aeneid” (p. 12). Ultimately, N. returns to the problematic divide between “memory” and “history” in order to reject the title of “literary historians” for the ancient poets (” their memory of the literary past…did not primarily take the form of history” [p. 15]), but it is not clear what this means.

Marco Fucecchi, “Tematiche e figure ‘trasversali’ nell’epica flavia” (pp. 18-37)

Fucecchi sustains this focus on the web of literature, history, and literary history with an analysis of what he calls “tematiche e figure ‘trasversali'” in Valerius Flaccus, Statius, and Silius Italicus, i.e., themes and characters which “transcend” the boundaries of the traditional epic cycles. Thus, he illustrates how Valerius Flaccus appropriates figures like Nestor (from the Trojan cycle) and Tydeus (from the Theban cycle) in order to activate the productive tension implicit in the process of putting such traditional epic figures in untraditional epic contexts. Similarly, F. outlines how Statius imports Hypsipyle from the Argonautica into the Thebaid. He devotes the longest portion of the paper to the more complex case of Amphiaraus. Building on the results of Elaine Fantham’s recent study in Flavian poetry, in which she emphasizes the Vergilian and Lucanian intertexts for Theb. 3.499-676, F. concentrates on the manifold links tying Amphiaraus to, among others in Valerius Flaccus, Idmon and Tiphys. Unfortunately, his analysis of Orpheus qua warrior-poet in the Punica is less satisfying, as is his treatment of the near-fratricide of the Dioscuri in the Argonautica. In the end, F. attempts to cover too many texts, and, as a result, he neglects “genealogie letterarie e intersezioni tematiche” (p. 35).

Stefano Maggi, “Temi di architettura flavia” (pp. 38-52)

Maggi moves from literature to architecture in a general piece which relies heavily on the work of R. H. Darwall-Smith ( Emperors and architecture: A study of Flavian Rome [Bruxelles, 1996]) and J. E. Packer (in Flavian Rome). After two premesse, on political and architectural (dis)continuity during the age of transition from the Julio-Claudians to the Flavians, M. offers little more than a bald summary of the building programs pursued by Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. In Domitian’s case, he claims that “i successivi progetti mostrano chiaramente gli interessi e le idee politiche del principe: sopratutto il Foro Transitorio, [etc.]”, but such a list of opera does not, in fact, “show” anything at all about his “political interests and ideas”, without further interpretation. M. ranges over the entire Mediterranean for provincial analogs to the construction in Rome, but without any real rhyme or reason and with such brevity that the connection is often unclear and/or unconvincing. Finally, the anomalous paragraphing, with frequent one- and two-line one-sentence sense-units, does little to help structure the argument.

Fabrizio Slavazzi, “Le residenze imperiali flavie e i loro programmi scultorei” (pp. 53-64)

Slavazzi contributes the second (and only other) non-literary study in the collection, an overview of the “Flavian imperial residences”, from the initial construction under Vespasian and Titus to the extensive building program pursued by Domitian. S. cites Mart. 5.1 for Domitian’s plethora of villae throughout Italy, and, in particular, he focuses on the residences at Circeii and Alba Longa. In turning to Domitian’s unification of the Palatine, S. makes an elegant connection: “Domiziano, insieme Ascanio e Romolo, abitava contemporaneamente Alba Longa e la Roma quadrata” (p. 59). However, in devoting so much space to the imperial residences themselves, he ultimately provides little more than an inventory of the sculptures found at each site. Thus, for example, he does not consider the implications for our understanding of imperial ideology of placing statues of Dionysus and Heracles together in the Aula Regia (cf. p. 60).

Caterina Ragghianti, “Persio e la costruzione di un lettore responsabile nella satira latina” (pp. 65-77)

Ragghianti returns the focus to literature, but Persius is a Neronian, not a Flavian, author. “La mia ipotesi è che, per quanto riguarda il satirico neroniano, l’immagine di ‘poeta isolato’ sia per certi aspetti da ridimensionare, viceversa, proprio sul piano delle strategie comunicative della sua satira” (p. 66). In order to support this argument, R. begins with a review of the familiar passages from Horace’s Satires (1.4, 1.10, and 2.1) on the origins of the genre in Lucilius and Old Comedy. She then considers how Persius and Juvenal exploit the tension between Horace’s more relaxed comitas and urbanitas, and Lucilius’ marked aggressiveness. Finally, she offers a reading of Persius’ Satires 1 and 5 which connects Midas and his ass’s ears with the iunctura callidus acri passage. R. concludes that Persius envisions his ideal reader as “un lettore generico, astratto” (p. 76), a reflection of his broad moralizing agenda. This argument does not, however, sufficiently engage with the much more thorough and compelling analysis of 1.126-134 presented by Tzounakas (in an article which R. herself cites in her bibliography).

Stefano Rocchi, “I veteres di Valerio Probo” (pp. 78-96)

Rocchi continues the work on literature with a close reading of Suetonius’ biographical notice of M. Valerius Probus in the De grammaticis. In his discussion about what Suetonius means by the quosdam veteres libellos which Probus reintroduced to Latin literary culture under the Flavians, he focuses on two passages. First, R. examines Suet. gram. 24.2: durante adhuc ibi antiquorum memoria necdum omnino abolita sicut Romae, and he argues that the veteres mentioned here are not Lucretius, Vergil, and Horace, whom Probus is recorded as having annotated by the Anecdotum Parisinum, but rather earlier authors like Naevius, Plautus, and Ennius. Furthermore, R. agrees with Kaster against Leo in reading the passage cited as a charged polemical assertion rather than a “factual” assessment. Second, R. examines another passage from 24.2: quamvis omnes contemni magisque opprobrio legentibus quam gloriae et fructui esse animadverteret, and he contextualizes this claim in the ongoing debate between the “archaists” and the “modernists” of Latin style. R. concludes with some interesting remarks about Seneca, Quintilian, and even Fronto in this regard, as well as about the close relationship between Probus and Aulus Gellius; but, like Persius, most of these are not Flavian authors.

Stefano Corsi, “Quint. inst. 2,3: sopravvivenza quattrocentesca di un’intuizione didattica” (pp. 97-107)

Corsi presents another close reading, of an early chapter in Quintilian about the importance of ensuring that students have access to the best teachers from the very beginning and not simply later in their studies ( inst. 2.3). C. begins with a brief review of those passages elsewhere in the work where Quintilian similarly emphasizes the importance of surrounding children with nutrices and paedagogi of the highest quality. Then, he offers what is essentially an annotated summary of inst. 2.3, and he notes the “sopravvivenza quattrocentesca” of the reference to Timotheus (2.3.3) in later pedagogical works by Pier Paolo Vergerio (the Elder), Enea Silvio Piccolomini, and Battista Guarino. He claims, “Quintiliano dice di più ma sopratutto dice meglio dei suoi emuli” (p. 105), but this conclusion only deflates the value of his discussion.

Cesare Marco Calcante, “L’antico come categoria stilistica: le teoria dell’arcaismo nell’Institutio oratoria di Quintiliano” (pp. 108-123)

Calcante contributes a second piece on Quintilian, a broader reading of the rhetorician’s views on archaism. C. helpfully divides his paper into three sections: “l’arcaismo come strategia della selezione lessicale”, “l’arcaismo come strategia sintagmatica”, and “l’arcaismo nella competenza dell’oratore”. Building on the work of Lebek and Pennacini (among others), he begins his section on lexical choices with a review of the relevant passages in the Rhetorica ad Herennium, Cicero, and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, before focusing on Latinitas and ornatus in the Institutio oratoria. In the section on syntax, C. examines Quintilian’s positions on figurae verborum and compositio. In the final section, C. outlines how Quintilian concurs with Cicero in largely rejecting archaizing syntax, while generally accepting archaizing lexical choices: “In una cultura retorica fondata sulla secca opposizione tra novi e veteres, Quintiliano si schiera dalla parte dei veteres, rifiutando però l’arcaismo estremo per farsi sostenitore di una lingua fondata sui modelli del secolo precedente. Ed è precisamente la lingua ciceroniana a operare come filtro deputato a selezionare quei tratti della lingua arcaica che saranno parte integrante della competenza dell’oratore moderno” (p. 121).

Chiara Bianconi, “Ambiguità del linguaggio dell’amicizia e del potere in Seneca e Marziale” (pp. 124-135)

Bianconi undertakes a comparative study of Seneca and Martial in which she focuses on how these two men of letters negotiate their respective relationships with the princeps. On the one hand, they use “the language of friendship” (e.g., amicus and sodalis) when they wish to cast the bond as one between near equals. On the other, they use “the language of power” (e.g., cliens and patronus) when they wish to cast it as one between more distant partners. First, B. summarizes the conclusions of her recent article on “i ‘due linguaggi’ di Marziale” (see Maia 57.1 [2005]: 65-93). Then, in turning to Seneca and “la parola conciliante”, she argues (against Griffin) that Seneca’s avoidance of the language of power in favor of that of friendship is central to the “messaggio rassicurante” (p. 131) of the essay De beneficiis. B. does not, however, sufficiently discuss how these “two languages” interact.

Rita Degl’Innocenti Pierini, “Pallidus Nero (Stat. silv. 2,7,118 s.): il ‘personaggio’ Nerone negli scrittori dell’età flavia” (pp. 136-159)

Degl’Innocenti Pierini similarly explores the interplay between the poet and the princeps in a close reading of Stat. silv. 2.7, the genethliacon Lucani ad Pollam (cf. Mart. 7.21-23). After situating the poem “tra encomio e consolazione”, D. I. P. narrows in on Statius’ depiction, “fra Virgilio e Lucano”, of Lucan himself and Nero in the Underworld (2.7.107-120). She emphasizes how Statius deftly inverts the power dynamic, with the poet now sacer et superbus (2.7.116) and the princeps now little more than pallidum (2.7.118). Furthermore, D. I. P. elegantly identifies this scene as a possible resonance of Lucan’s own (now lost) Catachthonion (or, perhaps better, Catachthonia), and she also briefly mentions Nero’s reception in Flavian literature, where Pliny the Elder lays the foundation for “il processo di demonizzazione della figura di Nerone” (p. 148, cf. Plin. NH 7.45-46 and 30.14-16).

Alessia Bonadeo, “I classici nella paideia di P. Papinio (Stat. silv. 5,3)” (pp. 160-176)

Bonadeo (also one of the volume’s editors) considers another Statian gem, silv. 5.3, the epicedion in patrem suum, with a particular concentration on the poet’s account of his early paideia. Following some introductory remarks about the name “P. Papinius Statius” and the date of the poem, B. underscores the idiosyncratic nature of Statius’ list of Greek authors whom he read with his father, a list of more “peripheral” than “core” works. As a result, this list bears little resemblance to that found in Quintilian ( inst. 10.1). B. profitably associates this divergence with Statius’ special relationship to the tradition, via his father, who was also a poet: “Tuttavia, come si diceva, l’essenza della paideia papiniana e il suo significato per il figlio trascendono la pura e semplice lettura dei classici e vertono su una dinamica di relazione con gli auctores” (p. 168). Here, B. invokes the relationship between Vergil and Homer as a model for that between Statius and his father, as the Latin poet confronts his Greek ancestor.

Silvia Mattiacci, “Marziale e il neoterismo” (pp. 177-206)

Mattiacci expatiates on the paradox that “il ‘catulliano’ Marziale non è un Marziale ‘neoterico'” (p. 177) in a lengthy piece of the same basic import as her essay in a 2007 volume co-written with Andrea Perruccio. After some general remarks on Martial’s relationship with Catullus and the Greek epigrammatic tradition, M. pursues a number of close readings in order to support her thesis. Thus, in a number of poems spread throughout the corpus, Martial signals his rejection of Catullus (2.86) and his neoteric friends Calvus (14.196) and Cinna (10.21), even of Callimachus himself (4.23 and 10.4), and he cleverly inverts the traditional paradigm by claiming that, instead of writing learned poetry for the masses, he will write simple poetry for the elite. By focusing on the question of readership, Martial here aligns himself with the satiric tradition, from Lucilius to Juvenal (e.g., in 10.59). M. continues with 6.61(60) and 8.3, epigrams on Martial and his Muse, and she connects these poems with similar pieces ascribed to Seneca (37 and 30 Prato) in the Anthologia Latina. Finally, M. compares Martial’s focus on realism with a similar focus in Phaedrus. While it is certainly true that Martial assumes a polemical stance with regard to his literary forebears, this should perhaps not be read as a rejection of that tradition but rather as a witty and ironic signal that Martial understands such polemics themselves to be “Callimachean”.

Alberto Canobbio, “Dialogando col lettore. Modalità comunicative nei finali dei libri di Marziale” (pp. 207-231)

Canobbio closes the collection with a systematic examination of the final poems in each of Martial’s fifteen (including the De spectaculis) books of epigrams – a nice metaliterary gesture by the editors themselves, no doubt. Given the ample scholarship on how these books begin and on their general structure, C. fills a serious gap with the present study. After discussing the problematic conclusion of the De spectaculis, he considers the final couplets from the Xenia and the Apophoreta. C. then proceeds with a review of each of the twelve remaining books, where he discerns a pattern of “estro-verso” (books 1-5 and 7), “intro-verso” (6 and 8-9) and, finally, “estro-verso” (10-12) closural devices (e.g., pp. 223-224). He ends with the debatable idea “di un passagio dall’ ‘io’ [i.e., Horace and Ovid] al ‘tu’ [i.e., Martial]” (p. 227).

The volume concludes with an “Indice degli autori antichi e dei passi citati o discussi” (pp. 233-247) and a complementary “Indice degli autori moderni citati” (pp. 248-254). I have noticed only a few (minor) typographical errors, although Kirk Freudenburg’s Threatening p[r]oses (p. 77) are perhaps best left as poetry. The editors have done their job well, although they have not provided enough cross-references (e.g., in the four contributions on Martial, none of which really engages with any of the others), and the “Premessa” could have been longer and more detailed.

There is a larger issue here, however. Why are there four articles on Martial, but only one on the entirety of Flavian epic? Surely, each of the three poems merits separate treatment of some kind. Furthermore, why is there a piece on Valerius Probus, but nothing at all on Pliny the Elder or Frontinus? If Persius is to be included, why not include Juvenal (and Tacitus)? Finally, why have Greek authors been systematically excluded? In comparison with Augustan literature, Flavian literature is still largely unexplored territory, and Martial and Statius continue to dominate the picture. In the end, while this volume will certainly help to increase interest in the period, a/the definitive history of Flavian literature, Greek and Latin, remains (and needs) to be written.


1. For Flavian poetry, see the review by Neil Bernstein in BMCR 2006.06.03.

2. For Flavius Josephus, see the contributions to Flavian Rome by Mary Beard and Steve Mason, as well as Jonathan Edmondson, Steve Mason, and James Rives, eds., Flavius Josephus and Flavian Rome (Oxford and New York, 2005), with the review by Paul Harvey in BMCR 2006.10.45.