BMCR 2009.08.46

Schweigen im römischen Epos: zur Dramaturgie der Kommunikation bei Vergil, Lucan, Valerius Flaccus und Statius. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde; Bd. 237

, Schweigen im römischen Epos: zur Dramaturgie der Kommunikation bei Vergil, Lucan, Valerius Flaccus und Statius. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde; Bd. 237. Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2007. xi, 408. ISBN 9783110194784. $137.00.


Roman epic receives ever more attention in modern scholarship. Among many books discussing different aspects of the genre, there has now also appeared the book of Silke Anzinger, devoted to silence as an important aspect of poetical repertoire for Roman epic poets. The book, which is Anzinger’s doctoral thesis, is divided into four chapters and contains a summary and an appendix, all these preceded by an introduction, in which the author presents different aspects of silence as an object of studies in psychology, cultural studies, literary theory, as well as classics. This illuminating and complex literary, cultural and psycholinguistic approach to the subject seems to be one of the main values of this book. At the beginning of the introduction Anzinger remarks, that silence is something more than simply the opposite of talking. It is a component of non-verbal communication, should be considered in context of other non verbal signs and concrete situations and can be understood as a specific kind of speech-act. Providing a brief overview of the subject in earlier literary studies, especially in classics, Anzinger points out, that narrative structure and the construction of the communication system in epic is quite different from e.g. that of the novel. As she quite correctly points out the world, of epic poetry is a very specific kind of imaginary world, where casual situations, which provide opportunities to play with silence, are respectively less present in it, than they are in novelistic forms. There are however some specific types of “silence”, as for example monologues, which Anzinger takes into consideration as borderline cases. In four chapters of the book Anzinger deals with phenomenon of silence in works of four Roman epic poets, which are Virgil, Lucan, Valerius Flaccus and Statius ( Thebaid only). In every single chapter Anzinger sets herself the task not only of presenting examinations of several examples of silence but also of providing a characterisation of different kinds of silence according to its communicative function, which she considers to be most relevant to each single work. Every chapter has a summary restating briefly its content.

The first chapter devoted to silence in the Aeneid begins with an observation of Richard Heinze, that in the poem of Virgil dialogue has a very specific function and there is not always an answer expected after every single speech given by Virgilian characters. It does not only make silence or silent response an important part of Virgil’s conventions, but, as Anzinger points out, silence apart of being the communicational model becomes in the Aeneid also an important way of delineating character. The silence of Aeneas gives the poet an opportunity to stress his heroic virtues, it is a sign of his solitude, which he experiences throughout all his mission, and above all it is a sign of his responsibility; it is also a silence “behind words”, which plays a major role in his very emotive dialogues with Anchises or Dido as well as his silence is his at the battlefield here again a sign of his virtues. The last paragraph of this chapter is devoted to the silence of gods as the cause of Aeneas’ unconsciousness of his fate and future, consequent on the gods’ deliberate refusal to give the hero such information, which is, as Anzinger argues, a topos of epic poetry in general. At this point I would argue, that this “silence of gods” is connected as a topos with typical tragic irony rather than with literary play with verbal and non-verbal communication, which is perhaps here a bit overvalued.

Chapter 2 is concerned with silence in Lucan’s Bellum civile, which introduces the new type of silence in Roman epic: the silence of the multitude. It is above all the silent reaction of the inhabitants of Arminum to Caesar’s arrival at the town and the voiceless response of citizens of Rome confronting the prospective of civil war at the beginning of book 2. The silence of the heroes Caesar, Pompeius and Cato is here again rightly considered by Anzinger as an instrument of character delineation. Silence of each of Lucan’s three main heroes underlines the main aspect of their personality, i.e. the character of a tyrant (Caesar), a general (Pompeius) and a Stoic (Cato). Anzinger deals here also with phenomenon of the narrator’s silence, which is above all in her opinion an example of rhetorical praeteritio of that, which cannot be described in words (‘das Unsägliche’) because of its frightening content.

Chapter 3 focuses on Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica focussing on the silence of Jason as dux in verbally communicative interaction with Argonauts, gods and other characters. Anzinger stresses here the difference between Valerius’ Jason and that of Apollonius Rhodius. The Hellenistic model of the hero is an example of an undecided and powerless commander, while from Valerius he receives again his traditional self-consciousness, which means that he becomes a much more talking character. Anzinger enumerates all the cases of direct speech held by Jason in the first five books of Argonautica, which are nineteen. It is then speaking rather than silence that characterises Jason. It is quite the opposite with Medea, whose silence during her encounters and talks with Jason is very significant in the context of gender. Medea’s silence is above all a sign of her isolation, but also of the specific attitude of an introverted person, who prefers to remain alone with her problems and to believe rather in irrational things like magic than in the power of words. Especially interesting is here Anzinger’s examination of Medea’s dialogue with Juno, who appears to her as her sister Chalciope in Book 6, which is very crucial to the argument.

Chapter 4 is an impressive examination of silence in Statius’ Thebaid, demonstrating, how important silence is for Statius either as an instrument of characterisating heroes or as the way in which they can express their feelings. Through the non-verbal signs and gestures of Polynices the evolution from hostility to friendship with Tydeus is here depicted, the silence of Adrastus expresses his hope, the quietness of Creon derives from his corruption. The other part of this chapter is devoted to the silence of women, which is, as Anzinger points out, strongly contrasted by Statius with their verbal expressiveness, which provides us quite stereotypical, but consistently structured model of female personalities in the poem.

All these profoundly analysed and well documented examples are summarised and (what is perhaps more important) classified in the short summary “Die Formen des Schweigen in Überblick” (“Forms of Silence in Overview”), after which there follows a somewhat surprising, but relevant and instructive, Appendix concerning silence of nature, especially of the night, the forest, landscape and nature (the term is here repeated by Anzinger twice in two different meanings). Here worth of mention is especially the paragraph devoted to the stillness of the night as described by Virgil, Lucan, Valerius and Statius, which is here presented in the illuminating context of parallel passages from Homer, Alcman, Sappho, Euripides, Apollonius and Ovid.

Summarising, one can say that Anzinger’s book is an instructive and relevant study offering a comprehensive overview and establishing a solid framework for an understanding of the category of silence and its different kinds from quietness and speechlessness of literary characters to the stillness of nature. Anzinger seems to be very accurate in finding every kind of non verbal behaviour and classifying it in a very sophisticated and convincing way. One of the main advantages of this book is, that it focuses not only on silence as an isolated act of speechlessness, but on it as a part of a communicative system, which seems to be different in every single poem discussed in the book. Very convincing interpretive discourse is here combined with an excellent documentation of, what has been done by earlier and recent scholarship, contained in more than eleven hundred footnotes not of mere decorative or rhetorical value, but providing a real compendium of the state of the case. This excellent, well written and perfectly edited book is an important contribution to the modern scholarship on Roman epic, and it is worth its price.