BMCR 2011.08.06

Da ‘classico’ a ‘classico’. Paradigmi letterari tra Antico e Moderno

, Da 'classico' a 'classico'. Paradigmi letterari tra Antico e Moderno. Atti del Convegno della CUSL (Fisciano - Salerno, 8-10 novembre 2007). Università degli studi di Salerno. Quaderni del Dipartimento di Scienze dell'Antichità, 37. Pisa: Edizioni ETS, 2010. Pp. 225. ISBN 9788846727732. €25.00 (pb).

Table of Contents

This volume contains a selection of articles related to the tradition and the various forms of reception of classical Greek and Latin authors and texts in the period extending from Late Antiquity to the twentieth century. The articles follow the fortune of the term classicus from its creation to modern times, with examples of “classical” texts and authors and explore the connection of “classical classics” (or ancient classics) with “modern classics,” i.e., works produced between the sixteenth and the twentieth centuries.

Following a tradition that goes back to classical days, the volume begins with quid et quale [“classicus”] sit.1 M. Citroni (“Classico: una parola antica per un concetto moderno”) examines the origins of the word, its meanings in Roman times, its reuse by late fifteenth and sixteenth century humanists, and how eighteenth and nineteenth century scholars finalized its current meaning. Citroni explains how the adjective classicus, originally used to describe a certain group of citizens and soldiers, became a synonym of “excellent, first rate, exemplary,” and how it was used to describe certain “canonical” or “approved” authors. The term appears in use again in the late fifteenth century in Filippo Beroaldo the Elder, who used it to refer to a number of Latin scriptores classici. Gradually the term came to be applied to ancient Greek and Latin pagan authors to differentiate them from contemporary authors, while soon after it was employed in reference to Christian authors of Late Antiquity as well. In 1548 the term “classique” is used to refer to two mediaeval French authors, though this sixteenth century use of the term was not consolidated until the late eighteenth century, when “classical authors” became part of the teaching curriculum. In the nineteenth century the word “classic” acquired the broad meaning that it bears today: to express the aesthetic value of works that conform to certain standards and as such have become or are on the way to becoming canonical.

The reception of modern adaptations of Plautus’ Amphitruo is the topic of F. Bertini’s “Rifacimenti contemporanei dell’ Amphitruo plautino”. Bertini focuses on H. von Kleist’s Amphitryon, J.-P. Giraudoux’s Amphitryon 38 and 39, G. Figueiredo’s Um deus dormiu dá em casa, and A. Abelaira’s Anfitrião outra vez. An extended part of the article is dedicated to the detailed presentation of the plots or scenes of the plays, in order to highlight instances of similarities and differences among the plays and in comparison with the original, and to show how the modern versions approach the original story and adapt their content and style to the needs of their time. Although the article could not, and apparently did not intend to, be exhaustive,2 it is a significant contribution to the reception history of Plautus.

In the same spirit, A. Fo (“Tracce di Ovidio: uno sguardo alla recente poesia italiana”) examines the survival of Ovid’s works and themes in modern Italian poetry. The article begins with two poems by E. Andriuoli and the author’s short analysis of the Ovidian themes of amor and Metamorphoses which have most influenced contemporary Italian poets such as P. L. Bacchini, A. Bertolucci, M. Guidacci, and A. Airaghi. The second part ( Ovidius exsul) begins with the study of O. Mandelstam’s Tristia and J. Brodsky’s Roman Elegies, as well as of P. Verlaine’s Pensée du soir and À Georges Verlaine, closing with F. Scotto’s L’intoccabile, and M. C. Cardona’s Tristia. Fo considers how Ovid’s exile and his Tristia became model and source of inspiration for modern poets expressing their own feelings in similar circumstances. The whole article concludes with a discussion on how Ovid is reflected in two poems from E. L. Masters’s Spoon River Anthology, and the Voices from things growing in a Churchyard by T. Hardy.

C. Perugini’s “Da caput a cauda mundi. La Roma-Babilonia della Lozana Andaluza (s. XVI)” discusses how the degradation of Rome from caput to cauda mundi and the sack of the city by Charles V in 1527 are reflected in the sixteenth-century Spanish novel of Fr. Delicado, Retrato de la Lozana Andaluza. The author traces the attribution of the image of city-prostitute to Rome (a title traditionally attributed to Babylon), which is related to its description as cauda mundi, a characterization that goes back to Boccaccio. After a brief account of references to Rome as caput mundi/orbis in classical as well as Christian Latin authors, Perugini returns to the examination of Lozana Andaluza : its author, its protagonist (the Andalusian prostitute Aldonza/Lozana), its content (Lozana’s adventures), and its style and language, full of sexual insinuations. What is significant is the way in which Delicado characterizes Rome (city-prostitute, city-brothel, etc.) while describing Lozana’s adventures in Rome (the final part of the novel) during the sack of the city in 1527.

A captivating article by P. Fedeli (“Borges e il fascino del classico”) deals with the study and reception of classics by J. L. Borges. After a short account of the way in which Argentinean literature approaches and makes use of European literature, the classical in particular, Fedeli turns to Borges’ understanding of the term “classic,” his love for Greek mythology, symbols, themes, and heroes often used in his works. Fedeli discusses the connection between Borges and L. Lugones, but concentrates on the influence of Heraclitus and other Greek authors. Of special interest is Fedeli’s thorough analysis of Borges’ love for Homer, especially the Odyssey, but Fedeli’ examines Borges’ relationship with Latin as well. Seneca, Lucan, Tacitus, Lucretius, and Cicero are among his favourite Latin authors, while Virgil (like Homer) assumes primacy, and Fedeli discusses in detail Borges’ references to him. The article ends with a brief examination of allusions to and citations from classical authors in Borges’ works. C. Lee’s article (“Sallustio nel Medioevo”) is a contribution to the study of the reception of Sallust in the Middle Ages, beginning with the case of J. Lebègue (1368-1457), commentator and translator of Sallust’s works, and annotator of his manuscripts. Taking these manuscripts as the starting point, the author traces a tradition of illustrated passages from Sallust, going back to the tenth century. Lee’s analysis of Lebègue’s work on Sallust reveals the importance of the Roman historian for early Renaissance humanists. She then moves to the examination of another student of Sallust, Fernán Pérez de Guzmán (1376-1458) and his historical work Generaciones y semblanzas, produced in the second quarter of the fifteenth century and showing the clear influence of Sallust in style and content. Lee further discusses the Spanish translations of Sallust’s monographs by Vasco Ramírez de Guzmán, probably based on the early fourteenth century Italian translations by Bartolomeo da San Concordio, whose translations must have been the source tapped by D. Compagni’s Cronica. Lee completes her article with a discussion of the most ancient and widely influential version of Sallust in the Middle Ages, the Faits des Romains (1211-14).

The history and use of the locus communis“frozen words” from its origin up to the twentieth century is methodically outlined by F. Stok (“Le ‘parole gelate’ da Antifane a De André”). Stok begins with Plutarch’s attribution of the tall tale of the “frozen words” to Antiphanes,3 presenting a short account of the story and an attempt at identifying Antiphanes. The first use of the topos is found in C. Calcagnini (1479-1541), but it seems that the Plutarchean passage containing Antiphanes’ tale had already been translated into Latin in the early fifteenth century by L. Bruni. Stok identifies other Italian authors who made use of the topos, like B. Castiglione and S. de’ Provenzani. Special references are made to its use by F. Rabelais ( Gargantua and Pantagruel 4.55-56), A. Thevet, J. de Mandeville, R. E. Raspe in his Baron Münchhausen’s Narrative of his Marvellous Travels, Jean Paul Richter, H. de Balzac in his Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes, J. Renards ( Les mains d’Orlac), et al. The article concludes with Stok’s analysis of the song La guerra di Piero by the Italian singer and song-writer Fabrizio De André (1940-1999) and his use of “parole troppo gelate.”

C. Carena’s article (“La classicità nella Città di Dio di Sant’Agostino”) is a valuable study of Augustine’s City of God and its classical sources. The author goes through numerous references of Augustine to classical authors and examines his reception of Roman religion, philosophy, and political and social history.

The reinterpretation and transformation of Greek and Roman myths in the English novel of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is the topic of Fl. de Giovanni’s article ” ‘Ancient relics may work modern miracles’. Il mito nel racconto fantastico tardo-vittoriano.” The author outlines the diffusion and use of classical genres, topics, and subjects by E. M. Forster ( The Story of a Panic, Albergo Empedocle, The Road from Colonus, Other Kingdom), H. James ( The Last of the Valerii), W. Pater ( Denys l’Auxerrois), R. L. Stevenson ( The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde), A. Machen ( The Great God Pan), and Vernon Lee ( Dionea).

The last article of the volume (G. Fusco Girard, “Cet art ingénieux de peindre la parole et de parler aux yeux”) examines the cases of two French translators and imitators of Lucan from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, G. de Brébeuf and J.-F. Marmontel. Girard briefly describes the transition from Latin to French as the official language of communication in France, the first translation into French in 1523 (of the New Testament), and various translation methods, theories and principles. She places de Brébeuf’s La Pharsale (1653) within this historic and linguistic background, analyses the principles followed by de Brébeuf for his translation/imitation, explains the crudeness of his translation, and follows the generally positive reception and influence of this text in the eighteenth century. A new preference for more “accurate” translation is reflected in the translation of Lucan’s Pharsalia by J.-F. Marmontel in 1766; Fusco Girard describes this version with examples, and traces its evaluation and reception by Marmontel’s contemporaries.

Overall, the value of this volume, beyond contributing significantly to the investigation of the classical tradition and its reception, lies in bringing our classical past very close to our times.


1. Cic. Fin. 1.29.

2. There are references to A. Stolper’s Amphitryon and P. Hack’s Amphitryon, but among the numerous adaptations of the Plautean comedy one should also count G. Kaiser’s Zweimal Amphitryon, C. Porter’s musical Out of This World, or even J.-L. Godard’s film Hélas pour moi. See also F. Bertini, Sosia e il doppio nel teatro moderno, Genoa, 2010.

3. Plut. Mor. 79A.