BMCR 2013.10.19

Roman Literature, Gender, and Reception: domina illustris. Essays in honor of Judith Peller Hallett. Routledge monographs in classical studies, 13

, , , Roman Literature, Gender, and Reception: domina illustris. Essays in honor of Judith Peller Hallett. Routledge monographs in classical studies, 13. London; New York: Routledge, 2013. 337. ISBN 9780415825078. $125.00.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This Festschrift for Judith Hallett of the University of Maryland is lavishly gift-wrapped for the honorand. It opens with nine pages of biography and eulogy, and closes with photos and an exhaustive bibliography of her impressive work. Most of the contributors insert personal praise, and one even addresses her familiarly in his essay.

The papers are divided into three groups: Roman Literature, Gender, and Reception. There is, however, extensive overlapping. For example, Sheila Dickison’s essay, placed under Roman Literature, interprets Petronius’s story of the widow of Ephesus in the light of modern conceptions of ‘celebrity’ as well as Roman gender expectations. The inclusion of reception studies reflects the interest of Hallett herself, who is interviewed on this topic in a video which can be viewed on the Rogue Classicist site: Rogue Classicist.

Although there are nineteen estimable contributions, including several by distinguished scholars, I shall include some notice of every one; for, I consider it more important to reveal the richness of this collection than to do justice to individual contributions.

The papers by Jaqueline Fabre-Serris and Henriette Harich-Schwartzbauer deploy methodical approaches of which Hallett was a leading exponent. Fabre-Serris uses Hallett-style onomastics and intertextuality to show how Roman poets were responding to and rivaling Gallus when they named a girl Phyllis. Phyllis was a model of passion in Gallus’s work; Virgil and Horace challenge him by presenting affairs with ‘Phyllis’ that are happy, or not serious, or where they advise renunciation. Fabre-Serris relates their adaptations to their respective genres, but I believe that her case may be strengthened by the fact that these alternative attitudes could also qualify as Epicurean responses to Gallus’s passion. Because Fabre-Serris explains exactly what she means by ‘onomastics’ and how ‘intertextuality’ works, her paper may serve as a good introduction to this method. Harich-Schwartzbauer follows Hallett’s lead in studying the role of women in the family relationships behind Roman politics. She derives from Claudian’s poems a view of the dynastic manipulations of Honorius’s relative Serena that is more positive than most scholars’. Perhaps this study should have included more discussion of Claudian’s own motives.

Erich S. Gruen opposes a common view that Cicero defined Roman identity negatively through his slurs against foreigners. Noting how Cicero could reverse his attitudes in different contexts, Gruen imagines a sophisticated audience grinning at the orator’s trickery. He points to texts in which Cicero characterizes Romans positively through their unique pietas. Yet the ethnic stereotypes employed in the slurs did exploit common prejudices, so that Gruen’s defense of Cicero, while certainly introducing nuance and reservations, may not be the last word on this issue.

Timothy Peter Wiseman cautions the feminist Hallett against the simplistic view that Roman poetry was addressed only to elite males. He suggests that Ovid read the Fasti to plebeian audiences in public places as a vates (poet/prophet), and that Ovid, in spite of his cynical and seemingly modern values, may have believed that his inspiration was somehow divine. Wiseman’s arguments for these surprising hypotheses are strikingly cogent.

Donald Lateiner studies Ovid’s “remake” of the story of Ceyx and Alcyone in the Metamorphoses, showing how Ovid uses various word-doubling effects to parody excessive love or “codependent possessiveness”. Lateiner sorts these effects into a panoply of tropes (anaphora, anadiplosis, polyptoton, even “juxtaposition or 0-degree separation”, p. 59) well beyond what seems necessary to demonstrate his argument. We learn why in a note: the paper is from a forthcoming book, Ovid’s Poetical Laboratory. Apparently it is not just about this myth or Ovid’s cynical view of codependence, but how a Roman poet composed. This, then, may be another study beneficial to students.

Michael C.J. Putnam neatly contrasts Lucretius’ Epicureanism and Virgil’s existentialism by examining the latter’s use of the phrase frigidus sanguis.

Marilyn B. Skinner studies the role of Venus victrix in the Aeneid. Venus intervenes in the narrative by causing mental flashbacks to previous traumas, provoking furor and violence. This dark side of Venus recalls Rome’s civil wars and helps to explain the ending of the epic, where Juno triumphs.

In an absorbing, admittedly speculative “thought experiment” which could open a whole new line of research (and controversy), Amy Richlin attempts to reconstruct from Cicero’s life and letters “fragments” of the letters and life of Cicero’s wife Terentia. Predictably, in the narrative that Richlin constructs, Terentia turns out to be far more admirable in her actions and character than her husband.

Thomas van Nortwick offers a feminist reading of the Aeneid in which a series of strong (and admirable) female characters (Dido, Camilla) are extinguished to foster a new (and boring) Roman style of masculinity in Aeneas, who thus loses the androgynous possibilities which they embody. Reader sympathy is, of course, drawn predominantly towards what scholars call Virgil’s subversive ‘second voice’. Nortwick does not discuss Virgil’s motives, but this reading would be consistent with Virgil’s own allegedly androgynous character.

The story of the Christian martyr Perpetua is preserved in her own words, framed by a narrator’s. Like other female martyrs, she achieved what was regarded as masculine assertiveness in her struggle. Barbara K. Gold’s analysis of gender ambivalence in the story catches the frame narrator endeavoring to restore Perpetua to her ‘normal’ feminine gender.

I turn now to the reception papers.

Hugh M. Lee traces the influence of Galen and later physicians in promoting physical education and athletics, in particular the Olympics; he finds unanimous support for exercise but conflicting views regarding competitions.

Diana Robin’s analysis of the inchoate feminism of Alessandro Piccolomini’s Renaissance Italian translation of Xenophon’s Oeconomicus becomes embroiled in the controversy over the Greek work itself, which has been perceived as both a comically patronizing expression of Classical sexism and nascent advocacy of companionate marriage. Overall, Robin shows that Piccolomini’s modifications are progressive; but some modern readers might regard his suppression of anything even vaguely suggesting physical sex as just a different brand of sexism.

Jane Donawerth argues that the character ‘Bianca’ in Shakespeare’s Othello is identified by her name as North African, and builds a new interpretation of the play from this.

Christopher Stray compares the nineteenth-century advent of female classicists at Cambridge and Oxford, describing how institutional structures and ideologies affected their numbers and interests.

Judith Perkins contrasts Martial’s cruel indifference towards victims in the arena with their assertiveness in Christian martyrology. Using philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s concept of the arbitrary power of the sovereign, she reviews the progressive reduction of citizens’ rights and intensification of punishment affecting humiliores under Imperial law, and suggests that Christianity gained strength by appealing to the resentment of this class.

Lee T. Pearcy explores the social significance of women playing roles of boys in the theatre in Jacksonian Philadelphia.

Comparison of the articles by Perkins and Pearcy raises a thorny issue for reception studies and their use in teaching. Pearcy (p. 248) notes that “often in America a Classical setting seems to mute political receptions or remove them to a safely remote time or space”. He cites a play produced in 1839 about Spartacus, which was intended by its author to refer to slavery, but was introduced comparing it instead to the Polish resistance against Russia; with this new label, it was well received in Alabama. For politically attentive readers, Perkins’s narrative of the progressive deterioration of citizens’ rights under the Empire and the social consequences of placing the princeps above the law inevitably calls to mind developments since the Patriot Act in the United States. Is it more effective to discuss such comparisons, as Pearcy does, or leave them standing like the proverbial elephant in the room for readers or students to mull over?

At any rate, this volume closes with two studies of ‘applied’ or ‘engaged’ dramatics which relate explicitly to arrestingly contemporary issues: Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz describes projects using enactments of classical myth to rehabilitate female prisoners with HIV. And Jana Adamitis and Mary-Kay Gamel review projects by Peter Sellars and others using source plays like Sophocles’ Ajax to enable, e.g., combat veterans to benefit from some kind of katharsis, which they also analyze in modern psychological terms.

It is regrettable that the price of this book may deter some readers. Most classicists at any level should find several of these papers interesting. They offer highly speculative, but nonetheless plausible arguments for intriguing fresh ideas.

The pages have a pleasing appearance and texture. The cover seems to be waxed. I found only a few errata, the most serious being the clause fragment “Whether Ovid hyperdidactic Pythagoras’ extended musings” (p. 57).

Table of Contents

Notes on Contributors
Introduction to a Force of Nature– Donald Lateiner and Amy Richlin
Part 1: Roman Literature
1. Cicero and the Alien– Erich S. Gruen
2. Frigidus Sanguis : Lucretius, Virgil, and Death– Michael C. J. Putnam
3. Troy and Trauma in the Aeneid– Marilyn B. Skinner
4. Poetic Doubling Effects in Ovid’s ‘Ceyx and Alcyone’ (Met. XI) – Donald Lateiner
5. Naso and Gods– Timothy Peter Wiseman
6. A Note on Fame and the ‘Widow of Ephesus’– Sheila Dickison
Part 2: Gender
7. The Fragments of Terentia– Amy Richlin
8. Onomastics, Intertextuality, and Gender: ‘Phyllis’ in Roman Poetry– Jacqueline Fabre-Serris
9. Woman Warrior? Aeneas’s Encounters with the Feminine– Thomas Van Nortwick
10. ‘And I Became a Man’: Gender Fluidity and Closure in Perpetua’s Prison Narrative– Barbara K. Gold
11. Dynastic Weaving: Claudian, Carmina minora 46-48– Henriette Harich-Schwarzbauer
Part 3: Reception
12. The Spectacle of ‘Bare Life’ in Martial’s Liber Spectaculorum and Martyr Discourse– Judith Perkins
13. The Role of Physicians in the History of Greek Sport and the Olympic Revival– Hugh M. Lee
14. Alessandro Piccolomini’s Translation of Xenophon’s Oeconomicus – Diana Robin
15. Bianca: The Other African in Othello – Jane Donawerth
16. Talfourd’s Ion: Classical Reception and Gender in Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia– Lee T. Pearcy
17. Women and Classics in Victorian Oxbridge: Parallels and Contrasts– Christopher Stray
18. Ancient Myth and Feminist Politics: The Medea Project and San Francisco Women’s Prisons– Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz
19. Theaters of War– Jana Adamitis and Mary-Kay Gamel
Publications of Judith P. Hallett