BMCR 2011.08.43

De Catulo a Ausonio: lecturas y lecciones de poesía latina

, De Catulo a Ausonio: lecturas y lecciones de poesía latina. Madrid: Liceus, 2009. 348. ISBN 9788498228618. €35.00 (pb).

This set, or array, of eleven essays reproduces work previously published between 1987 and 2009, the balance consisting of unrevised conference papers complete with curtseys, and sustains a convincing level of enthusiasm for aspects of Latin poetry, roaming wide from stylistics through various blends of cultural history. Alvar Ezquerra’s chosen bibliographical mission of beating the drum for classical scholarship in Spanish is in evidence throughout, and the line-up is designed to take the reader on a trip through many of the central topics that occupy the modern Latinist. Basics are consistently provided along the way, but the targets selected make this in effect a scholar’s omnigatherum.

1. The most recent paper comes first, an essay on that perversely ‘premature’ envoi Catullus 11 in which Alvar Ezquerra close-reads the world tour from Alexander/Pompey’s extreme East through Caesar’s ultimate West, admitting a trace of irony in magni and envisaging a physical trophy for monimenta (v. 10), embracing full-blown irony for the companions’ commission to beard the furious Jezebel, and unexpurgating the grossed-out sex. Lyric form encompasses epic and iambic exchange, while Catullus’ innovatory “imaginary journey” shapes the ethnographic map for Roman poets and his final stanza refashions the Sapphic-Homeric imagery around gender reversal.

2. Essay 2 puts the Gallus fragment through its paces, presenting the poet’s roller-coaster career and the papyrus’ outlandish find context—and orthographica—in minute detail before identifying Caesar as Octavian and settling on a date of 30-29 BCE—emphasising close verbal responsion with RGDA 24.1 (p. 64)—but only for the political centrepiece, occasioned by that Caesar’s irenic Romewards tour through Asia; for these scraps are epigrams à la Catullus, and the surrounding erotic lines will have been written earlier.

3. The first Virgil piece comes in two bites, a taster of reasoned analysis first, then emotionally communicative translation to chew on: (i) by way of protest at any hint that Virgilian stylistics may, now or ever, be put on the back-burner, Alvar Ezquerra offers intense and extensive analysis of the opening line of Eclogue 2, where—in particular— ardebat encapsulates the maestro’s suggestive inventiveness through semantic inversion, as formal subject and object switch places (p. 84). Inter alia phonemics, metrics, poetics are examined, while the poet’s voice animates the homoerotics. a, Corydon, Corydon. (ii) Aeneid 4. 1-89 simply gets read out, and no comment, rendered into regal Spanish rhythmed to match: ‘Mas la reina, ya hace tiempo de grave cuita tochada | ….’; before (cut!) we are left to dangle, at: ‘… penden las obras paradas y el reto | enorme de los muros y las máquinas que al cielo se igualan …’. 4. The first introductory overview in the book brings in the Epodes. Date, metres, book structure, Hellenistic and Catullan modulation of the archaic Greek legacy, and, so the diagnosis runs, an ‘aesthetic-ethical’ pattern of elegiambic calming of civil war aggro into Augustan repose. It was meeting Virgil, ‘como persona y como escritor’, that did the trick (p. 121). 5. Virgil picks out Sergestus the dashing and dashed ship captain of Aeneid 5.114-285 as eponym of the gens Sergia (vv. 121-122). A prosopographical review picks out an early cluster of Sergii back around the 400 BCE crisis, thereafter a couple of mid-Republic heroes, and then the black sheep Catalina (sic pp. 142, 143;1 but also, in 2 CE, the praetor Sergius Plautus marks a comeback, with the clan brought back into the fold thanks, it is proposed, to the magnanimity of Augustan restitution. Could the memorial Arch of the Sergii at Pola in Croatian Histria (illustrated in Fig. 4. a-d) yield a Sergius to earn recognition from Virgil: L. Sergius Lepidus—commander of a squadron lost in action at Actium? If so, Salvia Postuma Sergi might have told us. You’d think.

6. A Metamorphoses chapter introduces the global, post-civic, inconstant unVirgilian epic for an egoist, post-imperial, blasé Ovidian world.

7. A chapter from Alvar Ezquerra’s 2001 book on love elegy sifts through the exile poetry for Ovid’s intertwining, and flipping, of consolatory and disconsolatory motifs in his creation of the exemplary artist outlaw. Fashioned as source and focus of general advice and counsel on the bolstering of morale, our anti-hero also bleats and whines all the same in his never-ending tour of pain and despair. We are led via survey of core topics—Rome vs Tomi, carmen et error, living death and love & theft …—to appreciate the poet’s effectiveness in perming psychological depth and complexity beyond the reach of philosopher or principle.

8. So to Spain, for a sketch of Lucan of Corduba’s epic, and an ill-conceived art-to-text numismatic conceit cum mica salis (p. 218): does the famous description of Pompey’s facial expression at B.C. 8.664-667, frozen at death through decapitation, owe its inspiration to the striking portraits of Pompey’s head on the coinage minted for Pompey’s son by M. Minatius Sabinus as proquaestor at Corduba in 46-45 BCE (illustrated in Fig. 6 a)? Does it, heck! But does it not tickle, the idea that coins carry crowned be-heads?

9-10. M. V. Marcial of Bilbao lands a double whammy: there and back again. First up for self-portraiture. Alvar Ezquerra marshals the data on the author’s bio and takes pains sorting and setting out the whopping range of topics represented in the Epigrams. Second, it’s off to the cityscape pinned on Rome by the expat expert poetaster between 64 and 96 CE. Unantiquarian bustle in Domitian’s building- and re-building-site predominates, as our whistle-stop tour heads past Martial’s house on the Quirinal to trek through cosmopolis’ neighbourhoods, streets, hills, aqueducts, to fora, porticoes, temples (esp. Domitianic make-overs); through Coliseum, Circus, Palace, on to fountains, statues, artworks—agog beside the poet (esp. 10.96)—and, via bookshops, taverns, baths, and loos, along to homes, gardens, and tombs. Set out like this, in faithfull, it’s true, Martial’s Rome must put any mere Plan of Rome (Fig. 9) to shame.

11. Billed as a final chapter on Late Antique Latin poetricks, the closing essay essentially explores phenomena of ‘Reality and Illusion’ in the poetry of Alvar Ezquerra’s favourite author Ausonius. Starring reflection and mirror effects, echo, transparency (as through that Late Antique invention, clear glass: pp. 302-303), chiaroscuro (as in shadow, murk, dusk or dawn), and, ultimately and in sum, ‘lo falsiverdadero’ (pp. 309-314). Besides Mosella 12-19, 48-51, 55-75, 189-199, 204-207, 223-239, 259-269, 293-297, we are invited to reflect on Epistle 1.10-13, Cupido Cruciatus 1-9, 45-46, 99-103, Epigrams 9, 68, 98, and Cento Nuptialis, epistula dedicatoria (and on Tiberianus 1.1-2).

Besides the largely ornamental collection of matt plates (pp. 317-324), the end papers feature the most generous indexes of loci and of modern scholars (pp. 327-337; 341-348).


1. Blemishes such as genus humilis (p. 180) and fata uia inuenient, ‘los hados encontrarán su camino’ (p. 182) are rare; nuisance typos less so.