BMCR 2008.07.07

The Virgilian Tradition. The First Fifteen Hundred Years

, , The Virgilian tradition : the first fifteen hundred years. London: Yale University Press, 2008. 1 online resource (xxxix, 1082 pages) : illustrations (some color). ISBN 9780300148312. $100.00 (hb).

Table of Contents

The genre of anthologies as a subgenre of secondary literature has received much less attention in recent years than, for example, the companion. Sometimes, however, the anthology is confronted with similar objections to those made against the companion. That these objections are largely equally unsupportable, and therefore futile, becomes clear especially if one looks at this book, which was jointly edited by Jan Ziolkowski (Z.) and Michael Putnam (P.). Z. and P. have done a wonderful job in compiling a vast amount of documents that bring to life the deep marks that Vergil’s works have left in the history of literature. And even if that amount could have been much vaster, given the importance of Vergil throughout virtually all the centuries since he lived, Z. and P. do not fail to carefully guide us through the material. All in all, 25 researchers from many different academic fields have come together and compiled this anthology in a truly interdisciplinary effort. In spite of the dangers involved in such a huge project, the book is a virtually seamless and very compact piece. This book can serve as a trustworthy companion which lets the texts themselves be heard instead of secondary literature. Z. and P. have seen to it that their many collaborators in this edition have added deliberate and well-chosen annotations to the texts themselves that will help the reader start her or his own research.

After a few preliminary remarks in concise and brief introductory chapters (preface, rules of the edition, acknowledgements, introduction, lists of abbreviations and illustrations), the anthology comprises five major chapters. The first chapter (“Virgil the Poet”) informs us about the texts that provide us with information on the direct impact Vergil’s life and works had on other authors. From this chapter, Vergil’s continuing popularity as a literary author becomes clear. Chapter II (“Biography: Images of Virgil”) deals with Vergil’s life as we know it from the pertinent biographies, with Vergil’s birthday, his grave and remains, with the burning of the Aeneid, with autograph manuscripts of Vergil in antiquity, with his images, with what we can learn from his works, and with his divine veneration. The third chapter shows ways in which Vergil’s texts were used later on. There are subchapters on the cento, on the parody of Vergil’s texts, on Vergil’s eclogues, on a few individual passages from the Aeneid and the Georgics, on Vergil’s importance for florilegia and on later adaptations of material from the Aeneid in Medieval French, German, Irish, and Icelandic literature. Chapter IV acquaints us with the commentary tradition. Chapter V informs us about the many legends that existed about Vergil. This enormous volume is concludes with a list of contributors, text credits and an index. The index includes sections on manuscripts, on titles of texts and incipits (this section is more or less an index locorum), and on names and subjects. It is a difficult task to make a book easily accessible to one’s reader if the book contains as many pages as this anthology does. The subsections of the index, for example, did not find their way into the table of contents which is regrettable since there would have been space for three more lines on p. xix. But the index itself appears to be well-organized and very helpful.

This anthology appears at an opportune time. Over the last years its topic has received increased attention. Take, for example, the pertinent books by Baier,1, Köhler, Glei,2 and Kallendorf.3 Needless to say, these examples are only a very small selection from a great wealth of new editions, translations, commentaries, and other secondary literature on this topic. P. and Z. themselves have also recently published important literature on the subject.4

As the editors themselves note, this anthology is at the same time an account of where the study of Vergil’s reception stands today, an account of what we can say about Vergil’s Nachleben, and an account of where research may be acquiring new knowledge and insights in the future. In this sense, this book is a good place to start one’s own research. The editors have brought together many texts that even large libraries probably cannot call their own. At the same time the pertinent notes added to the bits and pieces of texts in the anthology are reliable guides to the texts themselves if one wants to access them directly. For these reasons, this anthology will prove to be an indispensable tool for researchers on the reception of Vergil even in non-English speaking countries.

Without a doubt, researchers will find many more texts influenced by Vergil than the ones included in this anthology, as the editors point out in their introduction. And also without a doubt, P. and Z. have done a fine job in giving a structured overview of the kinds of material one can find. Most importantly, however, they have encouraged further research in this enormously huge and by necessity notoriously understudied field. I have learned and profited very much from reviewing this book.

One wonders, what the volume on the second fifteen hundred years will look like, because the last five hundred years has already produced literature that awaits an equally well-produced anthology. As Büttner, for example, shows, the intricacies of Vergil’s influence on later literature only become even more interesting.5 We all can only wish and hope that an equally well-trained team of philologists or even P. and Z. themselves will continue the work that has begun here.


1. B. Baier: Die Bildung der Helden: Erziehung und Ausbildung in mittelhochdeutschen Antikenromanen und ihren Vorlagen. BAC 68. Trier 2006.

2. R. Glei, M. Köhler, eds.: Maffeo Vegio. Vellus Aureum — Das Goldene Vlies (1431). Einleitung, kritische Edition, Übersetzung. BAC 38. Trier 1998. The vellus aureum especially makes clear how difficult it is to circumscribe exactly the limits of the impact that Vergil’s work had on other authors.

3. C. Kallendorf: The Other Virgil. ‘Pessimistic’ Readings of the Aeneid in Early Modern Culture. Oxford 2007.

4. E.g.: M. C. J. Putnam, ed.: Maffeo Vegio. Short Epics. ITRL 15. Cambridge, London 2004. J. M. Ziolkowski: Reading Classics and Writing Melodies in the Early Middle Ages. Publications of The Journal of Medieval Latin 7. Turnhout 2007.

5. M. Büttner, ed.: Ludovicus Crucius. Sedecias. Die lateinische Tragödie von Luís da Cruz S. J.. Classica et neolatina 3. Frankfurt 2004.